Friday, April 28, 2017

Interview with Wendy J Dunn

Today it's a pleasure to welcome Wendy J. Dunn to the HNSA blog. Wendy 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 three historical 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, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters.

Wendy gained her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014 and she is the Co-Senior Editor of Backstory and Other Terrain at Swinburne University of Technology.

You can find out more about Wendy on her website and contact her via Facebook or Goodreads.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

The current book I am writing now? That’s actually the sequel, or perhaps the second novel (I really can’t say yet!), of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, the first novel of my Katherine of Aragon story.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters was published in August, 2016, and the overall inspiration for this work and my current WIP is what inspires all my writing – a passion to tell ‘herstory’, the stories of women so often neglected or forgotten by history. Historical women offer me a historical feminist standpoint to engage with as a writer through my own feminist standpoint, a standpoint I use to make sense of the master narratives of my world. Milan Kundera writes: ‘Only a literary work that reveals an unknown fragment of human existence has a reason for being. To be a writer does not mean to preach a truth; it means to discover a truth’ (cited by Carlisle 1985, np.). Thus, while I write fiction, I see my works as a way for me (and hopefully my reader) to deepen my understanding of humanity and also build a bridge of empathy between my story and my reader.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

The inspirational lives of Tudor women and how these women navigated their harsh, patriarchal world.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

Tudor history speaks to me. Sometimes I wonder if I had a past life then or it’s part of my DNA; strangely, researching my family tree revealed my ancestors had connections with both the Boleyn and Wyatt families in the 16th century.

I fell in love with the Tudors in my childhood – thanks to my father. He was English, and had a great love of history. Dad gifted me with his love of history, and story-telling. At ten, the same time I discovered Elizabeth I, I decided my father was Henry VIII – reincarnated. He not only had a temper of Tudor proportions but a love of food more suited to a Renaissance king. He also wielded a mean axe when he ‘beheaded’ the chook for the family’s Sunday lunch. Dad never hid the fact that his only son was of far more value to him than his three daughters; this also made me empathize with Elizabeth. As a child and teenager, I held onto her story of survival. I believed if she could win through to victory, so could I. And, of course, learning about Elizabeth I led me to learn about her mother, Anne Boleyn. The rest, as they say, is history.

What resources do you use to research your book?

I research through my need to know answers. I once heard the wonderful Sophie Masson say (at our first HNSA conference in Sydney) that writers are lifelong learners, and I utterly agree with her. I am committed to learning about life and our human existence – and I do that through writing. I love research. I am forever buying books to add to my research book shelves. I have also self-funded research trips to places where my historical characters actually lived, and died. I travelled to Spain after I wrote the first draft of Falling Pomegranate Seeds. Researching Katherine of Aragon’s childhood made me fall in love with the descriptions of the royal homes she would have known in her mother’s kingdom as a girl. Walking in Katherine’s footsteps, deepened my ability to imagine her life in Spain. 

But while research informs my writing, I write fiction. Research ignites my imagination. My writing philosophy is very aligned to Margaret Atwood. Like her, I don’t change solid facts, but if history leaves it unexplained, then my imagination is free to invent. While this is a writing technique common to many historical writers, I think it is relevant to reclaiming the untold stories of women from history. Research helps me build up character profiles of my historical people, but it is my imagination which opens the door to make them, I hope, live and breathe on the pages of my novels.

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?

I take great pride in my research – and all my fiction births from this research. However, story is the beating heart of all fiction work. I believe writers write fiction because they have a story to tell; historical fiction challenges writers to construct stories through a context not their own. All through writing my first draft I am committed to research, simply because the writing of historical fiction will always lead me to more questions that cry out for answers. Research, deepening my well of knowledge, is then necessary to achieve a fictional work that will hopefully allow my reader to see my imaginings of another time and place. I try hard as a historical fiction writer to build a believable historical world and also do no harm, and that means thorough research to gain a strong sense of “who, what, and why.” Once I “know” my historical personages, my imagination takes over and writing begins. But it comes from a place of truth.  I could never write something I couldn’t believe – and that belief comes from my research.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?

Oh – that is a hard one. I want to say my point of view character, Maria de Salinas, one of Katherine of Aragon’s closest friends, but she wants me to say Katherine of Aragon… Maria loves Katherine – and it is a love driving my new work. Smile – the thing is, writers spend so much time with their characters they begin to feel very close to us and very real…     

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?

I used to be a pantser, but doing my PhD and having too many serious deadlines to meet changed that. I also realised plotting out my work before I started was a way to keep me on track. But I love the unexpected journeys that often happen when you write a novel, which means I am very willing to throw all my plotting to the wind if my characters take their story in unplanned directions.
Writing The Light in the Labyrinth showed me I can write a novel to publishable standard in two years. But I also work as a writing tutor at Swinburne University. Teaching is my other great passion, and that keeps me very busy during the year – and slows down writing my own work.  

Which authors have influenced you?

Mary Renault, Winston Graham, Rosemary Sutcliff, Elizabeth Goudge, Robert Graves – gosh, really, the list goes on and on…

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Persevere, persevere, and persevere. Believe in yourself. Feed your muse by reading good books. Join or begin a writing group. Enter writing contests; learn to love using your red pen. And don’t forget family and friends!

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Wendy.

Dońa Beatriz Galindo.
Respected scholar.
Tutor to royalty.
Friend and advisor to Queen Isabel of Castile.

Beatriz is an uneasy witness to the Holy War of Queen Isabel and her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon. A Holy War seeing the Moors pushed out of territories ruled by them for centuries.

The road for women is a hard one. Beatriz must tutor the queen’s youngest child, Catalina, and equip her for a very different future life. She must teach her how to survive exile, an existence outside the protection of her mother. She must prepare Catalina to be England's queen.

A tale of mothers and daughters, power, intrigue, death, love, and redemption. In the end, Falling Pomegranate Seeds sings a song of friendship and life.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds is available for purchase here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University, Hawthorn. 

Early bird registration provides 15% off the full price for our weekend programme The same discount also applies for tickets to our opening reception


Wendy J Dunn will be appearing in the following panel in Session Five on Saturday 9 September at 11.15-12.15 pm.

How To Transmute Research into Compelling Historical Fiction
A passion for research doesn’t always translate into creating compelling fiction. Gillian Polack discusses the challenges of converting historical facts into page turning novels with Wendy J Dunn, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Stephane Smee and Rachel Le Rossignol.

Wendy will also be chairing 'The Lie of History' panel in our free extended academic programme with Glenice Whitting, Gillian Polack, Diane Murray and Cheryl Hayden. Admission is open to all but bookings are essential due to limited seating.

HNSA 2017 is a celebration of the historical fiction genre that showcases over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!

Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!