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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.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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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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Going There, Tales from the Riviera and Beyond available for preorder

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ November 17, 2023

A Short Story Collection Woven Inside a Memoir of Travel in a Troubled Time

Available now for preorder.

Special full-color hardback gift edition available December 1.

And now, just for my readers, a sneak preview of the first chapter:

 

1
The Beginning

Summer 2021

Okay, I booked this trip knowing the world—and especially travel—was still in the grip of a pandemic. Covid-19 was causing cancellations, cutbacks, and inconvenient constraints. It was, however, hardly the first international trip I had undertaken at a time of world-wide crisis.

But first, let me explain the impetus for this three-generational, ladies-only trip. Granddaughter Jane had an interval between her summer program at the Princess Grace Ballet School in Monaco and her return to her regular studies in Basel. Daughter-in-law Kelly and I were convinced she needed our chaperonage. Never mind that Jane had recently turned a very mature 19, was securely locked in during her time in Monaco, and that she knows Central Europe far better than either one of us…

The fact is, though, Kelly and I are both writers, so we’re forever keen for new experiences to add to our tool kits. Kelly is a food writer with a Cordon Bleu Grand Diplôme, and I am always eager for all things literary—especially intriguing settings that lead to suspense. Kelly crafted an itinerary perfectly suited to both our interests.

My far more prudent, risk-averse husband took some convincing. People were still dying of the dreaded virus. We read daily of travelers detained for weeks in hotel rooms at their own expense when they tested positive. Even if one passed the crucial medical test required to board a plane, there would be numerous inconveniences (and there were all those reports of tests giving “false positives”).

Even my morning reading of Psalm 121: “my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep… The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe. The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,” no matter how comforting to me, left him unconvinced.

As the cautions continued I smiled and nodded and said, “Yes, dear.” And kept on packing. After all, travel restrictions had eased to the point of international travel not being entirely forbidden as it had been for the previous 18 months. Besides, as I said earlier, I had done this before. 

In 2001 I took one of the first planes to fly out of Boise after 9/11. The international crisis certainly added a frisson to my “Holy Longing for Sacred Places” pilgrimage through England and Scotland. Some of my most vivid memories include smiling at the lapel pins of crossed Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes one saw everywhere in London. And sitting on a remote beach at the back of Holy Island—on the spot where Vikings first invaded England—seeing Royal Air Force fighter jets roar overhead. Still, I knew my shivers and awareness of distant war could hold nothing to the terror the Lindisfarne monks had experienced. Twenty years later I asked, how could the inconveniences of a world-wide pandemic compare?

But even that was hardly my first experience traveling in troubled times. In 1996 I had set out for Northern Ireland shortly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, with my teenage daughter and her best friend in tow. Thankfully, the IRA bombs that exploded two blocks from the library where I was researching and the bomb that demolished a London bus while we were there didn’t faze us. But the bombing of Central Manchester profoundly influenced the book I was working on.

Again, there had been the time in March of 2003, when I was on retreat at a monastery in Yorkshire and the American president issued an ultimatum giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to disarm. My husband called and said, “Come home. Now. There will be war.”

My dash the length of England down to London remains a blur in my mind, but I will never forget crossing London in the tube, knowing that if the expected gas attack were to happen then, the noxious cloud would roll down the tunnels unhindered.

No, I wasn’t terrified. As is my normal fallback position, I took the historical perspective. My uppermost thought was: Is this what it was like during the Blitz

Nor is the Côte d’Azur a stranger to troubled times. Throughout its long history war, crime, and disease have taken their toll on the pleasure it would offer—sometimes requiring complete shut-downs.

The second Boer War (1899-1902) dampened festivities and produced strong anti-English feelings which prevented Queen Victoria from making her usual sojourn to her favored sunny climes. The Great War brought war orphans to Cap Ferrat, turned the Hotel Negresco into a military hospital, and saw German guns displayed on the Promenade des Anglais. The Great Depression took a sharp toll on the number of American tourists and especially reduced activity in the casinos. World War II brought food and petrol shortages, mining of the coast, the Nazi occupation, the grand hotels turned into hospitals, then bombardment by both Axis and Allies. Understandably, tourism was at a standstill.

This inviting coastal area was plagued by pirates as far back as the 16th century. In more modern times, the lavish wealth of Golden Age tourists was a magnet for thieves. In the mid-late 20th century, flourishing casinos and the Riveria’s closeness to Italy attracted organized crime. And then the 21st century brought terrorism with bombings and knifings. The culmination came on the evening of 14 July 2016, when a terrorist drove a 19-tonne cargo truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais killing 86 people and injuring 434 others. 

Epidemics and pandemics have threatened the gaiety and economy of this fabled area as well. The first great influx of visitors, however, was the “health tourists” who came in Victorian times, many following their doctors’ advice, seeking the sunshine and pure air of the Riviera as a cure for their tuberculosis. Cholera and typhus were persistent problems. A cholera outbreak in 1830 grew to pandemic proportions and prompted border closings. Again, a few years later, typhus struck in 1883.

So now, here we were in 2021, during another pandemic that caused tourism to drop to the levels of thirty years earlier. For the small price of wearing masks, standing in line to show health cards, and taking tests, we were allowed to enjoy the cleaner air and lessened congestion resulting from Covid closures. 

Now,  as I sat out my postponed flight in the Brussels airport, awaiting a rescheduled plane with a worse connection and less comfortable seat, and much-delayed arrival (who wants to be sitting in an airport when they could be on a beach in Nice?) my mind turned to those pivotal moments that fill the history books I love to read. What was it like for the little, everyday people caught up in the momentum of the times? My experiences are small potatoes, indeed, compared to the great annals, but realizing that my inconveniences are part of experiencing history helps relieve the frustration and adds a wider meaning to the moment.

What’s having to wear a face mask compared to wearing a gas mask? What sort of deprivation is a pre-packaged sanitized meal (no matter how weird hummus and bruschetta tasted for breakfast) compared to years of rationing? Or even starvation? Some day will we be talking about having a “good lockdown” like our parents or grandparents talked about a “good war”?

Just a year before, our nightly walk in the park near our home was a great adventure. Our only outing. Today, since the airplanes and airports were less full, we intrepid ones who had ventured out—perhaps beyond our comfort zone and willing to put up with the added inconveniences for family or business needs—found an element of camaraderie in the shared adventure, if not actual danger.

As my waiting dragged on, my mind turned to the writing I hoped this foray into the unknown would inspire. A series of blog articles, no doubt, but what else? A novel for one of the three mystery series I write? Hmm—perhaps Felicity and Antony from my Monastery Murders could be visiting a monastery in France or Switzerland and find a gripping puzzle that led them to look into ages past? Or Lord and Lady Danvers from my Victorian true-crime series could travel to the continent—after all, the Victorians were inveterate travelers—and be drawn into a crime only they could solve? Or Elizabeth and Richard, my retired English lit professors, now living in England—what literary figures might they be studying on the Riviera when they inconveniently trip over a body?

Well, it did make the waiting go more quickly. And the questions returned many times during the ensuing days of gorgeous touring, but in the end they all presented me with ideas for short stories—which, Gentle Reader, I offer to you here.

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.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

Read More: Writers in France Then and Now

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Reader Comments:

Yay! It's such a cool idea, and a wonderful cover to entice new readers as well as ones who already know and love your books.
-Sheila Deeth, November 17, 2023

Thank you! I was thrilled with the cover--so like my memories of southern France--warm, luscious--and sparkling blue water. Mmmm
-Donna, December 18, 2023

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