An Interview with Wendy J. Dunn

Last, but certainly not least in my series of MadeGlobal interviews, I have award-winning author, Wendy J. Dunn on the blog. Over the years, Wendy and I have forged a bond over our mutual love of Catherine Carey Knollys. Catherine was, of course, the protagonist of my first novel, Cor Rotto. Only a month before my book was released, Wendy’s beautiful novel The Light in the Labyrinth, debuted with Catherine in a starring role as well! I am so pleased to have the honor of interviewing her for the blog!

FPSWelcome Wendy and congratulations on the recent debut of the Spanish translation of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters!  How pleased you must be to have your story told in the language your protagonist, Beatriz Galindo, would have used.  What drew you to Beatriz? Why did you decide to tell Catalina of Aragon’s story through her eyes?

Thank you, Adrienne. I am absolutely overjoyed to see Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters translated into Spanish. It is a very exciting and pivotal moment in my writing life.

What drew me to Beatriz Galindo? I had never heard Beatriz until I started researching the story the early years of Catherine of Aragon. It blew me away to discover a woman who was not only a poet, but also a lecturer of Medicine, Rhetoric and the philosophy of Aristotle at the University of Salamanca; a woman so respected for her learning she was employed to teach Queen Isabel her Latin and ended up tutoring the daughters of the Queen. Years ago, when I began my long journey to complete this trilogy about the life of Katherine of Aragon, I could only find the barest bones of her life story and one biography written in Spanish. Since I can only read a few Spanish words, all this offered me a huge gap to fill with the use of my imagination. I actually think possessing the barest bones of a character’s story is good news for a writer of fiction. Whilst historical fiction is informed by history, its true heart is the story it tells. Knowing very little about Beatriz gave me a lot of ‘What if’ questions, which acted as midwives to my imagination. I could not help wondering how it must have been for her – a woman who lived a life denied to most women in the Medieval period. Did it come at a personal cost? Smile – readers who have read the book know the answer I arrived at. My imagined Beatriz did not find it easy to navigate her world.

While reading your wonderful novel, I got a sense that Beatriz was very humble, even she had much to be proud of.  What would she think about having a starring role in your book? 

LOL. Thank you for your praise, and also for a very interesting question. I believe the historical Beatriz would have been a proud woman, and the Beatriz I constructed was also proud – but she has learnt to hide her pride in her male dominated world. To achieve all what she achieved during her lifetime, she would have needed to use all her intelligence to survive in her patriarchal world. For women in this period, this often meant wearing a mask of humility.

Smile – I’ve just asked my imagined Beatriz how she feels about her starring role in Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters. She tells me she’s amused, but she’s also glad I used her story. She wants her story better known and does not like the fact history lost all her writings – or that she has been just a footnote in the story of others.

For myself, I am hoping Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters will make people interested in learning more about her.

There is so much information out there about Catalina’s later life, particularly her divorce from Henry VIII, but we rarely see much about her early years.   Were there any challenges you faced in researching her childhood?

I live in Australia – and that does present me a major challenge in my passion to write about European history. For my world building, I find myself hungering to walk in the steps of my historical characters. I was fortunate to go to Spain in 2007, that allowed me to build up in my mind a sense of place of some of the settings important to the life of Katherine of Aragon. But this was the only time I’ve ever been to Spain. Of course, there is no one study that focuses just on the childhood and teenage years of Katherine of Aragon. So – besides the main biographies I used for my research for the first book of my trilogy (Garrett Mattingly’s Catherine of Aragon and Mary M. Luke’s Catherine, the Queen) I had to seek out the information I needed by reading histories of her parents and their lives.

Was there anything in your research you found surprising?

I expected her to make less mistakes in her early years…she clearly trusted and believed in people close to her, and gave her loyalty utterly. In her early years, she rarely forgave those who betrayed her.

One of the things I’ve always wondered about, is whether or not Catalina’s marriage to Arthur was consummated.  500+ years later, it’s still a hotly debated topic.  I know you are working on further books in this series so I won’t ask your opinion now, but I do want to know if this topic will be explored in your next novels?  Will readers get an answer?

LOL – yes, readers will get my imagined answer to this question.

