Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Walk Through Wales

I have wanted to write about Wales for years— from the very beginnings with the birth of David, Wales' patron saint, in the sixth century, through the Roman occupation and on into the early 20th century to today. Since my Monastery Murders are contemporary stories that require my characters to search through a lot of history in order to solve crimes both ancient and modern, it seems the time has finally come to tell those stories.

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 the occasional abduction and finding murdered bodies, you understand.

In An Unholy Communion (working title, who knows what the final will be?) Felicity and Antony are leading an ecumenical youth walk along an ancient Medieval pilgrimage route in southern Wales when what should have been an idyllic ramble with no more than the occasional blister to contend with turns very nasty, indeed. Time to pack my bags.

I was extremely fortunate because my writer friend Dolores Gordon-Smith,
whose Jack Haldean mysteries I highly recommend ( agreed to be my driver and research assistant.

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 at Llantarnam Abbey,
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 Rhondda.

Undaunted, 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?


  1. Ooooh you must have had so much fun! I hope to visit Wales again one day.

    Did you go to Hay-on-Wye where all the book shops are?

    Enjoy writing your new book.

  2. You seem to have had a great time, Donna - and what beautiful photos!
    Thanks for sharing

  3. I love Wales! The manuscript I am currently shopping is set there. I haven't named the valley but the inspiration came from Llantony Abbey in the east. I had a wonderful time researching!

    Someone writing on WW2 needs to set something at Dale--right on the Pembrokeshire coastal trail where there was an American airbase. Not far from St. David's.

    I can't wait to read your book!

  4. Lovely photos. Research, what a wonderful excuse to travel and get the tax man to help pay for it. Good luck with the book.

  5. Oops, Alice, I've been rumbled! I'm never quite sure whether my desire to go someplace or my "inspiration" to set a book there comes first.
    Ruth Ann, We have been to hay-on-Wye, but not this trip. We were there one Christmas when my husband was buying books for our church library. 2001, I think, when they were having terrible floods.
    LeAnne, I do open your find a publisher! Let me do a review when the time comes.
    Thank you all for letting me share.

  6. This post went up right after Blogger was down and I think our Feedblitz link failed to pick it up. Hope some of you get to see it anyway. Wales was lovely.

  7. Looks gorgeous, Donna. My dream is to visit the British Isles some day. My ancestry is Irish.