The Wigtown Daily: Full Interview with Catriona McPherson
Saturday 27th September 2014
Could you kill me and get away with it?
Books are one thing, but a simple plan would be best in real life, I think. Go for a walk on a quiet clifftop (Sandyhills to Kippford on a drizzly day would do), shove you over, then run - weeping - to get "help", and never change my story? I might get kicked out of the ramblers' club, mind you.
Tell us about Jessie, your protagonist in 'The Day She Died.' What makes her such a fascinating character?
I'm very fond of Jessie. I sometimes joke that the best thing about writing stand-alones instead of series is that you can kill everyone, but I couldn't have killed Jessie Constable.
She's got a job in a free clothing project run by a (fictitious) church in Dumfries - another glamorous career for my lucky heroines! - and we meet her after work in M&S foodhall trying to make herself buy pomegranate juice instead of wine to get through the evening ahead. It's been a bad day. Jessie has pteronophobia - a fear of feathers - following a childhood trauma she's never dealt with, so every time she opens a binbag full of donated clothes she's facing danger.
This particular day - and there's a clue in the title The Day She Died - Jessie doesn't make it home. She gets swept up into the aftermath of a suicide and, just like that, a careful little life is turned upside down.
That's what interests me most - taking a character who's barely holding it together - in Jessie's case keeping people at arm's length, telling jokes instead of talking - and putting her somewhere that changes everything.
What advice would you give young writers?
Oof. I think about this a lot as I talk to other writers. There's such a wealth of books, manuals, courses, workshops and websites on writing that there's a danger of actual writing getting lost.
I was at a convention recently where the question was asked "How much of it have you written?" And the answer came back "All of it's roughly outlined and about half of it's fully plotted." I really wanted to call a halt and re-ask the question, because the writing - the actual writing of tens of thousands of words - isn't a technicality. Whatever problem this writer thought he had with the ending might have evaporated as he wrote the book.
So my advice to young writers would be: write the book. Write 80 to 100K words and see what you've got. Don't get it critiqued while you're writing it. Don't talk about it while you're writing it. Don't read books about how to write it while you're writing it. Bottom on chair, fingers on keyboard.
(Except it's always okay to read Stephen King's On Writing.
What are you most looking forward to at the festival?
Hah. After what I've just said about writing and writing alone, I'm champing for the Perfect Crime workshop session. But here's the thing: whatever we come up in the course of the hour - a hero, a villain, a murder . . . - I'm going to take it back to my B&B on Saturday night and write a flash-fiction 1K story to share with everyone the next day. Maybe everyone at the workshop will do one. Maybe we'll have an anthology by Sunday lunchtime!
Also I can't wait to see the silent film The Lowland Cinderella. My other strand of writing is a series of 1920s detective novels (latest Dandy Gilver and The Reek of Red Herrings) set in Scotland and this, while it counts as research, is going to be a real treat.
For more information on Catriona and her books, visit her website at www.catrionamcpherson.com