Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Men in Black 3 film review

We went to our good friend J & Ls this weekend and we had a delicious home-made meal of shortcrust pastry parcels with carrots, potatoes and caramelised onion, rabbit and orange pasta and chocolate and marshmallow sponge.  Following this we watched the movie Men in Black 3.

I loved the first movie, but was disappointed with the second.  I would say that the third is better than the second but not as good as the first.  The premise is that the alien Boris the Animal escapes from jail on the moon and travels back in time to the 60s to kill Agent K before he arrests him.  Agent J (Will Smith) needs to travel back to the 60s to save the life of his partner Agent K (the excellent Tommy Lee Jones) in the present.  Back in the 60s Agent Ks role is played by Josh Brolin who nails Tommy Lee Jones so perfectly that you do not even question it - in fact you wish for a sequel that contains Brolin as K and another agent.

With little twists that involve Emma Thompson as a love interest and Agent Js dad's backstory, the film ties up some loose ends that were there in the other movies, but some of the in-jokes are contained in the background of the headquarters where aliens like 'Lady GaGa' are seen on the screens. 

All in all a good movie for the franchise, but not the best.  7/10

Monday, 24 September 2012

Regional Read event

New Writing North have launched their Regional Read event and the details are as follows:

Mari Hann reads from her new novel at 10am on 2 October.  For full details email

Fiona Shaw reads from her new novel at 2pm in 10 October.  For full details email

Alison Gangel reads from her new novel 'The sun hasn't fallen from the sky' at 2pm on 12 October.  For full details email Margaret Simpson as above.

Pauline Plummer reader from her new novel at 11am on 13 October as part of the Sheffield Off the Shelf Festival

Annabel Pitcher at the Cuckoo Young Writers Q&A at 11am on 28 October tickes £4

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Just got back from Laserzone at Junction 32 Castleford and it was so much fun.  I've never been to one before and although am quite a good shot when at Master at Arms, it is a quite different prospect shooting whilst moving and being pursued by others.  We took my son L, his sister G and a few of his friends Lm, S and J as a treat and because a couple of the boys he invited could not come, G and I took the spare places.

It was very hot in there and I have to admit I was quite daunted by the thought of trying to shoot small children (even if it was just with a laser), but after several aggressive groups of them pursued me and shouted 'hah' with glee after getting me, I kind of lost my inhibitions.

We had two games and we were the yellow team.  We had to destroy the other bases of the red and blue teams and shoot anyone that wasn't on the yellow team.  We had two games and were issued with callsigns before beginning (L was Hazard, G was Magnet, Lm was Electro, S was Zap, J was Thunder and I was Shortout).  The yellow team won both games and Lm as Electro was first in both of them!  In the first game I came 12th out of 30 and the second, 5th out of 19.  In the first game, individually the boys Electro, Thunder and Hazard were the top 3 players and our individual team came 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th in the second.  Will definitely be going again.

I would also like to send out a big CONGRATULATIONS to my friend Ian Humphreys, whose short story has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.  Fantastic news for a writer who thoroughly deserves it.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Rites - Sophie Coulombeau

Just finished this book that I bought at the new author event in Hebden Bridge.  As you will no doubt recall, I met Sophie at this event (along with Ros Barber and the other featured authors) so got my book signed on the night.

'Rites' is the story of an event and the investigation into it.  The main protagonist Damien (Day) Brady is not very likeable, but is he guilty?  The events are recounted through the recollections of differing characters whose skewed opinions lead to the intrigue, who is telling the truth and who's fault is it?

A masterclass in telling, not showing

As Day's character says on page 103 of 'Rites':

'You remember that English teacher I told you about?  He had a mantra that he'd bellow at us as a supposed aid for our trite creative writing assignments.  It was Show, Don't Tell.  This little mantra has, they tell me, during the last few decades been all the rage at the various costly writing courses that have sprung up in our illustrious nation.  The idea being, I believe, that it is somehow more noble, somehow more generous on the author's part , to allow the reader imaginative space and freedom to construct their own story from a bare framework of factual, sparsely reported events.  The author, current vogue in the literary world dictates, should never preseume to tell the reader anything.  It's up to the reader, the mighty reader with their Waterstones-friendly buck, to decide what they think happened.  The author a la mode is merely there to, I don't know, get them thinking, I suppose.'

