Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

Interview with top selling author, Peter James – plus review of The House on Cold Hill

30th December 2015

Peter James, the Sunday Times best selling author, very kindly agreed to be interviewed by TripFiction about his latest book, The House on Cold Hill – a ghost story set in Sussex.

First the interview, and then the TripFiction review of the book…

TF: The House On Cold Hill is, I believe, your first ghost novel. What made you make the switch from more conventional crime thrillers?

Peter James

Peter James

PJ: The House On Cold Hill is my first full-length supernatural novel for over 20 years but before that I wrote several supernatural thrillers, such as ‘Possession’. Over the years that I’ve been a published author I have experimented with different genres. I began writing spy thrillers, then moved to supernatural thrillers, then to psychological thrillers, as well as a black comedy ‘The Perfect Murder’ which was turned into a hugely successful stage play, before turning to the crime thrillers that have been so successful, globally for me. I am fascinated in the human condition and why people do the things that they do, and I find my crime thrillers are the best way I can study human behaviour. I have just started writing a religious themed thriller that has been a work-in-progress for 23 years, but after that I’ll return to crime, with an occasional ghost story as a change.

TF: You have yourself, over the years, lived in several haunted houses. Are any of the experiences described in The House on Cold Hill in any way based on anything that has happened to you? Or are thEy all (hopefully) from your imagination?

PJ: The House On Cold Hill is very much inspired by – and modeled on – an isolated historic house in Sussex that my former wife and I bought in 1989, and lived in for a decade – and which turned out to be very seriously haunted.

TF: What, for me, makes the book a particularly good read is the way you bring the conventional haunted house story bang up to date. Yes, there are cold draughts and bolting cats – but there are also mysterious text messages, photos that appear and disappear on iPhones, and disruptive emails that cannot be explained. Did you set out to create this modernity deliberately, or did it just develop as the book developed?

PJ: I wanted to put a modern slant on a traditional ghost story. I was thinking of new ways a ghost would communicate in the modern day, like through Facetime, computers and phones. There are time-slips in the book also, so the reader is left wondering if this is a ghost from the past …. Or from the future…..

TF: The way you play with timelines adds to the sense of the story being ‘out of control’. Did this come to you as you wrote the book, or was it part of the pre-planning?

PJ: Back in around 1987 when I was researching Possession I became fascinated with just what exactly ghosts are. Over several following years when I did a great deal of in-depth research, there were a number of theories I found plausible. One in particular is the “time-slip” concept – that there are many dimensions to existence and we in our daily lives only consciously access just a few. For example, we can’t hear some pitches of dog whistle. What else cannot we see or hear? Could the dead still be visible years before they died, in a different dimension? Could we have time-sLips forward into the near or even far future? So I did very much want to put some of these ideas in my story.

TF: From 2005 to 2009 all the titles you published were in the immensely successful Roy Grace detective series. Since then you have rather more mixed and matched… How going forward do you intend to juggle what you write – bearing in mind the continuing great popularity of Roy Grace, (the latest book, You Are Dead, published earlier this year is currently top of the Sunday Times best sellers list)?

PJ: Nothing has changed in terms of writing a Roy Grace novel each year, but more recently in addition to a Roy Grace I have also written some stand-alones (such as ‘Perfect People’ and ‘The House On Cold Hill’), short story collections and I have also re-published three of my very early novels (out of print for 30 years!) due to popular demand by my fans!

TF: How important is location in what you write? You were brought up in Brighton and many of the Roy Grace series – and The House On Cold Hill – are set in the area.

PJ: It’s hugely important in order to give readers a sense of where the novel is set. For me there was only ever one location for Roy Grace to be based….my hometown of Brighton. To the outsider, Brighton is a hip, beautiful seaside city, but it has a long history of darkness – right back to its roots as a smugglers village! In Regency days it gained a reputation both as a fashionable bathing resort, but in 1841 when the London-Brighton railway line opened, criminals flooded down from London, finding rich pickings and a much nicer environment than their city! They brought cock-fighting, prostitution, pick-pockets, muggers, smugglers, burglars, and gangs. Simultaneously, with the railway enabling quick access from London, many wealthy Londoners brought their mistresses down here and it became known as a place for “dirty weekends”.

