MOMENTS OF INSPIRATION – David Penny

This week we go back in time as Crime Cymru’s David Penny tells us of the inspiration he found when writing his soon to be published Tudor era crime novel – The Hidden Dead

MOMENTS OF INSPIRATION

This is about accidental inspiration, but also the idea of inspiration itself. As writers, we need inspiration in what we do. Inspiration can become that first germ of an idea; one that we examine, turning it over, getting a taste of whether it can grow into a whole story or an entire book. Sometimes that is how inspiration strikes. Other times it takes a different form.

I my latest book, which is due early 2023 (please don’t hold me to exactly when, I am in the hands of others) I knew it would centre around the mis-burial of bodies in the graves of strangers. Set in 1502 this involves the Church to a great extent. A confident Church that has no idea what lies shortly in its future. I actually wrote the first draft without my moment of inspiration, but knew the book needed something else. In fact, what it needed was maybe a couple of something elses.

The first, and biggest inspiration, came when a writer friend of mine posted about a visit he made to the church of St Michael’s in Garway. It is a small hamlet set barely on the English side of the border with Wales in South Herefordshire. He spoke of its links to the Templars, and the oddness of the church itself. His words piqued my interest, so a month later I acted on them.

I drove to Garway because I’m a firm believer in walking the ground I intend to write about. By doing this all manner of revelations emerge. From discovering you can hear a conversation from a mile away across a valley, to standing in St Michael’s churchyard and discovering how it is almost entirely embraced by the hills of the Herefordshire/Wales borderlands.

The church is small, and different to how it was when it was one of the final redoubts of the Templars. However, if you know where to look, you can still see the foundations of the old round tower which was based on the temple in Jerusalem. Inside, other wonders await.

The church is small, barely sixty paces from entrance door to altar, but the space packs in a surfeit of wonders. You are greeted by a Moorish arch. Strange symbols are carved into the walls, both inside and out. The simple altar consists of a solid rectangle of stone which should no longer exist. Carved into its top are five Templar crosses. The stone itself was laid upside down in the church floor to avoid confiscation during the Reformation. Only recently was it dug out and returned to its rightful place.

All this is to say that my visit to Garway resulted in one of the major story threads I was missing. And missing it was, because once I knew what it was, stitching it into the plot took barely any time at all. It was almost as if I knew in advance something was going to fit in those slow sections.

The second inspiration came when I was looking for a father for one of my characters. The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross was that inspiration. I have known of the battle, but not its details. Only when a re-read my research and discovered that one of the secondary characters in my series, Sir Richard Croft, fought in that battle. The troops on the Yorkist side were headed by Edward of March, which allowed me to fill in the second gap in my narrative.

Below is a small excerpt from The Hidden Dead which describes Thomas Berrington’s first encounter with St Michael’s Church.

* * *
The door of the church was unlocked, as expected. What lay within was not.

Thomas stopped in his tracks. Amal’s hand came out and found his. “It is a little like Spain,” she said.

Thomas nodded. Ahead of them, a brick arch separated the church from the nave. It could have been taken from the palace of Alhambra. Thomas had arches like it in his own house, which were considered strange, yet here one stood in a small church in the borderlands between England and Wales. All thanks to the Templars. Thomas had listened to the talk and accepted that those Soldiers of God had once lived and worshipped here, but only now did he feel what it must have been like when they did. These were men who had spent much of their lives away from the land of their birth. Men who had gone to distant lands to fight. Men like Prior Bernard. Men like Haylewith and Madoc. Thomas too had travelled to strange lands, but not to fight for his God or any God. Their belief would have made them different to him. Harsh men, perhaps, with harsh belief.


David Penny is the author of the Thomas Berrington Historical Mysteries set in the chaotic final years of Moorish al-Andalus in Spain, and Unit-13 a WWII Spy Thriller Series. He started writing again after a lapse of almost 40 years. After being traditionally published in his 20’s with four science fiction novels, he chose to publish independently on his return to writing. David’s work is available in eBook, print and audio, as well as a translation into Spanish and German.

Visit David’s Amazon page or Website.