Sophie takes this to the extreme in that the reader finds themselves desperate for the 'event' to happen so that they can pick through the evidence to find the truth and that when it does, even from several eyewitness accounts, the truth says more about the morals of the reader than any of the characters.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Premium Rush film review

Yesterday, my friend B and I went to see this movie at the Odeon L/B and wow, what a movie.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Third Rock from the Sun) stars as Wilee, a Manhattan bike messenger who's package is wanted by a dirty cop.  Thus ensues a dangerous, adrenaline fuelled pursuit through the streets, while Wilee uses his many skills (and his no brake and gears bike) to try to get the package to its intended destination.  Add to this the underbelly of loan sharks, gambling dens and his fellow messengers and the movie is a non-stop, edge of your seat ride.  Dania Ramirez (Heroes, X-Men The Last Stand) as his girlfriend Vanessa and Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Vanilla Sky) as the corrupt cop are excellent, but do not shine as brightly as the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  The sub-plots of Vanessa's flatmate (an engaging Kym Perfetto) and Manny (played to a brilliantly annoying level by Wole Parks) cause an excellent mixture of tear-jerking and humour and I especially loved the 'what might happen if I take this route' playouts.  A fantastic ride.

Unstoppable for push bikes     10/10

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

John Connolly author talk

Attended the John Connolly crime thriller author talk at Cleckheaton Town Hall last night with fellow CWG members D, N and P.  Tickets were a bargain price of £2 and John was an extremely personable and entertaining man.  John is most famous for his Charlie Parker novels and his new book is 'The Wrath of Angels.'  He jokingly said that he doesn't write about the Irish as they are not very good at crime and gave the story of the Brinks Matt robbers the McGuinness gang.  They stole 2.2 million but wanting sandwiches and drinks, they stole an unattended lawnmower in Boston and were pulled over by the police for that crime and the masks etc. were in the car.  He also used a botched hijacking story and The Crow Trial where the suspect indicted himself when told he was collared by an eye witness and replied "no-one saw me because I had a balaclava on," to further bring home his point, to much laughter.

He informed the audience that he loves and devours American crime fiction.  He then told us of a job he had in Maine in hurricane season where the 'snow seasoners' didn't want to evacuate so they had a staff meeting in the ballroom (where they were taping up the windows) and the 'snow seasoners' were served dinner while the storm raged on around them.

John believes that there are two journeys: internal - why people do the things they do, against a physical backdrop - and external.  Thrillers range and crime novels are contained.  He thinks that James E Burke is the greatest living crime writer, who sets his novels in Louisiana with its constant heat, decay and growth and his theme is corruption of the soul.  Location and landscape become very important.  Readers read crime fiction based on characters, so he believes readers are not loyal to the writer, just to the character.  John loved Ed McBain who wrote novels for 50 years and he thinks that the plots of the novels blur, but you remember the time you spent with the character.  Authors can get away with writing bad books, so long as the character is good, though what is good commercially is not necessarily what is good for your writing.

He stressed that libraries are very important, even more so in a recession when the government are trying to close them.  Time is the currency for readers - do not waste the readers time.  He sometimes blames himself when he can't finish a book, but sometimes, they are just bad books.  Writers should do it for the right reasons, not just for the money.

'All writers are readers first.'   John Connolly

Crime fiction is about empathy.  Agatha Christie novels have body counts that are people who are basically not very nice - they were asking for it!  British writers have never done amateur detectives.  The novel came of age in California, the private eye novel in the 20s and it was just an extension of the Western, i.e. one person standing up against the system. 

So many crime novels come off the shelves when the authors die and he thinks this is a great shame.  If you ask crime writers to pick one book, which one would they pick?  'Books to die for' is the answer.  It is the book John Connolly and Declan Burke compiled of crime writers favourites, though not all the compilers stuck to their deadlines. 

'I love the sound of deadlines as they whisk by.' Douglas Adams, Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy

John's own favourite is 'The Black Echo' by Michael Connolly and most writers asked to do Josephine Tey 'The Daughter of Time' which is a mixture of fiction and fact about the hatchet job done on Richard III - what happens if you fictionalise an important event in history.  John is not sure about e-publishing as it has been hijacked by self-publishers, but hopes that Ebooks will rescue out of print writers as there are writers that should not be forgotten.

