Monday, 16 January 2017

Interview with Peter Mark May

I can’t remember now where Peter Mark May and I met - it might have been online, it might have been at FantasyCon - but I do know that I like him a great deal.  He’s always one of the people I look forward to meeting up with, we talk a lot online and often bounce ideas - for stories, books and other nefarious plans - off each other.  We’ve also worked together a lot - I have stories in his anthologies Alt-Dead, Fogbound From Five and Alt-Zombie (I also designed the covers for them) and he published my anthology Anatomy Of Death as well as my 2016 novella The Factory.

In late December 2016, as Alexander Arrowsmith, he published the historical crime novel Pillars Of Blood.  Set in Ancient Greece, it's the first in a proposed series and published by Endeavour Press.

I thought it’d be good fun to sit down with him and catch up.
MW:  Hi Peter, thanks for sitting down with me.  So to start, can you give us a few details about yourself?

PMM:  I’m an old git who writes stuff that he enjoys and hopes other people will like. More?  I write horror, historical crime (now) and have had one fantasy short story published. I am the owner, CEO and one-man-band in charge of Hersham Horror Books. I also help run Karoshi Books.  Something More Than Night is out now if you fancy some cosmic horror.

MW:  What led you into writing and how long have you been doing it?  When and where was your first publication?

PMM:  I’ve been writing since I was 17 and started with a vampire novel set in Surrey. I got a few rejections and then never sent anything again for years. I continued writing and after the death of my eldest brother decided life was too short to be afraid and in 2008 my first novel Demon was published.

MW:  Before Pillars of Blood, which is a crime novel, you worked extensively in the horror genre. What led you to that?

PMM:  I read some fantasy when I was young, but mainly horror - Stephen King, James Herbert, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Lumley, etc. - and it seemed to be the genre for me. They say write what you know: death and loss are old companions and writing horror has helped me face things head on. It’s part of me and always will be.

MW:  So why crime now? And how did Pillars Of Blood come about?

PMM:  Good question. I liked history at school and still do - I love ancient history and reading about people’s lives in different ages. I also love Greece as a rich, cultural place to visit and the many gods and myths it has surrounding its past which, like sci-fi, fantasy and horror, you can lose yourself in for a while.  And it's real!  The ideas for Pillars of Blood and two sequels came to me in a dream, along with the murder mystery plot. I already had some knowledge of that age and love learning more, so I set about challenging myself to see if I could write in a different genre from horror and it took four years in all.  It's the nearest thing to time travel that will happen in my life - I remember going to the Acropolis when I was twenty, thinking about how many famous sandaled feet (from Socrates to Pericles and even Byron) may have stood in the exact same spot as I.  As for crime element, adding a few gruesome deaths worked well for my new hero, as it is the story of his later life and the crimes of Athens are part of his journey. I also had a lot of encouragement from the American writer Tasha Alexander, to give historical crime writing a go and I’m glad I did.

MW:  Do you have a typical process when it comes to creating a story, are you visually orientated with ideas coming to you as images, or do they just appear to you fully formed?

PMM:  I have many methods. As I said, the titles and basic plots for the Ancient Greek novels came to me in a dream, where I woke up with a lot of it laid out before me. Dreams and nightmares (which I love having) bring me lots of story ideas as does watching TV and reading - 'oh they went that way, I would have gone this way', that kind of thing. Then there are what I call 'the long plotters'; ideas I’ve had for twenty years or more, that you suddenly find another piece of plot to dovetail into and you are away. I think my stories are very visual, gawd knows how they flow out of my brain. When writing I use plot-islands, like stepping stones to get from the start point to the ending. Some of the best parts of a story come when your brain takes you off on a detour, and you discover lost islands full of exotic writing promise.

MW:  That sounds brilliant!  So what's a typical work session like for you, are you a ‘write every day’ kind of writer?

PMM:  In a typical week I try to write for four days, sometimes five, depending on if the kids are at school or not. I like to have set minimum daily goals, with 2,000 for horror and 1,500 for historical stuff, as with the latter there can be days where you have to stop and start and research things that come up as you write.

MW:  What is your preferred genre for reading, if you have one?

