Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 43 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 13 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/
You can follow her on Facebook at: http://ning.it/OHi0MY
“Mom, who’s your favorite author?” My son recently asked.
Without a second’s thought I replied, “Jane Austen.”
In the silence that followed he blinked. “Wow.” Then he added, “That’s really cool. You’re so definite.”
Yup, that’s it. My great literary love affair. Long before Colin Firth in a wet shirt, long before the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, long before I heart Darcy bookbags. There was just Jane Austen and me.
So it’s really rather surprising that A Jane Austen Encounter is number three in my Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series where each book features a favorite author for my literature professor sleuths to solve their crime around. Perhaps I was just working up to Jane. And I don’t suppose she would mind being preceded by William Shakespeare and Dorothy L Sayers.
Besides getting to spend more time with Jane, one of the best parts of writing A Jane Austen Encounter was doing the background research. One of my primary goals as a writer is to give my readers a “you are there” experience. I want my readers to see, hear and feel what my viewpoint characters are experiencing. In order to do that, I have to experience it first.
Of course, for A Jane Austen Encounter that meant following the Jane Austen trail, visiting all the homes where Jane lived. The Jane Austen House in Chawton is a museum of worldwide renown. To Janeites, it’s actually more of a shrine. Several of her lodgings in Bath are available to view from the outside and the Jane Austen Centre, just a few doors down from where the Austen women lodged after the death of Jane’s father, does an excellent job of recreating the atmosphere of her time. Finally, the little house where Jane died stands just outside the close of Winchester Cathedral, a few minutes’ walk from her grave.
All those evocative scenes are readily available— at least from the exterior— but the elegant country estate of Godmersham in Kent, which Jane’s brother Edward inherited after being adopted by the wealthy and childless Knight family, is privately owned, well secluded on private land. How was I to visit the great house where Jane spent so much time, usually assisting at the birth of one of her 13 nieces or nephews born there, and which had such an influence on her writing about the great houses that feature in her novels?
It took considerable internet sleuthing to uncover an e-mail address for the present owner— but that’s all right— I write detective fiction, after all. And eventually I received a telephone call from the estate manager. The date was set, my personal tour arranged.
I knew the broad outline of my plot— a requirement before undertaking an on-site research trip. But the real payoff for the book, besides being able to make my setting absolutely authentic, was the plot points suggested by unexpected encounters my tour revealed.
Rather than starting with the great house itself, Mr. Ellis, my guide, took me first to the little folly on the hillside which Jane records having visited. The view was spectacular looking out over the North Downs Way which medieval pilgrims would have walked enroute to Canterbury Cathedral.
Then we drove along a crunchy gravel road to the church at the back of the estate— still an active parish church. So active that the decorations from a recent wedding still adorned the interior. Hmmm, I made a note to ponder the possibilities.
And next door to the church, a small museum with momentos of the Austen family. Surely an excellent place to find hidden clues?
Locking the doors behind us, my guide gave me a map to the property and left me to explore the grounds on my own. I walked through the extensive park, seeing it through the eyes of Elizabeth and Richard as they, in turn, relive Jane walking there: The lime tree avenue, another temple, this one offering long vistas to the house. . .
And then I encounter the charming statue of a young cricketer, abandoning his bat for an absorbing book. Enter the cricketers into my story.
Energetic young boys who would surely want to cool off in the swimming pool after a rousing match. And picnic in the gardens.
Finally, to the house itself— now used as a dental college— but old photos show what the library was like in former days and provide another clue for the wary.
As do such intriguing features as a curving iron stairway and high dormer windows speaking of hidden rooms behind.
And you’ll want to end your visit as I did— and as Elizabeth and Richard do— with a cup of tea in the nearby “chocolate box” village of Chilham where the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma was filmed.
But to tell more would be to tell too much. Far better to make the visit yourself with Elizabeth and Richard and their cricketer companions. Join Elizabeth and Richard in A Jane Austen Encounter. Http://j.mp/RGkbn0 Visit all the sites so redolent of Jane and her characters in the beautiful city of Bath, stay in the Chawton House Library and visit the charming cottage where Jane’s writing flowered and the nearby Steventon church where her father was rector and her own faith established, stand by her grave in Winchester Cathedral, and enjoy your time at the lovely country estate of Godmersham Park. But don’t let your guard down. Evil lurks even in the genteel world of Jane Austen.
You could win either a print or electronic copy of
A Jane Austen Encounter by Donna Fletcher Crow!
The two winning names will be drawn on the
evening of Friday, July 11th. Leave a comment below
including your preference of print or electronic.
Print copy—residents of the US