Northumberland-based author Mari Hannah has recently released her 10th book – a huge achievement – and she has no intention of stopping there. Her new crime duo Stone & Oliver (one a compassionate man being worn down by the stress of the job, the other a third-generation cop who followed in her father and grandfather’s footsteps and hides her vulnerabilities) are sticking around for more cases set in Newcastle and the Northumbrian wilderness. Mari’s fierce love of reading and writing began at a young age, but she never considered writing professionally until she was forced to leave her job as a probation officer due to injury. Refusing to play the role of victim, Mari began to write to ease her mind, never guessing that the short story she produced would later become a finished published novel and TV script.
Among her literary heroes, Mari counts crime legends Michael Connolly and Val McDermid, but a lot of her inspiration comes from her surroundings. ‘A sense of place is crucial when you’re writing. It’s what makes a book work for a reader, whether they know an area or not. All my books are set in and around Newcastle and the dramatic wilderness of Northumberland where I live. The diversity of the area and the people that live in it affords me the opportunity to slow or quicken the pace. You need to feel the landscape and listen to what it tells you, including where your main characters live and work.’
Now, 10 books, multiple awards, and a position as chair of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival later, Mari hasn’t let her success go to her head – her perfect weekend would still be a Northern coastal retreat complete with a roaring log fire and a stack of crime novels.
Dubbed the ‘Queen of the Kindle’, L J Ross shot to success after self-publishing her first book, Holy Island, in 2015. The DCI Ryan mystery series reached number one on the Amazon UK Kindle bestsellers chart, and the seven subsequent books in the series have enjoyed similar success. Ross is based in Northumberland, and all of her DCI Ryan books explore a different part of the North East, including, of course, Holy Island, as well as Rothbury, Hadrian’s Wall, and Newcastle.
One of her books was recently turned into an audio-drama (which is a ‘play without the visuals’) which saw an all-star cast including local legends Alun Armstrong and Kevin Whately bring Ross’ characters to life, which she counts among one of the proudest moments of her career. ‘That was quite a special experience, quite emotional in a way – you hear them coming to life and talking to one another, it was very realistic and quite incredible. They did a great job with finding the right people for the parts. I kind of have to pinch myself – these people who I’ve seen on the telly are reading my words, it’s crazy!’
It will come as no surprise that one of Ross’ main influences is the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, but she also looks up to Arthur Conan Doyle, Jim Thompson and M. M. Kaye. She also draws inspiration from her surroundings of course, something her fans are very keen to help with: ‘My readers are lovely, they all write to me saying have you thought about this area, it’s great!’ In her future books, Ross hopes to explore more of County Durham, as well as go further afield to the Lake District, but wherever she goes, we’re sure she’ll capture the same sense of place as her previous books.
A true Geordie lad, David Almond has lived in the North East his whole life, growing up in Felling and turning the region into the ‘geography of his imagination’. Having written for his entire life, David was obviously thrilled when Skellig began to receive the attention it did, but he was never drawn to a life down south. ‘When things started to happen for me, a lot of people imagined I would move down to London, but I stayed here because there’s a very unique kind of beauty here. I love the language here, I write in a northern voice, and I love the history.’
His books certainly have a very northern feel to them, but that hasn’t stopped David finding success outside the North East or indeed the UK. One of his only books for adults, The Tightrope Walkers, was met with huge acclaim in the US: ‘It got absolutely astonishing reviews. It’s a very northern book, very Geordie, but somehow they got it.’
Although his books are published by children’s publishers and labelled as children’s books, they have always appealed to adults too, addressing philosophical and often dark themes in an approachable way. David is drawn time and time again to the magic that’s associated with growing up, and even his books aimed at adults feature youthful protagonists or tell coming-of-age stories.
If his 2019 is anything like his 2018, David is set to be a very busy man, as this year alone he has published two books and done a stage show with Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell, combining books and words with music and dance.
Of all the huge achievements throughout his career, David is most proud of sticking to his North East roots: ‘One of the things I’m really proud of is that I have focussed on the North East, that I have shown the North East as a place of great beauty, that it has a wonderful language, a history and a culture which is much more powerful than people often recognise.’
Primarily an author of children’s books, Adam has published 12 works, his most recent one being a hilarious and fascinating collection of folk tales from Tyne and Wear, which he co-authored with David Silk. Although he’s travelled widely all over the world, Adam has been unable to resist the call of his beloved North East home, and has since returned to County Durham where he now lives.
When he’s not drawing inspiration from the mysterious folk tales of the region, he’s travelling around schools delivering creative writing workshops to help children cultivate their own literary skills. While he loves his County Durham home, part of Adam’s heart also lies on Holy Island: ‘When the tide is in and the tourists have gone, the island takes on a magical, almost surreal, feel to it. Walking along the north of the island over the sandy beaches listening to the song of the seals sounds about the most perfect weekend I can think of.’ We would have to agree with that!
Renowned world-wide for her best-selling crime novels and for creating everyone’s favourite, no-nonsense Detective DCI Vera Stanhope, Ann Cleeves is one of the North East’s brightest literary stars. Although she grew up in Herefordshire and North Devon, Ann has more than earned her title of a Northerner, moving in 1987 with her husband and two daughters to Northumberland, the place which would go on to be the setting of many of her later novels.
You’re no doubt familiar with Ann’s two most popular creations, Jimmy Perez of the Shetland series and Vera (whose latest instalment was The Seagull), who has captured the nation’s heart with her unorthodox ways. It’s no secret that Ann is a huge fan of the adaptation and Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal of Vera, stating on her website: ‘She absolutely captures the spirit of the character. Now, I hear her voice when I’m writing dialogue for the books. She has that wit, humour and a touch of cruelty. I don’t see Brenda so much because my vision of Vera is uglier than Brenda, even dressed-down Brenda, but I do hear Brenda’s voice in my head.’
Ann has a slew of awards and achievements to her name, most notable among which include being the first winner of Iceland Noir’s Honorary Award for Services to the Art of Crime Fiction, the winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award, and receiving the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour any crime writer can aspire to.