Thursday, June 13, 2013

Catriona seeks out her Dark Side.

RHYS BOWEN: By rights I should not like Catriona McPherson. After all, she has won the last three awards I've been nominated for. But she's the kind of person it's impossible not to like. She's full of fun, witty with that self deprecating humor of the Scots and she's a terrific writer (as well as a good cook) and she's here to tell us about her new and different venture. Welcome Catriona (and that's pronounced Katreena by the way)

CATRIONA MCPHERSON: It’s lovely to back at Jungle Reds again – thank you very much for having me. 

I’m celebrating the launch of a new book right now and it’s quite a departure. Not the celebrating – dearie me, no; I’ll celebrating Tuesday rolling round if I’ve got enough eggs to make a cake – but the book is something different.

Usually . . . I think, since the 8th book in the series comes out in the UK next month, I can say usually . . . Usually, I write preposterous 1920s detective stories about upper-class amateur sleuth Dandy Gilver and her Dalmatian.  But the book I’m celebrating right now is AS SHE LEFT IT, a modern stand-alone.

So how different are they?

As She Left it is a wee bit darker.  Opal Jones, the protagonist, left home when she was twelve and we meet her as she returns, after her mother’s death, to the little terraced row house on the dead-end street where she grew up.  All her old neighbours are still in residence but ten years before the story opens something happened to change Mote Street: a child disappeared and, every day since,  shame, sorrow and layers of secrets have been pressing down on everyone who lives there.

But I need to say three things.  One, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.  Given the world we live in, I can’t understand anyone in charge of a fictional world who doesn’t write a happy ending!  Two, although I meant AS SHE LEFT IT to be very dark indeed, I was cracking jokes by page seven – I can’t help it.  And three, Opal’s job, picking and packing the online orders in a supermarket, gave lots of scope for light relief.  As a nosy besom, I’d love to do other people’s anonymous shopping.  The research I did for that bit of the book – thank you, Dumfries Tesco – was an eye-opener.

Here’s an excerpt.  Opal is at work on the hottest day of the summer:

Round in the warehouse, Dave and the supervisor from Wet Fish were dragging an open-front chiller on a trolley towards the flap doors.

‘This is one of the turkey chillers,’ Dave said.  ‘Email from Head Office.  It’s going to the front door for water.  We’ve to fill it with chipped ice and hand out bottled water.’

‘Whole bottles,’ said Wet Fish.  He was already in his white coat and trilby.  ‘Not samples.  Not plastic beakers like a tasting.’

‘Because we asked them,’ Dave said.  ‘Whole bottles.  For free.’

That was the start of the day’s madness.  The barbecue hordes came early.  Usually it was gone eleven before they started drifting in, sunburned and topless, filling deep trolleys with charcoal and Polish lager, but that day the first of them arrived before nine and some of the very first bought all of the ice, then the later ones wanted to know where the chipped ice in the open front chiller by the door had come from and why couldn’t they get some too.  And one of the assistant managers had to be beeped to come and explain that it wasn’t edible ice and couldn’t be used in drinks, but then Charlotte had a mother complaining that one of the girls giving out the water had said to her little boy that he could have a scoop of it in his empty slushy-cup and he’d eaten the lot. 

And there was no cream in the dairy drop at ten o’clock – none at all – double, single, whipping, clotted, even Chantilly – and the UHT and aerosol ran out and after that everyone who had picked up strawberries on a twofer started putting them back again, only hardly anyone bothered to go back and dump them with the rest of the strawberries; they just shoved them onto the nearest shelf and the store started to fill up with cartons of sweating strawberries and Kate and Rhianne, detailed to seek them out and bring them home couldn’t do it because the warehouse boys had brought out more and there was nowhere to put them, so they got stickered down and piled up in Reduced but that only started the whole strawberries-cream-no-cream-no-strawberries cycle all over again until, as Rhianne said:

“I’m starting to recognise some of these buggers.  This is the third time I’ve moved the carton with that big one like Santa’s nose.’


And here’s an easy and delicious summer recipe, good for any creamless strawberry glut.

Delia Smith’s Strawberry Granita

1lb strawberries

6oz sugar

1pt water

2 lemons


Hull the strawberries, rinse them and then (Delia says pat them dry.  If anyone can tell me (Catriona) why you would dry berries you’re about to add a pint of water to, I’d be very grateful.) Put them in a blender or processor.  Whizz them to a smooth purée.  Ad the sugar and blend again.  Add the water and the juice of the lemons, whizz one last time and then pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a large Tupperware (could use Ikea) container and cover.

