Ann Cleeves has become very well known in recent years due to the dramatisation on television of not just one, but two of her series of books.
Vera, featuring Brenda Blethyn playing police detective Vera Stanhope, and Shetland, featuring Jimmy Perez played by Douglas Henshall, have been incredibly successful series and attracted millions of viewers. Whilst her Shetland and Vera books have been translated into twenty languages and are best sellers in Scandinavia and Germany.
Birds And Murder
Yet Ann has been writing for many years. She began writing when her husband took a job as warden of Hilbre, a small, island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. As she and her husband were the only residents, Ann had plenty of free time to fill and began writing her first crime novel, which was about an elderly naturalist named George Palmer-Jones.
From this early beginning Ann wrote many crime novels, including the Inspector Ramsay series and the George and Molly series, but it was only when she wrote Raven Black and won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger that she hit the big time and was able to write full time.
Inspiration From Fair Isle
The Shetland series was inspired by Ann’s first job as a bird observatory cook on Fair Isle, which lies halfway between Shetland and the Orkneys. Shetland is an archipelago of islands that are one of the most remote places in the United Kingdom.
It was on Fair Isle that she met her husband Tim, an ornithologist who was there to study the birds. The bleak, windswept beauty and close-knit island communities of Shetland inspired the series of books, whilst her hero, detective Jimmy Perez, is from Fair Isle.
Ann’s other popular series of books, featuring Vera Stanhope, were inspired by the lack of strong, believable, female protagonists in most crime fiction. Vera was modelled on the middle-aged spinsters that Ann knew when growing up; women who had lost men in the war or had never married, who wore awful clothes and who didn’t care about their looks.
Despite looking like a bag lady, Vera is an excellent detective who is capable of being firm and compassionate in her approach. Despite being married to her work, Vera is not the troubled maverick detective that we are familiar with from many other crime series, and this makes a refreshing change.
Far From Ordinary
Ann’s previous job as a probation officer comes in useful for her crime writing, as it gave her insights into the lives and motivations of offenders, but also made her aware of the human story behind them. Ann is a very down-to-earth and ordinary looking person, and yet is clearly very far from ordinary.
Ann writes all her novels at the kitchen table of her little house in Whitley Bay and has no desire to move. According to a Radio Times interview, Ann said that if she moved away and stopped travelling on buses and shopping in Morrisons, she wouldn’t be able to find material for her books. She told the interviewer that her stories are inspired by listening to ordinary people and she has no wish to mix only with other writers or arty types.
Shetland and Vera
If you have watched the televised series’ of Shetland and Vera and enjoyed them, then I urge you to read the books that they are based on. The television dramas are excellent, but can never equal the original novels, where the narrative can be more detailed and the characterisation more intensely explored.
Ann Cleeves Facts
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