Peter May (writer)

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Peter May
Peter May wins French Cezam Prize.jpg
May receiving the Prix Cezam Literature Award in Strasbourg, France, in 2011
Born (1951-12-20) 20 December 1951 (age 69)
Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation Crime writer, screenwriter, novelist
NationalityScottish, French (April 2016)
Period1971 – present
GenreTelevision drama, Thriller, Mystery, Crime Fiction
SubjectScotland, China, France
Notable worksThe Lewis Trilogy, The China Thrillers, The Enzo Files
Notable awardsFraser Award
1973 Scottish Young Journalist of the Year

Prix Intramuros
2007 Snakehead

Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE
2011 The Blackhouse
Spouse Janice Hally

Peter May (born 20 December 1951) is a Scottish television screenwriter, novelist, and crime writer. [1] He is the recipient of writing awards in Europe and America. The Blackhouse won the U.S. Barry Award for Crime Novel of the Year and the national literature award in France, the CEZAM Prix Litteraire. The Lewis Man won the French daily newspaper Le Télégramme's 10,000-euro Grand Prix des Lecteurs. [2] In 2014, Entry Island won both the Deanston's Scottish Crime Novel of the Year [3] and the UK's ITV Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year Award. [4] May's books have sold more than two million copies in the UK and several million internationally. [5]


Early life

Peter May was born in Glasgow. From an early age he was intent on becoming a novelist, but took up a career as a journalist as a way to start earning a living by writing. He made his first serious attempt at writing a novel at the age of 19, which he sent to Collins where it was read by Philip Ziegler, who wrote him a very encouraging rejection letter. [6] At the age of 21, he won the Fraser Award and was named Scotland's Young Journalist of the Year. He went on to write for The Scotsman and the Glasgow Evening Times . [7] At the age of 26, May's first novel, The Reporter, was published. May was asked to adapt the book as a television series for the British television network the BBC, and left journalism in 1978 to begin to write full-time for television. [7]

Television career

May's novel The Reporter became the prime-time 13-part television series entitled The Standard in 1978. May went on to create another major TV series for the BBC, Squadron , a drama involving an RAF rapid deployment squadron. [8] In the following fifteen years, May earned more than 1,000 TV credits. He created and wrote major drama serials for both BBC and the Independent Television Network in the UK [9] including Machair [10] which he co-created with Janice Hally for Scottish Television. The long-running serial was the first major television drama to be made in the Gaelic language and was shot entirely on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. [10] The show, which May also produced, achieved a 33% audience share and regularly appeared in the top ten in the ratings in Scotland, in spite of the fact that it was broadcast with English subtitles because only 2% of the population of Scotland are Gaelic speakers. [9] During his time working in television, May wrote the novels Hidden Faces (1981) and The Noble Path (1992), [8] and in 1996 he quit television to write novels. [9]

Novel writing career


After quitting television May wrote a series of six novels known as the China Thrillers. To research the series, May made annual trips to China and built up a network of contacts including forensic pathologists and homicide detectives. He gained access to the homicide and forensic science sections of Beijing and Shanghai police forces and has made a study of the methodology of Chinese police and forensic pathology systems. [9]

As a mark of their respect for his work, the Chinese Crime Writers' Association made him an honorary member of their Beijing Chapter. He is the only Westerner to receive this honour. [7] He has also contributed a monthly column to the Chinese Police Magazine Contemporary World Police. [7]

The books were first published in the UK between 1999 and 2004 and subsequently published worldwide in translation. New editions were published for the United States and UK in 2016/17 with an introduction by May explaining the historical setting of the books. [11]


Peter May lives in France and his China Thrillers have received several nominations for awards in that country. In 2007 he won the Prix Intramuros. [12] This prize is unique in France as it is awarded by juries of readers made up of prisoners in French penitentiaries. The books under consideration are reduced to a shortlist of 6 finalists and the authors of the shortlisted books then have to travel to various French prisons to be interviewed by panels of detainees. [12] In 2007, May was the only non-French author in the shortlist. He received the prize at the annual Polar&Co literary festival in Cognac. [13]

The Enzo Files is set in France and is centred on the work of half-Italian, half-Scottish Enzo Macleod. This former forensic scientist, now working as a biology professor at a French university becomes involved in applying the latest scientific methods to solve cold cases. [14]

