Catriona McPherson was born in South Queensferry. After finishing school, she worked in a bank for a short time, before going to university. She studied for an MA in English Language and Linguistics at Edinburgh University, and then gained a job in the local studies department at Edinburgh City Libraries. She left this post after a couple of years, and went back to university to study for a PhD in semantics. During her final year she applied for an academic job, but left to begin a writing career.