Born in London, England in December 1972, James spent most of his childhood in France, returning to the UK when aged 11 and eventually winning a place to Christ Church, Oxford where he read French Literature and graduated with a First Class degree.
James endured a variety of different jobs over the years before he turned to writing including (in alphabetical order) working as a caddy, car washer, cellar hand, entrepreneur, factory worker, grape picker, investment banker, management consultant and pot washer.
James also played professional football for Arsenal Football Club, making over fifty appearances and scoring a memorable hat-trick in the North London Derby, until an inoperable knee injury forced him to retire. He then opted not to pursue an opportunity to drive for the Ferrari F1 team, choosing instead to focus on his acting career in Hollywood. Several blockbusters and an Oscar nomination followed, but a messy split from Cameron Diaz convinced him that his true vocation lay in his burgeoning writing career. (none of this is true of course, but since my bio always gets quoted back to me, I thought I might as well make it interesting!!).
The Double Eagle, the first of his novels to feature art thief Tom Kirk, was first published in 2005 and has sold over 160,000 copies in the UK alone and been translated into nearly twenty languages. It’s sequel, The Black Sun , was published in April 2006 and has also been an international bestseller. The third Tom Kirk novel, The Gilded Seal, was published in October 2007 with the fourth in the series, The Geneva Deception, published in October 2009 in the UK, and July 2010 in the USA.
What is your favourite book?
Without question, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. It achieves that rare feat of combining a brilliant story with a stylistic brilliance and lyricism that elevates it to an almost poetic reflection on love, money, class, idealism and the empty heart of the American Dream. I think it is one of the greatest books that’s ever been written.
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Caroll
2. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
3. The Tempest – Shakespeare
4. Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
What is your favourite movie?
Probably Blade Runner. I like science-fiction generally because of the way it transports you to an imaginary and yet believable world and makes you think. Blade Runner combines Philip K Dick’s mesmerising reflection on the nature of memory and personality with a totally compelling and authentic vision of the future. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it!
1. Star Wars
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. Apocalypse Now
4. Du Rififi Chez les Hommes
5. The Thomas Crown Affair
What are you working on now?
Unfortunately, nothing. I have had to take an extended break from writing in order to focus on my main business career. So lots of jotting down ideas and about three different ideas (of which only one is a Tom Kirk novel) in various phases of development. But not actively writing anything right now.
When is your next novel coming out?
See above. I have to write it first!
Tell us three things that people probably don’t know about you.
1. I was brought up in Paris, France until I was eleven.
2. I have been to a party at Playboy Towers in New York, as the guest of the daughter of a former US President – I’m not joking…
3. I support Arsenal Football Club (as my bio probably reveals!)
Do you have any weird hobbies?
I collect brass and iron plates/plaques off the front of old safes and strong rooms. Is that weird enough for you?
Do you enjoy writing?
I suppose that every job has its good and bad points. Writing can be a very lonely business that lacks the camaraderie and company that a normal office workplace provides. It can also be, contrary to most people’s belief in free-flowing artistic inspiration, a seemingly endless process of re-writing, edit
When did you start writing?
I was not one of these people who grew up desperate to be a writer. In fact when I wrote my first book, The Double Eagle, in 2004, it was the first time I had attempted to write any fiction since my Third Form poetry competition! That said, when I was clearing out my parents’ garage a few years ago, I came across a couple of old notebooks crammed with random plot and character ideas. I don’t remember writing any of it, but perhaps some small corner of my brain has wanted to be an author all along. It just took a while for the rest of me to catch up.
Where do you write?
The last two books have mainly been written in the Humanities Reading Room at the British Library. I get too easily distracted at home, although the coffee is a lot cheaper. I usually sit in the same place and get very annoyed if someone else gets there first.
What are the pros and cons of being a writer?
