PETER JAMES is a horror writer who lives in an East Sussex mansion with his wife, Georgina, Bertie the dog, and three ghosts.

I HAVE occasionally scared myself witless writing my books at night. Once, during a storm, I was working on a scene where a dead boy starts communicating through a computer, when suddenly the electricity went off and I was plunged into total darkness. When I fixed the fuse, a message appeared on my computer screen that I hadn't written: 'Yours sincerely, Charles Ferguson' - the name of a distant relative, dead for years. That was pretty chilling.

But it's important for me to be scared from time to time. What I try to do in my books is inform people about various subjects, from premature burial to smart drugs, but entertain them at the same time. The way I choose to entertain them is to scare them, so I have to rediscover fear for myself periodically. One of my bedtime books at the moment is a collection of ghost stories.

Not that I find ghosts particularly frightening. We've got three: a monk, a baby who wails in the living room wall and a Roman centurion (we've got some Roman ruins in our grounds). They've never caused us any trouble, though the neighbours sometimes complain about the monk's nocturnal wanderings.

I read around 300 books for each project. I also subject myself to various experiences mentioned in the narrative: attending seances and exorcisms, for example, or watching corpses being frozen. I usually handle these things pretty well, but I was unable to sleep for weeks after I went to a post-mortem examination. It was the most terrible thing I've seen. Three human beings, who'd been alive until yesterday, were reduced to steaks on a butcher's table. The smell and the gunge were unbearable. When I got home, I was speechless, and Georgina said: 'You've gone green.' We went to bed and I wouldn't shut my eyes in case I dreamt about it. When I did fall asleep, bang, there were the corpses - and so it went on for weeks.

But my research into dreams was personally beneficial. One of my characters was having dream analysis, so I put myself through that for six weeks, recording all my dreams and discussing their meaning with a group led by two therapists. They took a Freudian approach: that the dreaming brain presents unresolved problems to you in symbols; if you can crack the code and understand the symbolism, you can make a lot of personal progress. Georgina, who's a lawyer, also recorded her dreams, many of which turned out to be precognitive.

Actually, I really resent sleep. It's like time: the big enemy. I wish it wasn't biologically necessary. I get up at 6.30 every morning, and the first thing I think about is the book I'm working on. I run for two miles with Bertie before breakfast. I can't work unless I do that: it oxygenates my brain and gets rid of the alcohol from the night before. I'm at my desk by 8.45.

Reading and writing are probably the most important things in my life - after Georgina. She sometimes worries about my line of work. At the moment I'm researching Satanism and black magic, which obviously can be pretty heavy. I don't think it's particularly dangerous, because I'm investigating rather than taking part. But I suppose we've subconsciously put our safety belts on, because we've suddenly started going to church a lot.

Peter James's latest book, 'Host', is published by Gollancz, pounds 15.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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