I am so excited Vera is back on the television.After having loved and read all of Ann’s books and watched all of Vera’sepisodes, never has the North East looked so mesmerizing and creepy at the same time. Brenda Blethyn was on the Jonathan Ross show last night talking about how she came into acting rather late and when she got the part of Vera, this middle aged dumpy and bedraggled woman,and worried about why they had cast her. She plays the part so well and I see her every time I pick up a vera novel now (and I don’t just mean on the cover)
It was a real honour to film a piece for local television (ITV Tyne Tees) this week in order to launch the new booktrail site and to talk more about the locations featured in Ann Cleeves novels. Ooh how I wished we’d had time to go to Tyne Valley, Amble and all the rest – but even just on the Quayside, around the corner from the Church where Harbour Street opens and the Lit and Philwhere Vera praises as a haven for every booklover (true) On tonight’s episode, we see Vera and Joe talk to a waiter/manager on an open balcony overlooking the Tyne (Brave). In the winds the North East has had recently, nearly everyone is wearing Vera style macs ( or they should be)
Vera pet you bring so much enjoyment tothe television screens and having bumped into you in various places in and around Newcastle (there was a pop up Fairground on the Town Moor where Vera films a few scenes and Brenda spoke last night on Jonathan Ross’s show about how they’d filmed the entire sequence only for a woman to come out of the nearby toilets, spot her and shout ‘ Vera!!’
Now if I hadn’t been with my mother that day, this is just the kind of thing she would have done. Everyone loves Vera.
So – ITV tonight 8pm. Vera Day is announced. Enjoy!
Some authors set their books in a place that they love, have visited or have travelled to. Some even set books in places they would like to go, that has a story to tell of its own. Melissa Hill has chosen to set her book The Hotel on Mulberry Hill, in her home country of Ireland but in the fictional place of Mulberry Bay for a very nice reason indeed.
Melissa, it’s over to you…
My home town. The fictional Bay Hotel at the centre of the novel was inspired by my own feelings about a hotel in my hometown – a place wrapped in significant personal nostalgia that will always hold a place in my heart.
My family celebrated a host of personal celebrations there; christenings, confirmations, birthdays as well as my own wedding.
Taken by the idea that a particular place or building could have such emotional resonance, not just for one person but an entire community, I wanted to explore what would happen if such an important institution were to come under threat.
Community: The locals populating the small town of Mulberry Bay are justas important to the storyline as the main characters. The notion that community, and a great sense of shared history could be a real force for change against the odds is a powerful one, and perhaps relevant to small town life today, where family-run businesses and the heart of communities themselves are under threat from outside influences.
My father:Ned, the father in the novel has in the past sacrificed something of great importance to keep his family and the hotel afloat, and is reluctant to let go of their only remaining legacy.
This particular plot strand was again borne out of personal experience, as I discovered some time ago that when I was born, my own father – an avid Beatles fan – sold his much-prized record collection to buy me a pram.
(Booktrail – what a lovely man!)
Music: Following on from the above, music by the Beatles was the soundtrack to my childhood.
Summer afternoons spent playing in the garden with Here Comes the Sun in the background, birthday parties boogying to All You Need is Love; any Fab Four song or anthem I hear immediately summons a fond childhood memory, as it does for Penny in the story.
I love interior design, and the idea of vicariously renovating a ramshackle old hotel and turning it into a beautiful contemporary space, perfect for relaxation appealed to me enormously. I had great fun going through each room in the hotel and imagining things for the characters to do – and even more fun finding ways to thwart them!
Thanks Melissa for sharing inspiration with us today. And I tell you something if there is someone that needs inspiration for a Xmas something special that sparkles ….
A diamond from Tiffany and a literary one from Melissa Hill. What more could you ask for?
There was an interesting article in the Sunday Post this week and it’s a paper I usually read but a kind neighbour came around with the magazine inside it which often features articles on books, authors and interviews of the literary kind.
I read it during Sunday Lunch and can honestly say that I feel as if I have sat down with Ian Rankin and chatted about his favourite places in and around Scotland – those that have inspired the Rebus novels and inspired Ian as a writer…
The Sunday Post article was long and very interesting but here is a potted history for Rebus fans to digest if you haven’t got a kindly neighbour such as mine..
Ian went to a caravan park here as a child and would play cards with his family during the holidays. The experience and memories would later become part of Rebus and the types of holiday he has when he gets the chance
Now Edinburgh is the place to go for Rebus fans and of course the Oxford Bar on Young Street in the city is the place Ian first went to when he started to write the Rebus novels and decided that this would be his local since “there were no bells and whistles, no juke box and no food. Just beer and conversation”
Holyrood park features heavily in many of the Rebus novels and one of the police stations where Rebus works is here with a view of the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. This is where Rebus ‘ had a word’ with a murder suspect and you can feel the insolation and the fierce wind that would have battered that experience for them both!
Black and Blue is a novel featuring the oil industry and Rebus goes up to Sullom Voe and the Broch of Mousa. There is an iron Age roundhouse there and a lot of history and culture. A bit of a culture shock from Edinburgh according to Ian but a fantastic place to explore and see another side of Rebus’s Scotland.
Kyle of Tongue
Rebus’ s daughter Samant lives up near Tongue and her husband is working at Dounreay as part of the team dismantling the nuclear plant. Ian Rankin loves to drive up here amidst the lunar landscape and it’s another link to Rebus and his life.
