Thursday, April 14, 2022

Another voice in the chorus, by Catriona

It sounds - from the title of my post - as if I might be answering the question. I'm not. Because today is UK publication day of a new book for me. And it's a book that's closer to my heart than any other has been since . . . oh probably The Child Garden. I'll tell you why.

I've written about Scotland in the Dandy Gilver series and had more fun than I can believe. I've written a character quite like me in the Lexy Campbell Last Ditch series and, again, enjoyed every word of it. And then I've written Opal, Jess, Keiko, Gloria, Jude, Ali, Donna, Finnie and Tash in the standalones. 


The books set in Scotland are about a posh English lady. The books about a lippy Scottish girl take place in California, and the standalone crew?  They're from all over the shop and their stories are their own.

Now, though: a working-class woman, a book set in Scotand, and a historical backdrop (i.e. my spiritual home). Let me introduce . . . drumroll . . . Helen Crowther. You can call her Nelly:

She is a wife, a daughter, a sister and an upstart and she lives in the tenements of Edinburgh. She is just about to wriggle free from the rigid respectability of her parents, Greet and Mack; the scorn of her annoying wee sister, Teenie; the control of her overbearing benefator, Mrs Sinclair; and even the sad puzzle of her new husband, Sandy. 

It's July, 1948, and Helen's going to work, not in the bottling hall of the Fountainbridge brewery, or in the kitchens of a big house in the suburbs, but as a welfare officer in a doctor's surgery, while the brand-new National Heath Service swings into action throughout the UK.

There was a rousing slogan for this initiative in Britain. But when I was looking for a title for the book - The Upstart? not crimey enough; A Fountain Filled with Blood? Julia Spencer-Fleming has written it; From the Cradle? Too similar to too many other things - it never occurred to me that no one else had used this slogan as a title for fiction before. It's so perfect. And now it's mine!

To be cared for "from the cradle to the grave, in place of fear" was a big change for the people of Britain when they were still recovering from the ravages of WWII.  Actually, the two things were closely related. It was the shocking state of conscripts' health - undernourished, poxy, weak and short of teeth - that made War Office doctors start to agitate for action once the fighting was done.

And speaking of big changes (segues are hard!) a new job as a medical welfare officer is a huge step for Helen. She's terrified, but determined to help. When I set out to write her, I was also slightly terrified but determined to follow this story wherever it took me. Strange as it sounds, I was relieved when my mystery-fiction muse kicked in and Helen found a body in chapter three.

What a heartbreak. Just as Helen begins to organise wheelchairs, spectacles, nit powder and maternity care for the poorest of Edinburgh's people, she discovers that an apparently healthy young girl, wearing only a hospital gown, has died alone right outside her door. And in this city of lawyers, bankers, and bishops, no one is willing to risk a scandal in the name of justice. So, Helen now has another job to do.

I'm proud of In Place of Fear. There, I said it. The research drew on a lot of my time working in the local studies department of Edinburgh City Libraries, augmented by phoning home and saying "Hey, Mum, when you were wee . . .?" about fifty times. The writing took more drafts than I've ever ploughed through before, until the war, the city, the factories, the shops, the trams, the doctors, the patients, the family, and the plot all started thrumming along together. The elevator pitch took everything I've got too. It's a book full of warmth with quite a few laughs, but I managed to make it sound solemn somehow!  So I gave up trying to describe it on its own terms and went down the time-honoured route of the comp. 

In Place of Fear: "Modern Sherlock meets Call the Midwife". (In Edinburgh.) I hope you give it a go. 

Buy links are here



Liz Milliron said...

It sounds wonderful!

Ann said...

It landed on my kindle at midnight. Or thereabouts. So much for me cleaning out the pantry this afternoon. Instead I’ll be curled up with In Place of Fear

And it’s tenement. Xo

Catriona McPherson said...

Thank you!

Lori Rader-Day said...

I loved this book! Congrats, Catriona!!

Susan C Shea said...
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Susan C Shea said...

Hard cover not available util late June, so I'll go with a kindle for now. Can't wait that long!