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October 15, 2011

It’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down

HANK: So I'm in the big striped armchair, reading.

My husband says: "What?"

I say:  "What, what?"

And he says--"You're laughing."

I say, "Oh, yeah, this book is wonderful." I go back to reading. 

A few minutes later:

"What?" Jonathan says.

I put my finger on the page, impatient,  marking the place. "What what?"

"You laughed again."

Well, yeah. I had to leave the room, and go read elsewhere, else Jonathan would never have allowed me to finish.

I know it's not hip anymore  to describe a book by saying:  "It's X meets Y."  But if I said: It's Upstairs, Downstairs meets. ..Nora Charles?   Catriona McPherson's  new  Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains  is a little bit Agatha, a little bit--well, maybe a little bit Catriona herself, as I learned when I (as a complete fan girl)  met her at Bouchercon.

SO happy to introduce her to you! I either had to make her photo HUGE or small like this. Catriona (which is pronounced like the hurricane of New Orleans notoriety) is so very demure and to the manner born, I'm sure she'd prefer small.)



by Catriona McPherson

I have a new but dear friend, Eileen Rendahl,  (see below) who introduced herself to me just over a year ago as a writer of romantic suspense, currently moving into urban fantasy.  Boy, was I impressed.  (This is prosaic licence; actually she introduced herself by saying “Hi, I’m Eileen. I’m going to get some kettle corn”).  But the fact remains that this is a woman who knows her genres, sub-genres and the niches therein.  Looks it too, eh?  Quietly assured.


Me?  I know nothing.  A year ago I didn’t even know what steam-punk was.   (To anyone else as ignorant as I was: steam-punk is the other category of popular culture that’s not zombies) 

Okay, maybe it’s not true to say I know nothing.  I know my books were crime novels in UK and are mysteries here, but after that it gets shaky.

 I thought I knew a bit more.  Much as I don’t exactly love the label “cozy” I reckoned, when I moved to California a year ago, that it was the best way to describe my series to my hoped-for new audience. 

A reader at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco put me straight.  Apparently . . . it’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down.   Not even if you just let your heroine detective discover a nailed down kitten, prise it free with a hat-pin and take it home  where they all live happ- 

Oh wait, no they don’t.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this fictional calamity.  Not a one.  In fact, some fiction was probably harmed in honour of animals, when I couldn’t move to check an etymology in the Shorter Oxford or boot up Google-earth to see exactly what some street in Dunkeld looks like, because I didn’t want to disturb the real cat who was sleeping on my knee.

Now, I could say I write traditional mysteries.  In fact, I do say it.  Traditional mysteries are described on the Malice Domestic website as novels containing no explicit sex or excessive gore and violence.  Kind of negative, but hey.

My series doesn’t have either explicit sex or graphic violence, as it happens, but here’s why.  I set out ten years ago to write stories in homage to the British golden age, following humbly in the footsteps of: Dorothy L Sayers, without the casual anti-Semitism; Margery Allingham, with less oblique dialogue, because I couldn’t be sure that my books would be read and re-read until they made sense (or is it just me that needs a few goes at some Allinghams before I get them?); and Agatha Christie, without the eighty published works and the West-end play (being realistic).   It’s because the crime novels published in London in the 1920s and 30s have no sex and little violence that mine don’t.  And no effing and jeffing either.

So when a fan of my 1920s series read a stand-alone set in modern times, she was disgusted.  Hurt and offended and moved to write and tell me.  The language was unbearable.  And not just the profanity, but also the sloppy syntax.  My classically educated 1920s narrator writes beautiful English: properly formed sentences with subordinate clauses and subjunctive mood and scads of whoms and whences.  She’d no more split an infinitive than she’d eat a pie in the street.  My dear!  My 1980s heroine . . . less so.

 And as to what genre my modern novels fall under?  I thought they were stories, maybe yarns, possibly capers.  Told you I know nothing: those aren’t genres.  But because I was a woman, they were packaged and marketed as women’s fiction.  Ironically, the first one was about time-travel and I felt as if I’d time-travelled my way back to the 1950s, clever lady-doctors, male nurses, and fiction that was women’s fiction because a woman wrote it.  Below, Exhibit A.

  GrowingUpAgainI rest my case.  (This isn’t self promotion: it’s out of print.)

