Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Interview with Mary Sharratt

Last year I read Mary Sharratt's exceptional novel, Illuminations. Set in 12th century Germany, it's a stunning, devastating, and mesmerizing account of Hildegard von Bingen, one of the Catholic Church's most dynamic visionaries. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Sharratt, so read on to learn more about her book, her writing, and what she does when she's not writing.  Be sure to enter the international giveaway to win a copy!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

As a very young child I wrote stories about horses and my best friend and the adventures we had together. I one of the more memorable plots, there was only one horse to ride so my poor friend was stuck riding a cow and hanging on to its horns!

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I love to shut out the world for a few hours, play classical music, switch off the phone and email, and just be with my manuscript. Pure bliss!

Was Illuminations the original title of your book?

Yes, Illuminations was the original title because I think it works on so many levels. There were the illuminations made under Hildegard’s artistic directions during her own lifetime to illustrate her profound visions. Then there’s the actual divine illumination she experienced during her visions. She referred to God as the Living Light.

For me as an author, writing about Hildegard has been a deep process of inner illumination, as I followed her journey from utter darkness and subjugation as a child anchorite to the blinding light of her visionary experiences and the light she gave to the world as a healer, composer, theologian, reformer, and polymath. She opened up an illuminating path that continues to inspire people from all spiritual and religious traditions, especially women.

As you were writing Illuminations, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

The very complex bond Hildegard shared with her protégée and right-hand woman Richardis von Stade and with Richardis’s very powerful and wealthy mother surprised me. Without these women’s support, we might not be talking about Hildegard today.

According to your bio, you lived for twelve years in Germany. How did place influence this book?

Hildegard has long been a cultural icon in Germany and not just for religious people, but for feminists, medievalists, natural health enthusiasts, and lovers of ancient music. Her influence runs there runs deep. Naturopathic doctors practice “Hildegard Medicine” based on her healing principles and there are even Hildegard cookbooks. While teaching in Austria at a school run by Ursuline nuns, I worked under a headmistress named Sister Hildegard who was as broadminded and intelligent as her saintly namesake.

While writing the book, I revisited all the Hildegard sites around Bingen and Disibodenberg. Just being in that lush, green, fertile landscape brings Hildegard’s vision of Viriditas, of the sacred greening power manifest in the natural world, to vivid life.

The nuns at St. Hildegard’s Abbey keep her traditions alive today.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I love to travel and to ride my beautiful Welsh mare who has many strong opinions about all kinds of things.

Read any good books recently?

I just started Nancy Bilyeau’s marvelous book, The Crown, about a Dominican nun in Tudor England.

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I'm thrilled to offer one paperback copy of Illuminations to a lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 11/1.

Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour for more opportunities to win a copy!


  1. I read ILLUMINATIONS last year, too, and I, too, rated it highly.

    ILLUMINATIONS is based on documented fact, but it is not a biography. Here, Hildegard's story is told as a novel. In so doing, Sharratt interjects Hildegard's thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader's interest more than a biography would. For readers like me, that makes this book more readable, and that is why I rate the book so highly.

    Like all good novels that are based on fact, ILLUMINATIONS will have you needing to know exactly what really happened and what is fiction. Sharratt talks about this in the "Afterward," which I thought should have begun the book rather than ended it.

    I wondered most about Hildegard's special relationship with Sister Richardis. So I did some digging, searching the Internet. And that made me want to learn even more, and that made me want to search Netflix. Sure enough, they have a couple DVDs about Hildegard.

  2. Thank you Audra and Mary for this engaging interview. I too have recently read ILLUMINATIONS and I’ ll put this simply: I loved it.

    It was a spellbinding chronicle of the life of the German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath Hildegard von Bingen. I adored the subject matter, the story line, the characterizations, the settings, the writing, the pacing, the scenes: everything.

    I highly recommend this novel. It is my wish for the world to read it. Compelled, I nearly read it in one sitting, only exhausted eyes and that fact it was 4:00 am forced me to put it down. I even played hooky from my own novel project the next day to finish it. Don't miss this read!

    All the Best ~ Stephanie Renee dos Santos

  3. I'm so appreciative that this is open to all. Thanks for sharing and for a wonderful interview.