Interview: Catriona McPherson

We are thrilled to welcome Catriona McPherson to Mysteristas and help celebrate the launch of her newest Dandy Gilver mystery The Reek of Red Herrings!

7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I live in California, so my perfect day (it’s a Sunday) begins by waking up to the sound of rain, filling the well, refreshing the plants, ending the drought. I drink coffee in bed and read a good chunk of a rewarding novel, then I eat porridge on the porch watching the raindrops. In the morning I take my pick-up truck to an estate sale and snag amazing bargains, including some Stavangerflint pottery. In the afternoon, I go to a matinee at the local picture-house and then stop in at the coffee shop next door. When I get home I remember that I’ve got delicious leftovers in the fridge that need hardly any preparation. By this time the rain has stopped but the soil is moist and I can weed a huge swathe of the garden without breaking sweat. Even the dandelions just let go like wimps. When the sun is setting I take my cat for a walk, then end the day by hammering my husband at Scrabble. Three games of total humiliation for him. Ha!

I am not a hipster, judging by my perfect day.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Expression? Well, I just had to go through a novel and give it a wee-ectomy. I’d used the word “wee” 87 times. Mostly it was in stock phrases like “my wee girl” meaning “my daughter” and “a wee drop” meaning “some”. I got it down below 40.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

All the Golden-Age Greats: Dame Agatha, of course; Margery Allingham – whose The Tiger in The Smoke is one of the best thrillers ever written, imho; Ngaio Marsh – my favourite is A Surfeit of Lampreys; Michael Innes – most especially Appleby’s end, which is completely bonkers.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, but sometimes if I’m doing the grunt end of an edit – changing all the ” to ‘, for instance, or spellchecking – I listen to King Creosote or Bruch and I always listen to something celebratory when I’m printing out a finished draft. “Happy” by Pharrell, ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feelin'” are wonderful printing-out songs. I sometimes dance around so much I forget to empty the tray and my printer jams. It’s worth it.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

The Reek of Red Herrings would be a Tunnock’s Teacake. They’re a little dome of . . . well, it’s fluffy and it’s unknown in nature; not sure what the composition is . . . covered in a skin of milk chocolate that shatters when you bite into it. They’re a Scottish classic (and available in the World Market in the US).

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I wanted to have a village cut off by winters storms so I could write a version of a locked-room mystery. I found one in Aberdeenshire with a helter-skelter nightmare of a road leading down to it. It happened to be a herring fishing village and the more I found out about the fisherfolk and the traditions of their December wedding season, the more fascinated I became. The story isn’t really a locked room mystery at all now, but the weddings are there in all their glory. And fish too.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

I love a long-buried secret. And shame is a great boon to anyone writing a mystery plot. Not really a theme, but I also adore maps and plans. Does anyone else (tell me in the comments) look up the floor plans of fictional houses? Or draw street plans of fictional towns? Go on and google Movie House Floorplan – it’s another world.

Tell us about your main character.

Dandy Gilver was born in 1886 and carefully brought up by a nanny and a governess, then finished off in Paris. She married well (but not romantically) and had two sons who went to boarding school when they were seven. She was a volunteer nurse in the Great War and should have settled back into a life of good works and dull parties. But at the Armistice Ball, someone stole a diamond and a girl disappeared and . . . twelve years later Dandy is a private detective. I love the way the Guardian newspaper described her in a review “brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.”

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Great challenge! Okay, Dandy is the love-child of DLS’s Harriet Vane, also quite brisk, and The Provincial Lady*, with a pinch of Miss Marple’s methods thrown in.

(*I’m taking that on trust. I’ve never read Diary of A Provincial Lady but enough people have remarked on the similarity for me to believe it. When and if I ever stop writing about Dandy, I’ll finally get to read this classic that I somehow missed.)

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

What a treat! I’d like Ellen Hart (MWA’s brand-new Grand Master) and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves and Simon Brett from across the waves, and Agatha and Dorothy from beyond the grave, please. I thought about Edgar and Sir Arthur, but they’re not exactly party people, are they?

