Ann Cleeves: career highlights
It’s very hard to choose just five good moments from a career of more than thirty years. Even when my books weren’t doing well commercially, I loved the writing and the friendship of other crime writers. But here we go!
I vividly remember getting the letter making an offer on my first book, A Bird in the Hand. We’d just moved to Worcestershire where my husband was working for a conservation charity, we had two small children and the new house had used up all our money. The car had broken down and was sitting outside our house waiting for Tim’s next pay cheque before we could get it fixed. Hutchinson offered an advance of a thousand pounds – five hundred payable on signature – and my first thought was that at least we could mend the car.
My second big moment was the formation of Murder Squad – the brainchild of Margaret Murphy. It can be lonely being a mid-list author struggling to gain some recognition and the group at least made me feel we were fighting back. Seven of us working in the north of England came together for support, encouragement and the chance to promote our books collectively to a wider audience.
My break through book was probably Raven Black, the first of my Shetland novels. I couldn’t believe it when it was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger – sponsored for the first time by the Duncan Laurie Bank. I’d been writing for twenty years and it had never crossed my mind that I’d ever get an award of any kind. The evening of the dinner I’d lost my voice. Perhaps it was just as well because I’d been swigging champagne all night, certain that the winner would have been told in advance, and my editor Sarah was much more articulate than I would have been when she accepted the award on my behalf.
Recently I’ve been International Guest of Honour at two US conventions – Malice Domestic and Left Coast Crime. I’m lumping those together as splendid writing moments because both were a joy and I can’t separate them. It’s hard to break into the American market and I’m hugely grateful to the convention organizers and readers who supported me and made me feel so welcome.
Finally, there’s a very special Harrogate moment. I’ve been involved with the festival since it started and last year had the privilege of chairing the programming committee. That gave me the chance to invite along some of my friends. I can remember sitting in the bar at a big table with some of my very favourite people – Brenda Blethyn, the actress who plays Vera, her niece Val, Steph McGovern who presents BBC Breakfast and her partner, Stewart Bain who works in Orkney Libraries, pathologist Prof James Grieve and forensic soil scientist Prof Lorna Dawson. I hadn’t laughed so much in years. All these people brought together by their involvement in crime fiction, enjoying each other’s company. How lucky am I!
Huge congratulations to Ann on the publication of Cold Earth, her thirtieth book in thirty years and the seventh book in the Shetland series!