Freeze for two hours, then fork the icy edges to the slushy middle and freeze again.  Re-fork after another hour.  One last hour, one last forking, and the granita should be crystalline and beautiful.  It’ll stay that way for three hours more (unless you have some kind of ninja freezer, I suppose) but will eventually transmute into a mammoth ice-pop.  If you’re having very close friends for dinner, you could pass it round for sucks but I’d be inclined to let it warm up a bit in the fridge and refluff before serving.


I’ll be giving away a signed copy of AS SHE LEFT IT to a commenter today - looking forward to hearing from you

RHYS: Thanks, Catriona. So glad you could stop by.  Don't forget to ask Catriona questions, Reds.


  1. Oh, yum! Both the recipe and the new book. I'm in the middle of reading my first Dandy Gilver right now and can't believe it took me this long to discover Catriona (who graciously sat at my New Author breakfast table at Malice and then told me she and I share that PhD in Linguistics thing...). And, it's strawberry season in New England!

  2. I met Catriona at when Malice when I sat at her table for the banquet. She was joy and kept our table quite entertained. After that fun I started reading the Dandy Gilver series and I am very glad I gave it a go. I was shying away from her new book, unwilling go down a dark road right now, but after reading the post snippet I am ready to dig into it. Is book intended to be a standalone or will they more about Opal Jones?

  3. Hi Catriona,

    I love the eerie cover of As She Left It. Do you have any say in the cover art of your books?

    I needed that recipe, too. How did you know?

  4. Sure, As She Left It, is a little darker than Dandy...let's face it, real life is a little darker than Dandy. But what makes the book a "must read" is that the spirit of humanity still shines through.

    As She Left It has an inner radiance that just can't be contained...and her name is Opal Jones.

    As for the Strawberry granita, it sounds delish. The image of passing a huge ice pop around a dinner party is hilarious but I think I'll make sure I don't make it too early, so I don't have that problem.

    Great to see you here at Jungle Red again, Catriona.

  5. I have a question! What is a nosy besom?

    The book sounds great, too!

  6. A sleuth with a Dalmatian -- how could I have missed Dandy this long! The books sound terrific, Catriona. TBR! Opal sounds great, too.

    Any particular reason Dandy has a Dalmatian vs. another breed? My mother had Dalmatians but I can't think of anybody fictional I've run across with one before (except 101 et al)

  7. Hi, Catriona! As you know I loved Dandy Gilver... Congratulations on the new standalone!

    And thanks for the recipe -- I love fruit ices and make one like this, and another from grapefruit juice, and another from espresso. Delicious summer treats but you've got to be around to juzz it every once in a while so it doesn't freeze into a solid block and you're serving your company a bowl-shaped popsicle.

  8. Congratulations, Catriona! I loooove Dandy, and I'm really looking forward to Opal.

    We'll also have to talk Linguistics sometime (with Edith also). I have an undergraduate degree in it....

  9. The always entertaining Catriona McPherson, on Jungle Red! I couldn't be happier.

    You know I love you and your books, Catriona. Cannot wait to dive into As She Left It. Didn't you say you are working on the third one in this series now?

  10. Good morning, everyone. And thank you, Edith and Mo, for those kind words. Mo, don't worry! Rhys, says "seeks", not "finds" and Kristopher - you're dead right - everything is darker than Dandy Gilver.

  11. Reine, I know! I got very lucky with that cover, didn't I? It *was* mostly luck too. I provided photos of the real life street (Opal lives in the house of my friend Diane Nelson) and then waited with my fingers crossed. They've grunged it up a bit, but still it made me laugh when someone picked up the book and said "What's with all the dystopian settings these days?" I said: "That's not Dystopia; that's Leeds."

    Ramona, I handed in a Dandy Gilver book to my editor on Monday (she's read it already and sent a one word text from her phone: FAB) and so we're about to start another skirmish in the dialect war! An unscrupulous writer might stuff in a ton of extra dialect so that when her editor took it out the book ended up in the right place. Me? Never.
    Anyway, "nosy" means inquisitive and a "besom" is literally a cornbroom, but it's used as an expression of affectionate exasperation for females. Probably via "witch" and "broomstick". (I might be a recovering academic but I still love linguistics, Tammy.)

