Wherever I Hang My Plot: Caitriona McPherson on her new book A Gingerbread House
by Catriona McPherson on 2 August 2021
Master of suspense Catriona McPherson’s latest standalone psychological suspense is an immersive and unsettling tale of three women who have nothing in common besides the need to survive – but their time is running out . . .
A disturbing story of madness and fortitude that grabs your attention from Page 1Kirkus Reviews
Here, Catriona talks fairy-tale cottages, floorplans, and plots.
I love houses. And I include flats, studios, caravans, shepherds’ huts, the fibre-glass domes like giant igloos at the University of California campus at Davis, the natty caves with heather mattresses and handy shelves of stone from my childhood reading, the imagined castles that once stood on those dents in the grass at historic sites . . .
See, houses don’t have to be real for me to start musing about where to put my bookcases, and whether there’s enough sun at the kitchen door for a herb garden. In fact, some of my favourite houses are fictional. (My husband maintains that Waiting For Godot is in my top five plays purely because it’s one of the few I pay attention to, since I’m not trying to decide if the set would work as a room and where the doors go.)
Because of the houses, Sleeping Murder is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, A Surfeit of Lampreys is at the top of my Ngaio Marsh charts, and Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle is the book I re-read most often.
Strictly speaking, the Smith house isn’t quite fictional, or so I’ve always believed. Godsend Castle, in the book, is a moated ruin, with one remaining original wall and an Elizabethan house tacked onto it like a potting shed. It’s in the grounds of the Scoatney Estate. In real life, Scotney Castle (In Kent, not Suffolk; I’ll give you that), is a moated ruin, with one remaining wall, that’s got an Elizabethan house tacked onto it like a potting shed. Debate me.
The first imaginary house I remember falling in love with was a pop-up book belonging to my big sister. (When you’re the fourth child all the best stuff is someone else’s.) It had three pages, plus the board covers, and when you opened it right back on itself it turned into a mid-century-style apartment with Festival of Britain pop-up furniture and modern art on the walls. Truly it was one dry martini away from an episode of Bewitched. I look for it on eBay a lot, ready to pounce. If anyone owns a copy: there’s a sucker right here, so name your price.
Fast forward a few years. One of the minor disappointments about moving to America, as well as the loss of pork pies and footpaths (balanced, I should say, by watermelons the size of toddlers and suburban lemonade stands), is that US property sites don’t regularly include floorplans. I find gorging on house porn quite a bit less satisfying without them. Have I ever gone so far down the rabbit hole as to draw my own, based on the photos? Nah, because I found the few estate agencies that do provide them. (Halstead in NYC is one of the best. Of course, I’d have to win the lottery and put my winnings on a horse, but hey.)
All of that should make it no surprise that a house is often the jumping-off point for one of my novels, and in A Gingerbread House, I’ve gone for it more than ever before. There really is a miniature fairytale cottage up an unassuming side-street in an unassuming West Lothian town. It really was an assembly rooms, with space for dancing, cards and supper. I think. And I think it was built by a prosperous local doctor in the Edwardian era. I’m less sure about the long garden with the door in the end wall, and I’d be surprised if there was a basement.
That’s how it goes. I started with a real house – on the market, with a brochure – and sank into fiction so gradually I don’t know where the join is. The real house is long sold and no doubt spiffed up and comfortable to live in. My gingerbread house is vivid in my mind and – I hope – on the page, but isn’t anywhere I’d like to be at night, especially alone.
UK readers have been emailing me to say things like “What is wrong with you?” and “What was even was that?”, which I take to be high praise. I’m greatly looking forward to hearing what US readers make of my fairytale and the cottage where it unfolds . . .
I love McPherson’s booksInternational bestselling author ANN CLEEVES