Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Mystery of Writing History by Donna Fletcher Crow

There are many challenges to including a significant historical background when writing mysteries: getting the details accurate, making the history an integral part of the story, not an add-on, and allowing the reader to experience the historical as well as the contemporary parts of the story are some of my major concerns.

Most often, my stories start with the setting— either a place I have long loved or someplace I’m longing to visit. One of my goals as a writer is to give my readers a “You are there” experience so I try never to write about a place I haven’t actually been to myself. And the more ancient and crumbling the location the better for my purposes. This sometimes presents an extraordinary logistics challenge since I live in Idaho— 7000 miles away from the settings of most of my books in Great Britain.

I begin my research with the widest reading I can do at home and keep narrowing it until I have a good grip on my setting, characters, major plot points and theme. Then the real fun starts— planning the on-site research. I make a list of everything I need to know to fill in all the gaps in my outline and work out on a map just exactly where I need to go to get that information or have those experiences. Next is setting up the interviews, travel arrangements, etc. Of course, this is much easier now with the Internet at my fingertips. It used to take me three months to set up a trip with snail mail creeping back and forth over the water. Now I can do it in a few weeks.

One of the most important things to remember on a research trip is to keep my mind open. I focus so intently on getting answers to my questions that I’m in danger of missing the surprises that can add wonderful life to my stories. More and more I am learning to let my story be shaped by my research experiences. I love to stand on an historic site and ask myself, what could have happened here? How would that affect my story?

And then, once I’m home I have the fun of reliving the whole wonderful adventure all over again as I recreate it for my readers. I replay each scene in my head, experiencing it all through the senses of my hero and heroine.

For me (and hopefully for my readers) the history and the mystery augment each other. I hope the history gives depth and meaning to the setting and provides clues to the mystery and to understanding the characters, and I hope the mystery provides a strong story question to keep the pages turning.

Here are a few shots of research sites that have been instrumental in shaping some of my Monastery Murders:

Ruins of St. Mary’s church, Holy Island, in A Very Private Grave

Gatehouse of St. Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk Broads, in A Darkly Hidden Truth

Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s, Wales, in An Unholy Communion
St. Frideswide’s Well, Binsey nr. Oxford, in A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 43 books, mostly novels of British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.  She also authors The Lord Danvers Mysteries. A Tincture of Murder is her latest in these Victorian true-crime novels. The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries are a literary suspense series of which A Jane Austen Encounter is the latest.   A Newly Crimsoned Reliqury is the fourth of Felicity and Antony’s adventures in the Monastery Murders. Donna and her husband of 51 years live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 13 1/2 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: 
You can follow her on Facebook at:

Monday, 29 June 2015

My First Book Tour by Dorothy Stewart

By the time you read this, I’ll be some place else. Possibly in the far north of Scotland doing last-minute prep for another talk about my novel, When the Boats Come Home.

I’m away for twenty-four days and I’m calling it a book tour. The novel is based around the 1921 Fishermen’s Revival in Great Yarmouth that spread up the east coast as newly converted fishermen returned home after the autumn fishing season, and as evangelist Jock Troup was led to various places to preach and inspire. My trip is taking me to a number of the places he visited, starting in Dundee, where thanks to ACW’s Wendy Jones, I’ve a nicely full diary! This is the same Wendy Jones who invited me to write about how to organise a book tour for this blog. So here goes.

1.     Many writers are introverts and doing publicity is painful for introverts. Ergo, even thinking about organising a book tour is going to be painful. Be ready.
2.     You get ready by praying. Lots. ‘Is this something You want me to do?’ is the first prayer. ‘Help’ is the next one that you’ll need over and over!
3.     Where to go, what to do, depends on the kind of book you’ve written. You need to go where the people are who will be genuinely interested in your book. Mine is overtly Christian and based around a real-life revival and real-live evangelists so my time will be mostly with churches, church groups and Christian bookshops.
4.     Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve. I am not out to make money. It would be lovely to cover my costs but I see my writing as ministry just as much as I see my lay preaching, so a large part of my focus is spreading the word of God’s amazing transforming love. I also care a lot about encouraging other writers so I’ll be talking to writing groups, doing some workshops at my old High School (how I wish an ‘author’ had turned up there when I was a teenager to enthuse me!) and giving library talks to encourage readers.
5.     Find helpers, advocates, folk with contacts and let them help you. I have received so much help I’m awed by the sheer kindness of people – setting up things for me to do, telling other people, providing overnight accommodation.
6.     Don’t tie it up too tight. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to interrupt your plans, sidetrack you, throw holy spanners and leave you gasping with amazement at just how much better it all turned out to be!
7.     Say thank you – to God who is out there ahead of you organising everything, to all the folk who help, who turn up, who feed you and provide glasses of water.
8.     The one I probably won’t pay any attention to: build in plenty of time to rest. Your audience deserves your best.
9.     Allow enough time for the planning. Months not weeks!