May tried to ensure authenticity in the details of his books by researching in France just as he did in China. When writing The Critic – which involves the wine industry and is set in Gaillac, France – May took a course in wine-tasting, picked grapes by hand, and was invited by the winemakers of the region to be inducted as a Chevalier de la Dive Bouteille de Gaillac in December 2007. [15] [16]

In April 2016, after 15 years of living full-time in France and a connection with the department of the Lot that goes back more than 40 years, May was welcomed as a French citizen at a ceremony of naturalisation by Catherine Ferrier, the Préfète of the Lot. [17]

Second Life

While working on his standalone thriller Virtually Dead, May researched the book by creating an avatar in the online world of Second Life and opening the Flick Faulds private detective agency. [18] He spent a year in Second Life, working as a private detective, and was hired by clients for cases ranging from protection from harassment by stalkers to surveillance and infidelity investigations. [19]

The Lewis Trilogy

After being turned down by all the major British publishers, The Blackhouse , the first book in 'The Lewis Trilogy', was published first in May's adopted home of France in French translation at the end of 2009. The book was hailed as "a masterpiece" by the French daily newspaper L'Humanité [20] [21] and was immediately nominated for several literary awards in France. It won the Prix des Lecteurs at Le Havre's Ancres Noires Festival in 2010 [22] and won the French national literature award, the Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE [23] at an award ceremony in Strasbourg in October 2011. [24] The Blackhouse went on to be published all over Europe and was bought by British publishers Quercus who brought it out in February 2011. It is the first of three books to be set in the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago off the North West coast of Scotland. [25]

The Blackhouse was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club autumn 2011 list. [26]

The second book in the trilogy, The Lewis Man, was published in January 2012, and spent 18 weeks in the UK hardbacks best sellers' list. It has won two French literature awards, the Prix des Lecteurs at Le Havre's Ancres Noires Festival, 2012 and the Prix des Lecteurs du Télégramme, readers prize of France's Le Télégramme newspaper; the 10,000 euro award was presented to May at a ceremony in Brest in May 2012. [27]

The Lewis Man won the 2012 Prix International at the Cognac Festival. [28]

The third book in the trilogy, The Chessmen was published in January 2013. It was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Book of the Year 2014. [29] The Lewis Trilogy has sold more than a million copies in the UK alone. [30]

Standalone novels

Entry Island, Peter May's first book after the Lewis Trilogy, won the Deanstons Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2014, [31] the UK national prize, the Specsavers ITV Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year 2014 [32] and the French Trophée 813 for the Best Foreign Crime Novel of the year 2015. [33] The book is partly set on a remote island in modern-day Canada and partly set on the Isle of Lewis 150 years earlier during the Highland Clearances.

Runaway is a crime novel based on Peter May's real experiences of running away from home in Glasgow seeking fame and fortune in London with members of a musical group that he was part of in the 1960s. The story is told through two storylines, one in 1965 in which five teenagers embark on a trip that ends with tragic consequences, and the other in 2015, where three of the men retrace their steps from Scotland to London fifty years later in order to solve a murder. [34]

Published in the UK in 2016, Coffin Road is a standalone thriller set on the Isle of Harris. The story has an ecological theme involving links between big pharmaceutical companies and colony collapse disorder in bees. Although it is not a follow-up to May's Lewis Trilogy, the character of George Gunn, a policeman in the Lewis Trilogy features as a policeman in Coffin Road. [35]

I'll Keep You Safe (published in the UK in 2018) opens in Paris, France, but the action quickly transfers to the Western Isles of Scotland. A thriller set in the world of high fashion it is linked to the rural production of hand-woven Harris Tweed. [36]

A Silent Death published in the UK in 2020, is a police thriller set in Andalucia, Spain, and Gibraltar. Its action involves the criminal background to the Costa del Sol and features a Scottish policeman on the trail of a Scottish drug lord. [37]

Lockdown was also published worldwide in 2020 although it was written 15 years earlier. The story takes place in the city of London during a lockdown resulting from a global pandemic. May stated that the book was not published at the time because British editors thought the idea of London under siege from a virus "was unrealistic and could never happen”. [38]

Books, television and film writing credits

The Lewis Trilogy

The Enzo Files

The China Thrillers

Standalone novels

Photo books

Television drama


Awards and honours

Author Peter May with the 2013 Barry Award for Best Novel, for The Blackhouse. Peter May with 2013 Barry Award.JPG
Author Peter May with the 2013 Barry Award for Best Novel, for The Blackhouse.

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