Caro Ramsay is a crime writer with a rather unique CV.
When not writing her hit novels about Glasgow cops DI CAnderson and DS Costello, she is a practicing osteopath who has a bit of a way with animals.
Her books may be "bleak, black and brilliant" according to The Guardian, but the audience at this weekend's Inverness Book Festival should discover Caro's lighter side - and maybe why a Caley Thistle fan will save the world....
You recently took part in an East v West Scottish crime writers debate in Glasgow (with fellow Inverness Book Festival guest Doug Johnstone among the east coasters). Is there a divide/difference between the way west/Glasgow writers approach crime fiction and the way other Scots look at crime?
You don’t expect the answer to that question to be unbiased, do you?? Of course west is better than east, we are far more intelligent, witty and marvellous in everyway.
That night Craig Robertson had discovered a dark secret about each of us and the audience had to guess which secret belonged to who.
Did you know Doug Johnstone is a PhD in nuclear physics? He could be like the Mekon, the baddy in Dan Dare, plotting the downfall of civilisation as we know it from some evil lair. Although rumour has it he is a Kilmarnock boy at heart so goodness knows what he might have planned for the planet.
I think a bigger difference is location. Urban based Scottish crime fiction has a similar feel east and west. Rural fiction has a slightly more Scandi feel to it. ‘Staring out the window crime fiction’ as we call it.
I suppose if you write about Edinburgh you get the chance to kill more tourists though. Tempting.
In your other job you are an osteopath. Has that training and experience ever fed into your crime writing?
It does, all the time. Diagnosis is investigation so the ability to problem solve and dig deeper is relevant to both. And we study a lot of anatomy. In my day the students did dissections as part of their training so that came in handy. The big bonus for me is that my patients chat to me all the time. My next book has somebody in a coma. Medically I know all about coma but have never known or nursed anybody in that state. Then one patient said, ‘my wife is a specialist coma nurse- why not come round for coffee.’
And I treat a lot of cops and a lot of lawyers who are more than happy to tell me the worst about the other’s profession. And it’s those little niggly details that make it sound authentic.
Speaking of other jobs, is its true you can count bull whispering as one of your talents?
Well I didn’t get hurt, my colleague got a broken rib!! The bull was a little cross as he had fallen off a cow and hurt his back. He was perfectly nice to me, but head butted my colleague in the chest. The bull got better quicker than my colleague did. I don’t have trouble with animals at all, always had a natural affinity with them. It’s not the case with children though!
You also studied forensic science. Why did you decide to do that and what was the most surprising, shocking or useful thing you learned?
I just decided to do it to annoy (fellow crime writer) Alex Grey!
She’s a good pal and she took the course a year before me. It’s a much easier exam to pass with a medical background whereas Alex’s background is English (we say that she knows where to put the apostrophe and I know where to stick the knife in, so we get on famously)….
So I took the course, sat the exam and passed it. One of the lecturers did comment that my dissertation was one of the “best works of fiction he had ever read”. I learned lots of things, eyewitness evidence is very unreliable, forensic pathologists are very rarely adversarial the way they are on tv, post mortem results tend to go in the post. (The pathologist does not turn up at the cops waving results in the air). Bodies float with their limbs downwards. Nobody has the right to say ‘I’m not going to press charges. A cirrhotic liver cuts like foie gras. And the diagnosis of death can be a legal and medical minefield.
The list is endless….
What makes Anderson and Costello such a good team, both as detectives and as central characters in a book series?
He’s very sensible and she’s emotional at work. In their private life it’s the other way round. My fans really like Costello, although she’s a wee hard faced, scalpel tongued lassie. She has all the spontaneous one liners it has taken me a week to think up.
I think they are/sound like real people. They are not super heroes, they are not outcasts of society. They go to supermarkets, have negative equity and worry about their kids doing the Curriculum For Excellence. Then go to a brutal crime scene. I like that contrast. Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job.
Do you have long term plans for Anderson and Costello or are you a writer who looks one book ahead at a time?
Book five, The Night Hunter, is just out. I’m editing six, The Tears of Angels. Writing seven and book eight is roaming somewhere around my subconscious….. so I think they will be around for a while yet.
You are now established as a crime novelist, but are there any other kinds of stories you have an ambition to write or happy to go down a criminal path?
I am very happy doing crime ... well writing about it. I do have a children’s book in my head. It’s the antitheses of Harry Potter.
It’s just dawned on me that the wee boy in the book, Fin Fin McLean, is an Inverness boy. His mum moves to Glasgow, to a high rise, and wee Fin Fin is very unhappy. He spends the entire novel in an Inverness Caley Thistle top and a Viking helmet. He is small and spotty but he saves the world. He has the help of a raccoon and a Gentoo penguin called James. ‘’James Gentoo, he likes his feathers shaken not stirred… “
* Caro Ramsey is at Inverness Book Festival at 6.30pm at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, on Saturday 23rd August where she will be interviewed by fellow crime writer Tony Black.