Ann Cleeves: “For me, hell is a crowded shopping centre just before Christmas.”

Photo © Micha Theiner

The Chronicle: — Are you happy?
My husband died just before Christmas, so there’s an underlying sense of loss, but
generally I’m very content.

— Tell me something about the place you were born.
I was born in Hereford, a small city close to the Welsh border in the west of England. My
father was a village teacher and we always lived in rural places.

— What are you reading now?
A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson, translated from Swedish.

— Have you ever destroyed your works?
I’ve cut characters and scenes from work in progress to let light and space into the story.

— What were you doing an hour ago?

— Do you think you could live in the Communist China?
I could live anywhere if I had to.

— What is “hell” for you?
A crowded shopping centre just before Christmas.

— Are your works expressing some kind of an ending?
There’s usually a sense of hope at the end of my books, of order restored.

— Do words without meaning actually exist?
There are nonsense words, created by babies, but I’m sure they have meaning to the

— Are we living already in “the future of loneliness”?
I’m not quite sure what this means.

— What objects would you collect in a secret archive?
I don’t collect at all. Most objects don’t interest me.

— What is the last subject from the mass-media that preoccupied you more than one
I listen to the BBC talk radio most of the day when I’m not writing. I’m a news junkie.

— Which one is more trustworthy: the collective intelligence, the intelligentsia or the
private individual?
We should trust our own judgement after listening to a range of opinions. It’s too easy only
to listen to people who share our own views.

— Can you name three historical events you’d wish you’d been part of?

— What comes into your mind when you hear about “human rights”?
The necessity of giving dignity to people different from ourselves.

— They say we die all the time. Every time we don’t feel a thing, every time we do not
discover anything, or when we repeat something mecanically. Others are waiting eagerly for their death. What’s your relationship with death?
It’s the last big adventure.

— What significant progress you notice from cave life to the present?
Wonderful food. I love to eat and a caveman’s diet would be very limited.

— What is rationality’s purpose?
To balance the impulse of emotion.

— For a writer the act of seeing can be in itself an act of creation?
Of course.

— What takes your breath away?
The view as I drive to my cottage in Northumberland. A huge sky and hills spread all the
way to the horizon.

— Of what importance are men in your life?
Now, after the death of my husband, they are my friends. I value the friendship of my male
friends immensely.

— Do you listen to music when you write, or do you prefer total silence?

— The illusion you refuse to confront with reality?
That one day I’ll be physically fit.

— Is there anyone you regret you have met?

— Let’s suppose you searched for your name on Google at least once. What have you
learned about yourself from this virtual voyage and what memory has Google kept about you?
I have never searched my name on Google.

— How do you comment this Gilles Deleuze’s quote from his conference “Que-est ce que
l’acte de creation?” (1987): “A work of art is not an instrument of communication. The work of art has nothing to do with communication.”
That it’s nonsense. Art has everything to do with communication.

— Do you believe in life after death?
No, though it would be interesting to be proved wrong.

— What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you?
Becoming a successful writer.

— What do you fear most?
Losing my sanity.

— The thing you’re looking for, but still haven’t found it?
The ability to sleep as soon as I go to bed.

— A question for posterity?
I’m a writer of popular fiction. I’ll leave posterity for other people and concentrate on telling the best stories I can.


Ann Cleeves’ books have been translated into twenty languages. She’s a bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany. Her novels sell widely and to critical acclaim in the United States. Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden in 2007. Eight series of Vera, the ITV adaptation starring Brenda Blethyn, have been shown in the UK and worldwide; there have also been four series of Shetland, based on the characters and settings of her Shetland novels. Both are currently filming for the next series.

In the autumn of 2016, Ann celebrated the publication of 30 books in 30 years. Her latest book is Wild Fire, the eighth and last of her Shetland mysteries featuring Jimmy Perez; her most recent novel about Vera Stanhope is The Seagull. On 26 October 2017, Ann Cleeves was presented with the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour in British crime writing, at the CWA’s Dagger Awards ceremony in London.



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