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“The book is beautifully written, funny and poignant, and very different from any I have previously read by the versatile Peter May”
The decision of five teenage boys to leave their homes in Glasgow in 1965 and head for London is led by Jack Mackay when he is expelled from school. His friends need little incentive to run away from abusive families and dead end jobs to pursue fame and fortune as a band. However, the boys find the reality to be devastatingly different from their dreams, and within less than eight weeks of their departure, just three of them return home, their lives irrevocably damaged.
Fifty years later, in 2015, a brutal murder takes place in London and the three men, who are now in their sixties, are forced to return to the city to confront the demons which have haunted them and blighted their lives for five decades.
Runaway is a gripping crime novel spanning two cities and half a century. This extraordinary work by Peter May explores how aspirations and expectations shape us, and the pivotal yet changeable role that friendships play in our lives.
Here is the “story behind the story” and how the inspiration for RUNAWAY came from his own experiences…
Forty-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 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
And here is the video Stephen made for the title track from the album – Runaway:
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I have just finished reading Runaway (having previously read The Lewis Trilogy and Entry Island). It was strange to read a book with links so close to home. I now live in the flats above The Derby Cafe and my back window looks down towards the sheltered housing where Jack stays in the book.
Also my son owns Church on the Hill at Battlefield Monument which is mentioned as Jack walks up the hill from the Victoria Hospital.
Being a similar vintage to Jack and the author I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the flashbacks to the 60s when music was “proper music” as I continually remind my sons.
Excellent stuff. Thanks
Delighted you enjoyed the book. My sister used to frequent the Derby Café, and my mother spent the last couple of years of her life in the sheltered housing behind you – she also died in the Victoria Infirmary. Must try the Church on the Hill next time I am in Glasgow! 🙂
Both my husband and I have recently read Runaway and earlier your Lewis trilogy. It’s quite marvellous to read your books, which are really thrilling and so well composed. How the threads lead to the past and the present and how everything is connected to each other. As we are Swedes it is also a pleasure to read in English even if we don’t understand every single word, but there are dictionaries though … We look forward in taking part of your planned book for the next year.
Oh my goodness! What a lot of memories that brings back. I never ran away but I grew up in Clarkston , went to Eastwood Secondary School, Mr Tolmie was my English/history teacher ante ice cream and mushy peas at the tallies’ at Clarkston Toll (Tomasso’s in my day); my best freind, Parma lived in Stamperland. After a few years in the Home Counties and two years in Holland I emigrated nearly fifty years ago with my family to Canberra,Australia. Parma also went to Eastwood, was later my bridesmaid and also became an Aussie. She now lives in Brisbane and we see each other from time to time. I have told her about Runaway. It’ll maybe give her a good greet like it did me. Thank you for a great book as well as Auld Lang Syne. Corille Fraser
Delighted to bring back happy memories, Corille. Of course, Frank Tolmie was also my English teacher, Norman Shed taught me history, and Jack Peacock and Jack Vernal taught me art. In fact it was Tolmie and Peacock who pleaded my case with Johnnie Anderson when he expelled me. Writing Runaway was a trip down memory lane for me, although it is only semi-autobiographical! My sister was in the café in Clarkston when the son of the owners had his face slashed. She later had to give evidence in the court case against the culprit. I was in Australia earlier this year on a book tour, taking in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. I loved it, and had I been 25 years younger might have thought about emigrating there!
Just finished Runaway and wondered if there was a sequel to it after the bodies of Dr Robert and Maurie were found? Could it be that Enzo type forensic skills were used to identify Maurie and then trace the others when the bodies were found days or weeks later.
Haha, feel free to write it! 🙂
Hello Peter May
I have just finished reading ‘Runaway’ and while I have read counless books over many years I’m struggling to recall feeling so moved.
I have never felt the need to say anything to any author before and don’t really know how or what to say now.
After thinking long and hard the best I can come up with is thank you.
Well, thank you, Bill, for writing to express your enjoyment!
I have a question. You dropped Jenny like a hot rock after the boys left for London. You did mention he came back and married her, then she died, but without any details.
This omission left me hanging. Otherwise, I enjoyed the book.
Jenny was not a character that was ever going to figure in the story, Robert, other than as a symbol of Jack settling for second best. She would have added nothing to the drama.
J’avais déjà lu “The distant echo” de Val Mc Dermid, la proximité du point de départ m’a amusée, les deux romans étant si différents.
Qui plus est, ce point de départ, pour moi qui suit née en 1950, un peu avant les 2 auteurs est une thématique très forte, très liée à notre adolescence, moi aussi j’avais des copains qui se prenaient pour les Beatles.
The trouble with reading the Clarkston/Netherlee elements is it has had me thinking since about certain recollections, particularly the headmaster in question who, despite being immortalised in Runaway, seems to have been forgotten. His habit of grabbing people by the earlobe might have left an impression, but on making enquiries recently, no-one seems to know what became of him. As a ‘baddie’ in the book have you ever tried to find out more about him? Would the knowledge interest readers, or is obscurity a welcome vengeance?
