WE all loved Broadchurch. It was a gripping TV drama about a childkiller set in the heart of homely Dorset.
Every week we tuned in to see if David Tennant’s troubled Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and his sidekick, the feisty Detective Superintendent Ellie Miller, could crack the case.
Well I say we, but in one particular house in Sussex the first time DI Hardy visited the murder scene it had internationally renowned crime author Peter James reaching for the off button.
I was lucky enough to get a chat with the great man himself after the London Book Fair recently, and my main article can be found here on the Express website.
Peter, 67, has written 12 novels around his character, the Brighton DS Roy Grace, and gave an enthralled gathering of authors the inside information on how he does it. And key to it all is that nasty little word research.
If there is one thing that makes me groan out loud it’s research. I’m a writer and I want to write. I want to sit down at my computer and get on with it, rather than spending hours in the local library pouring over books or writing Emails to experts before waiting vainly for the reply that never comes.
Unfortunately it is also one of the most important tools in a writer’s armoury. In Peter’s list of priorities for a good novel it comes second, behind characters and in front of plot.
So back to Broadchurch. Peter has fantastic contacts among the police community which have helped him bring Roy Grace’s world to life.
He says: “Some of these police shows on TV really annoy me. They rarely emulate what happens in real life.
“I remember the crime scene in Broadchurch after the little kid had fallen off the cliff. All the men turn up in their white suits so they don’t contaminate the crime scene, then David Tenant arrives in just his normal clothes and breezes in.
“The Crime Scene manager would never let that happen. The first officer to arrive secures the scene and then no one, it doesn’t matter who they are, is going to be allowed in without being fully suited.”
Peter talks of another incident where he picked up a crime book set in the UK by an American author. “He had one of his main characters driving up the M25 to Birmingham,” said Peter. “I thought: if he can’t be bothered to find a simple road map online then he can’t be much cop.”
Talking of cops, Peter didn’t start out life as a crime writer. Originally he wrote spy novels.
He explains: “Ian Fleming had just died and I thought there must be a vacancy in the spy thriller genre so I wrote a book called Dead Letter Drop. To my complete surprise it got published but to my even greater surprise it didn’t sell – I think I offloaded about 1500 copies.
“I decided I needed a publicist so went to Tony Mullikan (Midas PR) who booked me on a Nationwide Tour. I visited nearly every town and city in the UK, went on TV and radio stations to give interviews, then published my follow-up book Atom Bomb Angel. It sold 1750 copies.
“Then I was told, ‘You will never succeed if you write about something you cannot research. Find something you’re passionate about.
“Then I had a massive stroke of luck. We got burgled. The policeman who came around, a Detective Constable, saw my books on the shelf and told me if I ever needed help with my research to get in touch.
“Me and my wife then met up socially with him and his wife, who was also a detective, and we became good friends. Through that initial relationship I’ve met lots of people associated with the police, like Scenes of Crimes Officers and such, and found them fascinating. I figure no one sees more in a 30-year career than a copper. These people are incredibly resourceful.”
Peter started being inviting me out on patrol, to crime scenes and to the mortuary for post mortems. They gave him invaluable insights on which to base his books.
Now he enjoys his research saying: “When I set out writing a book it’s nice that I am learning a little bit about the world, too.”
He is branching out soon to launch his own YouTube channel. It’s worth keeping an eye on so check out Peter’s website here for the May 19 launch.
As for me, I still see research as evil, but after talking to Peter I realise it’s a necessary one…