What’s next for you?

I know you mean what am I writing, but I’m going to hijack the question if that’s okay. The Reek of Red Herrings comes out on the 13th and I’m running a prize draw and a giveaway to say thanks for pre-orders. If anyone orders the book between now and midnight on the 12th, I will send them an original 5,000 word short story, set at Gilverton, Dandy’s home in Perthshire, at Christmas time and they’ll be entered into a draw to win all eleven books in the series, and some seasonal treats too. Details are here (


pic-of-meCatriona McPherson is the author of eleven novels in the Dandy Gilver series, featuring Dandy Gilver, her sidekick Alec Osborne, and Bunty the Dalmatian, set in Scotland in the 1920s and 30s. They have won Agatha, Macavity and Lefty awards and been shortlisted for a UK Dagger. The series is currently in development for television, at STV in Scotland. She also writes modern standalones which have won two Anthony awards and been shortlisted for an Edgar and the Mary Higgins Clark. Catriona is a past president of Sisters in Crime and is still as Scottish as a plaid haggis, despite having lived in northern California since 2010.





17 thoughts on “Interview: Catriona McPherson”

  1. Welcome Catriona, so good to have you here. Dandy sounds like a hoot. And I love soft, rainy days so your perfect day is right up my alley. But walking your cat? How do you do that? Does the cat cooperate?

    I haven’t looked at house maps, but I spent a lot of time poring over maps of South Buffalo when I was writing my story for the Malice anthology.

    And I’d like a Tunnock’s Teacake, please-and-thank-you. 🙂


  2. Great interview, Catriona! I love when a story idea starts as one thing and then transforms into something completely different along the way. I also enjoy taking my cat for walks in my backyard, although it usually turns into her taking me for a stroll 🙂 Adding Dandy’s series to my TBR list right now!


  3. Welcome, Catriona! I love maps. In my little home office, I have a globe and on the wall are a 1779 map of Ireland and a 1610 map of Connacht. And I have stacks of old atlases and maps that I can’t give up. Not sure why, I haven’t thought about it. Looking forward to reading your next book and I’m definitely entering in the drawing.


  4. Welcome, Catriona! Great interview, which sounds just as warm and friendly as I remember you at breakfast one time at Left Coast. Dandy sounds like a wonderful character, and yes, I absolutely sketch out floor plans and street plans. Good luck with your new release!


  5. Thank you for having me and hello , everyone. Since I said who I wanted at my dinner party, I’ve done nothing but think of people to add – Val McDermid, Alan Bradley, Sara Paretsky, Blaize Clement . . . we might need the table extension.

    And I should have explained the cat walking. It’s not down a city street with her in a leash and galoshes or anything. We live in the country and walk out over our own patch, in a round trip, via the new stile, to sit on a eucalyptus log and watch the sun go down, then back in at the door nearest the cat food!


  6. Welcome, Catriona! You sent me off to google Stavangerflint pottery. I like the happy yellow! And the thing that’s difficult to describe, the Tunnack’s Teacake? When I get home I’m going to World Market.

    I write about a fictional town so yeah, I have a map.

    Thanks for a delightful interview!


  7. Wonderful interview, Catriona. I’m googling Stavangerflint – I love pottery, have a wheel and throw… pots… sometimes even on the wheel. Dandy sounds like someone just up my road. Can’ t wait to dig in, but I have to start with #1. It’s a terrible obsession I have.


  8. What?? No jigsaw puzzles in your perfect day? And here I thought you were so cool. Scandalous.
    Yes, I create maps of towns, apartment buildings, houses, and hotel rooms for my characters to inhabit. If I don’t I’m afraid they’ll bump into walls and run out into traffic.
    Love your books, Catriona!


  9. Catriona, I love maps of towns and house plans included in a book. If I could have all authors of my favorite series include maps, I would be one happy reader! Great interview! Now, off to order The Reek of Red Herrings.


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