Guest Catriona McPherson

Edith here, delighted to welcome the talented and delightful Catriona McPherson back to the blog! Her new Dandy Gilver book is out, so let’s hear about …


They grow up so fast! When I wrote the first book about Dandy Gilver and her family, back in 2001 (or 1922, depending on how you look at it) Donald and Teddy were still climbing trees and clamouring to go on picnics. In A Step So Grave (Quercus US, 5th Nov) it’s Donald’s wedding.

I was chuffed to bits when I thought of writing a book leading up to a wedding, actually. I had written one about a theatrical production and found that the build-up towards opening night was a perfect fit for the mounting tension of a crime novel.  I guessed – rightly, it turned out – that the same would be true of the build-up here: families meeting, engagement party, negotiating presents/outfits/old feuds, and finally the big day

Also, I love a wedding: Scottish, California, fictional . . . they’re all great.

Scottish weddings are dear to me of course, not least because they usually lack a stressful element for female guests at weddings elsewhere. If there’s a bride or a groom involved – and, running through all the possibilities now that love is love is love (yayyyy!), I think there would be – then, at a Scottish wedding, you’ve got either wedding dresses or men in kilts and usually both. So no one cares what random female attendees are wearing. Takes the pressure off wonderfully.

I love the ceremony – handfasting, religious, civil, whatever – the endless photographs while everyone freezes and grumbles, the food (thank you, Mum and Dad, for bringing me up to eat whatever’s put in front of me), the speeches – longer the better, if you ask me; and of course I love the dancing. An English pal once shared her surprise that normal-looking 21st century Scottish people, who download apps and go to yoga, suddenly reveal their Braveheart roots at weddings. We all know the steps and we all howl like blue-painted banshees at Bannockburn. Apparently that howl is unsettling when you’re not expecting it.

Still, the first time I was invited to a wedding in California, I was more excited than I’d ever been. It was outside – so glamorous, just like in the movies – at a butterfly farm. I couldn’t wait to see if they did that weird walking thing that looks as if there’s a scratch on the videotape (they did) and if the groom would smash cake into the bride’s face and not get a punch in the neck for messing her dress up (he did and he didn’t – so strange). I didn’t know about the bells, though. Maybe it’s because it would mess up the sound in a movie, but I’d never seen guests being given “tinkle sticks” to jingle at the happy couple, who’re supposed to kiss every time they hear the jingling.

That’s what led me to my slight faux pas. When the usher (groomsman?) handed me my stick en route to my seat, I thought he said “tickle stick”. So I did what you’d do. I said “woo-hoo-hoooo!” and goosed him with it. Only under his arm, thankfully, but I still got a hell of a look. It took me doing it another three times before someone stepped in.

Thank God for Neil, in his kilt, advertising that we were new here and had to be given a bit of leeway. He almost didn’t wear it, since summer in California plus nine pounds of wool round your waist isn’t an obvious match.

Readers: I’d love to hear about your wedding traditions – tinkle sticks, cake smashing, funny walks – or (even better) the faux pas you might have made, that could make me feel better about mine!

Catriona McPherson is the national best-selling and multi-award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series of preposterous detective stories, set in her native Scotland in the 1930s. She also writes darker contemporary suspense novels, of which STRANGERS AT THE GATE is the latest. Also, eight years after immigrating to the US and settling in California, Catriona began the Last Ditch series, written about a completely fictional Scottish woman who moves to a completely fictional west-coast college town.

Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA and SoA, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime, committed to advancing equity and inclusion for women, writers of colour, LGBTQ+ writers and writers with disability in the mystery community.

29 Thoughts

  1. I’ve never heard of tinkle sticks. We just use our silverware to clink on the glasses for the same result. And no goosing.

    In our area, the big wedding tradition is the cookie table. Ask anyone from around Pittsburgh. Every aunt, cousin, grandmother, and baking-enthusiast in the circle of family and friends spends weeks baking every conceivable kind of cookies, which are then displayed at the reception. Seriously, it’s a bigger deal than the cake!

  2. I remember a memorable weekend where I attended two weddings, sometime during the late 1980s.

    The first one was a massive affair, no expense spared, with every possible bell and whistle. Perhaps the most unfortunate whistle was the bridezilla who had turned into the greatest control freak in the universe.

