Saturday, September 21, 2013

Travelling with Ghosts, Mysteries, and Murders

I'm taking a little time off from 19th century Victorian architecture and furnishings to write about a recent trip to Europe, but be advised that even a trip back into history has an effect on my thoughts about past, present, and plots. Sixteen of us went on a tour to England, Wales, and Scotland sponsored by a local bank. It was a whirlwind tour, with 7 to 8-hour plane rides included in the ten-day schedule. One day we had breakfast in Wales, lunch in England, and dinner in Scotland. Whew! The pace was a killer.

My favorite day, of course, was our visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, seeing all the Shakespeare sites that I've taught about for so many years. The most impressive was Anne Hathaway's cottage with its extensive flower gardens. Trinity Church, where
Shakespeare was baptized and buried, was steeped in timelessness, more ancient than I could have imagined. What a stately and appropriate setting for the resting place of the genius of the ages. 

Other sites  we visited included Stonehenge; Edinburgh, with its Harry Potter architecture; Ruthin Castle in Wales; York, with its cobblestone walks and medieval city walls; Gretna Green, (where I looked for Wickham and Lydia); the Welsh countryside, the Cotswolds, and the Lake District (I think God must live there); and, of course, London.
The Lake District

And, despite all of these amazing places and people, my favorite night of the trip remains the evening spent in London with a former student and his partner, Emmanuelle. Rick Kellum, one of my students from the 80's, is just on the cusp of becoming a published author.
We had so much fun thinking about what's coming for him. I don't exaggerate when I say it was a magical night at a charming French restaurant--wonderful food and great conversation--along the Thames River with the London skyline lit up in the background. This is a special memory tucked away forever.

I also noticed that my thinking about places has changed. As I experienced the UK, I saw mysteries, thrillers, and ghost stories lurking everywhere. The
history of these countries is filled with darkness, violence, executions, ghosts, "Out damn spot!", brooding on the moors, and murders for power. This is a good sign. I've begun to think about what could happen in real life that might become part of my writing.

At Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, is a military installation--lots of barbed wire, military equipment, and signs that say "Keep Out." [Mind: What could be
lurking behind those closed walls? Military secrets? Plots? And could they connect with a murder at Stonehenge with lots of blood on one of the bluestones?]

In Scotland,Edinburgh Castle is one of the first places where we were told that ghosts walk. I imagine, since many of the sites we saw went back to 1000 A.D., that ghosts are more plentiful there than in our upstart, 350-year-old U.S. history.

Ruthin Castle, Wales

We were told that a particular ghost walks the passages at Ruthin Castle in Wales where we spent a night. Built in 1277, this castle dates back to the time of King Arthur and also has a part in the Robin Hood legend. It was owned by King Edward I, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Charles I. An officer in Charles I's army had an affair with a village girl and his wife found out and killed the hapless wench with an axe. Because of that crime of passion, the murderess's body was not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. Now she roams the castle battlements and is known as the grey lady. Needless to say, I did not get up in the middle of the night to get a glass of milk from the castle's refrig. [Note to self: could lead to a great plot where the tragedy is repeated in the present.]

While we were in London, the Queen was unexpectedly visted by a thief who managed to get
past Buckingham Palace's security. Because of her Jubilee, the Queen's apartments had an unusual display of royal jewels. The intruder was caught, but not before my imagination considered some thriller scenarios [Think: possible film rights.]

York is a medieval town with cobblestone streets, city walls, and beautiful cathedrals. One of the most impressive is the York Minster (building begun in 1291.) This town has more ghosts per square foot than any town in England. It could certainly become the location for a mystery with modern day ghost hunters or a double plot with the past and present colliding. [Possible future trip as a tax write-off to do research?]

A visit to Oxford and the yard at Christ's Church would not be complete without a pint lifted in honor of Inspectors Morse and Lewis from "Mystery" on PBS. It was a sleepy Sunday when we set foot in Oxford, but
it wasn't hard to imagine Morse's red and black Jaguar driving through the narrow streets with Lewis beside him, quietly tolerating Morse's criticism with a look of pain on his face. [Note to self: chemistry between main characters needs to be clear and can be humorous at times.]

Coming back to the tiny town of Monmouth after seeing all of these old, historical sites makes me think about the role of setting and history on a plot. My fictional, little town of Endurance is modeled after Monmouth, which, coincidently, was the name of a town in England where a diminutive ship called the Mayflower set sail to start a new adventure.

It's time to rest up a bit after that intense road/air trip, but while I get my sleep straightened around, my mind is continuing to sort through all those interesting possibilities for my writing.

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