Tag Archives: Wendy J. Dunn

Dear Heart, How Like You This?

Written by Wendy J. Dunn

336 Pages

Published by Metropolis Ink

Review by Elizabeth Batt


Wendy J. Dunn’s Dear Heart, How Like You This? is a glimpse into Tudor England. There have been many books written about the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, but through the eyes of poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, Anne is portrayed as never before. For instead of a queen, we see a child with a love of life unsurpassed, an innocent spirit whose path to the execution block was paved by betrayal, untruths, and heartbreak. A woman who could trust only two men in her life, her brother George and the man who loved her, Thomas Wyatt.

Based on documented history, Wendy J. Dunn has indeed added the exact amount of spice to create this superb historical novel. As Thomas shares his love for Anne, he also shares the fickle character of the Tudor period where passions ran high and a sentence of death could so easily be achieved. Anne, George, and Thomas’ lives are entwined so steadfastly that what could not tear them apart was instead used to destroy them. As we come to know Anne, George, and Thomas, we learn of a friendship that transcends time.

Most admired about this book is not only its sensitivity to the time period but its incredible grasp of human nature. In an era where life was unpredictable and fate often lay in the palms of others, Wendy J. Dunn captures the people that dwelt within it simply but effectively and ensures their vibrancy to the every end. Cleverly and thoughtfully composed, the author imparts a tale that she herself states is “conceived around people who were once flesh and blood.”

Historians will enjoy this book for the insight it offers on Tudor life, the politics of the English court, and the dominance of Henry VIII. Others will enjoy this work simply because it is a tale of tragedy that cannot fail to strike at the heart.

Born and raised in Leicestershire, England, Elizabeth Batt was surrounded by some of the best British history ever known. Elizabeth is also the managing editor for Ancient & European History, the community manager for the History & Politics Center, and a Founding Dean for the School of History & Politics at Suite University.

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Brian Wainwright

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn:  I read you are, like me, a “notorious Anne Boleyn fan.” Well – I know why I am one of her devotees, but how about you? What attracted you to Queen Anne?

Brian Wainwright:   I think the interest in Anne Boleyn probably started with the famous Keith Michell series back in the 70s. I was still at school and (hard though it is to believe now) it was the subject of a great deal of discussion between classes. The girls tended to like Jane Seymour best of the wives and (typically of me) I liked to be awkward. I suppose all six stories were interesting in their own way, but Anne was simply the one I found most interesting of the lot. Maybe it was partly that she was the first woman of rank to be executed in England since Lord knows when – I suppose it’s a question of whether Maude de Braose counts as being “executed”. Moreover, it seemed to me then, and it does still to this day, that she was executed on no evidence whatever, just because Henry wanted shut of her, and that, I thought, was a shocking injustice. Whatever Anne’s faults (and I should be the last to suppose her a saint) she did not deserve to be murdered. I also liked and admired her spirit and courage – she was an amazing woman in that sense, she was willing to stand up to anyone for what she wanted. She might have been wiser to hold her tongue a bit more, in terms of survival, but then that wouldn’t have been Anne, would it?

(As for Jane Seymour, I used to say that considering she was such a perfect creature it was odd that she was willing to marry a man just a matter of days after he had publicly murdered his previous wife!)

One of my first dates, I took a girl to see Anne of the Thousand Days, which was a new film then, and although it was a different “take” on things, it still intrigued me and made me want to read the factual books about the reign. So I did. You know, if fiction does nothing else it must persuade at least some people to look into serious history.

Henry VIII is my least favourite Henry – I even prefer his father, which from a Ricardian is saying a lot. H8 seems to me to combine all Edward IV’s worst faults with many of Henry 7’s. Edward IV was sometimes a bully – and actually I had a scene in my abortive GYH which made me realise how much of one he was – but at least no one could ever have called him a coward. I remember that bit when Anne was really, really ill, with some sort of fever and Henry didn’t have the courage to visit her because he was afraid of catching it. Some love!

I don’t think I will ever “do” anything about Anne Boleyn, because I am “uncomfortable” in the era – I really should have hated to live in the Tudor period, and especially during the reign of H8. Learning more about the reign I realised that the injustice done to Anne was part of a pattern – it was one long tyranny of injustice, starting with Dudley and Empson and ending with Surrey.

W.J.D.:   Oh yes. You and I are in total agreement about Henry VIII and – of course – Anne Boleyn. I see her death (and that of the five ‘AB party’ men also losing their lives in May, 1536) as plain and simple murder. Eric Ives says Cromwell set the wheels in motion because he feared for own his survival and places very little weight upon her last abortive pregnancy. But it is clear that Henry needed very little convincing to get rid of her. It’s a very tragic story…

I’ve read in a great interview with Wendy Zollo  how much you hated school. You know, I detested school too. That and an unhappy childhood turned me into an escapee – either by reading books or making up imaginary worlds. Also was the reason I became a teacher – thought if I went it to it knowing reasons why it made some children very unhappy, I might make some difference. I hope I did.

