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‘Withdrawn’ as climate crisis forces thriller writer Peter May to retire | Books | entertainment

Winter in the Scottish Highlands (Image: GETTY)

The Scottish author, who has sold more than 12 million books, initially thought he would never write another novel. He had instead planned to compose the music at his country house in southwestern France after the release of his latest film, The Night Gate, in January 2021.

But that changed after watching world leaders evade climate change pledges at Cop 26 in Glasgow. The 71-year-old recalled: “I was having so much fun I had no intention of writing another book.

“There was nothing in my head – and then Cop 26 came in November 2021.

“I read a summary of the IPCC report that came out in September and it was full of stark warnings about the need for action now, this decade, or the future looks very disastrous.

“So I had very high expectations for Cop 26 – and they went out.

Even the very weak agreement they eventually reached was devalued at the last minute by China and India, who changed the wording of “phase out” from coal to “phase out,” which means nothing.

“I sat in a daze of disbelief. I still didn’t know I was going to write a book, but I was excited to read about the climate crisis. So I spent three months reading dozens of articles and reports.

“I watched hours of video interviews and documentaries, and by the end of it it was unequivocally clear that we were on a path of no return.”

So he decides to use his profile as a bestselling crime writer to write a thriller set in a futuristic Scotland ravaged by floods and blizzards.

Peter, who wrote the acclaimed Lewis trilogy and is married to fellow writer Janice Haley, says: “I wrestled for a long time about how to write about climate change, which is a huge, amorphous but complex subject, but in the end I decided not to write about climate change at all.

“I was going to do what I do, which is write a political crime thriller with a murder mystery, but I’m going to be set 30 years in the future.

“This allowed me to create a world as a backdrop for a story that has changed drastically as a result of the climate crisis. It exists but I don’t preach to people.”

Crime writer Peter May (Image: GETTY)

The thriller – A Winter Grave – is out now. It opens with a young female meteorologist inspecting a mountaintop weather station in Kinlochleven, in the Scottish Highlands, in the year 2051, where she discovers a body buried in the snow.

Veteran detective Cameron Brody is sent from Glasgow to investigate, making a dangerous 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 series Take The High Road. He said he chose Kinlochleven because it was a location he knew well from childhood holidays.

“The family went in the car and we stayed in cheap bed and breakfasts,” he says. “Kinlochleven was exactly the kind of place we would go and stay for a week, before moving to the Isle of Skye or Fort William.”

The pandemic meant he couldn’t make his usual site visits. But he remembers: “When I started developing the story, I realized there were things I needed to take a closer look at.

So I engaged a friend of mine, an Edinburgh-based photographer, to do it for me. He specializes in drones so he covered all the things I needed to see in detail.

He also programmed a flight simulator to actually do the flight in the book, go to Mull and then up Glencoe to the lake, then up the mountain.

“You can adjust the parameters — with snow and everything — so I did this ride with a VR headset and it was eerily realistic. Rare.”

“I felt like I was there and made this trip — I felt cold.”

Winter Grave is now available

Winter Grave is now available (Photo: Peter May)

He chose to set the book in 2051, his 100th birthday, adding, “I know I’ll never get there, and I hope I never will.”

The writer points to the speed with which Covid vaccines have been found as a reason for hope, because that’s when climate change and rising sea levels start to take their toll. But, he adds, “I try to put an optimistic face on it, but I really get depressed about it, to be honest.”

Having written a book predicting the pandemic 15 years before it happened – Lockdown – which no one would publish because they thought it was “unrealistic”, and another movie predicting Brexit four decades before it happened – The Man With No Face – the author was He called it “Mystic May”.

So when asked how worried we are about his latest predictions, he laughs: “I’m definitely no Nostradamus, but all of this stuff comes from research. If you dig deep in your research, it gives you a window into how things are going to play out.”



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