Interview with Danielle Ramsay

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What everyday situation drives you mad?
My alarm clock going off at 5:40 a.m.

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
At the moment my favourite piece of music is ‘Divenire’ by the pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi. As for the best concert – David Bowie.

Colours you’d never wear?
Red or orange. The reason is obvious.

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
Sauvignon Blanc, Camembert and Brittany butter with sea salt crystals.

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Beloved by Toni Morrison.  

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
Memento, a neo-noir psychological thriller film, followed by the French romantic drama, Amour.

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
Jamaica: beach, white sands, the Caribbean Sea, mojitos and reggae. There is a reason why Ian Fleming built a home on a cliff top near the town of Ocho Rios.

Favourite literary or movie villain?
It would have to be Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley from her 1955 novel, The Talented Mr Ripley.  

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
Without question the 1958 psychological thriller, Vertigo.

For readers who have not made the acquaintance of DI Jack Brady yet, would you say they can read Puppet Maker, the fifth instalment in the series, without having read the previous four?
I would describe The Puppet Maker as more of a standalone and so, it can definitely be read independent of the earlier Brady books. The plot for The Puppet Maker defines it and overshadows the fact that it is a DI Brady book and thus, part of a series.

What would you say makes your series around DI Brady different to other crime series?
That is a really difficult question but I would say that the location – Whitley Bay – makes it different. It has a really strong sense of location; whether the readers like my portrayal of the small, rundown seaside resort is a moot point, but it is definitely something that readers discuss. Also, I think DI Brady is different from other fictional detectives or police officers. Admittedly, he started out as a cliché-ridden, maverick detective: heavy drinker, adulterer, destroyed marriage, self-destructive and filled with loathing for the world around him. However, over the series his character has deepened and developed and he has left behind some of the clichés that first surrounded him. One trait Brady has, and always has had, is loyalty. It is an unerring sense of loyalty; whether towards his childhood friend, now mafia figure, Martin Madley or his deputy, DS Conrad who Brady openly defends against homophobic abuse.

One of the places in Puppet Maker is an abandoned former asylum. Did you ever visit such a facility and are you generally drawn to decayed and abandoned buildings?
I do like old, abandoned buildings and find them evocative and disquieting – the writer in me! I did visit St George’s Psychiatric hospital which is actually based in Morpeth in Northumberland. The old sprawling Victorian building is now boarded up but it has an unnerving feel about it; suggestive of a past where practices around mentally ill patients were highly questionable.

Without wanting to give anything away from your story, do you think victims of such perverse ordeals can ever overcome such a trauma and live a normal life again?
Yes; but only with the right professional support and counselling could victims of this kind transcend their victimhood to become survivors. Without giving too much away, I wanted a victim who could become a survivor. Someone who transcended their victimhood and claimed their life back despite the atrocities they had witnessed and those committed against them. This book is very personal to me as I am a survivor of abuse. While I was writing The Puppet Maker (and the other Brady books) I was the victim of domestic abuse – both physical and psychological. It ended dramatically, and luckily for me I survived, but I would not have done so without professional intervention and counselling. Ironically, a victim has no type – I am a feminist, well-educated, articulate and yet, it happened to me; in as much as abusers do not fit one mould.

You are not shying away from drastic and brutal visualisation…have you received feedback from readers that thought your books too gory (obviously not me!) and/or did you also receive praise from others that you dare to be more gruesome than average crime stories?
I was politely advised by a library reading group to start writing cosy crime! Interestingly, I do not believe I am as brutal or as gory as I could be – perhaps that says something about me? I wanted the Puppet Maker to be more about psychological horror, rather than gratuitous violence and that it is more the thought of what has/could have happened to the victims that is unnerving rather than describing the actual violent act. However, I must confess that when I read the proofs for the Puppet Maker it gave me the creeps regardless of the fact that I had written it!

Are you interested in true crime and notorious serial killers? Have you ever been influenced by actual serial killers and their crimes when it comes to creating your antagonists?
I am interested in what makes someone kill and in particular, what drives a person to commit sadistic, heinous crimes against other individuals. However, I have never been influenced by actual true crimes when creating my own killers – I would feel uncomfortable directly taking from real life crimes; whether they have subconsciously fuelled my imagination I cannot say.

Have you spoken to some detectives before creating the character of Jack Brady? Do you think that even with all the novels and the complicated detectives one will never truly grasp what these men doing the actual job are really capable of and how they are haunted by cases they couldn’t solve or that were soul-crushing?
I did talk to a couple of detectives before I started writing Jack Brady (and during various books) to get an idea of ‘the job’ and how they coped on a daily basis with some of the more disturbing cases they had worked on. I did get the impression from them that some of the more challenging cases (particularly investigations involving children) never left them. One was a retired detective and a couple of cases from decades ago still haunt him. One of the ways they coped was through macabre humour and drinking with the team after a gruelling shift as a form of decompression. However, I am aware that socialising over a few drinks is old school and the new form of policing does not necessarily endorse this practice. It is interesting that in the news recently that there has been a significant rise in police officers taking sick leave due to ‘stressful’ work; an increase of 35% in the last five years.

I can’t go into detail, for obvious reasons, but Brady is forced to make a very hard decision at the end of The Puppet Maker. Can you give the readers a hint at what’s next for him?
Brady is ultimately forced to return to the North East and to his role as DI when his deputy, DS Conrad suddenly, and uncharacteristically, disappears. Brady’s gut feeling is that Conrad’s life is in jeopardy and soon, his hunch is proved right. As mentioned before, Brady has a deep loyalty towards Conrad, and it is this, and this alone which brings him back.   

Do you think that recurring characters in novels are almost becoming something like a beloved family member or friend for readers?
Yes, I do think they can become like a family member or a friend for the reader. I have found myself with certain fictional characters desperately not wanting the book to end – always a good sign.