And our sunshine noir author for April is ... Jo Macgregor!

"I wanted the small town so I’d have a smaller pool of suspects and characters, and I needed a place where a pond would freeze over in winter" - Jo Macgregor discusses her new paranormal thriller, 'The First Time I Died'

02 April 2019 - 14:27 By Michael Sears
Garnet McGee - Book One.
The First Time I Died: Garnet McGee - Book One.
Image: Jo Macgregor

Published in the Big Thrill (31/03/2019)

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Jo Macgregor for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Sears writes: 

Joanne Macgregor is a counselling psychologist in private practice where she works mainly with victims of crime and trauma. She brings her 20 years of experience as a therapist to her writing - creating deeper characters and realistic psychological reactions.

She’s the author of a number of successful books for children and young adults, and she tried her hand at a thriller, Dark Whispers, published in 2014. It was one of the scariest books I’ve read.

In her new mystery thriller, The First Time I Died, she’s moved venue from South Africa to winter in Vermont and added a paranormal twist, but the writing is just as tense.

When Garnet McGee returns to her small Vermont hometown for the holidays, she vows to solve the mystery of the murder that shattered her life 10 years ago. But while trying to rescue a small boy on a frozen pond, she falls through the ice and dies.

After she’s resuscitated, she starts hearing voices, seeing visions, and experiencing strange sensations. As a psychology student, she suspects post-traumatic stress disorder and an overactive imagination.

However, trying to catch the killer without embracing her shadow self becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous, because in a town full of secrets, it seems like everybody has a motive for murder.

Here, she takes time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.

You have a successful series of young adult books, and an earlier thriller set in South Africa. What attracted you to write a thriller set in small-town Vermont, and one with a paranormal twist at that?

This is the sixth book I’ve set in the US - four of my YA books are also set there. Partly, this is about targeting a bigger market (the book-buying market in South Africa is very small), but partly it’s because it gives me the opportunity to write different kinds of stories.

Usually, an idea comes to me and then I choose the appropriate setting in which to locate that story, plus I select the genre which will best support the story, especially in terms of exploring its themes.

I wanted the small town so I’d have a smaller pool of suspects and characters, and I needed a place where a pond would freeze over in winter. I asked for ideas from one of my writer groups and received loads of suggestions - all the way from Montana across to the Smoky Mountains. But Vermont met all my needs and gave me some interesting issues to work with - for example, the massive drug problems in that neck of the woods.

Your treatment of the setting is completely convincing (at least to me). How did you go about researching that?

One of the small Vermont towns suggested by my author friends looked like an ideal setting, so I based my fictional town on it—using its police, school, and local government structures as a guide, and its architecture to inspire that of my fictional town, Pitchford.

I found photographs of small Vermont towns, researched the covered bridges, used Google Maps (in map and street views), read guide books about the state, and read novels set there.

Then I researched birds, trees, animals, car models, average daily weather, architecture, local industries, tourism, and more! I even corresponded with the State Medical Examiner in Burlington to make sure I got the medical and judicial procedures correct.

To help get the story and language of my US-based novels right, I always use a couple of American beta readers. I also use an American editor for the express purpose of highlighting and correcting errors of setting, idiom, and the myriad of others ways life across the pond differs from life in Africa. My proofreader is primed to look for errors of grammar and punctuation. For The First Time I Died, I also tracked down an editor-cum-beta-reader from a small town in Vermont, and hired her as my expert reader.

I’m going to be setting more books in “Pitchford,” so I’m saving up to finance an in-person research trip, hopefully in the fall when the trees are at their most splendiferous.

  • Continue reading their conversation here
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