Ann credits stroke of luck for big break onto small screen

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VERA, a TV adaptation of a series of books by Holywell author Ann Cleeves, is set to win her millions more fans when it is broadcast later in the year.

It is only as a result of a coincidence that Vera is about to make it to the small screen, however.

Ann said: “The producer Elaine Collins came across one of my books in an Oxfam shop near her home.

“They were looking for a detective story anyway to get the television rights, but I was pretty lucky really.

“Another coincidence was that my daughter was at Bristol University with her assistant.”

The production team spent three months filming four two-hour episodes in north east locations including Knott’s Flats at Tynemouth, North Shields Fish Quay, Seaton Sluice, Newbiggin and Druridge Bay.

During filming, the team took over the Swan Hunter building in Wallsend as its production office, and that is also where the series’ police station scenes are shot.

The original plan was for an adaptation of Ann’s 2007 novel Hidden Depths to be filmed ready to go out last autumn, but ITV1 bosses were so pleased by that pilot episode that they commissioned three extra instalments before it was even given a public viewing.

Two of the new episodes are adapted from other novels, Telling Tales and The Crow Trap, but the third is based on an original story.

Besides Brenda Blethyn in the title role, the series will star Sunderland’s Gina McKee, previously seen in Our Friends in the North and the 2002 and 2003 remake of The Forsyte Saga, and Juliet Aubrey, best known as maverick scientist Helen Cutter in Primeval.

Ann, a grandmother of six, has enjoyed writing for as along as she can remember, and for the past 25 years she has averaged one book a year.

The 56-year-old regards 2006 as her real breakthrough year in terms of success, that being when she landed the Crime Writers’ Association’s prestigious Gold Dagger for her book Raven Black.

Ann, originally from Devon, moved to the north east in 1987 after her ornithologist husband Tim, 60, relocated with his work.

It was after the couple settled with their daughters Sarah, 30, and Ruth, 27, in Holywell that her she really found her niche, she said.

“When I first moved up here, I wrote traditional crime stories,” said Ann.

“I was living down south where people were mainly commuters or had second homes. I moved to Holywell, which is the sort of place where everyone knows everybody’s business.

“It just seemed a very good place to set the books that I enjoyed writing.”

She also enjoyed creating a heroine her readers can relate to in the form of Vera Stanhope, a detective inspector not exactly at the peak of physical fitness.

“Even with the feminist writers that I enjoy, their female characters are young and fit, they can get a bloke, and they can run,” she said.

“I wanted someone who is more real, someone other people can relate to.

“She’s overweight, she drinks too much, she’s a bit of a slob, she can’t run and she doesn’t go jogging.”

Ann is thrilled that Brenda, nominated for a best actress Oscar for her role in Secrets and Lies in 1996 and another for best supporting actress for her part in Little Voice two years later, was picked to play Vera.

She said: “Brenda was just lovely. She spent a lot of time getting the accent right.

“She was actually quite nervous when I met her because it was the read-through.

“We were sat around a table, and they weren’t really acting, just reading through the script.

“She was really quite nervous, and the fact that I was there probably didn’t help.

Ann added: “I hope people will watch it.

“Everyone would love to do a second series – but that depends on ratings – so everyone can get together back up here.”