Author Q&A:
Ann Cleeves

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Ann Cleeves’s thirtieth novel in 30 years, Cold Earth (McMillan, £16.99) once again features the enigmatic Jimmy Perez – brought to life on BBC One’s Shetland – as he tried to uncover a dark secret buried on the island.

What made you decide to set a series in the Shetland Islands?
I first went to Shetland 40 years ago. I’d dropped out of university and got a job as assistant cook in the bird observatory on Fair Isle – the most remote inhabited island in the group. I fell in love with the place and have been going back ever since. It’s a dream setting for someone who writes traditional detective stories.

Jimmy Perez is a strong character. Is he based on anyone you know?
No, he was created for a specific book – Raven Black, the first in the series. I needed someone who belonged to Shetland but who was also an outsider, so I made Jimmy a Fair Islander but gave him that Spanish name too. He does look a bit like a crofter I knew when I first lived in the Isle, but the character is entirely fictitious.

What has it been like seeing your stories brought to life by the BBC?
Great fun! The series is quite different from the books, so I can enjoy it like any other viewer. I thought the last series, which was an original story over six episodes, was brilliantly acted, directed and written. It dealt with the subject of rape with great sensitivity.

Is Douglas Henshal close to how you first imagined Jimmy?
Dougie doesn’t look like my Jimmy but he’s got the character absolutely right – he’s strong and honourable and very compassionate.

How is he different from Vera, your other famous detective?
Vera is older, more experienced and much more cynical. Jimmy has a child to care for and he’s grown up with a close family in a community where everyone looks out for each other. Vera is a loner. I suppose they share the experience of having to be independent early in life; Vera lost her mother when she was a young child and Jimmy was sent away to secondary school on Shetland mainland, just like the other off-isle kids.

Are there plans to dramatise Cold Earth or other books in the series?
I think the plan for series four is the same format as for series three. So it’ll be an original story over six episodes. I can’t wait to see what the team comes up with.

At the start of the book, Jimmy experiences the death of an old friend. How does he develop and change as the story unfolds?
Jimmy changed at the end of Blue Lightning and has been coming to terms with what happened then in the most recent books (I don’t want to give away any spoilers for readers who haven’t read that one). Magnus was an old man and his death was expected but Jimmy still misses him and feels some guilt at how he was treated in Raven Black.

How important is it to have complex characters in a murder mystery?
We need to care about the characters. In a close community like Shetland, a tragedy for one individual, or one family, is felt by everyone.

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Ann Cleeves

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