Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Joys of Serendipitous Research

My father always told me, “You never learn anything you don’t use sometime.”

Just like most of the things my father taught me, I have found this to be true—especially when it comes to research for my novels. Because I live in the western US and set most of my novels in England, and because I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited, research looms large in my writing life. And because I’m always working on a tight schedule I’m very focused in my research.

I always set out knowing what I need to know and where I hope to find it. At least, I always “think” I know what I need to know—and how it will fit into my story. When something unexpected turns up—someone answers a question I didn’t ask, or suggests I go someplace I hadn’t planned to go—I used to dismiss that “extraneous” information.

Until at least the third or fourth time I was back in my office writing and discovered that that superfluous material was just what I needed—if only I could remember it, since I had failed to write it down.

I had an example of this when my husband and I visited the Royal Pavilion in Brighton as background for the novel I’m currently writing—A Lethal Spectre, book 5 in my Victorian true crime series Lord Danvers Investigates—I was enchanted to encounter a Regency dance group rehearsing to perform a program for an event later that night. But they were Regency, a whole generation earlier than the 1857 setting for my story. It was charming, but I needn’t take notes.

But wait, this was something I could report to the JaneAusten Society of North America newsletter. I sought out a pavilion official and got permission to take pictures—in spite of the prohibition against photography. 

Although I submitted the article to JASNA News, it was never published. A few days ago, however, when I needed to place my Victorian characters at a ball in the Royal Pavilion, I had my pictures to refer to for accurate details—adjusting for the changes in dance and dress fashion, of course.

You can see the results when A Lethal Spectre is published early next year, but in the meantime, my latest release is the all-new edition of ATincture of Murder, book 4 in Lord Danvers Investigates:

A devastating fire at Danvers’s ancestral home induces Charles to accept his brother Frederick’s plea for help with his work among fallen women and impoverished orphans in York. Charles soon finds himself struggling to identify a ruthless murderer while Antonia helps feed the women and children living in the asylum Frederick runs. The trial of notorious poisoner William Dove leads to surprising discoveries and sets legal precedent still followed today.

Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow. You can see more about all her books on her website.



  1. Oh, Donna! What a wonderful thing to have experienced in the Marine Pavilion - surely one of the most fascinating buildings in the world! I visited in 2015, and only wish I could have been privy to the dancers - and the opportunity to take photos (I'm a little green with envy). Because I am so intrigued by the building I used it as part of my setting in my recent Regency The Dishonourable Miss DeLancey. Thanks for sharing this - and the encouragement of serendipitous research :)

  2. Oooh, another Regency writer! How wonderful! I'll look for your book. I've used the Pavilion twice--first time in Where Love Calls--#6 in my Where there is Love series on the Evangelical Anglicans--that book set at the end of the 19th century. As I mentioned above, the book I'm currently using it in is mid-Victorian. I have yet to use it in a Regency where I suppose it really belongs.