I’m approaching my 10th anniversary with HarperCollins Canada and lately I’ve been big on compiling my “Career Highlight Reel.” Last weekend a new one got added to the list: an afternoon spent with one of my favourite authors, master of the crime genre and #1 bestseller (multiple times over!) Peter James in Brighton, UK.
I’ve been a huge fan of Peter’s for a few years now and he was kind enough to invite myself and my boss to his home for an amazing lunch. (Publishing perk!) Sure, we talked a little about work but for me the best part was seeing how Peter works. For those of you who have never read his books, what distinguishes Peter above most other crime and mystery novelists is his authenticity and research. In the office we joke that Peter is like a “real-life Castle,” in that he has very close ties to police forces around the world but particularly in Brighton where his Roy Grace novels are set. Not only does that make his books much more believable and, therefore, enjoyable but it makes a visit to his home like walking through the world of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.
The first thing you see walking in to Peter’s home office is this amazing punch clock, an artifact of the glove factory Peter’s family use to own.
Peter clocks in every day when he comes to write and places his time card beside a few names that will be familiar to readers (this is where I geeked out…just a little. It wasn’t noticeable at all, I swear).
Upstairs Peter’s office is filled with research material and items he’s collected throughout the course of his career, including a mock crime scene staged by the real-life Roy Grace, a copper friend of Peter’s.
The walls are decorated with various citations and notices, framed bestseller lists, more research (I tried not to look too hard for fear of spoilers) and this, little piece of memorabilia that some of Peter’s other friends put together for him:
As you’d expect, Peter’s office and home has book everywhere and it was fascinating to see all of the foreign editions of his books. It seems like every country in the world has their own edition of the Roy Grace series. I can only imagine how rewarding that is for an author. Like a rockstar who can perform anywhere and have every fan singalong, Peter has Roy fans the world over.
Mixed among all of Peter’s research are notes, books, various letters and artifacts from Peter’s long career in publishing. There is an entire display case of police badges, pins, handcuffs, billy clubs, etc. (I would not want to be the burglar who came across Peter in this room if he happened to be struggling with a difficult plot point!) But my favourite was this note, from Peter’s headmaster in 1967. Imagine the divergence of young Peter James’ life at that moment. As a reader, I’m extremely grateful he didn’t up a solicitor or professor!
After lunch Peter was kind enough to take us on a personal tour of Roy Grace’s Brighton. Pointing out various landmarks where key plot points occurred. (Sweetly, he was always very cautious not to spoil anything for me as I’m currently only on Book 8 of 9!) I really can’t thank Peter enough for a wonderful afternoon and amazing experience. Getting on the train in Brighton to return to London where we stationed for the week, I felt like I’d had a surreal day and even then realized I’d have a hard time communicating how terrific a day it was.
But later that night in London night my boss and I went for a walk to find a dinner spot and it occurred to me what a fantastic walking city London is. One of my favourite all-time authors, Charles Dickens, was a famous walker himself and I found myself daydreaming about how cool it would be to take a tour of Dickens’ London with the man himself as my guide. And that’s really how I felt taking that tour of Brighton with Peter James. Every Saturday there is a Roy Grace walk in Brighton but I got the personalized tour (spoiler-free) from the man himself. Can you imagine a career highlight better than that? For me, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is a real person and for Peter he is too. Here I was listening to Roy’s creator, “here’s where Roy used to work,” “here’s where character X jumped to his death,” and thinking of these people as real to me as anyone we passed on the street, as the events having really happened because, well, to me they had. As a reader we want our authors to make us feel that realism–and Peter had already done that for me over the course of all his books–but having this great author provide the context and narrative in real life was an experience I’ll never forget.
I understand most people won’t have that exact opportunity but after this I will make a point to “touch” the places in my favourite novels more consistently when I travel. And for those of you who have never read one of Peter’s books I strongly encourage you to do so right away…like, now! And when you do and you’re considering your next vacation, take it from me, Brighton, UK will be happy to have you and while you’re there enjoy a walk through Roy Grace’s favourite haunts.
Follow me on Twitter @corybeatty
And follow Peter on Twitter @peterjamesuk