Ann Cleeves

Three female writers who will be appearing at this weekend’s festival – crime writer Ann Cleeves, agriculture journalist Carey Gillam and fashion designer Alannah Hill – may at first glance be coming to their trade from different angles, however the one sure quality that binds their respective books is a certainty of purpose.

In the hands of Ann Cleeves for example the reader can relax knowing that a superb craftsperson is at work.

Combining unpredictable plots with unique characters who command the romantic landscapes of Northumberland and the Shetland Islands, Cleeves allows the reader to relax, confident and assured of a thrilling read.

Ms Cleeves has said in previous interviews that she doesn’t plot her mysteries and writes like a reader as it were – just as eager as the reader to find out who done it.

It may not be the preferred method of all crime writers but it certainly works for Ms Cleeves.

In an interview with the Weekly prior to this weekend’s festival, Ms Cleeves gave us some insight into the provenance of one of crime writing’s most unique characters, DI Vera Stanhope.

“She appeared fully formed in The Crow Trap, a book that I thought wouldn’t contain a detective figure at all,” Ms Cleeves said.

“I think she grew out of the ferocious spinsters I knew in my early childhood. I was born in the mid-50s and in the small rural town where I lived there were a number of single women who’d either lost sweethearts during the war, or who had been allowed roles and responsibilities that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

“These strong women had decided that they’d rather remain unmarried than become 1950s housewives.

“They were teachers, hospital matrons or librarians, competent at their work, but not caring at all what they looked like.

“I’ve been hugely fortunate in the actors who play my characters. Brenda Blethyn inhabits Vera so completely that it’s like having a representative on set.

“And Douglas Henshall might not look like my character but he has just the right mix of assertiveness and kindness.”

Wild Fire is the eighth, and final book in the Shetland series – a major BBC drama starring Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez.

But Ms Cleeves says she now feels a sense of excitement. There’s a quite a queue of feverish murderers waiting to be released.

Cary Gillam’s first book White Wash is similarly written with the sense of assurance that characterises the work of Ann Cleeves.

With many years experience working as a hard-hitting journalist she brought to her investigation of the Monsanto company tenacity, intelligence and courage.

American based Monsanto produces glyphosate, an agricultural and domestic weed killer, more commonly known as Roundup. Glyphosate, which comes under many formulations, is under the scrutiny of regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Society for Environmental Journalists says Gillam “comes at one of the world’s most powerful corporations hard and doesn’t hold back, something legions of other journalists have been reluctant to do”.

After years of investigation Gillam said Monsanto company representatives went from glad–handing to bullying and intimidating her.

“Monsanto-funded organisations sought unsuccessfully to convince my editors to yank me off the beat, to block further coverage of the issues. They could rarely, if ever, find errors in my reporting,” he says.

The third woman on the list is fashion designer Alannah Hill who has recently written her memoirs, Butterfly on a Pin.

Ms Hill writes not only with an original and consistent voice but with a purpose in mind. She grew up in a milkbar in Tasmania.

Hill courageously struck out to the mainland and forged her fashion career in the 1980s, ‘90s and into the millennium.

Hear these women speak over the weekend. www.bendigowritersfestival.com.au