Friday, May 8, 2015

Q&A with Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson is the author of the new mystery Come To Harm. Her other novels include As She Left It, The Day She Died, and the Dandy Gilver historical mystery series. She lived in Scotland until 2010, when she moved to California. She is the 2014-2015 president of Sisters in Crime.

Q: How did you come up with your main character, Keiko?

A: Keiko is a mystery to me too. She's not me - that needs to be said right away. And although I had three Japanese officemates when I did my Ph.D. at Edinburgh - Etsuko Oishi, Mariko Kondo and Yuko Kondo - she's not anything like any of them either. They helped me with some questions of research, for which I'm very grateful, but Keiko arrived on her own.

I chose her trappings: her name and job and her nationality - I was interested in the culture shock of a Japanese person coming to Scotland and food is where culture gets very real several times a day. But her personality unfolded as I got to know her during the writing.

Q: What was the inspiration for the town of Painchton, where the novel is set?

A: The name of Painchton is a little joke. Painch is an old Scots word for stomach. It's entirely an imaginary place. I drew a map of it, deciding what shops there would be and where the landmarks were. The fact that it's built on one side of a river was really just so I could have an easier time of it. I didn't have to plan out any streets there.

The atmosphere of the town and its inhabitants come from my years of living in places exactly like it, though. I was born in a village with a High Street full of butchers and bakers and grocers shops and before I moved to California in 2010 I lived on a farm outside another one. Castle Douglas in Galloway.

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make many changes as you go along?

A: Did I know how this would end? Well, sort of. I knew who would be left standing and who would not (I'm avoiding spoilers) but I didn't know what Mrs. Poole would find out during the denouement. I remember very clearly that idea hitting me like a hammer as I was writing. 

Q: Which authors have particularly inspired you?

A: The five books that made me a writer are (in order of reading): Catch-22, Pride and Prejudice, Gone With The Wind, The Water Method Man and I Capture The Castle. Each one of those was a completely immersive experience that I came out of knowing something new about what a novel could be.

My favourite writer of all time is Her Janeness, without whom none of us would be doing what we do. My favourite living writer is Stephen King, for his exuberance and his huge heart. I also adore and am an evangelist for Dorothy Whipple.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've just finished the first draft of book 11 in a series of 1920s detective stories. It's set in and around a convent and asylum on the Lanark moor - a bleak spot in central Scotland. It's currently called Dandy Gilver and Some Nuns, which might need some work right? 

While it settles, I'm writing the first draft of a fifth standalone. I'm a very furtive writer until the book is chipped out of the ground (King's phrase) so that's all I'll say. I worry when I hear especially debut writers talking about their work in progress, letting all that excitement and energy into a conversation instead of pouring it onto the page behind a closed door.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Well, The Day She Died didn't win the Edgar it was up for last week, but I just found out that it's on the shortlist for an Anthony at this year's Bouchercon. That's pretty exciting.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb


  1. It was lovely to talk to you, Deborah. Thanks for having me.

    1. You too, Catriona--you're very welcome, and many thanks!