Expect British mystery author to tell all in Open Book: Ann Cleeves

If you love great, atmospheric crime fiction set in the British Isles, Sno-Isle Libraries has a treat in store.

Set aside an hour or so for Sno-Isle Libraries’ next online author event, Open Book: Ann Cleeves, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Oak Harbor Library Information Assistant Marie Byars will interview the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author behind the “Vera Stanhope,” “Shetland” and “Two Rivers” series and the related award-winning British television productions, “Vera” and “Shetland.”

Cleeves is a recipient of the Diamond Dagger Award from the Crime Writers' Association for lifetime achievement in British crime fiction. In 2016, she published her 30th novel in 30 years. Her newest title is “The Darkest Evening,” the latest chapter in the “Vera Stanhope” series.

“I’m thrilled at the opportunity to host Ann Cleeves for Open Book,” Byars said. “Her mysteries and thrillers are very popular with our readers, and viewers. I know our customers will thoroughly enjoy the time spent with her.”

Cleeves grew up in the British countryside. She started university studies but dropped out and had a number of temporary jobs – child-care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coast guard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.

As a cook in the bird observatory on Fair Isle, Cleeves met her future husband. Tim was a visiting ornithologist in whom she took an interest. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. The Cleeves were the only residents. There was no electricity or water. They got to the mainland only at low tide.

“If a person’s not heavily into birds, there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when I started writing,” Cleeves wrote in her website biography.

In 1987, Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland. Northeast England provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles.

Cleeves has used the past year of coronavirus lockdowns to modify how she keeps her ideas fresh and flowing.

“Ideas are often the easy bit when I’m planning a book,” she said.

Pre-pandemic, Cleeves said she would use “overheard snatches of conversation, interesting places glimpsed from a train window, catching up with old friends and hearing their stories” to move her stories along. Now those social interactions are infrequent.

“This time, I’ve been digging into my past, and using people and places from my youth,” she said. “And perhaps more than usual, I’ve found more abstract themes to provide some cohesion to the story.”

British authors have a long and storied history with the crime mystery genre, dating back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s first novel featuring Detective Sherlock Holmes, “A Study in Scarlet,” in 1887. Those early works continue to inspire new generations of authors.

“Well, Sherlock Holmes was hugely popular of course, even when he first appeared,” Cleeves said. “Conan Doyle tried and failed to kill him off. But I think this generation of crime writers grew out of the Golden Age of Mystery – authors like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and others who were working between the wars. Even those of us who’ve moved away from the traditional form of the detective story would accept that we were influenced by them.”

While Cleeves makes a living from the dark themes of crime mysteries, she does love laughter.

“Political satire makes me laugh, and there’s lots of that around at the moment!” she said. “British comedians are very good at the humor of embarrassment – I’m thinking of shows like ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘The Office’ – but sometimes that can be quite cruel. And my grandchildren make me laugh a lot. They have a wonderful sense of humor.”

To learn more about upcoming Open Book events, authors and suggested reading, visit sno-isle.org/openbook.

Financial support for the Open Book author series is provided by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.

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