Truman Capote - the man who invented the non-fiction crime novel

Asked which of his novels one should start with, John said that writers hope that they are getting better not worse, but answered 'The Unquiet,' 'The Burning Soul' and 'The Book of Lost Things.'

Asked whether he knows what the conclusion to his background arc is, he admitted that he doesn't know what it is when he starts, but he does now.  He believes first writers put everything in their first novel because they are worried they'll never get published again.

When asked if he is influenced by Neil Gaiman's 'American God's' he answered no, but admitted he likes 'Corraline.'

No-one steals our ideas, we all draw from the same ether but we put our own stamp on it

John feels that Noir is a stylistic device from the cinema and in noir, there is more shadown than light and it always ends in the shadow.  He also feels that most criminals are dumb, but crime fiction criminals are not the way they really are - no-one would want to read a character like Fred West or Jeffrey Dahmer.  Policemen tend to be quite helpful and full of stories and they want you to get things right, so you can get excellent stamps of realism, such as how medical examiners keep slivers of bodies in tight sealed containers that sometimes still have their original labels on - like the supermarket from hell.

John writes without a plot in mind.  He has a vague over-arching idea and he'll know the opening scene of the book and write the first chapter.  He will write 1,000 words a day and when he is two thirds of a way through, he knows what the ending is.  Not like Jeff Deaver who writes 70,000 word outlines or James E Burke who finishes one novel on a Thursday evening and starts the next on a Friday morning.

Every book John has written, he has wanted to throw it away after the first 20-40,000 words and then he gets the siren call of the new idea and has wanted to move onto another thing, but

Writers are people who finish books

He has had one short story made into a film starring Kevin Costner, made by the same company who made Lord of the Rings.  A short story to film will expand and with a novel they will take so much out that they will pay writers to go away!  Film is a collaborative endeavour.  If you sell a series you need to be very, very sure.  It can get you more readership, but most writers will come out of it a little bit unhappy. 

John believes all writers secretly think their characters look a bit like them, but taller.

John then signed copies of his books and informed N and I that most publishers want to publish new books, so we must finish our novels and persevere as it took him five years to get published.

All writers are products of writers they have read.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Took my son (and family of course) for a birthday treat to the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden yesterday and we had a fantastic time.  We are a huge 'Harry Potter fan' family and we were anticipating great things, but even we had to say it was more amazing than even we thought it would be.  The information on all the films is staggering and the work that went into things from hand-made letters to a beautiful model of the castle was awe-inspiring.  Thank goodness the sets, props and plans were all kept for us, the fans, to enjoy.  Our favourite bit was the castle, but the wand room, the sets of the common room, dumbledore's office etc. were just as fascinating and the staff were on hand to tell us anything we needed to know - the man in the wand room knew just where to find any wand you wanted, even though there was a wand for every person who worked on all of the films from the canteen staff to the most obscure actor.  It was amazing to think that there was a national bead shortage thanks to the house system counter that was made for the film (see picture below) and that the most expensive prop ever made was the telescope in Dumbledore's Office and it only had mere seconds viewing time on the films. 

I cannot recommend a visit highly enough as I believe everyone, Harry Potter fan or not, should visit this incredible British attraction because you do not need to be a fan to appreciate the drawings, the scale models, the clothing (I could go on and on) that were a part of this massive franchise.  Here are a few of my photos so you can get an idea for yourself:                                                       10/10



'No story lives unless someone wants to listen' J K Rowling



Thursday, 13 September 2012

NAWE Writers & Residencies Event

Just received the following information from NAWE:

A new Professional Development Programme is currently being planned and we are pleased to announce the first event:

Writers and Residencies: Saturday 20 October, 2012, 10.30am to 4pm.

