Wishing Wells Revisited
Holy wells are a key feature in The Sheltering Stones. There were once thousands of these sacred sites throughout the U.K. The natural springs were contained by stone structures built by pagans who believed that water had healing powers. Their steadfast popularity led the early Roman Church to embrace the watery temples, attributing the shrines to Christian saints in their drive to convert pagans. If that didn’t work, the sites were destroyed. This habit harkens back to Sterling Rosemont’s observation: What the Church couldn’t explain, it buried.
Most holy wells are small and subject to neglect, making an accurate count sketchy at best. It is often easier to spot the accompanying cloutie tree decked with cloth tokens and trinkets left by travelers who still hope for a touch of magic to heal the wounds they’ve gathered in life.
Inspiration for The Sheltering Stones sprung from a medieval holy well I visited while in Cornwall. The Dupath Well (as in Dean Dickie Dupath, one of our four seminarians) features a fascinating and unusually large structure over the sacred pool. This pre-Christian shrine still exists on a working farm. It captures the magic and mysticism embraced by Celts, Picts, and Romans seeking cures from holy water.
Lost & Found
They abandoned the pasture and trekked into the bordering woodland. Rays of light pierced the dense canopy, illuminating white-barked trees, and casting elongated shadows. The poplar forest was ancient. The air, laden with a primal atmosphere. Songbirds fell silent as if holding their breath in the timeless vignette. The intruders grew pensive, and their earlier frivolity fled back to the sunny meadow.
Excerpt from The Sheltering Stones
I stepped into this jaw-dropping scene when traveling through Wales. We were quite lost – something that frequently happens when I travel. I drove along narrow rural roads bound by 9’ tall hedgerows with rare sightings of cottages, no signage, and inadequate GPS. Stumbling into the village of Nevern, we crossed a humpback stone bridge and parked beside a church. My daughter needed to recalibrate our GPS. I needed to calm my nerves. After admiring a meandering stream and a flock of chubby sheep, I walked past the churchyard’s stone wall. Such walls always make me wonder what is on the other side. This time my curiosity led us into a 10th century kirk. Tangled vines gusseted crumbling headstones. The forgotten names of the dead illuminated by translucent rays of light that barely scaled the surrounding walls. An avenue of 700-year-old yew trees cast spidery branches across the canopy, blotting out the sky and aging the air itself. And, yes, the birds were silent. We grew pensive. Ambling through the cemetery we discovered the ancient stones decorated with 5th century Latin script and Irish Ogham carvings. Then we admired a finely carved 10th century cross with chiseled knotwork, ringwork, and elaborate geometric patterns. There was no need for GPS in that timeless vignette.
Ironic that we stumbled upon this hallowed ground quite by accident. I can only recommend that everyone gets lost in their travels.
Sightings and Symbols
Like so many others, I kick off the New Year with a list of goals: the resolutions. I prefer “intentions.” (A bit more leeway there, don’t you think?) I opened up last year’s file and discovered that I had forgotten my 2022 intentions. A year later, I was way off the mark. I felt incredibly disappointed in myself. My intentions are usually accomplished each year or at least much closer to accomplishment. Somehow, I lost my way this past year along with those goals.
Feeling defeated and unable to think of any new intentions, I stared outside. To my amazement, a mature hawk stared back at me. The hefty predator was patrolling my backyard in search of a morning snack. It was shocking on two levels. First, I’ve never seen a hawk in the backyard. We’ve lots of small birds that are fed seed daily but not the big hunters. Second, he was walking on the ground. I’ve only see hawks soaring across the sky, perched on telephone poles, or silhouetted on a weather-beaten farm fence which can sometimes still be found in the countryside; not strutting across a clipped lawn. Distrusting my vision, I stepped outside and approached the bird. The hawk didn’t fly off – just stared back at me, certain of his strength. His deadpan stare, spooky. His size, formidable. I wisely retreated and spent the next hour watching him scour our backyard for breakfast. Fortunately, he didn't find the rabbit who often visits.
I hopped online, asking what such a sighting means. The psychics were all over that question: When you have a close hawk sighting, it's a sign from the spirit realm that you are ready to take on a larger, more powerful expansion and vision of your world. The hawk symbolizes a need to start looking forward, envisioning your path ahead, and perhaps preparing for a greater role in life. What an amazing portent, delivered to me just when I was grappling with this year’s intentions. I happen to be on the cusp of retirement from a lengthy career and here is this hawk telling me to look forward! Envision my future path! Prepare for a greater life role!
Oh, do stop rolling your eyes. Like my protagonist, Remy Lane, I don’t need the stars or psychics to tell me when to stop or when to go. I do very well living on my own, thank you very much. But I sure as hell am not going to ignore the universe when it slaps me in the face.
Envision my Future Path
Prepare for a Greater Role in Life
What are your New Year’s resolutions?
The Madness of Murder
Paul tossed aside the rusted hot plate. Useless. “Sir, it’s madness to think anyone who knew Evie would kill her.”
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
This is the madness of murder. When I first wrote this passage, I was channeling Agatha Christie’s marvelous Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot, as portrayed by David Suchet for twenty-five years on PBS television’s Masterpiece Mystery series.
