Peter May im Interview mit Len Wanner

Peter May wurde 1951 in Galsgow geboren. Er arbeitete in der Automobilindustrie und schrieb anschließend für verschiedene schottische Zeitungen. Seit 1979 veröffentlicht er regelmäßig Romane, für die er Peter May umfangreiche Studien in China unternahm, bei denen er auch Zugang zum chinesischen Polizeiwesen verschaffte. Aus dem die China Thriller Reihe um entstand. Asußerdem vVerfasser der Enzo-Mackay-Reihe sowie der Fin-Macleod-Trilogie. May lebt zusammen mit seiner Frau, der Autorin Janice Hally, abwechselnd in Schottland und Frankreich.


If you were to meet your three serial protagonists, what would your first conversation be about?

If I were to start with Enzo, that would be pretty easy, because he’s very like me, so we would probably talk a lot about food, wine, and women. We would talk about France and why it’s a much better place to live than the UK.

Li Yan is based on a real person in China, so I’ve had conversations with him, mostly about the Chinese police, but also about the Cultural Revolution, and also about food. Food is a recurring theme, as you can probably tell by my waistline. I would ask Margaret, the pathologist in the China thrillers, what it is in her background that makes her such a bitch. I like Margaret a lot, but she’s so difficult to live with. I think she’s quite like my wife in many ways, but don’t tell her that. Actually, I once did an interview with the Edinburgh Evening News in which I said that the character of Margaret in The Firemaker was based on my wife, who also has an acerbic tongue on her, and I remember very clearly the moment my wife read that quote in the newspaper and shrieked. Ha! I’m very fond of Margaret, but she’s an American in China, so she seems very strident. It’s a cultural thing. My French female readers love her, but they’re much more assertive than American or British women.

Fin’s a complex and difficult character. In some ways I borrowed quite heavily from my own life and experience, particularly in my early years, to colour in Fin, but how do you ask somebody why they keep making mistakes? They wouldn’t make them if they knew they were making them. You only know in retrospect. Fin is somebody who has made a lot of mistakes. He’s taken the wrong turn at every crossroads he’s come to, and like so many of us he looks back, realises his mistakes, and nurtures regret. So I guess we would talk about the past and how it still shapes us now.

How much might be lost in translation, particularly in your conversation with Li Yan?

Not much. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China. I’ve made a lot of friends there, and I find the Chinese very like the Scots. They’re socially very similar. They have a good sense of humour and never miss a subtlety, and I don’t think there’s too much lost in translation with somebody you know well.

It’s different in an official situation, which I was in many times during my Chinese research. The very first time I went to research The Firemaker, I got an introduction to people at the Chinese People’s Public Security University in Beijing, which is their police university. My wife and I were led through the university into a large square meeting room. In China, they don’t have seats in the middle of the room. They put seats all around the walls, facing into the centre of the room, with little tables and bottles of water, so you have people sitting very far from one another. None of them spoke English, and I didn’t speak any Chinese, so they provided a translator, a very young girl. The head of the university made a five-minute speech to me, and I hadn’t a clue what he was saying, but eventually he finished and I turned to the translator, who said: “Mr Wang, he say welcome.”

How much is lost in translation? Everything, unless you have a good personal relationship. My Sherpa in China, Mr Dai, was a retired police officer. He’s an incredible character and the basis for Li Yan’s uncle. If I’d known I was going to turn that into a series, I wouldn’t have killed him in the first book, but Mr Dai is still alive. He’s an extraordinarily well-educated man who took his degree at the American University in Beijing before the communists took over in 1949. He had gained a post-graduate place at Cambridge, but he stayed to help build the New China. Of course, the Communists didn’t much like intellectuals, because they thought too much, so they made him a police officer in Tibet. He and his wife had to walk to Tibet. It took them three months to get there. During the Cultural Revolution he was imprisoned, as many police officers were, and he spent three to four years locked in a prison cell. After that he ended up in Beijing and became quite a senior police officer. Now he lives in this retirement community for retired police officers and plays chess in the basement, but he has a wonderful command of English, so you can have the most free-flowing conversations with him in which sub-text is always present and understood. Li Yan is a bit like that, because he was raised by his uncle, so I think we could have a pretty close and intimate conversation.