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My Reading and Writing Affair With Sharon Kay Penman

As I hurried into the library for my assigned period at Glendale High School, my friend, fellow reader and the librarian where I taught English hailed me. Well, perhaps ‘hailed’ is not the right word for a library setting, but Lynne rushed over to tell me about a new book she thought I’d enjoy.

She had it in her hand just waiting for my arrival and passed it over. With my briefcase and extra textbooks, I had no extra hands, but dropped my load on the table and reached for the thick tome.

“The Sunne in Splendour. Wow! It’s heavy. And the title has ‘interesting’ spelling.”

“Never mind that. You will love this book.” Lynne nodded her head and I could see she was serious.

A couple of weeks later I caught Lynne again. As she had every day for the past week, she looked at me as though I had something of hers and she wanted it back. Sure enough, I opened my briefcase and handed her the book. I tried to keep a straight face but I couldn’t hold in my excitement.

“Yes! It’s fabulous!”

From then on, Lynne and I shared our love for this author’s work. I had enjoyed Penman’s first book so much, I promptly bought the hard cover to add to my burgeoning book collection at home and she kept me current on when Penman’s next book might be coming out.

A few of my SKP books on my ‘favorites’ shelf.

Fast forward to my leaving my teaching career, trying out pottery, quilt making, painting and other such creative joys until the day my son asked me, “Mom, is there anything you wish you had done in your life?”

“Write a novel,” I said. I surprised even myself and have told that story in its entirety many times from the podium since then. A week after that scene with my son, I was on a holiday in Hilton Head, SC and went into the local Borders store. I bought How to Write and Sell Your First Novel”  and devoured it. During the weeks following I found my topic, got into a writing schedule, and The Loyalist’s Wife was born.

It took me six years. I had so much to learn. I decided the Loyalists deserved a trilogy and had started the second book before the first one was out. Somewhere along the way, I found the Historical Novel Society. Can you imagine? Here was a magazine that gathered together all of the historical novels coming out??? Of course, I joined.

When I decided to attend the HNS conference in Denver a major part of the reason was that Sharon Kay Penman would be there. I had to go! Many workshops caught my eye but the one I simply had to attend was given by Sharon. I can’t remember now just what her topic was but it didn’t matter. If she was speaking I was going to be there.

In fact, I was so anxious to get a good seat I was there at least 20 minutes ahead of time. All by myself. Yes, I was outside the right room. Almost alone except for the facilitator who also was waiting in the hall until the room might be open.

Oh my gosh. Is that? Could it be? Yes, it was. Sharon Kay Penman came to stand beside me and lean against the table, waiting as I was. Well, we had 15 minutes alone, talking about writing, about related topics–she told me she, too, had looked at the American Revolutionary War but there wasn’t enough material for her to write her kind of book. (Hers are about 900 pages and FULL of interesting historic detail. Mine are about 330 pages and lean a little more heavily on the fiction part of historical fiction.)

After the workshop I waited my turn to talk to Sharon again. She agreed to a photo together and in her own way made me feel as though it was the highlight of her day. I’ve treasured that picture and used it in other ways before this post, not because I look particularly good but because Sharon was and is Sharon and I got to have that special time with her. I hope some of her rubbed off as she put her arm around me and I clasped her tiny person.

This past weekend one of my heroes left us. We are all bereft. Certainly those who, like me, had the chance to share in her glow, no matter for a long or short time, or those who missed out entirely. Whether we know it or not, Sharon Kay Penman was a writing icon for her time and for all times to come.

Check out her website. You will feel you’ve made contact with her kind and gentle personality and you will want to know more. Read her books. You will see her search for deep and hidden history and her love/hate relationship with her characters. You will see a shining star.

Because of Sharon, thousands and thousands have followed her path and have read more happily, have written more knowledgeably, and–dare I say it?–have lived more kindly.

Requiescat in pace, dear lady.


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