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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

Kate Charles, Queen of Clerical Mysteries, Welcome!

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ March 2, 2011

                                                                                 

 

Kate, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have the Queen of Clerical Mysteries visiting "Deeds of Darkness; Deeds of Light" Today. Before we get to your books, tell us something about yourself. I think all Anglophile Americans harbour just a bit of envy when they hear about a sister Yank who actually moved across the pond. Was this a long-standing dream for you? How did it come about?

It was absolutely my dream, from as early as I can remember. I grew up with the certainty that I'd been born in the wrong country, and England was always the landscape of my imagination.

As to how the move happened, it's a long story, involving finding a job for my husband in the UK, and it required all of my determination (and patience) to achieve it. Not least to convince him that he wanted to live in England! We've now been here for 25 years, and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

What's the best thing about living in England? The hardest?

I love the feeling of being surrounded by so many layers of history. The town where I live, Ludlow, was founded by the Normans, next to a Saxon village and near a Roman settlement. Richard III grew up here, and there are still over 500 medieval buildings in the town. It doesn't get better than that, and I never take it for granted.

The hardest thing is being so far from my elderly mother.

I first "met" you through your Book of Psalms mysteries, which I loved immediately. Tell us about those books and how you came to create your own cathedral city. 

I still have a great deal of affection for those books. They reflect my love of the Psalms themselves - choosing the appropriate verse for each chapter was a challenge and a joy. They also reflect my love of church buildings, through the adventures of my detective characters, David Middleton-Brown and Lucy Kingsley. Almost all of the churches in the books are my own invention, which was great fun to do, but nothing was more fun than creating my own cathedral city, Malbury. I wrote its history, developed its architecture, and inhabited it with a colourful cast of characters. And by a weird coincidence, I now live only about 10 miles from the place I sited it.

I admire the way you delve into the "hot button" issues in the church today. You've dealt with the high-church, low-church clash, the furor over women priests/bishops, homosexuality and probably others I'm not remembering. I'm rather shy about these topics in my writing and in my life. Let's face it, I don't like conflict- silly for a mystery writer, I know. Do you just express these concerns in your books or are you a crusader in real life?

My books are, I believe, a powerful platform for voicing my concerns about the church. I wrap an issue up in a story and sneakily feed it to people who would never listen to a sermon or read an article in the Church Times. It's both a privilege and a responsibility! Throughout my books, the two issues which keep popping up, and about which I'm truly passionate, are the roles of homosexual people and women in the Church. My real-life crusading is relatively low-key. I'm a member of the organisation 'Women and the Church' (WATCH), which grew out of MOW (Movement for the Ordination of Women), and do sometimes address groups about things like women bishops. A couple of years ago I went as a WATCH volunteer to the Lambeth Conference (the once-every-ten-years gathering of Anglican bishops from all over the world) to fly the flag for women bishops in the Church of England.

Then you did several stand alone mysteries: Strange Children, Cruel Habitations, I think there was another I'm not remembering. Tell us about those.

The first of the three was Unruly Passions. It was conceived during a long, sleepless night in hospital a few days after open-heart surgery. I hadn't intended at that point to abandon the Book of Psalms series permanently, but was rather keen to find a different publisher in the UK. Hilary Hale at Little Brown liked my work, but she didn't want to pick up the series and commissioned three stand-alone thrillers. They were most enjoyable to write - something a bit different in form, yet never straying very far from my church-centric interests. Strange Children is the most unusual book I've written; at first reading it might seem to have nothing in common with my other novels. Cruel Habitations, set in a cathedral close, is far more typical. These books aren't very easy to find these days, unfortunately.

And now your excellent Callie Anson series. Tell us how Callie came to be and how she's developing through the series.       

Callie Anson first appeared in a short story I was commissioned to write for an anthology called Murder Most Catholic. [Available to read on my web site, www.katecharles.com] The brief from the publisher specified a clerical detective, and I wanted to write about a woman who was newly ordained. Callie jumped off the page! A few years later I felt moved to write a novel featuring an ordained woman, and I realised that I already had one perfect for the role, with an interesting back-story and at the beginning of her clerical career. Through the first three books, quite a lot of things have happened to her and she continues to develop and evolve as a character. She's become more confident in her vocation, and her belief in herself has grown. In the novels, she's not a detective per se - she is peripherally connected to crime through her parishioners, through her relationship with a policeman, and sometimes just thematically. I think that makes her more credible than a meddling, crime-solving Father Brown-type character.

