Spring in the States
Malice Domestic is a convention, based in Bethesda Maryland, devoted to traditional mysteries. Over the years I've made great friends there and it feels like a family reunion each time I go. This year was a bit different though, and very special, because I was at Malice with Brenda Blethyn, aka Vera Stanhope. The convention had given her a Poirot Award and she'd agreed to go to collect it in person. From the welcome cocktail party to the final Agatha tea, we all had a ball. It was terrific to see the affection for the character I created almost twenty years ago, and Brenda was, as we knew she would be, generous, funny and insightful. Thanks to the Malice Board and to all the participants who made us so welcome. And to the Minotaur team and my UK publicist Maura Wilding who made a very hectic schedule run so smoothly.
Malice was special too, because it saw the return of Canadian writer Louise Penny, following the death of her beloved husband, Michael. We live an ocean apart, but Louise and I have become good friends and when my husband died at the end of last year, Louise was there to support me. She has a huge readership in the US - her books regularly top the New York Times Bestseller list - so when she suggested that I join her for two events in Washington DC and NYC, I knew we'd have a great audience. And so we did, not just in numbers but in the warmth of the response.
Louise's generosity extended to including me in her circle of friends, and I'll remember those informal post-event dinners, the laughter and the gossip, long after I've forgotten the details of the tour. I stayed in her beautiful apartment and the morning of my departure, we walked in Central Park. The first glorious day of the spring. Sunshine and friendship. A trip to treasure.
A return to where it all started
I'm writing this in Fair Isle. I flew in with my great friend Ingirid Eunson four days ago for a two night stay, but the weather closed in and we're still here. Fair Isle is where my love affair with Shetland started more than forty years ago. I've come to say farewell to Margo and Bill, who were so kind to me when I first arrived. They're about to leave the Isle to be closer to their daughter. It's also where I met Tim, so it's a way of saying goodbye to him too.
We're staying in Skerryholm, a croft at the south of the island with Florrie and Jimmy. There's a view of the South Harbour and the wheeling beam of the lighthouse comes into my room at night. When I first came into Fair Isle, Jimmy's father was skipper of the mail boat, The Good Shepherd. Jimmy had very dark hair then, so it's natural that he thinks of himself as the original Jimmy Perez. And perhaps he is. He has the same mix of authority, wisdom and compassion. And a terrific sense of humour.
Having extra time in the Isle means that we've caught up with all our old friends. Ingirid used to live here -she and Jerry ran a croft and the shop - so she's even more attached to the place than I am. We've met new babies and folk who are quite elderly now. Stewart, who makes beautiful spinning wheels, celebrated his 94th birthday yesterday.
The final episode of the drama SHETLAND aired on Tuesday in the UK. (If you live in the US look out for the series later in the spring). I watched it with Ingirid, with Margo and Bill and Florrie and Jimmy. We ate Jimmy's lobster and drank champagne and cheered at the end when it was announced that the show would run again. The cast and the crew will soon be back filming. I hope the weather treats them more kindly.
Tim Cleeves 1951 - 2017
Be more Tim
Tim didn't always have it easy. He grew up in a loving family, but from adolescence suffered from bouts of acute depression. It wasn't until he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in middle-age that his moods steadied and life became more settled.
His illness never stopped him though. It didn't stop him travelling or being open to new experiences and new people. It didn't stop him laughing or being passionate about conservation. His enthusiasm, willingness and openness enabled him to cook phenomenal curries, to be a loyal Dylan fan and to always love the sea, regardless of its condition.
Tim had a great sense of possibility. Everyone he met had the potential to be a great friend, every bird he saw had the potential to be a great rarity, and on every trip, there might just be 'the big one'. Tim had a very delicate stomach and whenever he went abroad he would catch a bug, but that never stopped him travelling again and again and again, from Uzbekistan to the Antarctic and Bolivia to China. Every Saturday he watched the football results convinced that today the Rovers might win.
With all of that in mind, we're determined to be more Tim: to take risks, be open to new possibilities and not let the fear of being hurt or rejected prevent us from approaching people and ideas with an open mind and an open heart. To dance, and cook, and drink, and walk, and perhaps break the rules every now and then.
