Interview mit Peter James
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Translator : Peter Zmyj (z.B. J.A. Konrath, Mr. K, Kite, T.R. Ragan, Im Netz des Spinnenmanns) and Karin Kaiser.
Peter James loves fast cars and writes action-packed thrillers. What he saw in Marbella would make you hair stand up on end and whoever likes to know what is meant by taking a long walk on a short pier, should read the interview.
Foto: © Peter james
Peter James is a bestselling author, film producer and screenwriter.
Peter James was born on August 22, 1948, in Brighton, UK. Today he divides his time between Sussex and Notting Hill. The article on you in the German Wikipedia mentions that you used to work as a house cleaner for Orson Welles. Is that true? Have you ever met this master of the suspense film personally, or even exchanged a few words with him?
Yes, I did! When I was 20 and at film school I had just enough money from my parents to eat, pay my rent in London and travel to and from the college. But no surplus. There was a girl I wanted to take out, who I knew had expensive tastes, so I decided I had better earn some extra cash! I saw a sign in a newsagent window “CLEANER WANTED – APPLY MRS WELLES” and the address was just around the corner from me in Fulham. I turned up, not making any connection to the name, and this very elegant and pleasant woman looked at me in surprise and said, “Well, I was rather expecting a woman to apply.” I persuaded her to give me a trial period, which she agreed to. I had no idea how to clean a house but there had been plenty of adverts on telly for household appliances and cleaning materials, like Flash, so I just got on with it. On my second day, I was on my knees cleaning the skirting board in the hall when the morning post fell through the front door and I saw all these letters addressed to “Orson Welles.” Not always being the sharpest tack in the box, I still did not connect to “Mrs Welles” and wondered if there had been some kind of error by the postman! A short while later the front door opened and in came the great man himself. I stared up at him in shock and in awe, suddenly realizing that a golden opportunity had presented itself. If I could get him to like me, maybe I could get a huge leg up my future career path! I was a bag of nerves. He looked down at me with an amiable smile, the kind of smile he might have given to a funkily shaped dog turd, stepped past me with a cursory “Good morning” and vanished up the stairs as I gasped out a strangled reply. Later that day he left for the US and I never saw him again! Two weeks later, Mrs Welles very sweetly told me she didn’t think I was really cut out for this job. I had to agree….
As a film producer in the 1970s, you were involved in the making of several films, for example The Blockhouse starring Peter Sellers. Today you have your own film production company in the UK. Have any of the films produced by you become known in Germany?
I guess Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes is the best known.
This leads me to my next question. As a bestselling author, you do a lot of traveling all over the world. With such a busy schedule, how can you make the time to run a film production company? Or do have one or several good managers? If the answer is yes, what specifically are your tasks and responsibilities within the company?
I am no longer actively running the company – but I am actively involved in bringing Roy Grace to the screen.
Your books have received awards from all over the world. For example, you received the French awards Prix Polar and Prix Cœur. Isn’t it a rather rare occurrence for a non-French person to receive an award in France? And do you remember who presented you with the awards?
It was truly a great moment. Although the first award I ever won was in Germany for Dead Simple – the Krimi Blitz award – that was a very special moment indeed for me.
India. What it is like for you in India?
I must be the only tourist in history to have visited Agra and not seen the Taj Mahal. My publishers had arranged my book tour specially to give me Friday morning clear to visit the Taj Mahal – without realizing it is closed on Friday’s! But hey, I am OK with this because it means I still have this amazing building to look forward to – and of course, it gives me the perfect excuse to visit this wonderful country again!
In the short time I was in India, I totally fell in love with the country, and especially with the people. I cannot think of any other country in the world where everyone is so warm and welcoming. But I did have a few scary moments on the roads!!!
You do a lot of research, in the course of which you spend a lot of time with police officers and detectives. And you have covered some really brutal, hard-core topics: Snuff films in “Looking Good Dead,” genetic engineering in “Perfect People,” and the illegal organ trade in “Dead Tomorrow.” Did you ever come across anything where your initial reaction was like, “Gee, that can’t possibly be happening … because no human being can possibly be capable of doing anything like that?”
Yes, constantly, sadly. I think the very worst was a US serial killer who liked to disembowel his lady victims with a hunting knife, then masturbate as he watched them dying in front of him. I don't think human depravation gets much worse….
