The first book in Peter May's best-selling Lewis Trilogy, The Black House, almost went unpublished.
Speaking to a large audience at the Skye Book Festival in the Aros Centre, Peter said: "My agent sent it to various publishing houses in London, and every single one of them rejected 'The Black House.' I was devastated, as I was sure it was the best thing I had written at the time. However, I virtually forgot all about it until a chance conversation with my French publisher. She said she'd love to read it and six weeks later she called and said she loved it! I was so delighted that someone finally liked the book. It was translated into French and became a huge success. My publisher sold it all round Europe and, finally, the Brits bought it!"
After finishing the last book in the Lewis Trilogy, Peter revealed he had received many requests to return to the Isle of Lewis in future books. He even had a vision for the opening of a book set on Luskentyre Beach. A man would be washed up on the pure sands, with no idea of who he was or how he got there. But, Peter remarked, that vision was not a story in itself. It needed something more.
That something more came when he heard about the disappearance of the bee population from a professor of genetics in Canada. "In the last year, the bee population fell in the U.S. by 50%," Peter said. "Certain pesticides destroy the bees brain cells and ruin their memory. Discovering this triggered me to remember my image of the man washed up on the beach - a metaphor for the memory loss of the bees."
The result was Coffin Road, Peter's latest book, which he signed for his many fans tonight (Saturday, September 3).
Peter signed a copy of Coffin Road for fellow book festival author, Morag Henriksen, who saw the launch of her second book at this year's festival.
Peter revealed that he has signed a contract with a publisher for three books, which he said will "almost certainly" be set in the Western Isles. This was met with a murmur of approval from the crowd in attendance. Peter went on to say that it was possible the books could form another trilogy and he had a "vague notion" of what it might be about. "I'm off for a 3 week holiday in the Outer Hebrides, and part of that will be to do a little research and see if my vague thoughts can coagulate into something solid," he smiled.
On Wednesday September 14, Peter will be attending an event at the Isle of Harris Distillery. "They heard I was going to be coming there on holiday and asked if I could do an event," he explained. "When they said the word 'distillery', I immediately said yes!" The evening will feature a talk from Peter and readings from Coffin Road.