And, now for a special treat, before Strangers at the Gate comes out, Catriona has written an account of her own spooky encounter in "Strangers in the Attic."
Strangers in the Attic by Catriona McPherson
It’s lovely to be back in the Reading Room. Thank you for having me, Kathy. And thank you for asking me to write a spooky blog for this spooky month.
Strangers at the Gate has some shivers and jumps in it – or so people are saying (thank you!) – and I certainly made myself freak out now and then as I wrote it, all alone in an isolated house up a dirt road, with just a black cat for (slightly ironic) comfort.
But it was nothing compared with the worst “all alone in an isolated house with only a cat” freak out. Gather round, closer to the firelight, and I’ll tell you . . .
In Scotland, we lived in creaky old farmhouse in a valley, with no other houses in sight. There were no lights at all visible from our windows after dark, just trees and black sky. And my husband travelled a lot, so I was alone there much of the time. I read Stephen King there, slept with the windows wide open, never worried about anything much. Until the night I decided it would be a good idea to watch Panic Room.
the old farmhouse
Now Panic Room, for those who don’t know, is a film about a woman all alone in a big house in the dark. Well, she wasn’t really alone: she had her daughter. And actually I wasn’t really alone: I had two cats. It was them that started the trouble.
There I was watching Jodie Foster slowly realize that there were intruders in her house, when all of a sudden both cats sat bolt upright, ears back, and stared at the living room door. Then they slunk down off the couch and went creeping along the corridor, bellies close to the floor.
I followed them. When I got to the kitchen they were peering round the door that led through a back hallway to the old dairy – a place of peeling paint, crumbling plaster and cobwebs. Together the three of us made our way there and looked around. Or should I say, around and up? Up the ladder that led, via a trap door, to the cheese loft.
“Huh,” I said. “That’s weird. Why’s the trap door open, Pop-?” I glanced down to the floor. “Poppy? Spud?” But the cats had fled.
(not actual attic)
Now then. I could have got my car keys and driven forty miles to check into a hotel. I could even have walked straight out the back door and gone along the road to the nearest neighbors. I could have phoned my husband, or a friend, or the cops. But all of these plans included me having to say “Funny coincidence. Hahaha. I happened to be watching Panic Room when I realized there were intruders in my house too!” And then I’d feel like a chump and never hear the end of it.
What would you have done? Left the house? Gone up the ladder? Finished watching the film? Or would you have done what I did, which was as follows: switch the telly off, get the two fire pokers from beside the living room fireplace, go to bed and try to stay awake, planning – when “he” came down the ladder and crept through the house to find me – to throw a poker at him across the bedroom. Then, I thought to myself, he’d think I was defenseless, on account of how in most households pokers come in units of one, like kettles. So he’d advance, cackling maniacally with his eyes glowing red, and I’d bring the other poker out from under the covers and clobber him to mush with it.
Catriona McPherson is the national best-selling and multi-award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series of preposterous detective stories, set in her native Scotland in the 1930s. She also writes darker contemporary suspense novels, of which STRANGERS AT THE GATE is the latest. Also, eight years after immigrating to the US and settling in California, Catriona began the Last Ditch series, written about a completely fictional Scottish woman who moves to a completely fictional west-coast college town.
Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA and SoA, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime, committed to advancing equity and inclusion for women, writers of colour, LGBTQ+ writers and writers with disability in the mystery community.