Photo Credit: David Hirst
Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Mystery Writer Ann Cleeves. Ann is the author of over thirty critically acclaimed novels, and in 2017 was awarded the highest accolade in crime writing, the CWA Diamond Dagger. She is the creator of popular detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez who can now be found on television in ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland. The TV series and the books they are based on have become international sensations, capturing the minds of millions worldwide.
Ann worked as a probation officer, bird observatory cook, and auxiliary coastguard before she started writing. She is a member of ‘Murder Squad’, working with other British northern writers to promote crime fiction. Ann is also a passionate champion for libraries and was a National Libraries Day Ambassador in 2016. Ann lives in North Tyneside, UK near where the Vera books are set.
First question: Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
My books can be found wherever books are sold!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from The Long Call?
I write traditional British murder mysteries but with a contemporary twist. Place is most important to me; I believe that characters and stories grow out of the landscapes and communities where they live. One of my series, featuring detective Vera Stanhope, is set in Northumberland, where I’ve made my home. This is the least populated county in England and I can’t imagine Vera having grown up away from here. Another is set in Shetland, the most northerly place in the UK, a group of bleak and bare islands with a tiny population. The Long Call, my most recent novel, takes me back to the North Devon of my childhood. The novel introduces Inspector Matthew Venn, who’s returning home too. He grew up in a strict evangelical sect and his first investigation forces him to confront this uncomfortable past.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I don’t do a lot of research; I’m very lazy and I love writing fiction because I can make so much up. I find facts hard and unforgiving things. The research for The Long Call was fun though. It involved me staying with an old schoolfriend who still lives in North Devon, walking on the beaches where we’d had parties as teenagers, reliving my very happy childhood. One of the characters in The Long Call is a woman who has Down’s Syndrome. My friend had worked for most of her career with adults with learning disabilities so she was very helpful, but it still seemed important to speak to someone with Down’s. I had a great afternoon chatting to a young woman called Issy and her mum. Issy is immensely confident and very independent and I hope I’ve done her justice in the book.
I’m also lucky to have friends who work within the criminal justice system – a forensic pathologist, a forensic soil scientist and a crime scene manager – so they’re useful when it comes to research too.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
There’s a character in The Long Call named Jen Rafferty. She’s Matthew Venn’s sergeant, and couldn’t be more different from him if she tried. She’s a woman who married too early and had her children when she was too young. The marriage was a disaster, and now she’s single and approaching middle-age. Her kids are becoming independent and she’s trying to experience the life she’s missed out on. She parties hard and is desperate to find a man. She’s also an empathetic and intuitive detective.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction. When I was younger, I read everything I could lay my hands on, but if I was miserable – if I was ill or had been dumped by a boyfriend – crime was always my comfort reading. There was something reassuring about a book with a resolution, and a mystery, and characters I could get to know across a series of novels. There’s a terrific range of crime novels now, from plot-driven thrillers to complex psychological dramas. My own favourites are books in translation. I think we can learn so much about a culture’s preoccupations by reading its popular fiction. As a writer, I find the structure of the traditional mystery very useful. I don’t enjoy plotting and the established framework allows me to concentrate on creating characters, families and communities, exploring what keeps them together and what makes them fall apart.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
My favourite part of being a writer is telling the story, sitting at the kitchen table early in the morning, usually in my pyjamas and spinning a tale. My greatest lesson? Realizing that much of my success is down to luck, and making sure I don’t take myself too seriously.
Ann, thanks so much for taking the time out of your very busy writing schedule to answer our questions!