A Wicked Welcome to Catriona McPherson

by Julie, still summering in Somerville

I am delighted to welcome Catriona McPherson to the blog today. Catriona and I got to know each other when we both served on the national board of Sisters in Crime. As a person, she’s a delight. As a writer, she’s a wonder. I’m thrilled she’s joining us today to talk about A Gingerbread House!


What a Way to Make a Living

by Catriona McPherson

I’ve been charged, in the past, with giving my characters grim lives. Specifically grim jobs. I was startled to read a review once that spoke of a heroine’s desperate (!) existence. I had given her a job I thought would be fun: stock management in a free-clothing project for a Catholic charity. Another time, I made my protagonist an supermarket picker, choosing the groceries for delivery to customers who shop online. Again, lots of fun for a nosy-parker, I reckoned. Dead-end, minimum-wage, dreary, said a reviewer.

I’m ready for it this time, with A GINGERBREAD HOUSE. Even I will admit that a book-keeper, now haemorrhaging clients as everyone does their own accounts online, a freelance grant-writer so bored she needs podcasts to stay awake, and a direct retailer of phone accessories one step up from Etsy, do not have thrilling jobs. (I chose them for a plot-related reason, which I won’t go into here because spoilers.)

So much for the three second-tier characters in the book. I will, on the other hand, die on the hill of my true heroine’s job being a fun one. She’s . . . wait for it . . . a van driver.

But hear me out.

Tash Dodd has three gigs going during the time A GINGERBREAD HOUSE takes place. Now, the first is not high-octane. It’s a responsible job, delivering time-sensitive medical supplies that require refrigeration, and she does it well. Her second job, though, assisting the driver of a special student transport bus – collecting the children and working the wheelchair lift – is one I’d kind of love to do. And her third job, driving a patient transfer bus to and from the chemo clinic, is one of those lowly-seeming jobs that, done with grace and compassion, can make a massive difference in people’s lives.

I have to come clean about the extent of my research into the nuts and bolts of these professional settings, though. I found out what I wanted to know and left it there. It’s a proud tradition in the cozy sub-genre and one I’ve gladly adopted even in psychological thrillers. My bookshop owner did a lot of finding treasure and not much invoicing. My B&B manager fried a lot of bacon and did no fire-safety training. My church deacon gave inspiring sermons and typed up zero minutes from zero meetings.

And why not? Procedurals gloss over procedure. Spies in spy thrillers (even Le Carré; let’s not talk about Ian Fleming) spend a lot of time in the shadows and none at all on the continuing professional-development interactive courses that must beset any government work. Private detectives in stories solve murders a lot more often than they shut down fraudulent worker’s comp claims.

So I’m unrepentant about making the life of a van driver as entertaining as I wanted it to be. It’s a perk of my job to find the fun, the drama, the quirk . . . and ignore the admin. Making stuff up is what we writers get when we trade in tenure, a pension plan, health benefits and paid holidays. It’s one of the upsides of not punching a clock.

Time Clock from a paper mill

And speaking of punching a clock. Here is the time clock salvaged from the paper mill where my late father-in-law was a manager. It’s one of my most treasured possessions. (I use it as a drinks cabinet.) When my nephews were much younger, one of them asked what it was. I said, “It’s a time clock.” He went saucer-eyed and said, “A real one?” Meantime, his cool, teenaged brother snorted and said “Aren’t all clocks time clocks?” They were both adorable responses in their own way, but as a writer I’m always going to be on the side of the kid who thinks he’s just discovered that his aunty owns a time-machine. I’m always going to look for the magic and, because I’m writing the story, I’m going to find it. Even with a van driver.

So that’s my defence of writing what I think are fun jobs. I’d love to hear what your dream fictional job might be, or what authors you think write well about working for a living. Ooh! Anne Tyler. That’s my answer. What’s yours?


BIO

headshot of Catriona McPherson

National-bestselling and multi-award-winning author, Catriona McPherson (she/her), was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010, where she lives on Patwin ancestral lands.

She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is A GINGERBREAD HOUSE, which Kirkus called “a disturbing tale of madness and fortitude”.

Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.  www.catrionamcpherson.com

ABOUT A GINGERBREAD HOUSE

cover of A GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Meet Ivy Stone. A fifty-four-year-old book-keeper from Aberdeen with a second chance at life now that’s Mother’s gone. She’s determined to overcome her shyness and finally make a friend. Meet Martine MacAllister. A grant-writer from Lockerbie, facing her thirties like she’s faced her whole life – working hard and ignoring the racists. If only she wasn’t quite so alone. Join a club, they say. So she has and she’s hoping. Meet Laura Wade. An entrepreneur from Ayrshire, hitting forty and far from ready for it. She’s got her life mapped out and the prospect of it dazzles her. All she needs is to meet the right man. And soon. Luckily there’s no shortage of help for that these days.

The world is full of women and girls searching for something and ready to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to find it.

Enter Tash Dodd. She’s a worker-bee, a grafter, no way a hero. But, when her unremarkable life  explodes and her normal family is revealed for what they truly are, her only choice is to embark on a quest for justice and redemption; a quest that soon becomes a race against time.

