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Written by Tony Black

CARO RAMSAY, the Scot with the 'sunshine-yellow hair' has been basking in some decidedly glowing press recently.

The 'hair' line featured in one of the nationals recently where the 38-year-old is rapidly becoming what the Scots call, a kent face.

Full-page spreads in both the Edinburgh-based Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald have announced the arrival of a sunny new character on the literary scene, and one that we would do well to note. Well, we don't get much sun in Scotland.


"I think we all are a sum of different personalities and we use the most appropriate one for any occasion and this applies particularly to dealing with the press," Ramsay insists.


"I am humorous and tend to find a funny side to everything -- but that is a personality trait of anybody who does a serious job -- paramedics and firemen often have a wicked sense of humour, it’s how they cope and I think I am a bit like that also."


The medic analogy is an appropriate one. Born in Govan, the younger daughter of a shipyard crane-designer and an office worker, Ramsay grew-up planning to go to medical school herself, eventually becoming an osteopath at the British School in London.


It's a training she now draws upon in her recently acquired new role as writer.


"Medical training obviously helps to kill people easily!" she jokes.


"The diagnostic puzzle solving mind is also useful. I see a lot of the TV character Gregory House in me -- I like difficult patients with difficult problems.


"The huge benefit of a job like mine is working with the public -- I am exposed to all human frailty -- which sinks into my subconscious and emerges in some bizarre and twisted plot, from my bizarre and twisted mind."


Bizarre, twisted ... so not 'sunny' all the time. A Jekyll and Hyde perhaps?

"Yes but I think that is true of all of us, and maybe the nicer we appear to be, the more awful our thoughts. More scary is when characters keep butting in with their thoughts on your life and refuse to shut up. Schizophrenia can’t be that far away."

Until the launch of her new novel, Absolution, Ramsay was leading the quiet life in a rural  village on Scotland's west-coast. It was a painful back problem which heralded the genesis of her first book.

"I was lying flat on my back, looking out a hospital window and being taken off morphine," Ramsay says of her first thoughts of attempting a novel. 

"The ward was full of folk shouting out the wrong answers to Who Wants to be a Millionaire. So I quietly escaped deep into my subconscious and out popped Absolution … which you might notice starts with a blonde lying in a hospital ward … but I never made the connection at the time -- honest."

Ramsay modestly described the first draft as "150,000 words of nonsense" but immediately the book attracted the attention of literary agent Jane Gregory.

"I think it impressed the first agent who saw it, and she took it. But then she realised they had somebody on their hands who had no idea what she was doing.

"She might as well have given me a Woolies snorkel set and told me to go ahead and get the Titanic up. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I am a hard worker and a quick learner.

"I feel I did my apprenticeship in reverse. The big lesson … being a good writer is not the same as being able to craft a good novel."

Since Absolution's launch the press have waxed lyrical about Ramsay, describing her as the 'New Rankin'. It's a comparison her publishers are keen to propagate.

Penguin Editorial Director, Beverley Cousins recently commented: 'Every editor waits in hope for the submission that is so good your heart starts pounding and your pulse starts racing. And after only the first three pages I knew this novel was extra special.

"An atmospheric, chilling and intelligent crime thriller set in Glasgow, Caro Ramsay is, in her own very unique way, the female Ian Rankin.'

Ramsay, politely says she is "flattered" by the comparison.

"I have been called the new Denise Mina as well. It's purely geographical and the style of writing is quite different ... or maybe that’s for you [the reader] to judge.

Despite the comparison, Ramsay points out that Rankin is east coast, from Edinburgh, and she is west coast, from Glasgow. It's a subtle difference, which for non-Scots deserves an explanation.

She says: "Glaswegians are lovely, highly intelligent, beautiful folk who grace the planet they walk on!

"Seriously though I do believe there is a difference. My boyfriend is Australian and he also says there is a difference.

"Edinburgh is hidden behind its elegance, in Glasgow what you see is what you get? Maybe I should just quote from my book that you get more fun at a Glasgow stabbing than an Edinburgh wedding and leave it there before I get into too much trouble."

Regardless, the comparison persists, if only in the media.

"I have been very surprised by the media attention, I had a slight suspicion that the book might make a little splash in Scotland but when the Sunday Express and Radio 2 came knocking it was a bit of a shock."


The suspicion that she will have to get used to the attention is, however, now dawning on her. Along with a sense that she is perfectly placed to achieve still greater things in the publishing sphere.


"I never had a desire to be a writer -- I certainly never starved myself in a garret, waiting for my big break -- I fell into it by accident (literally actually, it was a fall that hurt my back right at the start!) -- and I know how fortunate I have been for that to happen to me.


"I was certainly an avid reader from a young age and developed an early interest in crime -- I was devouring Agatha [Christie] by the age of nine. There are no writers or journalists in the family -- they are all draughtsmen and welders on the Clyde. I think they gave me books to keep me quiet."


She now lists her favourites as Val McDermid, Agatha Christie, PD James, Ian Rankin, “of course”, and Chris Brookmyre.

"To tell the truth I admire anybody who can type without looking," jokes Ramsay.

But she finds it harder to detail what attracts her to the crime genre.

"[I've] no idea, I think you get it, or you don’t," she says.

"I am still told that if I thought a bit harder I could write proper fiction from those who really can’t understand why we like to delve down deep into the darkness of the human mind.

“As it said in the newspaper, I laughed all the way to the bank."

Well, they do say blondes have more fun.


• Absolution, by Caro Ramsay is out now, published by Michael Joseph and priced at £12.99.

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