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Peter James: watching my book come to life, working as a binman and giving a talk at Ford Prison

PUBLISHED: 13:34 05 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:34 05 August 2015

Peter James in Brighton

Peter James in Brighton

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

“You must feel like God!” lovely Tina Hobley said to me during rehearsals of the stage play of my novel Dead Simple, in which she appears as the cunningly evil Ashley. “We were all inside your head when you wrote the book, and now we’re standing here in front of you!”

She had a point. It has been a strange but hugely rewarding feeling to watch something I’ve written come so vividly to life. I’ve now seen the play more than 30 times, as I attend opening nights around the UK on its six-month tour, and I find it equally fascinating to watch the audience. Something that I’d never realised is just how important the audience reaction is to the cast. One very humorous moment came a few weeks ago in the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. There’s a scene when the theatre goes pitch dark and Jamie Lomas finds himself incarcerated in a coffin in remote woodlands. He cries out, “Where am I?” A member of the audience helpfully shouted back, “You’re in Woking, mate!”

I didn’t feel like a deity but I certainly felt a wonderful sense of elation when my editor phoned to tell me that my latest Roy Grace novel, You Are Dead, had just gone straight to the top of the hardback fiction bestseller list, after only three days on sale. But here’s the rub: whilst I bask briefly in that glory, I’m also fretting about the next book, which I’m halfway through. I always find the halfway point the worst – too far in to stop and start again, but is the book working? Can this little baby possibly appear at the top of the bestseller lists again this time next year, or will this be the one that crashes and burns? I’m not alone – almost every professional author I talk to tells me the same! But there are worse ways to make a living, and I can tell you one of them: a couple of years ago I worked a full 6am-2pm shift as a binman in Brighton, for research for a story. Yes, folks, I am a fully qualified wheelie bin operator/loader! I had to do this qualification for ’elf ’n’ safety before being allowed on board the vehicle. I came away with the greatest respect for my co-workers. It is a tough job – and at times somewhat whiffy.

From wheelie bins to in the bin… I’ve been to prison twice this month. The first was the AGM of Brighton’s wonderful Old Police Cells Museum, of which I’m Vice President. All of Brighton’s glorious criminal past is there – and did you know it was down in these cells that the only murder of a Chief Constable in England took place? Henry Solomon in 1844, struck over the head by a poker. My second incarceration was in Sussex’s Ford Prison, where I gave a talk to 40 offenders. I support a wonderful charity, The Reading Agency, which works to improve literacy in many areas including prisons. I was told a staggering statistic some years ago – the average reading age in UK prisons is just nine years old.

My travels have taken me to some great – and one not so great – eateries recently. Let’s get the low spot over with: Marco Pierre White, once one of my favourite restaurateurs, has opened yet another outpost in the unlikely environs of the Best Western Yew Lodge Hotel in Derbyshire. It was a truly depressing experience. Our waitress told us Mr White had not yet visited.

Things were redeemed by a wonderful restaurant near Nottingham, called Crème. And if you find yourself peckish in Manchester, Australasia is a fabulous experience: fun, stylish, and with brilliant pan-Asiatic food. We also had time for some great oysters and seafood at Pearson’s in Whitstable, where I’d gone to speak at a literary festival.

Closer to home, Hove’s Le Nantais Bistro. On a Tuesday night I did an event with Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim). In a reversal of roles he gave a reading of passages from You Are Dead – he is thrilled that I have skeletal remains discovered outside his Hove Lagoon café, The Big Beach Café! We gave Nantais the true test of a restaurant: booking for the latest time they serve, then turning up apologetically half an hour after that with extra people. The staff could not have been more delightful. The food, an uber-modern take on French Bistro classics and additional inventive touches, is excellent and well presented. My Portobello mushroom, goat’s cheese and spinach stack was sublime. The wine list is short but perfectly formed. I’m told it is taking on bigger premises, soon – it fully deserves to.

Peter James’s new Roy Grace novel, ‘You Are Dead’, is now out in hardback and his collection of short stories, A Twist Of The Knife, is out in paperback. He donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities. This month’s fee will be given to the Old Police Cells Museum in Brighton.

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