ANN CLEEVES' VERA AMONG NATION’S FAVOURITE DETECTIVES - SHE GIVES ME THE BACKGROUND TO HER CREATION
Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Following the airing of ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Detective Ann Cleves tweeted ‘Wow! Vera only beaten by the creations of Conan-Doyle, Christie and Dexter as the nation's favourite detective. @BrendaBlethyn is clearly a classic.’
Vera finished at number 5 behind the likes of number 1 Sherlock Holmes, a character played by a host of actors; runner up Morse, Poirot and Miss Marple, who has too had many on screen aliases. Ahead of such as Luther, Columbo, Taggart and DI Alec Hardy & DS Ellie Miller from Broadchurch.
There was exciting news for Vera fans last week with the reveal that production on the hit drama's 11th series will get going later this year after being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
New episodes are expected to air on ITV next year.
Vera was first broadcast on ITV on 1 May 2011, and to date, ten series have aired, with the latest debuting on 12 January 2020. The series stars Brenda Blethyn as the principal character, Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. Vera is a nearly retired employee of the fictional 'Northumberland & City Police', who is obsessive about her work and driven by her own demons. She plods along in a constantly dishevelled state, but has a calculating mind and, despite her irascible personality, she cares deeply about her work and colleagues.
Ann told me how her creation became an iconic TV detective series, ‘Vera came about just by chance really, somebody went into an Oxfam shop, wanted a book to read a book on the plane for their holiday and picked up The Crow Trap, which is the first of the Vera books, and that person was Elaine Collins who was the ITV books executive and went on to produce Vera as executive producer. She optioned Shetland when they became available. She is now Creative Director at the BBC. So, all because she chose a book to go on holiday – just luck really.’
I asked Ann if when giving birth to Vera was she intentionally looking to create a strong middle-aged female central character or was she developed out of plots she had devised?’
‘I was a bit stuck. I was writing a book that wasn’t going to have a detective in it at all. It was a stand-alone novel about psychological suspense, about three women who were undertaking an environmental survey up in the hills, quite atmospheric and looking at the action from each of their perspectives. I got a bit stuck and just to free up the action really, I had a door open. It’s a technique that Raymond Chandler advises. A story when a door bursts open and a guy comes through with a gun. I don’t really do guns but I was writing a funeral scene and I thought I’ll see who comes in next so I had the door open and Vera came in more or less fully formed; one of those magic moments that happens occasionally when you are writing. In just liked her very much and that she wasn’t young and beautiful, but she was a spinster I suppose. Spinsters are derided in fiction. I was born in the mid-fifties and there were quite a lot of strong spinsters who had come into their own during the war, taught Sunday school or who were hospital matrons or librarians and Vera is very much based on those women.’
Ann went on to tell me about how influenced she is by where her and her family live.
‘I live now in North East England, Tyneside and that is where the Vera stories are set. It is where the series is filmed, which is terrific. I love it here. I am a Geordie by choice not by birth. I am passionate about North East England; I love the Variety of landscapes that I can use in the books. We have a wonderful coastline and uplands. We have got a post-industrial landscape as well. It was very important to me that the production team use the old Swann Hunter Ship Yards offices as their production office for the Vera series; that was brilliant to see life coming back to a building on the Tyne that had been empty for a while. We are not making much up here anymore; we do have some manufacturing industry, but we are very good at making art and making films. We have a fantastic cultural centre here in Newcastle.’
Ann’s latest, The Darkest Evening (Vera Stanhope) Hardcover published 3 Sept. 2020.