Is Hildegard von Bingen your first novel about a real historical person? Why did you choose her?
Actually my first novel about real historical people was Daughters of the Witching Hill (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010), which is based on the heartbreaking and true story of the Pendle Witches of 1612. But Hildegard is much more famous than the Pendle Witches.
I first became fascinated with Hildegard while I was living in Germany where she is revered as a cultural icon, admired by both secular people and spiritual people of all backgrounds for her ethereal music, her vision of Viriditas (the sacred vitality and life force manifest in the green, growing natural world), and her system of holistic medicine that is still practiced in modern day Germany.
Each of your books takes place in different time periods and locations (1612 England, 1100 Germany, Colonial Maryland, 1923 Midwest). How do you decide the time period and theme of your books?
I find a story or a character that grabs me and then immerse myself in their historical time period and their world. This inevitably involves lots of research, and lots of time to acquaint myself with their society and worldview.
Do you travel to the locations of your books? If so what is your favorite place? If not, where would you like to travel?
I do try to travel to the locations of all my books when possible. For me, setting and place are as important as character and plot, because setting plays a major role in shaping the characters and influencing their actions and choices. Contrast the rich green fertile world of Hildegard’s Rhineland with its forests and rolling hills and vineyards to the stark, windswept East Pennine moors of the Pendle Witches.
It’s hard to say which place is my favorite. I enjoyed researching all my books. The Pendle Witches story unfolded almost literally in my backyard so I could walk or ride my horse to all the sites mentioned in the novel, except for Lancaster Castle, which involved driving in my car.
I absolutely loved visiting the Hildegard sites along the Rhine. The Benedictine sisters at the Saint Hildegard Abbey in Eibingen have done so much to keep Hildegard’s legacy and teachings alive. Also visiting the ruined monastery of Disibodenberg, where Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed as anchorites, was a very haunting experience.
Is there any other historical person that you wish someone would write about?
I always thought it would be fun to write a medieval Eat, Pray, Love novel about the die-hard pilgrim, aspiring mystic, and failed business woman, Margery Kempe.
What are you working on next?
My current work-in-progress, The Dark Lady’s Masque, explores the star-crossed love of Aemilia Bassano Lanier and William Shakespeare. The daughter of an Italian court musician, Lanier is believed to be the musical Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She is also the first English woman to publish a volume of poetry under her own name.
Oh that sounds very exciting, looking forward to reading that one.
Thank you very much for your time.
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
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I am thrilled to offer a copy of this book to one lucky reader. This is open internationally.