Crime writer Ann Cleeves’ latest Devon-set book is out this month and she’ll be heading to the county to meet readers at Appledore Book Festival and the Agatha Christie Festival. She talks to Su Carroll about the inspiration for The Raging Storm.

Ann Cleeves is a great believer in the idea that we are all a product of the place where we were born, where we grew up and where we live. In her crime writing she has created fascinating characters wedded to the environment they are in – Vera Stanhope is at the heart of the brooding landscape of the North East with its dark cities, open moorland and dramatic coastline. Jimmy Perez was found fighting crime in the closeted communities of Shetland.

Her latest creation is DI Matthew Venn, working in a landscape Ann knew well – the country and coastal landscape of North Devon. Ann moved to Umberleigh when she was 11 and her dad got a job as a headteacher there.

Devon has, once again, provided the setting for the latest in her Two Rivers series – after The Long Call in 2019 and The Heron’s Cry in 2021 – The Raging Storm.

It was a visit to North Devon for the filming of The Long Call that suggested a theme for the next Matthew Venn story.

‘I watched them film for a day at Hartland Quay,’ she recalls. ‘It was pouring with rain, cold and windy. Meanwhile Ilfracombe was sunny and lovely. It made me think how vulnerable people are with the grey cliffs and the storm. It was just after Storm Arwen and we weren’t even sure the trains were running. I got someone to drive me into town and we were driving past toppled trees and cars. There was that sense of drama about a world cut off and isolated.

‘It was a reminder that North Devon isn’t always pretty. It’s not all cream teas and sunshine.

‘The Raging Storm is set in a working village. It’s a fictitious place, but somewhere which has been transformed by a quarry. It feels almost mythical. An adventurer turns up, a piratical character, and there’s a lot of superstition about him and the place.’

Great British Life: 'There was that sense of drama about a world cut off and isolated.' Ann Cleeves visited the set when they were filming The Long Call against the dramatic backdrop of Hartland. Photo: Antony Spencer/Getty'There was that sense of drama about a world cut off and isolated.' Ann Cleeves visited the set when they were filming The Long Call against the dramatic backdrop of Hartland. Photo: Antony Spencer/Getty

Ann is the author of more than 35 critically acclaimed novels, and in 2017 was awarded the highest accolade in crime writing, the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger. She had a varied career before she took up writing, working as a probation officer, bird observatory cook and auxiliary coastguard.

Many of the places she has lived and the experiences she’s had have informed her writing. In the latest Matthew Venn investigation, the local lifeboat crew play a vital role in the story. It was visiting a RNLI crew in Northumberland where she lives that inspired one character.

‘There was a very young woman at the helm of our local lifeboat and that’s how the character of Mary came about. Actually Tim, my husband, owed his life to the RNLI by a very lucky coincidence.’

Ann and her late husband Tim lived on the tiny island of Hilbre in the River Dee’s estuary, which was cut off from the mainland at high water. It was a local authority nature reserve and Tim was the warden.

Tim and a friend decided to ring some visiting birds, venturing out in an unseaworthy canoe with just one life jacket between them. Like naughty schoolboys they egged each other on to the adventure but the canoe capsized soon after they’d set off and they tipped into the water.

They were only a few yards from the island, but the tide was fierce and soon carried them out towards the Irish Sea, with Tim wearing a life jacket and holding up his friend. It was winter and Hilbre was quiet but a visiting birder, Alan, saw what was happening and contacted the coastguard. By a stroke of luck the inshore lifeboat had already launched for a practice session and it was still on the water but couldn’t spot the men.

Ex-Merchant Navy, Alan broke into the coastguard lookout and found a flare, firing it in the direction of the men still being pulled by the tide out to sea. Tim was starting to lose consciousness and both men were developing hypothermia. He told Ann he knew they were safe when a flock of waders took off from the rocks at Hilbre’s north end. Something must have disturbed them and it turned out to be the lifeboat, following the direction of the flare.

‘It is such a brilliant organisation and they are all volunteers,’ says Ann. ‘You can understand the appeal for the crew – the adventure and the camaraderie. What they do is absolutely amazing – they have to be totally reliable.’

Ann is incredibly prolific – around a book a year since her debut, A Bird in the Hand, in 1986. So does she plot the story and then get on with the writing?

Great British Life: Ann on The Long Call filming day in Hartland with actor Ben Aldridge who played Matthew Venn. Photo: Joss Barrat/ITVAnn on The Long Call filming day in Hartland with actor Ben Aldridge who played Matthew Venn. Photo: Joss Barrat/ITV

‘I have no sort of plan,’ she admits. ‘I just start and get to know the characters, which is the great thing about writing a series. When I began, I did want a nice cast of returning characters. You do need a concrete image of what’s going on in your head when you write in. If you can’t focus on that world, you can’t expect the readers to do it.’

It’s not just the readers who love Ann’s work. Television viewers do too. Vera, first seen in 2011, stars Brenda Blethyn as Vera Stanhope, and shooting for the 13th series began this spring. Douglas Henshall played Jimmy Perez from the first series of Shetland in 2013. Filming is underway for series eight but Douglas has left the island and the detective replacing him is played by Extras and After Life star Ashley Jensen.

There has been one series on ITV of the Matthew Venn story, The Long Call. Will there be more? ‘It was just done as a one-off but it would be lovely if they do,’ says Ann.

Ann is a passionate advocate for libraries and reading and was awarded an OBE in the 2021 New Year Honours List for her work in this area. She joined public health, council, academic and voluntary organisations in her own region to initiate a scheme to see how reading can improve the health of local people.

She loves meeting readers at events like the Appledore Book Festival (September 15-24), the North Cornwall Book Festival (September 21-24) and the Agatha Christie Festival (September 16) all of which she will visit this year.

‘I love Appledore,’ she smiles. ‘It’s just down the road from where I grew up. It was a bit rough when I was growing up but it’s very different now. Everyone who runs the festival is so lovely and I get to stay with my friend. It’s my first trip to North Cornwall but I always buy Patrick Gale’s books so when he invited me to come, of course I said yes.

‘Festivals are part of the deal really. I love sitting at home on my own making stuff up, but I want people to read it. So it’s nice to go out and meet them.’

For festival information go to: for Appledore, for the North Cornwall Book Festival and for the Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay.

The Raging Storm is out now published by Pan Macmillan (£20 hardback).

Great British Life: The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves. Photo: PanmacmillanThe Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves. Photo: Panmacmillan


Detective Matthew Venn is back in The Raging Storm, the next captivating novel in the Two Rivers series. When Jem Rosco – sailor, adventurer and local legend – blows into town in the middle of an autumn gale, the residents of Greystone, Devon, are delighted to have a celebrity in their midst.

The residents think nothing of it when Rosco disappears again; that’s the sort of man he is. Until the lifeboat is launched to a hoax call-out during a raging storm and his body is found in a dinghy, anchored off Scully Cove, a place with legends of its own. This is an uncomfortable case for DI Venn.

He came to the remote village as a child, its community populated by the Barum Brethren that he parted ways with, so when superstition and rumour mix and another body is found in the cove, Matthew soon finds his judgement clouded. As the storm rages and the village is cut off, he and his team start their investigation, little realising their own lives might be in danger