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.
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?
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
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.