In this modern fairytale, set in Scotland’s post-industrial central belt, the secrets inside respectable-looking lives curdle, the poison spreads, and the clock is ticking for all the innocents trapped in the gingerbread house.

36 Thoughts

      1. Yes! And thank you. I would love to be able to put the time clock into The Repair Shop (Netflix) and get it going again. Neil and I could clock in every day.

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  1. Congratulations on the release of “A GINGERBREAD HOUSE”! May this book birthday be one memories are made of. I, for one, think it sounds like a fabulous book and one I can’t wait for the opportunity to read.

    My dream occupation for a story would be either a woman drafter or a photographer. Loved drafting in high school, but wasn’t able to follow that path. I was also the only girl in class so I’m think, at least at the time, that it may be a male dominated occupation. I can see many adventures as she would explore sites to get the lay of the land for plans to be drawn up or checking to see if her plans were being carried out on the construction site meeting a vast array of people and crimes that she could come stumble across or find herself in the middle of. Since I love photography, I can also see our leading lady traveling to many strange sights and tons of adventures along the way.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. That is a genius premise for a series! Someone who pokes around construction sites? I mean, come on – that’s begging to be written.

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  2. The new book sounds fabulous and you always bring characters to life. My dream job would be working in a small independent bookstore. But like you said it would all be having happy customers and finding them the perfect book, that probably magically appears on the shelf without any ordering or invoices or nasty customers.

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    1. Way ahead of you Sherry. Mine is a mystery bookshop and it’s called “Col. Mustard’s”

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  3. Happy book birthday! THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE sounds wonderful. Love the concept and the theme. My dream job would be a sea-going travel writer visiting little known ports of call. Care to come along? Think of the mayhem we could create.

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    1. Oh heaven. I think a travel writer is pretty much everyone’s dream job after this last year, so you might find yourself in a flooded market! But a sea-going traveler? No rushing about airports and standing in security lines in your socks? Quoits on the poop deck? I’m in!

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  4. Congratulations on the new release, Catriona! Reading the blurb sent a chill down my spine.
    I think Sue Grafton did a masterful job weaving the routine, hum-drum aspects of Kinsey’s job into her books to provide a touch of reality. Then again, Ms. Grafton was an absolute master overall.

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    1. she really did, didn’t she? You’ve just put me in mind of someone else who did it very well: RD Wingfield in the series that became A TOUCH OF FROST on the telly. Jack Frost was always overwhelmed with cases and paperwork.

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  5. I love to read all the different occupations of the characters in books…Barbara’s clambake workers, bed and breakfasts, bookstores, bakeshops…all of them are fun! I just read one by Emmeline Duncan about coffee carts and I thought that would be a neat job. Kinda like I work vicariously through them. Good luck with your new book!

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    1. Oh yes – that reminds me of Sandra Balzo’s coffeeshop series too. She’s great at making the mundane chores seem interesting.

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  6. Happy Book Birthday to one of my favorite authors and pals! Love that you take the fun and leave the admin — I suspect our readers get enough admin in their daily lives that they absolutely do not miss it on the page.

    Funny you mention Anne Tyler and work. She tells a story about running into a woman she knew, maybe from their kids’ school, who asked her if she was working, or “still just writing.” “Just writing,” she replied. HA. We should all just write like that!

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    1. I once said I couldn’t do something because I’d be working and the woman I was talking to said “”Oh, you got a job!”

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  7. Congrats on your latest book, Catriona! (And that time clock is fascinating!)

    Like Sherry, I wanted to run a bookshop–but it was all about reading books all day long. (Ha–not very likely.) The runner-up job would be as a food critic (minus writing the mean reviews).

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  8. Congrats on the book release!

    As an accountant, I take exception to your description of a book keeper’s job as boring. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go start a day of mind numbing boredom. Oh, wait…. 😉

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    1. Phew! I’m so glad you’ve got a sense of humour about it. It must get old having a job that everyone uses as shorthand. Good on you!

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  9. Congrats on the book release!

    More and more I think my dream job would be someone who works at a rescue and either walks or exercises the dogs and pets the kitties. Right up my alley.

    And yes to the procedurals. My cops spend very little time writing reports in comparison to their real-life counterparts. Because really, who wants to read about that?

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    1. I feel like we already know what the worst bit of working at a rescue would be. Morning clean up, right? Or maybe dealing with people dropping off puppies and kittens because they don’t match the couch.

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  10. In teaching, I tried most days to find the fun and avoid as much of the “administrivia” as I could, and I certainly applaud my favorite authors for doing the same. I vicariously enjoy being a restaurant critic thanks to Lucy Burdette and running an eclectic diner/shop thanks to Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day, and working with horses with Annette Dashofy’s Zoe. I can enjoy their many furry companions as well, with nary a sniffle from my allergies. Brava!
    Now to find THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE.

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  11. Congratulations, Catriona! The book sounds fantastic. But then again, they always are. I am madly in love with that clock, BTW. I think my dream job would be architectural historian. I love historical properties from mid-century backwards. But I’d also like to have buckets of money I could use to fund animal rescue, childhood parity, and climate change approaches.

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