“I know you’re there,” said Peter James, shading his eyes to peer into the Harrogate Fetsival crowd this Saturday morning. The audience tittered nervously, for he was not looking at them generally: he was searching for his stalker.
James, a former film producer and author of 25 novels, the best-known of which are his bestselling Roy Grace thrillers set in Brighton, was full of entertaining anecdotes that blew out the cobwebs for the packed crowd at his Saturday morning event, talking with Paul Blezard. But none – not even the translation of traffic police’s term FUBARBUNDY ('fucked up beyond all recognition but unfortunately not dead yet') – came close to shocking attendees as much as the tale of the stalker who inspired his new novel Not Dead Yet.
“I’ve had this stalker for ten years,” said James. At first he was confused by the woman smiling at him as if she knew him from one audience crowd a decade ago, but assumed he had merely misplaced how he knew her. He assumed she would come and talk to him afterwards at the book signing, but “she vanished like a ghost.” He began to see her at subsequent events around the country, always smiling at him, always disappearing straight afterwards. Soon, she got the confidence to come and get a book signed – always buying the same title.
Then the emails started, “from five to 40 emails a day”. After five years, she began sending photos too, both of her Peter James collection – books stacked floor to ceiling, candles scattered about (“like Stephen King’s Misery,” James joked) – and, more worryingly of James in private settings, him leaving restaurants and even his own home - taken on a long lens.
James consulted the police (with whom he had many contacts), who told him “We can’t do anything unless she kills you.” Instead the author spent £20,000 on home security. And the stalker wasn’t just costing James money – he was scared.
In 2009, the stalker showed up at a book signing with a new hair style. James failed to recognise his “biggest fan”, and she stormed out, quickly sending him a 10,000-word diatribe by email telling him he had betrayed her. And then… silence. Blissful silence.
That is, until October 2011, when James received an email. “I’ve decided to forgive you,” it said.
Not Dead Yet by Peter James is out now, published by Macmillan