What's next for Callie?

In the book I'm writing now, the fourth in the series, Callie returns to her theological college in Cambridge for a reunion, and discovers that revisiting the past is not always a good idea.

I know you were recently honoured with a major award from English crime writers. Tell us about it. Was it for Callie Anson or for the body of your work?

It wasn't actually an award. Last year I was elected to membership in the Detection Club, which was founded in 1930 by a group of eminent Golden-Age crime writers, including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and G.K. Chesterton (all of whom served as its President at one time or another). Since then it has had as members so many of the writers I have admired through the years. Being elected as a member was a huge thrill, as it made me a part of the tradition of British crime writing which I have always loved. The initiation ceremony (Google it if you dare!) involves taking an oath on Eric the Skull.

And I believe you're involved with the St. Hilda's Writers Conference at Oxford, one of the founders, perhaps? It's on my bucket list to attend that conference. Tell us about your involvement with it now.

It's called the St. Hilda's Mystery and Crime Conference, and is now in its 18th year. I've been involved as co-organiser since the first conference in 1994. It differs from the usual sort of conference in that each year we have a different theme, and various crime writers are invited to present papers on specific aspects of that theme. We have a very loyal group of writers and readers who attend each year, staying in the splendid setting of an Oxford college. It's been said that St. Hilda's is less a conference than a large, friendly house-party.

I started this conversation by referring to you as the Queen of Clerical Mysteries. A lot of writers work in this subgenere but very few with the success you've had. That can make it look easy, but life, maybe especially the writing life, is never easy. What have been the best and the worst days of your career?

The best day was the day my first book, A Drink of Deadly Wine, was published; a close runner-up was my initiation into the Detection Club. The worst was the day I lost my US publisher. Mysterious Press had been very good to me, and I adored my editor, the late Sara Ann Freed. When I submitted Unruly Passions, I was told that US publishing trends had changed, and my new book was 'too English'. None of the stand-alones were ever published in the US.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Write about the things you're passionate about. No matter what anyone tells you, don't be influenced by trends and fashions in publishing. You may be a skilful writer, but if your writing doesn't come from your heart, few people will be interested in reading it.

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:

Kate, let me say again how delighted I am to have you here today. Writers of clerical mysteries are few in number so it's lovely to have a chance to get better acquainted--against the day when I can get to St. Hilda's and we can meet in person.
-Donna, March 2, 2011

Donna,

It looks superb! Youíve done a great job with the photos, book jackets etc. And Iím busting my buttons to be called the Queen of Clerical Mysteries! Thanks again.

-Kate, March 7, 2011

Kate, I'm so pleased that you are pleased. And, fo course,it's true, you *are* the Queen!

Can't wait to read Allie's next adventures.
-Donna, March 7, 2011

Thanks, Donna! That was interesting. I hope her mother doesn't have any health issues, since Kate now lives "across the pond."

-Bethany, March 7, 2011

Thank you, Bethany. Yes, emergencies can certainly make distances even more awkward. Our daughter and her family lived in England for several years (she married an Englishman) and, although I was able to be with her when both of her children were born, it wasn't easy.
-Donna, March 7, 2011

Thanks for your fascinating posting. I do agree about the importance of place. I was already married when I started writing, but chose to work with my maiden Sampson. My husband's name Priestley has strong North Country associations, but Sampson speaks of the Celtic saint of the South West, my home and soul country.
I grew up as an Anglican, but am now a Methodist. This can present a problem for the crime writer. Anglicans and Catholics have such a colourful background to draw on. Methodism is unremarkable in dress or buildings. It's hard to make it sexy for the reader.


-Fay, March 8, 2011

Fay, I do agree that high churchmanship gives one a great deal to work with in symbolism, imagery and, as you say, richness. But, having written 6 books on the Evangelical Anglicans in my Cambridge Chronicls I never found them the least bit dull or colourless. I loved their "Enthusiasm".
-Donna, March 8, 2011

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