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Monday 7 September 2015

ℚ Last Seen: McLaren Mysteries [2] - Jo A. Hiestand

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Last Seen (, The Wild Rose Press, 260 pages) a British Mystery, book two of the McLaren Mysteries series.

Author Q&A | Trailer | Synopsis | Teaser | The Series | About the Author | Giveaway & Tour Stops

A big welcome to Jo Hiestand, thank you for joining us on BooksChatter.

What was the inspiration for Last Seen?

"I was in Staffordshire to see the Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance.  The morning after the Dance, the owner of the B&B at which I was staying asked about my plans for the day.   On learning I was heading to South Wingfield and Bakewell, she suggested I visit Tutbury Castle, since it was on my way north.  She told me a bit about it and I thought it sounded interesting, so I stopped there.

A re-enactment was going on at the Castle – I can’t recall now which it was, but there were archers and knights in armour.  When I strolled into the great hall Leslie Smith, the curator, came up to me and we began chatting.  Something she said sparked an idea for my book LAST SEEN.   I talked to her briefly about it (it had to be brief because I’d not fleshed out the idea yet!) and when I got home (St Louis, MO in the US) I plotted the story.  As I began to write it, a lot of questions popped up, so I emailed her.  She or her assistant Jo kindly answered every one.  Jo even took a photo of the fireplace and sent that to me!  Well, all that was great, but I needed some catalyst for the fictional murder at the Castle, so Leslie suggested the basic idea of the Medieval Minstrels Court.  I developed a fictional curator who holds a modern day Minstrels Court revival, so that’s how I tied it all in.

I’m not only grateful to the B&B owner for suggesting I see Tutbury Castle, but I’m also indebted to Leslie for taking time for me that morning.  But I think the re-enactment and the castle itself piqued my original curiosity – I love ancient, historical spots, and I love to wonder about the people and events associated with such places.  The Castle is so huge and has such a long history that I just felt a murder could happen there!"
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"Hmm…that’s difficult to answer.  I suppose some of me is in Kent Harrison, the murder victim, but only because I was an amateur folk singer in the Bolton, Lancashire area for a time, and I still play guitar.

Some of me appears in my protagonist, Michael McLaren, too.  I’m not a former police detective, as he is, but I’ve infused some of my personality into him (frustration with certain things, impatience, wanting to help others, likes to cook…) and given him some of my favourite music to play and listen to.  He also respects Nature, which comes from me.

As for LAST SEEN itself, it plays out in areas I’ve visited in England, so I think the descriptions are accurate.

Maybe the biggest piece of me in the book is in the scene in the Castle tearoom.  I placed McLaren and Kent’s ex-wife there, but I actually had a book signing in the room.  I enlarged the area a bit in the book, but the basic room is the same."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for Last Seen - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"Isn’t the cover wonderful? So moody and suggesting nefarious deeds could happen at the Castle. My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, lets their authors suggest ideas for the cover. I gave the artist, Angela Anderson, three concepts I thought might convey the mystery of the story. She took one of them and came up with the cover.

The Castle’s key to the mystery – besides, it evokes an air of intrigue from its long history. Kent’s murder happened at night, which was fortunate because Angela could create the moonlit sky, which magnifies the eerie tone."
Why should we read Last Seen and what sets it apart from the rest?  What makes your book unique?
"I realize there are a lot of classic-style mysteries on the market, but I like to think my McLaren mysteries are somewhat different from many of them.

For one thing, my protagonist has an interesting history and personality.  He‘s a former police detective who quit his job over a great injustice done to his friend.  Due to this injustice, the simmering feud between McLaren and another officer has erupted into tangible animosity, which is an on-going subplot in the series.  On leaving the job, McLaren now repairs dry stone walls in Derbyshire for a living, and investigates cold cases on his own.  People come to him, seeking his help, and he takes on the case in order to right a wrong, not especially for monetary gain.  So, if for no other reason, the main character is an interesting guy.

I also tend to anchor my plot in spots that hold history, like Uther Pendragon’s Castle, or develop scenes in places I’ve been, such as Ashbourne, Hathersage, Buxton, and so on.  I do this because I can describe my feelings as well as the details of the locations, having experienced them.

There’s also the music element that sets my books apart – in each book a piece of music is important either to the victim or to McLaren.  In LAST SEEN, Kent Harrison is an outstanding folk musician, known for his singing of “The Swans’ Song.”  Since it’s an integral part of the story, I thought the reader might like to hear the song.  Two local St. Louis musicians recorded the song and it’s on a CD.  All the books have a recorded song, and I sell these single-song CDs on my website. The music is varied, depending on the book, and ranges from folk, torch, and bluesy-folk to baroque and instrumental classic jazz. I think it’s rather unique to have the song built into the story, and I believe it adds a greater depth to that and to the characters."
Can you tell us something quirky about Last Seen, its story and characters?
"There are two hidden, running jokes in the McLaren books. Since I’m a former folk singer, I thought it’d be fun to take a well-known folk singer’s name and split it between two of my characters.  First name to one character and surname to another.  The other on-going gag pertains to a folk song title.  I insert a title into the conversation or description somewhere.  Hopefully it blends in.  I’m not expecting readers to catch the titles (unless you are a folk enthusiast or great at trivia!), but I get a kick out of placing one into each story.  Maybe I should offer a prize to the person who discovers them!"
Ahaha! Yes, I think you should - there is definitely a game in there!

Who would you recommend Last Seen to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?

"Anyone who likes classic mysteries and /or British mysteries might like my books.

McLaren’s got a rough edge to him.  He’s impulsive and abhors injustice, so I think he appeals to readers, too.

