After driving to the beautiful Cathedral City of Chichester, I walked a short distance to a coffee shop. I entered through the glass fronted wide doors as a wonderful aroma assaulted my senses. Considering that I was early for my meeting I purchased a drink and chose a seat in a quiet corner of the wood encrusted cafe where I waited for Peter Lovesey.
Okay, so I am no author, it was fun trying though!
Now, back to business, for those of you whom have not heard of Peter, he has been an internationally published author since the 1960’s whose books have been occasionally adapted for television and film as well as being translated into 30 different languages. I had a lovely conversation with Peter about his journey through the years that have led to his latest novel Cop to Corpse.
I initially asked Peter to tell me a little about his self and to explain what he does for a living.
Well I am a crime writer but do some sports writing on the side for magazines, I started off writing a sports book. I started writing articles about the history of track and field for magazines eventually I turned most of the articles into a book 1968 called The Kings of Distance which was named as the sports book of the year in one magazine. After publishing that book I did not think there was anything else I could do.
How easy was it to get published at that time?
It was a bit tricky but I noticed that cricket books had a good sale. I took it to a publisher and they took it out of the slush pile, I was very lucky.
A few years later we saw an article for a crime novel competition, my wife Jax suggested that I use my running interest as a back ground so I entered the competition with a running themed crime novel called Wobble to Death based in the 1880’s.
How long did it take to write?
The deadline was in Three months. But I was working at the time so it was only evenings and weekends. Jax was unwell in hospital so I used to visit her and read the chapters to her and she would review it and give her opinion.
Did it take a lot of research?
Yes, quite a bit.
When I won, I went to London to get the cheque, the gentleman who gave me the cheque held onto it and asked what else I had written and said to write more. So I did! It took about a year to write the book about sergeant Cribb.
That was adapted to TV? Did you assist in the screen writing?
Yes it was, they used the 8th books for the series starring William Simons (Heartbeat actor) because it went well they wanted a second series and asked me to write the scripts as I had no more books for them to adapt.
How different was writing the scripts compared to writing a novel?
There was a lot of pressure; they wanted six scripts in eight months. So Jax and I went for it, writing three each. The ones from books needed condensing down to 51 minutes which was difficult but writing the script went better as it was easier to just write the dialogue.
Was it difficult to put it into script form?
Well it is all dialogue, I only gave small suggestions as to where it is set. You think of the plot and who goes where, put it into three segments to accommodate the advertisement breaks, we plotted it out then thought how is it all expressed in terms of dialogue, you have to be pretty ruthless and get down to the brass tacks.
Did the screen writers change much?
There was only one that I was annoyed about as they changed the murderer. I was livid!
So after that, I found the TV series lovely but realised I could not keep writing Victorian crime forever so I wrote a book based on the Moscow Olympics in 1980. There was a lot of film interest which was very exciting, the film got made amazingly! I changed my name slightly to Peter Lear because people were used to my Victorian whodunits and this was very different. It was about an American girl who was very athletic and went to the Olympics. The film people got excited, the bad luck was the 1980 Olympics was the one that everyone wanted to boycott due to Russia invading Afghanistan so the USA did not compete, so it did not get into USA cinemas, it is shown on TV occasionally, starring James Coburn and Susan Anton and Lesley Caron.
Were you involved in the making of it?
No, not really, I went to see the screen writer but that was all really.
After that I thought what to do next, so I tried different things, writing stand alone crime books. It worked up to another series so I wrote one featuring King Edward VII using Queen victoria’s son Bertie as a detective so that was interesting.
How easy was it to find different methods of murdering someone?
I never found that a problem, I guess I have a criminal mind myself, who knows what would have happened if I had not written books. I once wrote a long list of methods for the New York Times, I had a poisonous jellyfish in a Jacuzzi and pushing a caravan off of a cliff, a pinch of snuff, there are all sorts of things, if you talk to doctors, they tend to come up with ingenious ideas as well.
So I guess you had to keep the methods in keeping with the era?
Some were more modern books. So I was able to use different methods.
Have you visited all of the settings in which you use?
Yes, I like to do that, back in the 20’ and 30’s they made up fictional places but I like real settings and I think the readers enjoy it. I lived near Bath for 20 years so that was an obvious place to base this series of books.
Have you thought about using Chichester?
I have! I wrote The Circle based on a writers’ circle, I went to the library and asked if there is a Chichester based writers’ circle, I was told no so I wrote it and when giving a talk about another book I was asked what I was working on so I told her about the Circle and she said yes, I belong to it so I panicked. I went and met them and told them about the book, and asked if they mind. They were very good about it so I put a piece in the front of the book admitting to my mistake and apologising.
How many books have you written over the years?
It depends which ones you add in, it is getting on for forty. A lot of books are short stories.
How long does each book take to research and write?
About a year to eighteen months, when you are giving your time to something you have to be committed.
Have you had any difficult times over the years?
I have been lucky health wise; my wife had health problems so I managed household chores and book writing. I have been very fortunate in that the publishers have wanted to take the books. I have known my agent since the beginning which is good for continuity. Many of the books are in thirty or forty different languages, this week I signed a contract for one in Korea and Slovak, so I know they are popular. I am very well known internationally.
What is your most prestigious award?
They gave me the Cartier Diamond dagger which is a crime writer’s award. In the beginning of my career I won silver and gold. They do not give you a dagger but give you a broach or tie pin etc. I got a broach that Jax wears.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep up to date with what is going on. I have been given scripts that are rather out dated. I say read, read, read, find out what is current and popular and see what is commercial.
What would you be doing now if you had not fallen into crime writing?
I do not think I would have made a living as a sports writer, I think I would have stayed in teaching. I was head of the English department in a technical college, there was a lot of administration and you hardly saw the students.