You mention The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett as one book you remember as a child. Are there any other authors from your early years you found inspiring?

B.W.: I can’t recall all the authors but I was a very “wide” reader, in fact I would read anything if it was the only book available. Arthur Ransome’s books about children having adventures in the Lake District are one lot I remember. The “William” books of Richmal Crompton (who came from Bury!). The “Bunter” books of Frank Richards. Things like “Black Arrow” and “Treasure Island” by Stevenson. “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell. “Ivanhoe” by Scott. These are a few. I was blessed to be possessed of a reading age far ahead of chronology – while still at primary school I read (for example) George Dow’s massive three-volume history of the Great Central Railway, and Dow was a lover of many big and unusual words. In those days you figured them out or looked them up. There was none of this “accessible” nonsense. I read a lot of adult railway books because that was my absolute passion. “Tales of the Glasgow and South Western Railway” by D L Smith was another, a wonderful set of anecdotes that most people would enjoy if they could get hold of it – it’s a rare book.

I don’t think I got into medieval “adult” fiction till I was about 13, and I have an idea the first one I read was Anya Seton’s Katherine. At about the same time I discovered that you could also read adult factual books on the middle ages. The rest is history…

W.J.D.: Your answer here does lead to another question. When did Constance, your wonderful princess and main character of “Within the Fetterlock” begin to tug at your interest?

B.W.: I was very interested in this era, and one day I was reading a book “The Political History of England” I think, and it mentioned Constance’s escape from Windsor with the boys. It was a very brief reference, but up to that time I had not even known that Edmund of Langley had a daughter. She is often left out of family trees – just check out any books on the wars of the roses!  This escape was such an amazing event that I had to know more and I spent literally years, on and off, trying to discover as much as I could about Constance. There is no one text book about her, and to an extent I had to delve into things like the Calender of Patent Rolls, Complete Peerage and one or two of the various Chronicles. Some information printed on her is quite wrong, it claims she was Edmund Holland’s mistress before she was Thomas Despenser’s wife, which is manifestly absurd in terms of chronology; indeed she was almost certainly married to Thomas before Edmund was even born. “Married” in name, you understand. What emerged from this scratching around was a quite amazing life story and I am a bit surprised that no modern novelist has written about her before me, though she does appear as a bit character in some novels. (Actually there is a Victorian Novel about her, White Rose of Langley by Emily S Holt, but you are very unlikely to be able to get hold of a copy.) The thing is, the more I found out, the more I seemed to be “hooked”.

To be honest I am not quite sure exactly when I started writing about her but it was a long time ago; there were several versions before Fetterlock and very little of the original remains. I don’t want to give you the idea that I did nothing else – I had various other hobbies as well as a full time job, and sometimes literally years went by before I did anything more on Constance. One problem was that I could not keep up with either my own style developments or the new research findings I discovered, so I would typically “complete” it and then start again! I also wrote Alianore Audley, in remarkably quick time by my standards, during a rest break! The research findings continued almost to the end. For example Nigel Saul’s superb book on Richard II was published and demonstrated that Richard had visited the Despensers at Hanley Castle in 1398, something I would not have dared invent:-)

In a way, my approach was “how not to be a professional novelist”! No professional could or would have spent so much time on it, or hared off down so many side alleys, as I did. I shall certainly never do the like again; I haven’t the time in this incarnation. In that sense it is literally the work of a lifetime. It was also a great practical learning experience, though, and in a way I am very glad that the earlier versions did not see the light of day, as I should not have been happy with them. Sometimes I would get five or six pages into a chapter and then realise “that’s not what happened”. It may sound odd, but at times it was as if Constance was helping me to write it! Certainly she became very real to me, and in an odd way I “know” her. Some parts of the book were very harrowing to write – readers will probably be able to guess which ones. Perhaps in a way it was that that made me go on – I felt I could not fail her.

W.J.D.:   You know – my character also became real to me (still is! He’s already preparing to take voice in my trilogy about Katherine of Aragon. But I’m still working on the first draft of book one. Tom’s got a bit of waiting to do for his minor role…)

I also came out of Dear Heart not wanting to fail Tom in finding a publisher. He so wanted his story told, gaining this opportunity to defend Anne Boleyn. I’ve pondered on this lot. Sometimes, it seems to me that writers really tap into something. Whether it because we just tap so well into our imaginary worlds or there is something beyond our understanding happening here. BUT I had so many things fall into place – I felt guided…do you think it’s possible we were? Did any intriguing things happen to you at just right time and place for your Constance novel? You know – what I love so much about writing and the reason I just can’t give it up, is that it is all a magical, spiritual adventure…

B.W.:  This is a really difficult one. As my grandfather used to say, I am sure there’s something there but I have no idea what it is. An additional complication is that writers almost by definition have imagination and imagination takes one to very strange places. Finally, I don’t really feel happy with a character anyway until that character takes on a sort of independent life. It’s hard to describe but it’s the difference between a “cardboard” character and one who lives for the reader. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

Having said all that, Constance was a remarkably vivid character, and she certainly seemed a very real person to me. Now I have stopped writing about her, I really miss her, it’s like an old, dear friend has emigrated or something. I can say that she (and also Edmund Mortimer) insisted on doing some things in that book that I definitely did not plan out even in my mind – they just seemed to happen as I wrote it. Does that make any kind of sense? Probably not! I would love to know how far the real Constance co-coincided with “my” Constance. To a point I think they did, but there is no way of knowing for sure, not this side of death anyway. Do you know Maria from the lists? Maria who knows so much about Spain produced an historic description of Katherine of Lancaster, Constance’s double cousin, and the physical description of Katherine was remarkably close to my imagination of Constance.

