Monday, October 10, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Ann Cleeves!

If someone were to ask me to recommend one British crime fiction writer, I'd feel guilty of snubbing many excellent authors, but I would choose Ann Cleeves.

Bird lover that I am, I've read and enjoyed books in her George and Molly Palmer-Jones series. Another series has one of my all-time favorite characters, Vera Stanhope. (I've given huge hints that I'd like to have the DVD of the television series they've based on the series.) I have one of Cleeves' Stephen Ramsay mysteries winking at me from my to-be-read shelves, and of course I love her Shetland Island Quartet. Ann has a way of blending story, landscape, atmosphere, and character in a way that few can match.

Ann Cleeves in Shetland
If you'd like to learn more about Ann Cleeves, there are several ways to do so:

Don't worry-- I won't keep you waiting any longer. Here's the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

When I was very young I loved Enid Blyton - my first taste of mysteries, perhaps.  There was a book called The Island of Adventure - the title speaks for itself.

There was a sympathetic librarian in the small town where I lived and she'd save copies of Blyton for me.  I still remember the thrill as she pulled out the book from her desk.  Her name was Mrs Gregory.  Fifty years ago and I still remember it!

I soon realised that while Blyton told a very pacy story there were better writers out there and I moved on, but the need to build suspense stayed with me.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Although both my daughters went away to university they both married local lads and moved home, so we stuff together as a family - walks on the beach, big Sunday lunches.  I love cooking (and eating), catching up with friends in the pub, and I spend a lot of time in Shetland for pleasure as well as for research.  And of course I read!

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
I live on the coast just north of the River Tyne.  The county of Northumberland stretches right up to the Scottish border and there's so much to see: long empty beaches, beautiful moorland and attractive market towns.  One of the joys of seeing my Vera Stanhope books adapted for television (starring double Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn) is that the films capture the countryside beautifully.  Not just the rural places.  North East England used to provide coal and ships for the empire and there's something sad and haunting about the post-industrial landscape.  The city of Newcastle has the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and a huge new music venue right on the river and they're both worth a visit.

[If someone gave me a choice between visiting London and visiting Northumberland, I'd choose Northumberland every time!]

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Gina McKee
There's an actress from the north east called Gina McKee, whom I love.  She's younger than me and much more beautiful, but very thoughtful.  I enjoy everything that she plays.

[Many of you may remember her in the film Notting Hill.]

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Richard Thornhill.  He appears in Andrew Taylor's Lydmouth books.  These are set in the Forest of Dean in the fifties.  They conjure up post-war austerity, restraint and a particular English snobbishness.  And they're very well written.

Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?

Oh goodness, there are so many brilliant books out there!  If we're talking popular fiction, perhaps John le CarrĂ©'s The Little Drummer Girl.  It's not as well known as the George Smiley books, but it's so tender and the plot hangs together beautifully.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

My first thought when I heard that I was to be published was that at last we'd be able to get the car fixed! My husband worked for a natural history charity (so was paid very little) and we had two small children.

Seeing books on the shelves is always a thrill.  I usually turn them to face outwards, so they're more easily visible.  My daughters were trained to do that too from a very young age....

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

I met a reading group on the island of Whalsay after the first Shetland novel was published.  That was a very sparky session because Sandy Wilson, my side-kick detective comes from there.  As is often the way in traditional crime fiction, Sandy can be a bit stupid, and the Whalsay folk took that personally.  We get on very well now though. I wrote a book called Red Bones, set on Whalsay and told from Sandy's point of view and the reading group were really helpful when I was researching it.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

I haven't tried any of the eBooks, though I can see that they'd be brilliant for a long plane trip or going away on holiday.  All my books are available in electronic form. I'm more worried about the pirating of downloaded material.  That's theft and there's often little publishers can do to prevent it.

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Ann. May your book sales do nothing but increase!

Learn More!


  1. Ann Cleeves is an author that I have meant to read many times but haven't yet. I must. LOL

  2. Love it that her children were trained early on to turn the books!

  3. I'm like your first commenter. I've always wanted to read her books but haven't. I'm going to go and pick up one of her books today. Thank you.

  4. Kay-- You haven't read Ann Cleeves yet??? I am appalled!! :o) Seriously though, you really do need to remedy that.

    Beth-- So do I!

    Clarissa-- You're very welcome, and you have some very good reading ahead of you!

  5. I love the Shetland Quartet - although that's the only Ann Cleeves I've read. I must get busy & widen out!

    I love that the British experience is so different while so much the same. I read thousands of Enid Blyton playing any part in my childhood.

    And that Ann should refer to the 1950s as a period of post-war austerity when here in North America, it was anything but. (I've just added Andrew Taylor to my TBR list.)

    Thanks for a great series of interviews - and letting us get a peek at Ann Cleeves.

  6. Debbie-- I'm glad you're enjoying this interview series. I hope you'll give Cleeves' Vera Stanhope series a try.

    Like you, I wasn't aware that times were so tough in the UK after the war until I read a couple of mysteries set during that time. My husband was a very small boy in the 1950s, living outside Manchester. He confirmed what I was reading in the books.

  7. That's interesting about postwar England and austerity. I was a teen in the 50s and I remember it as a time when the middle class people I knew had a fairly good income. It's when my parents bought their first house in fact.

  8. Barbara-- I don't think the UK had had a chance to recover from World War I and the Depression, to be honest, and no longer had the resources to crank up a war machine like the US did.

  9. And of course it was dumb of me to overlook all the bombing damage and people displaced in the UK during WW II. I just look at the flooding damage here from this year and the sorrow and discouragement of people - and that pales in comparison. Neighbors of ours have daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren living with them now. The young couple's house actually floated away!

  10. Barbara-- You reminded me of the period here in Phoenix when we were experiencing 100- and 500-year floods. All the bridges in the Valley collapsed but one. The bridges over the Agua Fria River on the I-17 at New River collapsed. About the only way in was by air-- and then you couldn't get anywhere once you landed. Entire suburbs were flooded out. A horrible time for many people who lived here.


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