Ann Cleeves speaks to You’re Booked

DI Vera Stanhope, the brilliant but erratic detective created by award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves (and played on TV by Brenda Blethyn) ventured into new territory in January, when the eBook of Hidden Depths was offered as a free download by Starbucks, via their new Pick of the Week card. February takes Vera into the equally unlikely surroundings of a writers’ retreat, with the publication of The Glass Room, the latest book in this hit series. Vera likes to keep her distance from the neighbours, but when one of the hippies next door goes missing, she can’t resist investigating. In The Glass Room Vera finds herself caught up in a crime writing workshop where fictional murders lead on to real deaths!

The fifth Vera Stanhope mystery, The Glass Room, has just been released. Tell us more about the new book…

The book is set on the North Northumberland coast. Vera’s hippy neighbour goes missing and Vera tracks her down to the Writers’ House, which is running a course on the crime short story. A tutor, an academic, is murdered, and then one of the short stories comes true in very graphic detail. I suppose it’s a variation on the country house murder, with literary clues! I loved setting Vera up against some rather pretentious writers.

In a recent interview, you said that The Crow Trap (the first Vera Stanhope novel) was actually originally intended as a standalone novel. How did Vera develop to be the growing success she is today?

I came to like Vera very much.  I was born in the mid-fifties and grew up knowing some formidable spinsters – women who’d either lost men during the war, or who had become so independent that they couldn’t settle to conventional marriage. They were teachers or matrons or librarians and they didn’t feel the need to dress smartly or wear make-up to prove they were up to the job. Vera was modelled on those women. So she appeared again in Telling Tales, Hidden Depths, Silent Voices and now The Glass Room.

Following on from the enormous success of the first series, shortlisted for two Dagger awards last year, 2012 will bring a second series of VERA, with Brenda Blethyn continuing to play the part of DI Vera Stanhope. We’d love to hear a little about Vera’s character adaptation from book to series, and why Brenda fits the role so well.

I think Brenda understands Vera and that was my main concern. She gets her wit and her humanity. I get on very well with the scriptwriters and script editors on the series – in fact all the cast and crew have tried very hard to make me welcome and part of the team. Elaine Collins, the producer, discovered The Crow Trap in an Oxfam shop near to where she lives in North London and has been passionate about the character from the start.  Her vision has been translated by the writers, actors and directors.  The relationship between Vera and Joe Ashworth, her sergeant, is at the heart of the book and remains at the heart of the films. David Leon, who plays Joe, is a fine actor too.

Why crime? Did you grow up reading the genre?

Yes, I was an Enid Blyton child!  Then moved swiftly on to Sherlock Holmes, the Father Brown stories and the Golden Age before I discovered writers like P D James, Ruth Rendell and John Harvey. I did read some of the Americans – Chandler of course – but it was the British tradition that had me hooked. Even when I was reading other authors as a student, crime fiction was always my comfort reading. It was what I turned to when I was miserable or had the flu.

What do you think drives you to tell stories and to write?

Ann Cleeves in Shetland. Photo © Malcom Younger

Some people are participants and some are observers, I think. I’m definitely an observer. I eavesdrop and peer into other people’s houses. I can’t really make sense of the world unless I describe it. And I tell the stories I’d like to read.

What is it about the crime genre that so attracts writers and readers alike – why do you think we like to read about stuff that in reality we’d never want to encounter?

I really don’t know! Exciting things happen in crime fiction. We turn the pages because we want to know how the story will pan out. It’s a safe way to explore danger too and then there’s usually a resolution at the end. The range of crime fiction has pulled in new readers too. Now there’s everything from Scandinavian, very literary material, to fast-paced thrillers. Something for everyone.

Is there anybody you particularly admire in the crime genre or who inspired you?

Loads of people! My particular reading passion is translated crime fiction. I love the quirkiness of Fred Vargas and the cool and cynical Henning Mankell.

Do readers write to you? If so, what’s the weirdest thing anyone has said?

Yes, I get lots of emails from readers and most of them are lovely – you wouldn’t bother writing to an author if you didn’t enjoy the books.  But I was once asked to re-write the ending to a novel. He hadn’t enjoyed it and quite seriously asked me to change the end just for him!

If there was one book you wish you’d have written, which would it be?

I think Sherlock Holmes is a wonderful creation. I’d quite like to have come up with him.

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The Glass Room is available now in hardback, published by Pan Macmillan.

“…an interesting novel studded with acute observations about crime writing.” – Literary Review

“Ann Cleeves is always scrupulously fair in the construction of her plots; clues are seeded throughout the storyline and it’s always possible to work out the likely killer – or it would be if we could only identify the clues and realise their significance! So it is with The Glass Room: once you know the answer, the clues are readily identifiable, but few readers will arrive at the correct solution more than a few pages before it it revealed.” – Charles Hurran, Amazon

To find out more about Ann Cleeves, visit her website at www.anncleeves.com

You can also find read more about Ann’s in our ‘Author’s Bookshelf’ feature. Click here to read, and see, what books are to be found on her bookshelf!

One thought on “Ann Cleeves speaks to You’re Booked

  1. H.L. Banks

    My son has given me the DVD set of Vera for my birthday. I watched the first episode last night and enjoyed immensley. Not as much as I enjoyed your books however, the character Vera blew me away. I am so looking forward to the new one just released. From a fan who hopes you continue featuring Vera in your writing for some time to come.