One thing that was odd was that in an early draft I had Edmund Kent left behind in Ireland by Richard II, but then found (from what few references there were) some indications that this was not so. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a letter from Kent to his uncle, which made it clear that I was right first time! He and his sister in law had been left behind, and were arrested landing in England in early 1400, not (as some historians mistakenly believed) trying to flee!

I think I told you about my visit to Elsing and my subsequent discovery (thanks to Rania) of the marriage between Margaret Hastings of Elsing and John Russell. On my travels I would quite frequently see a signpost and think – ooh, that was one of Constance’s manors! (Sometimes I would divert to see it, but rarely to any great profit except satisfying curiosity.)

I certainly don’t rule out the possibility we are guided in some way. I always think that most people who are interested in history have a particular affinity with certain periods. Why is that?  I must admit I am more “at home” in Constance’s era than in the Yorkist period, and although I am interested in the latter I am ultimately not as life-and-death passionate about it. It’s very odd. Why do we take sides? What made me write about one particular person out of all the interesting characters who thronged Richard II’s court? Don’t know. Just did. She’s not even particularly famous – in fact she’s rather obscure – but I just had to tell the story, and I had to get it right, however long it took. She and her family were so real to me; it was almost like a vision. How do you explain all this? I really don’t know – it just “is.” ________________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novel Dear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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Anne Easter Smith

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn: Do you agree, Anne, that Richard III is an overworked subject in historical fiction?

Anne Easter Smith: Judging from the e-mails I have had from people all over the country, sadly Richard is only just getting on their radar screens because of my book. This is not to say there haven’t been plenty of Ricardian novels over the years — some good and some not so — but I think having a major publisher like Simon & Schuster behind mine has given it wider visibility, that’s all. But compared with Tudor fiction in the last few years, Richard can’t hold a candle!! As a member of the RIII Society, I know at least four people writing and more than that who have published Ricardian novels, but I don’t know how big of an audience they have rated. So far my book has sold 23K – which S&S tells me is very good for a first-time novelist in five months. Just wish I could sell it in Oz and NZ — and then perhaps the UK will take note! It will be out in Germany next month (“Ach, du liebe!”) and has just come out in an audio book, which is terribly exciting. I have the same actress who read Bridget Jones’ Diary and sequel. She’s awfully good.

W.J.D.: You say you admire Richard III – can you please tell me why?

A.E.S.: My main reason for admiring Richard is his loyalty: first to his brother, holding the North strong for him without any power moves to challenge Edward for the throne, unlike brother George; to his wife in their marriage, although we know he had two bastards, they were old enough to have been born before that event and there were certainly none later; and to those two children, whom he took into his household and treated like royalty. That is why I chose to give him one mistress–I think he was someone who was fiercely loyal to those he loved. And that is why I do not think he murdered the princes in the Tower— they were his nephews and sons of his beloved brother. Richard was also a just ruler of his subjects–despite the short reign, he improved the judicial system for commoners and other than the odd execution of Hastings, was fair-minded when dealing with people. Even though he knew Elizabeth Woodville had plotted to keep Richard from being Protector of young Edward, he persuaded her to leave sanctuary and come and live at court. Surely she would have refused had she thought he had killed her sons.

W.J.D.: Do you have any firm theories about likely fate of Edward IV’s two sons??

A.E.S.: I think I pretty much laid out my whole theory in Rose for the Crown!

W.J.D.: My next question is related to your current project, expected to be
published next year. I gather this is about Margaret, the sister of Edward
IV and the wife of Charles the Bold? I am a curious soul, and wondered if
you might have found yourself inspired by Ann Wroe’s The Perfect Prince. I
must admit her book got me thinking about Margaret…

A.E.S.: When I gave my editor the proposal for a book about Margaret of York, I
was under the gun to come up with it as I had a two-book deal with Simon
& Schuster and they wanted to seal the deal in 24 hours. As I had written
Rose for the Crown as a labor of love over many years and really hadn’t
expected it to be published, I was floored by the prospect of writing another book. My agent mentioned that I had come away from the research on the first book with an interest in Margaret, so I figured I could probably use all the knowledge I already had on the period to construct a plausible story around her. What I was not reckoning on was becoming so engrossed in this new character that I ended up liking her even more than my Kate Haute! What an intelligent, intriguing woman she was. And yes, indeed, Ann Wroe’s Perkin orThe Perfect Prince was a useful resource. Ann and I had tea in London when I went to England and Belgium to do research on Margaret, and we struck up a nice friendship that has lasted on email. She has been invaluable in helping me write this second book. In fact, Perkin’s story may be part of the next book I am beginning to think about. Daughter of York is supposed to be on on the shelves by next April.