This is a one-day workshop run by Anne Caldwell & Jonathan Davidson, with guest speaker Sarah Butler. Venue: The Writers’ Room, Millburn House, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL. Full details are available at:

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Sunny day in Haworth

On Sunday we went to Haworth for a lovely walk in the sunshine through this gorgeous village, the heart of Bronte country.  We had a leisurely stroll through the cobbled main street, stopping off for a cream tea along the way, wandering through the graveyard of the historic church, before ending up at the Museum.  We were very lucky with the weather, but not so much with the church which was covered in scaffolding and therefore closed to entrants.  I purchased 'Agnes Grey' by Anne Bronte from the Museum shop and I am looking forward to reading it.  I recently visited Anne's grave in Scarborough (she had tb and had gone to the coast for the 'medicinal air' to alleviate her symptoms) on my way to taking the children to the Castle, so was aware that she did not share the crypt in Haworth Church with her other family members.  Anne was the youngest of the three siblings and sadly died aged 29 in Scarborough where she had spent many summer vacations.

We are so lucky to have such fantastic literary history within our gorgeous Yorkshire countryside and I thought I would share some of my photographs with my followers:

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sense of Place Events & 'Before the Poison' review

Anna Turner has forwarded me the following information (there are still places left):

Sunday 23th September
A Laureate's Landscape
10:45am – 2.15pm
Start/venue: War memorial gardens, Mytholmroyd (on A646 at centre of village)
Duration: 3 hours  Distance: 4.5 miles  Grading: Medium

Literary Walk with John Billingsley. Some steep slopes, rough moorland and footpaths. Interspersed with readings from Hughes’ work. Reasonable hill fitness and all-weather clothing essential. Bring a packed lunch. Finishes with refreshments at Ted Hughes’ birthplace in Mytholmroyd.

Host organisation: The Elmet Trust
followed by:

Sense of Place Writing Workshop
at Ted Hughes’ Birthplace - 1 Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd HX7 5NL
3pm – 5pm

A two hour creative writing workshop where we will use inspiration from Ted Hughes' landscape to create new writing.

To book: email or telephone 01422 392606
Host organisation: The Elmet Trust

Laureate’s Landscape Walk only - £4      Sense of Place Workshop only - £6      
Walk and Workshop - £9

 Saturday 15th September
Footprints on the Land
Bracken Hall Countryside Centre, Baildon
1pm – 4pm

A free drop-in family workshop exploring ways that our feet mark the landscape. Join writer Anna Turner, Writer-in Residence for the Watershed Landscape Project,  to make footprint paths and mark them with words. The workshop will take place in the garden of Bracken Hall Countryside Centre. Families will have the opportunity to take self led walks in the landscape over Shipley Glen or walk to Bracken Hall Countryside Centre from Saltaire railway station. Contact leader:  01422 392606

Host organisation: Pennine Prospects


Recently finished reading 'Before the Poison' the book I got signed by Peter Robinson at the Crime Event in York.  I was intrigued by the story, as it is a stand-alone novel in that DCI Alan Banks does not appear in it and the premise is pretty much a ghost story without a ghost.  After the recent death of his wife, Chris Lowndes, hollywood film music composer moves back to Yorkshire where he becomes intrigued in the history of his new house.  A previous owner was convicted and hanged for poisoning her husband in it and he becomes obsessed with finding out if she did indeed do it.  I thoroughly enjoyed the history contained within the novel and there were a couple of twists but I expected more from the 'ghost' and a firmer resolution.  I would however still recommend it as an intriguing read.  7/10

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ilkley Literature Festival

The Ilkley Literature Festival runs from the 28th of September to the 14th of October and I thought I would share with you the details of some of the events which might be of interest.


2012 Festival Exhibition: Narrative
The Nature of the Book
Saturday 29 September - Sunday 25 November
Manor House Museum FREE

Ilkley Art Trail
Ways of Seeing
Saturday 6 - Sunday 14 October

Crime and Curry Supper with Ann Cleeves
Crime and the City
Wednesday 19 September
The Wheatley Arms 7pm for 7.30-9.30pm


Sadly quite a lot of the Masterclass events are already sold out but there are still some tickets for other events:

Saturday 29 September

Narrative Exhibition: Curator's Talk
Ways of Seeing
Manor House 1-2pm

Fragmented Stories: Workshop with Seni Seneviratne
Manor House 2-5pm

Sunday 30 September

Jake Arnott Masterclass Story: What It Is And How To Find One
Crime and the City
Manor House 1.30-3.30pm

Books v Kindles: the debate
The Nature of the Book
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 4-5pm

