I have just read Runaway, Peter May’s latest novel published in 2015. I am not sure it is his very last novel though. I have read somewhere a new novel, Coffin Road, taking us back to the Outer Hebrides, was published in 2016.
A very prolific writer who seems to need the energy provided by the sun of France – living in the sunny south west- to keep up his writing pace 😉
Apparently, May used his personal life to feed his novel. Usually personal facts don’t really fit crime fiction but … in this book, it works.
It is the story of a group of 5 penniless teenagers from Glasgow in 1969 deciding to run away from their families to try their luck in the swinging London musical world of the 60’s. Their trip was no hassle-free, far from it. They got beaten up, robbed because of their pretty incredible naïveté and saw the decay of the English youngsters of the times involved in drug taking, abandoned by the start of liberalism personified by Maggy Thatcher later on. It was a time when workers were left to themselves while witnessing the fall of the Industrial world they had previously lived in.
I got interested in the story but, mostly in the different parts of England they drove past.
I quote: “from the lakes and mountains of the north-west, we had reached to the rolling farmland and picturesque stone villages of the Yorkshire Dales”
They made a stop in Leeds in Quarry Hill, “the largest social housing complex in the United Kingdom at the time”, built in the 1930’s.
I quote: ” …as we approached Leeds itself, the darkening sky turned sulphurous yellow, the mills that ringed the city pumping coal smoke into air already thick with it. Stone villages and affluent suburbs gave way to decaying brick terraces… A city characterized by the chimneys of the mills, a legacy of the nineteenth-century industrialization which, within a quarter of a century, would be decimated by eleven years of Thatcher government.Years that destroyed the industrial base of a nation and sowed the future of financial meltdown” …” Leeds spoke to us only of grim urban deprivation”
A very bleak place where people were trapped like animals. The same kind of architecture had flourished in France and Austria at the same period. Austria has kept its complex in good state of repair and maintenance whereas Quarry Hills … a “Stalinesque monstrosity” was destroyed. It was ” almost completely enclosed with huge archways leading into it … seven- and eight-storey blocks, a thousand flats for 3000 people. Sort of teardrop shaped … it has become a bit of a nightmare of a place. Falling apart really. Physically and socially. Problem families, vandalism, gangs”.
Quarry Hill reminded me of a place near Liverpool called Runcorn, a new town built in the 1970’s where I went twice to visit a friend of mine working there while I was in Wales. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place fast enough but had to support my friend!! I felt trapped and unsafe there. My friend ended up coming to Wales every weekend to get away from it all. That complex has fortunately been destroyed since.
The book is full of details about the life of teenagers in those days I can relate to, drug taking apart. I never touch that poison. I would have been beheaded by my mother! My first trip to London was in 1968! I stayed there a month and it was my first real eye-opener on life then. Was a wee bit younger than May but coming from a different background and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first went to Picaddily Circus on my own. The foolishness of youth!
To me, the 1965 trip of these kids to London has been fascinating. The same old kids going back in the novel, fifty years later is part of the criminal fiction.
I really enjoyed that half-true, half-fictional novel.
The Guardian talked to Peter May when his book was published. Click to read his interview. Very, very interesting!
I would recommend this novel to anyone over 60 😉 to historians and History students.