W.J.D.: Can you tell of the day when you realised that S&S was about to take you for the ride of a life time?? How much has it changed your life?

A.E.S.: I had just recently returned from a RIII Society annual conference in Toronto (the first joint Am/Canadian one) and people knew my agent was shopping the book. It had been doing the rounds since August with the first five editors targeted by Kirsten. It was now with the second five and I figured I didn’t have a prayer, although Kirsten told me that many times it takes a dozen or so before you might get a hit. I was alone in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea  when the phone rang. It was Kirsten. “Am I talking to the soon-to-be published author Anne Easter Smith?” I almost fell off the counter, where I was sitting swinging my legs waiting for the kettle to boil. She then proceeded to tell me about this fabulous — for a first-time novelist — deal that Touchstone Fireside (a division of S&S) was offering me. I had no idea whether it was fabulous or not, because I had not a clue how these things worked. I had to take Kirsten’s word for it. “Now part of the deal,” she continued, ” is that she wants a second book from you.” This time I had to sit down on a chair and put my head in my hands. “Another book?” I groaned, “but I’ve never thought about writing another book, and this one has taken me seven years!” Kirsten waited a beat before adding, “and I need a proposal in 24 hours.” Blimey, I thought! Well, I quickly decided that Margaret of York had intrigued me enough during the research of “Rose” that I could probably write a good story around her, and S&S accepted.

It only took me a month of understanding the timeline for the second book (a year after I finished the edits on the first) to make me quit my lovely job as administrative director of a music school so I could write. I immediately made plans to go to Europe on a research mission for three weeks in January 2005 and I really haven’t stopped since. I have to confess I was not prepared for the fantastic response I have had for Rose in the form of sales, complimentary emails and requests to talk at libraries and book clubs. It all seemed as though it was happening to someone else. I certainly have not gained celebrity status 😉 but I still get a thrill when I see someone carrying my book. My husband drags me into bookstores wherever we are traveling and asks the manager if they’d like me to autograph whatever copies they have. I wouldn’t dare to present myself to the manager for fear of being told “Who are you? And how do we know you are who you say you are?” My British “never blow your own trumpet” rise up at these moments! Luckily, I’m married to an American who has no such inhibitions!

The only negative aspect to all of this is that I do not have a regular income anymore. Authoring certainly doesn’t make you rich even if it makes you famous – unless you are a Stephen King or perhaps Philippa Gregory! I have to sell 100,000 of both books before I see any more income after the initial advance. That could take many years, although Rose has hit the 25,000 mark after six months, so hopefully when Daughter of York comes out I can eat more than baked beans again!!

W.J.D.: You’ve covered so much that I think two more questions would be more than enough for this interview. What authors inspired you as a child, teenager, now? Any advice for aspiring writers??

A.E.S.: I began to read historical novels as a pre-teen with books like “The Woods of Windri” by British author Violet Needham. Then I moved on to reading all of Jean Plaidy’s royal series and Georgette Heyer. At age 18, and traveling up and down in the train from home to my job in London every day, I set out to write my own Georgette Heyer once I realized I had read every single one of hers. It still is in my trunk upstairs in the attic today — all six wishy-washy first chapters that got abandoned once I got a flat in London and the social life took over! But the single most important influence in writing The Rose for the Crown (my first finished book) was Anya Seton. I have readKatherineThe Winthrop Woman and Green Darkness several times. For research prowess, I have to hand it to Edward Rutherfurd for Sarum andLondon. He is a goldmine of information about every period. My advice for aspiring writers is, don’t give up. I set out to write Rose without one single writing class to my name in my whole life. I had no clue how to structure a book or how to flesh out a character. I just had fun with it and tried to write a book I would enjoy reading. If anyone else wanted to read it, then that was gravy! I did not set out to write a book that would be published. I just set out to write a book.


Wendy J. Dunn is the author of Dear Heart, How Like You This? It was awarded the ABPA 2003 Glyph for Best Adult Fiction and First Runner Up for Commercial fiction in the 2004 Writer’s Notes Book Awards.

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Dr. Gillian Polack

By Wendy J. Dunn

Dr. Gillian Polack has an academic and public service background. She completed her doctoral thesis in French and English Medieval history at the University of Sydney in 1987. She has also studied at the Centre for Medieval Studies in Toronto, Canada, as well as in London and Paris.

Gillian’s main foci are writing and teaching. The writing covers a wide range, from academic to popular, non-fiction to fiction. She has had over twenty short pieces published (including a story for which she won an Australia Day Award), and has completed several major works, including one play and a cookbook.Illuminations is her first novel.

Wendy J. Dunn: I’m interested in hearing about your journey from medieval historian to fantasy author. What comes first for you – writing imaginatively or being a historiographer?

