If the film world has not heard from producer Peter James in a while, it is because he is revelling in his new incarnation as a bestselling crime author.

James, who has long juggled film producing with writing novels, has moved up to the international literary premier league. New instalments in his breakthrough crime series - Dead Simple, Looking Good Dead and the forthcoming Not Dead Enough (out in June in the UK) - chart at the upper echelons of The Sunday Times bestseller lists.

Dead Simple has been translated into 28 languages and won France's prestigious Le Prix Coeur Noir this year.

"Books are what I love. As an author I don't have to change a word if I don't want to," he says. "Film is a committee process; I've done my bit of wet-nursing spoilt little movie stars."

In the early 1970s, James produced low-budget horror movies in Canada (I Dismember Mama, Blood Orgy Of The She Devils), before returning to the UK for 1976 comedy The Spanish Fly with Terry Thomas and Leslie Phillips (described by film critic Barry Norman as "the worst British film since the Second World War").

Undeterred, James went on to make Biggles in 1986 and says his proudest moment as an executive producer was the 2004 Bafta-nominated The Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.

Other producer credits with his company Movision Entertainment that same year included Head In The Clouds, starring Charlize Theron, and The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, starring Robert De Niro and Gabriel Byrne. He also co-created the UK Channel 4 series Bedsitcom, which was nominated for a Rose d'Or.

James started his writing career with spy thrillers, before moving into technological and supernatural chillers, and scoring his first hit with Possession in 1988. In the early 1990s he suffered from a backlash against horror writers, before his new UK publisher Pan Macmillan suggested he switch to US-style police procedurals. They proved perfectly suited to his tense, filmic writing style.

His Brighton-based series follows detective superintendent Roy Grace, who hunts down murderers under the shadow of his wife's disappearance.

James throws himself into research, spending at least a day every few weeks with the police or in a mortuary.

UK outfit Company Pictures owns the rights to the Roy Grace franchise, which was initially set up with UK broadcaster ITV for two 90-minute dramas - a successor to successful crime series Inspector Morse and Rebus.

James wrote the treatments and was determined to co-produce: "I've had three books adapted for television (Prophecy, Host and Alchemist) and have never been happy. Each time I felt they weren't a good reflection of what I'd written."

But ITV pulled out after budget cuts, and although the BBC has expressed an interest it has been slow to follow up. James is now mulling feature options. He says Roman Polanski is keen to direct an adaptation of Dead Simple, and is in talks with the Blake Friedmann Agency.

But James is in no hurry: "Because the books are doing well, all the time our negotiating position is getting stronger," he says. "I want to ensure it's set in Brighton, and I'd be furious if they tried to condense it into an hour. Most of your introduction (to potential readers) is going to be on the screen; if they see a crap programme or film they'll think the books must be crap."