Friday, June 11, 2010

You Are There!

Writers are often asked which is more important to them, plot or character. At the risk of being difficult, but in all honesty, setting is the most important factor to me in planning my novels and in choosing ones to read. I do read, and occasionally write, in venues outside of my passion for all things British, but at the end of the day, reading and writing in England (or Scotland, or Wales, or Ireland) is my default position.

Because setting is so important to me when I read, as a writer, one of my goals is to put my reader in the scene. Since I try never to write about a place I haven’t actually visited I try to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of the place through the consciousness of my heroine. That means careful planning of my research trips, since I live 7000 miles away from the scene in Idaho. I do all the research I can possibly do from home, which entails a lot of time on the Internet and in libraries. I also have to have my story quite thoroughly outlined so I’ll be certain to go to all the places the story takes us.

Once there I try to experience the scene as if I were the heroine. And since I write mysteries that edge into thrillers, I try to imagine the danger lurking around every corner in that place. Oooh, crumbly historic sites make the most wonderful places to bury bodies. And then the building could crumble on you. Or the ground give way beneath your feet. Or a sudden rain storm wash a body out of a shallow grave. . . (Don’t use that one— it’s in my next novel. And, yes, I stood on the spot and watched it happen in my mind.)

I take copious notes and since my husband bought me a nifty, idiot-proof digital camera a couple of years ago I can now delight in taking all the pictures I want. I also buy loads of books on site, because the same tourist guide will not be available 5 miles down the road. I learned the hard way not to wait.

And then when I get home I have the fun of reliving the whole experience over again at my computer a I write whilst watching the scenes in my head. I have been told that my style is very cinematic. (Please note— any movie producers who may be reading this!) I think that’s because I was a playwright, drama teacher and amateur actress. I tend to think in terms of scenes and act everything out in my head.

This method worked particularly well for me in writing my ecclesiastical thriller A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in The Monastery Murders because my heroine is a rash young American woman studying in a theological college in a monastery in Yorkshire. The monastery is based on one where my daughter (who isn’t nearly as rash as Felicity) studied. So when Felicity runs up the hill to the monastery from her flat just outside the walls I am retracing steps I actually took many times with my daughter.

Likewise, when Felicity’s favorite monk is brutally murdered shortly after he presents her with a journal he kept whilst on recent pilgrimage and she sets out to retrace his steps, all the sites of ancient spirituality she visits in England and Scotland are places I can call up vividly in my mind and hopefully, recreate as vividly for my readers. Because ultimately, it’s not the plot, the characters, or even the setting that’s most important, it’s my readers.

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

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, The Novel of Christian England is her best-known work, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. THE SHADOW OF REALITY, a romantic intrigue will be published later this summer.

Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener and you can see pictures of her garden, watch the trailer for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, and read her international blog at


Felicity Howard, a young American woman 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 ancient 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 skillfully mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.


  1. Dear Rhonda, Thank you so much for hosting me! I love your slideshow! I'm sorry to be so late checking in, am recovering from having grandchildren visit, but I loved being on your blog.

  2. Thanks for blogging with us today! Good luck with your writing.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  3. The way you work is very interesting. I also will not write about locations I do not know. I've been known to pick vacation sites with a book in mind.

    I used to read any mystery or thriller set in NYC. Needless to say, I read a lot of junk as well as good stuff.

    Now my addiction is detective stories that are gritty. For me, the hero has to be an American detective. I'll also read legal thrillers.

  4. Oh, yes, Nike. My classic vacation-site-with-a-book-in-mind was our trip to Hawaii. I spent the whole time with my hero and heroine romancing in my head and thought we were having the vacation of a lifetime. Until my husband said this was the last time he went on a research trip with me--I hadn't been with him at all. Oh my. I learned.

    Hope you'll try making an exception and try sampling ecclesiastical thrillers. Smiles

  5. I love that setting is so important to you, Donna. You get to travel once in a while, and we get to travel when reading your books. Love it, and all things British, as well!