PETER James is Brighton’s own international bestseller, his Roy Grace detective novels shifting more than 18 million copies.

Born and raised in the city, all James’s Grace books are set in Brighton and feature local landmarks. Having worked closely with the Sussex police force in the course of research, James based his character on retired detective chief superintendent Dave Gaylor. His latest and 12th Roy Grace novel, Love You Dead, revolves around a so-called “Black Widow” – a woman whose murder weapon is venomous poison.

James has just launched a YouTube channel, Peter James TV, and his novel Not Dead Enough is being staged around the country early next year, including a stint at the Theatre Royal Brighton from February 13 to 18. It stars Shane Ritchie and Laura Whitmore, who is currently appearing in Strictly Come Dancing.

The author invited EDWIN GILSON to his home in Woodmancote, near Henfield, to talk poisonous reptile shows, the future of Roy Grace and why Brighton is so conducive to crime fiction.

How did you get the inspiration behind the Black Widow of your new book?

I was doing a talk in a women’s prison in Manchester about four years ago. I met this woman afterwards and asked her what she was in for. She said: ‘well, I poisoned my mother-inlaw, the old bag’. The women didn’t die, she came home. She poisoned her husband too and he was three months on life support with permanent brain damage. That was kind of the starting point.

A man at the Met police told me that snakes kill more people than guns every year. I wanted to find out more and he told me there were poisonous reptile shows in Germany and Holland. I thought it would be 20 beardies in a shed. It was the size of Olympia – about a thousand stalls selling everything you wouldn’t want to find in your bathroom. You could buy a black widow spider and just walk out of there with a plastic box. The only thing I bought was cheese. I was the only person in the entire place that didn’t have a tattoo.

With a detective novel, do you always start with the denouement, the conclusion to the mystery, and work backwards from there?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve just launched a YouTube channel and at the heart of it is what I’m calling the Author’s Studio. I’ve interviewed over 100 authors, like Lee Child and Paula Hawkins. I asked the same 10 questions to all of these people and it’s interesting to hear the answers. It’s almost different every time. For me, I always want to know the ending. In probably half the books I’ve written the ending will change when I get to it, though.

Dave Gaylor (the real life Roy Grace) has become one of my best mates over the years. When I’m writing a new story, we’ll go over to the pub and I’ll sit down with a new moleskin notebook and tell him what’s in my mind. He comes back at me with challenges.

Getting the policing aspects correct is incredibly important to me. I want every policeman to think that my books ring true. I’m lucky that I’ve had great research help from Sussex police over the years. Somebody told me that the uniform doesn’t protect policeman from trauma and I’m trying to show that human side of it. Everybody likes their profession to be reflected accurately.

Do you ever wonder how much life is left in Roy Grace?

When I was a kid, my favourite authors seemed to tail off after they got successful. I vowed that when I started getting success I’d try and raise the bar with every book. I don’t have a finite number in mind. I think Ian Rankin has written 23 Rebus novels.

I think at the moment I am in a happy position in which sales are going up and things are moving forward on the television front. I actually love writing the Grace novels – it fascinates me, the difference between you and I and a criminal. I am already planning the next three Roy Grace books.

Why do you think Brighton has been such a conducive place to crime fiction or film? The Level, a new crime drama set in Brighton, is currently on ITV and obviously there is Brighton Rock, the novel that influenced you to write in the first place…

I think the astonishing thing is how little it has actually been used. I always joke about it but Brighton’s got great criminal pedigree, going back to the days when George IV built the Pavilion for all his mistresses. Brighton became that kind of wealthy, dirty weekend place.

London was a pretty bad place to live so a lot of people came down to Brighton, bringing prostitution, cockfighting and other forms of illegal gaming. The three previous police bosses have said Brighton is the preferred place to live for first-division criminals.

If you were trying to design a city that was perfect for crime, you’d make Brighton. First of all there is a major sea port both sides for smuggling, you’ve got the escape routes that all criminals need, you’ve got huge recreational drugs market, the two unis, the fact that it’s a party town, all the clubs, different communities, media communities. You’ve also got the fact that the low-lifes, or petty drug dealers, inevitably move down the country.

They start off in Liverpool or wherever and end up in Brighton. There is a ready supply of bottom-end drug dealers. I’m not glorifying crime but if you look at the great cities of the world they have a criminal history.

What’s the status on the play of Not Dead Enough, running early next year?

Shaun McKenna has done all three adaptations so far. He’s great and we worked quite closely together. He’s very mindful about how important Roy Grace is to me. Shane (Ritchie) said he really wanted to play Grace. I think Grace has got a lot of warmth and I think Shane does too.

He’s a much more talented actor than people give him credit for in the roles he has played. Laura Whitmore had done her research – she’d only been offered the part two days before and had already read her way through a lot of the books. She’s a nice person, too – there’s nothing worse than working with egos. I learned that in my film days.

What’s your verdict on the i360?

The climax of my new book happens on the i360. It’s a big chase scene that continues on it.

I think it’s important to innovate rather than imitate. I’m really sad that the plans for King Alfred didn’t happen. I wasn’t sure about the i360 when it first started but now I think it’s quite cool. I think it puts a modern stamp on the old tart’s face. I think the contrast of old and new is good. Brighton’s always had innovative things – look at the Daddy Long Legs.

Peter James The paperback version of the author’s latest book, Love You Dead, is out now.

Tickets for the Theatre Royal Brighton production of Not Dead Enough can be purchased by calling 0844 871 7650.