Blog Tour Dandy Gilver & A Most Misleading Habit

Today was my day for the blog tour of Dandy Gilver & A Most Misleading Habit by Catriona McPherson, but it has not been a good day, so I will share with you the argument of this mystery book and some Q&A by Catriona McPherson. After holidays I will share with you my review, I just advise you, this is an amazing book!

DANDY GILVER AND A MOST MISLEADING HABIT is the eleventh case for gently-born private detective, Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, and her co-detective Alec Osborne. They are summoned to the Lanark moor in the depths of February 1934, where a spot of convent arson on Christmas Eve is still a mystery, and two inmates from a nearby insane asylum are still at large. 

Now then, wondering what people would like to know,Catriona put out a plea on Facebook and got a slew of great questions from fans and newcomers alike. Today: the convent, inspiration, titles, California, Scottish dialects, writing challenges and bloopers. More tomorrow at The Mitford Society 

Tammy Kaehler & Cathi Turnbull asked “Why nuns? Were they the funniest group of suspects you could think of?”  ’

Ha! Pretty much so, yes. The nuns have been rumbling for a while. It was after Book 4, set in a circus, that I finally realised I was free to write anything I wanted in the wide world. (Being a university lecturer caused quite a hangover of seriousness.) So I . . . played at houses, played at shops, played at schools, played at doctors and nurses and it was only a matter of time before I played at nuns. We always played at nuns as kids, with pillowcases on our heads. If it got dull,  we added daisy-chain coronets and played at weddings.  When I first mentioned the possibility of a convent setting, my editor said “Oooooh, I do love a nun” in a quite Carry On film kind of way and immediately started thinking up puns. (see below: titles).

Cindy Domasky added “Does Dandy  go undercover in a habit? And what does Alec do?’

Oh, how I wish I’d thought of that. Unfortunately not. She goes to stay in the guest retreat (thin mattress, no wardrobe) but she does enjoy the break from having to dress for dinner. Alec, obviously, doesn’t stay in the convent, but he visits every day. The cook, Sister Abigail, is a culinary genius and I don’t think Alec misses a single meal during the entire case. 

Now would be a good time for:
Jean Kritenbrink “Dandy Gilver is a new character for me, can you describe her?”

Certainly. Or I could let The Guardian describe her: “Dandy is brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised  . . . and above all very funny.”  She’s a woman of her time and her class, who married respectably after a conventional Victorian childhood, produced the required pair of sons, and then, to her surprise as much as to anyone’s, fell into detecting. I want to stress, to Jean and other newcomers, that the books don’t have to be read in any kind of order. The characters do develop, but the only thing you won’t know if you start with this book is how Alec and Dandy met, back in Book 1. But you can email me and I’ll tell you. 

Eileen Rendahl “Is the convent in the book based on a real one? Or is it one from your imagination? If it's real, which one is it?”

Kind of both and neither. There was a orphanage attached to a convent on the Lanark moor. Its name was Smyllum and it was a dreadful place where children were mistreated horrendously, buried in unmarked graves if they didn’t survive, and where the facts were denied and covered up for years after it finally closed its doors. My fictitious orphanage is very different. It’s too late to do anything for most of the children who passed through the hands of the Sisters of so-called Charity at Smyllum, but the orphans in A Most Misleading Habit are loved and cared for (and very well-fed) by my imaginary Sisters of St Ultan.

Pat Dupuy  “At this time what percentage of the population was RC? Was there any bias towards them?”

I’m not sure about the number, Pat. It’s 16% now, after being boosted a bit by Polish immigrants. And it was lowered by mass emigration to the US in the early 20th century. As to the bias. Oh yes. Just a bit! For instance, in 1923, the Church of Scotland published “The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality”, although Hitler’s project soon quashed the appetite in Scotland for racial and religious purity.  For another example, in Glasgow, organisations of Protestant workers retained all the skilled (and well-paid) jobs in the shipyards for themselves, leaving the dirtiest, most backbreaking and lowest-paid jobs for Catholics. The sectarianism persists to this day, I’m sorry to say, with Catholic and Protestant football teams in the large cities and religiously segregated schools. It’s Scotland’s dirty little secret. 

Dru Ann Love & Rebecca Zimmerman: “How do you come up with each story?”

This is the toughest question I ever get asked. By the time a story is written I usually have no memory at all of where it started. [Break for lunch while I think]. Nope, I’ve got nothing. And my first page of scribbled notes says: Mill owner, industrial accident, Brownie troupe, rubber . . . none of which play any part at all in the finished book. I think the most honest answer is that I have no idea where the stories come from and it scares me that I wouldn’t know where to go looking if they ever dried up.

Margie Bunting, Kathy Boon Reel and Hilarie Berzins all asked about the title - who came up with it and when and what do I think of it?

I love it! My editor, Francine Toon, is chief title wrangler for these books. When our former colleague, Suzie Dooré, first floated the notion of DANDY GILVER & I said “Fine. Great. But I’m not promising to be able to think them up.” Francine came up with the template CRIMEY WORD + DANDY WORD + NOD TO THE PLOT and supplies most of the specific words too. Me? All the way through the writing of  this one I called it Dandy Gilver and Some Nuns. And the new one’s even worse: Book 12.

Fiona Oliver “From writing your first Dandy books in the (beautiful!) Galloway hills, has a move to the States affected your writing and influenced the characters that you have developed?”

I was updating the home page of my website recently and I had to laugh at the short descriptions of the newest ones. See All my books seem to be set in winter and take place in terrible weather. The last time I wrote one that wasn’t was 2010. The characters in the Dandy Gilver series were set before I moved here, so they’re okay, although I have just put four American ladies in the newest one: Mrs Cornelius, Mrs Rynsburger, Mrs Westhousen and Mrs Schichtler. Ooh, actually, that’s a clue to my biggest challenge: I don’t run across great Scottish names in day-to-day life anymore, so naming secondary characters (without them all starting with Mc/Mac) is tough. I’ve often got a surname Sharpied on my hand because I meet a reader who’s called Porteous or Gunn.

Ann Mason  “How do you familiarize yourself with the different dialects? I presume you did not grow up in a rustic village on a North Sea cliff” [DG & THE REEK OF RED HERRINGS]

I cheated, Ann. I’ve got an MA in English language and a PhD in linguistics, so even though I’m a Lowlander, I can study the Doric and the Gaelic and winkle out what I need to know. Isn’t that the dullest answer ever? The challenge was leaning to trust my (English) editor when she told me I was using too much and the book would be impenetrable.

Mandy Eve Barnett What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

I kind of love all of it. I was a useless and miserable university lecturer (after that ridiculously long education) and it still feels like a miracle that I get to sit and make up stories. But, if I have to pick, I’d say the last-gasp dregs of the final bitter-black edit before the book leaves the building. I’m so disenchanted with it by then, every page seems tired and thin and stupid. Every single time, I’m convinced my career is over. I sent one off to my agent yesterday. The covering email said “Well, here it is then”. Hers back to me said “Ta.” We both know there’s no point getting into again.

Erin Mitchell How do you keep track of all the details from one book to the next? Do you re-read the last before starting the next?

I’ve never thought of that, Erin. I wonder if that’s what other writers do? I specifically wonder if that’s why other writers don’t  get in a complete fankle about dates and realise that they have missed out 1931. Oh yes. Thankfully, there’s a way to make it seem deliberate. In 1931, a character dies and we have a year of dark while we’re all in mourning. This would probably work better as a cover story if I didn’t keep admitting it, mind you. ☺

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