I am delighted today to be taking part in this blog my thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy and to the author for writing a fantastic piece that gives us an idea about the thought processes behind the story. My review will posted within a week or so, so please do check back for that.
Scotland, 1932. Aristocratic private investigator Dandy Gilver strikes again with her witty sidekick Alec Osbourne to solve sinister goings on at a convent on a bleak Lanarkshire moor.
The convent was set alight following a mass breakout at a neighbouring psychiatric hospital on Christmas Eve, resulting in the death of the mother superior. Most patients were returned safely but a few are still at large. . .
As Dandy interviews each nun in turn she senses a stranger is still lurking in the corridors at night - could they be the same person who left blood-red footprints in the sacristy?
Welcome to the blog Catriona:
Behind the scenes . . . unsuitable for nervous viewers ;-)
Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit is out today. It’s beautiful (thank you again, Hodder & Stoughton) and I’m delighted to give a wee skelp on the behind and send it off into the world.
But I want to acknowledge that it nearly did for me on the way.
It’s mostly set in a fictitious convent and orphanage – St Ultan’s – on the Lanark moor, with some scenes in a nearby insane asylum. There are twenty nuns and fifty orphans in residence in St Ultan’s. Dandy’s task is to solve the mystery of the Christmas Eve arson attack in the convent chapel, during a break-out from the asylum, which left one nun dead. Part of this task is making sure that everyone – all twenty identically-habited nuns – was where she said she was while the fire was raging.
And maybe that’s why someone told me recently that I’m a planner, not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. He didn’t ask me. He stated it as revealed truth.
I managed not to collapse into hysterics. Because the fact is I’m a total pantser. I get a germ of an idea (e.g. NUNS!) and start to write, no clue whodunit or what they dun, or why, or how it’s going to be discovered. I just sidle up to the characters and join in with their lives, listening and typing. It’s a system that’s worked for fifteen years, ever since I wrote Dandy’s first case
But sidling up to those twenty nuns, some of whom were keeping secrets and all of whom were trying to protect the good name of their order, broke my system into tiny little shards. I mean, look at the floor plan of the nuns’ cells. Even I know it’s like an illustration of a nervous breakdown:
So I admitted defeat, and, for the first time ever, I made a character chart showing everyone’s name, her job (within the overall category of “nun”, I mean), the page she was first introduced, the page she was first described, and leaving two columns where I could mark off whether she’d been interviewed and whether she’d told her whole story and/or if Dandy believed she had and/or if the reader was supposed to think she had.
I just asked my husband if showing this chart would constitute a spoiler. I wish you could have seen the look he gave me. What he said was: “Are you implying that anyone else in the world could make head or tail of that? Seriously? Okay.” It was patronising, but the guy’s got a point.
And I thought for a while the Sisters were going to scupper another cherished aspect of my writing process. I like to work with photographs of my characters propped up on my desk so I can commune with them. How it goes is about a third of the way into the first draft, once I know who they are and what they look like, I go searching for pictures of them, then cut the pictures out and stick them to card. Old magazines and newspapers are good hunting grounds. I had a Women Who Dare diary one year, with black-and-white portraits of scientists and explorers and all kinds of pioneers. Many of those brave and brilliant women served as the faces of characters before the diary was reduced to tatters and thrown away.
But where was I going to find pictures of twenty nuns from the 1930s? They didn’t go in for much press attention. The cogs turned and the gears ground for a while but eventually I twigged that I didn’t need pictures of nuns. That the habits were the same for them all and Dandy would only ever see an oval of face framed by a wimple. Or – on my desk-top writing tool – a piece of white card.
In a funny way, the fact that I could only see their faces made me commune with them all even more intensely than usual. And those misleadingly identical habits turned out to be a great plot device too.
About the Author:
Catriona McPherson was born in the village of Queensferry in south-east Scotland in 1965 and educated at Edinburgh University. She left with a PhD in Linguistics and spent a few years as a university lecturer before beginning to write fiction. The first Dandy Gilver novel was short-listed for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger 2005 and the second was long-listed for the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year Award 2007. In 2012 DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS was nominated for a Historical Macavity Award. Catriona writes full-time and divides her time between southern Scotland and northern California.
Thanks for visiting the blog today and please have a look at the other stops on the tour.