Ann Cleeves OBE

Crime fiction author & Honorary Doctorate of Letters award holder (2015)

Bestselling author of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope novels, Ann was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University in 2015. She is a passionate advocate of using literature as a form of escapism to aid recovery from depression.

Ann is also a sponsor of The Reading for Wellbeing Project, in the North East, which uses social prescribing of reading hubs and book clubs to tackle loneliness and encourage support from peers in local libraries. Ann believes that access to books is a democratic right and is a champion of the use of local libraries and education in creative industries being accessible to all.

Listen to Ann’s story:

Read the transcript of Ann’s interview:

On being awarded her Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sunderland.

“I was so delighted. I thought it was a joke when I got the email. I felt like somebody was pulling my leg because I was going to be a Doctor. I haven’t got a degree of any kind and I love it because again, I don’t have any academic qualifications. I got a social work diploma because I did finish doing the diploma, but I don’t have a first degree and I quite like that I can say to people, you can go back, you know, that university is for everybody, especially somewhere like Sunderland, where quite often it’s the first generation have been to university, coming along and making it very accessible for people”.

On higher education and creativity.

“The fact that the University supports the community and especially artistic endeavor that’s happening in Sunderland, and there’s also something that I’m really passionate about, which is that the creative industries are looked down on. I mean, besides the fact that we’d be Philistines if we didn’t try and understand the world from somebody else’s point of view and understand it better just through economic terms”.

The impact Vera has on employment in the creative arts.

“Vera sells to two hundred territories around the world. It employs twelve hundred supporting artists every series. It brings in young people, I think some of them from Sunderland, to do internships, not just in acting, design, costume, but in all the tech stuff. It’s providing work. Vera would never have happened if it weren’t for libraries. Just think about what that’s doing”.

The importance of access to libraries.

“If you’ve got young people who are doing youth theatre or music or they’re in a band or they’re feeling part of the community, they’re feeling wanted and they’re seen. And so many people get into crime because they don’t feel seen, that they’re just not important, they’re not recognised. Lots of libraries have teenage reading groups where you can read queer, steampunk or fantasy. Or if you’re a kid, a teenager growing up in a chaotic family, then you’ve got somewhere calm to do homework. I think that access to books is a democratic right. It’s information, but also access to all that literature that’s gone before and is still going is an escape.

And one of the things that we’re doing with the Reading for Wellbeing Project, I’ve been working with some of the groups and they’re going to put together their own collection of books that they’ve loved, because if you’re new to libraries and you walk in, especially if it’s quite big, you know that there’s something good in there but can you find it in all that jumble sale? You know, it’s just impossible. So they’re going to put together little collections that will be just inside the door with a Reading for Wellbeing logo on it. I think it’s lovely that we’re seeing reading and stories as a social thing again. It always was, wasn’t it? You know, before pre-writing it was somebody sitting around a fire and telling you a story. And I think we still love that. That’s why audiobooks are so popular. Audiobooks are hugely popular now because there is that comfort in being told a story and we all really love it”.

On the University of Sunderland.

“There is an optimism here because Sunderland’s been through some really, really tough times. But there is a sense that the University is behind the city and behind the people who live here”.

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