Donna Crow's Research for her Monastery Murders

 Several months ago Marilyn and I decided it would be fun to guest on each other’s blogs on the same day— my first ever blog exchange. So before I embark on the saga of my adventures as an intrepid researcher, let me invite you over to my blog (insert link) to read Marilyn’s account of (insert title).  And now, to the story:

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 finding 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— onsite research.

In A Very Private Grave,  book one in the series, 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.  The action races from their quiet monastery across much of northern England and southern Scotland with Felicity and Antony chasing and being chased by murderers.

In A Darkly Hidden Truth, which will be out this fall, Felicity has now decided to become a nun.  She departs to visit convents in spite of her estranged mother’s imminent arrival and Fr. Anselm’s plea that she and Fr. Antony recover a missing priceless Russian icon before the Patriarch of Moscow arrives at the community for Holy Week. Felicity’s discernment journey takes her to a variety of convents from northern England to London, but her discovery of a friend’s murdered body in a shallow grave, the disappearance of more icons, the shooting of a London art expert just after they visit him, the disappearance of Antony, and finally the abduction of Felicity and her mother teach her far more about motherhood, life and love than she could learn in any convent.

And now, book 3:  Felicity and Antony are leading a youth walk along a Medieval pilgrimage route in southern Wales when what should have been an idyllic ramble over sheep-grazed mountainsides turns very nasty, indeed.

That means I needed to experience two things:  southern Wales and a youth walk.

I spent the first week in April exploring Wales with my writer friend Dolores Gordon-Smith, whose Jack Haldean mysteries are highly recommended. (
 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?

Then on to London to meet a group of 18 mostly teens and 20-somethings where I would be a considerably overage pilgrim on a walk to Walsingham, following (again) a medieval pilgrims’ route.  I’m happy to report that I managed to walk about 100 of the 126 miles, taking only occasional breaks in the follow van.  We slept in church halls, village halls and a sports hall and, in spite of multiple blisters, I’m happy to report that our walk was considerably more idyllic than Felicity and Antony’s will be.  Well, what are mystery writers for if not to invent a grisley murder now and then?

Please do leave a comment or a question, then remember to hop on over the Marilyn’s post

 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:  

and you can follow her on Facebook at:


Jan said…
Oh, Donna, I just knew it. I will have to start brushing up my Welsh spellings and Roman archaeology in preparation for next January. You don't make a poor editor's life easy, do you?
So glad you are with me today, Donna. The photos you sent are wonderful! Makes me want to write about faraway places instead of the places I'm familiar with.

Good morning, jan and Marilyn. This is such a fun exchange, marilyn. Thank you for thinking it up.

Smiles, Jan. I know you secretly love a challenge so here's a heads-up--I've just learned that the ancient artifact they are tracking would have been written in Greek. And here I though you could still use your Latin.
jenny milchman said…
Oh, are those pictures beautiful, Donna! And--I definitely get a :you are there" experience with your writing, which draws pictures as vivid as these photographs.
Thank you, Jenny. What a dear friend you are to join in the exchange and leave us both comments.
Jan, my husband has a Welch heritage and would love to visit the places Donna has.

Jenny, thank you for stopping by our blogs.

Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I've had company all week after just getting home from a weekend away.

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