Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews top-selling author Peter May before his visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 3.
“I’d always had this picture in my mind of somebody being washed up on the beach at Luskentyre,” says the international best-selling author Peter May of the genesis of his latest crime novel, Coffin Road.
“I’ve always loved that beach… and I just had a picture of some guy being washed up there and not knowing who he was or where he was.” This striking image - one that had been on his mind for years – became the opening pages of Coffin Road, which Peter will be discussing at the Skye Book Festival on September 3rd, at the Aros Centre in Skye.
The plot is complex, offering twists and turns that confound the reader, leaving them guessing until the very end. Who committed the murder on the Flannan Isles, and what does the man with no memory, renting a cottage on the Isle of Harris, have to do with it?
Central to the story is the environmental plight of bees, which have been dwindling in numbers; the novel is even dedicated to them. Peter had been researching the issue before he began the book, and was “on the lookout for a way to tell a story that would involve that.”
When he learned that insecticides were causing bees to lose their memory, without which they cannot function, “the whole memory thing fell into place.” The two ideas collided in Coffin Road, with the main character’s memory loss becoming “a metaphor for the bees’ memory loss.”
Already a Sunday Times best seller in the UK, Coffin Road is Peter’s third stand-alone novel since the huge success of the Lewis trilogy, his three crime novels set in the Outer Hebrides. The return to the Hebrides in Coffin Road is sure to delight fans of the series, who email Peter in their thousands asking for a ‘fourth’ book in the trilogy.
“There was a huge clamour and demand for me to go back to the islands, so eventually I did, because I’ve had this idea for Harris, but of course it’s something totally different from the trilogy,” Peter explains.
“I don’t like to go back, in terms of characters and story. It’s always about doing something different, moving forward, moving on. But I’m always happy to go back to the islands, because the islands, I think, offer such rich source material and atmosphere and character.”
Peter is looking forward to returning to Skye, where he spent a lot of time in the early Nineties while developing the idea for Gaelic drama Machair, which he co-created. Although the drama became “very much a Lewis show,” he notes that “Skye was very, very important in actually developing the idea for Machair; we got most of our inspiration from there.”
After the Skye Book Festival, Peter will be heading once again for the Outer Hebrides. He’ll be there for a holiday – despite appearances, 2016 is meant to be a sabbatical for the author - but some research is likely to find its way into his schedule. “I have in my head a very vague, very amorphous idea which has a Hebridean setting again – and it will be a trilogy,” he reveals, adding with a laugh: “I’m not going to tell you what the subject matter is, but it’s there.”