The bright lights...
Writing is generally a solitary business and that's one reason why I like it so much. I love sitting in my kitchen in the early morning waiting for the story to develop, creating people and places in my head, and if I don't have time to myself every day I go quietly crazy. But occasionally it's lovely to get out into the real world, to catch up with colleagues and to share gossip. In the last couple of weeks I've had trips south to the bright lights of London and to the very classy setting of the Oxford Literature Festival.
I was voted a member of the Detection Club more than a year ago and I try to get to the dinners whenever I can. The Club has been in existence since the days of Agatha Christie and the members have included most of the stars of British crime fiction. It's a huge honour to have been invited to join. There's a delicious air of secrecy surrounding the Club, so I'll just say that meetings are always jovial events and that the March dinner was no exception.
The following morning I had a meeting with ITV Productions boss Kate Bartlett to discuss my response to the DVD of the first episode of VERA. I sat in the very smart office in Grey's Inn Road and struggled to believe that this was really happening. Five years ago all my backlist was out of print and publication of my new book by no means certain. Now I was talking about the television adaptation!Kate is lovely and we had a very positive chat about the production, about how wonderfully Brenda Blethyn had captured the spirit of my character and about the sparky on-screen relationship that's developed between her and David Leon, who plays Joe Ashworth.
Later that evening I went to a reception at the Swedish Embassy, (as you see, I move in very grand circles these days!) where a panel chaired by Mark Lawson discussed the worldwide phenomenon of Steig Larsson. Most sense came from my friends Barry Forshaw and Hakan Nesser. Loads of people had been invited - bloggers and reviewers, writers and publishers - and it was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with fans of Scandinavian crime fiction.
On March 23rd I had another long train ride - this time to Oxford for the Sunday Times Literature Festival. I was quite relaxed to start with, because Chris Stout had agreed to join me and I knew his music would put the audience in a good mood. And Andy Steven had arrived from Shetland, with beer from Unst and smoked salmon and oatcakes and fudge, so how could people not have a good time? Then my editor sat in the front row, along with VERA scriptwriter Paul Rutman who lives in Oxford, and suddenly I found myself strangely tongue-tied. The Festival provided accommodation for us in Christ Church, the college where it's based and later that evening looking out over a quad, once more I found myself hardly believing I was there. The impostor syndrome all over again.
The next day there was a shorter train journey into London to have lunch with Liz Hunt, features editor for the Telegraph. Very bravely she's agreed to come to Fair Isle in May, to write a travel piece, and also an article about the influence of the place on my books. We talked practicalities of boats and planes and I explained a little bit about the islands. My publicist handed over copies of the Shetland Quartet. There were three women at the table next to us in the very busy restaurant and suddenly one stood up:
'Excuse me. Is one of you Ann Cleeves? I'm sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to say how much I love your books.'
What timing! Just as Liz was leaving! That's never happened to me before. I do wonder though if Liz thought that the whole thing had been set up.
On bookshops and libraries
It's easy to get depressed about the selling of books. With the disappearance of Borders UK, Waterstone's is the only major retailer left on the High Street. Supermarkets sell too but at such a discount that it's hard to understand how the publishers make money, and besides, the range of stock is very limited. It's a delight then to come across a shop where the staff know, understand and love the books on the shelves. Such an establishment is Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court, just off St Martin's Lane in London. David, the owner, has developed a great relationship with publishers and authors. He specializes in hard backed signed copies and he hosted the launch party to celebrate the hard back publication of BLUE LIGHTNING and Martin Edwards' Lake District novel THE SERPENT POOL a month ago. It was a lovely evening and I was pleased that many of our guests raved about the shop and promised to go back and spend time there.
Libraries have taken on the role of guardians of our literary tradition in recent years. They stock the new and the quirky, translated fiction and short stories, the sort of books that don't make the display tables at the front of bookshops. Certainly there's no doubt that I'd be long out of print without library sales to sustain me. Libraries also provide a place where authors can meet their readers. In March thriller writer David Hewson and I made a tour of five of my favourite authorities here in the north east. He was bowled over by the welcome he received, by the professionalism of the staff and the enthusiasm of the readers. It made me realise how lucky I am to live close to so many supportive librarians.