 Flash forward five years and see me bellowing at my car radio during NPR’s All Things Considered last week when Jeffrey Eugenides (love ‘im) was interviewed by Neal Conan (love ‘im too but keep reading) about his new book The Marriage Plot.   Conan quoted someone as having said that gender equality had been bad for literature because marriage could no longer be at the centre of a novel in the same way it was for Jane Austen and George Eliot.    But fear not, Conan went on, because Eugenides had managed to pull off the amazing feat of writing a novel about love in which we don’t know, for all of its length, who the heroine will marry.


Screen shotSeriously.  A man has written a romance and thus proved that it’s possible to do so.  It reminds me of that old office-meeting joke: “Good idea,  Miss Jones.  Now, would one of you men like to have it, so we can minute it and move on?”

I’m pretty sure you’re not a cozy writer if you scream obscenities at NPR and blow a stop sign and then scream obscenities at the CHP because he calls you ma’am and makes you feel old and so he arrests you and you spend the night banged up in the tank and so you get your residency revoked by Homeland Security and you have to go back to Scotland and so you don’t need to wonder whether they’re cozies anyway.

I saw the stop sign just in time.  The rest was fiction.  Just don’t ask me what genre, okay?

HANK: I adore Margery Allingham..and confess to a huge crush on Albert Campion. (Leslie Howard, right?) Did you read golden age mysteries? What do you remember--crushes, anyone? (Roderick Alleyn? Peter Wimsey?)


Dandy_Gilver_and_the_ProperCatriona McPherson is a recovering academic and the author of six novels set in Scotland in the 1920s, featuring the gently-born but nevertheless pretty kick-ass private detective, Dandy Gilver.  St Martin's Press have just launched the series in the US with The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains.  A year ago, Catriona left a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in southern Scotland, and now lives on a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in northern California.  Cantaloupe instead of rutabaga - otherwise business as usual.





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Catriona - OMG! I'm a recovering academic, too! So there's hope?

A few months ago I didn't know what steampunk was either! Still kinda don't.

I can guess but really have no idea what the urban fantasy genre is.

Don't know what rutabaga is (are?), either.

I know what a book is, though, and yours sound loads of fun. I hate that cat-nailing stuff. Y'know?

Help! Part of Catriona's blog has disappeared! The second half is not here...assistance on the way, gang... never fear!!

Why, why, why are there different standards for male-written fiction? This really bothers me. I heard Eugenides interview with Terry Gross and was left scratching my head, mystified at what she was trying to say his novel was. The end of romance? The end of the neverending story that person-person-love details? Impossible.

Catriona, I heard you at one of the Bouchercon panels, and was intrigued enough to add your name to my must-read list. Welcome to the party that never ends!

I grew up reading, like my grandmother, every mystery the library had, beginning with Nancy Drew when I was seven. Mysteries and crime fiction have changed a LOT since then (which was 1958), and now there are so many labels, it hard to keep up. But a good story is a good story, no matter what it's called. However, insofar as they are easy to figure out, I am happy that some elements, like kitten nailing, are winnowed out with genre classification.

Catriona, welcome to California and welcome to our blog!

I must say, one day I aspire to trade California for Scotland. Even just for a year or so. What fun.

Sitting at the Apple Store, using a borrowed MacBookAir, because my iBook won't turn on. Who would think that no computer since Thursday evening would feel so odd. Heck yeah, Steve Jobs made a difference! The wall of mourning outside the store is testimony to his influence.
On today's topic, I've learned telling stories that children will not like any story in which an animal dies, and the witch/monster/wolf must be safely out of the picture at the end of any scary story.
I'm not sure what will be the outcome of the work on my iBook, so I'll be back . . . whenever . . .


Welcome! I, too, will be adding you to my list of "must read" authors.

I have read many mystery/suspense/thriller authors over the years, since I was old enough to read. I love all of the Tarts! I have also probably read everything written by Christie and her contemporaries.

As far as I'm concerned, there's more to a good mystery than just " who done it", so I also look for a story taking place in a certain era or culture or state or country. I also like the "insider" view of particular industries, such as Elaine gives us in her Dead End mysteries.

And it bothers me that some people do not read anything written by women "Because I don't like that sort of thing." Well, how do they know if they don't ever try it?

