Award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves is delighted at progress on a scheme she is helping to fund, looking at the importance of reading on health and wellbeing.
The first Community Reading Workers are now in place for a pilot project. The scheme is also being supported by five North East local authorities: Northumberland, North Tyneside, Gateshead, Co Durham and South Tees. GPs, social prescribers and community workers will be able to refer individuals who may be struggling with chronic pain, anxiety, stress, depression or loneliness to the reading workers, who will provide friendship and a listening ear, as well as access to books, enthusiastic librarians and other readers.
Working in areas of high social deprivation, the workers will take a holistic and personalised approach to support, empower and motivate individuals to take proactive steps to improve their health and wellbeing by providing practical help though access to books and spaces/places for reading, and emotional support through improved confidence in reading and relationship building.
All the workers - nine in total over the five local authorities - will complete a bespoke Reading for Wellbeing course designed by the brilliant Opening The Book as part of their induction, and the project will undergo evaluation by academics in the region. While initial funding is for one year, Ann hopes the evaluation will support future investment and scale up.
First Look at The Long Call cast
As filming begins on The Long Call, making an extraordinary three current television series for Ann, details of casting are beginning to emerge. Ben Aldridge (Our Girl and Fleabag) stars as DI Matthew Venn, while Juliet Stevenson will play Matthew's mother, Dorothy, and Martin Shaw is Dennis, leader of the Brethren, the religious group from whom Matthew is estranged. Now Silverprint Pictures have released a first portrait of detective Matthew Venn and his colleague Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie, best known for her work in Doctor Who, where she played the role of the Doctor's companion, Bill Potts, opposite Peter Capaldi).
Ann says: "I can't think of anyone who could play Matthew Venn better than Ben Aldridge. He will bring an authenticity and commitment to the rôle. I always hoped that the actor chosen would come from Devon, where the books are set, and he does."
Directed by Lee Haven Jones (Doctor Who, Shetland, The Bay) The Long Call follows Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who has returned to live in a small community in North Devon with his husband, Jonathan (Declan Bennett). Matthew was brought up in the Barum Brethren before leaving to go to University. At 19 he knew he couldn't continue amongst the community and to his mother's shock and dismay, he declared publicly he no longer believed. Now he's back, not just to grieve for his father, but to lead a shocking murder investigation back where it all began for him. Matthew is now forced to re-engage with the community he left, including the most painful and challenging of relationships, with his mother Dorothy played by award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly, Deeply).
There's more information here, about the show, and about the book - and coming in the autumn, a second mystery for Matthew Venn...
While you're waiting, have you read the book ... ?
Shetland starts here
Fans of the TV crime drama Shetland impatient to devour not just one but two new series filming in 2021; armchair travellers hungry for escape to the empty spaces of the islands; and anyone who is in need of some bibliotherapy - there is good news for us all: the original Shetland novels by best-selling crime writer Ann Cleeves have all now been reissued in a smart new edition. Two Quartets, four seasons, four elements: if you haven't already met the original Jimmy Perez, here are eight mysteries to solve!
At the same time, you can help Ann repay some of her debt to Shetland, and in particular to Fair Isle: if you have heard her speak, you will know how she first went to Shetland almost by accident, to work at the Bird Observatory there; and how it inspired a lifelong love of the islands, leading to the novel Raven Black, which won her first big award, and ultimately led to the BBC's hit crime drama Shetland starring Douglas Henshall, Alison O'Donnell and Steven Robertson.
Now Ann is asking you to help Fair Isle rebuild the Observatory. "Knitters and birders and those who love wild places," she says, "and those who've enjoyed Shetland on the TV or read Blue Lightning, please look at this and see if you can help."
Please consider making a donation. And if you haven't already read Blue Lightning, which is set in a fictional version of the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, you can support the appeal by ordering a copy now. Ann has agreed that any profit she makes from the new edition of Blue Lightning will go to the Fair Isle Observatory rebuilding fund. "It's a lovely jacket," she says. "Would make a great present..."
Shetland fans: watch a message of support from Douglas Henshall!
There's more information, including details of how to donate, on the Observatory website.
Vera's Darkest Evening
The hugely successful crime drama VERA is based on the 'Vera Stanhope' mysteries by award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves: DCI Vera Stanhope is brought to life by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn. And while you're waiting for the TV series, have you read the book? Ann's latest book - now also available in paperback - is another case for the brilliant, if unglamorous detective, DI Vera Stanhope. The Darkest Evening, published in September 2020, finds Vera in the wild Northumberland winter, driving home through the countryside during a swirling blizzard. Her only thought is to get there quickly, but with the snow driving down heavily, she becomes disorientated and loses her way...