Rebus goes to Glasgow in one of the earlynovels and gives evidence but before he does so he spends a bit of time at Paddy’s Market. To find out more about working class life in the city that fascinates both Ian and Rebus, you should head here:
That Rebus really is one great guide to Scotland – I am now off to give my lovely neighbour an Ian Rankin novel as a thank you. It’s one I know he hasn’t got – well he did have it but he left it in a pub once he said. He likes to read it “where Rebus might just walk in”. Might have been the Oxford Bar. In fact it probably was…
Need a good travel guide to Morocco? Then look no further that Zohra’s Ladder and other Moroccan Tales by Pamela Windo as she guides us around some of the more lesser known and hidden parts of the country. From the Souk to the Hammam, this is a real insider’s tour…..
Take this book with you as Pamela shows us around – (The places and stories in the book they refer to are mentioned at the end of each answer)
You start your prologue with the line “Landscape or its absence, is the setting for our lives”– can you expand upon this?
If you were born and live in a big city, instead of a landscape of green fields and trees, mountains and streams, you have towering buildings, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks. When I wrote: “landscape or its absence,” I meant whichever “landscape” you have shapes your lives. [Prologue]
You were born in England and now live in New York but it was North Africa which claimed you, when you went to Morocco to be alone and write. How do you think your experiences have shaped you?
I went to Morocco with the idea I would hide away and write a book. What I found was a lifestyle and culture that brought echoes of my childhood in England—before the consumer cult took hold, and the simple things of life were still valued beyond money. In Morocco, I gradually let go of all my ideas and ambitions and listened to a different rhythm in which people live in the present moment, in close connection to other people, whether family or strangers. [STORIES: Rabiah’s House; The Street Cleaner’s Clothes —
In both these stories, I loved the house I was living in; one was in a working-class neighborhood in Agadir, the other in a quiet neighborhood in the Medina of Marrakesh.
The bathing ritual you describe in An Afternoon at the Hamman is very evocative – the smell of the room, the feel of the sludge clay paste you put in your hair. What are your lasting memories of this early experience?
My first experience of the hammam was in a local one, not in one of those designed for tourists in a chic hotel.I felt shy but was immediately put at ease by the relaxed atmosphere… the women were of all ages and clearly felt neither shame nor embarrassment at being naked except for a pair of knickers. Veils and djellabas and scarves are worn in the street to hide women’s bodies from men’s lust. In the women’s hammam, those disguises are left in the lockers. All I felt was acceptance and friendliness, and a serious intent on getting clean, especially as most of the women didn’t have hot water, let alone a shower or bath, at home.I was shown the ritual and helped by whoever was nearest me, and quickly noticed that all the women had the same tried and tested traditional toiletries…. No need for anything fancy and expensive.[STORY: AN AFTERNOON AT THE HAMMAM]
You write of the difficulty of becoming accustomed to things you take for granted such as regular post and the freedom women have in the West. What could we learn from the women of Morocco however?
The hammam in particular showed me the strength of the sisterhood the women share… the scrubbing of each other’s bodies and rinsing of each other’s hair.But mostly I saw this solidarity in their homes, in which they reign over the men. Women neighbors come in every day to help grind the almonds, to do a mammoth wash, or make a huge couscous. Young girls watch their mothers, and learn how to cook and help with housework without complaint or excuses. By the time they marry, they are excellent cooks and take pride in the traditional dishes they present to their family. I found that women of all ages possess innate self-confidence that comes from self-acceptance.I once complained that I had no bosom, and received this response: “You are the way Allah made you. It is wrong to want to be different.” [STORIES: An Evening with the General’s Wife; Zohra’s Ladder]
Your descriptions of the golden-amber dunes of the desertare so evocative and immersive. The landscape is one of colours and contrasts. Was it difficult to capture its expanse and full beauty?
Yes, it was difficult to describe the country’s beautiful and varied landscapes. I always felt a jaw-dropping awe that left me speechless…or rather wordless!But I think that is precisely why we seek out these landscapes – to be stunned beyond words. This must be why they say “a photograph is worth a thousand words.” Even so, I had to try. [STORIES: The Desert Sky; In Search of the Argan Tree]
Street life in the Medina is a daily theatre. As if the day spent in the Souk. What aspect of life there did you find the most fascinating?
Daily life in the souk – Yes, to me it was a “theater” – the constant crowds were like a river streaming madly in all directions, a lack of order that creates scenes that are both spontaneous and magical –sleek Mercedes cars and mangy mules missing each other by a hair’s breadth; exotic enticing aromas mixing with the stench of animal and vegetable debris.[STORY: Pilgrimages to the Post Office; Observing Processions; The Days of Ramadan]
You immersed yourself in all aspects of life – the religion, the bathing rituals, the food. What have your continued to include in your life now?
I think that what have stayed with me most since I left Morocco are the people’s kindness and hospitality, and their insistence on authentic connection with others. You must stop in the street to say hello, even if the person is just an acquaintance; you must look the person in the eye to acknowledge them, and touch them with your hand, or with a kiss on the cheek. You must ask after their health and their family’s health before you take your leave. Of course, the music and dancing have stayed with me too, and perhaps the main thing that has remained a part of my life is the Moroccan cuisine – I am always cooking couscous and tagines for family and friends. [STORY: Lunch with the Sheikh; Baba Halou]
With many thanks to Pamela for taking the time to show us around and showing us a side to Morocco we’d never seen before. We’re off to the souk now for some authentic Moroccan tea. See you later!