Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Sense of Place

Whether I'm reading or writing, background is one of the most important elements of a novel to me. I suppose it follows then that research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I try never to set a scene anywhere I haven't actually walked.

That way the setting almost becomes a character in the story because I try to develop my settings as carefully as I develop my people. And it certainly drives the plot because I like to let the setting suggest possible events to me.

That's how the lovely city of Oxford functions in my latest Monastery Murder A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. 

It all began in 2000 when our daughter went off to study Classics at Keble College, Oxford. I quickly fell in love with the history and traditions of the city and university when visiting her there, and all these years later was able to use many of her experiences for my heroine Felicity, who, not so coincidentally,  had also read Classics at Keble.

But in A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary Felicity doesn't start at the university. She's off to a convent to do a spot of translating for The Sisters of the Love of God in Fairacres, a suburb of Oxford. So that's where I began my research. The nuns welcomed me to enjoy their garden, worship in their chapel and tour their press. And I managed my time there without ever getting assaulted as Felicity was.

Since the ringing of muffled bells is an important through-line in this story I arranged to have a bell-ringing lesson from the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers— this also accomplished without anyone getting murdered, unlike Felicity's experience

I visited all the sites of Oxford's saints and martyrs which provide the historical background of this book, although I had to dig out my own facts without having Father Antony there to give me one of his vivid lectures.

All-in-all, even though I had a somewhat less exciting time than Felicity and Antony have in Oxford, it was a wonderful experience which I have loved reliving as I developed the plot and my characters at my computer and am thrilled to share with my readers.

What is your favorite place to write or read about?

Who will be the next victim of the murderer stalking the shadows of Oxford's hallowed shrines?

To learn more about Donna's books and see pictures of her research trips, go to her website or follow her on Facebook.


  1. Really interesting article, Donna! It's good to know how you ring the changes....

  2. Donna, I want to go to Oxford now. Thank you for taking us there with this post. I might have to discover how Felicity and Antony got on in the end. Wonderful you got to experience Oxford as a result of your daughter's studies..

  3. What cool pictures, Donna. My husband and I are contemplating heading to England for a trip. You've certainly whet my appetite for Oxford! The mystery series I'm currently working on is my first set in an area I had to tour and it was sooo much fun. I'm thinking the next mystery should drag her off to England. :)

  4. What a super post, Donna. I love the way you gave us a pictorial tour of Oxford coupled with some real tasters of your new book. Now I want to go to Oxford AND read your book!

  5. Donna, great post! I love the photos of Oxford and it sounds like a fascinating setting for Felicity and Antony's next adventure :)

  6. Love the photos! Love England! Book sounds great.

  7. Thank you all so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed visiting Oxford with me--or should I say with Felicity and Antony? Characters that get around a lot--usually being chased by murderers can certainly enliven your life!