Coffin Road by Peter May ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.
About Peter May:
Peter May’s books have sold several million copies worldwide and have won awards in the UK, the USA, and France. He is the author of:
- the internationally best-selling Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
- the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell
- the critically-acclaimed Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France
- several standalone novels including – the multi award-winning Entry Island, Runaway, and his latest, entitled Coffin Road, which sees a return to the Outer Hebrides (January 2016, Quercus UK, Hachette Australia).
Peter May was named Scottish Young Journalist of the Year Award when he was twenty one.
Peter May had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.
One of Scotland’s most prolific and successful television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest-rated drama serials in his homeland before quitting television to return to his first love, writing novels.
Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.
Let me extend a big Australian welcome to Peter May.
Let’s talk childhood. What aspirations did you have as a child?
I knew I wanted to write from the moment I picked up my first pencil. My father was an English teacher and my mother was an avid reader. They taught me to read and write before I went to school, and at the age of four years I wrote my first book. It was only a few pages long but it turned out to be the first in a long line of attempts to write a successful novel. I discovered the evidence of that first foray into writing when many years later I rediscovered the manuscript, if one could call it that, in a dusty box in my parents’ attic when I was clearing out their house. It was called The Little Elf. My mother had shown me how to sew the pages together just like a real book and I had made a cover for it, colouring it red and writing the legend “designed in England and made in Scotland”. I have since scanned all the pages and made a short slideshow with a musical accompaniment which I have put on YouTube for anyone to read. So clearly my aspiration was and always has been to write. Here is a link to my first story: http://youtu.be/XTxOEfwclh0
About your writing. How long has the road to becoming a successful writer been for you?
The road to success has been a long one. When I left school there was no career path to becoming a writer and so I turned to journalism as a way of making my living by writing. And it was only then that I took the advice that everyone had been offering me for years, which was to write about what I know. So I wrote about a journalist, and that was the first book which I had published, at the age of 25. But even then my course towards becoming a novelist was subverted by a career change which took me into television. Having published my first book, I developed the character and idea for a television series which was taken up by the BBC. I went on then to become a screenwriter and spent most of the next 20 years working in television. It was not until 1996 that I finally quit the world of television to try and make my living writing books. Even then it was nearly 15 years and 12 books later before I had my first major success with “The Blackhouse”, since when I have never looked back.
Let’s talk journalism, scripting writing/producing and novel writing. In Australia you are well known for your crime novels, in The UK you are a Richard and Judy superstar, a talented television scriptwriter and producer and a Scottish award winning journalist. Is there nothing word related you can’t do?
Ha ha ha, I don’t know about that. But words have always been my stock in trade, they have been my means of expressing myself, not just verbally but visually, using those words to paint pictures for my readers, as well as exploring the human psyche.
What do you love about writing?
I love that when I am writing I am transported from my desk and my study by the power of the imagination to anywhere in the world that I may choose to go.
Who is your favourite author? Do you have a favourite book?
I do not have a single favourite author but several who have influenced me over the years, including such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, H.E. Bates and others. My favourite book is probably “The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B” by the Irish-American writer J.P. Donleavy, because it taught me how to break the rules of grammar and freed me to develop my own style of writing.
Do you have a favourite band/song? The song, album and video you recorded, Runaway, depicts a major life changing event in your teenage years “also providing the inspiration for the new book which I am currently writing. I have already clocked up 45,000 words as I blog this. And what is the working title of the book? Well, “Runaway” of course!” Has music inspired any of your other books? (And we can we see another video please?)
The most influential band during my formative years was, without doubt, The Beatles. They provided the soundtrack to my growing up years. All of my earliest experiences, particularly in affairs of the heart, were related to one Beatles song or another. But I loved much of the music of the 60s and 70s. It was an exciting time, and music was breaking new ground at every turn of the record. My earliest books were all written to the sounds of my favourite bands. But I found, in the end, that music was proving too influential, colouring the mood and content of my writing, and I gave it up and now write in silence. I cannot say that music has influenced any of my books other than “Runaway”, but I still write, play and record music today. Here is an example. The song is called “Big Bad Wolf”, and it tells the story of the initial rejection of my breakthrough book “The Blackhouse”: http://youtu.be/IR1SR9afWSI
Tell us more about the eco warrior within you. (My reference is to Coffin Road – bees and science) and I believe the China novels have an eco/conservation theme.
I believe that writers have an obligation to address matters of universal importance. Much of my writing in the China Thrillers, and in my latest novel “Coffin Road”, has involved warning of danger in the unfettered exploitation of science for purely financial gain. Many scientific advances such as the development of genetically modified foods or pesticide and herbicide-resistant crops, are sold to us as being beneficial to mankind when very often they are exactly the opposite. “Coffin Road” was motivated by my concern about the effect on bees of a breed of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Bees are vanishing at an unprecedented rate and their disappearance altogether would be a disaster both for the planet and the human race. Bees are responsible for producing anything up to half of all the foods that we eat, and the link between their demise and the use of these pesticides is now irrefutable. Having thoroughly researched my subject I felt that both the bees and the silent majority of the human race needed a voice, and “Coffin Road”, I hope, has given them that.
Let’s talk about the settings of your books. France, China, Canada, Scotland, Hebrides….all so different. What attracted you to these particular settings for you crime novels? Are you also a master of languages? Gaelic? Chinese? French?
Ha ha. No. I speak and write in English, I have become relatively fluent in French, but I speak no Chinese or Gaelic. Languages are not my strong suit. As far as settings are concerned I go where my stories take me. I never write about a place I have not been to, so I have travelled widely, and hopefully in my books I take my readers on those same journeys with me.
How did you research your books?
All my research is conducted in depth, on the Internet, in books, and in journeying to the settings of the various stories. I also enlist the advice of various experts in the different fields about which I am writing in any given book. Being fearless in my research is something I learned as a journalist and now I almost enjoy the process of research more than the actual writing.
Are you currently writing a new novel? Where will it be set?
I have just finished writing the sixth and final book in the Enzo Files series which is set in France. It will be out next January.
If you want to know more about Peter check out his social media sites here: http://about.me/petermayinfo
Fantastic interview! Thank you very much, both. What a fascinating background, too. Oh, and I agree about the importance of authors addressing universal issues. Looking forward to the next novel.
This man is the word WRITER!
Great interview, Carol… and Peter! Haha! Loved the first book – I wonder if a publishing deal is in the offing? 😉 Must catch up with the Enzo files if the next book is in that series…
Thanks FF . What a talented writer. I have the Lewis Trilogy to read next but can’t wrestle it away from my husband!
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Excellent interview Carol. I’m a bit late in reading this but thrilled i finally did. Read Runaway last year, it rocketed straight up to my top 25 list…….i just loved it. Thanks also for the youtube links, they were fun to watch & the Runaway video went hand in hand with the novel. Peter May is so talented!
So much talent here Anne-glad you enjoyed the post.