Interview With Acclaimed Author, And Sussex Local, Peter James


Peter James, the hugely popular author based in both Worthing and Jersey, chats to Denise Tyler about his latest book, the joys of animals and Sussex foodie inspiration

In Picture You Dead you quote author Graham Greene as saying, ‘Every writer has to have a chip in their heart.’ Given everything you’ve put DI Roy Grace through in your books, you must believe this as well?

Yes, I do, though I know a lot of writers who are nervous of offending people they know and think ‘maybe I’d better not write that because someone might recognise themselves’. I think you get your best material from people you know so I’ve always held to that old adage of publish and be damned. You don’t ever want to set out to hurt anyone and nobody who writes is unaccountable, but I try to get people to think about real issues.  

You have immersed yourself in the seedier side of the art world for Picture You Dead. Was it difficult to find real examples of the kind of crimes that DI Grace deals with in the book?

An art dealer friend of mine told me that the major London auction houses say that 80% of the pictures they get offered are fakes. Some people genuinely don’t realise their painting is fake and some are just trying to pass them off. In Sussex we have two of the world’s most famous forgers, David Henty and Billy Mumford, known as Billy the Brush, both of whom I got to know for Picture You Dead. Years ago I bought a painting on the Portabello Road by a Spanish artist which I really liked; I paid about £150 for it. Then I found out it was a fake and when I met Billy 18 months ago he told me he’d painted it! He used to supply the stall on Portabello Road with a different painting every week.

Peter James C Suki Dhanda
Peter James, photo by Suki Dhanda

Your home video on Peter James TV shows a daily routine involving dogs, hens, alpacas, goats, cats, fish, ducks, geese and gerbils and you strongly support RSPCA Brighton. Animals clearly mean a lot to you…

You wake up in the morning to terrible news about the invasion of Ukraine or the Manchester bombing, then you go out and hand feed the pygmy goats or the alpacas with their apple or carrot and they just give you a sense of unconditional love. They don’t know what’s going on in the world; all they want is a nice bit of shade or a bit of sun to lie in and live their days out. I spend a lot of my time researching and writing about really dark stuff, so I find it really grounding to be around them.

You won a prize for poetry at school and you reference John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn in Picture You Dead. Do you still write poetry yourself?

I don’t write it any more, but I read poetry quite a lot, particularly when I’m in the middle of writing a novel because it gives me ideas for imagery and metaphors and I get general inspiration from it. I try to avoid reading fiction at that time because it’s so easy to pick up somebody else’s prose style.

If you could interview any author in history for Peter James TV, who would it be and why?

There would be two. Graham Greene, because he inspired me to become a writer. He was brilliant at describing a character without ever really describing them at all and I love Brighton Rock of course; that was the one that inspired me. I also love Oscar Wilde; in terms of his prose I think he is one of the most underrated writers ever. When he was in prison he had three plays running simultaneously in the West End, all smash hits, and they just covered his name up on the credits. Appalling hypocrisy.

Picture You Dead

You were born and raised in Brighton and have lived in Sussex pretty much ever since. What is it that keeps you here?

What I love about Sussex is that you’ve got every possible contrast in one county; it’s incredibly close to both London and the sea with beautiful countryside between. Brighton was one of the first seaside towns to be taken by the scruff of its neck and brought into the 21st century. It’s always been very atmospheric.

Where are your favourite places to eat in Sussex?

I love food, I love wine and I like to cook but not regularly! I used to live at Beddingham and The Ram at Firle was my local. Probably the first half dozen Roy Grace books were conceived in The Ram. I would sit there with my real-life Roy Grace, [former] detective chief superintendent Dave Gaylor, planning the stories. Then, when I moved to Woodmancote, the Ginger Fox became where we would have our annual lunch and start work on the next Roy Grace book.

Where’s your favourite place to go in Sussex to switch off and why?

My favourite place to walk, which goes back to my childhood, is the undercliff walk at Rottingdean. I just love it there, especially on a winter’s day when the tide’s right in and the waves are crashing over the wall. The other place I love is Firle Beacon. I used to go up there on a Sunday morning with the dogs when we lived there. On a beautiful summer’s day there isn’t a more peaceful place in the world.


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