10-09-2012 09:14 AM - edited 10-09-2012 09:16 AM
Q&A w/Mary Sharratt
Those of you who are long time members will remember Mary from 2010, when we featured her novel “Daughter’s of the Witching Hill”. She has a brand new novel out today titled “Illuminations”. And I’m pleased to announce that “Illuminations” will be our featured read in August 2013.
Debbie - Mary Welcome back to the forum.
Will you tell us a little about the new novel “Illuminations”?
Mary - Illuminations reveals the dramatic story of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) who was offered to the Church at the age of eight, walled up in an anchorage, and yet who triumphed against impossible odds to become the greatest voice of her age—a Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau. Guided by her revelations of the divine, she was truly a visionary in every sense of the word. Her courage and strength of character continue to inspire people of many diverse faith backgrounds.
873 years after her death, she was finally canonized in May, 2012. On October 7, 2012, she will be elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact. Presently there are only thirty-three Doctors of the Church, and only three are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).
During her own life time, Hildegard was the subject of much controversy. She and her nuns were the subject of an interdict, or collective excommunication, which was lifted only shortly before her death. She nearly died an outcast, a plight hauntingly similar to that of the modern day sisters and nuns of the Leadership Council of Women Religious.
What is it that draws you to write historical fiction?
When I first started writing, I wanted to avoid the painfully autobiographical first novel, so I set my fiction in the distant past. As Margaret Atwood has said, fiction writing is an escape for the writer as well as the reader! And I also wanted my fiction to serve a higher purpose—to write women back into history. My aim is to take women from the margins of history and set them center stage.
Are you still living in Pendle, England?
Yes, I still live in the beautiful Pendle region.
Can you tell us a little about life in a small English village?
I actually live in a post-industrial town of around 10,000 people. In its hey day, it had over 20 working cotton mills. This is very typical of East Lancashire—gritty, post industrial towns surrounded by beautiful countryside. My horse actually lives in a more idyllic and village like setting than I do!
Still I live on the edge of town, overlooking the fields and Pendle Hill. On an average day I see more horses, sheep, and cows than people.
Is it permanent?
Time will tell!
Do you write full time?
For the moment, I do. I also teach creative writing.
Those who aren’t FaceBook friends probably don’t know about Boo.
Will you tell us about Boo?
Miss Boo, aka Boushka, aka Queen Boudicca, is a Welsh mare, very beautiful, very loving, and very opinionated about any number of subjects including plastic bags, gentleman horses, and the joys of impersonating the Welsh Dragon while galloping up the woods. She acquired me over four years ago and is thus far pleased with me. We’ve had a lot of fun together. Two years ago we did the Mary Towneley Loop, a long distance bridleway ride of 50 miles which we completed in three days. The bridleways took us over lots of old pack horse trails in the West Pennines. I go to the stable yard every day to take care of her. It’s very Downtown Abbey. The horses are the lords and ladies while we humans are their faithful, hardworking servants.
Can you tell us what’s next for you?
I’m working on a new novel, The Dark Lady’s Masque, which explores the life of Aemilia Bassano Lanier (1569–1645) who was reportedly the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The highly cultured daughter of an Italian court musician, she was also an accomplished poet and the first English woman to publish a collection of poetry under her own name.
Let’s get a bit personal.
If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be?
This winter I’m traveling to Sri Lanka which has long intrigued me. I love exploring cultural settings which are very different from our Western world.
Mary, thank you for chatting with us.
And I’m so excited that you’ll be touring the US for the novel, and that there is a Barnes & Noble location included.
For a full tour schedule click here.
Congratulations and good luck on your novel.
My Review of "Illuminaitons"
From the time she was a very small girl Hildegard saw visions and those visions sealed her fate when at the age of eight her mother tithed her to the church. She along with Jutta von Sponheim a very devout yet troubled young woman who wished to be an anchorite were taken to the Monastery at Disibondenberg where they were entombed in two small rooms adjacent to the Monastery. There they were to spend the rest of their lives in prayer, contemplation and worship. Hildegard never stopped having visions and never stopped thirsting for the knowledge that was granted to her during her years of imprisonment. Eventually she would be freed from her confinement and with the help of some influential and powerful allies, her visions and God, would go on to become a power in her own right.
If there’s one thing I can count on from Mary Sharratt it’s to give me a powerful female protagonist whether she’s fictional or factual. In this case the very factual and just canonized in May of this year, St. Hildegard of Bingen is a commanding, dominant figure in a history that tends to forget the contributions made by women. And thanks to Mary’s imaginative and authentic way of telling a story this brilliant, holy, humble and sometimes proud woman gets her life chronicled in a way that not only entertained but educated me as I soaked up the fact and the fiction in equal measure. She brought this historical figure to life for me and although she uses terms and some dialogue of the time it was never hard for me to get the jest and I loved googling the terms I didn’t know and learning even more in the bargain. It’s especially timely to have this novel out now when Hildegard just became a saint and just became an official Doctor of the Church. So come journey through time with Hildegard as she grows from terrified child, to sibyl, to Nun, to composer, to physician, to abbess, learn the hardships and the joys of her life and times, broaden your own horizons and enjoy it while you do.
Mary to you I say thank you for this wonderful adventure and I can’t wait for my next journey through your eyes, your words and your wisdom.
10-09-2012 01:46 PM - edited 10-09-2012 01:46 PM
Just named in PW's pick of best books of the week, YAY Mary
10-13-2012 05:25 PM
Well, I was just peeking at some of the threads in this forum, Deb, after having posted in the Hank Phillipi Ryan thread for her book, The Other Woman, and I happened to see Illuminations mentioned. Think I just read about that on one of Barnes and Noble's e-mails which tell about the best new books of the week. I'm a big fan of Hildegard of Bingen, so when I saw that Illuminations is about her, of course my interest was piqued. I've never read any of Mary Sharratt's books before, but I'm certainly looking forward to reading this one now! And, isn't that a beautiful cover?
10-13-2012 05:26 PM
P.S. nice work on the interview, Deb. I tried to fit that in on the previous post, but the gnomes must have been at it again-- couldn't get my cursor to move past the title of Illuminations that was next to the book cover.
10-14-2012 09:41 AM
I really enjoyed Mary's last book Daughter's of the Witching Hill and this one was equally fabulous and a lot less terrifying than the witch trials. I love Mary's works and how she showcases women of history.
Thank you again for your kind comments
10-14-2012 11:58 AM
Deb and Mary,
I have started this book and am totally enjoying it. I have known of Hildegard for many years and have seen her pictures with her golden orbs on various occasions. If reading history were only as enjoyable as reading your novels....oh well. As we well learned in 2010, the accuracy of your research adds much enjoyment to the reading of your novels, and I know will add great depth to the meaning and depth of "Illuminations". Thank you for your dedication and love for your craft
Deb, GREAT interview!!!!