An abandoned car, a child, a stately home - and of course, a murder. Vera must revisit her own family history to solve the case. You can hear Ann talking to Jane Garvie on Woman's Hour about The Darkest Evening (and how she spent lockdown). Listen to the whole show, or jump forward to 33 minutes in to catch Ann's section.
Ann celebrated the publication of this ninth Vera Stanhope novel with a virtual launch party on the heart of Vera country, in the small Northumberland town of Corbridge. It's hosted by Forum Books, who have supported Ann since they set up shop many years ago, and who have already provided the setting for an exclusive Vera short story, Frozen. You can order any of Ann's books from her dedicated page on the Forum Books website - and Forum Books is the place for signed copies of Ann Cleeves's books, too. It's not too late to meet the author, as she talks about all things Vera, including her latest investigation!
"This fair-play mystery brims with fully developed suspects and motives that are hidden in plain sight. Skillful misdirection masks the killer's identity. This page-turner is must reading for fans as well as newcomers."
Meanwhile, filming on series eleven of television's VERA, which was about to start in the spring of 2020 but was interrupted by lockdown, resumed and carried on into the autumn. Series 11 will consist of six episodes, which will be shown in 2021 and 2022. That's good news for Vera's many, many fans: a recent poll to find the nation's favourite detective placed Vera fourth. Ann comments: "Wow! Vera only beaten by the creations of Conan-Doyle, Christie and Dexter as the nation's favourite detective. Brenda Blethyn is clearly a classic."
And if you only know Vera from the television, now's a good time to catch up with the books, as the series is being brought up to date in smart new paperback editions! The first four are in the shops now, and more are coming in the New Year. Read all about Vera - in print and on TV - here.
Ann Cleeves: "the worthiest of winners"
On 26 October 2017, Ann Cleeves was presented with the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers' Association, the highest honour in British crime writing, at the CWA's Dagger Awards ceremony in London.
Presenting Ann with her award, Martin Edwards, Chair of the CWA, said: "It's a lifetime achievement award, and above all it recognises excellence in writing. But it also recognises a significant contribution to the crime writing world. And nobody can deny that Ann Cleeves' contribution has been magnificent."
He went on to say that "You all know about the wonderful books, and you all know about the fantastically successful TV series. So, given that the recurring theme of this evening is friendship, I just want to say a few words about Ann the person," and praised Ann for her kindness and generosity to others, and as a passionate advocate of the library service.
In 2006 Ann was the first winner of the Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year, for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland series. In addition, she has been short listed for CWA Dagger Awards, once for the short story dagger, and twice for the Dagger in the Library award which is awarded not for an individual book but for an author's entire body of work.
Ann says: "It's a huge honour to be recognized by my peers, the crime-writers whose books, friendship and support I've enjoyed for more than thirty years. I am privileged to have had such a happy career and I will always be grateful for the support of booksellers and forever indebted to the passion and expertise of librarians, without whom I wouldn't still be writing today."
Ann Cleeves says "Good short stories have a force and a clarity which it's almost impossible to achieve in a novel. That's why I enjoy reading them. I know that each word has been chosen with care.
"I don't send post cards when I travel; I write stories instead. The three pieces in the CWA anthologies bring back vivid memories of Tanzania, Finland and Alaska. Raven Black was originally conceived as another of those holiday snap stories."
In The Starlings and Other Stories, Ann has edited a collection of twelve short stories which are literally, if not snapshots, at least inspired by photographs. She has invited each of her fellow members of Murder Squad to bring in an accomplice, and write a short story inspired by the dramatic photography of Pembrokeshire-based author David Wilson. Ann's own contribution is the title story, The Starlings, featuring DI Vera Stanhope.
Read more about The Starlings and other short stories by Ann Cleeves.
Two standalone novels are back in the bookshops in new paperback editions: The Sleeping and the Dead is a vivid psychological suspense novel the discovery of a body in the lake forces prison officer Hannah Morton to confront her past self; in Burial of Ghosts a holiday romance changes Lizzie's life forever.
Pan MacMillan's Bello imprint hunts down lost classics, and uses modern digital technology to make them available to readers as eBooks or print-on-demand paperbacks: now they are reissuing a selection of these as Pan Heritage Classic paperbacks. A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy is one of Ann Cleeves' 'Inspector Ramsay' series, featuring a police officer who is like Ann's (and TV's) Vera Stanhope in being based in England's northernmost county, Northumberland - though unlike her in many other ways. Looking even further back, to the work of a very young writer, you can also now read the George & Molly books, the adventures of amateur sleuth George Palmer-Jones, an elderly birdwatcher - and his wife, Molly. (Or you might want to read what Ann would like to say to that younger self).
"I do love Vera!"
In true Agatha Christie style, Cleeves once again pulls the wool over our eyes with cunning and conviction
A most satisfying mystery set in an isolated and intriguing location