Peter James is the author of crime novels such as Not Dead Yet and A Twist of a Knife.
What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
I actually believe "writers block" is a myth, and used as an excuse! I think it comes out of not having properly worked out an idea, and becomes a self-indulgent excuse. "Oh my dears, I have writers block...." Writers are writers and in my view can always write, if they want to. I've come to a dead end sometimes during the course of writing a story, but when I've anyalyzed the problem, I realized that I hadn't thought it through. A thirty-minute walk around the block or across fields will normally do the trick!
What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
For me publisher's deadline are a pretty good prompt! I was always the kid at school, like many others, who only started writing an essay the night before it was due to be handed in! But what I find truly helpful is a routine. My best writing time is from 6-10pm at night (every writer is different) and at 6pm I sit at my desk with a vodka martini I've mixed myself, put on my music—jazz in the first half of a book and opera arias in the second half—turn of the phones and ignore emails and get myself into a "zone." I love this period of time, is my "me time" and that martini is a treat I look forward to throughout the day! I do this six days a week during the seven months I am working on a novel.
What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
My first novel was a really bad spy thriller called Dead Letter Drop (which I now deliberately keep out of print). I wrote the book when I was in my late 20s, after reading an article in The Times that there was a shortage of spy thrillers, at the end of the 1970s, following the deaths of Ian Fleming and a number of other spy writers. I was desperate to be a published author so I thought to myself that this could be my break! Well, it was, to my amazement Dead Letter Drop got me a agent and he got it published, but to my even bigger amazement, it totally did not sell! Nor did the next, Atom Bomb Angel, nor the third, Billionaire. At a party I poured my heart out to a young lady called Elizabeth Buchan, who was then working on jacket blurb at Penguin in London (she is now a hugely successful novelist herself) and she gave me a piece of life changing advice: "You will never succeed as an author unless you write what you are passionate about and what you can know and understand. You can never know the world of spies without either having been in it, like Ian Fleming, or been a journalist immersed in that field." She was totally right. I'm deeply fascinated by the world of crime—by both the police and the villains. For over twenty years I have immersed myself in police culture, spending an average of a day a week out with the police, mostly in the UK but also in many countries overseas, including the USA, and also visiting many prisons. I know that it is the research I have done which has informed my books that gives them the feeling of authenticity that appeals to my readers today.