In Memoriam

Dr. Richard Ward

Dr. Richard Ward

It is with great sadness today that I have to record the passing of my friend and mentor Dr. Richard Ward.

Dick was one of the most remarkable men I ever met.  After serving as a US Marine, he began his working life as a New York beat cop and went on to become an NYPD detective, but rebelled against corruption in the force and took a university degree in criminology.

From there he moved into teaching, and while Vice Chancellor of the University of Illinois in Chicago, set up the Office of International Criminal Justice (OICJ) which reached out to law enforcement agencies throughout the world, exchanging ideas, co-operation and criminology students.

It was during this time that he spent several years in China, effectively training the top five hundred Chinese police officers in the latest Western policing techniques, and it was this connection that led to my first encounter with him in 1997.

Planning a crime novel set in China, I was seeking information and contacts about the Chinese police at a time when the entire Chinese justice system was a closed book to outsiders.  A friend of Dick’s recommended that I speak to him, so I contacted him by email.

I was in France at the time, and by sheer coincidence Dick was coming to Paris to address a conference on international terrorism.  Quite rightly, he wanted to run the rule over me before committing himself.  And so we arranged to meet for dinner in Paris.  It was a convivial affair, with both our wives present, and I remember a great deal of laughter.  I passed, I think, some kind of invisible litmus test, because following our meal a flurry of texts, emails and phone calls opened doors for me in China which had hitherto been closed to any foreign writers or journalists.

It was a little like getting an introduction to the Mafia from a “made man”.  When I arrived in Beijing for my first research trip, I was taken under the wing of the Ministry of Public Security and given access to virtually whatever I asked for.  That began a long association with China and the Chinese police (who invited me to write a monthly column for their official magazine) which lasted almost a decade, and during which I wrote the six novels of the China Thrillers series, becoming also an honorary member of the Beijing Chapter of the Chinese Crime Writers’ Association.

One of those books was set in the US, though still with a very strong Chinese connection, and it was while researching that book that I went to stay with Dick and his wife and daughter at their ranch just outside Huntsville in Texas, where Dick was by that time Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.  He set up research visits for me to one of the high security prisons in Huntsville, as well as a very sobering tour of the “death house” where, in that year, then Governor George W. Bush had already sent thirty-four prisoners to be executed by lethal injection.

I took the liberty of basing one of my characters on Dick, using his ranch as a location – and I recall him taking humorous exception to my description of the mess in his garage.

With Dick and his family at an early morning IHOP breakfast in Texas

With Dick and his family at an early morning IHOP breakfast in Texas

He used to sit of an evening in a conservatory appended to the back of his house and smoke his favourite (illicit) Cuban cigars.  I recall him telling me the story, over a glass of fine malt, of his returning to the US from a trip to Cuba with something like two thousand contraband cigars in his suitcase.  His heart was in his mouth as he was stopped at customs, only to discover that the customs officer was one of his former pupils.  They chatted animatedly for a few moments before the customs man tapped the suitcase on the counter in front of him and said, “I don’t suppose there’s anything in there that I need to look at, Dr. Ward?”  “Not at all,” said Dick, and he was waved through with a handshake and a smile.  (Of course, who knows, that might just have been apocryphal.)

white picket
Probably Dick’s most significant legacy was his creation in 2002, while still in Texas, of the ISVG – the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups.  In a handful of innocent-looking suburban homes behind white picket fences, Dick established with criminology students from around the world what has become the largest and most comprehensive open-source database on violent extremism and transnational terror.  With custom-designed software, his students amassed an enormous relational database identifying trends, relationships and tactics of terrorist groups all over the globe, using only information freely available in the media and on the net.  Having moved latterly to Connecticut, with Dick himself, the ISVG has become the go-to source of information for all anti-terrorist and homeland security organisations in America.

He also wrote several hugely influential books on the subject of crime and criminal justice, including the seminal “Criminal Investigation: A Method of Reconstructing the Past”, along with his friend and colleague James W. Osterburg.book cover

In Chicago, and Texas, and latterly at the University of New Haven in Connecticut (where I last visited him five years ago), Dick was responsible for training a whole generation of law enforcement officers from around the world.  The corridors of the FBI and the CIA, and who knows what other agencies, are populated by the former pupils of Dr. Richard Ward, and I never met one that wasn’t an absolute devotee.

He was a man of extraordinary principle, character and charisma, and I along with many thousands of others will miss him sorely.

Dick, Michelle and Sophia during a visit to stay with us in France

Dick, Michelle and Sophia during a visit to stay with us in France

Dick was seventy-five years of age – the twelve year age gap between us always sticking in my mind because we were both born in the Year of the Rabbit.  He is survived by his wife Michelle, whom he married while in China, and their young daughter Sophia  He also has a son, Jon, and daughter, Jeanne, by a previous marriage who loved their father dearly.  My thoughts are with them all.

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2014 – What a Year!

As I look back on the year, it’s been quite a ride. 57,000 kilometres, 61 hotels, 35 flights, 9 countries and 2 major writing awards.

January to June
It began with a tour of the UK for the launch of “Entry Island”…

poster Entry Island

Posters for Entry Island in railway stations in UK

On my return from the UK, I spent a week doing signings and events in Paris bookstores before returning to Spain to resume work on my latest book “Runaway”.

In March I went back to Paris for the Paris Book Fair and followed that with a tour of bookstores in North West France.

Peter May French bookstore

On tour in North West France

More than 200 people turned out in Brest at the Dialogues bookstore. With the cafe/event space overflowing, they set up video screens to play the interview around the store. People were sitting on staircases and in any available space to watch.

peter may dialogues Brest

my interview being broadcast around three floors of the bookstore in Brest on video screens

They also made a short video interview with me at the hotel which you can view below…

In April I got back to the research for the new book, Runaway, which meant driving through the UK retracing the route I had taken in the 1960s from Glasgow, through the Lake District and Leeds to London.

