Ajay Close

Ajay Close’s first career in journalism gathered several awards. As well as being a playwright, she is the author of seven novels: literary page-turners dealing with family and relationships under pressure, often with a political dimension. Her debut, Official and Doubtful, was longlisted for the Orange Prize and followed by ForspokenTrustA Petrol Scented Spring (longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction), The Daughter of Lady MacbethWhat We Did in the Dark, and her latest acclaimed novel What Doesn’t Kill Us, set in Leeds and Bradford at the time of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Ajay lives in Scotland and is working on her next novel.  

Ajay’s website:
Ajay on X: @AjayClose

Ajay is represented at Jenny Brown Associates by Lisa. For all enquiries contact

Ajay Close Author

Author photograph: Craig Stephen

Books by Ajay

What Doesn't Kill Us

What Doesn’t Kill Us

Saraband, February 2024

A killer stalks the streets of Leeds. Every man is a suspect. Every woman is at risk. But in a house on Cleopatra Street, women are fighting back.

It’s the eve of the 1980s. PC Liz Seeley joins the squad investigating the murders. With a violent boyfriend at home and male chauvinist pigs at work, she is drawn to a feminist collective led by the militant and uncompromising Rowena. There she meets Charmaine – young, Black, artistic, and fighting discrimination on two fronts.

As the list of victims grows and police fail to catch the killer, women across the north are too terrified to go out after dark. To the feminists, the Butcher is a symptom of wider misogyny. Their anger finds an outlet in violence and Liz is torn between loyalty to them and her duty as a police officer. Which way will she jump?

Praise for What Doesn’t Kill Us:

‘[A] finely crafted, vividly detailed thriller and slice of social history … reminiscent of [Pat] Barker … brusque, rebarbative, unsentimental … wittily realized … Danger trembles around every corner and there are some truly unsettling moments. Close is good on the blurred boundaries between police and killer, the undertow of collusion and complicity … true to life’  Catherine Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

‘Panoramic … the parallels with failures in today’s criminal justice system are unmissable in this uncompromising novel’ The Times Best New Crime Fiction, February 2024

‘This book is a must-read. Ajay has a uniquely raw and authentic voice. She conjures up atmosphere like no other’ Maxine Peake

‘Vivid and visceral’ Val McDermid

What we did in the Dark

What We Did in the Dark

Sandstone, 2020

‘I made what may be called a rash and foolish marriage to a man I scarcely knew.’

1904: Cathie longs for adventure. A whirlwind romance with soldier and artist Herbert Jackson offers this and more, but Herbert is violently jealous and she is soon fighting for her freedom – and her life. A fictionalised account of Catherine Carswell’s first marriage, What We Did in the Dark is a compelling portrait of a trailblazing writer.

Praise for What We Did in the Dark:

‘Profound and moving … Beautifully told’ James Robertson

‘A wonderfully compelling book, bringing life to a fascinating historical character’ Scotland on Sunday

Daughter of Lady Macbeth

The Daughter of Lady Macbeth

Sandstone, 2017

Freya and Frankie’s longing for a baby has put their marriage under strain. IVF is their last hope, but how do you bring a child into the world if you don’t know who you are? Freya’s mother Lilias (an actress on and off stage) will tell her nothing about her father, not even his name. When Freya signs on at a fertility clinic, she discovers a new capacity for deception in herself, while Lilias is forced to confront the limits of pretence. As the lies and secrets unravel, it seems mother and daughter have more in common than either of them suspects.

Praise for The Daughter of Lady Macbeth:

‘Sensual, wise and raw, The Daughter of Lady Macbeth gets to the heart of what it means to be a mother, or wish you were’ Rosemary Goring

‘As befitting something which references one of Shakespeare’s darkest female characters, The Daughter of Lady Macbeth has a shocking, violent and mysterious opening. Both timelines will keep you guessing’ Stylist Magazine

A Petrol Scented Spring

A Petrol Scented Spring

Sandstone, 2015
Longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize

Listen to Ajay talking about A Petrol Scented Spring

‘I still don’t know whether he was done for before we met, whether his heart was already claimed, or smashed. Whether the love story pieced together in these pages is mine, or hers.’

The day after her wedding, Donella Ferguson Watson wakes up shackled to a man haunted by the past. The lonely days become weeks, months. Her husband Hugh, a prison doctor, will offer no explanation for their sexless marriage.

She comes to suspect the answer lies with a hunger-striking suffragette who was force fed and held in solitary confinement. But what really happened between Hugh and his prisoner patient? A Petrol Scented Spring is a riveting novel of repression, jealousy and love, and the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Praise for A Petrol Scented Spring:

‘Inventing a fictional narrative for her real-life principals, Close writes with breathless wit, dizzying passion, a quick sympathy for her two heroines, and an unflinching eye for the mechanics of the medical procedures inflicted on prisoners of conscience’ Kirkus Reviews

‘A fascinating insight into one of the most compelling stories in the history of the women’s suffrage movement’ The Times

‘Ajay Close’s writing hums with an electric tension, her dialogue is superb, as is her insight into the complex mix of human imagination and emotion. This is a truly gripping novel, one which had me totally involved with the lives of the central characters’ Scottish Review



Blackfriars, 2014

Listen to Ajay talking about Trust

Lexa, Gabriel and Rae are unlikely friends. Let’s call them sisters-in-arms.

They meet in the oppressively masculine world of merchant banking in the 1980s, that polarised decade of strikes and deprivation, serious money and conspicuous consumption. Twenty-five years later, in the comfort zone of middle age, those awful yet exhilarating days are a distant memory. Lexa, Gabriel and Rae have other jobs, in another country. Then comes the banking crisis, and the return of a face from the past, and suddenly they’re back in the game, and playing for higher stakes than ever…

Praise for Trust:

‘Intelligent and uncompromising’ Herald

‘Engrossing … the toughness and the edge that her prose achieves are perfect reflections of the content, and a boon to those who want to be made to think, both about men and women and the relations between them, and about the values we so often assume are shared ones’ Scotsman