Guest Catriona McPherson

Edith here, always so happy to host Catriona McPherson on the Wickeds.

She’s a brilliant writer, a champion of others, generous with praise, and funny as all get out. Speaking of that, her third Last Ditch Mystery comes out in two weeks and you won’t want to miss it.

When the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day and a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – “Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from” – Lexy Campbell is on it. It’s a great distraction from her non-existence love life. So non-existent that when her ex-husband Bran turns up in tears saying his new wife is gone and he needs Lexy, she’s briefly tempted. Crossed-wires! He means Brandee has vanished and he needs Lexy to find her. Right now, all he’s got is one of her false nails and a ransom note hinting about nine more.

Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? Can Lexy put aside her bitter grudges long enough to find out?

Take it away, Catriona!

If I had a chisel . . .

I’m not very creative. Words, I can do. But music, paint, all fabrics . . . every non-verbal art form defeats me. If I had to choose one to be adept at – and this would require a fairy godmother, believe me – I’d love to be able to sculpt. And I wouldn’t mess about with found objects either. I’d be in the market for a big block of granite, marble, or bronze, to make a proper, honest-to-God statue.

Instead, I had to settle for writing about them. SCOT ON THE ROCKS is full of statues. I wrote it long before the recent re-evaluation of who it is we choose to honour with enormous pieces of public art, but my interests and inclinations shone through. As follows.

I invented one statue – Mama Cuento – named for the fictional town where the Last Ditch mysteries take place, and beloved of her citizens. She’s made of bronze, eight foot tall, sturdy and barefoot. This matters because when she’s stolen, early on in this book, one of her toes is sent back to the town with a ransom note.

I love Mama Cuento. (When I pass by her spot in the real-life town of Davis, it’s always a bit of a shock that she’s not there.) And she’s not out of place with the real statues I put in the story.

This is Dignity, in South Dakota. She is considerably bigger than Mama Cuento (unstealable, I’d have thought) and jaw-droppingly beautiful. You can’t miss her if you’re driving through the state (as I was in 2018) and I wouldn’t think many people manage not to stop.

Dignity is a mythical representative of the Lakota/Dakota people, but Sacagawea was a real Lemhi Shoshone woman, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and as a result she is memorialised all over the west. Here she is in Salmon, Idaho.  

Another real woman, honoured in bronze, is Phyllis Wheatley. She was abducted in Senegal and sold into slavery in the US. She was also the first published African-American poet. Her statue is in Boston, alongside those of abolitionist and suffragist, Lucy Stone, and first lady and all-round bad-ass, Abigail Adams.

I absolutely adore Boston’s public art, by the way. Some of it is very close to the heart (hah!) of any crime-fiction writer.

See? It’s not only women (real and ideal) whose statues I admire. It’s just that I seem to notice them.

Edith: I have one of those pictures!

Catriona: After all, any first-time visitor to the USA (at least if you arrive in New York) is welcomed here by Herself. Besides, I’ve never been to Rio to see Christ the Redeemer, or to Easter Island to see those guys. I’ve never even seen Mount Rushmore, actually. We were there. The plan was to look at Crazy Horse Mountain, have lunch, then take in the presidents in the afternoon. But it started to rain so hard you couldn’t see the end of your own nose, so we ate in the Rushmore café and carried straight on to Deadwood (to lay flowers on Calamity Jane’s grave).

It was quite a day. There was a clash between the real Calam – protector of vulnerable sex workers in a dangerous world – with the Doris Day Calam – sanitizing genocide. And it came after we witnessed Native families spending masses of time in the visitor centre at Crazy Horse, reading, reading aloud to toddlers, sometimes praying, occasionally crying. It was impossible, at the end of that outing, still to think statues are “just” art, or “just” a record, or “just” anything. Who is honoured and how and who by and why and where are crucial questions. Would I find Dignity beautiful if it was my people who had been killed and were now being memorialised? Would I be enraged? Is it too easy to look at her, find her awe-inspiring, and move on? I have no answers for these questions. But I still think it’s important to ask them.

Recently, in the north of Britain, two pieces of sculpture have been conceived, fought over, installed and – apparently – universally embraced. At least, I can’t find anyone with a bad word to say. It’s been enlightening to watch it happen in real time – to see how deeply public art affects people. It’s notable, though, that both pieces are right at the very far end of the “dead general on his battle horse to idealized being” continuum.

