Monday, 3 May 2010

Crime , Ann Cleeves, and The Art Of Interviewing

On Saturday we drive across the moors to the HexhamAnn Cleeves Book Festival. PD James, whom we hear speak later, says she’s rarely up here but how wonderfully beautiful is the countryside her. Perhaps, she suggests, we don’t talk about it much because we didn’t want people coming up in hordes and spoiling it. Well deduced, PD.

We’re in time to witness this Empress of Crime Writing in conversation with the shrewd, flamboyant and generous VaL McDermid. This is no ordinary interview. It’s a merry, respectful conversation between two fellow professionals who know their art inside out. The generation gap between them is invisible. Their mutual admiration is evident. It’s all peculiarly intimate, given that they’re before a tiered audience of several hundred people.

The informality of the conversation is deceptive. It fosters a stream of insightful talk about the nature of the crime novel and its place in literature. It celebrates the diversity of the way writers work and think. It allows us to grasp something of the high professional commitment of this woman who has operated on top of her game through forty years who is till playing hard. She talks of just one more Dagliesh novel…

Then we have a rather surreal lunch at a Wetherspoons pub located in a rather lovely Art Deco venue that was once a cinema. (This reminds me of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction – ladies sweeping down staircases flaunting cigarettes in long holders, and all that.)

As well as sustaining the life of unusual buildings, these Wetherspoon pubs never fail to interest me in the diversity of their clientele – families equipped with drawing books, lone fathers with their children, brooding individuals, men in work clothes, blokes in groups, ladies who lunch lightly. It’s not Groucho’s, where like seeks like and where wannabes try on the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s much better than that. More stimulating, So much more real life.

But the real purpose of my day is to interview crime writer Ann Cleeves for The Writing Game, my new community radio programme. Ann, Avril Joy and I sit in an upstairs room and talk about Ann’s writing life and how - after writing steadily for twenty years or so - she became an overnight success when she won the crime writer’s Oscar, the Golden Dagger Award and has not looked back since. Translations, film series have followed. One of several keys to her success has been the locating of the last series of detective novels on the Shetland Isles. She has a great sense of place. In fact she’s off to Fair isle tomorrow to celebrate - along with her agent, her publisher, her friends, fans and press - the launch Blue Lightening the last of her Shetland Quartet.

That will be some journey (13 hours from Aberdeen and then another boat trip…) and some party!

Our conversation is wide ranging and absorbing, reflecting, I think , the writer-to-writer style of the on-stage conversation this morning between Val McDermid and PD James. I know for certain that listeners to the programme with be fascinated with what Ann has to say about writing, crime, location and success.

Ann’s interview will go out in my second programme on Crime Fiction on Tuesday 1st June. I hope you get to listen to it.


PS I’m getting used to the little machine with the formidable general 009 broadcasting power, but on the way back over the moors I had a terrible panic that I'd not switched it on properly and the magic moment of this lovely interview was no more. When I got home and slotted it into my laptop, there is was, in all its verbal glory. Phew! I almost cried with relief. It was like one of those silly moments when you think you’ve left the iron on and your house is burning down …

Just to remind you:

The first programme will go out on Tuesday May 4th at 7pm and after that will be available as a podcast to download from

This first programme focuses on starting points in writing and features Avril Joy in her role of published author, and local writers Eileen Elgey and Hilary Smith.

Forthcoming programmes:

June 1st Crime Fiction Featuring Ann Cleeves

July 6th Children’s Fiction Featuring David Almond.

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