For my introductory blog as a fully-fledged femme the fabulosi have set me some questions to answer. Here goes.
Dana: You studied linguistics! What was your specialty and do those studies come into play in your novels?
Yes, I did a PhD in semantics (others just quibble about it, I slogged for five years!), then taught in a university and my thesis topic is still earning out for me. To explain, if the conversation after dinner turns to who did the daftest PhD, I win every time with Existence, Reference and Truth in Discourse: a possible worlds theoretical approach to references to non-existent objects. If you ever want to know whether some sentence about the Pope’s wife or the tooth fairy is true, I’m your girl and I can draw the proof on a napkin.
It was great fun. My supervisor and I once spent an hour trying to decide if Sherlock Holmes could have a dream about Captain Kirk.
These days, in my new life, it’s mostly useful in that I can describe what I don’t know. Dandy Gilver, my 1920s sleuth, is English and although I write her in the first person, I can’t – with my Scottish grammar – ever get the subjunctive voice or the shall/will distinctions quite right. So I can warn
the copy-editor to look out for them. Not much of a result for all that study, really.
Dean & Charlaine: Why'd you pick that particular era of British history? What is it about the post-Great War period that intrigues you so?
It wasn’t so much the period of history – any time pre-forensics would have been fine! – but the era of mystery writing - the British golden age. I grew up on Margery Allingham (left), Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Michael Innes, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie. Not to mention Enid Blyton, Nancy Mitford and Noel Streatfield, outside the crime genre. It was those stories that I wanted to join in with and make more of. (Minus – I have to say – the casual racism. Have you read DLS lately? Wow.)
Kris: If you could, would you live at the time when you set your series? What do you like best about Dandy Gilver's time, and what do you like best about ours?
If I lived then – me, the real me – I’d be doing a twelve-hour shift in a linoleum factory every day. Or be a housemaid. I certainly wouldn't be a writer. So, thanks but no thanks. (Also toothpaste and sanpro.) But . . . imagine the birdsong and the number of butterflies. The silence. But . . . imagine the price of books and how long you had to wait to get them from subscription libraries. And Dandy Gilver right now is in 1930 with two teenage sons. Tough times coming. On balance, I’d rather stick when I am.
Mary: Did you have a special research "A-ha!" moment, one that made you jump up and dance in the library, made you see new possibilities for the story?
See the thing is that when you do the writing first and the research second – make up what you don’t know, write down what you’ve made up, check out what you’ve written down – special research “A-ha!” moments make you roll about the library floor and sob because of all the rewriting to come.
With the latest book – I call it The Purple One, because the title is so long, but the publishers know it as Dandy Gilver and An Unsuitable Day for a Murder – I thought for a while I was never going to find a source to check out all the stuff I’d made up about the workings of a department store lift. But thank the gods for geeks. There is a gadget enthusiast in Mobile, Alabama, by the name of Lee E. Gray who wrote and had published (!) From Ascending Room to Express Elevator: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the Nineteenth Century. If it was a PhD thesis he’d be snatching at my crown, right?
Donna: How did you make the move from your British publishers to Minotaur.
Luckily, I didn’t! Hodder and Stoughton still publish Dandy Gilver in the UK and Minotaur have given her a home in the US. They’re sister companies so it’s all very affable with shared jacket designs and everything.
Toni: Of course, we're all hoping your series goes on for years and years, but if you had a chance to try something different, what sub-genre or idea do you have lurking in the wings? Toni.
Thanks Toni! Okay, let’s narrow it down. I don’t see getting to grips with complicated
stuff demanding accuracy. So no forensic thrillers, FBI procedurals, spy stories or techno-capers. I read and love all these sub-genres (everything from cupcakes to chainsaws) but as to writing one . . . I can guarantee no book of mine will ever have this cover.
What I have just written is a modern urban gothic psychological suspense novel As She Left It (coming out with Midnight Ink next June), very different from Dandy Gilver. The heroine is a working-class twenty-five-year-old in Leeds (a post-industrial city in the north of England), so it’s the other, non-cute, Britain. But it’s got a lot of laughs in it and a cast of characters that I’ve fallen for completely. Some things never change.
Hank: Where do you write, and how quickly? I have such a vision of you, fingers flying over the keys, laughing out loud. True?
I write in my office at home on a desk that used to belong to my best friend. She's an interior designer now so she needs posher stuff. I’m surounded by tchotchkes ranging from the lamentable to the truly calamitous, but my pride and joy is a revolving book-case (the Dandy Stand) that my father made to hold my Shorter Oxford and other reference books.
I do indeed write first drafts quite fast. Brakes off at the top of the hill and wheeeeeeee! Redrafting, as a result, takes a long time. But editing on planes is my latest discovery. There’s no internet and my lap-top battery lasts exactly a coast to coast or NYC to Edinburgh flight. I’ve done a lot of work on United tray-tables this year and a lot of recharging at Newark.
Elaine: Tell us about your name. How do we pronounce it? How did you get such a beautiful and unusual one?
Hah! I suspect a bit of teasing is going on here. I can get quite exercised about this, I know.
Okay, for forty-four years I had a very plain name. In Scotland, that’s how you spell it. The most I’d ever get asked is “mick or mack?” Then I moved to California and now no one can spell or pronounce my first name and for some bizarre reason people drop into a Star Trek chief engineer accent thing when they say my second name.
So. Here goes. McPherson rhymes with person. However you say person in your everyday accent, McPherson rhymes with it. Easy. Catriona is the Gaelic spelling of Katrina. (Gaelic! Gimme a break. The wonder isn’t that it’s dying, but that it survived as long as it did. (I once got a roomful of little 4th graders from West Sacramento to quiet down and concentrate by betting them $1000 they couldn’t spell the Gaelic “cheers” pronounced slanj-eh-varr. I had a tense couple of minutes in case one of them used a smartphone, but it was okay. (Slainte mhor, by the way.)))
The gold standard pronunciation of Catriona has a second syllable like peony – just a little shoogle on the vowel. But Katrina is fine by me. Ka-Tree-Own-a, on the other hand . . . not so much.
Marcia: When you aren't writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
The amazing news is that I read a lot. Have you picked yourself up yet? Also, my new house – The Ugliest House in California – had been empty for years when I moved in and its twenty scrubby acres hadn’t had a drop of water. So there’s a fair bit to be done. Ballroom dancing has been
suspended until the star thistle is gone. (I wonder if anyone has ever written that sentence before.) And then there’s the fact that we still wake up some Saturday mornings, Neil (Undergardener) and me, and say: “We’re in America! Let’s go out and look at all the shiny things.”
So I’d like to finish this introductory blog not just by saying thank you to the Femmes for letting
me be one too, but thank you, American people, for all the shiny things and for not changing my name at Ellis Island to something simpler.