After that, in May and June I was in self-imposed exile while I got down to the job of writing the book.

Le Monde
At the beginning of the summer the back page of Le Monde was devoted to a feature about me illustrated by a quite odd drawing!

Peter May Le Monde

Article in Le Monde daily newspaper in France

July – Central Europe
The minute I finished writing the book in July I went back to the UK to the Harrogate Festival of Crime writing. I had been invited to do an event there and the last book in the Lewis Trilogy, “The Chessmen”, had been shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Award.

Peter May Harrogate 2

In conversation with Ann Cleeves at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

The day after I returned from Harrogate, it was back to Toulouse airport to start a 3-country tour of Central Europe, taking in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. We flew in and out of Prague and traveled by rail and car to Brno, Kosice, Ostrava and Wroclaw. We arrived in torrential rain and on the motorway from Prague to Brno, narrowly missed disaster when an entire wheel came flying off a truck in front of us. It bounced 50 feet into the air, then came crashing down and careered along the road towards us. Luckily the motorway was quiet, the driver swerved to avoid it and got us to the theatre where there was a full house waiting to see me!

Peter May in Brno, Czech Republic

signing after the event in Brno, Czech republic

For the public events, I had to read from The Blackhouse while a translation of what I was reading was projected on to a large screen behind me on the stage.  The crowds were amazing, and I had no idea how well my books are doing in these countries! The Chessmen was at #2 during October in the Czech Republic.

While we were there, a film crew made a documentary about me and I had to indulge some quite peculiar requests. Here I am sitting in a children’s playground in a shopping mall.

Peter May in Brno

Filming in Brno, Czech Republic for a documentary

And here… rowing a boat on a lake with the film crew.

Peter May Brno

me rowing a boat with film crew filming for a documentary in the Czech Republic

I’ll be very interested to see the finished film!

August – Scotland
In August, after a trip to Luxembourg, I was invited back to the Edinburgh Book Festival, where I spoke at two events – a reading in the morning, then in the evening I was interviewed by Jenny Brown in front of a sellout audience.
IMG_0405
Then it was off to the Isle of Lewis for the paperback launch of Entry Island. It was great catching up with so many old friends in Stornoway.

Peter May in Stornoway

Sunny in Stornoway for the launch of the paperback of Entry Island

The launch tour continued as we made our way back via Inverness, Inverurie and Aberdeen to Edinburgh. We spent one night in Edinburgh before flying out to Toronto to start the US/Canada tour.

September – USA and Canada
The Blackhouse came out in paperback and The Lewis Man in hardback in September in the USA and Quercus decided I should undertake a tour of the US and Canada.

Peter May The Lewis Man Quercus USA

US advertisement for The Lewis Man

The reviews for the books have been excellent in North America, with “The Blackhouse” winning the Barry Award for Best Crime Novel in 2013; but it’s always hard to get the word out about new books in the USA, it’s such a big, diverse place. Quercus backed the tour up with ads like the one on the right in trade press and the New York Times and the rest was then down to me and word of mouth!

We flew into Toronto, then down to New York City before going coast to coast: Boston, Minneapolis, Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Seattle, Winnipeg, and back to Toronto.

As well as the bookstore events, I did radio interviews and television.  In Los Angeles, I was invited to appear on fellow Scot Craig Ferguson’s Network chat show, the Late Late Show – that was a quite crazy experience!

Craig Ferguson and Peter May

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on network television in USA

You can view the interview here…

After many long weeks on the road on a trip that took us from our home in France to the Edinburgh Festival, then all around the USA and back across Canada we flew back to Scotland. We had one last event to attend before we could get home to France – “Bloody Scotland”, Scotland’s own crime writing festival, held in the fantastic location of Stirling.

I was interviewed by my old friend Alanna Knight who recently received an MBE in recognition of her 60-year writing career!

Peter May and Alanna Knight

with Alanna Knight at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling

Stirling’s Albert Halls was packed with around 500 people for the event.

Albert Hall Stirling for Peter May event at Bloody Scotland

The packed Albert Hall in Stirling waiting for my event with Alanna Knight

The festival is always a convivial affair and this year, there was a Scotland Vs England football match. The teams, made up of crime writers, played with great energy.

They might have sedentary lifestyles, but they all had the killer instinct.

Peter May Bloody Scotland football game

giving the prize to the winning Scottish Crime Writers football team

It was a beautiful sunny day, made even better by the fact that Scotland won: 14 – 1!

I had been asked to present the trophy (of course there was a trophy, it was a very serious match!) and had great pleasure in handing it over to the Scotland team, captained by Ian Rankin.

Later that night, I was the one on the receiving end of an award.  Entry Island won the Deanston Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and I was given an engraved crystal decanter filled with delicious Deanston Single Malt.

Peter May with Deanston Scottish Crime Novel of the Year

with a beautiful decanter of Deanston Malt whisky I received as the prize for the Deanston Scottish Crime Novel of the Year 2014

October
When we arrived home, the ITV Crime Thriller Book Club was already underway on television. We got back in time to catch the episode featuring “Entry Island”.  It was reviewed by Peter James, Kate Mosse, Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid and Mark Billingham.  I was knocked out by the kind things they said about it!

Peter May's Entry Island

What the reviewers said about Entry Island

The six books in the book club were in contention for the “Best Read” Dagger Award, at the ITV Crime Thriller Awards ceremony in London at the end of October. My publisher said I had to attend… another flight and hotel room! But the thing that bothered me most was that there was a dress code! Anyone who knows me knows I lean towards a “casual and comfortable” approach to my attire. I don’t even possess a suit.

