Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mary Sharratt

An American author living on the Silver Coast of Portugal, Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. She is the author of Revelations and seven previous critically acclaimed novels, including Daughters of the Witching Hill, the Nautilus Award–winning Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, and Ecstasy, about the life, loves, and music of Alma Mahler.

My Q&A with Sharratt:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My title Revelations was drawn directly from Julian of Norwich’s luminous masterpiece, Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman. Revelations also ties in thematically with my 2012 novel, Illuminations, about Hildegard of Bingen, another great medieval female visionary. In many ways, Revelations is a companion book to Illuminations; I wanted to have similar titles to connect the two books. Finally, the title evokes Margery Kempe’s mission to secretly carry Julian’s controversial manuscript, Revelations of Divine Love, with her on her pilgrimage through Europe and the Near East.

What's in a name?

In writing biographical fiction drawn from real historical characters, you don’t get to make up names. Margery Kempe, nee Brunham, was a real person. Julian of Norwich was also a historical figure, but more mysterious. We don’t know what her actual birthname was. As an anchoress bricked into a cell built on to the back of Saint Julian’s church in Norwich, she took the name of the church as her own. That’s how humble and self-effacing she was.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Quite shocked, actually. As a teenager, I was intent on destroying the patriarchy and all patriarchal religion. As an adult, I’m intrigued how mystical and visionary women of all faith traditions have subverted institutional patriarchal religion from within. Julian of Norwich called God Mother and devoted her life to writing about the Motherhood of God. Similarly, Hildegard of Bingen wrote about her visions of the Feminine Divine. This isn’t a modern feminist interpretation. It’s there in the original texts.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are the hardest for me. I often write and rewrite a beginning for weeks or even months until a strong sense of the protagonist emerges. I really need to “hear” the protagonist’s voice before the narrative gets rolling. The ending grows organically from all that has come before it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Margery Kempe certainly feels like a world apart, very quirky and eccentric and courageous in ways that I am not. When accused of heresy, where a guilty verdict would have seen her burn at the stake, she regaled the Archbishop of York with the story of a defecating bear and a priest. She also had fourteen children, something I can’t even begin to fathom. But as a married woman in the 15th century, she didn’t have much choice in the matter. I do, however, identify with her wanderlust. At the age of forty, she left a soul-destroying marriage to wander the world as a pilgrim, traveling to Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and later to Danzig (modern day Gdansk, Poland) and various pilgrimage sites in Germany. She preserved her adventures for posterity in The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in the English language.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I love medieval sacred music and constantly listened to recordings of medieval polyphony while writing this book. I like to give my every novel its own soundtrack.
Visit Mary Sharratt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Revelations.

--Marshal Zeringue