Guest Post: Simonetta Carr on her New Book
When P&R asked me if I wanted to contribute to their Chosen Daughters series I had mixed feelings about it. I liked the challenge of writing fiction, especially since English is not my first language, but after focusing very carefully on historical accuracy in my children’s biographies, the idea of imagining scenes and settings seemed frightening. How could I know, for example, the personality of Olympia’s mother? What if my description was very different from reality?
On the other hand, I had the perfect subject for this story. The P&R series is about young Christian women of our past, and Olympia Morata had led a very adventurous life from the time she was twelve. Besides, she was from Italy, my native country, and everyone knows that it’s easier to write about familiar things. I was also excited at the opportunity I would have to familiarize my readers with some events of the Italian Reformation, a period which is still unknown to many.
In some ways, we can say that the Reformation had its roots in Italy, where it was both an expression of dissatisfaction with the obvious excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, and a return to the sources, including a rediscovery of the original Scriptures and the doctrines of the church fathers.
In Naples, a circle of spirituali, mostly inspired by Juan de Valdes, was already spreading pre-reformation teachings in the 15th century. By the time Luther posted his theses in 1517, some like-minded groups had formed in various Italian cities. Slowly, Lutheranism and Calvinism spread throughout the country, silently, as the Church of Rome became increasingly alarmed.
It was in 1542, after a failed attempt to reconcile Protestants and Catholics at the Diet of Regensburg, that Pope Paul III re-established a form of inquisition in the country. At that point, Italian Protestants were left with three choices: keep their faith private, leave the country, or declare their faith and face imprisonment and death.
It was around that time that Olympia Morata shone as a child prodigy, giving signs of her future as the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation. Her life was short and intense, shaken not only by the tumultuous events of the time, but also by personal disappointments, rejection, poverty, illness, and exile.
It was a story I could not pass by, one of those stories which, as we often say, “begged to be told.” Overcoming my hesitations about writing fiction, I began reading and re-reading Olympia’s letters and poems in an attempt to understand and to convey who she really was.
There are many themes in Olympia’s life which will certainly resonate with young people today. Some may identify with her apprehensions leaving home, with her desire to please her father and teachers, or with her nervousness before giving a public speech. Some may recognize themselves in her admission of being normally afraid “of dangers worse than reality” or in her passion to see favorite books translated into her native language. And which of us can’t remember times when a fascination or concern occupied our minds, leaving little room for God?
Someone said that writing a book should change the author. I think Olympia did this for me, as I shared her excitement, passion, and concerns. Through her letters, I watched her growing from an over-achieving and worrisome young girl, obsessed with her goals and hungry for praise, to a mature and heavenly-minded Christian, fully conscious of the deep reservoirs of God’s strength which are available to his children in this pilgrim life.
On my blog (www.simonettacarr.com), I am planning to explain, chapter by chapter, what details were imagined and what are pure facts. All the letters and poems quoted have been carefully translated from the originals. I encourage my readers to pay attention to Olympia’s voice. Maybe, when you finally close the book, you will miss her as much as I do.