By LOUISE THOMASON
A crime writer with Shetland connections is to auction off a character in her next novel to raise money in memory of a Shetland girl who died of cancer.
Fans will be able to bid to see their name in print in the final book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland quartet, which began with the hugely popular Raven Black three years ago. The money raised will go to a fund set up in memory of teenager Vaila Harvey, who died last year at the age of 16.
The author, who began writing 20 years ago, has a strong connection to Shetland, having lived and worked at the Fair Isle bird observatory, where she met her husband. Having already written crime fiction, it was a trip to Shetland which inspired her to write her first novel set in the isles, the first of four books to feature the isles as their setting.
Some of the many friends Ms Cleeves made while in Shetland were the Harveys, then living in Fair Isle. Paul and Liz and their three daughters Briony, Holly and Vaila actually featured in Raven Black as their house – “full of people and laughter” – suited the atmosphere of a party one of the main characters attends.
Unfortunately, the youngest daughter Vaila was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in October 2007. She underwent a course of therapy which was at first successful, but sadly contracted pneumonia from which she never recovered, and died in May 2008.
She had been a big fan of dancing and music, winning various competitions, as well as travel, and was involved in the Global Classroom at the Anderson High School.
Her father Paul said: “Vaila was very excited at winning a prize through the Anderson High School to visit New York as part of the Global Classroom project in November 2007, but unfortunately she was unable to take up the offer through illness.
“As her treatment progressed well, however, she was set to become a co-ordinator for the Global Classroom initiative in the Czech Republic in May-June 2008 but unfortunately events overtook her.”
After her death, Vaila’s Fund was set up to honour her memory and to enable young, financially disadvantaged fifth and sixth year pupils in Shetland to travel abroad for international study and opportunities such as those presented by the Global Classroom initiative.
Trustees will be made up of Anderson High School staff and it is expected at least one pupil per year will be able to take advantage of the fund.
The idea for the character auction was suggested by Helen Moncrieff, a friend of the Harveys, who knew of other authors who had done something similar.
“I heard that Ian Rankin had auctioned off a character from his Rebus series,” she said. “Vaila was just a darling and I wanted to do something to help. As the Harvey girls had been mentioned in the book it seemed a fitting tribute as well as a way to help the fund.
The author was then contacted and was “extremely willing to do something to help”.
The book in which the auctioned character will appear currently has the working title Homecoming Blues, however this is not definite as the book is still a year from completion. Ms Cleeves also said as yet she hasn’t decided on how the character will be used.
“It depends on the name really and if it’s easy to incorporate … If it’s an American sounding name they might have to be brought in as a stranger. It will be a proper character though and not a sideline, that would be cheating!” she said.
Speaking about the idea of the character auction, Mr Harvey said: “I thought it was such a great idea. If it can bring money into the fund so that people will be able to take part in things like the Global Classroom then it will be great.”
As well as having their name feature in the book, the winning bidder will also receive a signed first edition and an invitation to the book’s launch party.
Bids can be made online at Ann’s website, www.anncleeves.com/vaila, where there is also information about the fund, and the highest bid is shown. The auction is open to anyone and you can also bid on behalf of someone else. It will be open until 9pm on Sunday 8th March and the winner will be announced at the launch of Ann’s latest novel, Red Bones, at the Lerwick Library on Tuesday 10th March.
A tribute to Vaila was also made in June last year when her friends won a competition to name a Lerwick sixareen after her. The Vaila Mae was launched as part of the Johnsmas Foy celebrations.