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A Q&A with author Peter May

9th January 2020

A Q&A with author Peter May, whose new thriller – A Silent Death – is published 9th January.

A Silent Death is firmly set in Southern Spain. It is a great thriller with a difference. We recently caught up with Peter and asked him some questions – both about the book itself and about his writing in general.

TF: The location in which a book is set is very important to TripFiction. You are a writer who clearly researches his locations very comprehensively – be they the Costa del Sol (as in A Silent Death) or the Island of Lewis and Harris (as in The Lewis Trilogy) or China (as in The China Thrillers). Why are your books set in so many and varied locations and how do you go about the research for each

A Q&A with author Peter MayPM: I like to travel, and I also like to write about places I know.  I spent five years living five months a year in the Outer Hebrides when I was filming for TV, and that led to the Lewis Trilogy;  I have lived in France for nearly twenty years, and that led to the Enzo Files.  I have always had a love affair with China, and with annual trips across a seven-year period, that led to my writing the China Thrillers.  More recently I have spent my winters in the south of Spain, which is where I have written my last six books.  And that has led to “A Silent Death”.  To know a place helps when it comes to writing about it, but what you don’t know is great fun to research, and means trips to some exotic and very interesting places.

TF: I believe you now split your time between South West France and Southern Spain. When, and why, did you move from your native Scotland?

PM: I left Scotland around the turn of the century, following the deaths of my parents and those of my wife during a traumatic five-year period at the end of the nineties.  We found ourselves, effectively, middle-aged orphans with no remaining family ties to our home country.  We had owned a holiday home in France since the late eighties, and the move south to sunnier weather and cheaper wine seemed like a no-brainer.

TF: A Silent Death exposes a side of the Costa del Sol that will not (I hope) be that familiar to the average holidaymaker. How did you get under the skin of the place and discover some of the less savoury elements?

PM: I got to know the area, the people and the culture well during the eight years I have been wintering there.  I had been quietly observing the British ex-pat community, and the new influx of wealthy Russians, and decided it was time to write about the place.  My first stop was the chief of police in the local administrative area.  In a sense, everything depended on his co-operation, and fortunately he bent over backwards to be helpful.  It was he who gave me an insight into a startling world of international drugs gangs and people smugglers.  And that became my starting point.

TF: Ana, a major character in the book, suffers from Usher Syndrome – a condition that causes hearing loss and blindness. Not something I knew anything about until I read A Silent Death and did a little research. How did you come to be fascinated by the condition?

PM: I saw a TV ad a number of years ago appealing for donations to a deaf-blind charity.  It had never before occurred to me what it might mean to be deaf AND blind.  When I thought about it – really thought about it – it was mind-boggling.  To lose either of those primary senses would be awful, but to lose BOTH?  I began researching the condition and its causes and came across a book in which a dozen deaf-blind sufferers from around the world told their stories.  It was heart-breaking, but also angered me.  These people had been let down by their governments and their peers – bullied and ignored and dismissed.  I knew I had to create a deaf-blind character that would allow me to shine a light into the darkness of their plight.  For that, of course, I had to put myself in that character’s shoes and write from the inside.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to write.

TF: Can you tell us a little more about the character of Mackenzie? He appears to be in some way the typical flawed detective – but he is so much more. His razor-sharp intellect takes no prisoners (and quite often causes offence).

PM: Mackenzie is a misfit from a broken home, whose IQ is off the scale.  And like many super intelligent people that most of us know, he has no social filter.  He speaks his mind without fear or prejudice, and certainly no concern for the offence he might give.  As a result he has gone through his life and career making enemies of his co-workers and his bosses.  I drew inspiration for this character from both my brothers-in-law, either of whom could easily fit the above description.

TF: Cleland is complex character. Yes, he is extremely violent and a real underworld villain – but he also (surprisingly) has a tender and caring side which he shows in his relationship with Ana. How did you come to create him?

PM: It’s very easy to write characters who are all bad, or all good.  But they never ring true.  Cleland is, to an extent, a product of his (privileged) up-bringing and parental neglect.  This might explain the dark and ruthless side of his character, but I think even he is surprised by the empathy he discovers when confronted with the woman he takes hostage – the deaf-blind Ana.

TF: And now a question that we ask in all our Q&A sessions with authors. How do you organise your writing day? Do you write mornings or afternoons? Do you set yourself targets (e.g. number of words per day), or do you just write when you are in the mood to do so?

PM: I get up at six in the morning and write three thousand words a day, which means I have usually finished the book in about seven weeks.

TF: And another. How much do you plan out the detail of a book before you start writing, or how much do you let the plot and the characters flow as you write?

PM: Of course, the seven weeks of writing is only the tip of the iceberg.  The research and development of the story can take several months, after which I sit down and write a very detailed synopsis.  This allows me to work my plot through from start to finish and iron out any problems en-route.  I am then free, when starting to write, to focus my attention on the quality of the writing and the delineation of the characters, without worrying about where the story is going.

TF: Finally, can you (if possible) tell us a little about the book you are currently working on and where it will be set?

PM: I won’t tell you anything about the plot of the book, but I head off in May to do my research for it in the Arctic Circle.  And I can promise readers the return of a much-loved character.

A big thank you to Peter for talking to us, and for his very informative answers!

Tony for the TripFiction team

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