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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Creating a Text – Ann Cleeves

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

A moment of inspiration followed by a number of phases, of new perspectives on what the point of the book is and ideas which instigate editing and re-writes. Hard to talk about it in the abstract though, so I’ll look at my novel, Raven Black.

The moment of inspiration came after a trip to Shetland in mid-winter. We were day-tripping it – 13 hours by boat overnight, a few hours of daylight on the island and 13 hours back. It was my Christmas present to Tim. Imagine if I’d chosen something more sensible.

It was one of those cold, clear, sunny days. Snow with ice on top of it and more ice on the shore. We saw 3 ravens very black against the snow, and I thought if there was blood as well what an image that would make. Atavistic. Like a fairy story or myth. Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. That image was all I had to start with. The inspiration.

The theme developed as I started writing. I know I’ll always be an outsider in Shetland. Even if I’d stayed there when I first worked in Fair Isle 30 years ago, married a Shetlander and had kids by him, I’d still be an outsider. I was interested about what it took to belong. That seemed as relevant in multi-cultural Yorkshire as in the Northern Isles. I didn’t consciously take the decision to make Perez an outsider, but because the preoccupation was in my head that was how he turned up. The idea of making Catherine Ross my victim, an observer, a film maker came relatively late in the book. Of course all writers are observers, so outsiders.

I write traditional crime fiction because I’m not very interested in plot. The plot is given – there’s a murder, a limited number of suspects and a resolution at the end. That frees me up to concentrate on the stuff which does interest me – the development of character and relationship. Meetings with Shetlanders informed the details of plotting – learning for example that a team of detectives from the mainland would be flown in to take charge shifted the emphasis of the investigation.

Writing the ending is a phase in itself. I knew that Up Helly Aa would be in there somewhere. It’s emblematic for Shetlanders and incomers. But part of me thought it was too much of a cliche so the final scene moves out of Lerwick. The celebrations are a gaudy backdrop but not a real part of the Shetland experience.

Ann Cleeves is a novelist; her book, Raven Black won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger – which was formerly known as the Gold Dagger for Fiction – with a prize of ÂŁ20,000; her website is: Ann Cleeves.

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