Edith here, so pleased to welcome the talented and prolific Catriona McPherson back to the blog! She’s got a new Dandy Gilver out, The Reek of Red Herrings, which I can’t wait to read, and she’s telling us how she came up with the story today. Plus she offers a chance at a fabulous giveway and a free short story.
Take it away, Catriona.
Wicked Cozy Herring
I never meant to write a Christmas book, but I’ve done it twice now. The first time I wanted to set a story at my detective’s country home in the back end of nowhere and I wanted to write about a circus. But why would a circus come to such an isolated patch? Well, it turns out that in the 1920s travelling circuses had to find somewhere spacious and cheap, with fresh water and rabbits for the pot, there to hunker down and see out the bad weather. They called it . . .
This time, I wanted to set a story in an isolated village, with just one road in, where a tree falling in a bad storm could cut everyone off from the outside world. I found the perfect spot. The north coast of Aberdeenshire is home to a string of fishing villages with hair-raisingly steep roads leading down to a crammed jumble of houses and nothing but the wild waters of the North Sea facing you at the road’s end. Look!
I knew it would need to be winter, to get the weather truly atrocious. And so for a while I thought the history of these fishing villages had handed me the lazy writer’s favourite gift: a small cast of characters – so much easier to manipulate than a multitudinous horde.
Because you see, for most of the winter – in fact, for much of the year – not all the villagers were actually there. The herring fishermen (most of the men, in other words), and the “herring quines” – the women who gutted the fish, packed them into barrels and salted them down – followed the herring’s migration: from the northernmost islands, round the mainland coast, across the Irish sea and down to England.
I was raring to go. I had struck gold with the setting: a spaghetti tangle of tiny lanes, staircases so steep there were ropes to help people climb to their houses, dead ends disguised as cut throughs and cut throughs that looked like dead ends until you were pressed against the back wall.
And I had struck shinier gold with that legitimate excuse to keep the character list tiny.
Then, sitting in a reference library in Oldmeldrum, I struck platinum. I found a slim volume of local history that spoke of the one time of year when the herring boats came home: Christmas. And while all the lads and lasses were with their families for a change, what did they do? It makes sense when you think about it: they got married. Christmas was the wedding season.
And the wedding season of the herring-folk was pure dead bonkers. I read the slim volume with my mouth hanging open. By the time I left the library, my book was hijacked. No more small cast, no more locked room: this book was going to be an extravaganza.
I don’t want to tell you everything in case you read it, but let me just say the weddings took a week, every day with its own dedicated event (some sweet, some gross, all weird), leading up to the grand finale on Saturday night when the new bride and groom were tucked into their bed with a bottle of whisky and a loaf of bread (to keep their strength up) and spent the night with all their friends outside the bedroom door, shouting encouragement and cracking jokes. You can’t buy class, eh?
I found out the origin of the best man and maid of honour – I had never thought to wonder why these people existed; I certainly never suspected the devil was involved – and I found out about the worst man (and maid of dishonour?) too. I’d never even heard of them before.
Best of all, I discovered that one of the strangest traditions of the whole week-long jamboree still happens! There are videos on Youtube, filmed on the harbourside in the very village where my book is set.
Google ‘blackening the bride” if you don’t believe me.
And if I’ve whetted your appetite for schlock-Gothic goings-on in 1930s Scotland (I haven’t even mentioned the amateur taxidermy), see below for a gift and giveaway.
If you pre-order THE REEK OF RED HERRINGS between now and midnight on the 12th, I’ll send you an exclusive short story, set in Dandy Gilver’s house at Christmastime and enter you in a draw to win a bundle of all eleven novels. See here for details.
Readers: Have you ever been to Scotland? Did you know the word “quine” before today?
Catriona McPherson is the author of eleven novels in the Dandy Gilver series, featuring Dandy Gilver, her sidekick Alec Osborne, and Bunty the Dalmatian, set in Scotland in the 1920s and 30s. They have won Agatha, Macavity and Lefty awards and been shortlisted for a UK Dagger. The series is currently in development for television, at STV in Scotland. She also writes contemporary standalones, including THE CHILD GARDEN and QUIET NEIGHBORS, which have won two Anthonys and been shortlisted for an Edgar and a Mary Higgins Clark award. Find out more at www.catrionamcpherson.com.
