Friday, October 16, 2015

A Petrol Scented Spring

Today my guest blogger is the person I owe my whole writing career to (and is published by Sandstone Press along with Jorn!). She was the writer in residence at the writer's group I attended after I had fractured my spine. Writing was something I had never intended to do, I had no real desire to be a writer. It was the long months in hospital, the utter boredom and the threat to my livelihood that made me think  that somebody upstairs was telling me to change my course in life. It was her who suggested sending the typescript to Jane Gregory. You know the rest!

John le Carre  said her writing was ‘Brave, vulnerable, intensely observant and articulate, packed with life’.  Fay Weldon  called her 'brilliant.' Even Val McDermid waxes lyrical about her.

Her name is Ajay Close. But to the hooligan reprobates of the Johnstone writer's group she was just Ajay. And she would patiently explain the difference between uninterested and disinterested for the sixth time - while still looking interested.

Her new book,  Petrol Scented Spring sold out after three weeks - yes weeks!

It's a book ....well she explains below  what the book is about, a touching and intriguing story.


My little knowledge of the Suffragette movement in the UK is largely  limited to its most famous public moment ; the instant  Emily Davison charges the King's horse Anmer at the  Epsom Derby.
She died later of her injuries, the jockey never got over the incident and committed suicide later in life. The horse was retired for political reasons and lived a long and happy life at stud.


Here's what Ajay has to say. And when you have read this you should visit her website at and read the  'about' section.  Quote, 'Nevertheless, for me, happiness is living in two fictional worlds: the one I am currently reading, and the one I am writing. Depression is the state of being between books. '

Over to Ajay...

We think of terrorism as a 21st century problem, but in 1914 Scots were no less nervous about unattended luggage. Nine bombs were planted across Scotland. Two exploded: in the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh and Rosslyn Chapel (of Da Vinci Code fame).


The fires were more destructive. Railway stations, schools, racecourse stands, sports pavilions, a university laboratory, a church, a hospital and several large private houses were targeted. Today, the damage would run to many millions of pounds.

Once in a lifetime, a novelist finds the perfect ready-made story, a sequence of real events so dramatic you couldn’t make it up. I came across mine after moving to Perth ten years ago. It had everything: female terrorists, a big moral issue, cabinet-level politics – and a highly-charged relationship across the divide, a strange sort of love story.

In the summer of 1914, four militant suffragettes are jailed in Perth for attacks on property. They refuse to eat or drink. In England, their comrades have been force-fed since 1909. In Scotland, prison doctors won’t do it. Rather than see women die behind bars, jails have been releasing them on licence to return once they regain their strength. (They never do return, of course, unless recaptured.)

Now the government decides it can’t have one rule for English terrorists and another for Scots.  

Dr Hugh Ferguson Watson is 40. An Ayrshire tenant farmer’s son, dux at Ayr Academy, then a grocer’s apprentice. It has not been easy, working his way through medical school, watching men with money and connections overtaking him. Having carried out “artificial feeding” in asylums when patients won’t eat, he has the skills the Prison Commission needs.

The first suffragette he feeds, in Edinburgh, nearly dies of pneumonia after milk gets into her lungs.
In June, Arabella Scott arrives in Perth to serve nine months for setting fire to Kelso racecourse stand. A 29-year-old schoolteacher, she’s a bit of a celebrity in the suffragette movement. Also, strikingly goodlooking.

Before long, the doctor also has care of Frances Gordon (who set fire to a mansion house), Maude Edwards (stuck an axe in the King’s portrait), and Fanny Parker (caught with a bomb at Burns Cottage in Alloway).


Unlike the other three, Arabella copes with force feeding surprisingly well. A mixture of milk, eggs and sugar is poured through a rubber tube inserted down her throat into her stomach. Afterwards, her nose and mouth are blocked for upto two hours so nothing can be vomited out. It’s a brutal experience if the patient is docile, and Arabella is anything but. Up to eight warders are needed to hold her down.  

She is kept in solitary confinement in the prison hospital, flat on her back. No exercise, visitors, letters, books or newspapers. The one person she talks to is the doctor, who spends many hours alone with her, trying to persuade her to give up her hunger strike.

We know about the Stockholm syndrome and the deep bond hostages can form with their captors. But if Arabella is under extreme pressure, so is the doctor.


As the other suffragettes are released and talk to the newspapers, the nation learns they were fed with nutrient suppositories. To Dr Ferguson Watson, it’s the obvious solution to a medical problem. For the authorities, it’s a PR disaster. There are questions in the House of Commons, many outraged letters to the editor.

In some ways, the doctor and Arabella are very similar: intelligent, principled, uncompromising – and for the five weeks she spends in jail, isolated. She doesn’t leave the prison hospital. He doesn’t leave the prison grounds.

In the archives, reading his daily medical reports on the four suffragettes, I noticed a striking difference. With the other three, he’s coldly factual: temperature, pulse, bowel movements. With Arabella, he describes her moods and emotions. One day she bites his hand. Twice she threatens to shoot him.

As an old lady, she sat down with her niece and recorded some memories of this period. It seems the doctor told her that, if she abandoned her hunger strike, she could avoid public embarrassment by emigrating. The government would send her to Canada. He would escort her there.

Clearly this was no ordinary doctor-patient relationship.

Ajay Close guest blogging for Caro Ramsay 16/10/2015 


  1. Fascinating, Ajay, thanks for writing! If there's one thing that's constant throughout human history, it's that there are very few times or places that, when properly examined, are boring.


  2. Annamaria Alfieri said...
    Oh, Ajay. This is exactly the kind of story I love. I have already downloaded the kindle edition--the only one we Yanks can get hold of. And I love Caro's quote. That's the way it goes for me too, except that I usually have four or five that I am reading and two that I am writing, which I am sure makes me sound as if I have multiple personality disorder. In my defense, I think I am just a glutton for stories. I can't wait to delve into yours.
    Thank you for coming by. And a huge THANK YOU for inspiring Caro to write--which brought her and her stories to us!

  3. It's a great book Annamaria. Stockholm syndrome? Lima Syndrome? Or was it a real emotional attraction/admiration between two people that .... well in different circumstances who knows? And that is the mystery for me! You'll really enjoy it.

  4. Thank god the doctor was patient.

    Loved the story. Thanks, Ajay.

  5. Thank god the doctor was patient.

    Loved the story. Thanks, Ajay.

  6. Hi Ajay and welcome to Murder Is Everywhere

    What an amazing story. I'm not surprised it gripped you so that you felt compelled to turn it into a novel. Definitely one for my TBR pile. Thanks to Caro for the intro and for inviting you to share space with us.

  7. I think the story would have ended differently if you had been Arabella. You WOULD have shot him.
    By the way Alan still going round corners in NYPD style after going to the gun range with you.

  8. Wow! The more I learn about the Suffragist Movement in Britain, the more I realize how women risked their lives and limbs literally to get equal rights.

    And it seems like that movement here was tame in comparison. However, women did go on hunger strikes for the vote during WWI, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Stoner. A terrific movie called "Iron-Jawed Angels," portrays this movement.

    I can't wait to see the new movie.

  9. How curious ! Just been doing some genealogical work in my family tree. Extending my Watson line, only to discover dr Hugh Ferguson Watson. On googling him, I find this ! He is my first cousin 3 times removed.