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Donna Fletcher Crow

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Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

Fay Sampson

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Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick. http://www.faysampson.co.uk

P. D. James and Me, or The Source of Authentic Writing

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ February 27, 2014

We’ve recently been having a fun discussion about P. D. James on that wonderful mystery lovers’ loop DorothyL. James is, naturally, a writer frequently discussed among that group of avid writers, readers, librarians, reviewers, booksellers, etc. This round we’ve been focusing (as much as we ever focus) on her Death Comes to Pemberley, The Children of Men, and Innocent Blood.

And, as you would expect, the responses and opinions have been as varied as the people in the group. As a devout fan, My reviews and comments are almost always to the favorable, although I understand those who were disappointed in Pemberley if they were expecting Austen’s wit.

This morning Sally Wright, an excellent writer and dear friend, posted an analysis of James’ work that I think worthy of a wider audience:

"Though I've said (probably too many times) that I like and admire PD James'
work, that doesn't mean I always find it pleasant. I think the sufferings in
her life and her experience in the CID have meant she doesn't shy away from
the dark side of human behavior, though that's not where I'd like to dwell.
I read Dick Francis and Dorothy L. and Naigo Marsh, and Brat Farrar when I
want something that doesn't feel that creepy. On the other hand, I think
she's very good at describing the goodness of people too, and implying an
underlying order in the universe that makes life endurable, and that makes
me keep reading. So I don't read her for comfort, but for challenge and
close contemplation."

Wright absolutely hit it on the head and the reason James sees both the dark side of human behavior and the goodness of people so clearly is because she unfailing writes from her own, firmly grounded world view as a devout Christian and member of the high church branch of the Church of England.

And that’s where my personal acquaintance with James began.

As background I need to explain the somewhat complicated network. When our daughter Elizabeth was studying at Oxford she made friends with a beautiful young woman and Shakespearean scholar named Beatrice whom I had the delight of meeting.

Move ahead another year or two and I was staying at The Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, which serves as model for the fictional Community of the Transfiguration in my Monastery Murders series. Happily, while I was there P. D. James was a guest of the community for a day to talk about her newly released Death in Holy Orders, which I consider the best of her books.

(Death in Holy Orders is set in a fictional community so like The Community of the Resurrection that the producers of the TV film visited the Mirfield community as background research.)

In the course of her lecture James mentioned that her granddaughter’s husband, a C of E priest, had served as a resource for her research. And the penny dropped, as they say. After her talk I went forward and asked, "Baroness James, is Beatrice your granddaughter?"

James absolutely came alive, with that wonderful sparkle she has in her eyes, "Yes! How do you know Beatrice?"

I explained and the rest of the day we were best friends. We have corresponded a few times since then and I sent her A Very Private Grave when it first came out— for which she thanked me very kindly, although I doubt that she read it. But she does sign her letters Phyllis.

Then two summers ago I had the privilege of seeing this gracious lady again at the St. Hilda’s Crime Writers’ Conference in Oxford.

Understandably, all this brush with celebrity would probably have made me a P. D. James devotee if I hadn’t already been one. But on the other hand, it’s unlikely it would have come about if I hadn’t been an ardent reader for years. We were already on the same wave length, so to speak. And the reason I’m such a fan is that I know I can trust her writing because P. D. James sees human nature— the good and the bad— clearly and expresses what she sees honestly. And she always writes out of the person she is.



 

Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Reader Comments:

Well, I've known you all these years and you never mentioned that you'd spent time with PD James!! That's something we have to talk about.
That, and her journal like A Time To Be In Earnest, which I read when it first came out. She's a highly complex, intelligent, thought provoking woman and writer and I'd love to be able to talk with her.
-Sally Wright, February 28, 2014

Absolutely, Sally. And I know she would enjoy you, too, Sally. As we know, there's little writers value more than careful, intelligent readers.
-Donna, February 28, 2014

Wow! What a wonderful way to meet, and what a wonderful person to meet!
-SheilaDeeth, March 3, 2014

Yes, Sheila. Very special memories of a lovely lady! She's really an inspiration.
-Donna , March 3, 2014

Wonderful story, Donna -- I agree completely that her characters come out of her own experience and perhaps also out of compassion for her fellow humans, real and fictional! So envious that you've met my literary heroine!
-erinhart, March 9, 2014

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