In the Shadow of the Shale Bings: Catriona McPherson on A GINGERBREAD HOUSE

The Five Sisters Shale Bings: Huge mounds made from the industrial shale rock dug up by oil factories during World War II
Image credit: tormentor4555

“I love McPherson’s books”

International bestselling author ANN CLEEVES

An invitation you can’t refuse. You should . . .

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 . . .

Here, Catriona reveals how as well as being a dark thriller, the book is also a love letter to her Scottish roots.

I live in California and so am often asked: where in Scotland do you come from? (Actually, I’m more often asked where in Ireland do you come from? But that’s for another day.)

My answer varies depending on how well someone knows the geography: Edinburgh/just outside Edinburgh/Queensferry/You know where the Forth Bridge goes over the water on the way to St Andrews? There.

But when Scottish people ask me where I come from, the answer is West Lothian (although they will keep fiddling with the boundaries). Where the refinery is. Where the Young Offenders’ is. Where the brass bands are still going strong although the mines are long closed (there was a brass band at my high school and my dad played the euphonium). Where the landmark I look for as the plane comes down is the shale bings.

In fact, when an Edinburgh writer called me an “ex-pat” once on Twitter, and my snapback was as unthinking as it was immediate – “Get lost (or I might have put it more forcefully), I’m not an ex-pat. I’m an immigrant” – the apology I made after I calmed down was: “it’s the shadow of the shale bings”.

And yet A Gingerbread House is the first time I’ve set a book there. Even at that, I do some circling. There are chapters all over the mainland from Fraserburgh to Lockerbie to Ayr, but the dark heart of the story, the beguiling gingerbread house itself, is up a side street in Broxburn.

The characters in the book don’t gush about their home. Tash Dodd says that, what with the glens and forests and mountains and islands, there’s no excuse for everyone crowding into the central belt: “It’s like we’re all sleeping in a lay-by”. Big Garry Dodd describes himself as “coming from nothing”; a slap in the face to his old mum, who still lives in her four-in-a-block and wants him to be proud that he came from that.

These are my people. Drier than a biscuit stored in cat litter, as expansive as a teenage Trappist, all the exuberant joie de vivre of a roadworker in the rain.

Which is not to say they’re not funny. They’re funny. The comedian Fern Brady, “an intelligent woman trapped in a Scottish accent”, is funny of course. But even non-comics – Lewis Capaldi and Susan Boyle, for example – are helplessly funny. It’s like breathing. And a lot of the humour comes from a wry and unblinkered honesty about our roots. Which is what made it so mystifying when, once in a bookshop in Cambridge, a stranger argued with me about whether I came from southern Scotland. Weird, eh? I explained that the “centrality” of the central belt wasn’t geographical, that the “centre” of Scotland is in the Highlands. He wasn’t having it. Turned out he thought I was claiming to hail from the much smarter Borders/Galloway. He thought I was ashamed. Of West Lothian. Of home. Maybe A Gingerbread House, my love letter to the shale bings, would convince him.

“Another unsettling and cleverly plotted winner from the enormously talented McPherson”

Kirkus Reviews on Strangers at the Gate

~ A GINGERBREAD HOUSE launches in the UK in hardback on 27 May ~

~ The worldwide eBook launches 1 July ~

~ The US hardback launches 3 August ~

Amazon UK / Amazon US

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