What We Did in the Dark

One day she will find fame as the writer Catherine Carswell – first in her forties, and again posthumously, as one of Virago’s ‘modern classic’ female novelists – but in 1904 she is Cathie Macfarlane: young, artistic, hungry for life. Herbert Jackson is just the man to turn her head, an artist and former soldier harbouring a romantic secret. Within a month of meeting, they are married and on their way to Italy, where Cathie’s lust for adventure will be tested to the limit.

Why does Herbert sleep with a pistol under his pillow? Who are these enemies he is so desperate to escape? After his passionate courtship, why won’t he touch her in bed? 


Set in the early 1900s, this is a profound and moving exploration of a disastrous marriage from which the woman rescues herself – physically, emotionally and legally – in an age when the odds against her doing so were immense. Ajay Close recreates the relationship between the young Scottish writer Catherine Carswell and her first husband, Herbert Jackson, with sympathy for both, but Catherine’s heroic determination to make her own future is what drives the narrative forward. The writing is visually rich and packed with detail, and the story is beautifully told. I couldn’t stop reading it.

James Robertson

Ajay Close is a novelist and dramatist. Her first novel, Official and Doubtful, was long-listed for the Orange Prize. It was followed by Forspoken; Trust; A Petrol Scented Spring (longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction); and The Daughter of Lady Macbeth.

Her latest novel, What We Did in the Dark, is based on the 20th century writer Catherine Carswell and her disastrous first marriage to the artist Herbert Jackson.

The Keekin Gless, a play about Scots poet William Soutar, premiered at Perth Theatre. The Sma Room Seance, a musical play based on Soutar’s life and work, toured Scotland and was revived at the Edinburgh Fringe. Cat and Mouse, about the Scottish suffragettes, premiered at Goodlyburn Theatre, Perth.

Ajay’s first career was in journalism, where she won many awards.