Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, May 09, 2011

The View From Wales

Please welcome mystery writer Donna Fletcher Crow! She writes several series of mysteries including The Monastery Murders and The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, and for this blog, she's going to talk about a recent trip she took to Wales to research her books.

Setting is one of the factors that always drives my novels. Of course, story is paramount. Without a good story— well, there’s no story. And without characters there’s no one to make the story happen. But where it all happens is of great importance to me. I like to think of my settings as characters in my novels.

And Wales is a setting I have wanted to develop for years— from the very beginnings with the birth of David, Wales’ patron saint, in the sixth century, through the Roman occupation and on into the early 20th century to today. Since my Monastery Murders are contemporary stories that require my characters to search through a lot of history in order to solve crimes both ancient and modern, Wales offers a perfect setting for the third book in the series.

Especially since An Unholy Communion (my working title, but who knows what it will end up as?) deals with elements of the paranormal and Phil Rickman’s wonderful spooky novels have already shown us how sinister those lovely green sheep-covered hillsides can really be.

I make it a hallmark of my writing to try to give my reader a “you are there” experience when developing the background of my novels. And that means being there myself first. I try never to set a scene in a place I haven’t actually been myself and never have my characters undergo an experience I haven’t had myself— with the exception of the occasional abduction and stumbling over murdered bodies, you understand.

Since, like most of my books, The Monastery Murders are set in Great Britain and I live 7000 miles away in Boise, Idaho, research can be a considerable challenge. I begin by doing all I can to develop my basic storyline at home from books and internet research. I like to have my plot well outlined and perhaps the first chapter or so of my novel rough drafted. But when I know I’ve gone as far as I can go and I have a good handle on what I still need to know, it’s time for the real fun to begin— on-site research.

In An Unholy Communion Felicity and Antony are leading a youth walk along an ancient Medieval pilgrimage route in southern Wales when what should have been an idyllic ramble with no more than the occasional blister to contend with turns very nasty, indeed. Time to pack my bags.

I was extremely fortunate because my writer friend Dolores Gordon-Smith, whose Jack Haldean mysteries I highly recommend ( agreed to be my driver and research assistant.
Since the root of the nastiness Felicity and Antony encounter seems to go back to Roman times Dolores and I began by exploring the Roman ruins in Caerleon.

We had no trouble picking up the beginning of the ancient pilgrimage trail in Llantarnam, but finding our way (or at least the pilgrims’ way) over the mountains became more difficult, especially when sheets of rain poured down on us with blasts of wind that nearly blew us off a mountain top in the Rhonda.

Undaunted, though we went on to St. David’s on the southwestern tip of Wales where the ruined Bishop’s Palace behind St. David’s Cathedral is an absolute gift to a mystery writer looking for nooks and crannies to hide spies and ancient artifacts.

Not to mention the stunning cliff walk just beyond offering sheer drops to the rocks below with the sea crashing white foam. Dolores pulled me back from too-enthusiastic picture taking over the precipice, but I’m wondering— who will pull Felicity back?

A Very Private Grave, The Monastery Murders

Felicity Howard, a young American studying for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire, is devastated when she finds her beloved Fr. Dominic brutally murdered and Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood .

A Very Private Grave is a contemporary novel with a thoroughly modern heroine who must learn some ageless truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Fr. Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the way sites in northern England and southern Scotland. The narrative mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.

“With a bludgeoned body in Chapter 1, and a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths, A Very Private Grave qualifies as a traditional mystery. But this is no mere formulaic whodunit: it is a Knickerbocker Glory of a thriller. At its centre is a sweeping, page-turning quest – in the steps of St. Cuthbert – through the atmospherically-depicted North of England, served up with dollops of Church history and lashings of romance. In this novel, Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.” – Kate Charles, author of Deep Waters

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 36 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out in 2011. THE SHADOW OF REALITY, Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook. A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2 in the Elizabeth & Richard series is her newest release.

Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to:

Her blog is at: and you can follow her on Facebook at:

Thank you so much, Donna!
You can find out more about Donna and her wonderful mysteries on her website at: . 


Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Thank you for the opportunity to share, Amy. I've spent the morning poring over Ordnance Survey Explorer maps of Wales using both glasses and a magnifying glass, so looking at the pictures on your website was a great break for me. I hope your readers enjoy it.

Linda said...

Oh to be an author & get to travel to interesting places in the name of research :)

SIgh. Guess i will just "have" to read your books to experience it 2ndhand instead... (more grins)

Unknown said...

That was certainly a trip and a half, Donna! I loath cliff edges and the sight of you teetering near the edge of Wales was far too nasty for words, even if the view was fantastic! Poor old Britain has quite enough of a pollution problem with debris washed up ashore without you adding to it!
Love the photos by the way, and all the happy memories you brought back.