Caro Ramsay’s The Night Hunter features a serial killer stalking the streets of Glasgow; Nicola White’s In The Rosary Garden features infanticide in 1980s Dublin. In this event chaired by Lee Randall at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the authors discuss how they go about writing about the unspeakable.
Ramsay manages to juggle a successful crime-writing career with a full-time job as an osteopath and acupuncturist, though she takes advantage of the opportunity to ask questions of some of her legal and law enforcement clients, which helps to add the touches of realism for which are novels are acclaimed. White cites an interest in the “grey areas” which exist between the public and private faces of family life, that frequent sense of desperation which often simmers beneath the surface.
When asked if they think there is anything which can’t be written about, both authors are emphatic in their denial (though Ramsay gives the advice to “never ever kill a cat or a dog” in a novel, for fear of vehement retribution from outraged readers). White is of the opinion that writing about ‘taboo’ subjects “depends on your motivation for doing it”, whilst Ramsay agrees there is “a fine line between being gratuitous when we’re just trying to be graphic.”
Both writers are servants to their characters, with White waiting for the plot to “arise” from the people in her novel, and Ramsay explaining that her “characters always dictate what they do.”
Randall asks about the portrayal of violence against women and the risk of popular culture glamourising it. “The TV thing bothers me,” says White, explaining that she often pauses when watching something to think “that corpse is beautifully art directed.” She counteracts any risks in her own work by “being truthful”, whilst Ramsay maintains a focus on “women who fight back”.
When the topic of writing within genre is raised, once again both authors are unanimous. “A lot of general fiction is crime fiction,” says White, whilst Ramsay cites Reginald Hill as an example of an example of a literary writer who chose to work within the genre. Both agree that it’s the subjects dealt with which are important, not the pigeon-holing of any particular style of writing.
“The crime genre,” says White, “is an excellent way to talk about all sorts of things.”