The Development of Dandy Gilver
What was the inspiration behind the creation of detective Dandy Gilver?
Posted on February 23, 2017 in Behind the Scenes
Tags: catriona mcpherson, dandy gilver
I was alone in my room . . .
It was back in 2001 that I first made the acquaintance of Dandelion Dahlia Gilver (née Leston) the detective heroine of what was going to be a bit of fun – a palate cleanser between serious writing projects – and is now a series of twelve novels.
I know what I did deliberately to conjure her, because I’ve still got the sheet of paper I made my notes on.
She was going to be upper-class, married, two sons at boarding school, and a house in Perthshire.
I had reasons for all those decisions, although I’ve regretted every one of them at some time or another.
She had to be upper-class because a middle-class woman, inside a straitjacket of sexual morality, wouldn’t have the freedom to go racketing about with a male sidekick. A working-class woman wouldn’t have the time after her twelve hour shift in the linoleum factory. Also, she needed a car if she was going to solve cases in rural Scotland in the 1920s. Wealth was essential.
She had to be married, an heir and a spare (ideally with a look of their father) safely born and past infanthood, because that was when upper-class female freedom kicked in. The girls were closely guarded until then.
I plonked her down in Perthshire for no better reason than it’s in the middle. I lived in Galloway at the time and, even with the A75, it’s still a long way from everywhere. I didn’t want every case to start with Dandy heaving herself up over the hills and across the moors to civilisation.
What I didn’t make up in any conscious way is her character. So where did she come from? It’s a mystery the equal of any that Dandy herself has ever solved.
The question I’m most often asked is ‘Is Dandy you?’
She’s not. Dandy Gilver – dark-haired, Victorian, aristocratic, English, mother, dog-lover and possessor of the stiffest of all upper lips – is incredibly-credibly not the blonde (born actual blonde and now ‘blonde’), child of the 60s, working-class, Scottish, childless, cat-loving over-reactor of some note, Catriona McPherson.
Funnily enough, it’s the cats and dogs that usually convince people. Dandy is devoted to her badly-behaved Dalmatian, Bunty. Bunty is the member of the household who offers solace. She’s the one Dandy hugs most often. She’s probably Dandy’s favourite creature in the world.
I find dogs a bit heavy-going. All that crazed adoration every day! Those over-the-top greetings! I like the way a cat will open one eye and note your presence but be able to handle it. I even quite like how my cat, when I come home from a trip, lets me pat her then moves away, sits down and washes the place I’ve touched. And much as I love Rachel, she comes after a couple of dozen humans in my reckoning. (I’m going to have to step it up ever to achieve crazy-cat-ladyhood.)
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know where Dandy came from. At least, not now. But when I was writing the second book, it was terrifying. I had no idea how I had found her the first time, so I had no earthly clue what to do to bring her back again. I remember writing about half the first draft and then asking my husband to read it.
‘Never mind the plot,’ I said. ‘Or the style. Or even the spelling. Does this seem like the same person?’
He read a few pages and said: ‘Yes, of course. This is Dandy Gilver. I’m not so sure about you, though. Have you always been this big a space cadet?’
At least I was sure from the start about what Dandy looks like. As well as having dark hair, she’s tall and slightly heavy-hipped, with sallow skin and the shape of face that makes it hard to know where to put rouge.
If the second most common question I get about her – ‘What actress would play Dandy on telly?’ – ever becomes pressing, I’d have to dislodge that mental picture and install a new one. And it can be done: Colin Dexter managed a Geordie Sgt Lewis and Ann Cleeves has a red-headed Jimmy Perez. What a lovely problem to be faced with, anyway!
Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit is out today in paperback from all good bookshops and online retailers.