When the Boats Come Home is Dorothy Stewart’s eleventh book and first novel. After working her way up the ladder in book publishing, a gentle nudge (they asked for my resignation!) led her to swap sides and take to writing. A lay preacher in the United Reformed Church, she lives in Suffolk with a small black cat and spends too much time on Facebook. Details of Dorothy’s books are on The book tour and other stories can be found on her blog:

Sunday, 28 June 2015

We Have a Gospel to Proclaim by Clare Weiner

In a recent thread on the ACW Facebook site, some us shared our thoughts on Mslexia magazine (‘for women who write’) and in a wider context, the sense of gloom, re-named better ‘bleak’ which appears in so many contemporary novels. Although we reminded ourselves that bleakness is not a new departure for fiction, inhabiting for example Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the Greek tragedies. we seemed to feel this post-modern bleakness is different.

Initially, I began writing a piece (without a clear idea if I’d send it off or where to) describing what I feel browsing in bookshop today (and for a number of years). This piece began to get quite long, as I cited the various apparent essentials for a current novel, and the desperate and overwhelming amount of ‘visceral’ - now termed more often ‘physicality’ thought necessary. Especially in scenes of sex or violence, this also hovers around at all times. Though examples exist about anything: say, the way person eats a sandwich, or slurps their tea, the scent of a full nappy, what happens behind the lavatory door. And of course terminal illness, mental breakdown, and living with disability: all in extra-stark realism.

However, it proved a catalogue of complaints, which is not what was intended. Should we carp at the writing of others, people may conclude this is merely in order to talk up our own work. Like a not-so-good preacher who loudly condemns the Pharisees in order to make Jesus more attractive. Positivity is best.

And then it came at last to at least two of us: the problem is that within these earnest, bleak, novels there is nowhere a sign of hope. We, the readers, must conclude that the human race is all utterly depraved, lonely, loveless, and unloving, and there is no hope for it. The curtain should indeed be rung down on it sooner rather than later. Yet the writers keep writing, becoming prize-winning or acclaimed, selling books. Presumably, they do actually want to live, even without hope?

Not to talk my writing up by contrast, I turned a corner from what I had been working on when I realised that I should inject discernable hope into the novel I’d been working on. Without making everything into a 1950s, cosy, ‘Ladybird Book’, story, I would write about both sides of the secular/Christian (or secular/faith, indeed) divide, have my central characters from a secular and a faith-based upbringing, and give weight to each side. I’d not paint the Christian Family as either perfect or totally imperfect and destructively pious. Nor the secular as wrong in every way. I wanted to proclaim the hope side of life, something which Christians have, even though their lives may be flawed (always a problem!). And even to slip in bit of faith knowledge while not preaching, indeed while demonstrating how Christians can get it wrong. And what they do about it.

It has stuck me with a problem, though. Family stories aren’t fashionable.  Crime, mystery, yes. Not family.

So you see, here I am writing a blog post … and wondering whether or not it is right to continue with novel number 3. Which though a family study again, will surprise and disturb, even without being over-physicality-based, and definitely still including hope.

About the Author

Clare Weiner, (as Mari Howard), writes contemporary, family-based fiction exploring change, diversity, and reconciliation, using her background in social sciences and religion. Think Joanna Trollope or JoJo Moyes, though influences include Kamila Shamsie and Khalid Hosseini, and like them she observes and critiques her own cultural traditions, the clashes and the outcomes. Clare believes in writing 'crossover' which gives a balanced view of today's Christians living closely alongside convinced secularists and diversities of beliefs.

She has 3 grown children, no grandkids, 3 cats and a long-suffering husband, was born a Londoner, studied in Newcastle, and now lives in Oxford. To escape the compulsion of writing, she is also a painter, likes gardening, spending time with friends (& retail therapy), and helps organise her church walking and Exploring Spirituality groups. She is passionate to try and put across, in fictional form, the essence of the real lives of believers - often messy and confused, but always predicated on the hope we have in Christ, whatever our circumstances.