Ann Cleeves, 57, is an award-winning crime writer based in North Tyneside. In 2006 she won the inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger for her novel Raven Black, the first book in her Shetland Quartet featuring DI Jimmy Perez.
But it is her novels starring the curmudgeonly DI Vera Stanhope that have helped turn Ann into a household name. Picked up by ITV, the first series of Vera screened over four weeks from Easter 2011 attracted an average 6.6m viewers, and helped put Northumberland, where it is set and filmed, firmly on the national radar.
The second series of the flagship crime drama starring the twice Oscar nominated actress Brenda Blethyn as Vera, began on April 22 on ITV1 and runs for four weeks.
Scores of locations from across Northumberland and Tyneside will feature in the new series, including Rothbury, Tynemouth, Dunstanburgh Castle, Blyth, the Breamish Valley in the Cheviots, Corbridge in the Tyne Valley and the former Swan Hunter Shipyard at Wallsend.
Asked who her crabby and shambolic Northumberland detective is based on, Ann says: “Vera is a conglomeration of all those women I once knew. I imagine her coming from somewhere like Rothbury or Wooler.” Here are Ann’s best kept secrets – the places one must see and visit in Northumberland.
Briefly outline what your business/organisation is: I’ve been a crime writer for 25 years, the last 20 with publisher Pan Macmillan. At present I write two series – one set in Shetland and the Vera Stanhope books set in Northumberland. These have been adapted for ITV starring Brenda Blethyn and a new series begins at the end of April.
How long have you lived/worked/visited in Northumberland?: We moved to Northumberland in 1987, but in 2006 moved south of the border into North Tyneside.
What is it about the county that appeals to you?: Everything! The space and the variety of the landscape. For a writer it has every possible backdrop I could need. Rural towns, post-industrial communities and almost complete wilderness. That provides a brilliant texture for the books.
What’s your favourite Northumberland/Borders beauty spot?: I love Winter’s Gibbet on the edge of Harwood Forest in Northumberland. There’s that view north and west over some of the most beautiful countryside in the county, but also the macabre touch of the gibbet – if the skull hasn’t been stolen.
Tell us about your favourite walk?: The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle. Magnificent in any weather.
The list of places to visit is endless. But some are more special than others. A trip to Northumberland/the Borders wouldn’t be complete without . . .: A Billy Shiels boat trip to the Farnes, the best place in the UK to get up close and personal with puffins. And spending a tide on Holy Island. It’s so much nicer when all the other trippers have gone.
Why is locally produced Northumbrian/Borders food the best?: Because of the variety of the landscape again. So we have fish and shell fish, local cheese, great lamb, and a tradition of making very good beer. I did a book launch in London last year and we took down Northumberland Cheese Company cheese, Wylam Beer and gin and Fentiman’s mixers. The press raved about it.
Do you have a preferred place to eat out in the county and why?: We don’t eat out much in the evening but I’ve spent a bit of time in Amble researching a new book and the fish and chips there are absolutely wonderful. There’s also a lovely coffee shop and ice cream parlour called Spurreli.
Northumbrians and people from The Scottish Borders are renowned for the warm welcome they offer holidaymakers and day trippers alike. What do you think is the secret ingredient for this friendliness?: A genuine interest in other people. Perhaps because we’re not yet over-run with tourists.
Coast or country, and specifically which part?: Coast and Howick Haven in north Northumberland –we used to take the kids there for picnics.
Your favourite market town and why?: Morpeth, just because I know it better than any of the others.
And the best road to take a leisurely and scenic drive along?: There’s that drive east from Rothbury and over Alnwick Moor on the B6341. Suddenly there’s a rise in the land and you can see the sea and the town of Alnmouth in the distance.
What would be your perfect day out in Northumberland and The Scottish Borders?: A drive up the coast visiting Druridge Bay, coffee in Warkworth and then a picnic from the Craster smokehouse at Dunstanburgh followed by a night’s stay on Holy Island with an early morning walk out to Emmanuel Head.
Category: Northumberland Best Kept Secrets