Three consecutive past Chief Constables of Sussex Police have all told me that Brighton is the favoured place in the UK for first division criminals to live in. The reasons are: Firstly it has a lot of escape routes, very important to all criminals: It has the Channel ports, Eurotunnel, and Gatwick Airport just 25 minutes away. London is only 50 minutes by train. It has a major seaport on either side – Shoreham and Newhaven, perfect for importing drugs and exporting stolen cars, antiques and cash. It has the largest number of antique shops in the UK – perfect for laundering stolen goods and cash. For many recent years it held the title the Tourist Board do not like me mentioning:   “Injecting Drug Death Capital of England” ! It has a wealthy young population combined with the largest gay community in the UK, providing a big market for recreational drugs. It has two universities, so a big drug-taking student community. A huge number of nightclubs and a large transient population. Very importantly it has not been over-written by other writers. The only previous author to delve seriously into its criminal underbelly – and quite brilliantly, was Graham Greene in ‘Brighton Rock’ in 1938.

TF: How do you write? Set hours each day? PLan a book in detail before you start – or just sketch it out?

PJ: I plan a book carefully, it is really the first 20% that I plan in detail, along with the ending, which I always plan, to give me a “road map” and the three high points – but after that I like events to happen spontaneously, and for the story to start to take on a life of its own – that is when, for me, the real excitement starts. I try to ensure that whatever I’m doing I leave myself time to write 1000 words 6 days a week. I have offices in my Sussex and Notting Hill homes, but I can write anywhere. Thanks to laptops, my office has long ceased to be a concrete space and I can write on the move. I actually write really well on airplanes, in the back of a car and in hotel rooms! But my favourite writing time is 6 – 9:30 in the evening. I got used to that when I was working full time in film and TV, and made this my ‘me’ time. I have a stiff drink – often a vodka martini, with four olives, put on music and get in a zone. I really love this time of the day.

TF: What are you currently working on?

PJ: I have just submitted the latest draft of Roy Grace number 12, called ‘Love You Dead’. I have the stage play of my novella, ‘The Perfect Murder’, coming back on tour early next year so we are getting ready for the rehearsals for that. It has had two hugely successful nationwide tours already. I have just started writing my next book … it is actually away from the crime genre…it’s a standalone novel – on the theme of what might happen if someone claimed to have absolute proof of the existence of God. It is a subject that has long intrigued me, and I have been working on the research planning of this book for nearly two decades. I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!

TF: What is your favourite Nespresso capsule? [For those of you who don’t understand the point of this question, please read the book!]

PJ: Dharkan! Every morning!

Thank you, Peter…

You can connect with Peter via Twitter, Facebook and on his website.

And now our review:

The House on Cold Hill by Peter James – a ghost story set in Sussex.

IMG_3118The House on Cold Hill is a scary and very exciting read from an author best known for his Roy Grace detective series (You Are Dead is currently top of the Sunday Times best sellers list). The first 5 pages set a scene, which then comes to a dramatic and unexpected ending. The final 3 pages show how the story carries on after the events in the book. And the intervening 301 pages chronicle the just over two weeks that the Harcourt family lives in Cold Hill House… Oliver Harcourt, his wife Caroline, and their 12 year old daughter, Jade move from their town house in Brighton to Cold Hill, in the country a few miles away. Oliver is setting up his own web development business, Caroline is a successful solicitor, and Jade is at school. The House has been neglected and, as they soon discover, has a story to tell. Not only is the work they are required to do to restore it much more than they had envisaged (and budgeted for…), but it is also haunted. It soon becomes clear that they are sharing the house with an elderly lady dressed in blue… Initially the sightings are fairly innocuous, but they soon become malevolent. Ceilings collapse in the night, taps are mysteriously turned on and flood the house, a bed rotates 180 degrees (in a space not big enough to permit this). The electrics fail. Further investigation discovers anomalies in the geography of the house – windows can be seen from outside, but there are no matching rooms on the inside. As they extend their search, the Harcourts discover the terrifying history of the House – and wonder whether they will ever escape its clutches.

So far, a pretty conventional ghost story – complete with cold draughts and cats bolting out of doors… But what really, for me, makes the story so good is the way that James brings it bang up to date. The sinister goings on are modernised… Pictures appear and disappear on iPhones, scary text messages come through with no warning, emails are sent that could potentially destroy Oliver’s budding business. It is all, actually, pretty believable… Time also becomes warped which adds to the sense of things being ‘out of control’. Oliver sees his daughter and a friend playing by the pond in the garden at a time when they are out at a riding lesson – and then sees them again in exactly the same place doing exactly the same things after they have returned. The vicar calls to discuss the haunting, and then re-appears again ten minutes later to have exactly the same conversation. Towards the end of the book, Oliver goes into the village and finds it very unfamiliar – it is only later that we discover he has experienced it as it will be two years later, with new shops and the pub replaced by a bistro… It’s as though the certainties in life have moved out of kilter…

The House on Cold Hill really is a great and very spooky twist on a conventional ghost story. I thoroughly recommend it.

Tony for the TripFiction team.

Please come by and connect with the Team at TripFiction via social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.

Subscribe to future blog posts

Latest Blogs

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *