I am just so excited that Ms. Sharratt has taken time to write an essay for my Book Club Exchange feature where she discusses the importance of book clubs and readers. Even though she finds that she isn't able to meet with her fans in person very often, she still realizes how valuable they are to her writing!
A Hermit’s Guide to Book GroupsBook clubs are such a blessing to authors. In this digital age of apathy, distraction, and short attention spans, book groups are champions of the written word. They just don’t talk about 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.
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.”
My most moving experience as a writer to date happened because of a book club.
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.
For the publication of my fourth novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, even I, the hermit, am getting into action. For a few weeks, I shall say goodbye to my beloved horse and board a plane for the Virginia Festival of the Book where I’ll be joining the fabulous Barbara Drummond Mead’s Book Group Choices discussion panel. A bit later 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 of the Miracles at Little No Horse. As a writer, you learn a great deal about your craft from discussing the work of stellar writers such as Erdrich.
And so it begins. Book groups have cast their spell on this hermit.
Giveaway alert: I have a copy of DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL to give to one reader. All you have to do is leave a comment (with a valid email address) telling me why you want to read this book. The giveaway will be open until Wednesday, May 5th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with a U.S. or Canada mailing address. Good luck!
Mary Sharratt is the author of the critically acclaimed novels SUMMIT AVENUE, THE REAL MINERVA, and THE VANISHING POINT. She is an American writer who lives in Lancashire, England, literally on the spot where the Pendle witch hunt unfolded. All the major characters and events portrayed in the novel are drawn from court clerk Thomas Potts's account of the 1612 Lancashire witch trials, in which seven women and two men were hanged as witches.
A huge thanks to Ms. Sharratt for sharing some of her thoughts about book clubs. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.