Her writing has been described by The Guardian as “Black, bleak and brilliant.” Caro Ramsay is on her 14th novel. Although she was was born in Govan, Caro now lives in what she wryly tells us her publicity often describes as ‘a small fishing village on the west coast of Scotland; Elderslie.’ We were lucky enough to catch up her ahead of her talk at The Paisley Book Festival this month.

Q. What are the best and worst aspects of a writer’s life?

The best is being able to kill people and get away with it, even if it is only fictionally. An imagination that fires all the time is fabulous, however that means insomnia on the downside. On the plus side I am never, ever bored. I’ve been very lucky but it is a precarious life – but this is not unique to writers. Writers get more criticism in for one book that most people get in a lifetime.

The best is being able to kill people and get away with it, even if it is only fictionally.”

Q. Your first two books were written from a hospital bed, I think, can you tell us a little bit about this time?

I managed to fracture my spine and spent a long time in hospital- not unwell but just unable to move. I was so bored I was thinking about killing everybody in the ward then a friend brought me in a Papermate pen (they can write upside down) and a clipboard. The rest is history! 

Q. Did you always want to be a writer? Who inspired/inspires you?

I don’t think I had a burning desire to be a writer, but I’ve always been very good at lying. And I do have a very dark side to my character. At 8 years old I wrote a great short story about the song The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. In my story the bears turned on the children and ate them!  I never wander around waiting for the muse to strike, it’s a job like any other but one I enjoy very much. Inspired by PD James,  Ian Rankin when he visited our writers’ group.  And Christopher Fowler is a fabulous writer.

Q. Your work often deals with some of the most despicable sides of human beings. How do you get under the skin of these types of characters? Does your work scare you?

I have no issue getting inside the heads of very bad people!  You just need to ask yourself how far they would go to get what they wanted.  My work never scares me.  Not when I look at the world around us.

Q. Of all of your characters who is your favourite creation? And why?

Asking me for my favourite character is like asking who my favourite dog is!

  • Anderson and Costello. I spend a lot of time with them and to me they are real so it’s like going into the office in the morning and saying hello. They might be in a mood, I might be in a mood so we see how the day goes.  If Anderson is being bland and non-committal, I’ll talk to Costello more.  This is normal for writers.
  • As for a baddie? Eve in the second book, Singing to the Dead, was a great character to write. She had no filter at all! The new book I’m writing has got three 85 year old men in it who have been up to all sorts in their youth and I’m rather enjoying their company – Last of the Summer Wine meets MindHunter.

Q. The Guardian described The Blood of Crows as “Bleak black and brilliant.” Do you ever fancy writing about fairies and unicorns?!

Not fairies but I do have a children’s book that I keep going back to. It’s about a small boy from Inverness who save the planet with the help of a parrot called Husky McClusky?

Q. Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go in your novels?

Personally, I don’t think I could write about dog fighting. I just couldn’t do it. Anything else is up for grabs but there are some things that need more sensitive handling. I never write gratuitous violence – there is no need for it. My scene might be graphic in the aftermath of violence, then the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks ay a level they feel comfortable  with.

Q. Tartan Noir has become almost its own genre. Why do you think there are so many crime writers in Scotland?

I think the Scottish mentality lends itself to crime writing. We are a melancholy lot with a great sense of dark humour. The long dark nights? The weather leads to dark thoughts, as does the performance of the national football team!

I think the Scottish mentality lends itself to crime writing. We are a melancholy lot with a great sense of dark humour.

Q. What is the most elaborate way you’ve imagined killing off someone in your novel? And is there is there such a thing as the perfect crime?

I think dangling somebody over the top of a train tunnel, so they get hit by the train when it comes is pretty horrible. The perfect crime would be a murder and it would never be found out. But for me, two people go hillwalking in bad weather – one returns. Just never insure your victim of choice  for three million pounds the fortnight just before you accidentally trip and push them off a cliff.

Q. Which book are you most proud of and why?

Most writers should have a natural affection for the first book that was completed and in my case that was the first book that got published. And the book being written should be the best, as, as an artist, you should be getting better at your craft. I do like to challenge myself, I’m fourteen books not a series and I never want to be accused of writing the same book over and over again. So Mosaic was a nod to the unreliable narrator. It sold out in the states within two weeks of publication so I think it succeeded. The Red Red Snow, is my next book and it’s a nod to the locked room mystery.

Q. What are you currently reading?  

Well I am reading  two new writers on the Scottish scene, both names to watch out for.   One is Dan Scottow with his novel Damaged, the other writer is Douglas Sinclair – a name to watch for in 2021.  One is paperback, the other on my kindle!

Caro will be appearing at Paisley Central Library at 7.30pm on 24/02/20. The event is free but book tickets in advance. paisleybookfest.com

Caro Ramsay Q&A