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 everyone who is surviving lockdown with the aid of some bibliotherapy - there is good news for everyone: the original Shetland Quartet by best-selling crime writer Ann Cleeves has been reissued in a smart new edition. If you haven't already met the original Jimmy Perez, now is the perfect time to spend the four seasons in Shetland.
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, wnich 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.
The Long Call coming from ITV
As filming begins on The Long Call, making an extraordinary three current television series for award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves, 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.
The four-part event dramatisation of The Long Call comes from Silverprint Pictures, the company that has already produced Shetland (BBC) and Vera (ITV), two of television's most popular dramas based on previous crime series by Ann Cleeves.
ITV's Head of Drama, Polly Hill, decribed the new series as a character-led, atmospheric crime drama, driven by an intriguing and flawed protagonist, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who has returned to live in a small community in North Devon with his husband, Jonathan. It's a place Matthew walked away from 20 years ago, after being rejected by his family. Polly Hill commented: "I'm delighted that ITV is working with Silverprint Pictures to bring another of Ann's brilliant novels to screen. It's very different to Vera, but I think audiences will take to DI Matthew Venn and this compelling story in the same way. Kelly [Jones] has written a wonderful adaptation and this promises to be a really distinctive and original new crime series."
Ben Aldridge said: "I'm delighted to be playing Matthew Venn, a brilliantly unorthodox detective who audiences will see solving a gripping and intricate case, whilst simultaneously surmounting a deeper, more personal mystery within himself. It's a poignant and complex journey of self-discovery and sexual and religious identity, which navigates the tension between pride and shame, and I feel privileged to be bringing it to ITV viewers in The Long Call."
While you're waiting, have you read the book ... ?
The Darkest Evening
Ann's latest mystery is another case for the brilliant, if unglamorous detective, DI Vera Stanhope. The Darkest Evening is now available in paperback: it 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.
Need some bibliotherapy?
What's that? Ann explains ...
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