Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From the Shetland Islands to Phoenix, by Ann Cleeves

I’m very much looking forward to visiting Phoenix for Left Coast Crime in February. It’s always brilliant to spend time with other writers and readers and to share our passion for books – whether they’re old favourites or exciting debuts.

I’d like to tell you about a recent crime festival that was a little bit different from how I expect Phoenix to be. Shetland Noir took place in November. We’d borrowed the event from our fellow crime-writers in Iceland – after all Shetland is on the same line of latitude as part of Greenland and Alaska, so we reckoned we were Nordic too. The island group has a population of 23,000 people and, despite the fact that I kill off one or two of them in every Shetland novel, they’re a very pleasant bunch. They were delighted to welcome mystery fans from Iceland, Sweden, Scotland and all over the UK to Lerwick for the weekend. In fact we also had readers from Washington DC and LA! I was there to launch my new Shetland non-fiction book, a photographic tour of these beautiful islands, and of course to catch up with old friends.

 Ann with the Vikings

The weather over the weekend was dreadful – Storm Abigail was blowing 80 mph gusts, delaying the small planes and making boat journeys uncomfortable. But still people came. They were greeted in the library on the Thursday evening with a typical social evening of tea and homebakes. Hosted by local crime-writer and guide Marsali Taylor, the visitors had a chance to meet knitters and spinners, an expert in Shetland ponies and the Up Helly Aa Viking guizers in full costume! (See photo.) Friday was a civic reception with wine and more Shetland food. And we had a surprise guest – Douglas Henshall, who plays Jimmy Perez in the BBC adaptations of the books had braved the gale to present the award to the winner of a short story competition. There were wonderfully satisfying gasps when he walked into the town hall.

Ann on a panel at Shetland Noir

As the wind continued to blow and the rain to fall, the festival continued over the weekend in Mareel, a stunning new arts’ centre right on the water. Everyone had a good time and there was lots of laughter, but there were thought-provoking discussions too about violence, the reality of forensic investigation and pathology, and the reasons for the popularity of contemporary crime fiction. On Sunday the wind dropped and the sun appeared, just in time for the bus tour that gave our guests a chance to see a little more of Shetland mainland.

When we’re at conventions, sometimes we have little chance to think about our impact on the communities that host them. Shetland is trying to encourage cultural tourism – after all the oil that had provided most of its wealth for the last 40 years will soon run out. Shetland Noir brought visitors to the island in the dark stormy days of late autumn; still they loved the place and some have already booked to return. I hope when we visit Phoenix we’ll have a chance to visit our host city and meet some of the local people there. And I hope it’ll be warmer and less windy than a Shetland winter.

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