Peter May was born in Glasgow. From an early age he was intent on becoming a novelist, but took up a career as a journalist as a way to start earning a living by writing. At the age of 21, he won the Fraser Award and was named Scotland’s Young Journalist of the Year. He went on to write for The Scotsman and the Glasgow Evening Times. At the age of 26, May’s first novel, The Reporter, was published. May was asked to adapt the book as a television series for the British television network the BBC, and then left journalism in 1978 to begin to write full-time for television.
May’s novel, The Reporter became the prime-time 13-part television series entitled The Standard in 1978. May went on to create another major TV series for the BBC – Squadron – a drama involving a RAF rapid deployment squadron. In the following fifteen years, May earned
more than 1,000 TV credits. He created and wrote major drama serials for both BBC and the Independent Television Network in the UK including Machair, which he co-created with Janice Hally for Scottish Television. The long-running serial was the first major television drama to be made in the Gaelic language and was shot entirely on the Isle of Lewis location in the Outer Hebrides. The show, which May also produced, achieved a 33% audience share and made it regularly into the top ten in the ratings in Scotland, in spite of the fact that it had to be broadcast with English subtitles as only 2% of the population of Scotland are Gaelic speakers. During his time working in television, May wrote the novels Hidden Faces (1981) and The Noble Path (1992), and in 1996 May quit television to devote his time to writing novels.
While working on his standalone thriller ‘Virtually Dead’, May researched the book by creating an avatar in the online world of Second Life and opening the Flick Faulds private detective agency. He spent a year in Second Life, working as a private detective, and was hired by clients for cases ranging from protection from harassment by stalkers to surveillance and infidelity investigations.
The Lewis Trilogy
The Blackhouse (Quercus 2011)
The Lewis Man (Quercus 2012)
The Chessmen (Quercus 2013)
The Enzo Files
Extraordinary People (Poisoned Pen Press 2006), (Quercus 2013)
The Critic (Poisoned Pen Press 2007), (Quercus 2013)
Blacklight Blue (Poisoned Pen Press 2008), (Quercus 2013)
Freeze Frame (Poisoned Pen Press 2010), (Quercus 2013)
Blowback (Poisoned Pen Press 2011), (Quercus 2013)
The China Thrillers
The Firemaker (Hodder & Stoughton 1999), (St Martin’s Press 2005), (Poisoned Pen Press 2008), (Quercus 2012)
The Fourth Sacrifice (Hodder & Stoughton 2000), (St Martin’s Press 2007) (Poisoned Pen Press 2008), (Quercus 2012)
The Killing Room (Hodder & Stoughton 2001), (St Martin’s Press 2008) (Poisoned Pen Press 2009), (Quercus 2012)
Snakehead (Hodder & Stoughton 2002), (Poisoned Pen Press 2009), (Quercus 2012)
The Runner (Hodder & Stoughton 2003), (Poisoned Pen Press 2010), (Quercus 2012)
Chinese Whispers (Hodder & Stoughton 2004), (Poisoned Pen Press 2009), (Quercus 2012)
The Reporter (Corgi, 1978)
Fallen Hero (N.E.L., 1979)
Hidden Faces (Piatkus 1981), The Man With No Face (St Martin’s Press 1982)
The Noble Path (Piatkus 1992), (St Martin’s Press 1993)
Virtually Dead (Poisoned Pen Press 2010)
Entry Island (Quercus 2014)
Hebrides (Quercus 2013) Photo companion to The Lewis Trilogy, with photographs by David Wilson.
The Standard (BBC 1978) (13 episodes) creator, writer
Squadron (BBC 1982) (10 episodes) co-creator, writer
Take The High Road (Scottish Television 1980 – 1992) writer (200+ episodes), story & script editor (700+ episodes).
The Ardlamont Mystery (BBC 1985) (Single drama) writer.
Machair (Scottish Television 1992-96) (99 episodes) co-creator and producer
The Killing Room (Les Disparues) movie to be produced by French production company, French Connection in partnership with Korean Dream Capture Studios Action to be transferred from Shanghai, China to Seoul, South Korea.
1. How did you get started writing
My parents taught me to read and write before I went to school, and I wrote my first story when I was four years old. So I got the bug at a very early age and haven’t stopped since.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel
Accident. I wanted to write a novel set in China about genetic engineering. It turned out that the best way to tell my story was through the investigation of a murder. That first Chinese novel turned into six, and that set me irrevocably on the path of the crime writer.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
All my influences come from my early reading – Hemingway, Steinbeck, Greene, Huxley, Bates, an Irish-American writer called J.P. Donleavy, and of course Raymond Chandler.
4. Since the Lewis Trilogy, you have become a popular crime author who has been compared to some of the great crime authors, how does that make you feel
I have been writing all my life, but it’s only recently that my books have become bestsellers. It’s very gratifying finally to receive that recognition – an overnight success after forty years!
5. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest
When I was first sending off manuscripts, the publishing industry was more open and diverse, and so I was lucky to find a publisher with only my fourth novel. I was still only twenty-five, so my previous attempts had been something of a learning curve. I think I would find it much harder to get published today – in fact, when The Blackhouse was first circulated to British publishers it was rejected by every one of them!
6. There have been so many interesting characters in your different series of Novels, do you have a particular favourite
I will always have a soft spot for both Li Yan and Margaret Campbell, the main characters in my China series.
7. You have set your novels in many different countries and places, do you have a particular favourite place or is there any where you would like to see a future novel set?
I loved my time in China, and of course I live in France which has a very special place in my heart. But I think the Isle of Lewis probably provided my favourite location.
8. The Blackhouse was originally written in french was it hard to translate into English especially as it had Gaelic words, and why did you decide to write it in french
The Blackhouse was written in English. It was only after being rejected by publishers in the UK that it was bought and translated by my French publisher. It was they who then sold it on to the British, and around the world.
9. What kind of research did you have to undertake for your books
I never write about a place I haven’t been to, so my research always entails a lot of travelling. I do a huge amount of research reading and always seek out experts in the subjects I am writing about. The research generally takes two to three times as long as the writing.
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life
No. Characters are always composites of people I have met or known, along with characteristics I have pulled out of my imagination.
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice
All the advice I received on writing came early in my career. Basically, I have learned for myself the hard way, simply by doing it. Working in journalism helped in terms of being able to research a subject and write quickly, and my career as a scriptwriter honed my abilities to write dialogue. The one piece of advice I have always remembered and always passed on is “write about what you know”.
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa
I think the writer always draws on personal experience to flesh out characters, so that almost every character has a piece of yourself in him, or her.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have written
“Entry Island” is my new book. It is just out in e-book format, and will be available in hardback from Boxing Day. It is a story which takes place between contemporary Quebec, in Canada, where a murder takes place, and historical Hebrides during the Highland Clearances. Obviously there is a link between the two. And I am currently working on a book which draws inspiration from real events that occurred during my teenage years.
14. If you were given the opportunity to write a follow up novel to any of your series, which one would you choose and why
Probably the China series. It is ten years since I wrote the last book in that series and I know that China has changed so much in that time. It would be interesting to go back to witness those changes, and see what ten years have done to Li and Margaret and their relationship.
15. As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
Believe in yourself, keep writing no matter what, and write about what you know
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