HELP OKLAHOMA TORNADO VICTIMS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver series of 1920s detective stories set in Scotland, where she was born and where she lived until moving to northern California in 2010. DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS launched the series in the US and won the 2012 Macavity award at the Cleveland Bouchercon. DANDY GILVER AND AN UNSUITABLE DAY FOR A MURDER won the Bruce Alexander award at Left Coast Crime in 2013 as well as the Historical Agatha at Malice Domestic 25.
Catriona has worked in a bank, a history library and as a unversity professor - she has a PhD in linguistics - but is now a full-time writer with both the Dandy books and a new strand of contemporary stand-alones to her name. The first of the modern novels, AS SHE LEFT IT, released in June 2013 earned a Kirkus starred review.
When not writing Catriona is reading mysteries, growing fruit, vegetables and roses, cooking, baking, dumpster-diving, thrifting and hanging out with her two black cats and her scientist husband.
I’ve been writing 1920s detective stories about upper-class sleuth Dandy Gilver for ten years now. But during all of that time some ideas, characters and settings have come along that just weren’t Dandy. And when enough bits of fluff build up in a writer’s brain, like dust bunnies, eventually a book happens. Hence, AS SHE LEFT IT, my first modern stand-alone, which came out on Saturday from Midnight Ink.
First, there was the city where I worked as a university professor for five years. (I wasn’t very good at it. Understatement. I was so bad at it, and so unhappy, that writing novels seemed like a good alternative plan!) It isn’t a very Dandy Gilver kind of place. In fact, at my launch party on Friday night, a passer-by (it was 102 degrees and there were a few “passers-by”, there for the a/c) said: “What’s with all the dystopian covers these days?” I said: “That’s not dystopia; that’s Leeds.” But you can see what he meant.
Then the was the little old lady I and two pals met there one day. She was pattering about the streets in an apron and slippers, completely lost, completely unperturbed. She let herself be led home and then invited three total strangers into her house with her. It was a tiny incident but for some reason she stayed with me and she stayed in modern times too. She’s in the book, not doing what I thought she would – she is one of the most surprising characters I’ve come across in my writing life.
She also caused one of my worst edit-fails. In early drafts she was called Olive. Then I changed her name to Norah. TIP: if you change the name of a character called Olive, watch out for scenes involving pizza. (We caught it at page-proof stage, but it was a close one.)
Finally, there was the summer I spent in rural France with a Louis Armstrong tape stuck in the car tape deck. I listened to a lo-hot of jazz trumpeting. About the same time my dad came down with a severe case of streptococcal pneumonia. Now, my dad plays the euphonium. (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called in the US – it’s a kind of adolescent tuba.) And his doctors and nurses reckoned that his gargantuan, euphonium-induced lung-capacity saved his life. Out of these two elements was born Fishbo Gordon, an elderly trumpeter and band-leader who has lost his puff and needs someone else to blow the horn while he keeps on leading the band.
Fishbo’s Puffer – as an early version of AS SHE LEFT IT was called – is Opal Jones, a twenty-five-year-old, newly orphaned woman who comes back to the little row house on the dead-end street where she grew up and finds nothing changed and everything different. A child disappeared on Mote Street ten years ago and as Opal begins to investigate, she learns more secrets than she can bear about these people she thought she knew.
Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1, where Opal’s walking round the house on her first day back:
She turned and pressed her face against the glass, watching as a red Transit van chugged impossibly slowly round the corner and pulled in across the street. The driver’s door slid open and one after the other, four old men climbed down. Opal laughed out loud. It was the Mote Street boys, still dressed in their shiny suits and a narrow ties She took hold of the rings at the bottom of the window and slid it quietly open.
‘That piano stool’s like a bed of nails,’ said Pep Kendal, knuckling his back.
‘It’s a good gig,’ said Big Al. ‘Steady money.’
‘Tea dances!’ said Jimmy D, the drummer.
‘I’ll rustle us up some dinner,’ said Pep. It was his house, Opal knew. His kitchen.
‘You’re going to cook?’ said Mr Hoadley. ‘I’ll maybe just shoot off home.’
‘I’m going to phone,’ Pep said. ‘Pizza.’
‘Aye well, all right,’ said Mr Hoadley. ‘No olives, mind.’ He lowered his double bass case carefully out of the back of the van and stepped down.
‘Fish!’ shouted Big Al. ‘Pizza?’
Opal caught her lip and waited. The passenger door rocked slowly along its rail and then, hat on the back of his head, white hanky foaming out of his breast pocket, battered trumpet case clutched in one hand, out stepped Fishbo, Mr Gordon, her old music teacher. How the hell was he still alive? He had already been an old man when she was tiny and he looked truly ancient now, mummified nearly, all battered and leathery and so skinny that his suit hung like it would off a wire hanger.
‘Mooooon Reeeeebah,’ he sang. ‘Wider dan dee miles.’
‘Fish!’ Pep barked at him. ‘You know the deal.’
‘That’s the worst of letting him finish with “Moon River”,’ said Mr Hoadley. ‘It could be days now.’
‘Might as well ask my blood to stop flowin’ in my veins,’ said Fishbo.
‘Could be arranged,’ Jimmy D shouted from inside the back of the van and still complaining, the old men filed into the house and closed the door.
Opal slid the window back down and leaned her head against it. How could it be? She’d been to hell and back – well, Whitby – and yet here they all were like yesterday. People who knew her. So much for alone in a crowd in the big bad city.
But she couldn’t go back to her pals with all their questions, Jill at the salon and her sympathy, Steph and that look she always had on her face. Baz, the scumbag, most of all.
She had to stay on Mote Street. It was meant to be.
If that’s made you think you’d like to know more about Opal Jones, Olive Norah Fosset, the Mote Street Boys and what happened to little Craig Southgate, I’m giving away a signed copy. Just leave a comment (e.g. “Gimme a book”) and I’ll put your name in the hat.
COMMENT? QUESTION FOR CATRIONA? Tell us or ask a question by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of AS SHE LEFT IT!
Blogs - Reviews - Interviews - Giveaways