Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010.
She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. The latest of these is 2021’s THE MIRROR DANCE. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). Book 4, SCOT MIST, came out in January. She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is last year’s A GINGERBREAD HOUSE.
Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, a proud lifetime member, and former national president of Sisters in Crime. www.catrionamcpherson.com
Scot Mist: March 2020, California is locking down, and the wagons are circled at the Last Ditch Motel when Lexy Campbell discovers a message scrawled on the front fence in human blood. Are they under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a study, and I’ve been working in it non-stop for a while, what with one thing and another. In normal times, I tried hard to break the association between place and productivity, and I got to the point where I could work in airports, on planes, in coffee shops, in hotel rooms, on the beach. I wonder if I’ll have to build that up again? I look forward to finding out.
Who’s your favorite author? Well now. Living? Stephen King. Of all time? Jane Austen. And if I’m going to follow the rule of three, I need one more. Dorothy Whipple. She was a bizarrely forgotten writer of domestic drama from between the wars. She is now a triumphantly rediscovered joy, published by Persephone Press. One of my treasured memories is of answering this question after a library talk and having a very posh, very elderly lady say: “My word, I adored Dorothy Whipple when I was a girl. I shall try Stephen King now, I think.” I hope she did. They have the same big heart and effortlessly confident style.
How do you come up with character names? Urgh. It’s a perennial problem, and it got worse when I left Scotland and stopped hearing Scottish names every day. Scottish names are tough anyway because you can’t have as many Mcs and Macs in a book as you get in real life. It looks terrible on the page. Whenever I hear a good (non Mc/Mac) Scottish name, I write it on my hand in Sharpie and transfer it to my master list when I get home. First names can be a struggle too. I tried three times to have a heroine called Tash. The first became Gloria. The next ended up as Jude. Tash finally appeared in A Gingerbread House last year. But even then, she had three aliases in the course of the book.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I do, but only out of love and usually, once the person in question is gone. I had my Aunty Doreen McPherson win a bonny baby competition in my (and her) hometown in 1923, in The Burry Man’s Day. And Miss Drumm in The Child Garden was based on my beloved late step-granny-in-law, Laura McRoberts. Todd, the fabulous gay best friend in the Last Ditch, is rooted in my FGBF Alex MacLeod. (See what I mean about the Mcs and Macs?)
What is the best book you have ever read? Blimey. That’s a tough question. And I’m not going to answer it. What I will say is that in my study – I’m looking at them right now – I’ve got a wee pile of five books which are the books that made me a writer. I discovered them as a teenager, and each one showed me something new that a novel could be, that a writer could do. They are – in order of my finding them – Pride and Prejudice, Gone With The Wind, Catch-22, The Water-method Man (John Irving), and I Capture The Castle (Dodie Smith).
Do you have any advice for new writers? Nothing earth-shattering or original, to be honest. Finish the book! When you’re disheartened, keep going. When you think of a better story, leave it aside and plough on. Finish. The. Book. Charlaine Harris said it best when she said, “Anyone can start fifteen novels; it takes a writer to finish one.”
Find Catriona on Facebook or Twitter, and at catrionamcpherson.com
Love this! “Anyone can start fifteen novels; it takes a writer to finish one.” Great interview. Thx Catriona and George!
Love this interview. Thanks, George. Catriona, if this is not too personal a question — what made you leave Scotland for the U.S. Thank you for these words of wisdom and telling us about your process.
Hi Catriona, so nice to see you again. I’ve met you a couple of times at the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime. Unfortunately, they haven’t met again in any form since Covid began. I love your series. Surprised about your reference to Stephen King. Great interview.
Hi, Catriona! and George! I read your list of five and was astonished to find I Capture the Castle. Such an interesting book made into a movie a while back with Bill Nighy as the father. When I reread it recently for book club, I heard his voice. 🙂
Entertaining interview! A “transplant’s” view of California sounds really worth reading! Thanks for this, both of you.
Interesting interview and cogent advice, Catriona. My grandfather was born in Scotland (Perch), which I was told is pronounced /perth/. I’ve also been told that BLACK is a common name in Scotland, so get your marker out. Anyway, I found your comments fascinated. Good luck.
Catriona is as interesting as her books. One of my characters in ” A Neighborly Killing” is Scottish and I heard Catriona’s voice as I wrote it.
What a lovely interview! I’m not surprised that a few favorite books are composed of classics. Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice are included on my list, too, of quite incredibly crafted, engrossing reads. Thank you so much to you both!
Thank you for the interview, Catriona and George! I really loved that last quote. I know what that’s like to start many stories and then to finally finished one. There’s so much power and finishing a novel! I love your range of work. From the humorous to the thrilling. I will definitely have to check one of your books out. Oh! I believe I met you both at the San Joaquin California writers club. Is that right?
Great meeting you, Catriona! I love Scottish names, and so agree, “…Finish the book…”
Lovely interview. Great advice on ploughing ahead, even when you get a new idea. Write it down then finish what you’re working on.
What a fun interview! I see Catriona (online so far) in my local Sisters in Crime Chapter quite often and this interview was super fun. Her stories are award-winners and I’ll be picking up the first one soon. I agree with your advice about finishing the book. I’m also intrigued by Dorothy Whipple. So much to look into!
Thanks, Catriona and George!
Very interesting interview.I like the advice to other writers, especially the “ploughing on” comment. Made me smile.
Really lovely interview, Catriona. Thank you and thank you George for having her as a guest. Character names are always hard to get right, sometimes we can be sure we want ‘that’ name when the whole time the character is yelling – “Who are you talking about? That’s not who I am!”
Your books sound wonderfully intriguing – hooked me! And congratulations on this latest.
And as for Scottish names? My grandmother’s maiden name was Pettigrew. Her mother, my great grandmother, had such a strong Scottish burr we could barely decipher her words (I was very little). She was eternally grumpy and would whack my (barely older than me) uncles with her ever-present walking stick. I was lucky – she never smacked me. Phew…
HI Catriona! I was thrilled to meet you on Zoom, and I thank you for encouraging me as I switch from screenplays to a novel to “just let it all come out!” I am a huge and grateful fan!!
It’s always a pleasure whether on Zoom or a blog.