Thursday, April 21, 2016

THE DARK LADY'S MASK: An Interview with Mary Sharratt

"Atmospheric, well-researched, carefully plotted, this is an intellectual’s romance novel . . . . full-bodied and intelligent, and, like Shakespeare’s plays, chock-full of equal parts mirth and pith to please all.”

Please join me today in welcoming Mary Sharratt to Books & Benches. Mary will be touring the blogosphere for the next month as she shares posts, interviews, and readers share their thoughts on her latest release, The Dark Lady's Mask.


Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything. 

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book
Genre: Historical Fiction

CLICK HERE to Enjoy an Excerpt from 
The Dark Lady's Mask

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman 
pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, 
who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”
— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

Q&A with Mary Sharratt

What can you tell us about your newest release?
The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse is drawn from the dramatic story of the groundbreaking Renaissance poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanier (also spelled Lanyer). 

The highly cultured daughter of an Italian court musician, Lanier was the first English woman to aspire to a career as a professional poet by actively seeking a circle of eminent female patrons to support her. She may have also been Shakespeare’s mistress and the Dark Lady of his sonnets, which adds to her aura of intrigue.

My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in her essay A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart?  

The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary SharrattIn The Dark Lady’s Mask, I explore what happens when a struggling young Shakespeare meets a struggling young woman poet of equal genius and passion. They strike up a literary bargain. Fleeing plague-ridden London for Italy, they begin secretly writing comedies together and fall in love. 

But their Italian idyll cannot last and their affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for his plays back in London. Years later his published sonnets mock his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

What is your favorite scene in The Dark Lady’s Mask?
Aemilia, dressed in the guise of a young man, steals away to visit the young Earl of Southampton in his house on a moon-drenched Midsummer Night’s Eve. Will Shakespeare is there, too—an impoverished poet desperate for win the Earl’s favor. Aemilia sings and plays the virginals, while Will, both intrigued and bewildered by this accomplished young woman in breeches, seeks to impress the Earl with his epic poem, Venus and Adonis. But the capricious young Earl is more interested in amusing himself by pitting Aemilia and Will against each other. Aemilia and Will are both scalded by his cruelty and find themselves becoming unlikely allies.

Which writers have inspired you?
I adore the work of Louise Erdrich. It’s so masterful the way her writing evokes an entire landscape and a cast of unforgettable, utterly unique characters who live inside you forever. I’ve also fallen in love with Elena Ferrante’s passionate tales of the lives of women and girls in mid-twentieth century Naples.

What story are you working on next, and what inspired it?
My new work-in-progress, Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler, is about another accomplished, creative woman who was overshadowed by the men in her life. Once an aspiring young composer, Alma Schindler was celebrated as the most beautiful girl in Vienna. The great Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight, but it was Mahler’s demand that Alma give up composing as a condition of their marriage that gave rise to her shocking and radical transformation into a woman who insisted on living life on her own terms, her own woman to the last.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre of historical fiction?
My purpose and calling as a historical novelist is to write women back into history. 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. I hope my novels can draw strong, intelligent women like Aemilia Bassano Lanier out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

“Mary Sharratt is a magician. 
This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England 
with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. 
A work of marvelous ingenuity!”
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of  
The Witch of Painted Sorrows

The Author
MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, 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.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Join the Blog Tour
Monday, April 19
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Wednesday, April 20
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Excerpt & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 21
Review at A Book Drunkard
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, April 22
Review & Giveaway at History Undressed

Monday, April 25
Review at Seize the Words: Books in Review

Tuesday, April 26
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, April 27
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Thursday, April 28
Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, April 29
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Saturday, April 30
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, May 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Cynthia Robertson, writer

Tuesday, May 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, May 4
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, May 5
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews

Friday, May 6
Review at Book Nerd

Monday, May 9
Review at A Dream within a Dream

Tuesday, May 10
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Wednesday, May 11
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Thursday, May 12
Review & Giveaway at View from the Birdhouse

Friday, May 13
Review at First Impressions Reviews
Excerpt at Layered Pages

Monday, May 16
Review at A Book Geek

Wednesday, May 18
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, May 19
Review & Giveaway at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Friday, May 20
Review at Broken Teepee

1 comment:

  1. Welcome, Mary, and congratulations on the book. It looks wonderful!