Friday, October 18, 2013

Interview with Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Mary Sharratt to our little corner of the net to discuss her latest release, Illuminations.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Mary and thank you for stopping by. First off, where did you find this story and why did you feel it needed to be told?
I lived for many years in Germany where Hildegard has long been revered as a cultural icon, admired by both spiritual people of all backgrounds and completely secular people. 

It actually took me quite some time to summon up the courage to write about such a great, multifaceted woman—I was so in awe of Hildegard, I didn’t even know where to begin. I also felt intimidated to be writing about such a religious figure. 

But in the end, I decided her story was too important not to tell. She came from such inauspicious beginnings, given as a child to a life of absolute silence and submission, and yet she triumphed against all odds to become the greatest voice of her age. I find her life and work as relevant today as it was in the 12th century. Though she was literally walled into a house of darkness and pain, she burst free to build a house of light, a house that has room for us all. 

What about this woman appealed you as an author?
Hildegard’s story arc is so incredible: offered to monastic life at the age of eight and then, at the age of 42, finally breaking her silence to speak and write of the luminous visions she had kept secret all her life. Then, in midlife, she went on to achieve so much. A 21st century person would be fortunate to achieve what Hildegard did—founding two monasteries, writing nine books, composing 77 sacred songs and one liturgical drama, going on four preaching tours—but for a 12th century woman, this was an unheard of achievement. 

What is your favorite scene in the novel?
When Hildegard and her sisters finally break free of their confining life in the anchorage and Hildegard can walk in her beloved forest again with her friend Volmar to witness her reverence and joy to be reunited with the glory of the natural world.

What scene was the most difficult for you as an author?
The scenes where eight-year-old Hildegard was walled into the anchorage with the disturbed fourteen-year-old Jutta von Sponheim. 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character you wish you could have spent more time with?
In the original manuscript I submitted to my editor, I had a whole long elaborate subplot about Maximus, the runaway monk and apostate who sought shelter with Hildegard and her sisters at Rupertsberg, but the subplot was a bit unwieldly and needed to be edited out. I was sad to have to “kill” Maximus’s story. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I’d sit down with Hildegard any day. Out of all the historical characters I’ve written about, she is certainly the wisest!

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope my readers come away with a closer familiarity with Hildegard and her life and work which are so relevant for our own times. I believe modern woman can glean much from Hildegard’s visions of the Feminine Divine and how she created a special space for spiritual women of all traditions. Both men and women can be deeply inspired by her vision of Viriditas, the sacred life force and vitality manifest in the green growing natural world. We need to safeguard our beautiful green planet. 

Do you see yourself in any of your characters and is there one of them you wish you were more like? 
I share Hildegard’s dogged stubbornness, but I wish I had more of her wisdom, vision, and incredible courage. 

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
My new novel-in-progress, THE DARK LADY’S MASQUE, is based on the story of Aemilia Bassano Lanier, daughter of an Italian court musician who played in the courts of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. An accomplished poet in her own right, Lanier is also believed to be the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In my novel, I explore her star-crossed love with Shakespeare, her fellow poet. 

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About the Author: The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year. For more information, please visit Mary’s website and blog.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Book: Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.

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Check out all the stops on Mary Sharratt's Illuminations virtual book Tour

Monday, October 14
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, October 15
Review at Plum Creek Peddler
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, October 16
Review at Bitches with Books
Thursday, October 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria
Friday, October 18
Review at Bloggin’ ’bout Books
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, October 21
Review at Book of Secrets
Tuesday, October 22
Review at The Most Happy Reader
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, October 23
Review at Books, Belles and Beaux
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, October 24
Review at Just One More Chapter
Guest Post at Books, Belles and Beaux
Friday, October 25
Interview & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, October 29
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Guest Post & Giveaway at Enchanted by Josephine
Wednesday, October 30
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, November 1
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Monday, November 4
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, November 5
Review at The True Book Addict
Interview at Erika Mailman Blog
Wednesday, November 6
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Guest Post & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Thursday, November 7
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Friday, November 8
Review at History and Women
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, November 11
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review & Giveaway at Closed the Cover
Tuesday, November 12
Review & Giveaway at vvb32 Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, November 13
Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Thursday, November 14
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Feature & Giveaway at Book-alicious Mama
Friday, November 15
Review at Books in the Burbs

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