Several months ago, I hit a wall with my new project and another author friend suggested that I should get an accountability partner who would "hold my feet to the fire" and help my motivation to get my first draft done. In turn, I'd do the same for her. We'd hold one another accountable and share writing woes, triumphs, and the week-to-week "sweat" of being in the trenches working on manuscripts.
To find someone to fill the bill, I turned to my writer's support group, and one writer volunteered--a PhD in Australia, no less! Dr, Wendy Dunn and I have been meeting regularly now since March. It's produced a great friendship and opened my eyes to yet another author's story of publishing. Just today, I happened to be on Facebook, and another writer was feeling defeated, not having sold a single book in over a year. He'd decided to pull his book off of Amazon, give it another edit and then try again.
The important lesson and mantra we authors live by? TRY AGAIN. Never give up. That is how you succeed.
So let's let Wendy tell her story about not giving up, but how she's kept trying and how it's brought her success along the way.
Welcome to Brook's Journal, Wendy!!!
To Be or Not To Be Published~There's a Right Time, Just don't give up!
By Dr. Wendy Dunn
I’m sitting here in my Melbourne home, thinking of how we can never predict the journey to publication. I’ve now four published major works. My novels always know far better than me when it is the right time for them to step out into the world.
Let me explain how I arrived at that belief. Dear Heart, How Like You This?, my first novel took ten years to find a publisher. Before 2002, few publishers were interested in historical fiction, especially one written by an unknown writer. That changed with the publication of Gregory’s Other Boleyn Girl in 2002, a novel which made historical fiction hot again. It was also the publication year for my first Anne Boleyn novel. I couldn’t have wished for a better time for the release of my first novel. The interest in Anne Boleyn then was huge.
Researching my first novel also meant researching the life of Katherine of Aragon, which introduced me to María de Salinas. I learnt about her winter ride in 1536 to be with the dying Katherine, travelling to Kimbolton Castle without permission from Henry VIII. Weather made the ride treacherous, resulting in María falling from her horse. Arriving at the castle, María had stood outside, demanding admittance because of her injuries. Once inside, she had slipped away to Katherine of Aragon’s chamber and stayed there until her lifelong friend breathed her last breath. It is such a beautiful story of love and friendship. A story igniting my desire to give María voice to tell the story of Katherine of Aragon.
But let’s return to my first novel. Dear Heart resulted in me getting an agent, thanks to the interest of a Hollywood producer (true story) in the movie options of my first novel. Alas, that exciting moment soon dissipated into disappointment, but I still had an agent ready to sell the first part of my Katherine of Aragon story.
For my first vision for that work, I used the child María’s point of view to narrate Katherine of Aragon’s growing-up years in Castile. Twelve rejections later, my then agent said, “I’m not sending it to any more publishers. Now, if you wrote a young adult historical novel, I know I could sell that.” The twelve rejections brought home to me I had failed with telling the story through the POV of the child María. I needed to re-write the first novel through the POV of an adult. The adult I wanted to give voice to was Beatriz Galindo, a tutor to the children of Isabel of Castile. But that meant a completely new story direction.
Back in 2005 (that long ago!), I was not ready to break apart my first vision of the work. I placed my Katherine of Aragon work in the proverbial shoebox under my bed (aka, really filed away on my computer and hard drive). I mulled over what young adult novel I could write and started my Masters in Writing, hoping it would lead to a scholarship supported PhD. By the time I began my PhD, I knew the subject for my young adult novel. I wanted to revisit Anne Boleyn in the last months of her life through the POV of her niece, Catherine Carey. That work, The Light in the Labyrinth, became my PhD artefact, and also my second published work.
After the publication of The Light in the Labyrinth, I flirted with a non-Tudor idea for my next novel. I had started that work when I approached Madeglobal about whether they would be interested in translating The Light in the Labyrinth into Spanish. I received a definitive no to my question, but they asked me if I had any Tudor other works for them to consider. I told them about my Katherine of Aragon novel. I also stressed I needed time to work it on it. They asked me long it would take me. I told them three months. It took four. Madeglobal accepted the work on the same day I sent it their way.
I still wanted to use María’s POV for the second part of my story. She owns a part of my heart—just as her heart always belonged to her queen.
All Manner of Things is my imagining of Katherine of Aragon’s story through María’s eyes.
One of my favourite quotes about writing historical fiction comes from William Styron. He contends, “While it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations.”
For me, short rations ignite my imagination. That doesn’t mean what I know about the Tudors boils down to ‘short rations. Not at all. I have researched the Tudors now for decades. The research is now, well and truly, part of what I describe as my writerly compost. This is what my imagination draws from for my storytelling.
I drew from so much documented history for Katherine of Aragon’s story, but telling María’s story did indeed provide me with short rations. History told me only a little about her. That gave me the freedom to imagine.
It took me close to twenty years to give voice to Maria. Her story is indeed a work of imagination, but one, like all works of historical fiction, inspired and informed by history. Because history informs it and provides its context, it was a tough story to write. Women’s lives in the Tudor period were tough. Katherine of Aragon’s life was tougher than most. Fifteen years ago, I was too new a writer to do Maria and Katherine’s story justice. All the time I wrote All Manner of Things, I heard its story’s heart. I hope my readers hear it too.
On this cold, winter day in Melbourne, I am thankful I put aside this work in 2005.
I needed those ten years to arrive at the right time to write María and Katherine of Aragon’s story
Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian author, playwright and poet. She is the author of four Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things. Wendy also tutors in writing at Swinburne University.
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