Welcome to our latest Nine Lives Interview featuring crime author Danielle Ramsay answering nine questions about her and her writing life.

Do you remember the first book you read?

Absolutely: The Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. It was a beautifully illustrated edition and completely mesmerised me with its dark tales, igniting my imagination.

Where is your ideal place to read, and do you have a favourite time of day for reading?

My ideal place to read would be on a beach in the Caribbean. Failing that, curled up my couch in the evening with the wood burning stove and candles lit and a large glass of red wine.

Which authors have inspired or influenced you?

My latest book, The Last Cut (2017) which features DS Harri Jacobs – a female cop who finds herself tracking down a serial killer who is altering his victims to look like her – was heavily influenced by three writers whose shared name I gave to my protagonist. Harri’s namesakes are three inspirational and heroic 19th century female writers who used their work to battle against racial and gender oppression: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the free black woman, Harriet E. Wilson, Our Nig or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859) and the escaped slave, Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). According to legend, Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her in 1862 as being “the little woman who wrote the book that start-ed this great war (the civil war 1861-1865).” Whether true or not, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was hugely influential in the fight against slavery and it was her brave portrayal of the horrific ills of slavery, including sexual abuse that shocked a nation. All three of Har-ri’s namesakes fought on, regardless; each with their own life struggles be it slavery, poverty or gender inequality – or all of the above. They won, each one of them in their own rights. No one saved them, they ultimately saved themselves.

If you could choose any book from any place or time which one would you most liked to have written?

Beloved by Toni Morrison. It was published in 1987 and it is a book that I wish I had written because of its exploration of American slavery, family, trauma, repressed memories and ultimately, the resilience of the human psyche to fight oppression – regardless of the personal consequences. The racial themes of black/white relations founded in such an inequitable past as slavery, struck a personal chord with me as my Algerian grandfather was raised in Dundee by a white family in the early 1900s and suffered unspeakable racism throughout his life. At the age of thirty-seven he was deployed at the outbreak of the Second World War to France. Physically, as a 6’1’ black man he was a conspicuous figure; finally captured, he proceeded to escape three times during his five year imprisonment. He even survived a “death march” into Germany at the close of the war by feigning death and then made his own way home through Europe, arriving months after the end of the war. My grandfather ironically died shortly after being reunited with my grandmother from an intracranial brain tumour, believed to have been the result of trauma to the head after being beaten repeatedly by a German soldier’s rifle. Consequently, my mother grew up fatherless with no reference to her racial heritage.

Morrison dedicates Beloved to the “Six Million and more” Africans and their descendants who died during the transatlantic slave trade – a novel that speaks of human survival and resilience against adversity which is why it speaks to me of my maternal family and in particular my grandfather and as such, is a book that I wish I had written.

What led you to write your first book?

I had always wanted to write. However, I was not decided on which medium I wanted to write in. I then made a choice to be a filmmaker and so, at the age of fourteen I wrote to the National Film and Television School in London who kindly advised that if I was not Steven Spielberg, then I would have to undertake a degree. So, I followed their advice and graduated with a 1st Class Honours Bachelor Degree in scriptwriting and media pro-duction. I then completed a Masters with Distinction and while undertaking a PhD won a place on the reserve list for the Frank Knox scholarship for a fully funded post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University in African American Studies. My academic interest in ra-cial identity was borne out of the fact that my grandfather was Algerian and raised in Dundee and so, my mother was black-skinned, as were my four uncles. However, my aunt was white-skinned; as was I. I had grown up hearing the “N” word used in reference to my own mother and so, this insight into racism despite being white-skinned, had led me to want to study slavery and the concept of “passing” from one race to another.

However, after getting a top New York literary agency’s support for a psychological thrill-er I was writing set in New England where I had once worked, which encompassed ra-cial, sexual and religious politics, I gave up my ambition of Harvard, choosing to write creatively rather than academically. The debut novel set in the States was never pub-lished and if it had been it would have been over 1000 pages long and too complicated to be commercially viable. So, on the advice of a fellow academic and author who told me to “write what you know” I filed my debut novel away and wrote the DI Jack Brady se-ries set in Whitley Bay in the North East of England where I currently reside.

Pen, pencil, typewriter or computer keyboard?


Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

I get up at 5:30 a.m. and run roughly five miles up to the stables where I keep my horse and then back home. Sometimes I ride my horse around the fields and country tracks or, I simply check on her. I then get home, shower, have a strong black coffee and then start work. At least, that is my intention. Sometimes emails and other such distractions get in the way. If the work is flowing, then I will keep at it until about 9:00 p.m.

Was there a break-through moment for you, or a key person who helped you?

The key person who has helped me, and is still helping me, is the Queen of Crime – Martina Cole. She has been so amazingly magnanimous in her support of my work. Her unerring kindness for other authors always astounds me. She has endorsed my past two books and will be the first person to read my new psychological thriller (in a few weeks’ time) before it even goes to a publisher.

What piece of advice could you give a new writer trying to get published?

My tip would be to never give up; regardless of how many rejections you may receive, if you truly believe in your writing then keep going. You can only succeed if you keep trying – you fail as soon as you stop.

Randy Pausch at the age of forty-seven gave his last lecture in 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; a month earlier he had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. The book The Last Lecture, based on the speech he gave to his fellow colleagues and students, was published posthumously and one of his quotes resonated with me when I was trying to get published (and still does):

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

You can find out more about this wonderful author here:

Web: www.danielle-ramsay.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielle.ramsay.author
Twitter: @DanielleRamsay2

Her next book ‘The Puppet Maker‘ is published by Hodder & Stoughton.