Jo Hiestand

 How much do you research the setting, area, etc in which you place your story?

 I try to plop my stories in spots I know well, or at least have visited, like most of Derbyshire, or the Lake District, or a small area of Cheshire, or some stretches of Scotland. But when that fails, as for the Morecambe Bay area I used in An Unwilling Suspect, I rely on research.

It’s probably overkill, but I look up everything: average daily temperatures and sun/moon rise and set times, a road map of the town and/or the area. I find out length of car or train travel and distance if McLaren has to drive somewhere. I look for a YouTube video on the town or area or for a specific building—something that reaped a serendipitous morsel that I used in Related By Murder. I get an online map of that area or town and decide where I’ll place my characters’ village and then use the main roads, like the motorway, in my story, but I’ll fictionalize the real village’s name and make up street names. I don’t like to be sued!

If it’s a book that deals with something like fish poaching, as in Empty Handed, I find out what types of fish inhabit the River Dove, dates for open and closed fishing seasons, how poaching is done and where and when, what is the difference between a river warden and a river keeper. Also, I see what plants or trees grow in the area, and what flowers bloom when. It would destroy the story’s believability if I talk about a character running through a meadow of waist-high twinflowers in April but they don’t bloom in April, are only six inches tall, and are native to Scottish pinewoods. Most readers might not know that, but to the reader who does, such a mistake often results in destroying the story.

Some stories have a specific law or police procedure element I need to know. It can be as simple as the procedure for police driving to someone’s house to arrest them (lights, sirens, speed to get there?), to how a court recorder is assigned a case, to how a police informant is protected in prison or the circumstances/length of bereavement leave or the method of transporting duct tape containing fingerprints. I’ve been lucky, in that I have two British police detectives who supply the information I need. I’d have a difficult time finding out many things if they didn’t help me.

It’s funny that many times in my research I’ll discover something interesting that I know I need to include in the story. As I mentioned before for An Unwilling Suspect, while researching the Morecambe Bay area for tide tides and height, I read about the quicksand and grim statistics on annual deaths in the Bay. I included some of that in the story.

I realize the accuracy of half this stuff doesn’t matter to the reader. Who cares if the moon rises at ten or two o’clock on a certain date? But someone might know. And it’s for those people I do my research. And for me—I’m a stickler for getting it right.

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