Being an author myself, I know from experience that some images one describes, one can’t get them out of one’s mind. How do you handle those really brutal images that come up in connection with the themes and topics you write about?
I think it some ways it is cathartic to write about them – then they bother me less.
What do you think is going to be a real highlight for you in 2013, both in your personal life and in your writing career?
The knowledge that the stage play of The Perfect Murder is launching in January 2014. I am very excited about this, and that the film of Dead Simple will start in production early in 2014.
You’ve got this passion, motor racing in a 1964 BMW. What’s so special about those races? Will you be participating in one this year?
Yes, I just had a massive accident six weeks ago, rolling my car four times at 120KPH. I was I the lead when it happened…. Now have 3 broken ribs, and 3 slipped discs. Ouch! I hope to race at Nurburgring next year.
You own a film production company, so one would think it would be only natural for you to make movies based on your own crime fiction. This year you are going to make a movie out of one of your books. Which book is it, and why did you wait until now?
Dead Simple. I’ve been working on it a long time and wanted to get it absolutely right.
In your opinion, who would be the ideal actors for playing the roles of Roy Grace and Cleo, his girlfriend?
My idea for Roy is Michael Fassbender. Not sure about Cleo, yet. And Emily Blunt for the villainous Ashley.
Virtually every author and every actor has some other author or actor of whom he is fond to say, “Wow, I talked to him/her in person.” Who would that be in your case?
Yes, Al Pacino. Great guy – we’ve been trying to fix a date to play poker in NY.
In your novel "Dead Man’s Footsteps,” 9/11 plays a role. Virtually everyone knows where he’s been that day and what he was doing at the time he found out about the attack. What about you?
I spent the day at home, glued to the TV.
Besides motor racing, what are some of your hobbies or things you are really passionate about?
Skiing, running, drinking good wine!
What are you reading right now? And which genres do you enjoy most?
I’m re-reading my faviourite crime novel, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.
How many times did you have to submit your manuscript to publishers before your first novel was accepted? What was the experience like, and how exactly did publication of the book come about?
I wrote 3 books before I got one published – my fourth.
PETER JAMES (Text Englisch): In „Du sollst nicht sterben“ geht es lt. Amazon.de um:
In the new book, Brighton's Metropole Hotel is the scene of an unpleasant incident: a woman is savagely raped when she enters a room. Some days later, another woman is similarly assaulted -- both have their shoes stolen by the offender. Assigned to the case, Detective Superintendent Grace becomes aware that these two incidents have disturbing echoes of a sequence of crimes that shook Brighton in 1997. The rapist (who had been described as ‘Shoe Man’) claimed five victims, the last of which he had murdered before disappearing. Grace is faced with two unpleasant possibilities; that the original Shoe Man who cheated justice 10 years ago has returned to wreak havoc again, or -- equally disturbingly -- there is a copycat at work ...
Hier finden Sie weitere Informationen in Englisch:
Dead Like You
What is easiest for you to write … dialogue, characters, or scenes? Or is it pretty much the same for you? In other words, do you like all of those story elements equally?
I love dialogue best.
How do you manage to avoid loose ends in the novel?
I write very instinctively. Tying up the loose ends is one of the most satisfying parts of the process.
How did you approach your protagonist, Roy Grace? Could you tell us about some of your first thoughts and ideas about that particular character?
Roy Grace was inspired by a real life police officer, Dave Gaylor. The first time I met him was 15 years ago, when he was a Detective Inspector in Brighton. I went into this office and the floor was covered in piles of blue and green crates crammed with manila folders. I asked him if he was moving and he replied, deadpan, “No, these are my dead friends.” I thought, great, I’ve just met the only weirdo in Sussex CID!!! He then went on to explain that he just been put in charge of reopening unsolved cases – what we now call Cold Cases - for Sussex Police. He said that each crate contained the principal case files of an unsolved homicide. Then he said something that made a big impact on me: ‘I am the last chance the victims have of justice, and the last chance the families have for closure.” I thought these were incredibly human words, and when my publishers asked me some years ago if I would like to create a new detective character, I immediately remembered this.
