Holy wells are a key feature in The Sacred 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 Sacred 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.
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 Sacred 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.
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?
They sat in comfortable silence, watching the sky catch fire when the sun approached the sea. Clouds swirled in a mewling pink, then flamed in hot scarlet, before melting into creamsicle orange. The water mirrored the blaze in breathless closure of the night. When the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a gibbous moon and stars claimed the sky. Scant light pierced the darkness. The seaside seemed so placid, yet it was twisted with trauma.
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
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
Remy’s career as a historical movie set designer depended upon details. Minutia matters in period-piece film. An inaccurate costume, a misdated theatrical prop, or a misassigned vintage wallpaper ruined a day’s take at a prohibitive cost to a production company. That attention to detail now served her well. She imagined the island’s cave as a movie set.
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
Eww! Disgusting imagery that creates an emotional lasso cinching you to our victim. You can’t help but feel inconsolable grief for a person who has been nibbled upon by sea beasties.
Having a character killed at sea required me to immerse myself in research on water forensics. It is an unnerving and repulsive read, to say the least. I am not a CSI fan but the need to be accurate when describing my poor victim pushed me forward. I learned the biology of drowning, decomposition in freshwater v. seawater, the effects of cold ocean vs. tropical seas upon a corpse, and the nasty business of putrefaction and scavenging creatures.
I read enough on these topics to write the above passage and later observations made by the coroner before embracing this unbendable lesson: Never be buried at sea.
They shared grim looks. This was an island nation, surrounded by seas, cross-hatched by rivers, lakes, and estuaries. The inconstant water claimed lives. A handful of residents braved the foul weather when the coroner’s van arrived. They hovered on shore, watching men pull out a stretcher. Everyone was used to the sight of Royal National recovery crafts, yet fearful doubt flooded their hearts whenever a lifeboat appeared. Was it a spouse, a child, or a neighbor? Had they survived? Or had they slipped away beyond the caress of the endless surf?
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
Living smack-dab in the middle of a massive country, I was oblivious to the profound presence of water in an island nation. Driving across the UK, I found myself waterlogged by estuaries, trout-filled streams, calm canals, squidgy beaches, and the surrounding restless seas. Wherever there is water, there is the danger of drowning. My research took me to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a volunteer network of forty thousand courageous souls who jump in lifeboats at a moment's notice, saving countless lives and educating generations about water safety. The RNLI rescues twenty-two people every day. As they say, "ordinary people doing extraordinary things." The cost of their brave service has been the loss of more than six hundred volunteer lives since the institution's inception in 1824. Its long-standing commitment to water safety is stunning and worthy of our applause. Grab your tissues and read some of the witty, wry, and wise personal accounts of Royal Nationals from their online magazine.
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Remy Lane Mystery series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.