I would normally wear the kilt to special occasions, but after weeks of touring and not being in control of my diet, my kilt was out of the question. I had to rush to our nearest big town, Brive La Gaillard, and throw myself at the mercy of a lovely shop assistant who took great delight in kitting me out from head to toe (including socks and scarf!) in fabulous French style.

Peter May in a suit

me in my suit

Mt wife assured me it looked good, but as far as I was concerned, it was a scratchy, constricting, suffocating experience and I wasn’t sure I could stand a whole night of starched shirt, tie and buttoned-up waistcoat.

As I was one of the nominees, a limo arrived at our hotel to take us to the Grosvenor House Hotel where the dinner and awards ceremony was being televised. Red carpet and photographers greeted me and I was asked to stop and pose before we went through to the champagne reception and awards dinner.

The evening covered crime writing in the form of TV series and films, as well as books, and there were awards for productions and acting as well as writing so there were numerous awards.  The wine was flowing, the hours were passing, no-one was allowed to leave as the event was being recorded for television.

The “Crime Thriller Club Best Read” award was the last one to be presented and to be honest my mind was focused on the moment when it would all be over and a) I could visit the toilets and b) I could get out of the tie and suit.

The competition was so strong, I had absolutely no expectations of winning. I was genuinely astonished when I heard my name being called out and the lights and cameras focused on me to follow me to the stage.

Peter May and Val McDermid at ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards

Val McDermid looks on as I try to adjust the tie that’s choking me!

Peter May with ITV Specsavers Dagger Award for the Crime Thriller Club Best Read of 2014

holding the ITV Specsavers Dagger Award for the Crime Thriller Club Best Read of 2014

The award really belongs to everyone at Quercus publishing for their support and in particular my editor Jon Riley.

Peter May Dagger Award

with Jon Riley and the Dagger Award

“Entry Island” was a risk, combining history, a love story and a crime novel.  But Jon has backed and encouraged me to push the boundaries with my writing and it has paid off with “Entry Island” winning the Deanston Scottish Crime Novel of the Year, and the ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Club Best Read of the Year.

Peter May

me holding the ITV Specsavers Dagger Award for “Best Read”, with Jon Riley and Ron Beard from Quercus

And the rest…
But the year hasn’t all been about books.

Penn and May album "Runaway"

Penn and May album “Runaway”

In May, my friend from childhood Stephen Penn and I released the music album that we have been working on. It’s available from various music download sites if you search for “Penn and May” and “Runaway”, you can find it here on iTunes and on other sites such as Amazon.

Peter May filming against Green Screen for music videos

Filming against Green Screen for music videos

Stephen has been creating brilliant videos to go with the songs on the album.  You can see them on Youtube. He even managed to make the videos although we were miles apart by getting me to film myself against a green screen set up in my living room in France and sending them down to his home in Spain where he incorporated it into his productions.
Here is the video he made for the song “Runaway”…

In fact, our real-life teenage experiences of playing in a band and running away to London together inspired my latest book. Like the album, it is called Runaway and will be out in hardback in January 2015.

Peter May's Runaway out in UK January 15th 2015

Runaway out in UK January 15th 2015

You can find out more about the story behind it, here.

And you can pre-order the hardback edition of the book, “Runaway” which comes out in the UK on January 15th,  Get your copy from The Book Depository and you will receive FREE shipping to anywhere in the world.
Just click here!

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Runaway

Penn&MayForty-five years ago my best friend, Stephen, and I ran away to London. We had just turned 17. I had been expelled from school and taken an awful job at the DNS calculating interest in bank books. One early spring morning I couldn’t stand it any more and walked out.

I used to have to work out the interest in books just like this - ten an hour!

I used to have to work out the interest in books just like this – ten an hour!

I got a train up to my old school and found Stephen in the art department. I told him what I’d done and said I was going to run off to London. “Not without me,” he said. We were playing in a band at the time and when we told the other two in the group they decided to come with us. So we loaded up the group van with our equipment, left notes for our parents and drove off into the night.
We headed off in a van just like this.

We headed off in a van just like this.

We spent a week sleeping in the van in parks and backstreets, trying during the day to get an agency to take us on. Without luck. The only money we made was from busking. Of course, we ended up arguing and Stephen and I split from the other two and found ourselves sleeping on the floor of Euston Station.

We were wearing the same clothes we had run away in. I have a memory of people giving us a wide berth. In the end, filthy and starving, we made a reverse charge call to Stephen’s uncle in London. He came and picked us up and we were able to have a bath and put on clean clothes and get a decent meal. The uncle put us on a train to Glasgow where we were met by our respective fathers at Central Station. (It all came back to me very vividly last year when I had an unscheduled overnight in Glasgow and wandered around the city at first light on the Sunday morning, ending up in Central Station, which seemed still haunted by the memory.) Our fathers must have been wondering how to deal with the situation. In the event, they shook our hands and said, “Well done boys, we’re glad you had the courage to come back.”

Central Station, Glasgow

Central Station, Glasgow

This momentous event in our lives has been recorded for posterity in a song we have written and recorded for our album of the same name, “Runaway”, released for download this weekend. It is 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!

You can download the album here.