    There were about 500 guests, each of which had been pre-assigned to a specific table at the reception. I was assigned to a table at which I knew no one. It can be fun to meet new people, but when you evidently share no common ground with anyone available to make conversation and all their responses to your conversational overtures are met with monosyllables (or grunts), it can make for a LONG evening. I should add, that the others at the table had many much more substantive conversations among themselves.

    The most entertaining parts of the evening were the five separate (and spectacular) temper tantrums thrown by said bridezilla when things did not happen according to her master plan. I wish I’d brought a video camera.

    The other wedding was of a couple, both of whom were about forty years old. It was the first wedding for each, and the ceremony was held in a Unitarian church and was very simple. The music came from the groom’s boom box cassette player (remember, this was the 80s). The groom wore a business suit and the bride a simple but very elegant white suit. The ceremony itself was incredibly moving. The groom cried and so did most of the 25 guests. (There were more waiters at the first wedding than guests at the second.)

    The bride, her two aunts, and her three cousins did all the cooking for the buffet reception, which was held in the couple’s home. Everything was extremely beautiful, but also informal, with opportunities for long conversations with the couple (both singly and jointly) as well as among the guests (whether previously known to each other or not). I can’t remember ever having a better time at a wedding. The food was simple, but wonderful, and the feelings of love and friendship overwhelmed everyone there.

    I’m guessing that the first wedding cost upwards of $100,000 while the total cost of the second one was somewhere between $200 and $400.

    Can you guess which one I preferred? Can you guess which one I remember with fondness and affection. Can you guess which couple remain a part of my life (although they now live on the opposite coast)?

    To the best of my recollection, no kilts were worn at either wedding.

    1. What a lovely thing that second wedding was, Lee. One of the first weddings I attended was two college friends who got married in a public park overlooking the Pacific, had a potluck supper, and the bride’s mother made the wedding cake. It was perfect.

    2. Why am I not surprised by the outcome. And chances are the “little” wedding couple are still happily married. The other….??

  3. I love this post, Catriona. Goosing the groom – oh, my! When my older son got married a year ago, they did it their way. No cake smashing, no goofy walks, but lots of family, friends, and dancing. They asked my younger on to officiate, so he got his online minister’s license and took his job seriously. All the attendants wore whatever they wanted, it just had to be blue. Allan had women as well as men on his side and the numbers didn’t match and it didn’t matter!

    1. I have to say that I’ve always believed that the tradition of cake smashing was vile, aggressive, and not a good harbinger of future marital harmony. Not a particularly good way to start, IMHO.

      And to those who counter that it’s just all in good fun, I’ve been to a LOT of weddings where the only way to have described the mood of that moment was outright hostility.

      No, as soon as I am put in charge of the universe, it’s a practice that will be outlawed and carry penalties almost as dire as those for driving with your high beams on. (And a wise person would NOT want to get me started on THAT topic.)

  4. A “tickle stick” – how funny. Like Annette, our guests tapped silverware against the glasses. My husband refused to do the cake-smashing thing. He thought it was insulting.

    But since tossing rice is out of favor (bad for the birds) we gave all our guests little bottles of soap and sticks for blowing bubbles.

    And I didn’t live in Pittsburgh at the time, but turns out I had a cookie table!

    1. I’ve had bubble blowing bottles once at a wedding. My nephews constructed huge hoops and pooled all the liquid to make monster bubbles. Eh, it’s better than what they do with candles – my sister is raising pyromaniacs of the first order.

    2. I’ve been at one wedding where we had bubbles. My nephews pooled the liquid in a wine glass and constructed a monster hoop. Ever resourceful. But it was better than what they do with candles. Pyromaniacs they are, every one of them.

  5. You paint a vivid picture! I was a bridesmaid in a 100 pound polyester dress on a day that was supposed to be cold but turned out to be 90 with no air conditioning in the church. I fainted (never had before) and so did one of the other bridesmaids (a close friend). The groom’s mother was furious that we’d “ruined” the wedding. And at the reception everyone kept saying, “Oh, your the ones that fainted.” Happily, forty years later the couple is still married. I guess you can ruin a wedding without ruining the marriage.