Bringing the Story to e-book: Steve Dearden & Andrew Wilson
The Nature of the Book
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 5-5.30pm

Monday 1 October

Red Laal: M. Y. Alam
Crime and the City
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 7.30-8.30pm

You Should've Seen Us: Ian McMillan & Paul Mills
Ways of Seeing
All Saints Church 7.30-9.30pm

Tuesday 2 October

Dark Winter, Cold Season: David Mark & Alison Littlewood
Crime and the City
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 7.45-8.45pm

The Humber Beat
Crime and the City
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 9-10pm

Wednesday 3 October

Bonnie Greer & Margaret Busby in Conversation: SI Leeds Literary Prize 2012
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 7.30-8.30pm

Thursday 4 October NATIONAL POETRY DAY

Poetry Alive! Open Mic & Networking Event
Ilkley Moor Vaults 2-4.30pm

The Heart of It: Seni Seneviratne & Mimi Khalvati Reading
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 7.30-8.30pm

Friday 5 October

Mimi Khalvati: Masterclass
Rombalds Hotel 10.30-12.30pm

Saturday 6 October

Unbounded Moor: Symposium with Simon Armitage
Words, Land and Landscape
West Lane Baptist Centre 10-4pm

Sunday 7 October

Daljit Nagra Masterclass: Joyous Poetry
Rombalds Hotel 11-1pm

Raman Mundair Masterclass
Craiglands 11-1pm

Up Beat and Down Dale: Mike Pannett
Crime and the City
Craiglands 4-5pm

Monday 8 October

The Early Work of David Hockney: Christopher Sykes
Ways of Seeing
Ilkley Playhouse Wharfeside 7.30-8.30pm

Friday 12 October

Persephone Books with Nicola Beauman
Clarke Foley Centre 7.30-8.30pm

Saturday 13 October

Patience Agbabi Masterclass: Sugar & Spice
Manor Houose 2-4pm

Sunday 14 October

Festival Open Mic
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman 8.30-10pm

For full programme details and how to book see

Friday, 7 September 2012

Hebden Bridge Writers Events - September

Anna Turner has forwarded me the information on the following two events:

Sunday 9 September

Hebden Bridge Library



11am – 1pm

What on earth is a Writer-in-Residence?

And how can you become one?!

This 2-hour workshop is for writers with some published credits who want to find out about the strange world of being a writer-in-residence.   Char March is a local award-winning poet, playwright and fiction writer, and has been writer-in-residence for a wide range of organisations including:  Leeds Hospitals;  Ty Newydd (the National Writers’ Centre for Wales);  The Watershed Landscape Project (based on the Pennine moors);  Hull University Business School;  and she is currently negotiating three more writer-in-residence contracts.

Char will take you through the benefits and pitfalls of being a writer-in-residence, and a series of exercises designed to help you find out what makes you tick as a writer, and prepare you for grabbing the next writer-in-residence that comes along!

For more info on Char and her work:


£6 payable on the day - Please email to reserve a place

Walking Words - Feeling the Landscape

Saturday 29 September

An early morning workshop giving you the opportunity to work on an alternative walking guide with Anna Turner the Watershed Landscape writer in residence.  Anna will help you bring the local landscape into your writing and leave a legacy of your own walk.
Please come prepared for a 3 - 4 mile walk followed by breakfast and a writing workshop with Anna Turner.
Location: Gibson Mill, Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge
Time: 7.30am – 12.30 pm
Booking essential as places are limited: £10 (includes breakfast).
Tickets are available from
Hebden Bridge Visitor & Canal Centre,
Butler's Wharf,
New Road,
Hebden Bridge, HX7 8AF. 
Tel:  01422 843831. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Holiday at Hexham

We recently returned from a lovely break at Hexham where we were very lucky with the weather (only one day out of five had rain) and we managed to fit a lot in to a short time.  On the Monday we went to the Chesters Roman Fort near Hadrians Wall.  On Tuesday we went to Alnwick Castle (the one featured in the Harry Potter movies, which excited my children no end) where we had a fantastic day exploring and learning to fly on broomsticks!  The Wednesday was the full day of rain so we went bowling and had a Harry Potter movie marathon.  Thursday we went to Hexham Old Gaol and Moot Hall, including a beautiful textile exhibition at the Hall which my daughter found particularly inspiring.  On our final day we went to Hexham Abbey which is stunning and we cannot wait to book to stay again.  The countryside is so beautiful and we were lucky that there was a gorgeous woodland walk right next to where we were staying.  I thought I would share some of my photos of the trips:

