My guest today is author Donna Fletcher Crow, whose novels revolve around the history of her favorite places in Britain. She and I are sharing a blog exchange today, writing about how our love of travel has influenced our writing, and vice-versa. After you finish here, you can read my article on “Letting Go of Excess Baggage” at Donna’s blog, Deeds of Darkness; Deeds of Light. Donna and I know each other from our participation in the new e-book 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back, so please check that out, too. It’s an essay collection meant to warm your heart and raise your spirits. You can follow our book’s blog tour here. For now, let’s find out where Donna and her characters like to travel:
Trekking Through History
by Donna Fletcher Crow
I’ve always loved to travel and I’ve always loved history. So I guess it’s natural that Felicity, the heroine of my Monastery Murders series, would love to travel through historic sites. Well, at least she is learning to love it. Let me explain. In A Very Private Grave, the first of the series, Felicity Howard, a thoroughly modern American woman, finds teaching school in London to be boring, so she goes off, on something of a whim — as Felicity does most things — to study theology in a college run by monks in a monastery.
I’ve always loved travel and history. So I guess it’s natural that the heroine of my Monastery Murders series would love to travel through historic sites.
When Felicity finds her favorite monk brutally murdered and her church history lecturer standing over him with blood all over his hands, she and Father Antony are launched on an adventure that has them fleeing across most of northern England and southern Scotland, chasing and being chased by murderers. Along the way Felicity learns how important clues hidden centuries ago can be.
When a good friend turns up murdered in A Darkly Hidden Truth, Felicity’s treks take her and Antony from remote Yorkshire to London to the soggy marshes of the Norfolk Broads. Felicity learns the wisdom of holy women from today and ages past, and Antony explores the arcane rites of the Knights Hospitaller. But what good will any of that do them if Felicity can’t save Antony’s life?
I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited. (This is Whitby Abbey.)
Since I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited, my travels have followed (well, really, preceded) Felicity’s. I can’t think of any place I’ve visited in the UK that I haven’t loved. Even some places where I’ve had difficult experiences have made for wonderful memories and fun things to work into my plots.
It was St. Aiden’s base for Christianizing the northeast of England.
One of my favorites would have to be the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, near the top of any pilgrim’s list. Just getting there is such a challenge, with that tiny element of danger. If you don’t time it right, you might be caught by the tide in the middle of the causeway and have to take shelter in the rescue tower – as Felicity and Antony do in A Very Private Grave. Once you’re there, it’s truly a world apart: a tiny village, an ancient holy ruin, a storybook castle on a hill, and a whole, empty island to explore. It was St. Aiden’s base for Christianizing the northeast of England, St. Cuthbert’s monastery that produced one of the world’s great art treasures — The Lindisfarne Gospels — and the site of the first Viking attack on England.
We took long rambles through the wind-tossed grasses to the back of the island.
This visit was even more special because my daughter was with me and it was just two weeks after 9/11. We had a cozy room tucked up under the rafters of the Open Gate Retreat House and took long rambles through the wind-tossed grasses to the back of the island. One day we were picnicking on the perfect, white crescent beach where the Vikings first attacked, when a group of Royal Air Force Jets roared over our heads. I realized how close history is to us and how little things truly change.
Here is St. Mary’s, where Bram Stoker has Count Dracula buried.
Another favorite was Whitby, also visited with my daughter. Much of the fun of visiting that high, windy plateau above the little fishing town is the contrast in stories it evokes. Here are the broken arches of a once-great priory built on the site where St. Hilda established one of the greatest monasteries in England and presided over the history-making Synod of Whitby. Here is the ancient Caedmon’s cross, marking the site where Caedmon, the first poet in the English language, wrote his great hymns. And here is St. Mary’s church, where Bram Stoker has Count Dracula buried. Vampire hunters drawn to the churchyard (some in costume) are so numerous and vigorous that the vicar has posted signs to remind visitors that this is sacred space.
The moment I heard about this ancient abbey, once one of the largest in England, I knew I had to visit it.
Then there’s St. Benet’s Abbey in the flat, marshy fields of the Norfolk Broads on the bank of the River Bure. The moment I heard about this ancient abbey, once one of the largest in England, built on ground so boggy that it simply subsided into the ooze after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, I knew I had to visit it. In the end, I discovered that wasn’t the way of it at all: St. Benet’s was never dissolved, the monks just left as times changed. But the reality is even more fun, and wetter, than the stories.
The sailboats glide along rivers and broads on land so flat that it appears as if they are sailing across green fields under vast, lowering skies.
The fact that it is in such an isolated location that it’s almost impossible to reach by road and my son-in-law and I kept getting lost on tiny, muddy tracks helped set the scene. What’s more, the sailboats glide along rivers and broads on land so flat that it appears for all the world as if they are sailing across green fields under vast, lowering skies.
Best of all for a mystery writer was the oddity of the conical brick drainage mill built in the middle of the broken arches of the abbey gatehouse.
But best of all for a mystery writer with an overactive imagination, was the oddity of the conical brick drainage mill built in the middle of the broken arches of the abbey gatehouse. Sheltering from the rain in the darkness as rain poured in from the ceiling and bounced on the trodden dirt floor, I knew this was the perfect place to hide a body.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Her best-known work is the award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, which covers 15 centuries of English history. She’s also the author of The Monastery Murders, Lord Danvers Series, and Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. She’s an enthusiastic traveler and gardener. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have four children and eleven grandchildren.