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.