MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Sharon Kay Penman Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Sharon Kay Penman
Photo: © William Penman Jr

Sharon Kay Penman

An interview with Sharon Kay Penman

Sharon Kay Penman talks about what drew her to write The Land Beyond The Sea, and it's relevance to the contemporary world.

Many things drew me to write The Land Beyond the Sea. What first struck me was how timely and relevant the kingdom's last years seemed. A clash of cultures, suspicions aroused by conflicting religious beliefs, and the different ways in which people responded to these challenges will sound very familiar. Little has changed in the ensuing eight centuries; peace in the Middle East remains as elusive today as it was in the 12th century and tensions continue between Christianity and Islam.

This is a story of high drama, triumph, and tragedy and the battle of Hattin is viewed as one of the most significant military confrontations of the Middle Ages, drastically changing the history of both the Levant and Christendom. I felt great sympathy for Baldwin, stricken with leprosy as a child, forced to fight two wars—one he cannot afford to lose against Saladin and one he cannot hope to win against the lethal disease ravaging his body.

The role of women in the kingdom is also intriguing. Unlike France, which prohibited a woman from inheriting the crown, and England, which would not willingly accept a queen until the 16th century, Jerusalem would be ruled in turn by three queens, Baldwin's sisters Sybilla and Isabella and Isabella's daughter. While each woman would need a husband to rule with her and to lead their army into battle, their claims to the crown were accepted by their vassals and subjects, all the more remarkable in view of the fact that the kingship was elective in Jerusalem.

I know my readers will be interested in learning more about Saracen culture and beliefs as some noted their disappointment that Saladin never appeared on center stage in Lionheart, for I was constrained by history—Richard I and Saladin never met. In The Land Beyond the Sea, Saladin is a major character, as is his shrewd, pragmatic brother al-Adill, and I was able to give some glimpses of al-Adil's marriages and family life.

After capturing Jerusalem, most of the crusaders went back to their own countries. But those who stayed had to adapt to an utterly alien world, a land of blazing heat and exotic customs and enemies who were also neighbors. They were a small island in a vast Muslim sea and soon realized accommodations were necessary to survive. Exposed to Saracen culture, they began to change, to become a people who were neither Europeans nor Saracens. Unlike the crusaders, who burned with religious zeal and hatred of infidels, the native-born Christians had a more nuanced, less dogmatic view of these same infidels. They learned to respect Muslim medicine, to prefer Saracen cuisine, to form friendships and even occasional alliances. This horrified the crusaders, of course, who began to see these native-born Christians as the enemy, too.

But even in the midst of a holy war, enemies could sometimes find common ground. The history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is also the history of such occurrences, and I hope others will find that as encouraging as I did.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    by Alex Landragin
    Crossings is a beautiful, if slightly messy, time-bending debut. It reads like a vampire novel, sans...
  • Book Jacket: Pew
    by Catherine Lacey
    A quote often attributed to Leo Tolstoy states that "All great literature is one of two stories; a ...
  • Book Jacket: Waiting for an Echo
    Waiting for an Echo
    by Christine Montross
    Dr. Christine Montross had been a practicing psychiatrist for nearly a decade when she decided to ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Flight Portfolio
    by Julie Orringer
    At once a sweeping historical narrative, an insightful character study and a tender romance, Julie ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    He Started It
    by Samantha Downing

    A new thriller from the twisted mind behind the mega hit My Lovely Wife.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    by Jill McCorkle

    A mesmerizing novel about piecing together the hieroglyphics of history and memory.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
by Christy Lefteri

This moving, intimate, and beautifully written novel puts human faces on the Syrian war.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Every Bone a Prayer

Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms

A beautifully honest exploration of healing and of hope.



Solve this clue:

T Real M

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.