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When I knew I was a writer

Adelaide Festival

Former journalist turned novelist Peter May will speak about his work – including new crime novel Coffin Road – at two Adelaide Writers’ Week sessions. Here, he explains when he first realised he was destined to write.

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I knew I was a writer as soon as I learned to write my first faltering letters of the alphabet.

My father was an English teacher and my mother an avid reader, and at the age of four, before I started school, they taught me how to read and write – at a very elementary level, of course. The first thing I then did, given those elementary tools, was write a story.

I suppose it wasn’t a conscious decision, but writing never is. I have wrestled long and hard over the years with the question “why do I write?”. The only answer I have come up with is that somehow it is in the DNA. Writers don’t choose to write, they are driven to it.

Author Peter May.

Author Peter May.

And so, as a four-year-old, I was driven to write a story. It was called “Ian The Elf”. I can actually remember lying on the floor with pages torn out of a jotter, a crayon in my hand, toiling over each and every word. I only managed a few words per page, and the whole story was only half a dozen or so pages long — although it did have two entire chapters! I even managed a crude illustration or two.

Patiently my mother showed me how to thread a needle and sew the pages together down the left hand side, effectively creating my very first book. From somewhere I copied the following legend on to the cover page: “Designed in England and made in Scotland”.

That first foray into the jungle that is writing and publishing might have been lost forever if my parents had not treasured and kept it safe. Which I only discovered many years later while clearing out the attic in their house. And there, in a dusty old cardboard box — as pristine and fresh as the day it was written — I found my original “manuscript”.

What an extraordinary experience it was to read my four-year-old self’s first story, and I decided to ensure its continued preservation by scanning its pages into my computer and assembling them into a short slide show set to a simple musical accompaniment. And so now that first story is available for everyone to read on YouTube.

The moment I knew I was a writer!

Scottish-born author Peter May has written 15 novels, including two acclaimed series of crime fiction, the Lewis Trilogy and the China Thrillers. His most recent book is Coffin Road; it’s set in the Hebrides and opens with a man washed up on the beach.

He is speaking about his work at the Adelaide Writers’ Week on Sunday, February 28, at 10.45am at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden and on Monday, February 29 at 2.30pm at the same venue when he will be speaking with Margie Orford on the art of crime writing. For full details click here.

Coffin Road is published by Hachette Australia.

Coffin Road full cover

This article was first published on The Daily Review.

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