Spotlight on Ann Cleeves
I came to Ann Cleeves relatively late on – being made aware of her novels through the Vera series on TV which started in 2011. I’ve never got round to catching up on all the early Vera novels but have enjoyed most of the Shetland series as well as the new series, Two Rivers.
Ann is a frequent visitor to these shores and I heard an interview between her and Brian McGilloway a few years ago which was fascinating. I love that she has based her series’s in locations that she has strong connections with – she met her husband, a keen ornithologist, on Shetland where she was working as a cook. After they got married, Tim, her husband was employed to look after a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary where they lived for a while. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. Ann started her writing career then in the absence of anything else to do! Later they moved to Northumbria with their two daughters.
Part of the success of Vera can be attributed to the development of the eccentric and complicated character over time as her backstory is gradually revealed, but equally important is the team of characters that she creates to support Vera. The actress Brenda Blethyn has become synonymous with the Vera character and it is hard to read the novels now without picturing the actress in the lead role – perhaps one of the disadvantages of having the novel adapted for TV. The latest in the series in The Rising Tide.
The Shetland series has perhaps overtaken the popularity of Vera with the attraction of Jimmy Perez as the added extra. The plots are equally clever and engaging but the setting of island life is so well portrayed in the novels, and the sub plots that weave through each story so well told that we become immersed in the scenes – as cold, wet and stormy as they may be! In the interview with Brian, Ann shared that she had chosen not to be involved in the writing for TV though she regularly visits the sets. She told how the writers of the TV series had added the extra character of ‘Tosh’ - something that was out of her control but just goes to show how divorced from the original novel any TV adaptations can be. Controversially Ann has decided not to continue on with writing more novels in the series as she says that there is a limit to the number of murders credible on such a small island. [Cold Earth is the 7th in the series.] However the popular TV series is continuing to be filmed despite the lead actor, Douglas Hershall, announcing his departure last year.
The Two Rivers series starts with The Long Call and is based in North Devon where Ann spent some of her childhood. Detective Matthew Venn is another engaging character with an intriguing past. He grew up in a closed evangelical sect where he felt imprisoned and judged, and chooses to leave as soon as he can despite the disapproval of his family and the elders. He is cast out and disowned but is released to live freely and follow his career of choice. His is a complex character, closely linked to his strict upbringing, with a strong sense of justice, and as he leads the investigations into local murders he struggles to relate to his team.
This too has been made into a popular TV series starring the brilliant Ben Aldridge who also narrates the audio versions of this and The Heron’s Cry, the second in the series.