  12. Kristi, Dandy Gilver is married to a bit of a stuffed shirt - Hugh. Stiff upper lip, straight back, defend the Empire. And her silly (in his opinion) spotty dog annoys him no end. He's got a small regiment of sensible dogs - retrievers for retrieving and terriers for ratting and so the sight of Bunty lying on a pale blue velvet armchair in Dandy's sitting room infuriates him. I like infuriating Hugh.

    Karen, the seocnd one THE DAY SHE DIED (not Opal!) is finished and I'm just waiting for the edit notes. The third one is gathering steam wherever it is they gather steam. I know it must be in your head really, but it feels lower than that. Solar plexus kind of area and then when it starts to feel like a wasp's nest in your belly, you need to start writing. it down.

  13. Thank you, Catriona, for the "nosy besom" explanation. I looked up besom in the dictionary and read about brooms, so it was baffling.

    I call people Nosy Parkers all the time, though I haven't a clue where that originated.

  14. Note to self: Don't act too inquisitive around Ramona.

  15. Hi, Catriona!!! So glad to see you here on JR. You know I started the Dandy books with Bloodstains, which I loved so much I decided to go back to the beginning. Have now read the first two, then had to order the next two from the UK. What's up with that? And I must say that I think After the Armistice Ball is--even with Dandy as an amateur sleuth, with spotty dog--is actually quite dark at its core. The murder is absolutely diabolical. I loved the book.

    But now I think I'll have to read As She Left It before I start the next Dandy:-) Going to buy it now...

    Oh, and can I just go on a bit more about Dandy? You've done such a great job of not modernizing her. She's smart, funny, independent, but her attitudes and her world view are of her time. Is this something you think about deliberately as you're writing the books?

  16. Jury's still out on the origin of Nosy Parker, Ramona! and

  17. Darker, but with humor. That sounds like an excellent combination.

  18. Hello Catriona,

    I'm a newbie to your work--glad for today's introduction! Unfortunately, Mo, Reine, and Ramona asked the questions I'd immediately thought of...Hmmm...So I guess I'll ask...

    What's your favorite color?


    What inspired you to step outside your series to write a standalone? (And, the corollary: You'll return to the series?)

    Looking forward to read your novels!

    Thanks, Lisa

  19. Thanks for the recipe-it sound so refreshing. Your book sounds really good and I have added it to my TBR list

  20. Oh Deb, those first four books! There are plans afoot to bring them out in the US (hooray) which would be lovely.

    I do try to avoid having Dandy be a 21st century girl in funny clothes and it's a lot of fun writing her snobbery and sexism. The thing I can't do is reproduce the eye-watering racism and specifically anti-semitism you find in the likes of Dorothy L Sayers. Dandy uses old-fashioned terms but nothing that would make a modern reader feel saddened - people matter more than books to me.

  21. YUM. ANd you know I'm such a *huge* fan. I have As She Left It right here on my little desk..and cannot wait to dive in.

    Yes, speaking of the fabulous Dandy--is there a movie or tv show in the works?? I can truly envision it..

  22. Lisa,

    Some stories/characters/settings just seemed to belong in modern times and I was getting an unbearable backlog of them.

    Also, I was trying to come up with a second strand of writing and after failing to find a time-period between the Iron Age and yesterday that didn't already have a wonderful series set in it, I gave up!

  23. Hank, the BBC bought it about a year ago. It's moving along at a glacial pace. More meetings in London this summer . . .

  24. Oooh, a Dancdy Gilver BBC series! Be still, my heart!

    Love the excerpt from As She Left It. My copy's come in, but I've still got to make my way over to the bookstore to pick it up, which means coming out of the writing cave. I will, though, because I can't wait to read it.

  25. I will be in Scotland in September so will have to get the latest Dandy Gilver. So love it when she annoys Hugh. The Opal book sounds very promising. And the strawberry granite. . .mmmmmmm.

  26. I saw AS SHE LEFT IT at the bookstore yesterday but didn't buy it. I will add it to the TBR list (constantly growing thanks to the Jungle Reds)but I really want to go and read the Dandy series. If so many of these fine people speak so highly of them, those books are must reads.

    Is it hard to step out of a successful series and do a stand-alone? (or at least a new series.)