Gillian Polack: That is surprisingly difficult to assess. I have wanted to write fiction since I was eight, but my family heavily dissuaded me, so I wrote for myself until I was nineteen.  By that time I was already studying history and historiography as an undergraduate.

Thinking about it, my interest in history is about as old as my interest in writing fiction, which is why I studied it at university (to more family protests!).  My love of history was more a vocation than a potential career – it still is.  I was the daughter who dragged the whole family into rural museums while we were on holiday and exclaimed over old shoes and pre-electric irons.  I had to investigate roadside markers and the plaques on trees.  I asked older members of the family about their lives and was told a thousand family stories.

How entangled are these two parts of myself?  Inextricably.  I used my Arthurian self as a backdrop to “Illuminations” and am planning books using a fantasy Middle Ages.  I use my historian’s sense of Australia and family in writing my current novel and the last one (still in search of a home)  – it all comes out in my fiction.

W.J.D.: Has writing your novels changed you in ways unexpected?

G.P.: Absolutely. The big thing it has given me is a sense that I am allowed to be myself. The more people tangle my fictional characters with me, and the more fictional characters of mine get seen that way, the more license I seem to have to be the somewhat quirky person I am, and to keep following my dreams.

It was more important for me to do things for other people than to be there for myself, but now I find myself saying, “If I get too sick, I can’t write all the books I have inside me.”  I am a lot more self-centred than I used to be and vastly more self-confident.

W.J.D.: You know, eight seems to be important age when so many of us begin to know the road we want to walk in our lives, What writers influenced you in your early years? And when did the Arthurian legends/genre first draw you in?

G.P.: Oddly that is two questions for me.  Let me answer the second one first. I know that most Arthurianish people are addicted to things Arthurian from their formative years, but I wasn’t.

I loved T.H White and Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart from when I was young, but at the same time I hated Mallory (and still don’t adore him, to the consternation of my students).

Arthuriana became central to my reading during my doctorate, partly because I was able to read the glorious Old French prose tales, and partly because everyone kept bugging me to tell them about these tales. What kept me Arthurian after that was that people wanted to know more and more, so I had to read more and more.  And so I discovered what great fun are modern tellings of Arthur, and now I enjoy them as themselves.

My natural bent when I was young was for pure science fiction and for non-Arthurian fantasy.  When I was eight I loved Sylvia Engdahl and Andre Norton and ‘Doc’ Smith and the early Heinlein.   I read them alongside Elizabeth Beresford and the Abbey books and Edith Nesbit and Anya Seton.

My tastes extended just as far as the libraries I had access to would allow. As fast as four books at a time permitted, I worked my way through every library I had access to and read non-fiction as avidly as fiction.

My parents had the wonderful principle that I was allowed to read anything. This was a very powerful teaching decision on their part:  it helped me grow through my reading. In my early teens I discovered for myself that Dostoyevsky was awesome, that Chekhov was subtle, that Nabokov was ick, and that Dickens was often boring.

For me, the big truth about my early reading was not what influenced me, but the fact that I was given this authority from very young to be critical and to think through what I was reading. Every book I read counted, whether written by a big name or by someone who has already been forgotten by everyone else.

I still keep a lot of my favorites from different points in time, so I can walk through my home library and point to my developmental stages.  I can see the moment I stopped collecting Enid Blyton because I suddenly realised just how much she played on ‘us’ and ‘them’ and how totally ineffectual most adults were in her society.  Or when I started reading Tolkien’s other books, because his societies became more interesting to me than the adventures of a single hobbit.

If any author interested me in history early, it was Hilda Lewis.  After reading her fantasy about a time-travelling ship, I started reading historical fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy.  Rosemary Sutcliffe became as close to me as Andre Norton.

W.J.D.: Another question if you’d care to answer. Tell us about your new novel and the works you have on the boil…

G.P.: Always happy to talk about these things, but I will try not to say too much.
Firstly, The Art of Effective Dreaming .  When people ask, I tell them, “It is about Australian public servants and dead Morris dancers.”  Actually, it is about that moment when you are just about to sleep and all your dreams spring to life in your mind.  And it is about how we use our dreams to create our lives. It just happens to have public servants and dead Morris dancers in it as well. I can’t tell you exactly when it will be out, but keep an eye on Trivium Publishing’s website because that is where the announcement will appear.

The rest of my books are a bit complex. I am revising one and writing another and planning three more, all at once.

The one I am revising is Secret Jewish Women’s Business :  family secrets,anti-Semitism, magic, sisters, and echoes of domestic violence.   It is set mostly in Sydney, but with bits of Canberra and Ballarat.

My work-in-progress is Life through Cellophane which I like to call a domestic drama with slivers of horror.  There are mid-life crises and boyfriends and an evil boss and impossible families and a very, very strange mirror.  There are also ants.  Lots of ants.

