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Arts / Cleeves cuts ribbon to reopen ‘magnificent’ refurbished library

Convener says building has ‘special place’ in islanders’ memories

Ann Cleeves pictured at the formal opening of the refurbished Shetland Library on Saturday morning. Photo: Ben Mullay.

THE AUTHOR of the novels that spawned the global hit TV crime drama Shetland cut the ribbon to officially declare the new public library in Lerwick open on Saturday morning.

Ann Cleeves said the eight books and ensuing series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez would never have existed had she not been invited to give a talk at Shetland Library, when she had “the first glimmer of an idea” for the novels.

“It gives me very great pleasure to declare this magnificent new(ish) library open,” she told onlookers, including senior members and staff from Shetland Islands Council.

Shetland writers are being celebrated as part of the opening with the launches of two new books taking place: Charlie Simpson’s essay collection In Days Gone By and Barbara Fraser’s Aye Someane Deid, Aye Someane Boarn, a collection of fiction and reminiscences in Shetland dialect.

SIC convener Malcolm Bell said it was “great to see” the building, which enjoyed a soft opening in November, back in use and it had been “very well received” by members of the public who have visited so far.

Shetland Islands Council staff and senior councillors were among those present for the opening. Photo: Ben Mullay.

“It’s a building that holds a special place in the memories of generations of Shetlanders,” Bell said.

“It feels like an appropriate space [and] it’s testament to [library manager] Karen [Fraser] and her team for the hard work they’ve done in keeping the services running during the pandemic and getting the building ready.”

Cleeves said it was “so lovely” to be asked to officially open the building in a community she first visited in 1975.

She pointed out there were many big cities in the UK that “don’t have this size of library, and just this number of books, and the variety of books and the facilities here”.

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Cleeves is involved in a project in the North East of England seeking to use reading as a tool to improve wellbeing, with GPs prescribing attendance at reading groups to try and improve people’s mental health.

“If you’re a bit depressed or low, or you’ve got chronic pain and arthritis, or you’re just feeling a bit lost and lonely, you’ve got weird ideas popping around in your brain, getting inside someone else’s head for a bit makes a huge difference,” she said.

“At dark times for me what’s got me through is story, and if it works for me it’ll probably work for other people too.”

Ann Cleeves cuts the ribbon. Photo: Ben Mullay.

While many in the local tourism industry – which was booming prior to Covid-19 in no small part thanks to the TV show’s worldwide reach – would be quick to thank the author for the effect her books have had, she is always quick to credit the islands for transforming her fortunes too.

“The first of the Shetland books, Black Raven, was a complete career changer for me,” Cleeves said. “Before that I’d been published I think for 20 years but I’d had very little commercial success.

“I think it was people in London not even knowing where Shetland was… Shetland is part of the UK and it’s that far north, there are very few trees, there’s this very tight-knit community, there’s this thing called Up Helly Aa – all that fed into the success of it and I do realise how much I owe to Shetland.”

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