Lingering on that earlier marriage, what do you think might have happened if Arthur had survived and gone on to inherit his father’s throne?  What might Catalina’s life have been like?

This is when I demonstrate how attached I get to my characters. My research has made me really like Arthur. He was trained from the moment he was born to be the King of England. History paints him as an intelligent, scholarly youth. I think he was a far, far better match for Catherine than his brother Henry. Some scholars have put forward the theory the suffering experienced by Katherine of Aragon during the seven years after Arthur’s death, when she was treated terribly by Henry VII and her own father, a time when she fasted so much that people close to her worried about her and asked the Pope to tell her to be more sensible, impacted on health and, as a result, her fertility. The stress of these years shaped her in many ways. I think it shows the strength of her character that this time did not break her. But I suppose the question is, if Arthur had lived, would Catherine have had the same tragedy of five dead babies, as what happened during her marriage to Henry VIII?

If Arthur had survived and became King after his father, I believe Catalina would have started having babies in her teenage years, and without the same health problems clearly caused by those years of deprivation. With Arthur as her husband, I believe she would have had far better chance for a happier life.

We see far more gossip out there about Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, but I’ve definitely heard a few howlers about Catalina, as well…One of them (by an esteemed historian, no less) that she caught an STD from one of her spiritual mentors! If you would vanquish one myth about Catalina, which one would it be?

Don’t we just love these esteem historians who like to make up fiction. Not.

I am not a historian, but one thing I know from my research is that Katherine of Aragon did not catch sexually transmitted disease from Fray Diego Fernandes.

I would like to vanquish the myth that Catherine was the boring, uninteresting wife. She wasn’t.

There are so many places, all over Spain and England, that have connections to Catalina – I think it would take a year to visit them all!  Of the places you’ve been, which one has been the most meaningful?  Of the places you haven’t been, which one would you most like to see?

My brief time at the Alhambra was enough to make it, well and truly, part of my psyche. Catalina haunted me there. Half shutting my eyes, I saw her in the heavenly gardens of the Alhambra, young, happy and hopeful, strolling alongside María de Salinas, her lifelong friend. I saw her reading, practicing her dancing steps and learning to play musical instruments. I saw her preparing to leave her home and family forever.

Sigh. I really want to visit Ludlow Castle in Wales – where Catalina spent five months of her life before Arthur’s death.

Anyone out there who would like to finance a trip to England for me? You’ll get acknowledged in my next two books.

Catalina of Aragon has been portrayed by many actresses over the years, which portrayal do you think has been truest to life?  Are there any actresses out there who you would love to see play her?

I must admit to turning off most of the portrayals of Catalina because of one simple thing – she is rarely showed as a pretty woman who possessed pale skin, light blue/gray eyes and golden-red hair.

Who would I pick…hmm – She is a lot taller than the real Katherine, but Rose Leslie for the young woman Katherine might be interesting. She has the right kind of jaw bone and is good with accents, but I am not too certain if she would like to put on a lot of weight to play the stouter Katherine in her later years…

Rose Leslie

There is also a very talented and not particularly tall Australian actor I admire – Sarah Snook.

Sarah Snook

You’ve tackled Thomas Wyatt, Katherine Carey, and now Catalina of Aragon; who are you interested in exploring once you’ve finished Catalina’s story?

LOL – I put aside working on a novel about Mary Shelley and her sisters because I became caught up again with this trilogy about Katherine of Aragon. Tell you the truth – sometimes I think the Tudors will never let me go. I have always wanted to write a novel set in the time of Elizabeth I…

And finally, the question I usually ask everyone: If you could invite 5 people – living or dead – to a dinner party, who would you ask?  But for this interview, I want to know who you think Catalina would invite to her dinner party.

Me please! And her mother, Isabel of Castile, her daughter Mary, Beatriz Galindo and Maria de Salinas! I think we would have fun!

*Who would you invite to your dinner party?  Sound off in the comments below for your chance to win Claire Ridgway’s fabulous course on Anne Boleyn!*

WJDWendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter–named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne. Gaining her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014, Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. For more information about Wendy J. Dunn, visit her website at www.wendyjdunn.com.

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