The great thing is that Dave Gaylor, who rose to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent, and Head of Major Crime for Sussex, knows he is the career model (but not physical model) for Roy Grace and loves it! He and I have become very close friends over the years, he reads each book as I go along, normally in 150 page chunks and we talk through all aspects of the police activity in the story and who in the Force it would benefit me to talk to and we travel overseas to police conferences together and to meet other police contacts of Dave around the world. Undoubtedly having him sitting in the background greatly helps to underpin the authenticity I strive for in all aspects of policing in my novels.
How do you go about writing a novel? Do you first carry the story around in your head and let it mature, and then you start writing? Or do you make sure that you’ve finished all your research first, and you’ve done a synopsis, before the actual writing begins?
I often carry it in my head for years, letting it mull around, like a stew!
Do you listen to music while writing? If the answer is yes, what type of music? Or do work best when it’s absolutely quiet?
Yes, my favourite is Marla Glenn, the jazz singer.
Are you represented by a literary agent? If the answer is yes, what advantage does this offer to you?
It creates a buffer zone between yourself and the publisher, keeping your creative relationship intact.
What book are you currently working on? Is it okay to tell us a little about it in advance?
DEAD MAN’S TIME RESEARCH BACKGROUND
Dead Man’s Time begins in the Irish gangland world of Brooklyn, 1922, and then moves to murky antiques world of Brighton in the present time, to the criminal fraternity of Marbella on the Spain’s so-called Costa del Crime, and back to New York in the present day. At the core of the story is a violent robbery at a Brighton mansion, in which £10m of antiques are stolen, including a highly valuable 1911 Patek Philippe pocket watch. The following will give a background to my research.
In July 2011 I was having dinner in New York with a detective friend in the NYPD, Pat Lanigan. Had he ever told me, he asked, that his great-uncle was Dinny Meehan, the feared and ruthless head of the White Hand Gang – the Irish Mafia who controlled the New York and Brooklyn waterfronts, and much else – from the 1850s until the mid 1920s. It was one of the White Hand Gang’s methods of disposing of enemies in the Hudson that led to the expression, Taking a long walk down a short pier.
Dinny Meehan was responsible for kicking Al Capone and other lieutenants of the Italian Mafia, the Black Hand Gang, out of New York – which is why Capone fetched up in Chicago.
In 1920 five men broke into Meehan’s home in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and in front of his four-year-old son, shot Dinny Meehan and his wife. The wife survived, and the boy went on to become a famous basketball player. The culprits were never identified. There was speculation whether it was a revenge attack organized by Capone, or a power struggle within the White Hand Gang from Meehan’s deputy, “Wild Bill” Lovett. Meehan’s widow had no doubts, confronting Lovett in a crowded bar, and he was eventually murdered, too.
Pan Lanigan told me he’d had many approaches over the years for the archive material, which he possessed, but the family did not want this personal information released. However, because of our friendship he volunteered to let me see, in case it might make a good story for me.
I was riveted by what I had read, and it sparked an idea which grew into Dead Man’s Time, where instead of become a basketball player, the boy ends up in Brighton as a hugely successful antiques dealer and we pick up nine decades later, when he is an old man, with memories and a still unsolved family mystery.
This is the set-up: February, 1922. 5 year old Gavin Daly and his 8 year old sister, Aileen, are asleep in their parents home in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. Every night before the boy goes to sleep his Irish gangster father, Brendan, tells him a story about the man in the moon on his pocket watch (which turns out later to be a rare Patek Philippe). On this night four men burst into the children’s home, shoot their mother dead and drag their father away into the night, never to be seen again. An aunt decides to take the children away from the violent gang wars of New York and back to their ancestral Ireland.
As they wait on the quai to board the SS Mauretania a messenger runs up to the two children, gives them a package, and a cryptic message, “Watch the time” and melts back into the crowd. Inside the package is their father’s handgun, his Patek Philippe pocket watch, now busted, a newspaper cutting about his abduction and the death of their mother, and eleven numbers – which become a puzzle Gavin spends most of the rest of his life trying to solve.
