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'Grace' author Peter James on why he was locked in a coffin!

Peter James on 'Grace' - Picture shows John Simm and Richie Campbell.
John Simm and Richie Campbell, lead actors in Grace. (Image credit: ITV/BritBox)

Peter James is a bit of a legend in the world of crime fiction. He's written 36 novels, including the best-selling Roy Grace saga that was recently transformed by Russel Lewis into the latest and greatest crime drama, Grace

The show has been met with rave reviews and became one of the best dramas on ITV when the first episode aired in the UK. Thankfully, there’s more Grace on the way, as it’s just been recommissioned for a second series! 

Grace is now available on BritBox in the UK and US. And to celebrate its arrival on the streaming service, we chatted to Peter James to get his feelings about the show so far! 

How happy are you with Grace? Has it turned out exactly the way you wanted? 

Peter James: "I was beyond happy with it. I’ve had previous books adapted that I was never, never happy with, but with the whole Grace production, I’ve been working with an absolute dream team. [They’ve produced] a very faithful adaptation of both Dead Simple and the next one, Looking Good Dead. 

"John Simm is exactly how I imagined my fictitious Roy Grace looking when I first created him, so it’s uncanny to actually see him on screen looking so much like Roy. Obviously, there had to be certain license taken with the novel, but it was an incredibly faithful adaptation."

Peter James interview - Richie Campbell (DS Glenn Branson) and John Simm (DSI Roy Grace) - Courtesy of BritBox

Richie Campbell (DS Glenn Branson) and John Simm (DSI Roy Grace) searching for Michael Harrison in episode one. (Image credit: BritBox)

Did you have a favorite part? 

"I thought the whole scene of being in the coffin was extremely well filmed, I saw people saying they had to shut their eyes and I thought 'oh right okay, that’s good, that means it's worked!' When I wrote the book I asked a funeral director if they would put me in a coffin, screw the lid down and leave me for thirty minutes!

"I’m a great stickler for doing research. I think readers are very smart, and they can tell immediately if you really know what you’re writing about or you don’t. So I try to research every detail that I write.

"I’m so claustrophobic I can’t sit in the back of a two-door car, and yet I remember turning up at this undertakers. They’d left this one guy in charge, he was this great-granddad he was about 90 and really doddery, and he said 'Oh yes, Mr Peter James, you’ve come to be put in a coffin, haven’t you?'

"I’d spoken to a coroner a few days earlier and I just said: 'If you are in a coffin, how much oxygen do you have?' He said: 'If it’s a well-made coffin you’ve probably got three, three and half hours, but if you hyperventilate, it could knock that down to 40 minutes.'

"I heard the screws going and I just started freaking out. I thought, ‘what if he crosses the road to get a coffee from Starbucks and gets run over or drops dead?' Then I’m thinking 'what if there’s a spider?' 

"It was the longest thirty minutes of my life, and I was just drenched, I was sopping wet by the time I finally got out again. I think it did help me, in the novel, to capture the awful feeling that Michael Harrison goes through. It was brilliantly directed and filmed."

What was John Simm like to work with? 

"He was amazing. Because of COVID, I’ve not actually met him. We’ve had endless Zooms, and email correspondence. We can’t wait, now that things are lifting, to have an extremely boozy lunch together. He was amazing to work with.

"The scene when Roy Grace goes to meet the blind date quite early on, the day before they filmed that John Simm emailed me and said: 'Do you think I should wear my wedding ring or take it off?'

"I love that he thought in that much detail about that. John’s father-in-law was 35 years a police officer in the MET, and an awful lot of cops in England, and it's probably the same in America, when they watch a crime drama, they shout at the screen: 'that’s not right! This isn’t how we do it!' John knew just how much I care about trying to get the authenticity of everything accurate. 'It’s great', he said, “because now I make sure my father-in-law doesn’t shout at the screen when he watches it.” 

Peter James interview - Richie Campbell (DS Glenn Branson) and John Simm (DSI Roy Grace)

Richie Campbell (DS Glenn Branson) and John Simm (DSI Roy Grace) in episode two. (Image credit: BritBox)

Who was the inspiration for Roy Grace? 

"The inspiration for Roy is a real-life Detective Chief Superintendent, the Head of Homicide for Sussex who I met back in 1997. Roy is very much modelled on him, not physically, but career-wise. We’ve worked together on every single book and he’s been the consultant on the television series.

"People say 'what is it about Roy Grace that people like?' and I always say 'if I was ever unlucky enough to have a member of my family murdered, Roy is the detective I want running the investigation.' He’s got that kind of human side to him, and a warmth about him and a lot of empathy as well as being highly methodical."

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The first series of Grace is on BritBox in the US. UK readers can catch up with the first episode on ITV Hub and on BritBox. The second episode, based on Peter James' second novel will air in the UK on ITV later this year.