Traveling for Research! with Author Donna Fletcher Crow
Debra E. Marvin
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of preparing one of our monthly backlists of fiction. I chose Celtic settings and characters and started asking around for suggestions. One of the nicest things about that research was meeting
Author Donna Fletcher Crow.
I can't possibly cover all of Donna's writing accomplishments (36 books!) so I ask you to read her bio at the end of this post and use the link to her website. You won't be disappointed. Wait until you see her garden photos. She's agreed to share with us her love of fiction and the traveling she does to make every aspect of her story and setting vivid for her readers.
Donna, you are such an accomplished author, published in multiple genres, but can you tell us how your writing interests have changed over the years as well as what has been constant?
Oh, lots of constants, Debra. First of all is my love of story. I have to have a good story to tell— one that engages me enough to spend months telling it and one that I hope will engage my readers. Also, my love of history, primarily British history, has remained constant. Almost all of the stories I tell are based on historical events and I try to make the history as absolutely accurate as I can. Even contemporary novels like the Monastery Murders series has a lot of history in the background. What really brings me up short, though, is that stories I was telling as contemporary when I first started writing are now classes as historical.
The thing that has changed is me. As my spirituality has moved more to the very traditional, sacramental worship so have my characters and my settings. Hence the monastic setting with my very modern American heroine considering becoming a nun in book 2 A Darkly Hidden Truth which will be out this fall.
Do you usually brainstorm a book with a character in mind, or a story nugget? Has setting ever been the instigator of a new story?
Ah, you’ve noticed how important setting is in my stories. One of my goals as a writer is to give my readers a “you are there” experience. Therefore, I try never to set a scene in a place I haven’t been myself. That gives me the freedom to craft stories around places I want to visit. But again, there has to be a story there. I don’t pick a location just because it’s exotic— and my idea of exotic is usually a crumbling castle or church in some remote place with the rain bucketing down on me— but because something happened there that really interests me.
Having said all that, it does come back to character. The story is people— what they do, what they think, how they feel and react. An evocative setting is great, but without people in it, you’d have a picture book, not a novel.
|Durham Cathedral roof|
That’s why all my exotic settings in A Very Private Grave— the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne with the echo of Viking drums on one side and the sea rushing in on the other, the ancient Whitby Abbey high on its windswept cliff with shadows of Dracula and the holy St. Hilda, Durham Cathedral magnificent on its rocky hilltop enshrining the Venerable Bede and St. Cuthbert— are all glimpsed at breakneck speed as Felicity and Antony are chasing and being chased by murderers.
|Toward Cuthbert's Island|
Have you visited the settings for all of your stories, and if so, can you share a moment that most surprised you in your research?
As I said above I try to visit every place I write about. I also try to experience everything my characters are going to experience— except the murders, you understand— so it’s very important to stay open to the surprises and use them in my stories. When I was the only passenger on a train that broke down on the isolated Northumbrian coast and I had to be taken off the train and walked up the tracks I knew that would show up in my book. I was furiously scribbling notes and the engineer said to me, “Makes a good postcard home, eh?” And I thought, You don’t know the half of it.
Visiting a place for the first time is almost always a surprise because I always do a great deal of background research and I have a pretty good idea in my head what a place is going to be like— and it’s always different. Part of the surprise, of course, is that so much is still there. I have just returned from a Youth Walk from London to Walsingham as part of my research for book 3 in the Monastery Murders. We were retracing the route Medieval pilgrims would have walked. I got chills at St. John the Baptist, Cotterell, when we encountered a medieval fresco of St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child and were told it was painted to encourage Pilgrims to Walsingham.It was like hearing a voice from the past.
Donna, I have to say I’m very jealous of all your travels but right now I’m very interested in your recent trip to Wales! What were some of the highlights of this trip and where will we see those delicious details show up in story form?
Thank you for asking, Debra. I’m currently working on book 3 in the Monastery Murders where Antony and Felicity lead a Youth Walk like the one described above, but the medieval pilgrimage route they are following is from Caerleon to Penrhys in southern Wales. I have wanted to tell the story of Christianity in Wales for many years so here’s my chance.
April was an idyllic time to be there— swathes of blazing daffodils everywhere and baby lambs in every field. Also rain like I’ve never experienced in my life. Absolute sheets of it blasted in sideways. We were nearly blown off a hilltop in the Rhonda. And then the magnificent ruined Bishop’s palace at St. David’s, full of hidden passages and niches, a gift to a mystery writer who wants to set her big final scene there.
Donna! Thank you so much for sharing some of the incredible travel you've done and for a little taste of Wales. The daffodil is a very important flower to the Welsh people, so I'm not surprised to see them in such quantity. As you know, A Very Private Grave is the book on the top of my To Be Read pile, so I see this cover every night--I can't wait to get into it!
A Very Private Grave
Felicity Howard, a young American studying for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire, is devastated when she finds her beloved Fr. Dominic brutally murdered and Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood.
A Very Private Grave is a contemporary novel with a thoroughly modern heroine who must learn some ageless truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Fr. Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the sites in northern England and southern Scotland. The narrative mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.
“With a bludgeoned body in Chapter 1, and a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths, A Very Private Grave qualifies as a traditional mystery. But this is no mere formulaic whodunit: it is a Knickerbocker Glory of a thriller. At its centre is a sweeping, page-turning quest – in the steps of St. Cuthbert – through the atmospherically-depicted North of England, served up with dollops of Church history and lashings of romance. In this novel, Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.” – Kate Charles, author of Deep Waters
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 36 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.
A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out in 2011.
THE SHADOW OF REALITY, Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook. A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2 in the Elizabeth & Richard series is her newest release.
Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to:
Donna's Blog: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/articles.php
Donna's Facebook Author Page is a great way to keep up with her latest news!