Saturday, August 3, 2013

Interview with Author Mary Sharratt whose novel Illuminations is our August monthly featured read

  • ISBN-13: 9780547567846
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/9/2012
  • Pages: 288

Starting Monday we'll begin the August featured read I hope you'll join us as Mary is a delightful guest author and will floor you with her incredible historical knowledge.

The reading schedule is as follows:

Reading Schedule:
Week One August 5-11 Chapters1-5
Week Two August 12-18 Chapters 6-10
Week Three August 19-25 Chapters 11-end

Mary welcome back to The Reading Frenzy. (I interviewed Mary when Illuminations was released in October of 2012, you can read the interview here which included my review of Illuminations)
I’m excited to be hosting the month long discussion of your latest novel Illuminations.
Thank you, Debbie! I’m so excited to be here!

You write historical fiction that features strong women protagonists.
Can you tell us why?
A lot of popular historical fiction is focused on so called “marquee names,” such as Anne Boleyn, and other famous figures in European royalty, but I do something completely different. I write historical fiction to give voice to the voiceless, to tell the story of the common people, especially the women who have been glossed over, ignored, and relegated to the shadows and margins. My goal as a writer is “Writing Women Back into History.” I want to bring women out of the shadows and into the light, making them come alive in my fiction.

There were strong women all through history—I don’t actually have to make any of that up—but many of their stories have been lost or buried. Take Hildegard von Bingen. She was lost to obscurity for many years and it was even believed she wasn’t the author of her own work, that some anonymous monk had written it all while pretending to be a woman! It was actually two nuns at the Saint Hildegard Abbey in Germany, Marianna Schrader and Adelgundis Führkötter, OSB, who in 1956 published a carefully documented study that proved the authenticity of Hildegard’s authorship. Their research provides the foundation of all subsequent Hildegard scholarship. The point is, we really have to work to reclaim these stories.

In my fiction my aim is to transform this kind of heady academic research into something accessible and captivating for readers who might not pick up a big nonfiction history book. Many of the Hildegard materials are very dense and difficult. So hopefully my novel is a more accessible entrance point that will lead people to go on and look at the historical sources.

How long does it take you from first word on paper/screen to final edits finished?
 That varies a lot from book to book. My first novel, Summit Avenue, took me ten years to complete, probably because I was still learning my craft. Daughters of the Witching Hill took just over two years because the Pendle Witches’ story literally unfolded in my back yard and the local library had all the sources on hand that I needed for my research.

What’s your favorite part about writing a novel?
When the story and characters come so alive that the story is spinning in my head even when I’m not writing. I’ll be on a walk and ideas and dialogue will come, so I have to run back to write everything down. I love it when everything is in flow like that. Sometimes I also dream my characters and scenes.

What’s your least favorite part?
Getting angry emails from crazy rightwing religious people who write one star Amazon reviews and who warn me that I’m going to burn in hell.

Mary you call yourself an American ex-pat living in Pendle England.
If you moved today what would be your fondest memory of your life there?
Riding my horse through the bluebell wood. Nothing is more beautiful than the forest when it’s full of bluebells that cover the ground like a carpet. Spring is so lovely here. My Welsh mare is very fond of lambs, also, and very concerned if a baby lamb can’t find its mother. She’ll go to the lamb and give it a gentle snuffle.

Living there led to the writing of your last novel (which we discussed on my B&N forum) Daughter’s of The Witching Hill.
How did this happen?
When I first moved to the Pendle region in Lancashire, Northern England, I didn’t know anything about the Pendle Witches, but I saw images of witches everywhere. At first I thought they were folkloric figures, but when I learned they were real people—traditional village healers who were put to death in the frenzy of a witch craze—I knew I had to tell their story. A lot had already been written about them, both fiction and nonfiction, but never from their point of view. I wanted to put them into their correct historical context as cunning folk and wise women. I felt a particularly strong attachment to the “ringleader” of the so-called witches, a woman named Elizabeth Southerns, alias Old Demdike, who had worked all her life as a cunning woman before anyone dared to stop her or stand in her way. Too often the Pendle Witches are reduced to Halloween ghouls which is so unjust. They were real people and they suffered horribly on account of other people’s ignorance. It was really important for me to tell Mother Demdike’s story in first person, to give her back her voice.

Mary, during our last chat you mentioned you were working on a novel about Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of his sonnets.
How is that coming along?
It’s coming along beautifully. I’ve especially been enjoying the research on Aemilia Bassano Lanier’s life and work. This spring I went on a research tour which took me to Venice and Bassano, Italy, which is breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, I also went to Stratford upon Avon and toured the New Globe Theatre and Museum in London. They’ve build a reproduction of Shakespeare’s original Globe. 

Is there a projected release date?
Probably Fall 2015.

You also mentioned that you’d be traveling to Sri Lanka in the winter.
Can you tell us about that trip?
I actually went this past winter, over Christmas/New Year 2012/2013. It’s a gorgeous country with many ancient and beautiful temple sites, both Hindu and Buddhist, and the people were very welcoming and lovely. They have everything: mountains, beaches, cities, nature reserves, even an elephant orphanage. We spent time in a tea plantation in the highlands and then a few days at a yoga retreat. Sri Lanka has had a long civil war but now there’s peace. I hope this peace will continue so that the people there can grow their economy and experience the prosperity they deserve.

Mary, who that you’ve written about would you most like to have met in real life?
I would love to meet Hildegard. I’m such a fan girl. I would sit at her feet and listen to her all day! And listen to her and her sisters sing.

Thanks for answering these questions.
We’ll see you for the conversation starting August 5th!

Connect with Mary - Webite 

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