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Caro Ramsay on Crime Fiction

Caro R

Some speakers should be allowed just to speak for themselves. (Memo to self: Find and delete all ‘just’s. Caro does.)
Caro Ramsay, award winning and best selling crime fiction author, is she tells us, not a writer. She is someone who likes ‘telling lies and killing people.’ Literary lies and fictional murders only, one can only hope, but I wouldn’t have fancied the chances of the woman with the TV remote in the Spinal Unit at the Southern, where Caro lay with a broken spine for nine months. During this period of enforced immobility she unleashed 250,000 words, her first two novels, while fantasizing about killing a number of irritating people.
The ‘very scary’ Jane Gregory, literary agent ‘for women with evil minds,’ loved the books, as did the editor for Michael Joseph. They were the best thing they had ever read, although they would like to ‘change everything.’ Caro learned that to get on as an author, it is important to be able ‘to talk, not get drunk and not be difficult.’ So she let them change the name of her detective and much more, proved she can talk like the best gossip magazine you ever read but didn’t come clean about the not getting drunk. She did, however, name a few who had failed in these areas.
Subsequent editors of her books wanted to put back in what she had previously taken out, so she learnt never to permanently delete her edits. With little trouble her books were translated into many languages but keeping the Scots words proved a battle. Advances followed rapidly but she couldn’t lay her hands on the lovely money immediately because, as Jane told her, ‘We love our authors but we don’t trust them.’ Eventually she received enough to buy or, as she puts it, ‘rescue’ a poltergeist infested house that seems to have the personality of a child abuse victim – fine if loved but scary if meddled with.
Success on the best seller list led to awards ceremonies. Apparently, the swish limos that transport award-nominated authors have only come from the back of the hotel, where your aspiring author has been left waiting to shiver by the bins waiting for it to arrive. Before the announcement of the winners there is more waiting with free booze and canapés that can prove too much for some. Names withheld from blog following legal opinion.
Crime fiction is about ‘Justice and Morality – not the Law.’ There are rules: Agatha Christie’s still apply – no identical twins, dreams or paranormal explanations; not more than four investigators, a bright one, a dim one and two gophers; the reader must be able to say, ‘I should have known that’ because you did tell them, somewhere; do what you like to humans but never kill a dog or a cat – or swear too much; the crime must have ‘high emotional value’ (a parking ticket does not cut it). Michael Malone’s edict of ‘what you need is a body and the deader the better’ still applies.
Caro knows a number of interesting ways that will kill but are hard to detect. As an acupuncturist, her knowledge of the use of needles inserted subtly and fatally was unnerving, as was her description of highly toxic coral.
Now you’ve got your body, you’ll need to get rid of it. Caro has some suggestions: lochs are good. Only a minority of those who are slid into their dark and peaty waters are yielded up again. They get caught under ledges and stripped of their flesh by pike. Hyenas can destroy a body completely in 24 hours, which has put me off Botswana a little and as a result of more revelations along these lines, I am going to be cautious about watery venues such as Venice and Stockholm.
To make money from film adaptations, you need to set your novel somewhere saleable, not too urban, not in fog, not unknown to Americans. Try Argyll. Or Loch Lomond. Somewhere without a mobile phone signal is also good. Isolates the characters and simplifies the plot.
Like many other authors, she works from a timeline on a strip of paper with Post-it notes for the action, which get written first, as they are the most fun, and then joined up. This makes providing the first chapters for publishers tricky. They can have their 40,000 words but they may not be in the right order.
Caro has a high nausea threshold. ‘It’s not disgusting. It just (hers not mine) makes your skin crawl a bit.’ She doesn’t like Jane Austen and lifted an imaginary Mrs Bennett’s bosom into an Empire line to confirm this. Her opinion of Mills and Boon authors was even more forthright. ‘Invite . . . (one) and you’ll realize what a true psychopath looks like!’ If anyone should know, Caro with a Diploma in Forensic Science and a penchant for imagined homicide, should.
To use a local phrase, if you weren’t there, you missed yourself.
James Rose

2 comments

  1. Maggie Bolton

    Great blog James. I’m sorry I missed myself,

  2. Yvonne Jack

    Thanks for the blog James- a super night fully reported.

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