Part 2 of my Interview with Peter May, best selling Author

Peter in France

Q. When did you begin to write seriously? (con’t.)

I wrote stories all through my teenage years and at the age of 18 I finished my first serious attempt at a novel. I sent it off to Collins Publishers and of course received a rejection letter. The editor who wrote to me took trouble and care to reply to me, saying of my writing: “…we do like it. It has a direct and emphatic narrative style and has an oddly memorable – even idyllic flavour about it. We feel you ought to go on writing, and would like to see anything you write in future – which may not sound very much, but is, I can assure you, a great deal more than we say to 95% of the people who send in their typescripts!”

Those words stayed with me all my life. And there’s an amazing coda to this story, because that very editor, a writer named Philip Ziegler, recently wrote the definitive biography of Lawrence Olivier which was published by Quercus, the publisher of my own books. My editor at Quercus was able to arrange a meeting for me with him, and 42 years later I came face to face with the person whose words of encouragement all those years ago, gave me the incentive to stick with my writing and keep trying.

Q. How long after that were you published?

A. My first novel was published when I was 26, but – ah there’s always a “but” – it immediately became a television series, and I got sucked into the lucrative world of television writing. I spent the next fifteen years creating prime-time drama serials, writing television scripts, storylining and editing scripts. I worked on more than 1,000 episodes of drama in that time and it wasn’t until the approach of the new millennium that I realised I had to return to my first love, and get back to writing books.

Q. What makes a writer great?

A. The ability to move the reader.  How does a writer do that? The first step is when a writer transports you away from your own life and convincingly places you in another world. After that you are introduced to strangers that you get to know and become involved with. Finally, and most importantly, the writer connects with you at an emotional level, at the level of the shared human experience, so you are moved by what the characters are going through. You feel their pain, you share their laughter, you fear for their safety, you are uplifted by their successes.
People need to know that others share the same feelings that they do: that people hurt, make mistakes, feel loss, or that they fall in love, or laugh. It’s all about the human condition. We are touched and comforted by the knowledge that other people go through the same things. It makes each of us feel less alone in the world.
When a writer connects with your heart and emotions – that makes a writer great.

Q. and the all important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like?

A. It starts with the germ of an idea: something in the news, something someone tells me about, something that interests me. I PeterMaySpainPort1open a file in a program I have called “Scrivener” – it was written by a writer and it’s the best place to gather notes and research material for ideas – in it I can store web pages, videos, documents, links, in fact anything related to the subject that I’m looking into.
I love research. I always find that research is stimulating. The more you look into something, the more ideas and inspiration you get. Very soon, I’ll know if the idea has potential and if it’s worth pursuing. Characters and their motivations will begin to form.
I will spend a few months developing who they are and the potential drama they are getting involved in. The story will begin to take a very rough shape. The more I read and research, the more possibilities I have to chew over.
I spend a lot of thinking time. I like to walk, or to ride my bike when I’m thinking. I like to go down to my local café in France with a notebook and have a coffee and sit and think and take notes.
At some point, I will know that I have done enough thinking and the time has come to run the idea through. There is a lot of debate about whether writers work with a plan, or begin at page one and see where the idea takes them. I’m a strong believer in having a plan. A route map for the story means you never have to worry about where you are going, and you can concentrate on the actual writing, the words. Some people say this stifles their imagination or creativity. But what is more creative than writing a story outline? It comes from seat-of-the-pants writing, starting at page one and finding out where the story is going to go.
When I’m ready to run with an idea, I let the story run free. I don’t have to care about how well it’s written, I just want to find out where it’s going. My story outline will be between 25,000 and 30,000 words long and I will write it fast, in just 3 or 4 days. Then I can sit back and examine the idea, and find out what it lacks, or what the problems are. I can fine tune it, while it is still short enough to rearrange and handle. This is much easier than trying to re-write a 110,000 word novel!

Don’t Miss Part 3 of this fascinating Interview!   Peter May is in the USA right now on a book tour~~~ check the city schedule so that you can meet him and get his book!  http://www.ur-web.net/PeterMayMain/tour2014.htm

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One Response
  1. Great interview, Trisha. And also supportive and inspiring to the way I write. You picked a winner!

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