(Bétaille) Translated into thirty languages, the Scottish author Peter May documents himself at length, travels, then isolates himself to write, connected to the problems of the world which feed his latest novels, such as the migrant crisis or global warming.
Before publishing his first book at the age of 26, Peter May was first a reporter, then a scriptwriter for series in Scotland. “I wanted to make a living by writing,” he told AFP, during a meeting in France, where he has lived for more than twenty years.
Expelled from high school in the 1960s, this rebel dreamed of being a writer. “But there were no courses for that in college!” “recalls laughingly this author with some 29 novels, born in Glasgow on December 20, 1951.
Literary fame will come late with The island of bird hunters, first published in its French translation in 2010. No English-speaking publisher had smelled the potential of the first volume of the Lewis trilogy, which then sold more than three million copies.
Loving “the dark novel, which immerses you in an atmosphere”, Danielle Dastugue, founder of Rouergue editions, a French house, took the risk.
“Birdhunter Island has it all: beautiful characters, breathtaking landscapes…Peter was maybe ahead of the Scandinavian wave that’s in that vein,” says -She.
Peter May’s style is marked by his years in the world of television and the press: “I learned, he explains, to write very quickly”, to “do research on any subject , without fear of picking up the phone to consult an expert”.
“He spends a lot of time in thinking, building the plot, the sets, the characters,” confirms Nathalie Démoulin, his editor at Rouergue. She is still surprised to have received in full confinement her premonitory Quarantine, written in 2005, then “forgotten” in her archives.
When writing, Peter May locks himself in his office, where a vast library contains the multiple editions of his books.
“I get up at 6 a.m. and write 3,000 words a day. If it’s good, I finish at noon, if not at midnight. I stop at the 3000th word, even in the middle of a sentence, ”he explains, revealing, mischievously, his anti-blocking secret of the blank page. Before this intense “six to eight week” phase, there is “the glitch of an idea”, which he spends three to four months developing.
“He likes everything to be absolutely perfect […] wants to visit every place that appears in the book,” says his wife Janice Hally, a former screenwriter, who accompanied him “behind the scenes of the Chinese police” or the kitchen of a starred French chef.
Peter May made an exception for A Path Without Forgiveness, released in 1992, revamped and due out May 3. The story is played out against a backdrop of war in Cambodia and the crisis of the “boat people”, evokes the pangs of post-traumatic stress.
“He couldn’t go to Cambodia at that time: it was tense! “, recalls the former French general André Sellier, who was then serving in the country for the United Nations and translated the book.
At 71 years old, the prolific Peter May intends to no longer inflict the “pressure” of a novel a year and devote himself to his passion of “making music with friends”. But he does not lose sight of the concerns of the planet. Thus A Winter Grave will approach the climatic upheaval by a crime, during a glaciation in thirty years.
A new “page turner” from this writer who, according to Danielle Dastugue, “makes great readers happy and wants to read to others: when you fall into a Peter May, you don’t want to get out of it, except to read the next one” .