The House on Cold Hill Q&A with Peter James
Today I am delighted to welcome Peter James to Grab This Book. I have been a fan of horror/ghost stories for many years and when I first discovered Peter’s books his chilling tales gave me many sleepless nights. Peter’s new book The House on Cold Hill marks a his return to the horror genre, I am grateful to Peter for taking time to answer a few of my questions.
Can you give us a quick summary of The House on Cold Hill? What can readers expect?
The book is about a couple of townies, Ollie and Caro Harcourt, who move from the heart of the city of Brighton and Hove to their dream home in the Sussex countryside, with their twelve year old daughter, Jade, who does not share their enthusiasm. Jade is stroppy and unhappy about leaving Brighton where all her friends are. But Caro and Ollie both love the idea of a big restoration project, and despite the huge financial strain, and a number of warnings in the surveyors report, they buy Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated, Georgian mansion. Within days of moving in with, it soon becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents in the house….. The first thing that happens is that Jade is up in her room a couple of days later, on Facetime, to her best friend in Brighton, when her friend suddenly says, ‘Jade, who is that lady standing behind you?’
As I was reading I was trying to work out if the House could possibly be considered the central character with Oliver and his family as supporting players. Do you consider this to be Ollie’s story or the story of the House?
Well, I love the strapline that my publishers came up with for ‘THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL’…. ‘Evil Isn’t Born, It’s Built’. I’ll leave the context of that to your imagination!
Every town seems to have a house which the locals believe may be haunted – is the house in the book based on a real property?
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.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
I have never actually seen a ghost, however, at the house I mention in the previous question there were many things that happened that I couldn’t explain. I saw on many occasions, tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air. A medium who I used a lot during my writing of Possession, visited my house and she told me I was slightly psychic, and that is why I saw these pinpricks, and that while I was not actually seeing the entire apparition, I was picking up on some of its energy.
Do you need to adopt a very different approach to building a horror story than you may need to write a crime novel?
It is a different approach for sure. With my series of crime novels I have to keep the consistency throughout the series and bring in continuity with characters, places, and my research with the police is as accurate as I can possibly make it. With the horror story which based on ghostly experiences I can go a little more free-form and let my imagination take over!
At the risk of spoilers – is there one scene in your book you are particularly happy with? Perhaps one that you had fun writing?
A key element of the story is a mysterious window in the dilapidated Georgian mansion that my couple buy. A window that, they one day realize, is for a room that does not appear to exist. A room that has no door… I really enjoyed writing this part. And there is a chilling postscript to my writing ‘THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL’.… In addition to my home in Sussex, I have an apartment on two floors in Notting Hill. A month after finishing the book my wife, Lara, and I were walking along the street beneath, looking up, and talking about his particular part of the book. Suddenly Lara asked, pointing up, ‘Which room is that window in?’ We stood there frozen for some moments, as it began to dawn on us that the window did not make sense. We could not work out which room it was. We ran in, raced up the six flights of stairs and into each of the two rooms which the “mystery” window seem to straddle. But there was no window! We finally did solve the mystery – the builders who had put a fitted wardrobe in the master bedroom had, for whatever reason, decided to lose the window in the process and, leaving the glass on the outside, had timbered over the inside.
Who says truth is not stranger than fiction???!
I first encountered your books around the time of Prophecy, Twilight and Host. Back then you were competing for my reading time with King, Herbert, Hutson and to some extent Dean Koontz. Although Mr King is still prolific do you feel there is less choice for horror readers these days or am I missing new talent?
For a long time horror went out of fashion, and many old horror writers that I knew found it increasingly hard to get published and to gain shelf space in bookstores, so I would strongly agree that there is less choice. It was one of the reasons my publishers asked me if I would like to return to the genre.
You spend months creating a terrifying story to chill your readers but what scares you?
Many things! I’m scared of heights, and I am deeply claustrophobic – although that claustrophobia helped a lot in writing my first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple, in which one of the characters is buried alive in a coffin in remote woods after a stag night prank goes wrong, with everyone who knows where he is – bar one person – dead in a car wreck. And that one person has a very good reason to keep quiet. I had myself put into a coffin, and the lid screwed down, for thirty minutes, as part of my research. It was the most terrifying thirty minutes of my life!
After concentrating on the Roy Grace novels for so long was it liberating to switch to something so very different?
Yes I really enjoyed writing this and many of my Roy Grace fans are excited to read it too. For my very long-term fans this book will be like returning to some of my earlier work… my first successful novel, back in 1988, was Possession, a supernatural thriller, and I wrote several in this vein before moving on to psychological thrillers and then crime. Much though I love writing my Roy Grace books – I’m currently working on the 12th in the series, there are other areas I’m very keen to explore. I wrote Perfect People, a thriller about “designer” babies, which was published four years ago, in which I look at the choices science will ultimately give parents on choosing the genetic make-up of their offspring. I loved writing it and the book was highly successful. My publishers thought it would be fun for me to have a return to the supernatural, and they were right. I had a great time writing The House On Cold Hill, and certainly plan to write more in this field. Possibly even a sequel!
Your books have enjoyed a great deal of success and you are a household name what advice would you offer to young aspiring writers?
There is only one way to penetrate the world of writing novels, and that is to write novels. I don’t believe good writers can be taught, although I think their technique can be helped. My most important recommendation to any young person who wants to write novels is to read, read and read. Particularly the kind of novels they would like to write – and to deconstruct them, literally – and work out what made them like this or that particular book. How did the writer get them hooked… how did the writer make them care for the characters…. It is impossible to stress this enough
I read avidly and widely and my biggest regret is that being a writer ironically means I never get to read as much as I want. The reason is I don’t like to read fiction while I am in the first draft writing process – which is around 7 months of each year – as it is too easy to pick up someone else’s style. But then I read huge amounts of non-fiction, some for research and some for pleasure. I recently really enjoyed ‘I Let You Go’ by Claire Macintosh. I was first sent it as a proof, asking for a quote, and I was utterly gripped. It is wonderfully written, with credible and interesting characters, and has one of the most astonishing twists I’ve ever read, turning the story completely on hits head halfway through. It was one of those rare books I put down thinking, “Gosh, wish I’d written this!”
Are you able to give us any clues as to what you are currently working on?
I’m currently working hard to finish Roy Grace 12, it’s 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 casting for that. It will star Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace and has had two hugely successful nationwide tours already. I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!
My most sincere thanks to Peter.
The House on Cold Hill is available now in Hardback and Digital format. My 5 star review can be found here