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

And here is the video Stephen made for the title track from the album – Runaway:

About Author Peter May

International best-selling author of several series of books: the Lewis Trilogy - "The Blackhouse", "The Lewis Man" and "The Chessmen" - The Enzo Files and the China Thrillers, as well as standalone novels including "Entry Island", "Runaway" and "Coffin Road".
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29 Responses to Runaway

  1. What a great and “traditional” Scottish story Peter. Also the two of you haven’t changed a bit in all that time. Ironic that the stations you slept in most likely sell your books through WH Smiths too!

  2. janeykate says:

    What a lovely story, and how nice that you are still in touch! Hope the album is a huge success!

    • 🙂 Thanks, Jane. We are not expecting fame and fortune! Just nice to find expression for a lot of things that have accumulated over the years.

      • janeykate says:

        Even better then 🙂 Ive just started learning to play the guitar, and I’m finding that making music (or an approximation of it, given Im pretty rubbish still!) is very rewarding, even though its only for my ears. For which the world should be truly thankful 🙂

  3. John Bernklow says:

    It’s an interesting story and one I partly recognise – my freind and I left Edinburgh in the summer of 71 and headed for India ,we were both 16 and didn’t get past London – ran out of cash and then slept rough around Euston – the train station had doors that closed so it retained the heat unlike other stations where the cold wind would chill you through to the bone – there was a lot of very dodgy people that preyed on the runaways and homeless there and my freind and I would sail pretty close to the wind to get a meal or a few cigarettes – eventually we both joined the children of God who had a commune in Bromely – not out of any religious conviction but rather to have a meal and a bed for the night , like yourself it was a reverse phone call and a eventual bus ticket home .

    • Some of us, I think, felt compelled to do this kind of thing, breaking down the barrier of conventiality before discovering how conventional we really were all along. But, then, you learn something that the conventionally conventional never do. “Runaway”, the novel, is out in January.

  4. Ian Baker says:

    Hi Peter,
    your comments about the dreadful housing in Glasgow and Leeds rang a bell with me. I worked for a planning consultant in the 1960s and we frequently represented public groups (rate payers associations or housing waiting list groups) against local council’s attempts to erect yet more tower blocks or large developments of flats.We managed to stop a large number and my job was designing an alternative low rise scheme, which incidentally always cost less per unit than high rise units.I remember my first visit to Glasgow and the awful sight of the old housing areas mingled with industry being torn down to make access for new motorways in the city.I managed to build the sort of housing you see in the south east of England-proper gardens etc and space to breathe.I met terrific opposition from council chiefs,and some councillors, who it later were revealed were taking bribes from construction companies to build their system build flats.Research T Dan Smith and Poulson in Newcastle and Gateshead. The whole experience was very stressful and I left at the age of 24 at the end of 1970, and apart from a brief time working for an architect friend of mine, I never went back again. Most of my life was spent initially in archaeology and then driving a lorry. I packed up work in 2007 after being taken to the cardiac dept of Queens Hospital, Romford, and never worked again. I have a fondness for Ian Dury, and the words of “What A Waste” seem very apt.Like the lads in runaway my life did not turn out as one might have hoped, but I have seen some places. I love Scotland, but was never able to find work and live there.
    regards, love your books, Ian Baker, somewhere in rural Essex.

    • Good to hear from you, Ian. Hope you are keeping well after your event in 2007. Every life has its ups and downs and every one of them has value in its own way. Me… I’m an overnight success at 63!! 🙂

  5. Ann B. says:

    Only one word to describe ‘Runaway’. BEAUTIFUL!

  6. Donal Donnelly says:

    My sense of adventure led me to run away from home in Northern Ireland aged 14 in 1955. I travelled by combination of bike and train through Dublin, across Anglesey and to London. where some remorse caused me to phone home to say I was OK. My good dad persuaded me to go to West End Central police station and after a night in a cell I was put on a plane back to Aldergrove the next day. Back to school, leading to University and a professional career that led to a very extensive knowledge of five continents, happy marriage and 4 grandchildren.
    I first read your Hebrides trilogy over this Christmas and much enjoyed it. I can verify that life can be like a novel, if you let it.

  7. Liz Smith says:

    This is not a book I would have chosen for myself, but I was given a six-month membership of a book club for Christmas and this book arrived on my doorstep a few days ago. I read the appraisal and it sounded like a good read, so I dived in. I read it in two sittings! It really drew me in and I so wanted to now what had happened to these lads in 1965 and 2015. A cracking read, I have recommended it to my husband and I’m sure he will enjoy it as much as I did.

    • Delighted you enjoyed it, Liz. Hope your husband does, too 🙂

      • jane says:

        I’m really sorry to say that I was left very disappointed by Runaway. It just felt very contrived and the events and their outcomes extremely unconvincing. I grew up in that part of Glasgow in the 60s and 70s and now live in London but still I couldn’t connect with the novel. Sadly, for me, it did not come close to living up to the writing of the Lewis Trilogy and I feel the accolades on the cover and in reviews are misleading and don’t ring true.

      • Well, each to his or her own, Jane. We can’t all like the same things. Lots of other people loved it.

  8. Catherine says:

    I’ve just started the book and really enjoying it. Have been thinking it would make a good TV series and whether you’d already thought of that?

  9. Oh my goodness. What a lot of memories that book brought back. I grew up in Clarkston, went to Eastwood Secondary, ate ice cream at the tallies’ at Clarkston Toll (Tomasso’s in my day); my best mate, Parma lived in Stamperland, and Mr Tolmie was my English/history teacher who inculcated an enduring love of both. I didn’t run away but spent a few years in England, another few in Holland and then flitted to Canberra, Australia with my husband and three, then, small children. Parma also went to Eastwood, was my bridesmaid and also went Aussie with her family, now lives in Brisbane. We see each other from time to time. Apart from all the memories, I loved Runaway and also look forward to seeing it on screen one day. Thank you. Made me greet, so it did. Corille Fraser, Canberra

  10. Roger scudds says:

    The runaway took me vividly back to growing up in Merrylee, attending Queens Park, dances at Netherlee, the tallie at the Lynn Park gates and, last but not least, the dreaded Cambie. It was as if I was living as Jack. Wonderful tale, an artful description of the times in Glasgow, London and the decrepit midlands of Thatcher’s England.

  11. Hugh Ward says:

    I also worked at the NSB in Cowglen, putting interest in bank books. I left there after about 9 months and went to London with 3 of my mates. Can’t wait to read the book.

  12. Sharon Waterson says:

    Just read my first book of yours Peter, Coffin Road, a brilliant read.
    Trawling through reviews to see which will be my second, I went for Runaway. And, whilst listening to the title song off the album in the background, I read the emails and replies with such emotion. I think /feel I’m getting drawn down memory lane. Being 68 now, was it something we yearned for, adventure??

    • We all just reach a certain age, Sharon, when we look back over our lives and re-asses – the things we did right, the things we did wrong, the things we wish we’d done, the things we wish we hadn’t. It’s a natural process, I think.

  13. Sheila Launchbury says:

    Somewhat behind the curve, I have just been reading Runaway (which I have enjoyed very much, as I have done the 20 other of your books I have read previously). I grew up in south Glasgow, so many of the places mentioned in this book are very familiar to me, but I was delighted to note the three references in the story to the Ommer School of Music in Dixon Avenue, Queenspark. I both studied and taught there in the 1970s. Both the Ommer sisters had died by then, but were still spoken of with great reverence. What is your connection with the school, if you don’t mind my asking?

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