I would also like to say a quick thank-you to Nicola Morgan for her blog Help I Need A Publisher that is now officially closed.  The help and advice that she gave on this blog was invaluable to writers and I wish her well in the future and the very best of luck with all her endeavours.  The blog posts will still be available to look at on the site, but there will be no more posts from her.  You can still follow her on twitter @nicolamorgan, on Facebook and at Crabbit At Home.  I highly recommend you check these out and her many published works on helping the writer such as 'Write to be Published' (which I am reading at the moment), 'Dear Agent' and 'Write a Great Synopsis.'

Monday, 3 September 2012

Cleckheaton Writers Group

Attended the CWG this evening with all members in attendance and it was a very productive meeting.  First we discussed the Ilkley Literature Festival and the dates of the CWG until the end of the year.  Then D told us all about the RL Royle writing workshop she attended as part of the Brighouse Literature Festival (full details of which can be found on her blog 'The Wandering Wordsmith') and we were very motivated to hear that RL Royle believes that a published author is a writer who has confidence. self-belief and would not give up.  I then fed back on the details of the 7Arts creative writing workshop and the Ann Cleeves Literary Evening (details of which can be found on previous blog postings).  I then shared my children's picture book story 'I Don't Need A Bath' and received some very useful feedback.  P shared her excellent poem 'Never Assume' but sadly we did not have time to read D's pre-scene to SC, so she agreed to forward this to the members for feedback.  I can't wait to read it.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Batman The Dark Knight Rises Review

This was the final film in the franchise and it did not disappoint.  Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Fighter) was back to his dark and troubled best and the 'bat equipment' SFX excelled.  Anne Hathaway (Devil Wears Prada, Ella Enchanted) was brilliant as Catwoman and Tom Hardy (Inception, This Means War) was a seriously-bulked-up baddie.  Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Harry Potter) is always my favourite and he played Commissioner Gordon, with his guilt-ridden backstory, to perfection.  The film rounded off the trilogy really well and set it up nicely for The Justice League - Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 3rd Rock from the Sun) as Blake was exceptional.  The plot had a couple of believable twists and a plethora of actors that enabled me to play my favourite movie/tv game of 'Where have we seen them before?'  Obviously the main characters were easy, but some of the lesser parts were great fun.  Matthew Modine as Foley (Memphis Belle, Full Metal Jacket) was quite hard to get, as was Josh Stewart as Barsad (No Ordinary Family) but I was very pleased with myself when I got Cillian Murphy as Dr Jonathon Crane/Scarecrow (Inception, In Time) and Burn Gorman as Stryver who was Owen Harper in Torchwood.  I wonder if any of my followers ever play that game when watching tv programmes and movies?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Ann Cleeves Literary Evening

Attended this event last night at Brighouse Library with my fellow CWG member N.  Ann Cleeves bagged the much desired Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for best crime novel and now has a successful TV series in Vera, so we were very interested to see what information she might have for the aspiring crime writer.

Ann started by telling the group that a new series of Vera (the third) begins filming on Monday and it will be broadcast next year.  She informed us that she had been milling about as a mid-list author (according to her, publisher-speak for bottom of the heap) for many years selling and getting into libraries, but not enough to give up the day job, when in 1989 her agent and publisher asked her to write a big stand-alone psychological novel.  So she wrote about three women alone in the hills doing an environmental impact study (her husband has knowledge of this in his work) from a small cottage.

She told the gathering that she never plots in advance (music to my ears, as that is how I normally work) and that she was stuck in this novel and she thought a door should open and see who comes through it, to go on with the writing.  It was during a funeral scene in a small church in the hills, when the door opens and in blows Vera Stanhope, more bag lady than detective.  She had not planned her, but she liked her, so she stayed.  Her agent and editor liked it and saw 'The Crow trap' as her breakthrough novel but they forgot to put it in the catalogue and it ended up having quite a number of unsold copies (of which, more later).

