It's (almost) a wrap
ITV Productions has been filming VERA in Tyneside and Northumberland since the beginning of August, but I've only managed a couple of visits to the set until recently. September continued to be busy and the first couple of weeks of October have been pretty frantic too, domestically as well as professionally, with a new grandchild to add the the growing Cleeves clan.
In September I took a press trip to Shetland and Fair Isle. It's always fun to show the islands to a newcomer and to see this place through their eyes. This visit was special because we stayed in the new and very grand bird observatory on Fair Isle. I'd worried that the new building might lack the atmosphere and informality of the old one, but not a bit of it. The finishing touches to decoration are still being completed, but it feels just as friendly and welcoming, and it's much more comfortable and efficient to run. It's a great place to stay, even if you don't have the slightest interest in birds. I was there with Liz Hunt from the Telegraph, whose natural habitat is definitely not the UK's most remote inhabited island, but even she got up early on the last day to do the trap round with the scientists.
At the beginning of October I finished the first draft of the new Vera novel. I've set it aside for a few weeks. After spending months with the story I'm too close to it. I hope to go back with the fresh eye of a reader and see how it works.
Last week was the Cheltenham Literature Festival. It's a huge event now, and since I was last there as reader-in-residence a tented encampment has sprung up on Imperial Gardens. It's always fun to spot the stars in the Green Room - one is VERY well looked after at Cheltenham - but I was really there to share a platform with the great German crime-writer Andrea Maria Schenkel. The session was expertly chaired by Peter Guttridge, who put us and the audience very much at our ease.
So this week I've enjoyed having time to go onto set and catch up with the filming of VERA. The team had set up base camp for three days at Prior's Park in Tynemouth, which is within walking distance from home. The location was the monumental structure of Knott's Flats, social housing built right on the banks of the Tyne. The contrast of the rather brutal building and the river is very pleasing and the film will look stunning, I think. This episode is an original story created by Paul Rutman; it's more urban in flavour than the other three, but still he absolutely captures the soul of my characters. For those who think TV is glamorous or easy, the north wind blowing up the Tyne was freezing, the cast and crew were all wearing thermal underwear, and by the end of the day they looked blue. But still they were professional and good-humoured.
Filming will be complete at the end of the month and already people are looking forward to leaving and to moving on to future projects. But I've been delighted that most have developed a real affection for the north east. Many say they'll come back as real visitors. And who knows, If VERA is well-received, perhaps they'll be back to film another season.