For the album cover, Stephen and I tried to replicate a photograph that was taken of us in a photobooth in Euston Station during that fateful trip. We spent our last half crown on it (never dreaming then, that it would end up all over something called the internet nearly half a century later). It’s an interesting comparison.MAYPENN origmaypenn new

Stephen has designed the album cover that comes as a digital booklet with the downloading of the album. It has all the original photographs, plus the treated versions that we did for the cover. And here you can also catch a glimpse of Stephen and I with Jo, who did much of the backing singing and vocal harmony on the album, lending a touch of professionalism to the creaky voices of the old boys – we are not so much a Boy Band as an Old Boy Band.withJo

And just for a bit of fun, here is one of the out-takes from our attempt to replicate the original photograph. I don’t know how many dozen pictures we took, but we almost invariably broke down in floods of laughter. How we ever managed to get one with straight faces I will never know.maypenn corpsing

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In Defence of Curling

I am not often moved to blog about things I read in the tabloid press, but I was incensed by this ignorant, poorly researched piece of trash “journalism” perpetrated by a pompous columnist called Richard Godwin in a rag called the London Evening Standard.

It was a wholly unjustified and vitriolic attack on the sport of curling – a game invented by Scots in the middle-ages (and not by some Swiss psychiatrist as inaccurately claimed by Godwin in his spiteful column).  In his fury that curling should receive funding while British basketball is having its cut, he resorts to the childish and offensive, calling curlers “numpties” and describing the game as “somewhere between the Eurovision Song Contest and Tiddlywinks”, and “a symptom of everything wrong with Britain”.

Those who are cutting funding to basketball, he says, are ignoring the widespread popularity of that game at grass roots level.

If he had the least idea what curling was about, he would know that it is played week-in, week-out through the winter by thousands of curlers in dozens of leagues all over Scotland, and elsewhere in the UK.  I should know, I was one of them for many years.  It is a testing and skilful game, that requires intelligent strategy, technique, fitness and strength.  It is a wonderfully social game that involves people of all ages, from children through to the very elderly (who can adapt their game to suit personal physical abilities).  It develops competitive spirit, but also social and family skills – it is a game often played by whole families.  And if Godwin had ever spent two hours on a curling rink he would know just how physically demanding it is – encouraging fitness and health in all.  But, then, he probably never steps beyond the door of his local London wine bar.

However, here’s a piece of information that Godwin might have uncovered had he not been so journalistically challenged and blinded by his own ignorant prejudice:

In the last 100 years, Britain has won two gold medals in Olympic Curling.  British basketball has won none.  I am not suggesting that as a reason for de-funding British basketball, but it places Godwin’s ludicrous logic in its proper perspective.

His column was not only ill-informed and hopelessly prejudiced, but it was deeply offensive to the many thousands of people who play the game at all levels, and nothing short of insulting to the Scots who comprise the men’s and women’s British Olympic curling teams and who sacrifice their time and their social lives, just like any other athletes, to perform the best they can for Britain.

They deserve better than weasel words from Richard Godwin and the London Evening Standard.

Britain's Curling Teams

Britain’s Curling Teams

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Season’s Greetings!

I’d like to wish you all a wonderful festive season, and a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

My sincere thanks to all of you who have supported my books over the years and who have contributed to the recent success of The Lewis Trilogy.BlackhouseCover1

2013 saw the trilogy go from strength to strength in the UK and mainland Europe, with an amazing breakthrough in the USA where The Blackhouse was only recently published.

But before I tell you about the highlights of the year for me, I have some exciting news about my next book Entry Island.  For those of you who don’t know, Entry Island is set in part on the Isle of Lewis and in part on the Magdalen Islands of Quebec.  It was scheduled for release in early January 2014, but…

ENTRY ISLAND RELEASED EARLY

Entry Island will be available in hardback in the UK on Boxing Day, December 26th 2013!
If you want to buy Entry Island online, here are some useful links…ENTRY-30[1]

for Kindle UK, click here

and readers from anywhere in the world can get FREE worldwide delivery of the hardback edition with 15% off the price from The Book Depository.
To buy Entry Island, or any other books from The Book Depository, click here

Of course it’s also available from bookstores such as WH Smiths and Waterstones, or in supermarkets like Tesco, or from your favourite independent bookstores.   I’ve heard that books are already appearing in the shops in advance of Boxing Day.

UK and Paris Tour, signings and talks,
January 2014

Also I’ll be coming to venues in the UK and Paris to talk about Entry Island.  The full list of dates and venues can be found at the end of this post.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2013

It’s been an extraordinary year which began with The Chessmen spending almost 6 months in the UK hardback best seller charts.  There were some wonderful reviews across the board in the UK and The Independent declared that The Chessmen “…completes one of the best-regarded crime series of recent years”.Chessmen

The summer brought a flurry of nominations for writing awards on both sides of the Altantic.  The Lewis Man was in the final shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and The Blackhouse was shortlisted for a Macavity Award and a Barry Award in the USA.

In September I went to Albany, New York for the Bouchercon Crime Writing conference and was absolutely delighted when George Easter of Deadly Pleasures Magazine announced that The Blackhouse was the winner of the Barry Award for the Crime Novel of the Year in the US.

Peter May with Barry Award for "The Blackhouse"

Me with the Barry Award for “The Blackhouse”

Readers in the USA have had to wait a long time to catch up with The Lewis Trilogy, but I’m glad to be able to tell you that The Lewis Man will be coming to the USA in 2014.untitled

Hebrides, the photo companion to The Lewis Trilogy came out in October in the UK and according to my E-mail In Box, David Wilson’s beautiful photographs will be turning up in more than a few Christmas stockings this year (I hope I haven’t spoiled the surprise for anyone!)

In the summer, I travelled to Lewis with a French film crew to make a documentary about The Lewis Trilogy which will be broadcast in France in January 2014.

