Peter May - my inspiration for Runaway
Peter May tells us all about what led him to write his latest book, Runaway.
03 Mar 2015
The story itself, obviously, drew its inspiration from the real runaway events, which actually took place in 1969.
The characters drew their inspiration from different sources. Jack is partially based on myself. “Jobby” Jeff was loosely based on our then drummer, whose almost every sentence was punctuated by the word “jobbies”. Luke Sharp took his name from a childhood friend of my father (what were his parents thinking of), and his circumstance from another of my father’s friends called Johnny Main. Johnny’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses and had dragged him around the doors with them for years. He ran away to the south when he was fifteen and never came back. But my father never lost touch with him, and I remember visiting him in Kent on a trip to France in the 1980s. Maurie’s Jewish background was based on my experiences of virtually growing up with Stephen and his family, and the whole community of Glasgow south-side Jews which existed during my childhood. And Dave was loosely based on a friend whose acquaintance I made during my short time at the DNS. He was hugely into music, and we would often meet at the Maryland Blues Club, in Scott Street, beside the Art School. However, cannabis was his predilection, rather than drink.
The character of Dr. Cliff Robert was partly based on a very creepy manager we once had in Glasgow, but took his name from The Beatles’ song, “Dr. Robert”, which was the fictitious name The Beatles used for the doctor who provided them, and many other stars of the mid-sixties, with drugs.
The character of Rachel, really, is the embodiment of that person we all fall madly in love with at some point in our lives, but are destined (for any number of reasons) never to be with.
The Victoria Hall, where they boys find employment improvising dramas for an experimental community of mental patients, took its inspiration from the Kingsley Hall experiment run in the mid-to-late sixties by the famous Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing. There are two unusual coincidences in that. My wife, it transpired, was at school with R.D. Laing’s son, who later went on to write the definitive biography of his father. And it also turned out that R.D. Laing and myself were both trained to play the piano at the Ommer School of Music in Glasgow.
To create and describe the authentic atmosphere surrounding events in the (fictitious) Victoria Hall, I was able to purchase online access to rare footage taken during the actual Kingsley Hall experiment. I also read several of R.D. Laing’s books, as well as the biography written by his son, along with an account of her time there written by the Kingsley Hall’s most famous resident, Mary Barnes, and her psychiatrist Joe Berke. I also visited the hall itself, which is still there, although all boarded up now.
To get the detail right, I made the return journey of the old boys myself last year – through the Lake District and Leeds, to London, and all the locations there where the action takes place. I also did extensive research on the year 1965, including tracking down an original AA 1965 road map of Britain which I bid for on eBay, to fill in the gaps in my own memory.
One particularly interesting location that I tracked down was the spot, behind the Savoy Hotel, where, in the spring of 1965, Bob Dylan shot the iconic video for his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and I had the boys witnessing the filming of it in the book. I took a photograph of myself in the very spot where Dylan had stood discarding his large lyric cue cards.
The Merchants’ Tavern, which appears at the end of the book, is a real restaurant to be found in Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, London. It is owned by celebrity chef, Angela Hartnet, and the chef is her partner, Neil Borthwick, a young Scotsman whom I met when he was No.2 to the top chef in France, Michel Bras, and I spent time in Bras’s kitchen researching another book.