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 http://www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com
Donna, take it away!
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Literature Reflects Life
Ah, Marian, you asked, “What part, if any, do food or gardening play in your book?” Well, I’m not sure I’ve really thought about it in the sense that someone who writes culinary or gardening mysteries would do, but the fact that food and gardening are such important factors in my life can’t help but influence my writing.
To me, background is one of the most important aspects of a novel. As a teacher I always told my students that one of the functions of literature is to expand our experience. To me that means mentally living in another place. As a reader I love well developed settings that I can really enter into and experience. As a writer, one of my primary goals is to put my reader into every scene. As much as I can, I try to let my reader see, taste, smell, feel whatever my viewpoint character is seeing, tasting, smelling or feeling.
Of course, in the case of Felicity and Antony, the hero and heroine of my ecclesiastical thriller A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, we don’t get very many lingering tea parties in rose gardens when chasing and being chased by murderers. They more often grab a hot pastie on a train platform than anything else. And then, there’s the fact that it’s Lent, and Antony, an Anglican priest, is conscientious about his vegetarian discipline for the season. That gave me a chance to develop both Antony as a faithful person and Felicity as impatient with restrictions.
Quick glimpses of gardens are a fun way to set a scene and remind the reader of “when” you are as well as “where.” An example is when Felicity and Antony arrive in a small Northumbrian town on an early morning in March:
Huddling into their jackets, they passed terraced stone houses with postage stamp-sized front gardens bright with primroses struggling through the gray and, at the end of the street, one desperate-looking palm tree. Felicity waved to the shivering tree and said, “Know just how you feel.”
That was especially fun because my Oxford-based editor was amazed to learn of palm trees that far north in her own land.
Which brings me to the importance of my very favorite thing— research. Especially since research trips always involve eating the local food and observing the local flora. I try never to set a scene any place I haven’t actually been. This, of course, requires knowing my story very well before I set out to research in a land 7000 miles away from home. And, I’ll admit that occasionally I mess up— which means a lot of desperate scrabbling with books and on the Internet later. But about 90% of the time you can rely on it— if my characters are eating it or seeing it, I ate it or saw it.
My favorite always being English tea (Yorkshire Gold, please) and its accompanying goodies. As when Felicity and Antony have some time to kill (there has to be a pun in there somewhere) in Durham Cathedral and go to the Undercroft Restaurant. Felicity, as was her creator, is overwhelmed with the selection:
scones, flapjack, cherry slices, shortbread, salmon sandwiches, lemon bars…
She wanted one of each, but she contented herself with a scone and a sandwich.
I never tell my students to “Write what you know.” How many of us actually know enough to fill a novel? I certainly don’t. I think the far wiser advice is to “Write what you want to research.” Then you can have the fun of crafting a story that takes your characters and readers— and yourself— where you want to go, to see what you want to see, and eat what you want to eat. Well, I said literature expands your experience, not to mention your waistline.
Please visit my website at http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/ you can watch Felicity and Antony’s trailer on the home page, see pictures from my research trips under Research Albums and visit my garden under Come Into my Garden.
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Thanks, Donna! I look forward to guesting with you tomorrow on your blog. 🙂
WRITING PROMPT: If you could go on a research trip, where would it be and why? How about one of your characters? Where would he/she want to go for research and why?