Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Secret Beds, Dark Deeds and a Book Giveaway from Catriona McPherson

Today's guest blogger is Catriona McPherson, author of The Dandy Gilver Mystery Series and a new contemporary stand alone novel, AS SHE LEFT IT. 

I was thrilled to be asked to visit Mystery Playground and blog about my research. The only trouble is calling it research. "Stuff that happens and ends up in my book one day" would be more like it. And my latest book, the contemporary stand-alone AS SHE LEFT IT, which comes out June the 8th, has more stuff that happened and ended up in there than anything else I've ever written. 

I don't mean that the plot is autobiographical. And I'm very glad it's not too, as the cover blurb will explain...

Opal Jones ran away when she was twelve to escape her mother’s drinking. Now, coming home again after her mum’s death is like going back in time: Nosey Mrs. Pickess is still polishing her windows to a sparkle; the Joshis up the end still run their taxi firm; Fishbo, Opal’s ancient music teacher, still plays his trumpet and leads his band.  And to Opal’s delight, her favourite neighbor, Margaret Reid, is going strong.
But a tragedy has struck Mote Street. Margaret’s grandson, Craig, disappeared ten years ago and, every day he’s not found, shame and sorrow settle deeper into the neighbourhood’s forgotten corners. Everyone has something to hide and when Opal decides to tackle the mystery of little Craig, she sirs up more secrets than she can bear about these people she thought she knew.  Worst of all, the door she closed on her own dark past begins to open again.

No, the plot is completely fictional but most of the rest of it is real. (Margret Reid, the Joshis, Fishbo and Mrs. Pickess are all based on people I once knew.)

Also, it's set in a real house: my friend Diane Nelson's house in Leeds. Diane is a good egg, quite happy to have her home used as the setting for dark deeds and deep secrets, but I think I should show that things aren't half as grim as the talented art department at Midnight Ink made it seem. Here is the real "Mote Street" on a (rare) sunny day:

Another strand of the book that’s based on life is Norah Fossett, who Opal runs into by chance and who plays a major role in the story:

She was standing on a corner, wondering which way to go, when a voice behind her spoke so softly she had to turn to be sure it wasn’t just the wind in the trees.
         “Excuse me?” the little voice said. “Are you going to the       party?”
It was a tiny woman, wearing slippers and an apron.   She peered up at Opal from eyes that were pale blue and pink, almost no lashes, just a thickened rim, sore-looking, making her blink every second or two.
“Eh?” said Opal.
“I was at a party,” said the little woman.  “But . . .”  she looked past Opal and shook her head.  Her hair was short and straight, pure white, showing her scalp at the parting. “They’re supposed to come today, you see, but I was at a party and I must have missed them.”
 “Shouldn’t you be at home?” Opal said, looking down at the slippers.
“Yes, but I missed them,” said the little woman, her voice climbing higher and beginning to sound wavery. 
“They always come today.” 
“Maybe you should wait for them at home.”
“Thank you,” said the woman, slipping her hand through Opal’s arm, making Opal think of the way the smallest birds, blue-tits and finches, slipped into the holes in nest boxes.
“Which way?” Opal said, but the little woman hesitated, humming a bit under her breath and blinking. 
“My house,” she said. 
Fantastic, thought Opal, and set off along the nearest side street. 
“Is it this way?” she asked.  “Does this look familiar?  Are these your neighbours?  Who lives here?”  And she kept it up, coaxing and pecking, while the little woman trotted along at her side, thanking her, asking if they were too late for the party, if they’d have missed them, that little hand resting so soft and light in the crook of Opal’s arm.

Diane, our other friend Louise, and I met this old lady, in Leeds, in her slippers, looking for the party, and did indeed help her find her way home.  It’s hard to say why one tiny encounter makes such an impression but she stayed with me for years and she joined the story of Opal Jones, quietly but insistently, without me asking her.

Totally different from that chance encounter, something else from life which got into the book is the “Bed With A Secret”.

I bought this bed for my husband for his birthday about ten years ago.  It was in an antique shop with a price tag of 100UKP ($150) and I couldn’t work out why it was so cheap or why the antique dealer was practically begging me to take it away.  Well, I gave Opal Jones the same bargain for the same reason and then gave the bed some extra secrets too.

But even those are nothing to the secrets I planted in this place – the old outhouse in Diane’s back yard. 

I love the idea of a door that’s been locked for years, a missing key, and everyone walking past every day pretending there’s nothing to see.

Okay, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for AS SHE LEFT IT.  It’s certainly different from my Dandy Gilver series – quite a lot darker – but I would say two things.  One, I meant it to be properly dark and failed completely because I was cracking jokes by page three (I can’t help it).  And two, I’m a sucker for a happy ending so, although it goes all the way down, if you decide to go with it be assured you’re coming up again.

I’m giving away two signed copies.  Please just leave a comment (“Gimme a book” is fine) to have your name entered into the draw.

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.

Catriona has worked in a bank, a history library and as a unversity professor - she has a PhD in linguistics - but is now a full-time writer with both the Dandy books and a new strand of contemporary stand-alones to her name. The first of modern novels, AS SHE LEFT IT, 8th of June 2013 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.


  1. Definitely adding this to my "must pick up" list! Thanks for sharing this new (to me) author - much appreciated.

  2. The new book sounds great. Thanks for the post and hope to see you at Bouchercon 2013.

  3. Three names in the cauldron - thank you!

  4. Adding to my reading list!

  5. Gimme a book! Congratulations on your new venture, Catriona.

  6. I can't wait to read this book. Great article too.

  7. You're in Barb and Trina. Anon, would you like to be in the draw?

  8. Ooh! A new book! I love the Dandy books, so it will be fun to read this one, even if it is a bit darker.

  9. Love learning about new books and other authors. Will have to check this one out... a free signed copy would be great. Renee Sliwiak

  10. When I read a book I always wonder if any of it is based on real people or actual experiences, places, etc. It was so cool to see the places and things Catriona had in her head when she wrote the book. Thanks so much for sharing the photos.

  11. Me too. I never really got that "death of the author" thing in literary criticism. Kerry, Renee and Laura - your names are in the cauldron. I'm getting a spooky feeling about this, though. Imagine if everyone's names happen to be - Beetlejuice style - the 13 (say) names of the witches who were burned on this spot during a deeply suppressed incident a century ago, but when I add the 13th and stir the slips of paper around . . .

  12. Haha. I just had to chime in as the 13th comment. I can't win a book because it's my blog, Beetlejuice can. Maybe he'll enter. Thanks for a great post Catriona.

  13. Kirkus starred! Congrats on that, Catriona!

  14. Enjoyed reading how you added tidbits from your life. Would really like a copy. Good luck on the new book.
    Rebecca Lugones

  15. I know, Sal - the worlds' toughest reviewers! They still made it hard to pull out a good quote for the jacket. You and rebecca too are in the cauldron and no wraiths have seeped up from the burial ground under the house.

  16. Looking forward to seeing it! ;-)

  17. Enjoyed the blog, am dead curious about the bed, and would love the book!

  18. I'm signing out for the night now. It's been fun hanging out with you today. In case of latecomers I'll do the draw in the morning and post the names here. I'd just like to say a huge thank you to you, Deb, for inviting me. Cx

  19. Ok probably missed the chance now but as you are making me wait too long for the next Dandy book I will have to read this one

  20. And the lucky winners are . . . Trina and Susan! Please email your addreses to catrionamcpherson@gmail.com. Everyone else - see Facebook for details of another giveaway.

  21. Congratulations to our winners and a big thank you to Catriona for her post and giveaway!
    Check out Catriona's FB page for another giveaway.

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