Tom, the poor old chap passed away some years ago. I met his daughter once, and didn’t have the heart to tell her how I felt about her dad. However, I do still remember quite vividly the weals raised on the insides of my wrists from his six stinging strokes of the tawse.
It is unfortunate he had such a limited approach, given the inspirational teaching from staff such as those you mention. I wonder how much talent he missed, misread or stifled because people did not fit his narrow values. Many thanks for the reply.
Peter, having only fairly recently stumbled upon your story post Eastwood School, I feel I owe you an apology. We were briefly both in a very small ‘Creative Writing’ class with Mr Cowan. My memory has this as being in 6th year, but as I don’t remember you being expelled, I may have got this wrong. Anyway, we were asked to comment on each other’s writing, and I’m afraid I slated you – hopefully politely. I believe I may have been in my metaphysical poets phase – that will have to suffice as an excuse.
I have yet to read Runaway (I look forward to it), but did enjoy your music video with Stephen. I also remember Ian Looker. Is he still in Bristol? – I partly live there these days. With a musician, as it happens!
Yes, that part of Glasgow was stifling, but as by then I had already lived in a fair bit of England and Scotland, I guess I was looking to try to fit in. I now feel it’s a real pity we didn’t get past the lit crit stage.
Haha, Karen I have zero recollection of ever being in a Creative Writing class, nor of a Mr. Cowan. Your name does, I think, ring a bell for me, but I can’t put a face to it. At that time I was probably working on my first full length fiction, which was a dreadful teenage fantasy thing, so if you were scathing about whatever bits of that I might have shared, I can hardly blame you. But we all have to start somewhere. Last contact I had with Ian Looker was seventeen years ago, and he was still in Bristol at that time. I was recently invited back to Eastwood (now rebuilt) to speak to the kids as a “famous former pupil”. The Rector asked me not to mention that I had been expelled :). Stephen is currently battling brain cancer and (fingers crossed) beating it. I hope you’ll read “Runaway”, I am sure you will recognise lots of it.
Well that’s a relief! Maybe it was a Frank Tolmie class….. Really sorry to hear about Stephen.
I did go to the ‘last chance to see the old school before they knock it down’ evening. I had forgotten that great mural that faced you as you went in (dinnner hall behind). I have a photo somewhere. Also old school mags somewhere, in which I belive we both appear in photos. I don’t think you wrote for it, but I have some embarrassing bits – best left ‘somewhere’.
Frank Tolmie sounds possible. From recollection, I think I named one of the teachers in “Runaway” after him. From his retirement in Elderslie he followed my career as a journalist for a time, and we exchanged several letters. It was he, along with Jack Peacock in the art department, who pled my case with Johnny Anderson when he expelled me halfway through sixth year, but to no avail. JA and I had a long-running feud, not least because my father was head master of a rival school, Bellahouston Academy, and they positively loathed each other. You might well have been my very first critic, but there have been many since. Bad reviews are something I have learned to deal with either by ignoring them or burying them. Fortunately, the good ones have held more sway over the years. What kind of career did you go on to yourself?
I recall you stating, in said English class, that you were going to be a writer. I’m afraid I was never as focussed! Unsurprisingly, I can’t claim to have had ‘a career’. Lots of ‘might do’s’. First one was art school, which I didn’t. But I did do Higher art and remember Peacock, Vernal, Eccleston and Mrs Trevorrow(?) Hence uni – English/Psychology with History of Art/French/Philosophy……all the usual stuff that sets you up to teach, which I didn’t want to do. Various stints in Personnel, Civil Service, NHS. All, you will note, worthy but unexciting. Moved around a lot. I blame my earlier childhood – but don’t we all?! I can see that your father’s position would have irked J A. He was so petty – a friend of mine had a long-running ‘vendetta’ about bringing an umbrella to school. Which of course he did. Can’t remember who won though.
Picked up the book in a hotel in faliraki Rhodes some three years ago read it 4/5times once I started reading I couldn’t put it down alas it fell into disrepair so I am going to try and get or buy another book I can really communicate with those boys. Born 1949. Van. A blue Thames trader
Delighted you enjoy the book, Jim. It’s still in print and readily available.
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This is a brilliant book was recommended buy a friend. Got me into Peter Mays books .Peter may in my mind is the best fiction writer out there ,I love his books and the best book I’ve ever read is “the lewis man”
I have just finished Runaway. I listened to it at night and whilst working as a grounds keeper at Lotus cars in Norfolk through my headphones narrated by Peter Forbes. I laughed and cried especially the fate of ‘Jobby Jeff’ and Jack missing his beloved Racheal by two years. As a post-grad history student I also liked the way you identify that not all Britain was ‘swinging’ in the 1960s and that London could as dangerous as it was exciting for vulnerable, impressionable young teens. Thanks Peter an excellent read (Listen). Black House and Coffin Road were also excellent
Delighted you enjoyed it, Glenn. It was a semi-autobiographical journey for me, so one of my favorites.
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