Peter May – A Prizewinning Scottish Author and Script Writer with a Strong French Following
Peter May is a Scottish-born author living in France whose books in translation have a wide following among a critical French reading public. In 2011 he won the prestigious French award, CEZAM Prix Litteraire Inter-CE – for “The Blackhouse”, the first of a widely-acclaimed trilogy.
Further fame followed when in 2012, Peter May won the French daily newspaper, Le Télégramme’s Grand Prix de Lecteurs, and its 10,000 Euro prize. In doing so he made history as the only author since Le Havre’s Les Ancres Noires, to win their Prix des Lecteurs twice. The Lewis Man also won the Prix Polar International at the Cognac festival of Crime Writing.
How did it all start? Peter May won the Scottish Young Journalist of the Year Award in 1973. He had his first novel published at the age of 26 and left journalism to pursue his fiction writing. When one of his books was adapted as a major drama series for British television network, the BBC, he began writing for television and soon became one of Scotland’s most successful and prolific television dramatists.
By the age of 30 he had created two major TV series, The Standard and Squadron, for the BBC. In the 1980s his storylining and script editing helped to take the Scottish Television serial Take the High Road to the top of the ratings, to become the country’s number one drama with record breaking audience figures.
In the 1990’s, as producer and creator, he led a 70-strong crew and cast to film in the remote Outer Hebrides islands to produce his ground-breaking Gaelic drama serial, Machair.
The five years he spent on the Isle of Lewis as producer of the drama, proved inspirational for his Lewis Trilogy.
May won the French Prix Intramuros in 2007 for Cadavres Chinois à Houston (Snakehead) and is the only Westerner to become an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writers’ Association.
“The Blackhouse” is the first in his new Lewis Trilogy set in the Scottish archipelago, the Outer Hebrides. It was first published in French as L’Ile des Chasseurs D’Oiseaux before publication in English, and won the prestigious ‘Prix des Lecteurs’ (readers’ prize) at the Le Havre festival of crime writing.
Peter May explains how “The Blackhouse” might be languishing in a drawer still, had it not been for an editor who believed in him, a publishing house that broke all the rules to support him, and a French public who have adopted this Scotsman and rewarded him with praise and literary prizes…
Stung and depressed after his novel’s rejection, only to be elated by its subsequent success, Peter May shares his thoughts with us via this video:
When not travelling to research his books, Peter May, with his writer wife, Janice Hally, lives in the heart of the SW France countryside, near St. Céré, Lot.
Story: Chris McCready
Major French Literary Award for Author Peter May
British author and French resident Peter May has won France’s biggest readers’ prize – the 2011 CEZAM Prix Litteraire Inter-CE – for his book, “The Blackhouse”… a book that nearly never was…
Finally it drops onto the doormat one morning, the familiar publishers logo loud on the dun coloured envelope.
With a rush of adrenalin, you grab it, take it to the kitchen table and… just stare at it for a beat. With rising anticipation you tear the envelope open and then… even as you unfold the letter, you realise with a plunging, heart sinking sensation, that there aren’t enough words to spell success. You’ve failed and the scant two lines are stark proof that, again, you are being thanked for submitting your cherished manuscript, but, “on this occasion” an option would not be taken to publish.
Dreams of fame and fortune dashed.
It takes weeks to get over the feeling of failure and you cannot bear to even touch the, now despised, manuscript to try to figure out why your much crafted, much slaved over, much loved story would not, after all stare down at the smug you, from the Best Seller shelves of WH Smith.
Everyone (except perhaps Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling), who has ever believed that old maxim that “everyone has at least one book in them” and has acted upon it, probably knows that feeling of rejection. It is part of the rights of passage of becoming a published writer. At least, that is what established writers always say.
Except, perhaps, Peter May.
May was devastated and dumped his seemingly despised never to be published book in a drawer, where it languished (not forgotten – oh no) for five long years, whilst he forced himself to concentrate on other work for his American and French publishers.
“I knew, deep down inside, that it was the best book I had ever written… I was devestated”
It was only because of a throwaway remark to his French publisher, about how “the best book I had ever written” had been rejected by UK publishers and his US agent, that led to him dusting off his manuscript for her to read.
His astute French publishers snapped up the world rights to the “The Blackhouse” … a highly unusual scenario, of a book written in English, being first published in French!
The rest, as they say, is history, with the ‘British Publisher of the Year’, Quercus (The Millenium Trilogy, Stigg Larsson), encouraging May to take the theme and run with it, turning it too, into a trilogy.
So next time you try and fail to get your book published, don’t stop trying.
After all, rejection can and does happen to the best as well.
“The Blackhouse” entered the UK hardback top twenty at the beginning of 2011 and on publication as a paperback in September, it immediately entered the UK paperback charts, where it remains as we go to press. The second in the trilogy, “The Lewis Man” is now published in hardback: The Lewis Man (Part 2 of the Lewis Trilogy)
Peter May has won France’s biggest readers’ prize for his book, “The Blackhouse” (published as: L’Ile des Chasseurs d’Oiseaux, in France)
In a decision taken by 3551 jurors from all walks of life all over France, the Scotsman beat off competition from a shortlist of ten European authors to lift the French national book award, the 2011 CEZAM Prix Litteraire Inter-CE
Story: Chris McCready
- Quercus, Publishers of The Lewis Trilogy
- Cezam Prix Litteraire Inter-CE: further information
- Peter May – his official website