Nope, never been to Scotland but would love to go. And didn’t know the word “quine” before today either. I love the description of the small town in your book. The cover is wonderful too!!
I have been to Scotland twice, the two trips separated by more decades than I am admitting. We got all the way to the Orkney Islands the 2nd time. Had a wonderful time and really love Scotland. But nope, quine is an entirely new word to me.
And I am looking forward to reading this very unusual story.
As my Mom used to say: you learn something new every day. Thanks for adding to my knowledge. I’m looking forward to reading this one.
I have been to Scotland two times, once going to Glasgow and Edinburgh, the second time making it to Aberdeen. But quine is a new word to me.
This sounds like a wonderful read! Love the picture of the group of women–and love how your story just came together for you. Yes, I’ve visited Scotland, a long, long time ago. A friend and I decided we needed to see the Highland Games in Oban, and took the train from London (look! there’s Loch Ness!), with an overnight stop in Edinburgh. I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would practice throwing a telephone pole.
I have been dying to visit Scotland (it’s next on the Bucket List) and these stories make me want to go even more. I find the weirdness utterly enchanted. But I’m still not clear about “quine.” Would love to be enlightened. Definitely going to read The Reek of Red Herrings as part of trip preparation. Wonder if the cast from Quiet Neighbors will ever reappear. I rather liked that odd lot.
I’ve never been but I’ve wanted to go since grade school when I wrote a paper about the Loch Ness monster. The book sounds wonderful! Thanks for joining us today!
I love the origin story for this book, Catriona. Scotland’s on my bucket list, too. I think Sherry and Michele and I should go together!
Welcome to the blog Catriona!! I am do looking forward the this new book!
Never been to Scotland, never heard “quine” before. This book gets more and more intriguing by the blog post. 🙂
Thank you for having me, Cozies. I’m kind of proud to have taught everyone a new word (and such a handy one too). It’s probably a variant of QUEEN, don’t you think? The Aberdeenshire word for man is LOON, by the way – a much less ritzy term!
That “Anonymous” is actually Catriona!
I am very intrigued/hooked. Sounds like you did indeed strike platinum with this setting/idea/lucky find of a book. I’m definitely going to have to read it.
Welcome to the Wickeds, Catriona! I love it when a story comes together. (And hate it when it doesn’t.)
I’ve only been to Edinburgh, twice, but both times on business. I did snag an extra day each time to tourist. I am such a devoted fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie series that I felt like I was walking familiar streets.
Scotland is definitely on the bucket list. I am partially Scottish on both sides (the Rosses and the McKims), so…
I absolutely LOVED this book, and your extensive research really makes it come to life. Thanks for the added real photos in this post, Catriona. That one of the town is exactly as I pictured it! I think it’s my favorite Dandy so far~
What a wonderful interview no i have never been to Scotland read a lot of books about it and didn’t know what the word meant till i read the above which is so good .I really enjoyed!
I really loved Winter Ground and I’ve read Reek of the Red Herring and I think this is hands down the most unusual book of the series. and really enjoyed it. I do know Catriona and she has such a Wicked sense of humor.
Very true, Ruth!
Thanks for visiting, Catriona! How could a series not be wonderful with a protagonist named Dandy? I have not yet been to Scotland but plan to in the coming months as my son is heading on an exchange program to St. Andrews next semester. I am looking forward to it immensely!
Cool, Jessie! How fun.
Jessie, you’ll be in a beautiful part of the country at St Andrews. The East Neuk of Fife is gorgeous (and the fish and chips are to die for).
I shall be sure to bring my camera and a taste for fried treats!
I am so excited to read about a new author. These books book so good.
Sounds fabulous and I love the woolly history of some of these places… and the weddings sound like something that would have been a real find to read.
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