The ones I am planning to write after Life through Cellophane take me back to fantasy Middle Ages.  This time it is the twelfth/thirteen century (Not Arthurian Britain).  I want to write three linked books (not a trilogy!). Right now I am still developing background and having a whale of a time.  I am enjoying it so much that I have put hints of what is to come in Life through Cellophane – the Middle Ages sneaks in everywhere.

W.J.D.: Can I toss in one last question? I really want to ask you about your fascination with food in fiction…?

G.P.: My historian side has done some work on culinary history and has taught everything from Ancient Roman to modern Jewish cuisines.

Like everything else in my life, the love of food and food history refuses to stay neatly packaged into its own little space, and crept into my fiction. My historiography and Arthurian studies led to Illuminations and to my particular take on the Arthurian tales. My folk interest gave folksongs and Morris dancers to The Art of Effective Dreaming and my food history has given me a full background of recipes for Secret Jewish Women’s Business . When/if the latter gets published, I promise to web a few recipes.

When I think about it, I suspect it is the fact that I study cultures and the fabric of people’s lives and their writing. This means there are many natural links between my studies and my fiction writing, even though I try to tell people that I keep the historian and writer quite separate. The type of historian I am produces material of vast interest to the type of fiction writer I am, I guess.


Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novelDear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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C. W. Gortner

By Wendy J. Dunn 

Christopher ( C.W.) Gortner holds an MA in History and a MFA in Writing, with an emphasis on Renaissance History. A life-long historian, he has taught seminars on the 16th century at various institutions, including the New College of California. He resides in San Francisco, California. To learn more about him, visit Leonibus – Discover the Renaissance.

Wendy J. Dunn: The Secret Lion, your first published novel, is set during the reign of Edward VI and I know this novel is only the first of a series placed in Tudor times. Can you tell us how and when you first became interested in this period and why you write historical fiction?

C.W. Gortner: I first became interested in the Tudor period during my childhood in Spain. The southern coast of Spain, where I was raised, is steeped in history: I grew up a stone’s throw away from the ruins of the Catholic Monarchs’ summer palace. I was also exposed to British history through my love of reading, which is how I developed my initial fascination with the Tudor, and the 16th century in general. I went on to earn a Masters in History, with an emphasis on the Renaissance. While in college, I began writing historical fiction out of an insatiable curiosity to delve beyond the facts. For me, historical fiction helps re-create the past in a sensory way.

W.J.D.: Can you tell us about your novel?

C.W.G.: The Secret Lion is a novel of suspense, the first in a projected series called The Spymaster Chronicles. The lead character, Brendan Prescott, comes to Edward VI’s court in the summer of 1553, as a squire to Robert Dudley. A foundling reared in the Dudley household, Brendan has no idea who his parents were. Upon his arrival in London, he witnesses the unexpected entry of the Princess Elizabeth as she steals into the City determined to uncover the truth about her brother the King, whom she has been denied leave to visit. Rumors of Edward’s fatal illness run rampant; and when Lord Robert sends Brendan to the Princess with an illicit message, it plunges him and Elizabeth into danger. As Brendan races to save the Princess from a vengeful opponent intent on her destruction, he begins to unravel the secret of his own mysterious birth.

W.J.D.: Who is your favorite Tudor person and why?

C.W.G.: So many of the Tudors enthrall me. I want to say Elizabeth, because she is so ingrained in my consciousness. But, in my heart, my favorite Tudor person has to be her mother, Anne Boleyn. Anne captured my imagination from the moment I learned of her. My own research into her life has only exalted my admiration for her. I see much of her in her daughter. So, in essence, they are both my favorite persons, twin facets of a like-minded soul.

W.J.D.: If you were given a day to return to Tudor England, what day would you choose and why?

C.W.G.: The day of Elizabeth I’s coronation. After the horrors of Mary I’s reign, to have watched that slim red-haired survivor walk into Westminster and feel the energy and love that surely swelled through London – surely, that was a day no one who was there could ever forget.

W.J.D.: What is more important to you: historical accuracy or writing a good story?

C.W.G.: Both. Historical accuracy is crucial to depicting an era: good story is what keeps readers reading. Certainly, for historical fiction such as Lion , where fictional characters interact with historical ones, and a fictional plotline interweaves with actual events, story can take precedence. But never at the expense of completely dismissing known facts. If a writer must alter things to accommodate the story, it should be done carefully, within “reasonable doubt.” For Lion , I did take liberties, but I also took great care to depict the era as authentically as possible.

On the other hand, in my novel on Juana the Mad of Castile (to be published in 2005) there is no fictional plot. It is based on an actual life, and so I stick to facts while offering an interpretation of Juana. This is where historical fiction can be so amazing. The hearts of these historical persons are, for the most part, unknown to us. We interpret them within known facts, yes, but they also often become mirrors of our own selves.

W.J.D.: What elements do you consider important to your story telling?

C.W.G.: Passion: if you believe it, your reader will believe it. The axiom of so many writing books and programs are: Write what you know. I’d take it one step further and say: Write what you feel. After passion, an excellent grasp of the craft. Novel writing is an art. It must be mastered.