I was back on the island a month later when BBC Radio Scotland took me to the Hebrides to record – at locations that appear in The Blackhouse – a special one-hour “Out Of Doors” programme.  It was a sensitive and – at times – emotional exploration of the story of the book and my personal relationship and connections with the Outer Hebrides.  It was broadcast in the Autumn but is being repeated on Radio Scotland in January.  You can hear it broadcast on the internet from anywhere in the world, or you can listen from my website on the ”Latest News” page.

hebrides

Also, by following the above link to my Latest News page, you’ll find video of me talking about Entry Island and some audio book clips of excerpts from the book to give a taste of it.

Before I go, here are my dates in the UK and Paris, I hope you’ll come along and see me if you can…

ENTRY ISLAND TOUR 2014

EVENTS IN UK
Saturday 11th January
7pm
Event in association with Waterstones, Aberdeen
Venue: MacRobert Lecture Theatre, MacRobert Building, Kings Street, University of Aberdeen
Tickets: £5/£4 concessions
Tel for tickets: 01224 592 440
Email: aberdeen@waterstones.com

Mon 13th January
7pm
Event with Waterstone’s, Inverness
Venue: Inverness Town House. Inverness Town House, Inverness, IV2 4SF
Tickets: £5
Interviewer: Robert Taylor, Editor of Inverness Courier
Tel for Tickets: 01463 233500

Tues 14th January
Late am
Informal signing: Waterstone’s, Sauchiehall St, Glasgow

Tues 14th January
12.30 – 2.00pm
Formal signing: WH SMITHS, 53 – 55 Argyle St, Glasgow G2 8AH
Contact: Brian McIntyre, 0141 204 0636
Email: 1148.mgr@whsmith.co.uk

Tues 14th January
7.00pm – 8.30pm
Event with Waterstones, 38 Avenue Centre, Newton Mearns, G77 6EY
Venue: Primavera Bistro, Newton Mearns
Tickets: free (but need to book)
Tel: 0141 6163933

Wed 15th January
7pm
Event with Blackwells, 53 – 62 Southbridge, Edinburgh EH1 1YS
Venue: The Roxy Theatre, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Tickets: £5
Tel: 0131 622 8222
e-mail: events.edinburgh@blackwell.co.uk

Thurs 16th January
11.30am
Informal signing: Waterstone’s, Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh

Thurs 16th January
12.30pm – 1.30pm
Formal signing: Waterstone’s George St, Edinburgh
Tel: 0843 290 8309 to reserve a signed copy

Thurs 16th January

6.30pm
In association with Waterstone’s, 35 Commercial Street, Dundee DD1 3DG
Venue: Steps Theatre, The Wellgate, Dundee, 
DD1 1DB
Interviewer: Helen Brown, Dundee Courier
Tickets: free but booking essential
Tel for tickets: 01382 200322

Tues 21st January

7pm
Waterstones’ Piccadilly, London


Tickets: £5/£3
Tel: 020 78512400
Email: events.piccadilly@waterstones.com

EVENTS IN PARIS

Wednesday 22 January 2014


Signing 6-7pm
Presentation 7-8pm
Venue: WH Smith,
Address: 248 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris 


(Metro: Concorde)

http://www.whsmith.fr/evenementsE.htm

RSVP to books@whsmith.fr

Thursday 23 January 2014
18h00
Venue: Librairie L’Écailler
Address: 101 Rue du Théâtre, 75015 Paris, France


Phone: 01 45 75 30 72

Friday 24 January 2014
18h30


Venue: Librairie Maruani
Address: 171 Boulevard Vincent Auriol, 75013 Paris, France


Phone: 01 45 85 85 70

Saturday 25 January 2014
15h00
Venue: Librairie Gilbert Joseph
Address: 26 Boulevard Saint-Michel, 75006 Paris, France


Phone: 01 44 41 88 88

Saturday 25 January 2014
18h00
Venue: Librairie Acacia
Address: 33/35 bd du Temple, 75003 Paris, France


(Métro République ou Filles du Calvaire)
Tél. : 01 48 04 76 52

Thanks again for your support and have a great festive season!

Peter.

http://www.petermay.co.uk

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Entry Island – Behind the Scenes

With my new novel, Entry Island, due out on Kindle tomorrow, I thought I would share the story behind it with my readers.
ENTRY-30[1]
My decision to write Entry Island stemmed from my interest in the Highland Clearances.

Like many of my generation I did not become aware of the history of The Clearances until the years after I had left full-time education. I took Higher history at school, but this was not a subject on the syllabus. Why, is still a mystery to me, since it is one of the most shameful periods in recent British social history. It was first drawn to my attention by the 1970s John McGrath play, “The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil”.

The Clearances was a phenomenon that took place in several waves in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland over the course of around 100 years during the 18th and 19th centuries. It followed on from the defeat of the Jacobites (who wanted to restore the Stewarts to the British throne) at Culloden in 1746. Most of those who fought in the Jacobite rebellion were Highland crofters and farmers called to arms by their clan chiefs in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Since a clan chief in those days was both benefactor and landlord, the Highlanders, who were mostly Gaelic speakers, had no choice but to do as they were told. They were, essentially, canon-fodder.The Clearances

But the British government, determined to dismantle the clan system and exact retribution, banned all things Highland – the playing of the bagpipes, the wearing of the kilt, the carrying of arms – and a lengthy and institutionalised persecution against Gaelic speakers was instigated (someone speaking Gaelic in a court of law was deemed not to have spoken). In the immediate aftermath of Culloden, a regiment comprising prisoners from English prisons was set loose in the Highlands, slaughtering Gaelic speakers and their families.

Many clan chiefs were disposessed of their land and a new generation of landowner took over the vast Highland estates they vacated. The crofters, whose ancestors had worked the land for centuries, were seen as a burden. They made no money from the land, which provided subsistence only, and were unable to pay rent. So, with financial incentives from the government, this new breed of landowner systematically began to replace people with sheep, which were regarded as a more economically viable use of the land.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes, which were often set alight to prevent them returning. Many were forced to the coastal fringes where there were no settlements, and where without the requisite fishing talents or boats, they lived and died in dire poverty. Others were forced, sometimes in chains, aboard boats bound for the New World. They had no possessions and no money, and faced the most appalling conditions as human ballast aboard sailing ships designed to carry cargo, not people. By the mid to late 19th century the British government had legislated to lay down minimum conditions aboard the “slavers” – ships carrying slaves from Africa to America. But these conditions did not apply to the emigrants forced to sail the Atlantic during The Clearances. Many of them did not survive the voyages.The Hector

Fuelled by the injustice of The Clearances, and the knowledge that no one had really tackled the subject in fiction, I decided to make this the focus of the book that would follow The Lewis Trilogy. But I didn’t want to write a historical novel, and as a crime writer I obviously had to find a way of bringing the criminal, the contemporary and the historical, all together in one story.

I knew that there had been some particularly brutal land clearances in the Hebrides, and since this was on my patch, so to speak, I decided to set the historical element of the story on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, creating a fictitious estate and township that would serve as a typical example of some of the more violent clearances. For this I drew specifically on real events that took place on Barra, the west coast of Harris, and the village of Solas in North Uist.

For the contemporary element of the story, I turned towards Canada where many Highlanders ended up. I had initially intended to use Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as the centres of the contemporary crime story. But two coincidences changed my mind.

Quite by chance I received an email from a reader of the Lewis Trilogy. Her name was Marilyn Savage, and she was a presbyterian minister in Canada who had grown up in the Scottish communities in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. After several exchanges by email, it became clear to me that this is where my story should take place.

But specifically, for my tale, I required an island setting. Here the second coincidence came into play. My neighbour in France is a Quebecois, who grew up in the Magdalen Islands (les îles de la Madeleine) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I had seen photographs of the islands and been struck by the similarity to the Hebrides, and when further research revealed the presence of large communities of “cleared” Hebrideans in the Canadian province, that became the natural setting for the book.Magdalen Islands

The discovery that an island in the St. Lawrence River, just downstream from Quebec City, had been used as a quarantine station for arriving emigrants, brought the final piece of the story into play. And I set off for Quebec to do my research.

After research sessions at the Sûreté de Police in Montreal, the Eastern Townships of Quebec (now known as the Cantons de l’est) were my next port of call. I was fortunate to arrive at the most beautiful time of year, when the leaves in the forests that would have been so unfamiliar to arriving Hebrideans were turning the most extraordinary colours. There, with Marilyn Savage, her mother and daughters as my sherpas, I visited towns and villages established by Hebrideans cleared off their land. There is actually a town called Stornoway. Another called Tolsta – which is the name of the village on the Isle of Lewis from which Marilyn Savage’s ancestors hailed. Another settlement describes itself as the Hebridean village of Gould. A tour of the cemeteries of these townships was a sobering and emotional experience. For here, buried in the ground thousands of miles from their homes, lay Macleods, and Macritchies and Macdonalds, and many others forced to leave their villages by unscrupulous landlords. People who had survived the voyage by sea and somehow endured to establish these communities.

I went to the homes of some of their descendants and met some very elderly ladies in their late eighties and nineties who still speak Gaelic. They spoke of their pride in their roots, and in the fortitude of their ancestors who had survived and thrived against all the odds.

I flew out to the Magdalen Islands, which are situated in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and totally isolated from the North American mainland. These islands, which comprise part of the province of Quebec, are French speaking, and largely populated by ancestors of the Acadians forced out of Canada by the British. One tiny island, however, is resolutely English-speaking. It is called Entry Island, and many of its inhabitants are of Scots descent. In fact, most of the English speakers in the Magdalen islands (about 5 percent of the population) are descended from emigrants who were shipwrecked on their way to Quebec City – for the islands stand in the middle of the sea route to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, and without a lighthouse were the cause of hundreds of shipwrecks over many years.

I then visited the quarantine island of Grosse Île, which has been preserved as a museum since its final closure in 1937. It is an island still haunted by the thousands who died there in long sheds known as Lazarettos, in the hospital where desperate staff worked in appalling conditions to try to save the lives of emigrants suffering from the diseases they had brought with them aboard their ships, and in the boats that were forced to anchor in the bay and fly the yellow quarantine flag.Grosse Île

My central character, Sime (a corruption of Sim, the Gaelic for Simon, which is pronounced “Sheem”) Mackenzie, is a homicide detective with the Sûreté in Montreal. His family, too, were of Hebridean descent, and he grew up in an English-speaking household in the Eastern Townships at a time when only French was spoken at school. He is, therefore, fluently bilingual – which is why he is chosen to travel with the French-speaking investigation team to Entry Island when a brutal murder is committed there.

When Sime arrives, it is only to discover that the wife of the victim, and prime suspect in his murder, is unaccountably familiar to him, even although they have never met…

Peter May
December 2013

Buy your Kindle version of “Entry Island” here
And pre-order your hardback copy here

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Priceless Words

When I was 18 years old I made my first serious attempt to write a novel.  I had written stories throughout most of my teenage years, including a teenage fantasy about the group I played in called “The Aristokrats”.  The book was entitled “The Aristokrats in Spain”, and it ran to around 50,000 words.  If nothing else, it taught me that I could write at length, but it could never have been described as serious.Peter May pendant le salon Polars du Sud à Toulouse en 2013

“Portrait” was different.  It was a story of youthful love, disillusion and eventual tragedy.  I was cutting my real writer’s teeth.  And it was my first step on a long and difficult road that would be full of frustration and rejection.  It was short, only about 25,000 words – not a commercially viable length – so my expectations were not high.  All the same, I was excited when a letter from Collins Publishers finally dropped through the letterbox.

It was dated January 25th, 1971, which seemed auspicious since it was also the birthday of the great Scottish Bard, Rabbie Burns.

But, of course, it was a rejection.

And although it might seem strange to say that I was uplifted, even inspired by this letter, that is exactly how I felt.  It was sent to me by an editor called Philip Ziegler, and his words of praise and encouragement are perhaps the only things that sustained me through all the difficult years that lay ahead.

While explaining that the book was neither long enough, nor sufficiently good in construction or style, he went on to write, “But we do like it.  It has a direct and emphatic narrative style and has an oddly memorable – even idyllic flavour about it.  We feel you ought to go on writing, and would like to see anything you write in future – which may not sound very much, but is, I can assure you, a great deal more than we say to 95% of the people who send in their typescripts!”ziegler

I sometimes wonder where I would be today if Philip Ziegler had not taken the time and trouble and care to reply to me with such thoughtful words.  And I wonder, too, how many other writers might simply have given up because no one took the time to offer similar encouragement.

I have guarded that letter carefully all my life, and today some instinct led me to it in a box of archives in the attic.  I have scanned it, and you can read the letter in full by simply clicking on it.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Because 42 years later, Philip Ziegler is still going strong, and still being published himself.  His latest book, “Olivier”, is the definitive biography of the actor Lawrence Olivier, and is published by Quercus who also publish my best-selling Lewis Trilogy.  olivier

So nearly half a century later, I find myself on the same list, with the same publisher as the man who I have always considered to be my first and most important mentor.

My heartfelt thanks to Philip Ziegler.

Update: read about my meeting with Philip Ziegler here.

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US Barry Award for Best Mystery Novel for The Blackhouse

I’ve just returned from the Bouchercon crime convention in Albany NY, USA, where George Easter of Deadly Pleasures magazine presented me with the Barry Award for Best Mystery Novel for “The Blackhouse”.

Peter May with Barry Award for "The Blackhouse"

Peter May with Barry Award for “The Blackhouse”

In previous years, there were separate awards for US and UK writers, but this is the first year that the awards were combined and books from both sides of the Atlantic were pitted against one another.  It made winning the prize all the more special to know that “The Blackhouse” had been up against all the American big guns of this year, such as the phenomenal best seller “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn!

It was also special for me because, although “The Blackhouse” has won several major literature awards in France, where it was first published, this is the first prize for the English language version of the book.

It’s hard to believe, looking back, that this was the same book that was was turned down by every major publisher in the UK. I had set it aside and gone on to write other books, really believing “The Blackhouse” to be a lost cause.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my French publisher, Danielle Dastugue of Le Rouergue, who saved the book from oblivion.  Everything changed with one chance conversation we had when I mentioned “The Blackhouse” to her.  She asked to read it, loved it and bought world rights.  She had it translated into French and took the Frankfurt book fair by storm, with publishers from all over Europe bidding for the rights.

And it was the French version that was read by the book scout for award-winning young publishing house Quercus – a UK publisher that had not even existed when the book was first offered to British publishers.  They immediately stepped in to buy the English language rights and were the ones to commission a further two books to create what has become known as The Lewis Trilogy.

The rest is now history.  Quercus’ belief in the book was endorsed by the Richard and Judy Book Club who picked it for their Autumn 2011 selection.  UK readers shared their enthusiasm, voting it their “Best Read” and turning the book into a major best-seller.

Books 2 and 3 in The Lewis Trilogy, “The Lewis Man” and “The Chessmen“, have already become bestsellers, and the three books have sold almost a million copies in the UK alone.

The Blackhouse” was first published in the USA at the end of 2012.  The paperback will be published there in Spring of 2014 by Quercus Inc., with “The Lewis Man” coming out in hard cover in October 2014.

Here is a video of me at the awards ceremony, receiving the Barry Award from George Easter.  The video might not be very clear, but the audio quality is good enough to hear my speech.

And in other news, this week saw the publication in the UK of “Hebrides” the photo companion to the Lewis Trilogy.  More than 200 beautiful pictures by photographer David Wilson illustrate the locations from the trilogy, alongside a text that I have written charting the history of the islands and my personal relationship with them.

Hebrides

Hebrides, the photo companion to the Lewis Trilogy

Hebrides can be ordered from anywhere in the world from the UK’s Book Depository
with FREE delivery.
Click here to visit their website…

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The Heat is On for The Lewis Trilogy

The summer has arrived with a flurry of award nominations for The Lewis Trilogy.

The trilogy has already won several awards in France where it was first published.
Now nominations are arriving for major book awards in the UK and USA.

  • THEAKSTONS OLD PECULIER CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR (UK)
    The Lewis Man shortlisted
  • BARRY AWARD – Best Crime Novel (USA)
    The Blackhouse – Subscribers and readers of Deadly Pleasures Magazine can vote. Find out more, here
  • MACAVITY AWARDS – Best Mystery Novel (USA)
    The Blackhouse – Subscribers and readers of Mystery Readers Journal can vote. Find out more, here
THE BLACKHOUSE shortlisted for a Barry Award

THE BLACKHOUSE has been shortlisted in the category of Best Crime Novel in the BARRY AWARDS run by Deadly Pleasures magazine.  All subscribers and readers of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine are eligible to vote.  Readers who have subscribed to the magazine, here, may vote by email (george@deadlypleasures.com) or by sending your votes to P.O. Box 997, Bountiful, UT 84011.
The winners will be announced September 19, 2013 at the Opening Ceremonies of Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, New York

THE BLACKHOUSE shortlisted for a Macavity Award

THE BLACKHOUSE has been shortlisted for a Best Mystery Novel in the Macavity Awards.   This award is nominated by and voted on by members and supporters of Mystery Readers International, as well as subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal. Readers can subscribe here.  Winners will be announced at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in September, in Albany this year. The Macavity Award is named for the “mystery cat” of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats).

