RHYS BOWEN: Catriona McPherson is one of the most fun and funny people you're ever likely to meet. She has a brilliant and self-deprecating sense of humor (if you can understand her Scottish accent!) and the interesting thing to me is that she writes some dark and brilliant tales of suspense.
Today she's visiting Jungle Reds to celebrate the publication of her new book, The Child Garden. Welcome Catriona.
Long before Pennywise in It, all children everywhere found all clowns everywhere absolutely terrifying. (I thought about presenting that as no more than my opinion, but . . . come on, it’s an objective fact.)
And it’s not just clowns. The list of things that are supposedly cute, hilarious and/or adorable but are actually blood-curdling is a long one. The Singing Ringing Tree aside (Google it if you were lucky enough not to be a kid in Britain in the seventies. Lock your doors first.), there’s The Wizard of Oz – her feet roll up! There’s speaking dolls with eyes that move and lips that don’t! My sister Audrey had one of these dastardly objects, called Rosebud. Always a sinister name thanks that other movie, right? Rosebud said innocent-sounding things like “”Can I have a biscuit?” in an accent like Julie Andrews’, but she didn’t fool me. Add ventriloquist dummies and automata and I think you’ll agree that hell is empty and all the devils are here.
Or maybe, just maybe, I was an over-imaginative wee girl. The case for the prosecution can be put in a nutshell if we consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.
One Christmas when I was young and impressionable I got a splendid volume called The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature (Collins) from my granny. It was chock full of delights, including two poems by RLS - ‘Bed in Summer’ and ‘A Thought’ - that were charming and adorable and proved that the treasury editors were miracle-workers. You know how they managed to get a two-minute trailer of Get Shorty with no effing and jeffing in it? Well, similarly, every other poem in A Child’s Garden apart from those two is as black as death and midnight.
Okay, slight exaggeration. Many of the other poems in it are disturbing to some degree and were too much for me, especially considering where I read them: the shadowy reference reading room of a Victorian public library. There I sat, all alone, surrounded by carved wood the colour of graveyard dirt and velvet carpet the colour of old blood, drinking in such gems as these . . .
From ‘Windy Nights’: whenever the trees are crying aloud (What?) … By on the highway, low and loud, by at the gallop goes he (He who? (He, the strange man you thought was the wind, who’s not the wind at all, who’s riding past your house.)) By at the gallop he goes and then by he comes back at the gallop again. (Oh, great.)
From ‘Shadow March’ (Shadow March???): All around the house is the jet-black night, it stares through the window-pane (Really? It doesn’t just gallop by? It stops and stares in the windows? Super. Anything else?) … All the wicked shadows coming tramp, tramp, tram- (You know what? I was fine with the window thing, actually.)
Or, from ‘Good and Bad Children’, the simple and straight-to-the-point threat of bodily harm: children you are very little and your bones are very brittle . . .
Yup, A Child’s Garden of Verses made a big impression on me. Then I grew up – Well, I grew tall – read Pet Sematary and Salem’s Lot and forgot about it. And because I’m not a very deliberate kind of writer, I was as surprised as anyone when it bubbled back up and found its way onto the pages of a story I was writing last year. I can clearly remember seeing my heroine Gloria Harkness open a copy to read to her son at night when he was tucked up in bed. Really? I thought. Apparently so. So much so that the book, published this week, is called The Child Garden.
I’m giving away a copy of The Child Garden at Jungle Reds today. It’s not uniformly cheerful, I have to say; but it’s not as dark as that sweet volume of charming poems for children.
Catriona McPherson writes the Agatha and Macavity winning Dandy Gilver detective series, set in her native Scotland in the 1920s. The latest, A DEADLY MEASURE OF BRIMSTONE, won a third consecutive Left Coast Crime award this year. In 2013 she started a strand of darker (that’s not difficult) standalones. The first, AS SHE LEFT IT, won an Anthony award and THE DAY SHE DIED was shortlisted for an Edgar. THE CHILD GARDEN is out on the 8th of September.
Catriona immigrated to America in 2010, and lives in northern California with a black cat and a scientist. She is proud to be the 2015 president of Sisters in Crime. www.catrionamcpherson.com