The Good Life: Author Peter James
Award-winning crime writer Peter James has sold 21 million books. The 75-year-old author grew up in Brighton with his sister Genevieve and his parents Cornelia and Jack, former glove makers to Elizabeth II.
Her books are set at the resort and have been made into the hit ITV drama series Grace, starring John Simm.
James tells York Membery how the series (from which he earns seven per cent of total profits) has boosted international sales of his books.
He lives in Jersey with his second wife, Lara, 44, and their two dogs, Wally, a goldendoodle, and Spooky, a labradoodle.
What did your parents teach you about money?
My dad always told me to buy ‘quality’ because he warned: if you buy cheap, you buy twice. Unfortunately, I didn’t initially follow his advice and while at boarding school, when I was 18, I bought a beat-up 250cc Triumph motorcycle for £25.
One night a tire burst and I was left lying on the white center line of the Hog’s Back road on the North Downs as lorries roared past me. I bought cheap and it almost killed me; Since then I have always bought the best I could afford.
Have you ever thought about following your parents in making gloves?
My mother Cornelia, a refugee from Nazi Europe, and my father Jack founded the Cornelia James glove factory, which counted the late Queen among its customers and still holds a royal warrant.
I joined the company when I was 20, but my heart just wasn’t in it, and when a sales rep told me, ‘I’m only 12 years away from retirement!’ I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ So I left to try my hand at writing full time and my sister Genevieve now runs it successfully… thankfully without me.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
As a student I had to survive on £8 a week, enough to cover the rent on the converted garage I shared in Chelsea, pay my train fare and feed myself. I needed to earn more to take a girl I liked to dinner and I got a job as a cleaner at ten shillings an hour. But after four weeks my employer politely told me I was “not cut out for the job,” so they fired me. Things didn’t work out with the girl either!
Did you make money from your first book deal?
No, I signed a two-book deal: £2,000 for my debut and £3,000 for the follow-up to a couple of spy novels in the early 1980s. But that first book, Dead Letter Drop (1981) sold only 1,800. hardcover copies, and the sequel didn’t fare much better. Then my luck changed overnight with the publication of my first crime thriller about Roy Grace.
Dead Simple was published in 2005 and the third in the series became my first number one. I now write a book a year (I’m currently writing Grace’s 20th novel) and 18 months ago I negotiated a new five-book deal.
Has a fan ever sent you something valuable?
No, but I was once sent a fan letter written on a piece of wood from a coffin, after Dead Simple came out.
Has the TV adaptation of Grace proven to be a moneymaker?
The television series, starring the brilliant John Simm in the lead role of DS Grace, has been sold in more than 20 countries and will return for a fourth season in 2024. I receive 10 per cent of the production fees and 7 per cent of global profits. It has also given my books, which have been translated into 38 languages, a huge boost in international sales. Lara and I had cameos as police officers.
According to the book: John Simm as DS Grace, based in Brighton
What is your biggest money mistake?
I bought an old Jaguar E-type for £10,000 in 1988 as a 40th birthday present. It was in ruins and I spent another £60,000 restoring it. But I had to sell it when my first wife and I got divorced. Unfortunately the classic car market had temporarily collapsed so I sold it for a paltry £20,000. That hurts.
Your best monetary decision?
Firstly, the creation of the third largest internet service provider in the UK, Pavilion Internet, when there were only 50,000 people online; My two business partners and I sold it in 1998 for a seven-figure sum. Second, invest in Animas, which developed a wearable patch that allows diabetics like me to get an instant insulin reading on their phone. That generated a 20x return on my six-figure investment.
Do you save for a pension?
No, I have seen many changes and detours in pensions. My properties, my classic cars (I have a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette American Racing, a 1964 Mini Cooper S and a 1987 Mercedes 500 SL, among others) and my modern art collection are my pension.
Do you invest in the stock market?
No, but I bought £15,000 worth of Bitcoin as part of my research for a Grace novel. It jumped to £70,000 and then fell. I sold it for £40,000, not a bad return.
Do you own your own home?
We have a 17th century townhouse in Jersey with a 75ft tower where I write. The view from the top is fantastic and I can see the coast of Saint Malo in France. My wife Lara and I are passionate about animals and we have more than a hundred in the enclosure.
Do you donate money to charities?
Lara and I have our own charity, The Really Scary Books Charitable Foundation, and we donate mainly to small charities such as Martlets Hospice, in Brighton, which looked after my mother. Another one I’m passionate about is the Sussex Police Charitable Trust. I am also a patron of the RSPCA.
- Stop Them Dead (Roy Grace 19) is published by PanMacmillan and is available in hardcover.
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