After being rejected by all the major British publishers, it was a French translation of the first book in crime writer Peter May's Lewis trilogy, The Blackhouse, that resulted in his first success. The series has now sold over a million copies in the UK alone, encouraging his publisher to reissue his earlier series, the Enzo Files, previously published by a small independent press.
Here Peter reveals a difference in legal systems between England and France, the country where he now lives and writes, that was to prove the inspiration for the newly published second in the series, The Critic.
'Is Enzo Macleod related to Fin Macleod? has got to be the question that I am being asked most at the moment. When I answer, 'No,' a look of puzzlement crosses the face of the questioner. But why would a writer give two characters the same surname...? Why not? There are a lot of people in Scotland with the surname Macleod, including about half of the population of the Isle of Lewis. Okay I know, I know, people accept coincidences in real life but they are absolutely forbidden in fiction.
The truth is, I never intended it to happen. The mystery of these leading characters' surnames is buried in the past. A bit of a cold case.
When I finished writing The Blackhouse my agent loved it and sent it to every publisher in the UK. I waited all winter while they deliberated. But when the Spring came, so did the rejection letters. It's hard to imagine how depressing that was. A year of research and writing wasted. Devastating to someone who makes their living as a writer. I had no option but to put the book in a drawer, try hard to forget about it, pull myself together and start a new project.
I searched close to home in France for inspiration, thinking it would make research easier, faster and less expensive. An article in my local paper caught my eye. An ex-gendarme had written a book and was doing a signing at our local bookshop. I decided to go along to buy a copy and hear his story. He had worked on a very controversial case which had never reached a conclusion, and at the behest of a victim support group he was still pursuing it after his retirement. It was an intriguing tale involving secrecy and possible cover-ups at the highest levels of French bureaucracy. Shortly after this encounter, I came across a book called Affaires Non Classées about unsolved murders in France, and an idea began to form.
France really does have some high-profile cold cases. It seemed to me astonishing that these murders remained unsolved, and I speculated that if only someone re-examined them, applying new scientific techniques that the solutions to some of those old puzzles might be found.
Investigations are presided over by judges in France and there is no 'cold case' department. It's not a simple task for a case to be re-examined within the system. So I realised that my investigator had to be outside of the establishment. He had to be someone who wasn't easily intimidated, someone who didn't care about rocking the boat because he was never on board in the first place. An outsider.
A character began to form in my mind. A top forensic scientist. Personal upheaval in his life had caused him to leave behind his career and family in Scotland. Twenty years down the line he is a biology lecturer in a university in Toulouse.
A displaced person with nothing to lose. An irascible Scot with a formidable intellect and zero tolerance for fools.
At a dinner party with the local Chief of Police - fuelled by a glass or two of wine - the Scot claims that by applying the latest technology he could solve France's most high-profile cold-case murders himself. When the Chief of Police suggests a wager to test this theory, he is forced to put his money where his mouth is and on his wages, he can't afford to lose.I had my investigator and I had inspirations for the cold cases. Now all I needed was a name for him. I liked the idea that his hot-headed impulsiveness was inherited from an Italian mother, so the first name of Enzo came to mind. For his surname, I liked Macleod. Enzo Macleod had a good ring to it. And, after all, Fin Macleod's story was languishing in a drawer, as far as I knew, never to be published.
I researched and wrote the first book, Extraordinary People. To my relief, it was published in America and I began to work on the other books that would follow it in the Enzo Files series.
Meanwhile, my French publisher had brought out the last of my China Thrillers, and was keen to follow up their success in France with another book from me. The trouble was that she wouldn't even consider my new Enzo Files series. A Scotsman writing about France! 'What about a Scotsman writing about Scotland?' I asked, and told her about the book I had written set in the Outer Hebrides. The Blackhouse intrigued her. She read it and loved it.
I went back to writing Enzo Files for the USA and The Blackhouse was translated into L'Ile des Chasseurs d'Oiseaux ('The Island of the Bird Hunters') and published in France.
Then something amazing happened. L'Ile des Chasseurs d'Oiseaux was declared a masterpiece by the French newspaper L'humanité. It won a major literature award in France and publishers around Europe began snapping it up at the Frankfurt Book Festival. Quercus - a young publishing house that hadn't been around when The Blackhouse was originally written - loved the book and finally brought it to UK readers. It was selected by the Richard & Judy Book Club and was their autumn 2011 Best Read winner.
I was persuaded to follow The Blackhouse with The Lewis Man and The Chessmen, creating the Lewis Trilogy which has now sold more than a million copies in the UK alone. And now Quercus are publishing all of my books in the UK and the Enzo Files are coming out for the first time in Britain. The thing I never believed would happen... I have two lead characters in print with the same surname... Macleod!
The final irony is that my French publisher changed her mind upon reading the Enzo Files and they are now being published in France, too. So now everywhere I go, I'm being asked "Pourqoui le même nom pour Enzo et Fin...?"
Readers should be prepared for a quite different tone and mood in the Enzo Files from the Lewis Trilogy. The Enzo Files are traditional mysteries with more opportunities for humour. The setting of France provides a much lighter and more colourful atmosphere for the backdrop than the stormy and brooding Hebrides. Enzo's personal life in complicated, but he is not as dark and troubled as Fin. In short, they may share the same surname, but that is all they have in common.