Thursday, December 2, 2021

First Fifteen, by Catriona

If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene.

I'm not going to answer the question. A. Because I'd only sob and B. because I've got a book coming out and so I'm going to talk about that. (Kind of.)There's a sort of connection, mind you: I wouldn't object to spending Christmas and New Year in any of the places where I've set the fifteen (fifteen! I means seriously, fifteen?) Dandy Gilver novels published to date. Here's my dazzlingly low-tech map of Scotland for starters. Take a squint and guess where Dandy and I are each from.
If you guessed we're from 1/4 and 2/14/5, you're right. I look like a lazy researcher, but it just so happens that I was born in an ancient wee burgh, stuffed to busting with history, and nine miles from the capital city, which also has a fair bit of this and that (volcano, 11thc castle, 12thc palace, 18thc centre that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site ... you know the kind of thing). I plonked Gilverton where it stands (1/4) so that Dandy would be in the middle and she wouldn't spend her whole life driving to cases. The roads are bad enough today, I thought. Imagine them in the 20s. This was staggeringly dumb, of course. I could have missed the driving out. Ah well, hindsight, eh? When I look at where I've sent Dandy and her sidekick, Alec, on those terrible roads, the blank bits jump out at me. What happened to the big chunk north of 9 and 13? Am I allergic to the west? And the islands? There's work to do, clearly. But here's a look back at where we've been so far.

She darts about a bit in this one. I didn't know there were going to be more so I had her visit my two favourite places - Edinburgh and Galloway - but the heart of the book introduces Gilverton in Perthshire, Dandy's family, friends, servants, and Bunty the dog. The mystery might be an apprentice piece but I nailed the setting, if I say so myself. Look here for bios and flooplans

I couldn't resist it. In Queensferry, the village where I was born and where my parents still live, a man gets covered with burdock seeds on one Friday every August, and walks the town being given sips of whisky by everyone he meets. Imagine if he fell down dead. Poisoned. What a list of suspects there would be.

Over the river from Queensferry to the Kingdom of Fife and the fictitious village of Luckenlaw (Locked Hill). I flattened the real village of Upper Largo to make space for it. Why didn't I just set the book in Upper Largo? Search me. 

Back at Gilverton for Christmas, along with a small family circus who've circled their wagons there to see out the off-season. This one was mostly sequins and weather, but the research was fun.

Nothing fictitious here. This book is set inside No. 17 Heriot Row, in the New Town, in Edinburgh. Handily enough, Robert Louis Stevenson lived there so you can get in and poke around, which is one of my favourite bits of my generally pretty lovely job. 

And back to making it all up again! I thoroughly enjoyed razing two of the ugliest buildings in Dunfermline and putting two beautiful rival department stores there instead: House of Hepburn and Aitken's Emporium. I'd shop in both. 

This was supposed to be set in Ayr, but I wrote it while I was stranded in California waiting for my greencard and Ayr was too big to write without feet-on-the-ground research. So I shifted it down the coast to lovely Portpatrick, which I know like the back of my hand. Every brick, every cobble, every rock is real. 


The Moffat Hydro is long gone - so I used it as a setting, secure in the belief that no one would write and tell me what I got wrong. And there was an unexpected bonus. I wanted a ghost for the story. I was prepared to make one up. But I checked to see if there were local ghosts I could dragoon. There were four.


Best setting of the bunch. Hands down. Crovie in Aberdeenshire looks exactly like this - tucked into the cliff like a seagull on a ledge - and the church on the hill with the skulls of vanquished Danish Kings set into the gable wall is real too. 


Typical Edinburgh - it took me ten books to go to Glasgow. It's Scotland's largest city; at the time these books are set it was known as the second city of the British Empire; and it's stuffed with stories. But it's Glasgow, as Edinburgh people would say. My dear, it's Glasgow. What fun it was to write about a West End dance hall and a snooty merchant in his villa and the very underbelly that makes Edinburgh folk clutch their pearls. (I didn't do it deliberately, but did you notice that I put it in the wrong place on the map and had to add an arrow? Typical Edinburgh.)


Hm, this might be the exception to my claim that I'd spend Christmas in any of my book settings. There's not a lot of razzamatazz on the Lanark Moor. In the book, there's even less - just a psychiatric hospital full of shell-shocked soldiers, a convent full of orphans, endless dun-coloured grassland, and twenty nuns. 


Very different story with the setting of this one. It's in a real castle - Caerlaverock, near the English border - and it's a lot more colourful than the nunnery. A troupe of theatricals are staging Macbeth in the castle keep on a balmy summer evening. It was a different play I went to see there in real life but the meadow flowers (and midges) were just the same.


Yet again, with this story about a family wedding in the country, one of my most apparently outlandish settings is absolutely real. Applecross, the houses featured, the hills and the hellish road (see pic below) - all there to be visited. Even the wild history of St Maelrubha didn't need much of a nudge to get as Gothic as I could have dreamed.


I can walk to this setting - Cramond - from my mum's house. The castle is there, the cottage is there, the island is there and you can stroll over at low tide (hat tip to Agatha Christie). The wee tiny house on the island is still there too. Two of the mills are in ruins but there's a public footpath that skirts their sites. Of course the pubs are real. And Dandy goes on a jaunt to the science campus of Edinburgh University. It tickles me too, that she visits a bookshop in the book. And that bookshop now sells the book. I'm easily amused.


Next week, this comes out in the US. And - ahem - it would make a lovely Christmas present. Tell you what, if you buy one one for someone for Christmas, let me know and I'll send them a card too. 

But back to setting. It's located very squarely in the real city of Dundee, with lots of street scenes and a murder in Dudhope Park. I don't know Dundee all that well, which is probably why I made sure to walk in Dandy's footsteps and drive her routes to check that the plot worked. I'm so glad I did. I found real treasure on that research trip: a street so narrow I had to have Dandy and Alec slip along it, feeling not quite safe

and a beautiful architectural survival from the time when Dundee was a seafaring city above all else:

 Isn't that grand?



Josh Stallings said...

I love this. I want to do the Dandy Gilver tour of Scotland. That might be my perfect holiday.

Susan C Shea said...

You actually have answered the question of the week, and handsomely so. And your tour of Dandy's Scotland and your books about her is quite helpful to her fans. I agree Crovie is the most deeply atmospheric setting. I have never forgotten the place you describe in THE REEK OF RED HERRINGS. Well done!

Catriona McPherson said...

Thank you, Josh and Susan. I would happily be your driver and guide. Cx

Clea Simon said...

What Josh said!! Jon and I were planning a trip to Scotland (to follow our Vietnam/Cambodia sojourn) when COVID hit. SOB!!! What said when it's safe to go out, we hire you and a van? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?

(also realizing I've missed a few DGs, so that's good news for me)

arpit arti sharma said...

Billionaire Club Mykonos is offering top quality services in concierge Mykonos. Vip services, making your trip a unique travelling experience. Amazing luxury villas, yachts, private jets and helicopters are available 24/7 for you. Billionaire Club, concierge Mykonos will make sure that you will have the chance to rent the most majestic private yachts and private planes, during your stay.

Luxury Villas Mykonos