Marian, thank you so much for inviting me to talk about some of my favorite things. Since my new book A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 The Monastery Murders, has a dual release date, coming out June 1 in the UK and in Sept. In the US, let’s talk about mysteries now and food in Sept. Maybe we can have a tea party in my garden to celebrate the US release. Everyone invited!
You asked me about my choice of the ecclesiastical thriller genre. Good question. And one that takes some soul-searching. First off, I guess it’s as easy as “write what you love.” My years of devouring Ellis Peters, G. K. Chesterton, Susan Howatch, Kate Charles, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Phil Rickman, P. D. James’ DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS, and of course, THE NAME OF THE ROSE all had a great influence on shaping my story.
But more basic than that is my love of England. And who knows how that grew in a little girl raised on a farm in Idaho? (A former rodeo queen, even. Runner-up for Miss Rodeo America about a hundred years ago.) Again, the answer is probably reading. Jane Austen at the top of the list. Almost all of my 30-some previous novels have had English backgrounds. And then I moved over to the mystery genre: Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham. . .
And then my own personal journey. I suspect most, if not all, writers of ecclesiastical thrillers or clerical mysteries are religious or have a church background to some extent. I can’t imagine getting the details right without that. But my own spiritual life was leaving me starved. So in 2001 I embarked on a pilgrimage to 17 sacred places in England, Scotland and Wales. I actually took one of the first planes to leave Boise after 9/11 which certainly gave an added edge to the whole journey. I’ll have to say that that experience was transforming, taking me, as the English would say, “up the candle.” I wrote a pilgrimage book which my hardworking agent at that time toiled for a year to sell. We came within a whisker, but no cigar. Well, there’s more than one way to tell a story and thrillers are much more fun reading.
A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE uses the life of St. Cuthbert as background and Antony and Felicity to go many of the places I visited on pilgrimage. St. Cuthbert’s multiple burials and the treasure amassed around them seemed a natural for a mystery. I like stories I don’t have to do too much inventing for and this is one.
Oh, and then I should mention my daughter’s journey. Guess what— Elizabeth was a classics major who hated teaching Latin in London and went to a monastery in Yorkshire to study theology. Fortunately, her favorite monks are all still alive and well and she isn’t quite as rash and headstrong as Felicity, but the many times I enjoyed with her and her now-husband who was an ordinand, not a history lecturer, gave me all the background details I needed.
Oh, yes, and please, everybody, go to my website and take a look at my just-released trailer.
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Thanks, Donna! I look forward to hosting you on Fatal Foodies, and to reading your latest book. 🙂