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  27. Oh, I have to check these books out! I worked in a Woolworth's for a few summers, two as a customer service clerk. The stories I could tell! That was over 25 years ago, I can just imagine how things are nowadays!

  28. Linda - Thank you!
    Pat - Are you going to Bloody Scotland? If so, I'll see you there.
    Marianne - to be honest, it was as much a relief to write contemporary for a change as it was a challenge to start a book with no familiar characters in it. But my "method" if I can call it that involves a lot of musing and having imaginary conversations with characters so I got to know them quite quickly.
    Amy, I love the world of work in a novel - as long as it's realistic and not one of those glamorous movie jobs! That's why my favourite DLS is Murder Must Advertise. Anne Tyler always write great jobs/businesses too.

  29. I had only heard of your historical mysteries. I have one. I think it's the first one about the armistice ball.

  30. Hi Catriona! Your Dandy Gilver books are already on my TBR list - now I'm adding As She Left It. The Reds & their guests sure do make my bookstores happy.

    Speaking of groceries, my first (official) job was checking groceries. The varieties and vagaries of shoppers was amazing.

  31. Catriona, I'd like to see more books with protagonists who have "ordinary" jobs, and who take pride in doing their work. Your books are on my TBR list. It won't be long before I start selling off my sofa, chairs, tables, etc, so I can make room for more bookcases. Good thing my Kindle does not get heavier when I add books to it! More and more books need to go on the Kindle so I am not in danger of tripping over piles of books, or having them fall down on top of me!

    Dandy Gilver-and As She Left It: here I come!

  32. What's Bloody Scotland? Or if I have to ask, I don't need to know? No I'm going strictly as a tourist with my husband. Going to hike the Great Glen Way mainly.

  33. Deb Romano - your comment made me laugh! When I was moving from Scotland I did a reall y hard cull of my books and got it down to 2000 that I *had* to bring with me. Some silly things like my Pride and Prejudice - it's a faded cloth-covered Everyman hardback. It would have cost a dollar to replace it with another one but . . .

    Pat: BS - ooh, what unfortunate initials! - is a new Scottish crimewriting festival in Stirling 18-22nd Sept.

  34. Catriona, I know what you mean about DLS. I started rereading Gaudy Night recently, which I used to love, and found I couldn't get through it. Racism and sexism, yes, but also such catty snobbery, especially on Harriet's part. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood to be forgiving. And the thing about Dandy is that in spite of the her time and her class, she is basically a kind person. I'd like to know her. It may be sacrilege to say so, but I'm not so sure I'd like to know Harriet.

    I'd better quit before I say something that will get me booted from the mystery community...

    Have bought As She Left It. Much looking forward to it.

  35. Hi, Catriona. I just read my first Dandy mystery. I enjoyed it, but the last two pages were a real shock. That was a different kind of fun.

    I look forward to reading this new book that sounds like a real departure.

    Best wishes, Kay (met you briefly at the last Bouchercon)

  36. Kay - what a cliffhanger! Which one did you read?

    Deb - the academic snobbery in Gaudy Night is something else, isn't it? No one could ever accuse DLS of wearing her learning lightly. (Still love her, though. Just.)

  37. I'm hopeless at choosing - I'd send everyone a copy if I had them - so I put your names in a hat and the name that came out first was . . . Lisa! So, Lisa, could you send me your earth address, please - or a fb msg - and I'll pop one in the post. (Btw - absolutely, I'm carrying on with the series.)

  38. Excellent, Catriona! I'm looking forward to sinking into it.

  39. Rhys - Thank you so much for having me as your guest here at Jungle Reds. You are such a fabulous crew! I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with you all. in fact, it was the highlight of an otherwise rather crummy day - rude people, sick cat, late work . . . so thank you!

  40. Catriona, so glad you're carrying on with the series!

  41. I read the first in your Dandy series, After the Armistice Ball. It wasn't a cliffhanger. I was a stunner! I had to read it thrice to make sure I got what I thought I'd read...though it had gone in and out of my mind a few times as I read through the book.

    I hope your day was better today and that people were less rude! Write on!

  42. Kay - I meant your cliffhanger - leaving me wondering which book had the last two pages that turned you upside down! I know what you mean now I know it was ATAB.

  43. Oh right, sorry! Didn't want to give anything away and was too! mysterious!

  44. It was my pleasure. Thanks and keep up your healthy writing.