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Peter James: Being recognised and an amazing visit to the Maldives

PUBLISHED: 15:34 08 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:44 08 April 2016

Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. During my years as a movie producer, before writing full-time, I worked with some of the greats, including Ernest Borgnine, Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Al Pacino and Sharon Stone – to name-drop but a few – and for most actors the only thing worse than being recognised by their adoring public is not being recognised... but it does make life hellish for them at times.

I was reminded of this recently, having a drink with delightful Shane Richie in a pub, discussing his role in my play The Perfect Murder. Within minutes he was surrounded by so many adoring fans, any sensible conversation became impossible. Fortunately, as an author, I’m relatively incognito. I get recognised in public at times – in fact twice on a plane flying back from the Maldives just recently – but fortunately not mobbed. For writers it is actually the other way around – we like to spot our books being read! But there is always a moment when that happens when you wonder whether to approach the person or not. American novelist David Baldacci told me of the time he saw a man reading a copy of his Absolute Power at Los Angeles Airport. When he approached, asking if the man was enjoying it, and saying that he was the author and would be happy to sign it, he was greeted with a surly “Get lost”. Another author friend of mine saw a woman reading a copy of his book on a train. He asked her, breezily, if she was enjoying it and she gave him the bruising reply, “No, I found it here and I can understand why it was dumped!”

I had a happier experience last week in the Maldives when I saw a lady on the beach reading my latest, You Are Dead. She nearly fell off her sun-lounger in surprise when I introduced myself. Subsequently her husband and I had a long chat about Roy Grace’s love of Alfa Romeos in the hotel swimming pool!

Often when you are given a big build-up for a restaurant or a holiday destination there follows an inevitable degree of disappointment. It is, as they say, all about managing expectations. The start of every year is when I do my most creative thinking, planning my next Roy Grace novel. Having lived with a book for a year, it is really hard to get it out of my mind and start thinking afresh about the next, and I find the best way to do it is to escape to somewhere completely different. For many years I’ve wanted to visit the Maldives, always hearing great things about it, so Lara and I decided this year we’d give it a try. I can honestly report that for one of the very few times in my life, I’ve been somewhere that way exceeded my carefully managed expectations.

Every resort island of the Maldives is a single hotel, some tiny, which you can circumnavigate on foot in five minutes, with just one bar and restaurant, some a little bigger. The one we chose, Kuramathi, takes an hour to walk around – on glorious white sand most of the way – and has ten restaurants and a number of bars including a great cigar lounge. It also has superb swimming pools, a tennis court, plenty of wildlife and beautiful snorkelling and diving waters for which these islands are most renowned. We shared beach walks with tiny hermit crabs, strolls through the deeply wooded interior with fruit bats, moorhens and lizards, and even swam with sharks, but fortunately not the author-eating kind...

The weather was an almost perfect temperature day and evening, rarely too hot to bear, and with very little humidity. The staff were truly a delight. A mixture mostly of locals, Indians and Sri Lankans, the service was very sharp and efficient, along with being fun and friendly – a combination I really like in a holiday resort. We had one of the classic Maldivian water villas, on pontoons out over the crystal sea and, great joy after being pestered by the creatures last year in Mexico, we barely saw or heard a mosquito for the whole fortnight.

The food choices across the restaurants was modern and world class, ranging from local to international, and with a strong emphasis on fish, especially tuna, and seafood. There were fine Indian, Thai, and Italian restaurants, with a very high quality range of world cuisines alternating daily in the less formal buffet-style restaurants, along with local Maldivian food, which we really liked. It has strong Indian and Sri Lankian influences, because of its proximity to these countries, and gently rather than eye-wateringly spicy. But if you are watching your waistline, be warned. Maldivian people have a very sweet tooth, and there were dangerously good pastry chefs on the island!

The biggest bonus of our break was that I made good headway on planning my next Roy Grace, the 13th in the series. I even wrote the opening sentence, which is always a big moment for me as I think the opening line and the last line are the two most important in any book. So now all I have to do is write the last line – and the 400 or so pages in between. Still, for the next few weeks, while we’re still in the grip of this cold, damp winter, I’ll cheer myself by occasionally glancing at the picture of myself hard at work in my Maldives office!

Peter James’ third ever novel, Billionaire, has just been republished after 30 years out of print. And his next Roy Grace novel, Love You Dead, will be published on 19 May.

He donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities and this month’s fee will be given to Brighton Retired Greyhound Trust.

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Peter James: Working as a binman, visiting Little Fish Market and The Perfect Murder in theatre - Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

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