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
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.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ October 20, 2011
Thank you so much, dear, loyal friends, for voting for me in the Authors Show contest to be included in their book 50 Great Writers You Should be Reading. Thanks to your great response we did it and I'll have the fun of being included in the book.
All the finalists were asked to write an essay on the writing life. Here's my entry:
The Most-Asked Question
No, the most-asked question is not "Where do your ideas come from?" Although it’s close. In my 35 years as a writer, the question I’ve encountered most is "Did you always want to be a writer?"
And the truthful answer? No. I always wanted to be a reader. From my earliest memory stories— especially stories set in England a long time ago— filled my imagination and fed my daydreams. I could never get enough of them. I still can’t.
I wrote my first short story in the third grade. I was convinced it was a work of genius, but I had one fear: I knew every other child in the class would have written the same story. Why? Because there was only one story to tell: Sir Lancelot slew the dragon and rescued the princess from the tower.
Imagine my surprise to learn that I was the only Arthurian scholar in my class.
And so I kept reading— and occasionally writing. I was an only child, living on a farm. My mother was unwell and I saw my cousins at Christmas and Easter. But I had dozens of playmates: Heidi, Hans Brinker, the Bobbsey Twins, Bambi. . .
And then when I was 14 years old I met the English classics— Catherine Earnshaw, Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Elliott. . . Their world is still alive in my mind.
Of course I majored in English Literature and became an English teacher— what else was there?
And then I got pregnant. From reading. Our three sons were already born and our daughter not yet conceived when I became pregnant in a whole new way. I was pregnant with a book. Ideas, characters, settings sprang to life in my mind. I would wake in the night and write in the dark, not wanting to disturb my husband with the light. I would pull to the side of the road to make notes when driving. I wrote on my shopping list walking down the grocery aisle. It took me exactly nine months to write my first novel: Brandley’s Search, a post-Regency historical novel inspired by my voracious reading of Georgette Heyer.
More historicals, inspirational romances, children’s books followed over the years. Whatever the genre, the books were almost always set in Britain and were almost always rich in history. Always I was writing about what I had loved since those first days of King Arthur and his brave knights. Always I was following my dream.
The high point of following my passion for the Arthurian Legend came with the publication of my best-known book, the award-winning epic Glastonbury. With a search for the Holy Grail as the centerpiece, I journeyed in depth through Celtic, Roman, Arthurian, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Tudor England. That pigtailed third grader chewing the end of her pencil was still inside me, smiling.
Then the dream led me one step further, as always, fed and inspired by my reading, I began writing what I most loved reading— murder mysteries.
I wanted to tell the stories of ancient saints— holy men and women from ages past that still influence our lives today in ways often unknown to us. Then in 2002 our daughter went off to a monastery in remote Yorkshire to study in a theological college run by monks. And The Monastery Murders were born.
Elizabeth’s story made a perfect background for my fictional Felicity. Elizabeth’s monastery provided a perfect model for my fictional Community of the Transfiguration. I had spent a lifetime reading the stories I wanted to tell. Now all I had to do was commit the odd murder.
As always, my reading was the key. This time clerical mysteries: Kate Charles, Phil Rickman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, P. D. James’ Death in Holy Orders. . . My series would follow in that genre.
In A Very Private Grave Felicity is devastated when she finds her beloved Father Dominic brutally murdered and Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood. This modern American woman encounters ageless truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the way holy sites across northern England.
finds Felicity contemplating becoming a nun. So she can’t possibly help Antony find the valuable missing icon. But then her impossible mother turns up unexpectedly. And a good friend turns up murdered. . .
One of my goals as a writer is to give my readers what I look for most in my reading— a "you are there" experience that let’s them see, smell, hear and feel each scene. In order to do that I must experience it first. Therefore, I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited. Last spring I spent a week in Wales, following a medieval pilgrimage trail, then joined a group of youth to walk the 126 miles from London to Walsingham. Part personal pilgrimage, part research trip, as preparation to write An Unholy Communion: A body plummets from a tower and rolls to a stop at Felicity’s feet. The note clutched in the corpse’s hand bursts into flame when Felicity picks it up. Little wonder she accepts Antony’s urging to accompany him leading a youth walk along an ancient pilgrimage route in Wales. Beautiful, peaceful, safe Wales. . .
And so the journey continues, reading, researching, dreaming and somehow it all comes out in a coherent story. The daily discipline of sitting at the computer is a very practical aspect, but how the story comes to life defies definition.
Which leads me to that other most-asked question, "What advice do you have for beginning writers?" And the answer I always give is the one I’ve always followed: The path that leads to the most rewarding, most authentic writing and the most fun for both writer and reader:
"Read and dream. Then write from your passion."
A Darkly Hidden Truth
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