I’m delighted to be joined on the CTG blog today by Peter May, author of the fabulous Lewis Trilogy, whose new book ENTRY ISLAND is out this month.
So, first question, as well as writing the award winning Lewis Trilogy, you’ve had successful careers as a journalist and a television and screenwriter. What was it that attracted you to becoming a novelist?
I always wanted to be a novelist – since I wrote my first book at the age of four! My parents taught me to read and write before I went to school and the first thing I did was write a story, and with my mum’s help sewed the pages together to make a book. (You can see the result on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTxOEfwclh0 ) Journalism was my way of trying to make a living as a writer, since jobs as novelists were not exactly thick on the ground. Journalism led me into television, and a lucrative career as a scriptwriter, editor and then producer. But I quit all that (including the income) in the mid-nineties to try, finally, to make my living writing books. And, well… I’m still here.
Your new book, Entry Island, is just out. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Entry Island is a story that takes place in two time frames – contemporary and historical. The contemporary element is set in Quebec, Canada, and more specifically the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A detective, Sime Mackenzie, from Montreal is sent with an investigation team to the tiny Entry Island – the only English-speaking island in the Magdalen archipelago – following the murder of its wealthiest resident. But on arrival he finds that the victim’s wife, and prime suspect in his murder, is unaccountably familiar to him, even although they have never met. The historical story is told through dreams and recollections of diary entries read to the detective by his grandmother when he was a child. It tells the tale of a young man (whose name Sime shares) growing up in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in the 19th century at the time of the Highland Clearances, when tens of thousands of people were driven out of their homes and forced on to boats for the New World. When the young man and his family are brutally evicted, he finds himself on a boat bound for Quebec. At a certain point both stories converge and the link between them, along with a resolution to the Entry Island murder, is revealed.
Your books always have a fabulous sense of place about them, what’s your secret to creating this?
Many of my early writing experiences, from the start of my teens on, were screenplays of movies I wanted to make. I always had a very visual sense of storytelling, and when I began to realise that I didn’t need a multi-million pound budget and a film crew to tell those stories, I took that visual sense with me into the writing of my books. Basically, I described the pictures in my head. I went to all those places in my mind and wanted to take the reader there with me, to experience them as real. Not just visually, but sensually as well.
Could you tell us a little about your writing process: do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
I spend four to five months developing and researching an idea. Then I brainstorm for a week and write a very detailed storyline that runs anything up to 20,000 words. From there I set myself a very disciplined schedule, rising at 6am and writing 3000 words a day. The book is finished within six to eight weeks.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?
Write about what you know. And remember that no matter how clever your story, readers won’t get involved unless they care about the characters. Don’t be put off by rejection. It happens to all of us. After all, “The Blackhouse” was rejected by every major publisher in the UK, and the Lewis Trilogy has now sold more than a million copies.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
A crazy year lies ahead. I am in the research and development phase of a new book, which I hope to write in the late spring. I have books tours in the UK and France, and the USA at the end of the year. I will be at festivals in Harrowgate, Edinburgh and Bloody Scotland, and in this Scottish Homecoming year, VisitScotland are keen to use my books as a magnet for foreign visitors to Scotland. A visit to Canada might also be in the offing.
Sounds like 2014 is going to be hectic! A huge thank you to Peter for dropping by the CTG blog.
[Stop by on Friday to read my review of the fabulous ENTRY ISLAND]