Written by Tim and Ann's daughters, Ruth and Sarah -
with a little help from Ann.
My Big Canadian Adventure
I'm just back from a book trip to Canada, slightly heady and hazy with jet-lag, but with dozens of brilliant memories from the time I spent there. The excuse for the visit was that Bouchercon - the big mystery convention usually held in the US - was taking place in Toronto. But when more invitations arrived, we extended the trip into a proper book tour and ended up travelling across the country from Ottawa to Vancouver Island, taking in Bouchercon, a couple of writers' festivals, some magnificent stores and a spectacular library event on the way.
We started in Ottawa. It felt a very welcoming city, but perhaps that was because I caught up with my old friend Brenda Chapman, who hosted a conversation between me and her fellow crime writer Barbara Fradkin. The Writers' Festival event was held in a church and the pews were packed with enthusiastic readers. A great introduction to the city and the country.
Next stop was Toronto, where we met up with the Publishers Group Canada team. PGC works to distribute and promote Pan Macmillan's titles in the country and the wonderful Jen Lynch worked with Maura to plan the trip. It was down to their organisation that everything worked so well.
Bouchercon was a bonkers mix of social events, business and the chance to catch up with friends from all over the world. Along with the panels and interviews that made up the programme... Perhaps the high-light of the conference for me was my event with Louise Penny on the last morning. Louise is hugely loved in the US and her native Canada and it was an honour to be asked to interview her. One of the benefits of the role was that I binge-read Louise's Three Pines novels before my trip and realised again what a thought-provoking and clever writer she is.
We stayed in Toronto for a day after the Festival and headed out into the suburbs with Jen. After signing stock in a few stores, we were hosted to a lovely afternoon chat with customers in A Novel Spot, a tiny bookshop in Etobicoke. Then we hit the road again for a public library event in Oakville Ontario. I love libraries and this was a library event at its very best - a great theatre space in a community centre, a thoughtful intro by Florence, the librarian, and an independent bookstore to sell books. More importantly, the space was full of readers determined to have a good time.
The next morning brought a horribly early start and a five hour flight to Vancouver for the writers' festival there. The festival is held on Granville Island, with its food market, craft shops and performance spaces. It attracts writers from all over the world. Vancouver in the autumn seems a very rainy city, but the weather cleared just when it was needed - for the tiny seaplane ride to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and for the ferry ride back the following day, so we had magnificent views of the islands on both crossings. My final event was in Victoria in Munro's famous bookshop. What a way to end the trip!
Thanks to everyone who made the tour so friendly, fun and stress-free: Maura and Jen, the organisers and volunteers of the writers' festivals and Bouchercon, the team from Minotaur, my US publisher, booksellers and librarians. And most of all, thanks to the readers, who turned out to share their reading passions and who stood in line to get books signed.
The Seagull flies
There is no such species as a seagull. I don't know much about birds, but I do know that much. The Seagull, the title of the book published at the beginning of September is a completely fictitious art deco nightclub on the shore in Whitley Bay. But in the last few weeks, it's felt as if the novel and I have been spreading our wings and taking flight around the country.
Lots of the events were local, which was a real treat. A huge thanks to Helen Stanton of Forum Books and her staff for selling at some wonderful gigs. We've been to an art gallery at North Shields Fish Quay and The Word, the award-winning library on the south of the Tyne. There was a party in my local café and a murder mystery in the very spectacular Alnwick Castle Gardens.
Then we went further afield, first to North West England, to Merseyside, Lancashire and the Lake District and then to the west country, ending up where I grew up in North Devon for the Appledore Festival. Thanks to all the readers, booksellers and library staff who made it such fun. And next week we'll be crossing the Atlantic, to Canada, where I'll be speaking at the Ottawa Writers' Festival, at Bouchercon in Toronto, at a library in Oakville and events in Vancouver and Victoria. Do check out my author Facebook page and the events page of my website for details.