The story now jumps to 2012. Gavin is now 95, a multi-millionaire antiques dealer. His sister, Aileen, is 97, widow of a rich stockbroker. She is subjected to a violent robbery at her secluded Brighton mansion. She is tortured for her pin codes and subsequently dies from her injuries. £10m worth of antiques and jewellery are taken in the robbery including the Patek Philippe watch. Her brother, Gavin, wants his sister’s death avenged – and he wants that watch back desperately – it is their only link with their father. He comes into conflict with Roy Grace, because he does not believe the police will be capable of getting that watch back, and decides to take the law into his own hands…
People often ask why I chose to set my novels in a hip seaside resort, rather than a real hotbed of crime. Brighton – the city I grew up in and love passionately, and in which I know virtually every street and alley, has long endured the soubriquet of Crime Capital Of The UK.
Brighton, which began life as the smuggling village, Brightelmstone, has always been a magnet for criminals. When the London-Brighton railway line opened, in 1841, Brighton had already gained a reputation for illicit sex, gambling, drinking and cock-fighting. Soon London villains flooded down, finding all the vices available to them in their city, from illegal gambling to protection racketeering but in a far nicer environment, and, thanks to the royal patronage given to Brighton first by King George 1Vth and then by Queen Victoria, with rich pickings to be had.
Brighton holds the unique distinction as the only place in the UK where a serving Chief Constable has ever been murdered - Henry Solomon, in 1844. In 1938 Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock captured, brilliantly, the gangs, the seediness and the ever-present threat of violence that gives the city its vibrancy and its edginess.
Ever since 1932, after two dismembered torsos were found in left-luggage lockers, Brighton acquired the unwelcome soubriquet of Murder Capital Of Europe and Crime Capital Of The UK, and much to the Tourist Board’s dismay it has never lost the latter. I am currently Chair of the Brighton Drugs Commission – the deputy Chair is Mike Trace, Tony Blair’s former drugs tsar – seeking new ways of tackling Brighton’s endemic drug-related problems, which have for the past eleven years given it another unwelcome title of: Injecting Drugs Death Capital Of The UK.
A journalist friend of mine recounted how, in a pub in Brighton a few years ago, he asked a fellow drinker at the bar if Brighton had a drugs problem. The man thought for a moment, then shook his head and said, “Nah, you can get anything you want here.”
Three past Chief Constables of Sussex Police, as well as the current Commander of Brighton and Hove, have each confirmed to me that Brighton is one of the favoured place in the UK for first division criminals to live in. I have a theory for this: If you were a villain and wanted to design your perfect criminal environment, you would design Brighton! Let me explain my reasoning:
Firstly it has a major seaport on either side – Shoreham and Newhaven, perfect for importing drugs and exporting stolen cars, antiques and cash. To the western extremity of the city lies Shoreham Airport – a small but international airport where there is no Customs or Immigration control. There are miles of unguarded coastline fronting the city, and to either side of it. Very important to all criminals there are lots of escape routes: All the Channel ports, and Eurotunnel. Gatwick, a major international Airport is just 25 minutes away. London is 50 mins by train. Brighton has the largest number of antique shops in the UK – perfect for fencing stolen goods and laundering cash.
The city has an affluent young, media-oriented middle-class population combined with the largest gay community in the UK, two universities, and a huge number of nightclubs, providing a huge market for recreational drugs. It has a large, transient population, making it hard for police to keep tabs on villains, and making it easy for drug overlords to replace any of their dealer minions who get arrested. Sited at on the coast, transients who drift down the country reach Brighton and have nowhere left to go, so they stay. It has 100,000 vertical drinking spaces. No surprise that it’s main police station, John Street, is the second busiest police station in the UK.
Given Brighton’s criminal pedigree, it is hardly surprising that the term “knocker boy” originated there. The knocker boys were the “rag and bone” men, of the kind immortalized in Steptoe and Son, who moved on from traipsing the streets in a horse and cart for anything people wanted to throw out of their houses, to being more proactive – literally knocking on front doors, but frequently targeting the frail and elderly, offering to buy their antiques and valuables for instant cash.
These knocker boys had a rudimentary knowledge of antiques – enough to spot items of value – and their game was to cheat people. Several former knocker boys helped me in my research, telling me their many tricks of the trade. One particularly pernicious one was to carry a bag of sawdust in their pockets. On entering the house of an elderly person, unseen they would pour the sawdust on the ground beneath the best piece of furniture in the house, then warn the victim they had woodworm, and offer to take it off their hands before it spread to all the other furniture. If an owner refused to sell any items which the knocker boy knew to be of high value, he would pass the details to a burglar, who would later steal the items and give the knocker boy a cut.
