When Daughters of Witching Hill landed on my doorstep my first reaction was, “eh, witches, old-timey England, this isn’t my thing. I should pass it on to LeAnn, I bet she’d dig witches.” But since Mary Sharratt is an ex-pat Minnesotan now living in England I picked it up to investigate. When I read the inside flap about how Bess, the main character relies on the Catholic folk magic of her youth to heal people I thought, “hrm, Ben would probably dig this too.” Then this line from the author bio on the back cover grabbed my brain and hasn’t let it go: “Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.” And like magic my snotty, preconceived notions were gone and I was all “hell yes, gimme some witches in old-timey England.”
This is just a long way to say don’t be surprised if you see a few reviews of this book popping up on MN Reads. In the meantime you get Mary’s answers to our six questions, and if you’re even the least bit curious, you should go check out one of her readings. She’s going to be all over town this week starting with the Barnes & Noble at the Galleria in Edina tonight at 7 p.m. and then hitting the UofM Bookstore, Magus Books, Micawber’s, and Valley Bookseller (details for all the readings below).
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I just finished Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, a novel about an early 1900s feminist who, in midlife, leaves her family and comfortable existence behind to forge a daring and scandalous new life with her lover and soul mate, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In giving up everything to follow her heart, she also discovers herself.
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Who?
I wouldn't use the word “crush” but I've felt a strong affinity for historical characters that moved me to write about them. My new novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, had its genesis when I was reading A Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, the official transcripts of the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, and I came across this description of one of the accused, Elizabeth Southerns, aka Old Demdike:
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.
Once I'd read this passage, I fell in love and realized I would have to write a book about this woman. I was amazed at how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her.
If your favorite author came to Minnesota, who would it be and what bar would you take him/her to?
Since I'm a Minnesota expat living in Lancashire, England, I'm going to turn this question around. If my favorite Minnesota author, Louise Erdrich, came to visit me in Lancashire, I would take her to the Inn at Whitewell, a lovely, quaint place with a history going back to the 1300s. Located in idyllic countryside in the Forest of Bowland, the inn is owned by the Queen, yet very laid back, with old hunting prints, open fires, dogs, and hikers in their hiking boots. In summer if you sit out on the terrace you can gaze out across the River Hodder and see the cows grazing on the other side.
What was your first favorite book?
One of my grade school teachers used to read the whole class a chapter of Franklyn E. Meyer's Me and Caleb every week. Like the rest of the class, I was completely mesmerized. Teachers can really inspire children to love books.
Let’s say Fahrenheit 451 comes to life, which book would you become in order to save it from annihilation?
Grimms' Fairy Tales. Like the novel Fahrenheit 451, traditional fairy tales can be very dark, but they also show the way through the darkness and back into the light.
What is one book you haven’t read but want to read before you die?
The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser.
Mary Sharratt Events
7 p.m. Today, April 13, Barnes & Noble Galleria 3225 W. 69th Street Edina
4 p.m. Wed, April 14, University of Minnesota Bookstore, 300 Washington Ave. S.E. Minneapolis
6 p.m. Thurs, April 15, Magus Books, 1309 4th Street Southeast Minneapolis
7 p.m. Fri, April 16, Micawber’s Books, 2238 Carter Ave Saint Paul
2 p.m. Sat, April 17, Valley Bookseller, 217 Main St N Stillwater