W.J.D.: What authors did you like to read as a child and teenager? Now?

C.W.G.: I’ve mentioned Jean Plaidy. I also read Zoe Oldenbourg, Lawrence Schoonover, Dumas, Tolstoy, Dickens, and Sabatini. Today, I enjoy Sharon Penman, Pauline Gedge, Reay Tannahill, and I’m discovering new authors like yourself. In nonfiction, Antonia Fraser remains, in my opinion, unsurpassed. I am also a devoted fan of Mary M. Luke, who wrote nonfiction books on the Tudor era in the late sixties and early seventies.

W.J.D.: Popular and literary fiction – what do you consider makes a novel, one instead of the other?

C.W.G.: I tend to not categorize; but if I had to, for me literary fiction is a classic, which has withstood the test of time. Popular is just that: books intended for a wide audience. I believe both can be called a “novel”. Again, a novel is just a label. I use it generically, to denote a work of fiction.

W.J.D.: When do you hope to see your next novel published?

C.W.G.: In the early spring of 2005. It’s called Queen of Shadows , about Juana of Castile. ______________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is the author of Dear Heart, How Like You This? Her book was awarded the ABPA 2003 Glyph for Best Adult Fiction and First Runner Up for Commercial fiction in the 2004 Writer’s Notes Book Awards. You can visit her online at www.wendyjdunn.com .

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Ellen Ekström

By Wendy J. Dunn

Ellen Ekström resides in Berkeley, California with her husband, children, and parakeets, and where she is a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She is a medieval history enthusiast who prides herself on the care she takes with research and detail for her fiction.

Wendy J. Dunn: Ellen, big congrats on the release of your Medieval novelThe Legacy and good luck with its nomination for the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Awards! Tell us – when did you begin your journey to write this novel about Francesco Romena, the no ordinary knight?

Ellen Ekström: My journey with Francesco began as far back as 1972 – I was reading Giovanni Villiani’s history of Florence and came across an entry about the knight Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti.  Buondelmonte insulted a knight of the powerful Amidei family at a banquet at which swords were drawn and as a result, the offended family pressured Buondelmonte to pay for the insult by way of marriage to one of their daughters.  Legend has it that a woman from the Donati family saw Buondelmonte one day and convinced him to put aside his contract with the Amidei and marry her daughter, a more beautiful and wealthy girl.  Buondelmonte agreed and when he should have been marrying the Amidei girl in the cathedral, he was across town at another church marrying the Donati girl.  The offended family was even more incensed and conspired to kill Buondelmonte, which they did, on Easter Day in 1215-1216, when Buondelmonte was, all dressed in white, riding over the Ponte Vecchio.

Now, I could have written a story about Buondelmonte, but there was so little to go on, so I used the basic premise of the event and turned it into The Legacy.

W.J.D.: Fascinating, Ellen! Have you visited Italy to research this book? Did you base the characterisation of Francesco on any real historical personage?

E.E.: Yes, I did go to Italy – to Tuscany and the Veneto.  I originally wanted to have the story in Verona, but I decided on Florence once I actually got to Italy and lived there.

I’d always wanted to visit Italy – my mother was part Italian – and I figured, if you’re going to write about the place, walk in the streets, smell the smells, feel the stones.

As for Francesco, I really can’t say who he’s based upon!  I think he’s a composite of all the men in my life, past and present, but I hear a lot of, “I luuuuv Francesco!” from men and women alike.  I wanted Francesco to be a flawed individual; someone the reader could root for, and share his agony and triumphs.  I think I succeeded.  I think it interesting, however, that at Allreader.com, my novel is compared to Hamlet and at Barnes&Noble.com there’s an entry that says “People who bought this book also bought” The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ by Emmerich.  Francesco is indeed a tortured soul, but I wouldn’t compare him to Jesus of Nazareth!  Let’s just say, Francesco Romena is the man I’ve always dreamed of — I couldn’t have him, so I made him up!

W.J.D.: I understand why you decided on Florence. The colours of the Tuscan hills had me searching out an Art supply shop on my second day there in ’93. It’s one of those places that just opens the door to creativity – on all levels.

E.E.: And- yes – that’s the fun part of being a writer – making our imagined people tangible to the reader! Can’t wait to meet Francesco!

W.J.D.: You not only work as a writer, but also as a legal secretary AND a deacon of a church. If this isn’t enough, you’re a mother too. How do you manage to juggle all the balls life has given you?

E.E.: Hmm… how do I manage?  I get asked that a lot.  I’m really no different than a lot of working mothers.  I’ve learned how to manage my time.

Well, I didn’t choose to be ordained clergy, i.e., deacon, in the Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion) – it’s something you’re born with, a charisma, if you will.  I dodged it for a while, but the call turned into a scream.  Ever since I was a child I always felt at home in a church, I felt that it was the only place I belonged.  Being clergy has been the latest incarnation of that who is Ellen.  I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a crayon.  I always wanted children.  I guess I should answer the question, shouldn’t I?