Music lovers might find the books good, since I reference actual musicians and songs through the books, as well as write about McLaren’s guitar and his folk group.  I’ve been told that many scenes in my books are atmospheric and have a hint of unearthliness about them.  Which doesn’t mean ghosts and the occult – just that I sometimes describe nature and places spiritually, with feelings that run deep.

I can’t think of any warnings.  My crimes happen off stage, so there is no gore.  The only disclaimer might be that I give McLaren access to a private property and label it public in the book.   That’s to expand the plot over a greater distance and make his search tougher!"
If you could / wished to turn Last Seen and the McLaren Mysteries series into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"Wow, what author hasn’t wished this and dreamt of a dream team!

McLaren would be played by either Jason Statham or Robert Kazinsky (no real preference); his sidekick, Jamie, definitely would be Colin Moy; McLaren’s nemesis has to be Paul Venables (though Patrick Malahide would've been my choice about thirty years ago, but I wasn’t writing yet!); and Dena, his fiancée, should be Rachael Stirling.

Director choice is between Brendan Maher and Susanna White.

Locations need to be around Derbyshire, Cumbria and Scotland, depending on the book being filmed.  Specific sites would be Morecambe Bay, Stanton Moor, Ashbourne’s clock, Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, etc.

What fun to think of all this!"
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"British mystery is my favourite reading material and the genre in which I love to write, and feel most comfortable in.  Besides mysteries, I read a lot of straight British history from the Middle Ages to the Georgian.  Biographies are interesting reading, as are nature essays.  I’m a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain and Richard Armour.   I’m likely to try writing a historical book, but the required research scares me.   I’m sure I’d get something wrong, like have clothes kept in a wardrobe when it should be an oak chest."
What is your writing process?
"I start with an event, like the Minstrels Court re-enactment.  I then place people into that element and ask who would be at the Minstrels Court.

I draw a mind map, with the victim in the center of the paper.  Then I think of people connected to him.   Perhaps there’s a rival musician and a vendor at the festival.  I draw one line each that radiates from that person to the victim.  Maybe the vendor has a husband – so I draw a line connecting the spouse to the vendor.  I then branch out to the victim’s wife and “real job” work colleagues and discover there are others at work who might be covetous of Kent’s success, or dislike him as a person.  The Castle curator comes into the story, and I created a friction between him and a curator of a neighboring great house.  All these lines connect to the victim. It’s a visual aid to remind me of relationships.

Once I have my characters, I flesh them out with names, ages, occupations, likes and dislikes, and – most important – the goals they are trying to achieve and the people/events assisting or hindering the completion of these goals.  This combines to make great friction, which is the core of a story.

Once I have all this, I begin my research.  This includes the obvious, like the Minstrels Court, to moon rise time, seasonal temperature, roads in the area, perhaps opening hours for existing businesses I might use, like The Sun Inn in Buxton.   I’m lucky in much of my research to have police help.  I’m friends with four Derbyshire Constabulary police officers, one of whom is a retired detective-superintendent of CID.   They answer my questions about police procedure or things I can’t find out, like the sound a landline phone gives when the receiver’s off the hook for a long time (It’s different from American phones).  Goofy things, sometimes, but to make my story accurate, I need to know.

When I’ve got the first draft finished, I try to let it sit for a few days before I tackle the second draft, which is when I add more scene and character descriptions, sharpen dialogue, and generally polish the writing.  Then I send a paper copy to my detective-superintendent friend, and he reads it with a red pen in hand, marking my mistakes and telling me what it should be!  When I get that back, I do the corrections and then submit it to my publisher."
What is in store next?
"I signed with my current publisher this past December.  Before that, six McLarens had been published by my previous publisher.  So my current publisher is releasing my mysteries under new titles and revamping them by deleting some characters, adding scenes in some books, switching chapters around, etc.

The McCalmans
I have two brand new McLarens sitting on my desk, waiting for the other six to be printed before I submit them.  That makes eight total that I’ve written.  I just finished book nine, FLIGHT PLAN, and I’m quite excited about that, not only because I think the plot’s interesting but also because the music that goes with that one is being written as I type – a major two-piano piece in six movements that describes characters or scenes in the book.  It’ll have its world premiere in an autumn 2016 concert in the St Louis area.  Which reminds me – the music for book seven, AN UNWILLING SUSPECT, has been recorded by the legendary Scottish folk group The McCalmans (yes, after their retirement), and should be available when the book comes out next spring.  Exciting times!"
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I have one cat.   I used to have three, but the two older ones, Dickens and Chaucer, died a few years ago.  Tennyson is a big Russian Blue and is master of the house.

Tennyson under Xmas Tree
Here’s a photo of me and my guitar, if that’s of interest."

me with guitar
What brilliant pictures!  Thank you so much for sharing all this with us :-)  and thank you for chatting to us today.  We look forward to your current and future releases!
"Thank you so much for the interview, Flora!  I had a great time, and I hope it’s of some interest to anyone who reads it.  Hope to chat with you again. Jo"

Last Seen - available NOW!

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Jo said...

Hi! Thanks for having me on your website today, Flora. I mentioned the Horn Dance at Abbotts's performed around this time of year, if I'm not mistaken. Something about the first Monday after something. Do any of your readers know that date? I like to keep track and it's slipped from my memory. Thanks! Jo

BooksChatter said...

Hi Jo! I have added a few pics and links! It's the Monday after the first Sunday which follows 4 September. ... therefore... I think it is today!

Jo said...

LOL. Thanks for the additional pics and links -- what fun this is! What a coincidence that the Horn Dance is today and I mention it. That certainly was interesting, seeing the dance and talking to some of the dancers. I hope they had good weather for it.

Jo said...

I enjoyed today very much. Hope to "chat" with you again in the near future. Jo

Jo said...

And thanks to everyone who left comments today. I'm happy you took the time to stop by! ;-) Jo