Godspeed, Sharon Kay Penman

Good day to all and welcome back after a few days’ busy-ness break. I’ve been catching up on what’s going on in the world and one thing I learned last week was that the wonderful author Sharon Kay Penman has passed away. This news wasn’t entirely shocking, as I knew she had been unwell for some time, but it signaled a finality of something wonderful in our world.

The Sunne in Splendour, 30-year anniversary edition (UK) – re-edited and featuring a new author’s note

I didn’t have quite the history with Sharon (as her fans refer to her) as I did with another author who passed away a few years ago; I didn’t grow up reading her books or know a long list of facts about her life. Still, when I did “discover” her in roughly around 2012, she welcomed me into the fold all the same. I found her to be accessible; she interacted with her readers and carried on conversations, told stories about ongoing issues with her computer that seemed to have a mind of its own. She wasn’t a faraway figure aloft from the ordinary, and the way she related to others and they her illustrated what could be magical about social media.

As I recall, stumbling upon Sharon’s work came by way of a recommendation. I’d recently been reading and studying about Richard III, a medieval king I’d not been terribly interested in up until then. The long and the short: I’d known of him and his basic history, but a casual conversation piqued my curiosity, and I grabbed a book to read. The author’s bias and conclusion didn’t sit well with me, so I studied more and in time came to understand that I was a Ricardian.

At around the same time I started to play around with social media and a new acquaintance turned me on to The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon’s wonderfully massive novel about this most maligned king. One thing I recall most vividly about her presentation is how it so easily formed pictures in my mind: I could see even the most subtle measures, such as Richard looking at his brother without moving his head, or hems bustling in the breeze. Sharon brings Richard and his world to life in a manner that provides details and history, but resists the antiseptic. You feel as if you are there. This meant so much to me because even though I’d been fascinated with the Middle Ages since early childhood, I’d not been reading up on it so much at that time, so Sharon did a sort of double duty with bringing me into the fold. She brought me back.

Justin de Quincy Mysteries, Book 1

I read a quote once, who knows when, in which Sharon acknowledges that she got a bit burned out in writing about medieval times; this is how she began to pen mysteries. This truly resonated with me, but also provided a bit of solace, silly as that may sound, because there had been times when I felt almost guilty for wanting to escape the Middle Ages, if only for a short while, read or think about something else. I suppose I had been stuck in the mindset that dictates a passion can only be so if you rarely, or never, venture away from it. Actually, that’s the silly part!—and I can thank Sharon Penman for helping me to concede this reality. Very nice as well, that I love a good mystery, so her choice of writing direction opens up another pathway for me. Indeed, I say opens, as I have not yet read any of these, though I do have copies of The Queen’s Man and Cruel as the Grave. As is the case with so many other readers, I hope to make this the year I finally am able to devour them.

If you are new to Sharon or haven’t read anything by her before, I can’t urge you strongly enough to check out her works. I’ve found she has a marvelous website, complete with links to favorite blogs, research, writer and website recommendations and a lot more, including her wonderful mea culpa re: a time-traveling gray squirrel et al. There are, of course, many others who are more acquainted than I with Sharon and her work, readers as well as family, friends and other loved ones, and to you I express my sorrow for your loss. Sharon truly did make the world a better place, uniting millions of complex individuals into one segment of life where they could share, have a voice and make further discoveries about lovely life—within our own time and others’. Perhaps by now she has met up with some from the cast of characters in her writing world, and maybe she too has learned so much more about that realm that we have yet to do.

Cover on my copy of this wonderful novel

Following is a short passage from a chat between artist Karen King and myself. I felt it would be appropriate to include because it provides a glimpse into how Sharon’s enchanting imagination and soaring talent could unite people who might not otherwise ever be.

Rather by accident the work of California artist Karen King came to my attention via her magnificent painting, Richard and Anne. Inspired by a passage from The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman’s epic novel of Richard III, it depicts the then Duke of Gloucester and his future queen, Anne, in a private moment as they attempt to forge their future. This is complicated by Anne’s previous tortured relationship with Edouard, her late husband and son of Richard’s enemy, Margaret of Anjou. They make their way outside, where Richard had

 found for them a secluded retreat within a wall of willow and whitethorn; the sky was darkening into a delicately tinted violet and a crescent moon silvered the circling clouds over their heads. It was very quiet. She heard only the soft trilling of the night birds, was becoming aware of the heavy honeysuckle scents of spring. She should have been able to draw comfort from such surroundings; somehow, it didn’t help at all.

This painting is inspired by a scene from Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour in which Richard and Anne find a private space, away from the pressures bearing down on both of them, and work through some troubling history. What were some of the thoughts or feelings you had when reading the passage that eventually led to the painting?

What could be more peaceful and private than a priory garden for two soul mates to comfort one another? I was anticipating beautiful moments of shared love and intimacy, but it soon became apparent that as much as Anne wanted to give herself to Richard, she was incapable of doing so because of her horrific relationship with Edouard. My heart bled for Richard as he came to the realization that he and Anne had a long road ahead them. Unable to vent his anger against Anne’s tormenter, all he could do was be patient, and hope that his steadfast love would eventually heal her emotional wounds. Anne felt awful as well because although she loved Richard with all her heart she felt emotionally handicapped. The bittersweet scene touched me deeply. I truly felt their frustration and anguish.

Godspeed, Sharon Kay Penman. You shall be sorely missed ~ until we meet again.

Solace, by Karen King. (Image courtesy and ©2013 Karen King, all rights reserved)

2 thoughts on “Godspeed, Sharon Kay Penman

  1. Pingback: Tribute to Sharon Kay Penman | Layered Pages

  2. Lisl, Thank you for the post about Sharon Penman. She has long been a favourite of mine and her stories and style helped inspire me to write. She too opened my eyes to looking at Richard III in a different light. Though she will be missed by many, doubtless her stories will inspire new generations for years to come. Rod

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