In 1996 the Independent ran the following damning headline:
If your antiques have been stolen, head for Brighton - The Sussex resort is now a thieves' kitchen for heirlooms,
Many of the seemingly legitimate Brighton antiques dealers were just as bad as the knocker boys, hiding behind a veneer of respectability. One, now retired, but at one time a major player, told me about the “ring” the Brighton dealers operated, which amounted to a cartel. It worked this way for important sales: All the major Brighton dealers would go to an auction, by pre-arrangement, only one of them would bid. So if a table, worth at retail £20,000 was entered, one would bid just on the reserve – say £5,000. No one else would bid, unless it was an outsider – but a number of tactics were employed to dissuade outsiders from attending. He would secure it for £2,500, then they would all go off to a private room in a pub and hold a second auction. One of the other dealers would secure it for, say, £12,000. They would then split that £10k profit between them all, and the winning bidder could then go on and make even more profit when he eventually sold the table for close to its real retail value. Simon Muggleton, formerly Head of the Brighton Police Antiques Squad, told me that although the police were well aware of the activities of the ring they were never able to make any arrests.
The Brighton ring members resorted to all kinds of skulduggery to ensure there were no outsider bidders. A former member told me how, for country house auctions, in the days before satellite navigation, a group of them used to drive around the vicinity of the auction late at night, altering the road signs. And on one occasion, they locked a major London dealer in an outdoor lavatory, and kept him locked in throughout the entire auction!
Small wonder that the reputation of the Brighton antiques dealers was so bad that police forces in many towns and cities in the UK were under instructions to run them out of town on sight.
In addition to my New York detective’s story, a major part of the inspiration for this book came from an attempted break-in at my Sussex country home two years ago, during the night. Fortunately our three dogs did the trick and sent them running off the premises. The police were of the opinion they may have been targeting our cars – I have a bit of a reputations as a petrol head (!) but it made me curious about what kind of person today’s house burglar is. Thanks to the Governor of our local Category B Prison, Lewes, I was able to get some insights.
One character in particular who I met was 38 years old, a career high-end car thief. He had started as a kid, for kicks, taking cars on joy-rides, then got recruited by an Indian gang operating in London who tasered people in expensive cars, pulling them out and dumping them by the road side. My character told me that with modern car security systems, it had become extremely difficult to simply steal a car by the old methods of “hot-wiring”. A recent model Audi could take four hours to start, he told me, so it is much easier to break into a house and simply steal the keys. And of course, while you are inside the house, then you might as well steal some valuables there, too…
I am often asked whether I get scared doing my research – particularly when I go on raids with the police. The answer is yes, I do sometimes! But one of most scary moments I’ve ever had was last April, researching Dead Man’s Time in Marbella, the capital of the so-called Costa del Crime. Like a smaller, even darker Brighton, Marbella appears to the outsider an elegant, expensive resort. But inside it is riddled with corruption – with its former mayor jailed - and home to serious fraternities of Russian, Albanian and Irish Mafia.
I had an introduction to a British bar owner who, in his former life was a bare-knuckle fighter, who had to leave the UK in a hurry after falling foul of one of the London Triad gangs. He greeted me by saying he was a big fan of mine, particularly my novel, Dead Man’s Grip. ‘I liked the torture in that one.’ He said. The bar was empty apart from six seriously nasty looking Brits, with shaven heads, tattoos, all wearing cut-off jeans and wife-beaters, clutching beer cans and watching footie. “How’s business?” I asked him. ‘Not so good. Had a bit of a nasty shooting in here,’ he told me. A dispute between two men over a girl, resulted in the boyfriend being shot in each testicle and another six times in the chest. I asked the bar owner what the price was for getting someone ‘whacked’ in Marbella. ‘You just have to give a Moroccan a Bin Laden,’ he replied. He explained a Bin Laden is a €500.00 note – apparently as scarce as Bin Laden sightings used to be, and a Moroccan would take a day ferry across from Ceuta, do the hit and be back in Morocco the same day – and could live two years on that money. Life doesn’t come – or go – much cheaper.
What type of advice would you have for beginning authors who want to get their first novel published?
Read the big bestsellers in your chosen genre and don’t be afraid to deconstruct them to work out how the authors made those books work.
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