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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 case of the Infamous Ancestor

By Fay Sampson ~ June 4, 2010




Donna’s right. Stories can ambush you from unexpected directions. I didn’t set out to write crime fiction. Honestly.

I’m a keen family history detective. I found myself amassing a load of colourful stories from the past, and having colourful experiences of my own while I investigated them.

So I set out to write a novel about Suzie Fewings, who is doing just that. But I hadn’t got far before the dark story in the past found its parallel in a dark story in the present, involving Suzie’s own son. Before I knew where I was, I had a crime mystery, In the Blood, on my hands.

With hindsight, it’s perhaps not so surprising. One of the many things I love about family history is the detective element. You are puzzling out the significance of often scanty evidence, trying to find imaginative ways to get you past that brick wall. It’s the same enjoyment as a cryptic crossword. Part of the pulling power of the Suzie Fewings series is, I hope, the amount of detail on how Suzie goes about her research. It’s really two detective stories for the price of one.

Isn’t it interesting how eagerly we seize on the more dubious aspects of our family history? A speaker at a family history conference told us the difference between a genealogist and a family historian.

The former is determined to prove they are related to Shakespeare or Lord Nelson, while the latter punches the air and shouts, ‘Yes!’, when discovering an ancestor was a convict sent to Botany Bay.

One evening, I rushed into the sitting-room, eager to tell my spouse I had discovered a 14th century ancestor who was burnt at the stake for ‘contriving the death of her husband’. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem entirely thrilled with the news.

It’s all too easy for novelists to yearn for the dramatic, and neglect to empathise with the human story underneath.

Donna comments: And apparently Fay’s readers are very happy about the turn her writing has taken, judging from her reviews on AmazonUK:

"In the Blood ticks all the right boxes. It's got historical tragedy, modern day intrigue and a perceptive insight into the dynamics of contemporary family life. All this is cleverly interwoven into a story that's a real page-turner and one that I'll be recommending to my friends."

"I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read and identified with a lot of it. Suzie and her husband Nick turn up in a country church where Suzie is investigating details of her ancestor. I too am about to do that very thing, as I plan to visit a church in Oxfordshire where I may, like Suzie, find an inscription bringing me closer to my 7-times great grandfather who was born in the reign of James I.

"Suzie's story not only gives a strikingly close-to-life depiction of life with a rapidly-disenchanted husband and two challenging teenagers, also a mystery, an almost-romance, a crime which ultimately finds its resolution, and a warning to family researchers— if you get too personally involved with the story of your ancestor, and find out things you wish you hadn't, you too may find it taking over your life in the present."

If any of our readers have questions about family history research, I’m sure Fay would be delighted to answer. And if anyone has a story to share about starting out to write one book and wound up writing something quite different, we would love to hear it.

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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