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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.

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.

Has a Library Changed your Life: A Tribute

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ January 24, 2011

A mystery readers loop I belong to has been discussing the question, "Has a library changed your life?" Since my answer is such an emphatic "Yes!" I want to share the story in detail.

Waaaay back in the 1970’s when the earth and I were both a lot younger I had written my first novel, inspired by Georgette Heyer’s Venetia and set in post-Regency England. The book was Brandley’s Search, later to be reissued as Where Love Begins, part of my Cambridge Chronicles series. And at that moment it was in a condition that gave new meaning to the term "rough draft."

In those pre-Internet days research and communication were much more difficult and I had exhausted the resources of our Interlibrary Loan service, brilliant as it is. I had to have on-site research and I, in Boise, Idaho was 7000 miles away from Cambridge, England, where my story was set.

I walked up the wide, curving stairway to the second floor of the Boise praying with each step as desperately as I’ve ever prayed, "If you want me to write this book, I have to have a researcher in England."


At the reference desk I asked something (I don’t remember what) of the tall, dark-haired reference librarian. Her reply: "No, we don’t have that in our collection but I have a book at home I can loan you. I bought it because it’s the only book I’ve ever found that includes the village in England where my friend lives."

My eyes got big. "You have a friend in England?" It sounded like unattainable riches. "Would she consider helping me with my research?"

For that first book, Hazel, who was, indeed, willing to help and lived in a village just outside Cambridge— the setting of my book, put her two little girls in a pram and walked every step of the Cambridge colleges in my story, reporting back the sights, sounds and smells. Then she did a careful proofreading that included refusing to let me grow flowers out of season.

When I was able to go to England to do my own research for my next book To Be Worthy Hazel met me and my two youngest children at the airport and took us to her home where I had my first experience sleeping under a duvet and being served morning tea in bed. A year later I returned with my two oldest sons. And so it continued.

Hazel and I have remained friends for more than a quarter of a century. We are both grandmothers now and I have lost track of the number of books she has helped me research. Amazingly, she even seems to move house to locations convenient for my settings as she now lives in Norwich where much of the action of A Darkly Hidden Truth, the next book in my Monastery Murders takes place. When you read of Felicity and Antony’s car getting drenched in mud from the flooded roads en route to Walsingham, that was really Hazel’s car.

So this small tribute to Marilyn, my Boise librarian who also became a friend, and to Hazel, my faithful researcher and friend, is really a tribute to the wider system that brought us all together— Libraries. And also to answered prayer, of course.

Has a library changed your life? Tell us about it. And hug a librarian.

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.

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Reader Comments:

I know just how much effort you must put into every mystery, Donna. I was also encouraged to discover you are also a seat-of-the-pantser! I write historical romance and always manage to squeeze a little mystery in my stories, but to write a full mystery? Ah-hah! You have to have a certain turn of mind. An inquisitive Agatha Christie spirit. As an Aussie I'm going to use American characters finding themselves in Australia.
-writa, January 25, 2011

Two of my best friends are librarians, so the last won't be hard.

My library story: After I had read all the horse books in the children's section, the librarian let me "help". I felt SO important stamping the due date in the checked out books. I've loved libraries, and librarians every since.
-kaye george, January 25, 2011

Dear Rita and Kaye, thank you for sharing your stories! I'll look forward to your Aussie stories, Rita. I think our countries are similar in many ways. We'll see what your characters think.
Kaye, I grew up on a horse--only child living on a farm, horses and books were my only companions. And no complaints!
-Donna, January 26, 2011

Oh, yes. I can still remember the first book my big sister brought home for me from the library (four years older than me, she was allowed to walk there alone). It was Winnie the Pooh, and I (unimaginative child that I was) wanted to know whether he was a toy bear (bumping down the stairs behind Christopher Robin)or a real one (having adventures in Hundred-Acre Wood). I couldn't see how he could be both.
But the point was that I was a bookish child living in a house with very few books, and where there was no money to actually buy the things. So my weekly trip to the library, once I was allowed to take myself, or go with my sister, were trips to Aladdin's cave. I worked my way through the children's department before I left Primary School, and then discovered the library at Secondary School.
Without the library, I might have remained as irritatingly literal-minded as I was at the age of six. Who knows how libraries shape minds?
-Jan, January 26, 2011

Jan, what a wonderful story. And what a wonderful choice your sister made. Aladdin's Cave is a perfect analogy for the magic books open to us.
It reminds me that many, many years ago I had a dream/vision/daydream of standing on the threshold of an Aladdin's Cave full of beautiful jewels and I longed to enter it, but didn't know how. After I began writing I saw that cave as my subconscious mind.
-Donna, January 26, 2011

I enjoyed reading all of your good experiences while using a library.
This is to tell you that it works both ways.

If you see two or more librarians smiling as they talk together, the conversation is probably something like this:

"I found the materials that young man needed for his report."

"That new family was so nice. They seemed really pleased at what
they found in our collection and checked out two bags full!"

Last Wednesday I answered the phone to hear an almost frantic voice asking if we had a particular book. "I really need it!" After a check on our computer I was able to reassure her: "Yes, we have it. It is in and we will put it on reserve for you."

That little librarian conference you observed happens often as librarians share warm happy feelings and a sense of fulfillment as being able to help.
Betty Waller
-Betty, January 29, 2011

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