This week's featured HNS speaker is Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations.
What got you first interested in historical fiction?
When I started writing in the late 1980's, the dominant literary genre seemed to be minimalist fiction with a strong autobiographical, self-referential, confessional slant--ie the Raymond Carver school of writing that was dominating the MFA programs at that time. While I deeply admire Carver's work, that's not the kind of thing I wanted to write. So I decided to write historical fiction as a way of completely circumventing autobiographical angst. Writing historical fiction provided a delicious escape into another world, an alternate reality. It's as much a voyage of discovery for the writer as it is for the reader.
My novels all set women center stage. Some of my protagonists are famous figures such as Hildegard von Bingen while others explore the hidden lives of more obscure figures, such as the Pendle Witches of 1612.
To a large extent, women have been written out of history. Their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, we historical novelists must act as detectives, studying the sparse clues that have been handed down to us. To create engaging and nuanced portraits of women in history, we must learn to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. Historical fiction can play a crucial role in writing women back into history and challenging our misperceptions about women in the past.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
In recent years, historical fiction has completely transcended the constraints of genre and has now entered the literary mainstream, big time, with heavy-hitters such as double-Booker-Prize-winning author, Hilary Mantel, who has completely re-invented the Tudor novel. We've come a long way from the days of bodice-rippers with lurid covers.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2012 hardcover, Mariner October 2013 paperback) is my heartfelt homage to one of the most extraordinary women of the High Middle Ages: the Benedictine abbess, composer, physician, polymath and powerfrau, Hildegard von Bingen, who was recently elevated to Doctor of the Church. Her story arc is incredible. Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was literally bricked in to an anchorage where she was expected to live out her days in silence and submission. And yet she triumphed against impossible odds to become the greatest voice of her age. She founded two abbeys, went on four preaching tours, composed an entire body of sacred music completely unlike anything written before or since, and wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, cosmology, botany, and human sexuality. She was truly a visionary in every sense of the word.
For more information about Mary's books, please visit her website at: http://www.marysharratt.com/
For more information about the HNS conference, please visit: http://hns-conference.org/