I found tremendous pleasure during my travels to the U.K. but none as magnificent as when I visited the Greenway Estate and stood where David Suchet posed before the cameras for the series' episode entitled, "Dead Man's Folly." You’ll find bits of Poirot surfacing in DCI Tremaine’s kindness, humility, and integrity—all essential qualities which offset the darkness that both detectives face in their work.
The victim may be one of the good God’s saints or - on the contrary - a monster of infamy. It moves me not. The fact is the same. A life—taken! I say it always—I do not approve of murder.
Hercule Poirot, Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
What's in a Name?
Barrington Bay has such lovely alliteration, doesn’t it? The name is a tribute to the fine composer Barrington Pheloung who crafted music for the tightly written and beautifully photographed Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavor television series inspired by the works of Colin Dexter. You can listen to the haunting theme from Inspector Morse while viewing some of the noteworthy Oxford spires in this video.
I spent an entire day wandering about Oxford with my daughter. We fell madly in love with the city’s stunning architecture, the intoxicating air of education, and the Bodleian Libraries which house over eleven million printed texts. (No surprise there – I work in education and my daughter is a librarian.) We quickly realized that we could spend the rest of our lives exploring this one city. No wonder Dexter never left the site until his death in 2017 and, even then, he was just able to capture a better view of his beloved home from above. Speaking of leaving things behind…
It had taken him years to realize he had to let the failures of his history rest to build a new life.
Excerpt from The Stars Prevail
Who can’t relate to this statement made by DI Tremaine? The past too often chains us with bitterness, an old anger invariably leading to regret. Laughter helps, but it is ultimately about just letting go. It’s done. Over. Keep your eyes on the possibilities rising before you. Let tomorrow lead you to a happier life. If you freely drift out to sea, you’ll find Barrington Bay.
The theft of antiquarian books from libraries for black-market sale is a crime which prompted murder in my first two novels. The idea was launched by a few articles I had read about Marino Massimo De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini Library (Italy) who was accused of stealing thousands of rare books, including 15th and 16th century tomes penned by the founders of astronomy. Turns out that theft from libraries—a cultural heritage crime—is all too common.
A library’s rare books, illustrations, and maps are most often snatched for profit, feeding the growing black market for cultural relics. The greatest problem is that while most curated items are one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable historical gems, there are limited protections in place. Few libraries have funds for high-end security systems, relying instead upon manual checkouts, turnstiles, and—most recently—electronic tag detectors. How do you guard a collection that can be browsed by anybody? Once upon a time, books were chained to the wall. With the production of more books, chains became unmanageable. In the Middle Ages, the weapon of choice against potential book thieves was a curse. Such harm-filled magical spells included the threat of being struck by palsy, suffering eternal damnation, or—my favorite—having all your members blasted. Ouch!
Who are the most common library book thieves? Employees. Insider theft happens regularly because it takes little planning beyond the common sense of not taking what is highly popular. Unpopular items are rarely missed or reported. Janitors might tuck a book into their mop buckets, but only a librarian can remove the card catalog record, a trail documenting an item's existence. The whistle might still be blown, of course, if the item has been used by a researcher, creating another trail when used in citations. Honest book buyers and vested librarians often spot and report stolen items appearing at auction or in online sales. This is how De Caro was finally tripped up in Italy.
Punishment for the theft and sale of such cultural antiquities is a whole other issue. In 2013, Massimo De Caro was convicted and given a seven-year sentence for embezzlement. He was in prison for only six months and then allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence at his own home. Although his assets were seized and visitation heavily restricted, I’ve read that he dwells in “confined splendor,” awaiting subsequent trials and appeals for looting, conspiracy, and forgery while enjoying the view from his villa. It's no wonder cultural heritage crimes flourish in the modern era.
Canal Boats at Christmastime
Imagine spending your Christmas holiday on a canal boat, floating every so slowly on waterways across the U.K. Fairy lights strung across deck. Swans paddling by. It sounds perfect to me!
Wanting to place one of my novel’s characters on a canal boat led to research about these tranquil vessels that have stood the test of time. Buoyant narrowboats originally served as a transport chain, delivering cargo from coastal ports to retailers across the U.K. Many were drawn along the shallow channels by horses strolling the towpath. Then came steam and diesel engines, putting the mellow beasts out to pasture. You can glimpse a lovely horse named Bilbo Baggins still carrying on the canal boat towpath tradition in the video below:
An extensive railway network eventually led canal boats to a new use: residential digs and holiday lettings. When housing prices peaked, people willingly settled into a spartan lifestyle on the seven-foot wide boats, permanently docked in urban-based canals. Leisure cruising can also be had on these colorful boats, bobbing along the waterways through a series of self-run locks, swing bridges, and low tunnels. Leisure narrowboats offer all the modern amenities while tugging nostalgically on our heartstrings, beckoning us to a slower-paced holiday. While I continue on my own journey to a minimalist lifestyle, I wonder if I could find serenity on a tiny, brightly-painted narrowboat. I’m more than willing to give it a try on my next visit abroad!
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.