Friday, July 3, 2015
An Interview with Ann Cleeves
Interview With Ann Cleeves:
By Pamela James
MM2:Ann, let's with your backstory. How and why did you become and author?
I always loved reading and dreamed of being a writer, but I never thought I might make a living at it. I started writing properly when we lived on a tiny tidal island. My husband's an ornithologist and he was warden of the nature reserve there. We were the only residents, we had no mains water or electricity so it was a very peaceful place to write.
MM2: When was that golden moment when you knew that you had made it as an author?
I suppose the big breakthrough came 20 years after I was first published. I won the Gold Dagger for Raven Black. That meant I could give up the day job and write full time.
MM2: Where did you get the idea for Vera?
I was born in the mid-fifties and grew up still in the shadow of the war. There seemed to be lots of single women who were strong and competent, but not very glamorous. They were hospital matrons and school teachers. I think VERA grew put of my memory of those women.
MM2: Vera and Shetland are very popular series both in writing and television. Lead us thru the process of how television came about?
Quite by chance. The first VERA book was picked up in a charity shop by a TV company books scout. She went on to commission the series and ended up as executive producer on both shows. I've been amazingly lucky. I still think of her as my fairy godmother.
MM2: Give us an example of a day in your home and writing life?
I like to write early in the morning. That's when I'm most productive. I have 6 grandchildren, all of whom live close by, so I have some childcare duties too!
MM2: Tell us what you like about where you live?
The sea. I live in a small, rather shabby seaside town on the north east coast. We have lots of good friends from all sorts of different backgrounds. North East England, where VERA is based and filmed has a remarkable variety of landscapes.
MM2: Do you have favorite books you like to reread?
I love traditional Golden Age crime novels and go back to Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham. And Simenon's Maigret.
MM2: What are you currently writing and promoting?
I'm building up to the promotion of The Moth Catcher, a new VERA novel and working on a new Shetland.
MM2: Describe to us your favorite place to write?
I can write anywhere: in trains, airport lounges and strange hotel rooms but my favourite place is on a laptop at my kitchen table.
MM2: Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received? What was the advice?
I can't remember who first said this but it's very important. 'Kill your darlings' That is, don't be afraid to dump writing that doesn't work, even if you're attached to it. The best publishing advice was given by the rep selling my first book: 'Don't ever give a book to someone who would be prepared to buy one.'
MM2: Is there something you would like to say to your television fans and readers?
Just a big thank you for continuing to buy the books and watch the shows.
MM2: What has writing and fame brought to you your life?
I don't have to worry about the car breaking down anymore. When I first started writing we could never afford a reliable car.
MM2: Now for some fun questions. Where is your favorite place to vacation? Your favorite movie, song and dessert?
I still love going back to Shetland. The Third Man. Graham Greene is one of my favourite writers and it was a great film. And cranachan, a Scottish dessert made with oatmeal, raspberries, cream and a dash of whisky.
MM2: Lets talk about Shetland. Tell us about the books, the BBC series and actors?
The sixth Shetland book, Thin Air, has just been published. It's set in the most northerly island in the UK which lies on the same line of latitude as parts of Alaska. The islands in the archipelago have a total population of just over 20,000, so it's a hard place to keep secrets. The lead actor is Douglas Henshall, who has the great skill of portraying a strong man who is also kind. I've been very fortunate with both my leading actors. Double Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn is magnificent as VERA.
MM2: What comes next for both Vera and Shetland? No secrets just writing plans?
There will be more books in both series and both TV dramas are filming now so there'll be more broadcasts too.
MM2: In closing what writing advice do you have for series authors?
Stop writing the series when you stop enjoying it.
MM2: I am sure you have awards and go to conventions. Tell us about those and are you part of a writing group? I guess what I am asking they say it takes a village to write and publish your work. Who are the people in your village?
I'm part of a collective called Murder Squad. We are friends who live and work in the north of England. We run events and have put together collections of short stories. The most recent has been inspired by some beautifully atmospheric photographs. And I have a wonderful agent and great publishing team. This year I'm programming chair of the Harrogate Crine-writing Festival, the biggest of it's kind in Europe.
MM2: Are there television series you make time to watch?
No. I dip in and out and don't have regular viewing habits.
MM2: Oh there is one more thing to ask. Do you have a writing pet peeve? What is the hardest and best part of writing your books?
The middle of a book is always the hardest. The beginning is the easiest. Before you start you believe you can write a great book...
MM2: Leave us with a Vera quote about you?
Here's a quote from the very gracious Brenda Blethyn: 'I'll always be grateful to Ann for creating VERA.' Well I'll always be grateful to Brenda for bringing her to life.
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