Nearly publication date
... and it's a little bit frantic at the moment! But I thought you might be interested in a piece I wrote recently for the Pan Mac crime website Thin Blue Spine:
I don’t hesitate to take liberties with locations. The atmosphere of the place is far more important to me than the details of street names, shops or pubs. Those things can change, after all, and I hope that my book will be in print for a long time.
The Seagull is partly set in the place where I live. Whitley Bay is a faded seaside town on the coast east of Newcastle. Since we first moved to the North East in the mid-eighties the place has changed dramatically. Then the seafront was the place for wild partying; the streets leading up from the beach held nightclubs and bars, music blaring into the roads. At weekends and bank holidays the pavements would be jostling with scantily clad young women and men, moving from one venue to another in a kind of ritual dance, singing and drinking. Then the Spanish City fun fair was already past its glorious best, but, in the shadow of the great white dome, it still opened each evening to Dire Straits' Tunnel Of Love. Kids clamoured to be taken inside. Going 'down Whitley' was a rite of passage. It was where teenagers from the surrounding villages first got drunk and first stayed up until the early hours of the morning. It was sleazy, tacky, but very much alive.
Now, some of the streets which once held the rowdiest clubs are almost derelict. The buildings are boarded up or are being demolished. Grass pushes through the concrete where once people sat outside drinking, pretending they were in Ibiza or Majorca. Soon the buildings will be replaced by apartment blocks. Sometimes, the residents in the smart, genteel streets to the north of the town, who once complained about the visitors' rowdiness, now moan that the place is dead. But I sense a real optimism. Young families are moving into Whitley Bay attracted by the sandy beach and the good schools. A yoga centre has taken over the empty station buildings and there's a community garden. One street holds its own contemporary art exhibition, allowing strangers to wander in and out of their houses to look at the installations. We have a tiny independent cinema and there are good places to eat and drink. And we have our own brewery, just off the seafront where once people partied. That brewery has created Seagull beer to celebrate the book and the town. It's a very good brew.
The Seagull is the name of a night club that never existed. In my head, it was an art deco palace, sleek and curved like a luxury liner. There are still a few deco houses on the road that leads to St Mary's Island and perhaps they triggered my imagination. The lighthouse at St Mary's no longer guides ships into the Tyne, but it's a symbol of the place and it too plays a major part in the story.
I love where I live and perhaps The Seagull is my most personal book. I enjoyed writing it. The plot takes us back into Vera's youth and explains a little more about her relationship with her father. A couple of days ago I was talking to Brenda Blethyn, the magnificent actor who plays the character in the ITV drama. She said she’d loved the novel, but found reading it a weird experience: "It was a bit like reading about my own past."
Vera goes to Harrogate
The Theakston's Crime-Writing Festival in Harrogate has become a massive event in the publishing world and I was delighted to take part again this year. It's easy to take the warmth and generosity of crime readers and writers for granted; we KNOW we're friendly, supportive and that we like to party. It's only when we see the reaction of outsiders that it really hits home. This year I brought some very special friends to Harrogate. Brenda (Blethyn, who plays Vera in the ITV drama) and BBC Breakfast's Steph McGovern had been there before, but Kenny Doughty, who plays Vera's sidekick Aidan was a newcomer.
It started on Friday night at the Pan Macmillan barbecue. The rain held off, the wine flowed and Brenda, Kenny and Steph arrived just in time for food after filming all day. Then we found The Seagull ale. My wonderful publicist Maura had contacted a little brewery in my home town of Whitley Bay and asked them to make a special beer to celebrate the publication of the book of the same name. That too is set in Whitley Bay. The beer will be available at my tour events in September. We did sample a few on the night of course, just to check that it was fit to send out.
Our panel was on Sunday morning and we spoke to a packed hall. Steph chaired beautifully, Brenda showed her amazing talent for comedy and Kenny spoke rather movingly about what it meant to be part of the Vera team. Later he told me how overwhelmed he'd been by the reception we all received and by the obvious affection the audience had for the show. Television actors don't usually have the chance to meet their viewers, and we forget how lucky we are to get to know readers and other writers at festivals like Harrogate.
So a huge thanks to Elly Griffiths and the programming committee and to all the festival staff for their welcome, their efficiency and for another terrific Harrogate.