Award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves is helping fund a new scheme, which looks at the link between health and losing yourself in a good book.

The project, which she will talk about in a free online lecture at the University of Sunderland next month, builds on evidence that proves having access to arts and leisure activities has a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

“We’ll be talking to GPs and asking them to perhaps prescribe people to be members of a reading group and we’re employing reading project workers, who’ll talk with individuals,” Ann explained.

“We’re hoping it will work best for people with mild mental illness, like depression or anxiety, or people with chronic pain due to something like arthritis or even with life-limiting disease.”

Ann also believes people are reading more to help them cope as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re all needing an escape”, she said.

“We want to be in different places, we would love to go away on holiday but if we’re reading a book then we can be in the south of France, Alaska or anywhere.

“Kids can read fantasy and find themselves in completely different worlds altogether, so I think reading is vitally important at the moment.”

Professor Angela Smith, a lecturer in English at the University of Sunderland, agrees that reading can be very therapeutic.

She said: “Reading can allow us to escape from our immediate surroundings. This can be to a place we might like to inhabit, or else engage us with a story that will allow us to remove ourselves from our immediate concerns, even if just for a short time.

“During this pandemic reading has offered comfort, as we re-read books it’s like catching up with an old friend. Similarly, reading has allowed us access to a world where the pandemic doesn’t interfere with every part of our lives.”

Ann’s lecture coincides with the paperback publication of her latest Vera Stanhope mystery, “The Darkest Evening”.

The ITV detective drama will enter its 11th series when it returns to our screens later this year, after socially distanced filming resumed last autumn.

Ann, who lives in Whitley Bay, never expected DCI Stanhope to become a household name, though.

“We never thought Vera would become such a huge deal on television,” she said.

“They did the pilot, then we just hoped that people would like it but it’s still going 11 series on, it’s amazing.

“It’s huge in the States, it’s huge in Canada and it’s really big in Australia and New Zealand, so Vera has put the North East on world map.”

Ann Cleeves – New Adventures in Reading will be presented on Microsoft Teams on Thursday, March 11th at 5.30pm.

To register for the event visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/public-lecture-with-ann-cleeves-new-adventures-in-reading-tickets-138438070997