Charlotte Baker: Carving Out Success in Crime Writing-the Works of Ann Cleeves
So far, we’ve had a guest blog with Sarah Ward on writing compelling crime fiction, we’ve addressed the mysterious life of Agatha Christie, and the curious methods of Arthur Conan Doyle. Today’s blog brings us back to modern day crime writing, with the success of Ann Cleeves. Her famous The Shetland Island and Vera Stanhope series have been successfully adapted for television, Shetland (BBC) and Vera (ITV), running into seasons five and ten respectively.
The settings in Cleeves’ work are so individually enticing and yet haunting too. The terrain is written about as being as dangerous as it is beautiful. In an interview with Literary Hub in 2016, Cleeves said that Northumberland was an effective place to create a crime story: “It’s full of all sorts of different people and very close communities. There are still villages where parents and grandparents and great-grandparents all live within a stone’s throw of each other… those small communities where everybody knows each other’s business, the twitching curtains and the secrets.” There’s something systemic about a location and the stories it has to tell which evokes genuine curiosity in all of us.
The characterisation within Cleeves’ work is polished and vivid. With regards to her thoughts on Vera’s character, Cleeves stated: “I think she comes very much from the women that I grew up with…I mean, I didn’t think that as I wrote the books—I don’t plot or plan my novels, and I don’t really think very much before I start writing. But looking back, I see something familiar.” (Literary Hub, 2016). While the observation from real life in the formation of Vera’s character is important, that component of observation is crucial to the overall emotional impact of the story. Detail will create that setting so clearly, it will paint those characters so intimately and it will tell those stories through a lens so clear you feel as if you’re watching it play out through a window pane.
Another key piece of advice from Cleeves is that every writer should read extensively. Reading the work of others not only introduces you to new characters, settings, and stories; the more technical aspects of writing can also be learned. This could include new approaches to structuring a novel, how to best weave subplots through the story, or how to build a believable character arc. Equally, if you are interested in being a genre writer, in whichever genre that maybe (for example, crime, horror, fantasy, romance), it is necessary to know the trends of that current competitors in order to understand how, where and why your work fits in within the larger market.
Charlotte Baker is the author of the Valor Diamond series. Book One: The Rhyme of Retribution Killer is available in paperback and as an ebook. Book Two: Let the Dust Fall is available for preorder.