Interview: Catriona McPherson

Please welcome Catriona McPherson, author of the Dandy Gilver detective series as well as the mystery As She Left It.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Neil brings me coffee in bed (this actually happens every day) then we go to a yard sale where I find a ton of vintage stuff–kitas she left itchenalia, dresses, barkcloth fabric–then have a bicycle ride around the 12 mile Davis bike loop followed by the Sunday New York Times (did I say it was Sunday?) at Mishka’s coffee-house.  I choke when I see my book in the best-seller list, but I don’t need the Heimlich manoeuvre.  Then we go next door to the art-deco Varsity Theatre to watch a great new film, pick up a Woodstock pizza and head home, where I discover that Joe the UPS guy (in my daydream UPS delivers on Sunday) has left a parcel of books on the porch.  These include a new Kate Atkinson, a new Ann Cleeves and a new Lisa Scottoline.  I crack one open after the pizza, as the sun goes down and the frogs start up.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I very often have at least one pair of glasses on my head and a pen behind my ear.  Ooh!  I have a signature pen; does that count?  Bue Bic Cristals–a design classic which is part of the 20thc design exhibit at MOMA in New York.  Partly I use them because I’m left-handed and inky.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Stuart Campbell was my English teacher at Queensferry High School.  He was the first teacher who didn’t care about spelling and neatness but cared a great deal about ideas and excitement. He comes to my UK book launch parties now.  Ronnie Cann was my PhD supervisor at Edinburgh University and, although I was a timid and hopeless academic, still the discussions he and I had about impossible worlds where Captain Kirk dances with the tooth fairy taught me a lot about plotting. He comes to the parties too.  And Her Awesomeness Mary Higgins Clark.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, no, no–with one exception.  When I’m finished a first or final draft I print it out, play music on Youtube and dance around.  ELO’s Mr Blue Sky is a good printing-out song.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If As She Left It were chocolate it would be dark and bitter with salt crystals but a sweet finish.  (Is that even possible?)  But I wouldn’t eat it.  I don’t like posh, dark, high-cocoa chocolate; I like cheap, creamy muck.  I do love salty chocolate, though.  I put salt on all cakes, chocs and puddings.  Delish.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Oof, this one has been knocking about in its component parts for a long time. I was on holiday in France in the mid-90s and driving to the bread shop in the mornings I listened to Louis Armstrong, which started a daydream about a trumpeter.  Then about ten years ago I bought the bed with a secret that’s featured in the book.  I still sleep in it every night.  Also, one weekend in Leeds, maybe five years ago, two friends and I met the little old lady who’s in this story.  I finally mooshed it all together and started writing in 2010.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I didn’t know this until my beloved agent, Lisa Moylett, said it in a very throw-away line, but then I recognised it to be true.  There is always a lost or missing or mourned child somewhere in everything I write.  Paging Dr Freud!

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Opal Jones is the child of an alcoholic mother whose father left them both when she was small, remarried and had a son.  At twenty-five she’s an orphan who deals with the past by burying it; absolutely refusing to go there.  It’s not a spoiler to say this doesn’t work!  She’s independent–doesn’t like people getting close–but she takes care of people too.  She’s strong and funny as well as vulnerable.  I’m very fond of her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Okay. Princess Diana x Lisbeth Salander x Roseanne (the one that was married to Dan Connor, not the real one).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Val McDermid, Jess Lourey, Clare O’Donohue, Mary Higgins Clark, Ruth Rendell and Denise Mina.  That sounds like a fun night.

What’s next for you?
I’m editing and polishing the next Dandy Gilver for its summer 2014 UK release.  My working title is Dandy Gilver and A Regretable Kettle of Herring, but who knows if that’ll stay.  I’ll spend the summer in Scotland, doing Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and research.  Then this coming November  DG & A Bothersome Number of Corpses comes out in the US.  The next new writing will be the third modern stand-alone (the second is finished) which I’ll get stuck into after Bouchercon.  I’ve got a clear plan of the next year in my head even though it sounds like chaos.


Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver series of 1920s detective stories set in Scotland, where she was born and where she lived until moving to northern California in 2010. Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains launched the series in the US and won the 2012 Macavity award at the Cleveland Bouchercon. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder won the Bruce Alexander award at Left Coast Crime in 2013 as well as the Historical Agatha at Malice Domestic 25. Her first modern novel, As She Left It, was published on the 8th of June 2013 and earned a Kirkus starred review.  When not writing Catriona is reading mysteries, growing fruit, vegetables and roses, cooking, baking, dumpster-diving, thrifting and hanging out with her two black cats and her scientist husband.

Twitter: @catrionamcp
Facebook: /Catriona-McPherson for Opal and for Dandy  Email:

13 thoughts on “Interview: Catriona McPherson”

  1. What a wonderful interview! You have such a delightful voice. Especially engaged by the description of how this particular story came to be after “knocking about” for a bit.

    And “ELO’s Mr Blue Sky is a good printing-out song.” = Love it.

    Congrats on your books and on your new website too! Thanks for visiting.


  2. Thanks so much for visiting! I enjoyed this post very much, and I agree with Cynthia: you have a delightful voice. I can’t wait to dive into this series! Love the salty/chocolate combo, too, although I usually prefer dark chocolate. But, I did recently discover the most wonderful shop in Newburyport, MA, where they sell only English/Scottish imported products, and they have Wispa candy bars! Not dark, and Cadbury no longer distributes them in the U.S. Delicious. Thanks again for stopping by; I’m off to visit the new website now.


  3. Don’t you love when someone else recognizes the themes of your writing? Shows you have insightful fans! I’m looking forward to As She Left It. Am I reading correctly that you’re writing a string of stand-alones? How does that compare to series writing with Dandy?


    1. Hi Diane, I’ve just hit send on the edited ms of the second one! Feels good. It’s different, for sure, not writing Dandy Gilver. Her world and the characters in it are so familiar to me now, but the stand-alones are contemporary so there’s the great relief of not having to think about period details.


  4. Congratulations! I have one stand-alone that needs addressing before being sent out. It does feel good to write a story and know your characters are going to be allowed to go on with their lives after you type “the end.”


  5. I love it when an author doesn’t recognize her own running themes. To me, that means the theme happens organically rather than being chiseled in to meet some “literary” goal. When a theme is forced, it comes off preachy and judgmental. That’s something that will definitely make me stop reading that book.
    Congrats, Catriona, on finishing up the 2nd draft. Awesome feeling, isn’t it?!


  6. Thank you, Donna. I know some writers decide their themes in advance and plan the scenes to express them but I think if I did that there’d be resounding ker-lunk!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s