Win­ter’s tales from the lands of cold earth

Fêted crime writer Ann Cleeves, the nov­el­ist be­hind the BBC’S Shet­land se­ries and cre­ator of doughty Northum­ber­land de­tec­tive Vera on ITV, re­flects on the wild, northerly land­scapes in which she has lived and how they have in­spired her

Country Life Every Week - - The Four Seasons -

The first of my Shet­land nov­els, Raven Black, was in­spired by snow, ice and fire. I’d ar­rived into the is­land by the overnight ferry early one De­cem­ber morn­ing to a still, white land­scape. There was no wind and that’s un­usual in Shet­land— usu­ally, there’s a gale strong enough to take your breath away.

In mid­win­ter, it’s dark for much of the morn­ing—the is­lands lie on the same line of lat­i­tude as parts of Green­land and Alaska, after all. When the sun did rise, it was an or­ange ball throw­ing long shad­ows across the bare land­scape. There are few trees in Shet­land, so there are long hori­zons and big skies.

Then, I saw a group of ravens, stark black against the snow. As a crime writer, I thought if there were a splash of blood on the white, the scene would be like some­thing from a fairy tale, al­most mythic. In that mo­ment, the ‘Shet­land’ nov­els (fea­tur­ing de­tec­tive Jimmy Perez, played on BBC by Dou­glas hen­shall) were born.

The fire came a lit­tle later that win­ter. Ler­wick’s Up helly Aa is the big­gest fire fes­ti­val in europe, held on the last Tues­day in Jan­uary. It’s a Vic­to­rian con­coc­tion from a Vik­ing tra­di­tion, dra­matic and vis­ually strik­ing. The Guizer Jarl and his squad look like true Norse­men, with full beards and beau­ti­fully crafted

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