THE SUCCESS of crime writer Ann Cleeves’ four Shetland based murder mysteries has prompted her to start penning another Shetland Quartet.
The first in the new series, Dead Water, is out in February next year and, according to Ann, as hard-hitting as it is topical.
A well known investigative journalist, chasing a renewable energy story, is found dead in a yoal floating at the Aith marina.
Ann was on location this week, in South Whiteness, to witness the shooting of her novel Red Bones for prime time television.
Titled simply Shetland, and starring acclaimed Scots actor Douglas Henshall, as well as Gemma Chan and local actor Steven Robertson, the two-part adaptation will be screened on BBC One in November this year.
Although already a well established crime writer whose Vera books have been made into a successful television series, Ann says her Shetland books have had a huge impact on her career.
They are simply the most successful books she has even written. Translated into 21 languages so far, Ann has had no other choice than continuing the Shetland theme with a second quartet.
She says it is the islands themselves, almost like a character in its own right, that make these crime novels so special. Hardly any other place in the UK has still “this sense of community and the fact that people know their neighbours”.
As such it is a fascinating place with rich pickings for any novelist. It is “where you can dig into peoples’ past and into their relationships with others” she marvels.
No wonder that “psychological archaeology”, as she calls it, is very much at the heart of the television adaptation of Red Bones.
She is “just delighted” that the production team decided to come to Shetland to shoot key scenes here. It would have been logistically much easier, and financially much cheaper, to find suitable locations on mainland Scotland.
“Despite the expense of bringing cast and crew to the islands she’s always been determined that at least some of the filming should be done here.
“The enthusiasm and energy of people at Shetland Islands Council and Shetland Arts has helped turn that determination into a reality.
“It means they really have understood the importance of the place,” she says, adding that this was yet another reason for being completely at ease with the script screen writer David Kane has produced.
“I have worked with David before; he respects my characters and it feels like giving your child to the best foster parents you can.
“I have no problems with letting it go, I want it to be a great piece of television, and I will watch it as a viewer”, she says.
The theme of the isles playing their own distinct role in the detective story is also taken up by Steven Robertson when he has time to speak during a short break in his filming schedule.
Steven, who is back home for his first professional filming in the isles ever, plays the young police constable Sandy Wilson, who hopes that some day he will follow in the footsteps of his boss detective Jimmy Perez (played by Douglas Henshall).
But Sandy is not just a constable; unfortunate for him he is unhealthily caught up in the storyline that will make his boss’ task to dig up the truth all the more complicated.
Playing a big part in the TV dramatisation of Ann Cleeves’ book is for Steven like a dream come true.
He says he had always hoped that he would be asked to become part of the cast particularly since he had already read the Jimmy Perez part for the BBC Radio Four adaptation of Ann’s books.
“I had always hoped this would come up. But then there are many actors out there, and you never know. However they already knew that I existed – and here I am,” he says.
While he insists that Shetland as a location is much more than just a backdrop for a professionally made TV drama, he is realistic enough to know that the Shetland he knows and loves will not be the one presented to a nationwide audience.
His Shetland, still very much alive despite having left the isles more than 10 years ago, is where he can sit down with his granny over a cup of tea, and where his brother’s sheep are waiting to be clipped.