    1. You poor thing! It’s funny how weddings are either perfect or “ruined” – they’re never just a bit dented.

    2. You poor thing! Isn’t it funny how weddings are either perfect or “ruined” – never just a bit dented.

  6. So many weddings over the years blend together but mine was the most memorable. Mostly in gratitude that Aline chose me to be her lifelong partner. Ukranian and Italian folk dancers (surprise appearances arranged by both parents) capped the intimate celebration. And then there was Barbra Streisand singing her repertoire ( no not at the wedding but across the street in Central Park NYC) Our festivities were held at a hotel overlooking the Park and you could hear Barbra from the balcony.
    We capped off the evening with a horse drawn hansom cab ride through the Park. Memories that live forever.

  7. We attended three weddings this year. A spring wedding at the Field Museum in Chicago for a birds-eye view of life among the 1%. (Fourteen piece band, no breaks.) A summer wedding at an estate in Roanoke, for a taste of southern charm. And the wedding of two outdoorsy-types in Lake George where the bride and groom arrived at the ceremony in a canoe, which I think takes a lot of nerve in a wedding dress.

    A good time was had by all at every one. I love a good wedding.

    1. I’d go a step beyond nerve and call it monumental courage. Could you imagine the consequences if the canoe had tipped over … I very much fear that a bride in a heavy wedding dress would head straight for the bottom – and stay there! She was a lot braver than I would have been. But, then you’re unlikely to see me in a wedding dress .. I generally prefer something no longer than midi.

  8. Your tickle sticks tickled my funny bone, Catriona! We also just clink the glassware here in Ohio.

    I’ve been to a lot of crazy and wild weddings in my life. My own first go-round in 1970 almost ended in tragedy on the wedding night. Friends filled our convertible with balloons, but failed to secure the top afterwards. We were on the road driving at a high speed when the top suddenly flew up, causing my brand-new husband to lose control of the car. Luckily, there were no other cars in the way, but we were hyperventilating for half an hour.

    My second wedding was vastly less dramatic, taking place in Las Vegas, with only my aunt and her friend as witnesses. We walked across the street to Circus Circus and had Brandy Alexanders to celebrate. At 11:30 AM.

    My youngest daughter’s second wedding a couple years ago was super simple, in her backyard, with just us and our son-in-law’s children, plus his daughter’s best childhood friend. Who gave the happy couple an avocado. Now we have a family tradition of a “wedding avocado”.

  9. I’ve only been to one wedding where any cake smashing was involved. It was my best friend’s wedding and his wife was the one who smashed the cake. You have to understand, that is so very out of character for her, too. It wasn’t really smashing cake as much as it was rubbing frosting in his face. But the groom got his revenge. He leaned over and kissed her. The look on her face was priceless, and everyone laughed. And a minute with a napkin got the frosting off both of their faces.

  10. Well, if someone gave me a “tinkle stick” at a wedding, I’d wonder if you were supposed to use it when asking to go to the ladies’ loo…

    My favorite California wedding tradition (though I think it’s pretty popular elsewhere, too) is having your dog as ring-bearer. Robin and I practiced beforehand with our two dogs, using treats. So at the actual ceremony, knowing that we had dog biscuits tucked in the pockets of our brightly-colored silk wedding jackets, the dogs came BARRELING down the aisle to where we stood as soon as they were released by their handler from afar.

    1. I’ll try to post this only once! I like little ones strewing rose petals for the bride to walk on. Especially shy little ones like my niece who stamped up the aisle, scowling and strewing nothing. Later when she was feeling less shy she strewed petals all over the dancefloor like a pro and I wasn’t the only one to skid and fall on my bahookie.

  11. We had a simple wedding in a gazebo in a park. Four people attended plus the minister. With flowers from a street vendor, I made my bouquet, corsages, boutonnieres, and a cornucopia basket. My dress was from Casual Corner. We had (and still have) lovely simple wedding rings and we took everyone to dinner at a Hungarian restaurant afterward. Total cost for everything: $300. That was 44 years ago. No faux pas, just a wonderful memory and no debt.

    1. Yes, I keep thinking how dreadful it must be to start your life together with that mountain of debt. And I’m not seeing any of the Presidential candidates talking about forgiving Wedding Loan Debt.

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