I’m delighted to welcome Claire Gilbert to the blog today. 2023 marks the 650th anniversary of Julian of Norwich’s ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. This writing is the earliest surviving English language works known to be by a woman. I haven’t been able to fit this into my reading schedule just now though it’s on my list for later in the year. I’m very grateful to Rhoda Hardie for sending me a copy of the book. In the meantime, Claire has been answering my Author in the Spotlight questions.
First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I’m a writer and also Director of Westminster Abbey Institute, which nurtures moral and spiritual values in public life. I’ve written a lot about ethics but love writing stories more. I’m married to Seán. We divide our time between London, Hastings and his ancestral cottage in Ireland, working, walking, going to the theatre, singing, sea swimming, horse riding and seaweed baths at Ballybunnion in Kerry.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always written but when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 I discovered my most honest voice, writing letters to friends throughout my two and a half years of gruelling treatment. Julian of Norwich had been my spiritual companion throughout my treatment. As it ended, I conceived a desire to write her story with the same honesty, in the first person, in homage to her.
Tell me about your journey to publication.
Hodder had published Miles to Go Before I Sleep, the book of my cancer letters, and so were familiar with my work. My brilliant agent Ruth Cairns negotiated the contract.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
An intriguing, brave woman in the 14th century who in the midst of plague, war, famine, social unrest and religious persecution experiences powerful, dangerous visions that show her a God not taught by the church. She abandons convention and chooses a ‘room of her own’, a cell attached to a church, where she lives out the rest of her life. She secretly writes the book of her visions while at the same time growing in fame, her counsel sought by visitors from far and wide.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
It came to me very early on, presenting itself as the right title for what the book was, an intimate autobiography laying bare the inward truth of Julian.
How did you celebrate publication day?
A lovely lunch with my publishers and at least two parties
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes, I’m working on an academic book called Restoring Porosity about Julian of Norwich and the ecological crisis. It’s important to do it, but it doesn’t feel very creative, so I’m looking forward to starting on my next novel in the autumn.
What one book would you recommend to a friend and why?
Wilding by Isabella Tree. I think it’s one of the most inspiring reads for the ecological crisis because it is full of hope and the power of nature to restore itself.
What are you reading just now?
The Magician by Colm Toibin, The Cloud of Unknowing, and Politics, Poverty and Belief by Frank Field: I usually have three books on the go to support all the strands of my too-complicated life.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love, the 1978 edition edited by Colledge and Walsh.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
Linked-in, my bookshop.org page, through my publishers
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be?
Jo in Little Women
Buying link for various retailers: I, Julian