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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History


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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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The Joys and Challenges of Research

By Fay Sampson ~ April 30, 2011

Note from Donna:  I'm delighted with this article on research from my co-blogger Fay Sampson because the superb period detail she uses was one of the first things that attracted me to her books.


Imagine my delight a couple of weeks ago at being in St. David's Cathedral— way out on the very southwestern tip of Wales (next stop Newfoundland) and finding one of Fay's books in the bookstore: 


And now, from Fay—


I recently went to a writer’s conference where one of the speakers was a crime novelist. I was surprised to hear her say that she didn’t think you needed to do research for fiction. You could find out about police procedure by watching Morse.


Much as I enjoyed watching this Oxford-based TV crime series, it was for the quirky character of Inspector Morse, not for the authenticity of his methods. I know serving police officers are scornful of these.


I opted out of making the chief protagonist of my crime novels a police officer, because I didn’t feel I could take on all the research that would involve. I asked a friend who had been a police inspector what words were used when a suspect was arrested. She said, ‘In my day, we said “You’re nicked, sunshine.”’ I couldn’t get away with that today.


That said, for me a large part of the enjoyment of writing novels is the research that goes into them. This might involve learning to sail on a Scottish loch, chain harrowing a field behind a horse and driving a cart round an obstacle course, to get the feeling of my heroine driving an Iron Age chariot, getting the authentic smell of sheep’s grease on a leather boat that had following St Brendan’s voyage across the Atlantic.


It’s true I don’t make as many trips to the library for research as I used to. I remember one week I had to find out about Greek mythology, a 3rd-century heresy and the workings of an outboard motor, all for a single chapter of the novel I was writing.


Nowadays I bless the internet. I can sit at my desk and check out information about anything under the sun. It’s no substitute for intensive background reading on a period or activity, but it’s great for checking simple facts.


Researching places is particularly important to me. I often write with a map of the area spread out beside me. And nothing beats walking the ground where my characters tread. In a couple of days time, I’m off to North Wales to visit the medieval shrine at Pennant Melangell.


But let’s be honest. If I didn’t write books, I’d be a compulsive attender of evening classes. There is so much fascinating information out there. I just have to be careful not to inflict more of research on the reader than they really need to know.

Donna again:  Fay, please give us another blog when you return.  We'd love to hear about Pennant Melangell. 


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.

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Reader Comments:

Hi Fay,
I took the photo of Donna holding your book! I can say that she was over the moon to see it in St David's bookshop. I had to explain to a couple of puzzled shoppers exactly why this exhuberant American was so very pleased. Enjoy your trip to Wales.
-Dolores, May 2, 2011

Cheers, Dolores. I really do try not to act like an American when I'm abroad, but sometimes it does bubble over. smiles.
-Donna, May 2, 2011

Hi Fay!
I agree on so many points! I love the research. It can be frustrating to stop editing/writing to go chase down the smallest detail and lose a half day of writing... but generally it's enjoyable. I think it's the curiosity of learning something new.

I know I'd also be doing a lot of classes and workshops on a variety of subjects if it wasn't for this little thing called 'having an income'!

Thanks for sharing your love of research--it sounds like you really get into your work!
-Debra E. Marvin, May 10, 2011

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