This week, we sat down with Anthony Award-winning author Catriona McPherson. Her latest, Come to Harm, is out now!Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Catriona McPherson: I started in 2001 and have been full-time since 2005.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
CM: I love that we can read the stories we want to read and call it research work. Charlaine Harris, who I’m reading now, has a lot to teach about writing an ensemble. Jess Lourey, fellow Inker, does a dry witty voice better than anyone. Stephen King is my writing hero. I adore his big-hearted love of a really good story. And of course his book On Writing.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
CM: Bookseller? Librarian? When I did work I was a university professor. No way I’d do that again. My pipedream job is running an independent cinema.
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
CM: More writing!
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
CM: Hold on to your hats now . . . reading. Gardening, cooking, baking. I’m a wild one.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
CM: Blimey. That’s tough. I’m going to hit the Keurig machine while I chew it over. (I’m currently at fellow mystery author Darrel James’s B&B in Ashland, OR, to do some readings.) Back again and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend a book with than Miss Jane Marple.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
CM: Margery Allingham’s case of The Beckoning Lady. It’s one of her tricksiest and most exuberant books. I had to read it twice before I had a clue what was going on and it was just as entertaining the second time (and the third and the fourth).
CM: Well, I love cooking and baking (and eating) and I think food is the bit of our culture that touches our lives most often. So, I was fascinated by the thought of a character being so overwhelmed by an alien food culture that she begins to see monsters under her bed and ghosts round every corner. A Japanese scholar living above a butchers shop in Scotland was about the most dramatic fish-out-of-water scenario I could imagine. Japanese food traditions value presentation and precision and make a meal out of small things well combined. Scottish food tradition is more about frying a whole pig in lard.
MI: How does this book compare to your past works?
CM: It’s more gothic than my previous standalones have been. Just as a gun on the mantelpiece at the start of Act One must go off by the end of Act Three, I think if you’ve got butchers in a psychological thriller there’s one place you’re duty bound to go. You know.
And that place—where fear meets giggles on the corner of schlock and suspense - is somewhere I’ve only been in my historical series before now. I’ve had Dandy Gilver neck-deep in spirit-mediums, for instance; so turned around that she almost starts to believe in ghosts.
MI: Tell us about Keiko Nishisato.
CM: She’s a psychology PhD student from Tokyo, setting off thousands of miles from home to study “food as modern folklore” in Scotland. She’s caught between ambition and tradition, determined to be the serious academic woman of her resumé but still with her mother’s voice in her head much of the time. “No one is perfect: even monkeys fall out of trees, Keko-chan.” She’s clever, kind, nosy, vulnerable—I’m very fond of her.
MI: Would you want to live in Painchton?
CM: Absolutely! I’d move there in a heartbeat. I pretty much designed my dream small town in Painchton. I’d love to be able to buy Malcolm Poole’s home-made haggis instead of having to get the ingredients from various Mexican butchers in Sacramento to make my own.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
CM: I have a black cat, Rachel. She’s a very catly cat. It’s all on her terms. If she wants company you drop everything. If you dare to pet her when she’d rather you didn’t she moves away, sits down with her back to you, and washes the place you touched. Don’t you love cats?
During the drought last year when the pond was dry, we had a water trough for the cows. (They are lodgers; we bought twenty acres for the view and our neighbours use the grazing.) So we had to have fish to eat the mosquito larvae in the trough. When the grass was eaten and the cows went home, the fish came inside to live in a tank. So now I have two goldfish, Lucy and Desi.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
CM: I like the cow lodgers. And the hummingbirds, lizards, king snakes and jack rabbits. I love the frog chorus in the pond at night. There’s a skunk who wanders past on his (her?) nightly patrol too. I’m less keen on the gophers and ground squirrels, because they eat the melons I’m hoping will be mine. And I could live without rattlesnakes and black widows quite happily.
MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
CM: Leftover Christmas dinner: turkey; pork, sage, and onion stuffing; sausages with bacon wrapped round them; gravy (left to go cold and jellified, then spread on buttered toast); potatoes roasted in goosefat; potatoes mashed with butter and cream; Brussels sprouts; parsnips; cranberry sauce. I’m hungry.
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
CM: So many. Here’s an easy one suitable for everyone. Well, it’s not dairy-free actually.
Make vegetable stock by simmering onion, carrot, celery, potato, parsley stalks, whole garlic cloves, and peppercorns in a big pot of water. Meanwhile soak 8oz of butter beans overnight in cold water. Lima beans? Fava beans? The big white ones. Slice two large onions and soften them in a big blob of butter until they are translucent and slippery. Add the butter beans and the stock, salt and more pepper and cook until the beans are soft. Then chop up six to eight ripe tomatoes and add them too. Cook another ten minutes and serve sprinkled with parsley.
It’s unbelievably tasty—velvety, unctuous, savoury, and comforting.
NB: if you make it with a stock cube, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and vegetable oil my guarantee of tastiness is null and void.
MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
CM: It should be the beautiful jackets that Kevin Brown has put on my books, or the tight edits from Nicole Nugent. But actually it’s knowing that when I arrive at a convention I’ll be seeing Terri Bischoff’s sweet face. The MI acquiring editor is one of the world’s best people. I don’t mean the mystery world. I mean the world.
Come to Harm is available online and in bookstores now!