18 January 2021

Special Guest Post by Wendy J. Dunn, Author of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things

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Winter, 1539: María de Salinas is dying. Too ill to travel, she writes a letter to her daughter Katherine, the young duchess of Suffolk. A letter telling of her life: a life intertwined with her friend and cousin Catalina of Aragon, the youngest child of Isabel of Castile. It is a letter to help her daughter understand the choices she has made in her life, beginning from the time she keeps her vow to Catalina 
to share her life of exile in England.

At times, I am amazed about what opens the door to my imagined Tudor world. I will read something or see something, and the next moment I sink deep into the daydream that is necessary for writers to create fiction. The first key that opened the door to my Tudor world was a poem I discovered from a page in Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain by Margaret Irwin. I replaced this novel in recent times and re-visited the page that inspired me decades ago. This is how I remember it:

Thirty-seven-years-old, staunchly Catholic, Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was resigned to die unwed and childless. But her succession to the throne of England, after her young brother’s early death, turned Mary into a marriage prize. 

Mary wakes up on the day after she has wed Philip, (the Prince of Spain of the title). Not fully awake, she wonders if she dreamt the night before and the consummation of her marriage. The marriage she had yearned for years. In her trance-like state of happiness, words from a poem thrum their power into her consciousness: It was no dream, I lay broad waking.  It wakes her up completely because the words were from a love poem to Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn: the witch, the whore, the woman who stole Mary’s beloved father from her beloved mother and destroyed Mary’s early life. Dead or alive, if Mary hated any woman it was Anne Boleyn. 

One line. Only one line. One line that made me seek out the whole poem as a teenager and began my long and enduring relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder. That poem gave me his voice, and also the story that became Dear Heart, How Like You This?. I was also inspired by Edouard Cibot’s Anne Boleyn in the Tower (painted in 1835), used for the cover of my novel. 

Edouard Cibot’s Anne Boleyn in the Tower
(Wikimedia Commons)

This painting once again became a key and ignited the writing of The Light in the Labyrinth, my second Anne Boleyn novel – as well as something I remembered from my research for my first Tudor novel. This research suggested Catherine Carey with Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London and witnessed to her aunt’s execution in 1536.  

I suppose there is no surprise that the door to the creation of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things was also opened by research. Deepening my Tudor knowledge for the writing of Dear Heart also meant researching Katherine of Aragon. That was when I first read of María de Salinas riding in winter to be with the dying Katherine of Aragon. She did not wait for the necessary permission of the king to make this journey. Once there, she demanded to be let into Kimbolton Castle. María stayed with Katherine until she breathed her last. 

Reading a story like that in a biography ignites my imagination. The shadows of the past solidify into figures of substance – living, breathing, real. They speak to me until it feels I have no other choice but to scribe their stories. 

There was one nugget from history which helped me framed this story. When the Duke of Northumberland approached Catherine about arranging a marriage between her son and his daughter, Catherine wrote in reply: 

‘…marrying by our orders and without their consents, as they be yet without judgement to give such consent as ought to be given in matrimony, I cannot tell what more unkindness one of us might show another, or wherein we might work more wickedly than to bring our children into so miserable a state not to choose by their own liking…’ (Read 1963, pp. 76-77). 

Katherine Willoughby was the ward of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. She grew up in his home, with Mary Tudor, Brandon’s wife and Henry VIII’s favourite sister, supervising her upbringing. It appears she grew up expecting to marry their son, but when Mary died in 1533, Brandon, knowing his only son was expected to die, quickly married Katherine. He was a man approaching fifty. Katherine may have been as young as fourteen. 

Katherine’s words spoke to me of personal experience – and of hurt and resentment. Hurt and resentment directed against a parent figure. What if that parent figure was not Brandon, but her mother? Could I construct the final part of my Katherine of Aragon story as a letter María writes to her daughter Katherine to explain her life and her decisions. 

This ‘what if’ story helped me shape a work which weaves a tale about Tudor women and the little power they had over their lives. In the same way, the story of María’s winter ride to be with her dying friend pulled her out the shadows and gave me her voice. I knew she was the perfect point of view character to tell the story of Katherine of Aragon in All Manner of Things. 

Margaret Atwood writes, ‘…when there was a solid fact, I could not alter it … but in the parts left unexplained – the gaps left unfilled – I was free to invent’. This is also how I write. With history leaving me few solid facts about María’s life, I did what all writers of historical fiction do in crafting their works: I imagined. 

I imagined so I could tell Katherine of Aragon’s story – a story of such inspiration that it shines its light down the centuries to our own days. 

Wendy J. Dunn 

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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet 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 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. Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. Find out more at her website http://www.wendyjdunn.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

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