As I mentioned the other day, I've invited Ann Cleeves to contribute a post about her new novel. And here it is.
'I first went to Shetland more than 30 years ago. I’d dropped out of university and was offered a temporary job as assistant cook in Fair Isle bird observatory. At that point I wasn’t even sure where Fair Isle was. In fact, it’s Britain’s most remote inhabited island and part of the Shetland group, which is closer to Bergen in Norway than London. Fair Isle is a long way from anywhere – 13 hours overnight by boat from Aberdeen to Shetland mainland and then three hours by mail boat into the Isle.
So I arrived on a stormy spring afternoon to be assistant cook in the bird observatory on Fair Isle, knowing nothing about birds and not being able to cook! I was twenty years old and looking for adventure. That summer changed my life. I met my husband there. I had the space and the time to read more widely than ever before. And I learned to cook. The next year I went back – only this time I was in charge of the kitchen.
Fair Isle is three and a half miles long and a mile and a half wide. It has a permanent population of about 50 people, an airstrip, a natural harbour and a hill covered with heather. The cliffs provide homes for puffins, kittiwakes and gannets. Because of its position it attracts rare birds from east and west. The people live in a scattering of croft houses in the south of the island and are warm and welcoming to incomers. I spent my time off in gossip and listening to stories. I learned to hand milk a cow, clip a sheep and even to knit – never did quite get the hang of the intricate steps of the dances though!
In Blue Lightning, the fourth book in the Shetland quartet, I go back to Fair Isle, where my passion for the islands started. I found it a remarkably easy book to write, because the landscape of the island is fixed in my imagination. I’ve created a fictional field centre in the lighthouse and one of my characters is the cook there. The autumn gales mean that no planes or boats can reach the place, and when a body is found, Jimmy Perez, on holiday with his parents, has to work the case without any technical support. I wanted a dramatic climax to the series and I hope I achieved that.
Will I return to Shetland in my writing now that the quartet is complete? There’ll be a gap certainly because I want to concentrate on Vera Stanhope for a while. But Shetland is such a special place that I’ll certainly be back.'