Ann likes Vera because she was an antidote to the detectives that were being written about at the time (i.e. good-looking enough to get a man and fit enough to run after the criminals).  She wanted to write a protagonist that real women could identify with - middle-aged, unift and not good-looking.  Ann was born in the 50s and knew a lot of fearsome spinsters (because of the war) who didn't dress well, but they were respected because they were good at their jobs and Vera is very good at her job.  Vera came back in the book 'Telling Tales' which is set in Spurn Point.  Ann loves small, remote places and she thought a miscarriage of justice would work well in this (Ann worked as a probation officer for a while and she thinks it is hard to say you're not guilty when you are stuck in a high security prison).  Her character is accused of murdering her lovers teenage daughter and is convicted.  Thinking that her innocence will never be proven, she takes her own life only for a a witness to come forward who proves she couldn't have committed the murder.

Ann said that she is a very nosy person (most writers are) and that she knows all the conversations in a room.  She is also very curious about other people's jobs and believes it is the tiny details that bring a scene to life, i.e. when she spoke to a pilot of the ships for the novel, she told her that he learned enough Spanish and Russian to be able to be sure that the sailors of the ships were understanding the directions and that when he went aboard these ships, the sailors wanted Argos catalogues that he could swap for cheap vodka.

Ann loves hidden depths, i.e. crimes in translation like the nordic novellists because of their strong first scenes (e.g. 'Sidetracked' has the field of yellow rape and a young girl running through it, who then sets fire to herself).  She admitted that all authors nick ideas from other people and she wanted a strong first scene, so she had a recently divorced woman come back from an evening out to find her beautiful soon dead in the bath with flowers scattered around him.  Then a teaching assistant is found dead with flowers surrounding her and she has to make the connection.  She likes male friendship as an underlying thread - hidden depths.

Ann then read the beginning of 'Silent Voices.'  Ann agreed that Brenda Blethyn OBE captures Vera's mixture of malice and wit, but does not look like her, but she does wear layers and layers of clothing to look bulked up. 

She loves the idea of setting a book in a writers residential retreat (like Arvon) and when one of them dies, Vera can meet the slightly pretentious creative writing teachers.  One of the extra copies of 'The Crow Trap' was for sale in an Oxfam in Crouch End and it was bought by a woman to take and read on holiday.  The woman was Elaine Collins, book scout for tv productions and she read it and wanted to make it for tv.  Ann's daughter is friends with Ben, who kept asking if the rights to Shetland/Stanhope were available and it turned out he was Elaine's assistant.  Tv companies buy options, but many don't get made but after the option was sold, Ann was called into a meeting on the South Bank with Elaine (who she now thinks of as her fairy Godmother) , Kate Bartell and Julia Walsh of ITV.  Ann was more than keen for it to be made and she invited Paul, the scriptwriter up to Newcastle so that he could really 'get' her Vera.

Ann is really pleased with the tv series, though she thought the pilot was too dark and confusing, and she loves that the Old Swan Hunters Shipyard is used for production as it is making something again and employing a lot of local people.  Ann has a friend Helen Pepper, who is crime scene manager with County Durham police to answer questions and she and Ruth McGrath advise on the Vera show, Helen has even appeared as a CSI on one episode.  Sub-plots do get cut out because it is a 2 hour show and she feels some adaptations work better than others.  The wild swimmer episode was her favourite as she felt she projected the 'emotional drowning' of Vera and Jo's surrogate son relationship.

Ann feels that 'Raven Black' was her breakthrough book as is won the Dagger and she could give up the day job.  'Red Bones' is to be a BBC show at the end of November or beginning of December.  It will be the third book in the series, which is very different as there will be no Frances and they use the climax to 'Raven Black' in it.

Ann informed attendees that she wrote stories as a child, but never thought she'd make a living out of it, but she just loved it.  Writing is her indulgent time as she had small children when she first started.  All her novels are crime, she said she was going to write a great literary novel, but her comfort novel was crime, so she can be freed up to look at what you want to, e.g. 'Red Bones' archaelogy and the past.  She is half-way through writing a new Vera novel and there will be a quartet of Shetlands out in November.

Finally, when Ann signed our books, she advised N and I that we should just really enjoy the writing as no one ever makes money from it, it's for the love of it.