Every job has its good and bad points. Writing can be a very lonely business that lacks the camaraderie and company that a normal office workplace provides. It can also be, contrary to most people’s belief in free-flowing artistic inspiration, a seemingly endless process of re-writing, editing and proofing that tests your patience and your resolve to the very limit. However, it is also a very rewarding experience in terms of both the creative outlet that it provides, which so many jobs never give you the opportunity to explore, and the pleasure provided by producing something that other people enjoy. Overall, it’s worth the pain.
What writers have inspired you?
I’m told that when I was twelve, I went on holiday to the South of France. If I sound uncertain, then it’s because I can’t remember a single thing about it. On the flight out, I picked up a copy of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity at the airport bookshop and sat, utterly bewitched, until I finished the last page of The Bourne Ultimatum on the flight home a week later, having tracked both it and The Bourne Supremacy down in Nice’s only English language bookshop. Having mainlined Ludlum, I discovered that I had established a thriller habit that my French Literature degree only briefly interrupted. I soon turned to Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler to get my fix, before crossing back over the Atlantic to feed my addiction with Ian Fleming, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins and Ken Follett, to name but a few. It is not the best written book I have ever read and other books have affected me more deeply. The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald achieves that rare feat of combining a brilliant story with an almost poetic reflection on love, money, class and the empty heart of the American Dream. I still turn to it now, whenever I am feeling low or lacking inspiration, opening a page at random and just diving in. But nothing will ever match that first, breathless encounter with Jason Bourne, the way he grabbed me from the very first page, carried me in his wake like a passing storm, and then deposited me, 400 pages later, desperate for more. It opened my eyes to a world of possibility and excitement. When I came to write my own novels years later, there was never any chance I’d write anything else.
How important is a sense of place in your writing?
People often also describe my books as being cinematic. This isn’t me trying to dress a screenplay up as a novel, but a deliberate attempt to place the reader directly within the scene, reflecting my own sense that the modern reader, thanks to TV and the cinema, need to be able to really visualize the action to connect with it. Providing a strong and believable sense of place also anchors the realism and credibility of the whole novel and makes for an interesting dynamic as readers are left unsure where the fiction begins or ends.
Do you spend a lot of time researching your novels?
My novels are based around real events, works of art and places, all of which involves a lot of research. The latest book, for example, The Geneva Deception, is based on the global trade in illicitly excavated antiquities, as well as the ongoing search for a priceless Carravaggio stolen by the Mafia in the 1960s. My research typically involves reading various text books, visiting as many of the places described in the book as I can, and immersing myself on-line for weeks at a time. Cracking safes, picking locks, smuggling weapons, counterfeiting paintings – it’s amazing what you can find if you know where to look!
Do your characters ever surprise you?
Of course. Although I spend a lot of time thinking about all the different characters and plot lines and how they all fit together before I even pick up a pen, every so often you have to just sit back and let the character take over and drive for a little rather than force them to do or say something they just wouldn’t. This can be a little scary, but it’s exciting too, especially with the villains where you can really let them run riot.
How much of your life and the people around you do you put into your books?
Inevitably much more than I probably even realize myself. It’s no coincidence that Tom Kirk, my art thief hero, for example, shares my love of backgammon and expensive watches, or that several of the books take place in Paris where I lived as a child, or that pinball machines feature in most of the books. And quite a few of the characters are named after friends of mine (which I then take a perverse delight in killing off), or are Frankenstein creations, having been sown together from different aspects of people I know or have met.
How did it feel when you saw your book in print for the first time?
I have to admit to not really remembering seeing the book in print for the first time. What I do remember, however, is seeing it in Borders at the airport the week after it was published. I was on my way to the US and had been given a whole bay to myself, with a big poster overhead. Having had my own love of thrillers triggered by buying The Bourne Identity in an airport nearly twenty years before, it gave me a real sense of achievement, and of my journey from reader to writer coming full circle, to see my book out there alongside all the writers I had grown up reading. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing now? Plotting my next heist!