Winter in Scottish Highlands
The Scottish author, who has sold more than 12 million books, had initially thought he would not write another novel. He had planned instead to make music at his manor house in south-west France after his last thriller, The Night Gate, was published in January 2021.
But this changed after watching global leaders dodge climate change pledges at Cop 26 in Glasgow. The 71-year-old recalls: “I was having great fun and had no intention of writing another book.
“There was nothing in my head – and then Cop 26 came along in November 2021.
“I had read a digest of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that had come out in September and it was full of stark warnings about the need to take action now, this decade, otherwise the future was pretty catastrophic looking.
“So I had quite high expectations for Cop 26 – and they copped out.
“Even the pretty feeble agreement they had at the end got devalued at the final moment by China and India, who changed the wording of ‘phasing out’ coal to ‘phasing down’, which means nothing.
“I sat in a dazed sense of disbelief. I still had no idea I was going to write a book but I was motivated to read up about the climate crisis. So I spent three months reading dozens of articles and reports.
“I watched hours of video interviews and documentaries, and at the end of it was unequivocally clear that we were going down the road of no return.”
So he decided to use his profile as a best-selling crime writer to pen a thriller set in a futuristic Scotland ravaged by floods and snowstorms.
Peter, who wrote the acclaimed Lewis Trilogy and is married to fellow writer Janice Hally, says: “I wrestled for a long time with how to write about climate change, a huge amorphous but complex subject, but in the end I decided I would not write about climate change at all.
“I would do what I do, which is write a political crime thriller with a murder mystery, but set 30 years in the future.
“And that allowed me to create a world as a backdrop to the story which had been radically changed as a result of the climate crisis. It’s there but I’m not preaching at people.”
Crime writer Peter May
The thriller – A Winter Grave – is out now. It opens with a young meteorologist checking a mountain top weather station in Kinlochleven, in the Scottish Highlands, in 2051, where she discovers a body entombed in ice.
Veteran detective Cameron Brodie is sent from Glasgow to investigate, making the hazardous journey over flooded lowland areas in an “eVTOL” (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle) to reach the remote village.
Peter was a newspaper reporter in Glasgow before writing and editing
1,000 episodes of the Scottish TV soap Take The High Road. He said he chose Kinlochleven as it is a location he knows well from childhood holidays.
He says: “The family went in the car and we stayed in cheap bed and breakfast places. Kinlochleven was exactly the kind of place we would go and stay for a week, before moving on to the Isle of Skye or Fort William.”
The pandemic meant he could not make his usual site visits. But he recalls: “As I started developing the story I realised there were things I needed to take a closer look at.
So I engaged a friend of mine, a photographer in Edinburgh, to do it for me. He’s a drone specialist so he covered all the things I needed to see in detail.
“He also programmed a flight simulator to virtually make the flight in the book, going out to Mull and then up Glencoe to the loch, and then up the mountain.
“You could set the parameters – with snow and everything – so I made that journey with a VR headset and it was frighteningly realistic. Extraordinary.
“I felt that I had been there and made that flight – felt the cold.”
A Winter Grave available now
He chose to set the book in 2051, his 100th birthday, adding: “I know I’ll never get there, I hope I don’t.”
The writer points to the speed in which vaccines were found for Covid as a reason for hope, for when climate change and rising sea levels start to have an impact. But he adds: “I try to put an optimistic face on it but I am really quite depressed by it, to be honest.”
Having written a book predicting the pandemic 15 years before it happened, – Lockdown – which no one would publish as they thought it was “unrealistic” and another thriller predicting Brexit four decades before it happened – The Man With No Face – the author has been dubbed “Mystic May”.
So when asked how worried we should be about his latest predictions, he chuckles: “I am certainly no Nostradamus, but all these things come out of research. If you go into depth in your research it gives you a window into the way things are going to go.”