AN ex-soap writer and award-winning novelist, who started his writing career at the Paisley Daily Express, was happy to be sent to prison ... for it was all in a day’s work as a successful author.
Peter May, 57,who now lives in France, explained: “I devised a series of novels called the China Thrillers, about a pathologist and a Beijing cop, and one of my books, Snakehead, was shortlisted for an award titled the Prix Intramuros, at the Cognac crime-writing festival.
“It’s an unusual prize and is awarded by panels of prisoners in French penitentiaries. Books selected for nomination are whittled down to a shortlist of seven by a jury of literary experts, then go out to the prisons to be read.
“The prisoners decide on the winner so I felt it was quite an accolade for a crime-writer to be given the thumbs up by criminals!
“As a result, I visited several French prisons and talked to the inmates about my writing, and books in general. It was an interesting experience.”
Peter first started working on the China Thrillers series in 1996 – departing from the role which brought him fame – writing scripts for soaps.
One of his biggest successes came after he took up a post at Scottish Television as a script writer for Take the High Road.
He explained: “Myself and a small team of writers took a 26-episode ITV Network commission and turned it into the most successful show in Scottish TV history.
“There were 104 episodes a year, No.1 in Scotland, and 6 million viewers in England during the afternoon. We did okay. I was story editor, then script editor, and contributed more than 500 episodes.
“I loved writing for characters like Mrs Mack and Mr Murdoch. Dougal Lachlan and big Morag were also great.
“I quit in 1988 to do other things, and watched with some dismay as the show went downhill, finally being taken off the network, reduced to 50 episodes, before being axed altogether.”
However, Peter wasn’t finished with Soap. Along with wife Janice Hally, a former High Road scriptwriter, he was commissioned to create a new Gaelic series and set about taking Machair to the masses.
Peter, 57, recalled: “Machair was an incredible challenge. We had to find writers and actors to make a professional TV show in the Gaelic language that could be broadcast to a mainly English-speaking audience on prime-time mainstream television.
“After the first series, I gave up scriptwriting and concentrated on producing it, leading a 60-strong cast and crew to film on location on the Isle of Lewis for five months a year.
“It was very rewarding and we managed to take a sub-titled drama into the top ten in Scotland, with a 33 per cent audience share at a time when Channel 4’s Brookside had less than half that.”
Following the success of Machair, Peter and Janice upped sticks for France, which led to our man spending time in a few of the local nicks.
He explained: “We’ve had a house in the Departement du Lot for more than 20 years. But it wasn’t until after our parents had died that we decided to move out there full-time, just over six years ago.
Publishers loved the concept of the China Thrillers and asked if he would do another, and another, which is how it turned into a series. However, after the sixth, he felt it was time for a change.”
The series has now been published in a dozen different languages, with Russia the latest country to snap up the rights.
However, the author has turned his attentions to pastures new, and that means spending time with Enzo, a fifty-something exiled Scot with a ponytail living in France. Sound familiar?
But Peter insisted: “He’s nothing like me, honest! The main character, Enzo Macleod, is a former forensics expert, and is using the latest technology to solve famous French cold cases.
“The first two Enzo books, Extraordinar y People and The Critic, received rave reviews. Blacklight Blue has just been released and I’m delighted with the end result.”
In fact, Peter revealed how a recent brush with French cops in his local village gave him the fright of his life.
He said: “It was market day and the place was heaving. A police van slammed on its brakes quite near me and this tough Gendarmerie officer was staring at me – it was a pretty unnerving experience.
“He started pointing and beckoned me over. You don’t mess with the Gendarmerie so I did as I was told.
“He growled ‘are you Peter May?’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, he knows my name, what have I done now?’
“He said to me ‘I love your books’ and wanted to chat about them. Behind him there was a queue of vehicles a mile long but no-one dared toot their horn at the Gendarmerie!”
Peter is currently enjoying the fruits of Blacklight Blue, but the dad of one, who has a daughter, Carol, from a previous marriage, is already back on the tools.
He said: “I’ve started the follow-up and the whole process of writing each book takes roughly six months.
“Around four months are spent in development and research but when it comes to writing the actual book, I work very fast, rising at 6am each day and penning no less than 3,000 words.”
Not bad for the former graudate who joined the Express on a two-month trial in the early 70s and went on to land a full-time contract.
While working for every Buddies favourite daily the budding hack scooped the coveted Fraser Award for the Young Journalist of the Year.
He was happy to reminisce about the good old days – and wax lyrical on his latest book, Blacklight Blue.
Peter said: “Working at the PDE was excellent. I learned a huge amount about good writing and journalism and as well as the general stuff, I got to write features and a weekly music column.
“Winning the Fraser Award was completely unexpected. I had written a feature on Paisley artist, Fergus Hall, who had just been awarded his first exhibition at London’s Portal Gallery.
“I predicted great things for him.
“Then a couple of months later, his work was viewed by the producers of the Bond movies, and he was commissioned to paint a tarot pack for Live and Let Die.
“I penned a follow-up article about him and our editor, Bob Stillie, entered the two pieces for the award. It was a great thrill to discover I had won.”
Peter moved on to the nationals and sold a TV series about an investigative journalist – The Standard – to the BBC, while his debut novel, on the same subject, was released.
And Peter has no plans to head back to Scotland, saying: “People think that living in France is all about good food and wine.
“ Well, I’m here to tell you that is absolutely true!”