Granite Noir: Author Peter May to discuss rejected novel that predicted the pandemic as book festival goes online

A Scottish author whose book about a deadly pandemic spreading around the world was rejected by publishers as “extremely unrealistic” when he first wrote it 15 years ago is to star in a reboot of one of the country’s leading literary festivals.

Peter May's novel Lockdown predicted the pandemic 15 years ago but was rejected as unrealistic by publishers.
Peter May's novel Lockdown predicted the pandemic 15 years ago but was rejected as unrealistic by publishers.

Peter May, whose novel Lockdown finally saw the light of day last year within weeks of people across the UK being told to stay at home, is expected to be one of the star attractions when Aberdeen crime writing celebration Granite Noir unfolds next month.

May, whose book predicted an outbreak that would overwhelm the National Health Service, will be appearing virtually as part of an online edition of the festival, one of the last in the country to go ahead in 2020 before the whole of the UK was put into lockdown.

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All events will be free to view on the festival website between 19 and 21 February.

May, who admitted he had totally forgotten about his London-set pandemic book until a fan asked him when he would be interested in writing about the global outbreak, managed to find the unpublished manuscript in his old computer files and was given the green light within 24 hours of sending it to his current publisher, Quercus.

The novel, which May says was turned down as “OTT and unrealistic” because publishers felt London would never be put into lockdown, went on to be named “Scotland’s book of 2020” last autumn following a nationwide poll.

Other big names appearing in the festival, which is organised by the Aberdeen Performing Arts organisation, include Scottish authors Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid.

The three-day programme will feature an array of international crime guests, including Scandi-Noir favourites Jo Nesbo, Stina Jackson, Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Camilla Läckberg, and American writer David Baldacci and Attica Locke.

Leading “true crime" podcast hosts Isla Traquair and Candice Gaines will be exploring the surge in their popularity, while SJ Watson, whose hit debut Before I Go To Sleep was adapted into the hit film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth will also appear.

McDermid will be joining forces with the hosts of the Blacklisted podcast, Andy Miller and John Mitchinson for a celebration of the Inverness-born author Josephine Tey to mark the 125th anniversary of her birth.

Jane Spiers, chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, said: “With a wonderful line-up of the very best crime writers from right here in Scotland and across the world, we’re looking forward to welcoming both authors and audiences to explore the heart of darkness that is Granite Noir – from the comfort of their own homes.

"While 2020 has been a year of challenges, we hope that Granite Noir can offer a little bit of easily accessible distraction, fascination and inspiration for lovers of crime fiction wherever they are in the world.”

Val McDermid is among the Scottish authors taking part in next month's Granite Noir festival.

Paul Bush, director of events at VisitScotland, said: “We are delighted to continue our support for Granite Noir. During these unprecedented times, literary festivals have been finding innovative new ways of engaging with audiences and Granite Noir is another wonderful example.

"With a wide-ranging programme boasting a thrilling array of author conversations, workshops and events from some of the best authors, both local and international, there’s plenty for crime fiction fans to enjoy.”

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