I have often said, undoubtedly even on ICFW before, that one of my goals as a writer is to give my readers a "you are there" experience, but that in order to do that I need to be there myself first. Not always so easy when one lives in 21st century Idaho and is writing about 14th century England. This summer, however, offered me two exceptional opportunities for a hands-on Medieval experience.
First, in June, I was invited to speak at two conferences in England— which left a perfect chance to research the sites of my next book in the Monastery Murders series on the spot. For this series my amateur sleuths are required to find clues buried deep in the middle ages to solve contemporary murders. My next book An All-Consuming Fire focuses on the English Mystics Richard Rolle and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, so my husband and I spent a week in Yorkshire visiting places associated with these devout men:
The Beck near Pickering where Richard Rolle first took up the ermitical life:
Pickering church with its marvelous medieval frescoes, "the poor man's Bible" where Rolle encountered his first patron:
Rievaulx Abbey, one of the great monastic centers of the Middle Ages:
Mount Grace, the Carthusian priory where a monk produced a glossed translation of The Cloud of Unknowing in the 15th century:
And Ampleforth Abbey where I was allowed access to two early manuscripts of The Cloud of Unknowing:
I'm still trying to decipher what clues might be hidden in the doodles on the second volume.
All wonderful experiences to be on the spot where these things happened. But still, I was in the 21st century, not the 14th. And then, since our son couldn't get off work, I was invited to join the Society for Creative Anachronism's annual experience of living in the Middle Ages as nanny to our almost-five-year-old grandson so our daughter-in-law could participate with her drama group.
In the persona of Sister Elswyth, a medieval nun, I cooked over an open fire with hand-forged utensils:
Walked the muddy roads to market, observing warriors off to battle:
And seeing how natural fabrics serve as wicks to mud after a rain (surely a nightmare for monks in white Cistercian robes):
Watched archers practice:
Joined in a Fool's Parade:
And experienced being there:
And now I get to have the fun of reliving it all as I translate my experiences through Felicity and Antony as they struggle to catch a murderer before their Christmastide wedding.
A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary, set in Oxford with the Oxford Martyrs, John Wesley's Holy Club and the Oxford Movement as background of Felicity and Antony's adventures. To see all of Donna's books and photos from her research trips go to her website.