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Peter May on the genesis for A Winter Grave

Peter May on the genesis for A Winter Grave

I would like to say that the idea for A Winter Grave came to me during the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in 2021. In actual fact, it was the anger stirred in me by that conference that led to the writing of the book – but not until about three months later.

At the time I had turned down all further book contracts to refocus my life on reading for pleasure and pursuing my other great passion – music.

Like many people, I had been following with increasing alarm the warnings on climate change and was looking for COP26 to take drastic action. They didn’t. Why? Because the fossil fuel lobby won the day. They would rather destroy the future of the planet for profit now. It made me mad.

I still wasn’t thinking of writing about it, but out of interest spent the next three months researching climate science in depth. I read dozens of papers and articles, watched hours of video interviews and documentaries. And it became clear to me that the science really was irrefutable, and that it was not just the planet at risk, but the very future of the human race. It was only then I realised that I had to write about it.

But I’m a crime writer. The question was how to write about climate change – a vast and complex subject – and still stay within my genre. And then it came to me. I wouldn’t write about climate change at all. I would write a classic political thriller set in my home country of Scotland, but nearly 30 years in the future, in 2051, in a world transformed by a very different climate. The consequences of global warming would be a backdrop to my story, not the story itself. After all, readers don’t want to be preached at, or bombarded with facts and figures. They want a good crime story peopled by engaging characters.

But by setting it in 2051, the book makes the point very starkly that rising sea levels, disruptive storms, displaced populations, fires and floods, are not some distant prospect. Instead, they are just around the corner. Many young people are only too acutely aware of that already, but for my generation, who can look back with the realisation that thirty years is nothing in the grand scheme of a life, 2051 will seem like just a breath away. 

The future setting also gave me the opportunity to explore what the world might be like in others ways, such as in communications and transport. And it was fun projecting present day developments forward in time to the place they might be thirty years from now.

I also imagined that Scotland might well have gained its independence by then, so I took the time to paint a picture of what that country might look like in the years following its departure from the UK.

But above all, I hope that A Winter Grave will shock people out of their complacency about climate change, and bring pressure to bear for action before it’s too late. If it isn’t already.

A Winter Grave by Peter May is published in hardback by riverrun on 19 January at £22

Peter will be doing a short Scottish tour where he will talk about the book and sign copies. Dates, venues and tickets can be found here.

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  • I wanted to read a good crime thriller not something that is highlighting climate change Bought the book read the first chapter and subsequently threw said book in the bin.

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