The Angel of The North is over sixty feet tall and he spreads his enormous wings out over the people of the north east of England. He was completed just before the millennium and, once everyone accepted that drivers on the A1 motorway weren’t going to crash trying to take pictures, he was admitted into the hearts of northerners for keeps.

I think the Angel must have been in the minds of the sculptors who conceived of the Falkirk Kelpies (my favourite statues ever and anywhere, partly because they’re fifteen miles from  my birthplace). Since 2103, these gargantuan, mythical water-horses have guarded the eastern end of the Forth Clyde canal, in a clever set of references, to Scottish folklore, to the horse power of the early industrial revolution, and to the importance of the canal system in Scotland’s prosperity. Also they’re gorgeous. And big. Look!

One last example. Just a wee one. Wojtek the Soldier Bear, is a life-size statue in Princes St Gardens in Edinburgh. He was a real bear, adopted as a cub by a unit of Polish soldiers and brought with them to Edinburgh during WWII. After VE Day, when many of them declined – understandably – to go home, Wojtek lived out his life in Edinburgh Zoo.

I think the statue is supposed to honour the soldiers, and their courage, but it’s typical Scots “don’t make a fuss and don’t ever EVER  talk about your feelings” to filter that through a love of animals. I don’t get the impression that Polish people living in Scotland find this problematic, overall. In fact, my Polish sister-in-law told me that Wojtek was important to the new Polish immigrants who came after Poland joined the EU, because he connected them to that first wave of Polish arrivals, and reminded the Scots about why there were Polish people around in the late forties onward too. He’s got extra poignancy now as Britain, led by England, cuts itself off from Europe to go it alone.  And he’s a good example of how complex public art is, especially when it’s trying to address history, and – I’d say – how rewarding it is to ponder.

Edith: I love this tour of statues – and their meanings! I have been to the Cristo Redentor statue in Rio. It’s very impressive and watches over the entire city.

Readers: What’s your favorite statue?

Catriona McPherson, multiple award-winner, multiple Mary Higgins Clark award loser, was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating in 2010. She writes the Dandy Gilver series, set in the old country in the 1930s, as well as a strand of darker (not difficult) psychological thrillers including the latest, STRANGERS AT THE GATE.

After eight years in the US, she kicked off the humorous Last Ditch series, which takes a wry look at her new home. The ebook of number three, SCOT ON THE ROCKS, is coming out early what with one thing and another. It will be available on 3 Aug.

Catriona lives on 20 scruffy acres in NorCal, with a black cat and a scientist.

41 Thoughts

  1. Loved the tour of the statues. Have not seen any of them, tho’ I have seen Mt. Rushmore. My favorite statue is of Pachacutec in Cusco, Peru. It’s my favorite because I was there when it was being assembled and have a picture of me standing by its enormous head lying on the ground. But I, too, love most statues and have photographed dozens of them.

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    1. We were gutted when our monuments of SD day fell apart in the weather. Now, I need to go and look up your favourite!

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  2. Fabulous tour. Now I’m trying to remember all of the statues I’ve been fortunate enough to view – and Catriona, your photos added a number to my bucket list. I think my all-time favorite is Alice In Wonderland in Central Park. I climbed it often as a child which made it interactive.

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    1. Oh yes! I saw her when we were in Manhattan. I knew this would happen. anytime you compile a favourites list . ..

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  3. Thanks so much for the tour, Catriona! I really love Fearless Girl in New York City. It was true thrill to get my picture taken next to her when I was there in 2018. Closer to my home in Central Indiana, there is Beneficence, the symbol of Ball State University, where my younger son goes. It was created by the same sculptor who made the Lincoln Memorial, so that’s pretty cool.

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    1. Another one for me to look up today. I’m going to have lots of lovely things to do on writing breaks. Keep me of twitter!

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    1. Hi Julie. Between Lincoln and Boston, MA is pretty well-served. AH, I just remembered the scultpure gallery at Chatsworth.

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    1. I keep remembering more favourite ones! There’s another one in Edinburgh – of William Wallace – that looks exactly like Mel Gibson. I always wondered about that.

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  4. Thanks for showing us all these gorgeous statues, Catriona—love them! One of my favorite statues (sculptures) is Camille Claudel’s ‘The Age of Maturity’ in the Musee D’Orsay (my favorite museum.) Some day it’s an allegory on aging (with Rodin moving to old age.) Others day it’s Camille (Rodin’s mistress) pleading with Rodin not to leave her as he returns to his wife. It’s gut-wrenching, especially knowing Camille’s ultimate fate (dying in an insane asylum where she was committed by her brother.) There’s a terrible beauty & pathos to this sculpture.

