Ann Cleeves is “dead proud”. In this context, that is a good thing – in the Scottish vernacular, the word “dead” is often used to mean “extremely” or “exceptionally”.
The reason for her pride? The third series of Shetland, the BBC adaptation of her wonderfully claustrophobic series of crime novels set on the small islands to the far north of mainland Scotland, featuring her creation Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, has just finished its run to huge acclaim – and she's positively beaming.
“I think the writing is stunning in it, the plotting is astounding ... it’s such a good, classy piece of drama,” she says.
If that sounds unusually boastful for this wonderfully unassuming, 60-something English writer, then there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. For season three, unlike the first two, the producers of the show, which stars Scots actor Douglas Henshall as Perez, opted to create their own stories rather than adapting any of Cleeves’s novels. She says she doesn’t feel slighted by the decision.
“Not really,” she says, cheerily. “Once you finish a book, it’s not yours either, because readers look at it differently from the way you do. Allowing a director to have their take on it is just taking that one step further.”
Her generosity is surely a result of the incredible popularity of the other television adaptation of her work: Vera. Over six seasons (with a seventh due next year), Oscar-nominated actor Brenda Blethyn has played the abrasive, slightly dishevelled, yet sharp-as-a-button, DCI Vera Stanhope. Cleeves describes her creation, with the greatest of affection, as a "bag lady". Yet she has become one of the most believable female characters of recent times.
“I love unpicking where she came from,” she says. “I grew up in the 1950s, and there were lots of formidable spinsters who had either lost men or had come into their own in the war because they’d found a role. Hospital matrons, Sunday-school teachers, librarians – strong, authoritative single women who weren’t glamorous but very good at what they did.”
Cleeves says the landscapes of Shetland and Northumberland, the setting for the Vera stories, are of endless interest to her – there'll be a new Shetland book out this year and she's "thinking about a new Vera".
“People are intrinsically linked with the community in which they live,” she says. “I’m fascinated by how that affects the way in which people think. And that’s what crime drama is great at allowing: lots of us writers use its structures to look at other things apart from the crime itself – and for me, my books are about families and class.”
• Ann Cleeves will be part of the Writing Women panel discussion on March 10 at 10am. On March 12, Cleeves will conduct sessions on The Joy and Horror of Life: Not Happily Ever After with British journalist and writer Chris Cleave at 9.30am; and Scene of the Crime with Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin at 1.30pm; all at InterContinental Dubai Festival City; all Dh70