Mary Sharratt Talks Book Groups

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I'm excited to welcome Mary Sharratt, author of Daughters of the Witching Hill, to On the Bookcase! In her fourth novel, Mary explores motherhood, history, woman’s place in society, class, poverty. The Publishers Weekly starred review reports Mary novel is "uplifting in its portrayal of women who persevere, and mothers and daughters who forgive.” Perfect topics for reading groups!

Today, Mary chats about book groups, passion for literature, writers and readers!

Why Book Groups Matter

We live in an age of increasing apathy to books and the written word. People are so busy, so distracted, and attention spans are running short.

But reading groups shine through this fog like a beacon. In these troubled times, they are true champions of literature and literacy. Book clubs don’t just discuss books—they inspire a genuine passion for reading.

Alas, I must hang my head in shame and confess that I am not the book group maven I long to be. Mostly geography gets in my way. An American expat, I live in the beautiful Pendle region of Lancashire in Northern England. This wild brooding landscape inspired my new novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, which draws on the true story of a family caught up in the Pendle Witch Hunt of 1612.

The downside of being so close to nature and such dramatic history is that I live like a hermit in this rural area. On an average day I see more sheep and horses than people. Most of my audience is in North America, an ocean away, which makes even speaker phone visits to book groups a challenge. 

Still I yearn to make that connection to readers however I can. For a hermit like me, going on book tour—both a traditional city to city tour and a virtual blog tour—is essential. I simply have to connect with my readers, face to face or online. A writer is not a writer without her readers.

Readers are the reason we write, the reason we get up in the morning and sit for hours in front of our computer screen.

For the publication of Daughters of the Witching Hill, even I, the hermit, am getting into action. I have just returned from the Virginia Festival of the Book where I had the good fortune to join Barbara Drummond Mead’s panel, Reading Group Choices: Great Discussable Books. It was such an honour to share the podium with such stellar authors as Laura Brodie, Sheila Curran, and Masha Hamilton. Barbara was the perfect moderator, her passion for books setting the stage for a great discussion. Our audience was amazing and utterly attentive. I think we spent at least twenty minutes chatting with people and signing books after the panel had finished.

In April I’ll be heading off to Gunflint Lodge in Northern Minnesota for the Books in the Woods reading retreat, one of the few places where one can be a secluded hermit and a book group maven at the same time. At Books in the Woods, I’ll be leading a discussion on Louise Erdrich’s masterpiece, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. As a writer, you learn a great deal about your craft from discussing the work of master writers such as Erdrich.

An astute author can learn as much from book groups as from professional editors and critics. My good friend, the brilliant novelist Sandra Gulland, gives a draft of her latest novel to her book group and lets them rip it apart for her so that she can learn from their insights before she puts in the final revisions.

While I don’t have a home circle book group to critique my drafts as Sandra does, I can say that for me, the writing process does not come full circle until I have that dialogue with my readers and listen to their experience of reading my novel. Only when this happens do I feel my book has “hit home.”

Once, at a reading in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a woman presented me with an exquisite piece of origami work and invited me to unfold the sumptuous crimson paper. This creation was an invitation to join their book group discussion of my first novel, Summit Avenue. The origami artist had taken such care, using quotes from my novel, and designing the piece so that it opened like a heart. Reader feedback rarely gets better than this.

Please visit her website  

Mary is a Reading Group Choices Alumna -- appearing on two Reading Group Choices VABOOK panels. The recent one two weeks ago and one in 2008 with her novel, The Vanishing Point! I hope Mary will come back soon to VABOOK with her new novel -- right now a work in progress, Know the Ways. This historical fiction is based on Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Benedictine abbess and polymath who was born in an age of deep-seated misogyny and offered by her parents as a tithe to the church at the age of seven, triumphed to become the greatest voice of her age.

Go Mary and Go Hildegard -- can't wait!

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Thank you, Barbara! :)

Thank you, Barbara! :)