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Notes from Abroad

This has been somewhat of a week of contrasts.I delivered the manuscript for my ninth Roy Grace novel, Dead Man’s Time, to my UK and US publishers—only a little late (!)—had tea with my delightful namesake, P.D. James, in her London home, and went hunting wild boar in Russia with the chief of police of Moscow. Erm, in that order! As one does …

Phyllis James is truly a delightful lady, and at ninety-two years old sharp as a tack, with a wicked sense of humour and the joyous spirit of someone half her age. She lives in a very elegant bright green house in London’s smart Holland Park, nicely cluttered with books and pictures in a way that so many author’s homes are. We had a great time chatting about writing—and it was good to hear from her that, just as I do, she is always nervous when starting a new book, wondering if this will be the one that doesn’t work. We spent a good part of our time together swapping gallows humour stories and sick jokes, and then she said she had this idea, because she is always being asked if we are related, that perhaps we should pretend to be cousins. So folks, I had tea with my new cousin, Phyllis!

Going out with the police regularly, I constantly encounter their gallows humour—it is the way they cope with the daily horrors that many of them see. I heard one a couple of weeks ago that I particularly liked: I was spending a day in the Sussex Police helicopter—call sign Hotel 900. Sussex has a beauty spot called Beachy Head—a cliff with a 530-foot sheer drop onto rocks below. It has, sadly, become famous as the UK’s no. 1 suicide destination. The crew of Hotel 900 regularly have to scoop the remains of people off the rocks, and I was shocked when one of the crew said to me that quite often the jumpers have scratches on their hands and chalk under their fingernails—the implication being they changed their minds on the way down. The police observer on the helicopter said to me, wryly, “I’m thinking of starting a bungee-jumping business on Beachy Head. I’m going to call it ‘Try Before You Die.’”

From crime fiction royalty to real British Royalty … Another lady I had tea with this year—well, rather fine Champagne, actually—was Her Majesty The Queen, at Buckingham Palace, along with three hundred invitees from the literary world to celebrate the bicentenary of Charles Dickens. I have a tenuous connection to The Queen through my family’s business, Cornelia James, which makes Her Majesty’s gloves. Like P.D. James, Her Majesty is equally sharp, and when I commented on her gloves, she asked me if I was aware that William Shakespeare was also the son of a glove maker? So, it felt pretty nice being compared to Shakespeare by our Queen!

This has in many ways been a particularly lucky year for me. Thanks to my wonderful UK fans, I achieved my sixth consecutive Roy Grace Sunday Times no. 1 with the paperback of Not Dead Yet, simultaneously being the book that ended the Fifty Shades Of Grey’s twenty-five-week unbroken run at the top of the chart! That felt pretty good. And subsequently, I achieved something that made me even happier—I won my very first USA writing award, a Barry, for Dead Man’s Grip. So now I’m looking ahead to 2013 and thinking I have a pretty big mountain to climb in order to top this past year.

I am writing this from Moscow, where I have been attending the Moscow Book Fair and hunting with the police chief, who I got friendly with last time I was here four years ago. It was an awesome experience to be in a hut, in a snowbound forest, two hundred miles north of Moscow in the middle of the night, but it seemed all the animals decided to stay home and the only shots we had were vodka ones—constantly—every few minutes. They say guns and drink don’t mix—try telling that to the Russians. After a dozen toasts (glasses drained each time) who cared about hunting anything? Na zdorovje!

The big shock of my Russian trip has been to learn of the level of e-book piracy here: My publisher estimates that for every e-book sold, two more are downloaded illegally. I say it is time to stop using this word “piracy” because it has a romantic, swashbuckling ring to it, and let’s call what it really is: “nasty, grubby theft.” If someone broke into your home and stole two-thirds of everything in it, you would not call that piracy … I think you’d call it being robbed. Well, in my view, every time one of our e-books is illegally downloaded, we authors are robbed of our earnings.

Author Bio:

PETER JAMES is one of the UK’s most treasured crime and thriller novelists. His Roy Grace detective novels have sold over 13 million copies worldwide.  The series is now translated into 35 languages and his last five Roy Grace novels went straight into the UK Sunday Times bestseller lists at #1.  Peter has developed a close working relationship with the Sussex Police over many years, spending an average of one day a week with them and his writing reveals a unique insight into the reality of modern day police work. He has also carried out extensive research with police in Moscow, Munich, Paris, Melbourne, Sweden, New York and Romania, and regularly attends international police conferences to ensure he is at the cutting edge of investigative police work.

 

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