Welcome, Catriona!
I visited Scotland a few years back and fell in love with it.
I live in California now and love it also.
Your novels sound delightful. I will be adding them to my list of great stories.

Moved to a MacBook Air on the sales floor -- credit card in my pocket . . .

Reine...how can you and all your wonderfullness NOT know what a rutabaga is?

Per Hank's comment, I'm checking back occasionally to see what happened to the end of Catriona's post . . . .

Oh Xena, your wonderful self and exquisite tudinesse, I had a food-basic childhood. For Thanksgiving, carrots were mixed with potato and called squash. Will look up rutabaga right now . . . .

It's back!! Hurray hurray...

Catriona it looks like I'm going to have to add your Dandy Gilver novels to my must read list. I am especially fond of the 20s and the 30s and stories of those times. I love being transported to different worlds for a time. I think the point of a mystery is to keep you turning pages to see what happens next, but the real joy is in the literary journey.

Normally I don't like all the pigeon-holing into genres and subgenres and niches that is done in today's publishing. I do however feel strongly that books concerning the nailing of small, furry, animals to anything ought to be properly identified and segregated.

OK, so let's see if I got this right . . . a rutabaga is a turnipy cabbage? A cross between a cabbage and a turnip? That would explain it. Auntie-Mom is a gourmet BBQer known to experiment with asparagus and even - chmm . . . chmmm - those little round things that are not peas but more like cabbages but aren't at all, butI don't think rutabagas go with BBQ or meatloaf or Kraft Dinner. But I would try it if I ever were to come across it in my lifetime. Don't count on it if it isn't Chinese or popular at BBQs in Palm Desert.

Reine - I was translating! Rutebaga (I think) is the US name for what Scots call turnip and English call Swede. And what my family calls tumshie. A friend of mine said she'd love to travel round the States in a rutebaga. I think she meant Winnebago. At least, I hope so.

Thanks, Catriona! I think I'm going to love your books!

Brassicas continued,

Also, these tumshies, which are harder than parsnips, much harder than potatoes - about the same as enormous beetroot (= hard) - are what we Scottish children used to use to carve into Hallowe'en lanterns. With a blunt kitchen knife usually. It took whole families of kids days on end to make any impact. If I'd moved to the new world ar age 10 I'd have fallen on a pumpkin as though it were an oasis in the desert.

But if I was fuelled with the rage the Eugenides reception is lighting in my belly I could carve a tumshie like soft-scoop icecream.

Thank you, one and all, for your welcome. I'm very happy to be here. Especially today, since I picked up my parents at SFO this morning for a month's visit. Listening to my father whistling in my laundry room as he mends the first of many mendable things is a deep joy. (My mother's asleep already - stocking up a week of jet-lag by giving in, but she was weeping with exhaustion).

Forgive me for posting so much -- but you have a fantastic "Dandy" web page!

Oh, Catriona--so lovely. They must be so proud of you!

The photo of Lucy is just-well, I burst out laughing.

And I must say I am not a fan of root vegetables.

But thank you for your patience with the wacky blog today. You have made MANY new friends.

Had trouble accessing TLC for the past few hours. I FINALLY was able to see the REST of your blog a few minutes ago, Catriona! I made good use of the "Wait" time, though: I bought one of your books! Hey: technology malfunctioned in your favor:-)

Hank : I love most root vegetables and all this "veggie talk" made me hungry!

Ah HA! Debs, you'll love the books--can't wait to chat with you about them. Thanks, gang, for putting up with TLC glitches today..never a dull moment..

Catriona--all our love to your parents! And are you working on a new book? (Catriona will be visiting Jungle Red this week--I think Thursday..come check it out!)

Thanks, Deb! And yes, Hank, it's Thursday on Jungle Red. I've finished the next Dandy Gilver - just waiting for the page proofs from London, and right now I'm on the 2nd quarter of the first draft of a stand-alone, modern psycho suspense, girl in peril type thing (construct your own genre title from that smorgasbord, please). My parents will be straight back into "no radio on while you do your homework" setting, chasing me into my office with a broom and demanding to know how many words I've written if I venture out for coffee. Tough love.

CANNOT WAIT, Cat! Send send send. xooxo

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