In other news…
THE CHESSMEN spent almost six months in the UK hardback bestsellers chart after publication in January this year.

THE ENZO FILES are now available in new e-books editions from Quercus. EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE, THE CRITIC, BLACKLIGHT BLUE and FREEZE FRAME (with BLOWBACK coming soon).  Find out more here

and finally…

Hebrides

HEBRIDES, the photo companion to the Lewis Trilogy

HEBRIDES will be available in September 2013.

HEBRIDES is a photo companion book for the Lewis Trilogy, containing more than 200 photographs of locations in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland described in the books.  The photographs were taken by local photographer David Wilson, and are accompanied by Peter May’s story of the islands’ history and his own history with the islands, describing the inspiration behind the Lewis Trilogy.

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A Look Back… and Forward

The end of another year.  Another book published. Another book written, well, almost. I expect to finish it within the next ten days before I travel to the UK for the launch of The Chessmen, but more of that later.  First a review of the last year….

What were the highlights of 2012?

At the end of the year, The Lewis Man was named by UK newspaper The Independent as one of their “Books of the Year” for 2012.  The Lewis Trilogy was also described in the paper as:

“one of the best-regarded crime series of recent years”.

In 2012, The Blackhouse was published in the USA by Quercus’ partners, Silver Oak, and was received very well.
New York Times reviewer, Marilyn Stasio said:

“Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth”

Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it:

“brilliant first in a trilogy”

Library Journal also gave it a starred review, describing it as:

“mesmerizing”‘, “breathtaking”, “astonishing”.


and they have just named The Blackhouse one of “The Best Books of 2012″ in the USA.

The Blackhouse was named one of “The Best Books of 2012″ in the USA by January Magazine, too.

Back in Europe, The Lewis Man was up for several awards during 2012.

In May, I made the final shortlist for the UK Crime Writers’ Association’s “Dagger in the Library” a prize awarded by British librarians.

In the Spring, the French version of The Lewis Man was selected for the French daily newspaper Le Télégramme’s Grand Prix des Lecteurs. There were 12 nominees and all the authors were called on to give talks in book shops and libraries and to be interviewed on television – all of this in French, naturally!  


The judging process took place over several months and the vote was then taken by readers of the newspaper who had registered and read the 12 books.  I was amazed and delighted when The Lewis Man was declared the winner and I received the 10,000 Euro prize at the televised award ceremony.



In June, at Le Havre’s Ancres Noires Crime Writing Festival, The Lewis Man won the Prix des Lecteurs.  This is another prize judged by readers.  It is run and adjudicated by librarians in the North West of France.I was the first author to win this prize twice – having won it previously for The Blackhouse.

The Lewis Man was shortlisted for the first Scottish Crime Book of the Year, at the inaugural “Bloody Scotland” Crime Writing Festival in Stirling in September – a great festival, well-run, superb location, convivial – hope it’s the first of many!

In October, at one of my favourite festivals, the Cognac festival of Crime Writing I won the Prix Polar International by a unanimous vote of the judges (which is apparently very unusual).  The best thing about this award?  The crystal decanter of 1795 Baron Otard Extra Cognac!

As for 2013…

The Chessmen was released on Kindle UK early, and the past couple of weeks have seen The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen all regularly sitting in the Top Twenty of the Amazon Kindle UK Mystery and Thriller lists.

The Chessmen‘s hardback release date in bookstores was 3rd January and I’ll be flying to the UK for 11 events to celebrate the launch at bookstores and other venues mainly in Scotland, and focusing on a Hebridean tour!

CHESSMEN LAUNCH TOUR

  • Newcastle, Corrbridge Forum Books, Tea and Tipple Cafe 14th Jan 7pm
  • St Boswells, Mainstreet Trading 15th Jan, 12 noon
  • Newton Mearns, Waterstones, Primavera Bistro 15th Jan 7pm
  • Edinburgh, Blackwells, 53-59 South Bridge16th Jan 6.30pm
  • Dundee, Steps Theatre, 17th Jan 7pm
  • Lochmaddy North Uist, Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre 19th Jan 2pm
  • Lochboisdale, South Uist, Lochboisdae Hotel 21st Jan 7pm
  • Tarbert, Harris, Tarbert Community Library, 22nd Jan 7pm
  • Stornoway, Lewis, Woodlands Centre, 23rd Jan 7.30pm
  • Ness, Lewis, Historical Society, 24th Jan 7.30pm
  • Inverness, Waterstones 25th Jan 4pm (signing only)
THERE MIGHT BE LIMIT ON SEATS AVAILABLE, SO
PLEASE CHECK WITH INDIVIDUAL VENUES FOR
FULL DETAILS ABOUT WHETHER BOOKING IS NECESSARY

I have to go now, to ensure that I meet the deadline to finish writing my next book before the tour.

What is it about?

Well, in spite of daily e-mails imploring me to continue with Fin’s story, I can tell you there is definitely NOT going to be a fourth book in The Lewis Trilogy.  I can also divulge that the Isle of Lewis does appear in the new book.  But you’ll have to wait a while to find out any more!

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