I learned how to write first thing in the morning, before everyone is up, and after everyone goes to bed.  When the children were little, I wrote while they played on the carpet beside me.  I’m not a marathon writer, so this worked for me — it also helped while in seminary in doing homework, and now, when I come up on the rota and have to preach.  Dialogue happens to be the most effortless part of writing for me — I give the characters dialogue I’d want to hear – and make it fit the time period I’m working in. When the screenplay version of this story won secnd place in the Writers’ Digest Writing Competition for Screenplays in 1991, one of the judges said I had a strong command of dialogue and a clear, colorfully vivid vision of 14th century Florence. I hope my readers think so – I write as if I were in a movie theater and watching the story unfold before me. All that’s lacking is the diet Pepsi and tub of popcorn.

I’m a legal secretary to pay for this maniacal lifestyle.  Kids gotta eat, you know!  I also manage to get some writing done during lunch hour at least one day a work week.  I also work for a firm that doesn’t require overtime or weekend work.

There are days when I can’t and won’t do it all, and there are days when I have incredible energy.  A sense of humor helps, too.  And diet Pepsi.

W.J.D.: Big laugh! I think better swap my sugared coffee for diet pepsi! I also always wanted to be a writer and a mother – and you’re very right, women generally learn to manage time well…

Hey – love to ask you as an author and ordained clergy, what did you think ofThe Da Vinci Code ? The book finally came my way via my daughter, who borrowed it from a friend. I’ve been pondering over the book’s great success ever since I finished it, and can only conclude that Dan Brown picked the right controversy to tap into. What do you think?

E.E.: I liked The Da Vinci Code – I couldn’t put it down the weekend I read it.  It was my weekend off from church and I finished it in two days.  I thought it was entertaining, the premise a bit too much, but it was fun.  I do wish they could have picked Bill Pullman to play Langdon in the movie rather than Tom Hanks.

W.J.D.: The Da Vinci Code certainly struck a chord – a dissonant one.  I find it very interesting that people think it’s historical fact, not historical speculation.  There are times when I want to shout, “People!  It’s a work of fiction!”

E.E.: The idea that Jesus was married is an old legend dating back centuries – in first century Palestine rabbis were customarily married.  That Jesus did not marry would be bucking tradition, but then, Jesus was the perfect incarnation of God on earth for a reason and some rules didn’t apply to him.  And if he did marry, we’ll never know.

Mary Magdalene may have been a rich widow who subsidized the Jesus movement and was a friend and follower of Jesus.  The idea that she was a harlot came from a sermon of St. Gregory’s and it stuck like glue.  She’s always been a favorite saint of mine, with George and Joan.

And, Mary Magdalene is called “The First Among Apostles”, because the resurrected Jesus appeared to her first.  That would denote a special relationship, as the Gnostic gospels point out, such as the Gospel of Phillip.  I am a traditionalist, however, and think they were not married, but, as with all the Apostles, friends and beloved by Christ, chosen by Him to do God’s work on earth and continue the Jesus Movement.

The good thing about The Da Vinci Code – people are going to church, picking up scripture and reading for themselves about this man named Jesus.

W.J.D.: Yes – one of the best things about fiction is that it can take people on their own journey to discovery…

And two final questions directed towards Tudor England…what do you think about Henry the Eighth and the reasons he set the wheels in the motion for the birth of the Anglican Church? Do you think the Anglican Church recognises the importance of Anne Boleyn in its history?

E.E.: I don’t think much of Henry VIII, to tell you the truth.  The Reformist movement was well underway by the time Henry sought to break with Rome over the issue of his divorce from Katherine of Aragon.  Theologians such as Luther and Huss were stirring up challenges to Rome, and the movement to reform the church wasn’t just a 16th century event, it was as early as the 14th century in England, with John Wyclif.  His followers were called Lollards and were suppressed by Henry VI and Henry V in the 15th century.  The Reformation was going to happen. Zwingli, Calvin and Knox were leading reformers and taking the Reformist movement in different directions than Luther and the English reformers led by Cramner, Ridley and Latimer.

The Anglican Church really didn’t get established until 1549 and the publication of the Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cramner and Edward VI.  The church was still very catholic in liturgy while Henry VIII was alive.  He did not like the Reformers even after the split with Rome.

Personally, I think Anne Boleyn would have been more Lutheran than Anglican in her theology.  I’d have to see her theological writings, if any, to make an educated guess as to whether she should gain some credit for the establishment of the Anglican Church.   She certainly is a controversial and interesting woman, both shrewd politician and victim.

W.J.D.: Yes – I agree with you about Henry VIII. I tend to try to defend people. Sometimes I wonder about his two serious jousting accidents and whether these accidents impacted upon him in ways to make him a tyrant King – but then you see the pattern for tragedy began even from the first days of his reign. Time just released the blood hungry lion from its cage.

Thank you, Ellen, for giving me this opportunity to talk to you! I really enjoyed your answers to my questions and know my readers at Tudor England will too!

E.E.: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity, Wendy.


Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novelDear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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