Peter James: the hardest thing about writing, an aptly named registrar and the best rosé
PUBLISHED: 10:25 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:25 23 November 2015
Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace
I’m often asked what I find the hardest part about writing. Is it coming with up fresh ideas, doing the plotting or working out the ending? People are surprised when I say one is character names. I remember ploughing through those enormous Russian novels as a schoolkid, and becoming totally confused because so many names sounded so alike, that in the end I was constantly turning back pages or looking up the character index – if there was one – to figure out who was who. I was determined when I began writing to make the character names clearly different and easily distinguishable. Although sometimes that becomes a challenge, because several times a year at charity events I auction off the right to be a character in a future book, and at times I get sent some testing names. But my biggest challenge of all was when I once offered up for a prize that a company could have a dead body found on its business premises. It was won by a chicken farmer, Keith Winter, of Stonery Chicken Farm. So I had the challenge of placing human remains in his farm – which appears in Not Dead Yet.
Another challenge is to make the names appropriate for the characters. I always smile when I read about someone appropriately named for their job. There really is a Judge Judge, a Dr Nurse who is married to a nurse called Nurse Nurse, a Cardinal Sin (former archbishop of Manila), two eminent urologists called JW Splatt and D Weedon, and of course that poet, William Wordsworth! Jung believed that some people’s names influence their choice of career. Living proof here on our Sussex doorstep is the current Registrar of Brighton and Hove, the genuinely, truly lovely Trevor Love!
It was Trevor who married Lara and I, and there could be no more appropriately named person. Nor could there have been a more gorgeous setting where we held our wedding than Jeremy’s restaurant, on 23 July, one of the very few fine days of our summer. I’ve been something of a Jeremy Ashpool groupie, following him around ever since discovering his amazing culinary skills at the King’s Head in Cuckfield, back in the early 1980s. He then moved to The Crabtree, a gastropub opposite glorious South Lodge, where he truly came into his own. He’s now, for the past 15 years or so, been in what feels to me like his spiritual home, the glorious former orangery at Borde Hill, near Haywards Heath, with the adjoining building converted into a tearoom and run by his wife, Vera. And as a bonus, Jeremy has the nicest sommelier in Sussex, Chico.
Ashpool, with his team, has in my view been the leading inspiration for so many Sussex restaurants for the past three decades. Whether it is poached Selsey lobster with shellfish bisque, confit John Dory with samphire, or saddle and belly of lamb with sheep cheese, he’s the master of the delicate touch, and of always making the centrepiece the flavour of the dish, rather than mugging it with sauces. The closest comparison I can make are the brilliant restaurants in the Ginger group.
From Haywards Heath we lucked a clear moment through the Eurotunnel nightmare to France, then Italy, staying a night en route at the splendid, privately owned 13th Chateau de Vault de Lugny in the Burgundy region. If you want a true French chateau experience, this one is as idyllic as they get. More of our travels in France and Italy next month.
We returned in time for my birthday. For a birthday present, Lara took me and our two dogs, Oscar and Spook to the dog-friendly Kennels restaurant at Goodwood. The dogs now have their own car seat harnesses and sat happily in the rear with the roof down and the wind on their face all the way. We enjoyed superb tuna sashimi, fresh local crab and finely judged poached salmon – with a sublime rosé. Few people have a better eye for taste and quality in this county than Lord March.
I think rosé is frequently a much underrated summer drink. Too many people have been put off them after one mouthful of sickly “blush” wines, and other noxiously sweet pinks that belong on a dessert wine list. Some of the most reliable are the Provence ones. Minuty and Bandol are two names to look out for on a list. My favourite of all is called MIP – which bizarrely stands for Made In Provence. I get it from Lea and Sandeman’s branch in Notting Hill – and they deliver to Sussex.
• Peter James: visiting some creepy crawlies in Holland, confronting a demon and dinner with Norman Cook - Crime novelist Peter James writes about his gastronomic adventures at home and abroad, and keeps us updated on everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace
• Peter James: watching my book come to life, working as a binman and giving a talk at Ford Prison - Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace