THOUSANDS of free copies of a new Vera detective story – written exclusively for Durham Book Festival – are being given away.

As Ann Cleeves’ ninth novel in the Vera series, The Darkest Evening, hits book shelves this month, the festival will offer readers a free and exclusive new story about the famed detective and a free event with its author.

Written in Blood was penned by Mrs Cleeves as the Big Read title for the 2020 Durham Book Festival.

Set in Durham City, detective Vera Stanhope tries to take some rare time-out at a creative writing class, but is drawn into solving a murder at the book festival.

In the lead-up to Durham Book Festival, which runs from October 9 to 18, 4,000 copies of Written in Blood funded by Mrs Cleeves' publisher Pan Macmillan will be distributed by festival hosts Durham County Council through a wide network.

The books will be available from libraries, community hubs, food banks, local businesses and within the prison library service.

A grant from the County Durham Community Foundation will fund shared reading workshops themed around the book in community groups.

Readers can also download a free e-book version from the Durham Book Festival website.

The author will be interviewed by the broadcaster Steph McGovern for a digital book festival event, to be broadcast on Saturday, October 17. They will talk about Mrs Cleeves' award-winning career, how books have supported her in her own life and why she feels reading is so vital to mental health.

Ann Cleeves said: 'I'm delighted to be taking part in Durham Festival's Big Read, and that Written in Blood will go wild into the community for everyone to enjoy.

"In this short story, Vera is very much out of her comfort zone, advising aspiring writers as part of the Durham Book Festival.

"Reading fiction is a good way to lose yourself, I hope people enjoy a moment to escape into the world of Vera Stanhope."

The Northern Echo:

Durham Book Festival is a Durham County Council event, produced by New Writing North and supported by Durham University, Arts Council England and BBC Radio Newcastle.

Its Big Read is a long-running campaign at Durham Book Festival which celebrates the joy of reading and acts like one big book club.

Previous titles have included Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. Each year, thousands of books are gifted to people from across County Durham, inviting them to read for pleasure and be part of a shared moment for the county.

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said: “The Big Read is a very special part of our programme where we invite everyone to join us in reading one special book. For many of us, reading is the most amazing passport to escapism: it costs nothing and offers complete freedom. Never have we needed books more.

"The Big Read is also a celebration of libraries at the heart of their communities and as the places where many of us discover we are readers.

"At a time when so many of us are feeling stressed and anxious due to Covid-19, we are thrilled to be working with Ann Cleeves, who is not only a fantastic writer, but has also dedicated her career to supporting reading in libraries and the community to bring us joy and support mental health.”

Councillor Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism, said: “The Big Read is one of the most popular parts of Durham Book Festival, as it effectively turns County Durham into one big book club, with thousands of people all reading and talking about the same novel at once.

"We are thrilled Written in Blood by Ann Cleeves is this year’s chosen title.

"To have a book specially penned for the festival by an author who has done so much to raise the profile of our region is a great honour and I cannot wait to read it.”

Alongside the Big Read, Durham Book Festival also produces the Little Read, a picture book gifting programme which provides books, events and teaching resources to primary schools and nurseries throughout County Durham. Donations to support the Big and Little Read campaigns can be made via the Durham Book Festival website.

The full festival programme and tickets will be available from Thursday, September 10, at durhambook