Author's forgotten lockdown novel named 'Scotland's book of 2020' 15 years after it was written

An author's dystopian thriller about a deadly pandemic in the UK which was repeatedly rejected 15 years ago has been named Scotland's favourite book to read in 2020 after it was finally published within weeks of the real-life outbreak closing down the country.

Peter May wrote his novel Lockdown and had forgotten all about it at the start of this year's pandemic.  Picture: Alamy
Peter May wrote his novel Lockdown and had forgotten all about it at the start of this year's pandemic. Picture: Alamy

Peter May's novel Lockdown envisaged London at the heart of a global outbeak and the NHS completely overwhelmed.

Now book, which the author had completely forgotten about, has topped a poll staged by the organisers of Scotland’s annual celebration of literature to find the most fitting book for 2020.

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However the author has admitted he would rather Lockdown - which only saw the light of day after he was asked on social media whether he would consider featuring the pandemic in a new novel - had remained unpublished because of the suffering the virus had caused.

Inspired by predictions at the time from scientists that bird flu would be at the centre of the next worldwide virus, the book was based upon detailed planning for a pandemic by Britain and America.

But the Glasgow-born author and screenwriter’s book was dismissed by publishers as "extremely unrealistic” on the grounds hat a lockdown in London woud never could never happen in modern-day Britain.

Published within weeks of strict measures being imposed across the UK, Lockdown was voted the nation’s favourite 2020 read ahead of George Orwell's 1984, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Plague by Albert Camus and Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

May said: “I’m delighted to sit at the top of a list of some very distinguished names. But, in truth, I would rather Lockdown had remained unpublished in a drawer than that we’d had to suffer the curse of this appalling pandemic. However, there is no doubt that it has chimed with a lot of readers, and very much reflects the world we have been living in this year.”

May started his career as a journalist, working for The Scotsman and the Glasgow Evening Times before writing his first novel, The Reporter, in 1977, which was adapted into a TV series. He went on to co-create Machair, the first Gaelic-language TV drama.

When Lockdown was published, May recalled how had been struggling to find a publisher for any of his work around 15 years ago, including the first instalments of hit series The Enzo Files and The Lewis Trilogy.

He said: “Another book I wrote around this time was set in a London which was at the epicentre of a global pandemic. It was a city in total lockdown. A virus was claiming thousands of lives. Hospital and emergency services were in meltdown. The Prime Minister was dead and soldiers were on the streets to enforce a curfew.

“The literary establishment was highly sceptical. It was OTT, unrealistic. A lockdown in London could never happen in modern-day Britain.No-one would publish it.

Peter May's book Lockdown was released within weeks of people across the UK being told to stay indoors in March.

"So I despatched the manuscript to a metaphorical drawer – a file in my Dropbox which has spent the last fifteen years gathering dust in the ether.

“In truth, I’d literally forgotten about my unpublished book. It wasn’t until someone on Twitter suggested that I write a thriller set against the backdrop of a lockdown that I suddenly realised I’d already done just that.”


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