Saturday, December 08, 2012

Guest Blogger Ann Cleeves

 I'm delighted to welcome Anne Cleeves to Type M as our guest this weekend. She is a best-selling author with not one but two TV series running in Britain, including my own addiction Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn who is co-incidentally one of my favourite actresses. She has won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger – the Crime Writers Association Gold dagger for crime fiction – as well as many other awards and her books have been translated into twenty languages.

I first visited Shetland more than thirty years ago. I'd dropped out of university and in the random way that these things happen I was offered a job as assistant cook in the Bird Observatory in Fair Isle. The warden must have been desperate, because I couldn't cook and I knew nothing about birds, but I spent a fantastic season on the island and went back the following year.

That began an affection for the islands that continues to this day. In 2006 my first Shetland novel, RAVEN BLACK, was published as a result of a visit north in the middle of winter. Shetland is a very long way north – 13 hours on the ferry from Aberdeen –  and the long dark nights seemed ready-made as a backdrop to a crime story. I launched RAVEN BLACK  in the library in Lerwick, Shetland's main town, and I was back there just a few weeks ago for a preview screening of the BBC TV adaptation of RED BONES, my third Shetland book. This was a much grander affair than my modest book launch. The head of BBC Scotland drama was there and the script executive from ITV studios, the production company that made the show. Steven Robertson, the actor who plays Sandy Wilson, my hero's side-kick, is a Shetlander and he'd come home to take part too.

It was a nerve-wracking experience. The drama's series title is SHETLAND and much of it was filmed on the islands. The preview was shown on a big screen in the fabulous new arts centre Mareel. Many of the people in the audience had helped the production by allowing their homes to be used as locations, or providing technical support, or recreating the famous fire festival, Up Helly Aa, which forms the climax of the two-part drama. What would they make of this outsider's perspective of their home?

The response was interesting. The show had previously been screened to an audience of BAFTA members in Glasgow. They'd reacted immediately and positively to the landscape and to a portrayal of a community very different from those usually seen in television drama. But the Shetlanders were wary. These images were their homes, after all. After the first film the questions were about authenticity – the accents and the places. Then the viewers asked for a broadcast date (January in the UK) and to know if there would be a series (looking positive but depending on the ratings). Then at the end of the session a man in the front row, his accent so broad that I could barely understand him, demanded: 'Now will you tell us who killed those two folk?' The rest of the audience cheered in agreement and on the stage we had a collective sense of relief. The story had hooked them. We told them they'd have to wait for episode two...

I'll be back in Shetland at the end of January to launch the new Shetland Book DEAD WATER. It's the first of a new quartet and looks at the islands' role in providing energy. Shetland has a North Sea terminal for oil and gas and is a potential provider of wind and tidal power. It was fun to research and to write but I'll be nervous all over again as I wait for the islanders' response to the novel.

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