Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Telling Their Stories by Donna Fletcher Crow

“What drives you?” a particularly perceptive reader once asked me.

“The story,” I replied after a moment of thought. “I want to tell my characters’ stories.” This is especially true when working with historical characterssuch as those that form the background of A Darkly Hidden Truth. I’m driven— I’ll use the word— to tell their story.

We can learn so much from people of faith from the past. They have fought, suffered, endured to pass the faith on to us. We need to know and appreciate what they have done.

In A Darkly Hidden Truth I tell the stories of two remarkable women that I have long wanted to share with my readers. Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe were both mystical medieval women writers and their life spans crossed— they actually met in an event Margery records— but they lived far different lives, had far different personalities and wrote in vastly different styles.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) became the first woman to write a book in English when she wrote an account of the 16 mystical “showings” she experienced of the love of God.

After her amazing showings Julian lived a life of quiet contemplation as an anchoress in a single room attached to a church in Norwich, going nowhere and seeing only her servant and those who came to her worldside window for counseling— Margery being one of those seekers. Margery travelled the world, going on pilgrimages as far afield as the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostelo.

Julian wrote her Revelations of Divine Love, speaking only of her visions and of the love of God for his creatures. She divulges no details of her personal life— we don’t even know her name. We call her Julian because that was the dedication of her church. We know how she would have lived because she lived by The Ancrene Rule which set out rules for anchoresses. That left me free as a novelist to imagine a life for her prior to her visions which she experienced at the age of 30. Had she been married? Had she taken vows as a nun? No one knows, but I had great fun entering into “what might have been.”

Margery Kempe (1373-1440) “wrote” the first autobiography in English, although she was illiterate, by dictating it. Unlike Julian, Margery tells all. Even of the joyous sex life she shared with her husband. (They had 14 children.) She tells of her period of madness after the birth of her first child. She tells of her spiritual struggles with earthly vanity. She tells of her shrieking and bouts of uncontrollable weeping that made one group of pilgrims abandon her so that she had to cross the Alps in a blizzard with only an aged priest as companion.

And yet both women tell of the love of God, of the goodness of life. They speak of joy and beauty in the midst of unbelievable suffering. They tell stories I could never invent in my wildest fantasy. And it’s all true. And it’s all ours because two women centuries ago put their unique experiences on paper. And now I have the privilege of telling their stories alongside the adventures of my fictional Felicity and Antony in A Darkly Hidden Truth:

A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in Donna's clerical mystery series The Monastery Murders. She also writes the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. To read more about these books and to see book videos for A Darkly Hidden Truth and for A Very Private Grave, Monastery Murders 1, as well as pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to:

No comments: