Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Year in the Life

Aline here. Some time ago, Peter May invited me to do a guest blog on Type M – with very happy consequences – and now it gives me great pleasure to return the compliment. When he left, the first book in his Lewis trilogy was just starting to take off and since then, as he'll tell you himself, it’s gone like a rocket.

We met years ago doing a panel in the tiny village of Wigtown in Galloway, now Scotland's vibrant official Book Town. It was a momentous time for us both: Peter was leaving Scotland the very next day to live in France, and I was inspired by the beautiful countryside to choose it as the setting for my DI Marjory Fleming series.

Welcome back to Type M, Peter, and I’m looking forward to seeing you on Monday at the Edinburgh launch of The Lewis Man, the second in the trilogy.

When Aline first asked me to be her guest blogger for today, it came as something of a shock to realise that it had been a whole year since I had left the TM4M blogging team to focus on the promotion of my new book and the writing of its successor.

So first off, let me say how good it feels to be back among old friends!

And let me tell you – what a helluva year it’s been!

Most of you who followed my blogs for Type M will know something of the publication history of The Blackhouse – how it was rejected by all the major publishing houses in the UK before being snapped up by my French publisher who sold it all around Europe. They then sold it as part of a three-book deal to a dynamic new London publisher called Quercus, who were the UK publishers of the year in 2011.

Well, The Blackhouse was finally published in English a year ago, and went straight into the top twenty hardback bestsellers list in the UK. Meantime, having already won a literary prize at the Le Havre crime writing festival in France, it was then shortlisted for one of the biggest readers’ prizes in the world – the French Cezam literary award. Ten books from around Europe are selected for this shortlist, and are then read and voted on by more than 3,500 readers in adjudicated groups all over France.

That nomination obliged me to travel widely around the country to talk to these groups about the book, and about my writing in general. I was also busy writing the third book in what is now called “The Lewis Trilogy” (The Blackhouse being the first). In hotel rooms and trains I spent countless hours tapping on the keyboard of my laptop, criss-crossing France – from Brittany to Paris, and from Lyon to Nantes.

I was also getting in training for research for that book, which would take me in June into the mountains of south-west Lewis – the furthest north-west you can go in Europe. This entailed getting sturdy walking boots a waterproof jacket, and tramping up hill and down dale to try to get myself fit.

In the event, nothing could prepare me for the appalling weather conditions that battered me on my arrival on the Isle of Lewis. Winds gusting to 100 kph carried rain and hail stinging into my face as I hiked through some of the most rugged, desolate and inaccessible wilderness in Scotland.

Returning, exhausted but satisfied, to France, I learned that The Blackhouse had been selected as one of eight books for the Richard & Judy Autumn Book Club – which is the UK equivalent of being chosen by Oprah Winfrey. But this book club has the added advantage of being sponsored by WH Smith, which is the biggest book retailer in Britain.

I had to take a pause in my writing to head off to London at the end of August to do a TV interview with Richard and Judy. This coincided with the paperback publication of The Blackhouse. It shot straight into the top ten. In all, it spent nearly three months in the top thirty, and sold more than 100,000 copies. And because it turned out to be the bestselling book of the R&J autumn selection, it received its own extended display in all 1000 WH Smith retail outlets after Christmas and is still selling like hotcakes.

As if all this wasn’t heady enough, I learned in September that I had won the Cezam prize. This entailed attending a national prizegiving at an amphitheatre in Strasbourg in mid-October, before embarking on a two month tour of France to collect twenty-one regional prizes.

And for those of you in the States wondering when you will ever get the chance to read The Blackhouse, the good news is that the trilogy has been bought by one of the biggest publishing houses in America, and The Blackhouse will make its first US appearance in September, with an initial hardback print run of more than 50,000 copies.

As I sit here writing this, the second book in the trilogy, The Lewis Man, is a day away from publication. My publisher tells me that advance sales already guarantee its status as a bestseller, and if the first reviews are anything to go by, it looks set to surpass the success of its predecessor.

Quercus even commissioned a very glossy book trailer produced by a big name pop video maker. I think it’s fantastic! You can view it here:

Even as I stop to try to draw breath, I have learned that The Lewis Man (already out in France) has been shortlisted for a literary prize awarded by the readers of the French daily newspaper, Le Télégramme. And so it all begins again!

But what of the writing. It’s easy to forget amid this maelstrom that, in the end, the writing is what it’s all about. Well, I have completed the third book in the trilogy, and just signed a new three-book contract, but I have to confess to a deep melancholy.

My sadness comes from saying goodbye to the characters I have lived with 24/7 during these last few years. Characters who have been with me through the ups and the downs, from the despair of rejection to the elation of success. Characters whose lives I have lived with them, people as real to me as my family and friends.

And yet, as I wrote the last few words of that final book, I knew that I would never see them again. The sense of loss is almost as great as the grief you feel with the death of a loved one, or the loss of a lover, and I have to admit to sitting at my computer, weeping unashamedly as I closed the final chapter.

I guess the only consolation is that new friends await me. I have no idea yet who they are, but I know that together we will have a roller-coaster few years ahead of us.


Rick Blechta said...

Peter, great book trailer! The person(s) who did it should be congratulated.

peter_may said...

It is, Rick. It's a pro music video producer in Scotland called The Forest of Black. I didn't ask, but I think it must have cost an arm and a leg!