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    1. That was supposed to say ‘say’ not ‘day’ — twice. (Smaller keypad on this new iPhone.)

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      1. Yes there is! Although I’m a rabid Anglophile, I have to confess that Paris is my favorite city, simply for the art alone. The Rodin Museum is wonderful as well–so many of his sculptures outside in the garden that you can actually TOUCH!

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  5. Oh, Catriona, so very well said (not exactly a surprise) and so well illustrated too.Very wonderful. Loved all of this, even your admission to have no craft skills ( I am a black hole for crafts…and I had 3 grandparents who sewed, a mom who knitted and a dad who built) Loved the Kelpies, not there when I visited Scotland. My favorite public statue? The great Lincoln portrait by Daniel Chester French in DC is high on the list, but for #1, since I live in NY and can see the harbor from. my local transit line, has to be Herself. But I have a real soft spot for the row of ducklings in the Boston Public Gardens, inspired by the beloved book Make Way for Ducklings.

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    1. I had no idea why there ducks erverywhere in Boston, when I was there – it was no less charming for that, mind you

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      1. Make Way for Ducklings written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, was published in 1941 and so is a beloved story for several generations. It’s based on a real news event. His drawings of Boston are detailed and precise and won the Caldecott Award (best illustrations). Statues of that duck family were placed just outside the garden several decades ago. (Sorry it’s the former children’s librarian coming out)

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  6. Hi Catriona,

    I’m pleased that I’ll have Scot on the Rocks shortly. Lord knows we need something to laugh about these days.

    When I was pretty young – I’m guessing about seven – my mother took me to San Francisco and we went to several museums. At the end of the day, the fog had come in and it was starting to get very chilly. We were outside one of the museums in San Francisco and there was a large statue of (I think) some explorer who was naked but for a cape flowing behind him.

    As we were standing there, I was fascinated by the statue and spent a long time (at least for a seven-year old) examining every inch of that statue. At the end of this I turned to my mother and asked, “Wasn’t he cold?” She’d been expecting some challenging seven-year-old type questions, but not that one.

    As to favorite statues, mine is probably Rodin’s “The Kiss” one of which (there are actually several of them) is in a sculpture garden at Stanford. When I wanted a quiet place to study, I’d often go there. And upon leaving, my parting remark to the statue was always, “Get a room, guys!” I hope that my sense of humor has matured, but I fear not.

    My other favorite has to be the Golden Bears at the Old California State Fair. Every year when we went to the Fair, the Golden Bears was the mandatory first stop. I’d climb up on it (something you’re not allowed to do with most public statuary) and always give it a big hug around the neck. The Golden Bears were always everyone’s meet-up spot if you became separated, so they also are imbued with the emotion finding lost parents for me as well. They’re not great art, certainly, but they hold all those memories of childhood for me.

    Lee Sauer

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      1. Hi Edith,

        Nor did I realize it of you. I guess I just assumed you were a lifelong New Englander.

        I was born in Los Angeles, and wisely left there two weeks after I was born. I grew up in Sacramento, went to college in the Bay Area, and then moved back to Sacramento (where I still live) about 20 years ago when my mother was getting on and I needed to be physically near her.

        Lee

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    1. This is lovely, Lee. You’re still allowed to climb on the bear outside te governor’s office in the capitol . . .

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  7. Thanks for visiting with the Wickeds today, Catriona! And thanks for the tour! I loved seeing the photo of the Kelpies and now I would love to visit them in real life as soon as such a trip is possible!

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      1. I saw both the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel on a trip to Scotland in 2015. I just loved the Kelpies!

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    1. Grace, you also have that giant spider called Maman in front of Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada – we saw it with my sister a few years ago. It comes complete with egg sac!

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      1. Yes, Terry Fox exemplified courage and determination during his short life. I remember seeing him on TV when he arrived in Toronto to great fanfare. He was very modest about his accomplishments. And we continue his legacy to support cancer research by holding Terry Fox runs annually for almost 40 years now.

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  8. One favorite is the little dog, Greyfriar’s Bobbie in Edinburgh, Scotland. I did see Mount Rushmore but prefer smaller statues. Horses are good. Stay safe and well.

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    1. OMG! How could I forget Greyfriar’s BobbyI I passed him every day on my way to work for two years.

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