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Changing the Shetland scenery with Ann Cleeves

By Kobo • February 28, 2020Kobo in Conversation Podcast

"There is something about setting crime and mystery books on the margins, on the edges, because that's where the sort of characters I enjoy writing about are."

Ann Cleeves says she feels like she's always been a writer, running narratives through her head for as long as she can remember and taking up a position on the outside looking in. Though there were few books to be had around the house, her parents took her to the library often, trips she still remembers fondly.

Though she treasures the familiar and sets her books in what she calls "small places", such as the Shetland Islands, Newcastle, and Northumberland (never a metropolis like London), Cleeves sees herself as a restless writer who itches to get on to the next place as she finishes a manuscript -- even if it means returning to a place she knows well. With characters too, she likes to situate them in professions and situations that she feels she knows well first-hand, partly due to a self-professed "laziness" but also for the benefit of story and character: "For me it's easier to use experiences I've already had because I think in books it's the small detail that brings a scene or a character to life."

And yet she adores fiction in translation, especially crime fiction, citing the work of Henning Mankell and Fred Vargas as particularly enthralling. To Cleeves, these windows into other ways of thinking and being are irresistible. Perhaps she's still that little girl wandering in and out of worlds amidst the stacks of her local library.

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father's funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.

Now he's back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose.

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