Friday, June 7, 2024

Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, then immigrated to California where she lives on Patwin ancestral land. A former academic linguist, she now writes full-time. Her multi-award-winning and national best-selling work includes: the Dandy Gilver historical detective stories, the Last Ditch mysteries, set in California, and a strand of contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalist Strangers at the Gate. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Crimewriters’ Association, The Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, of which she is a former national president.

McPherson's new novel is Deep Beneath Us.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title I’ve ended up with does a great job of telling the reader what kind of book they’re considering. Deep Beneath Us and the jacket image combined say: dread, threat, secrets. While I was writing I called the book Hiskith, the name of the reservoir and the flooded village at the bottom of it, and also a pun on “his kith”, evoking the centrality of a character who, Rebecca- like, starts out already dead and telling us the book is about his family.

But I knew, even as I wrote the drafts with “Hiskith” in my mind, that it was a disaster of a title from a marketing point of view. I let it go without a backward glance.

What’s in a name?

I love naming characters, even when it’s difficult. It was pretty easy this time. I wanted four cousins, two of whom had very ordinary names and two of who had slightly more unusual names, since their mothers were, on the one hand, aggressively down-to-earth and scathing about pretensions and, on the other, arty and ambitious.

Tabitha – guess which type of cousin she is! – has an ex-husband called Scott and a son called Albion, which is an archaic name for Scotland. I wanted just a hint of her ex’s ego as well as her own flight of fancy.

Naming the two men who’re fellow POV characters was slightly tougher. Lyle Gordon is still called Gordo – a very typical Scottish boy’s nickname – at twenty-nine, suggesting (I hope) his arrested development, which is no fault of his own. Barrett Langholm was a name I thought resonated with solidity. He’s a jobbing gardener and divorced father of girls. Maybe I’m too close to my characters but I think his name basically means with “good friend, great dad”.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all. I’m writing about a birth family – in one of which I lived full-time back then – and I’m writing the geographical setting and social milieu I came from. Teenage Reader Me would be enchanted to find any novel of domestic suspense back then, mind you. Did they exist as a sub-genre? I’m not sure they did.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find both fairly easy. It’s the middle that gives me all the angst. I rarely change a beginning much, except to add a short prologue, perhaps. At the other end of the book, though, I quite often realise that I’ve banged the story shut too abruptly and I have to add at least another scene if not a whole chapter.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

It’s going to have to be place. I can’t imagine any of my novels unfolding in any other landscape than where I’ve put them. This book wouldn’t work in a city, or suburb, or flashier bit of countryside. It needs the bleakness of shut shale mines, poor agricultural land and marginally productive forestry to produce exactly the mix of characters with just the mindset to let the story happen.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Go to My Grave.

My Book, The Movie: The Turning Tide.

The Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide.

My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House.

The Page 69 Test: Hop Scot.

The Page 69 Test: Deep Beneath Us.

--Marshal Zeringue