PMM:  Still horror and always will be, but I’ve always read historical novels too, like Wilbur Smith, Christian Jacq, Tasha Alexander, Paul Doherty and Stephen E. Ambrose.

MW:  Has your style changed much over the years?

PMM:  That’s hard to answer, one hopes to get better with age at least. I know Peter and Alexander have different styles, less swearing in historical crimes is one I can think of off the top of my head.  I seem to be able to swap genre hats without thinking too much about it.

MW:  What more can you tell us about the novel, without giving everything away?

PMM:  Set in ancient Athens, Pillars of Blood is a murder mystery featuring Polydektos, who was once a great general, the pride of the Athenian people. Now, after the death of his son Socos in battle, he has fallen into a life of debauchery. While his wife Kephissa and his daughter Kyra wait at home, he spends his days at the courthouse, passing guilty verdicts on innocent men for no reason other than his own unhappiness and his nights with his two young lovers, the slave girl Gala, and his ward, seventeen year old Talaemenes, a strong and capable lad devoted to Poydektos.  After a night of drinking and debauchery, Talaemenes and Polydektos return to his family villa to find everyone inside has been slaughtered. While the slaves have been gassed, the Metics have had their throats cut, and his beautiful wife and daughter have been dismembered in their beds. Strangely, however, there is no blood at the scene, despite the massacre.  He then begins a search for the killers, a search that will have priestesses whispering in his ear, as his old friend Sokrates joins forces with Polydektos to figure out what happened to his family. But will that answer bring him peace, or open up new wounds?

MW:  Hersham Horror Books is a well regarded publisher with a lot of anthologies in their catalogue.  Do you like to read them?  What do you think is their appeal?

PMM:   I hope HHB are getting towards being well-regarded, we are still here after six years, when others have fallen by the wayside. I do love reading anthologies, to read friends and authors I admire and to find new gems and new talented writers and store them in my head for future publications. They have more of an appeal to me as a reader, I only write about one short story a year now, as I prefer to write novels.
At Sledge-Lit in Derby, November 2015, with our mutual friend, the writer Steve Byrne (who I interviewed here)
MW:  You and I both are moving away from horror in our writing, even though we have a vibrant genre community here, as far as I’m concerned.  Do you like the social side of being a writer, the Cons and gatherings?

PMM:  I never used to, I’m not very good at chit-chat and social gatherings, but I’ve been attending Cons for nine years now, so I know a lot of the people, they know me, and I’ve published half of them too which makes things easier.  Four years ago I did a reading in Edinburgh in a cinema in front of a crowd of one hundred people so if nerves kick in I remind myself of that and draw confidence from it.

MW:  So why a pseudonym?

PMM:  Two reasons. One, there is the more famous Peter May who writes crime novels, and I didn’t want any confusion between the two of us as I moved into that genre.  And two, it makes it easier to mentally swap hats when working.  Plus it's cool pretending to be someone else.

MW:   So what’s next for Peter Mark May and Alexander Arrowsmith?

PMM:  For Peter, the Hersham Horror Books boss man, it’s looking forward to getting three novellas ready for publication in the autumn. For Peter the writer, it's a waiting game sadly, on publishers to come back for subbed novels, short stories and rights reverted works and eventually getting back into a novel I got twenty-thousand-words into writing last year. For Alexander, its writing the follow up to Pillars Of Blood, which I'm fifty-thousand words into.

MW:  Thanks for your time, Pete.

PMM:  Thanks for having me.
Peter and me at Edge-Lit 5 in Derby, July 2016 (read my report here)

Peter can be contacted online at his website here and he's also on Facebook.  Alexander Arrowsmith also has his own Facebook page.

Polydektos, once a great general, has now fallen into debauchery after the death of his warrior son. When he finds the rest of his family and slaves murdered in his home, Polydektos must overcome his grief, and an accusation of guilt, to get the justice he craves.

'a thrilling portrayal of Ancient Greece' - Richard Foreman


  1. Great interview and I like the sound of the book! But is it available anywhere other than Amazon? I'd like to put it on my Kobo if I can manage it. But the iPad will do if that's all there is!

    1. Thanks Imelda, Pete'll be pleased to hear that! It's not on Kobo at the moment, not sure if there are any plans to change that, I'll see what I can find out!