Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Meet the Author: Wendy Dunn

Today, I'm so pleased to welcome author Wendy Dunn, whose novel Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is set in Spain,  a place near and dear to my heart. While the story occurs during the time of England's future queen Katherine of Aragon, Wendy has not chosen her as the narrator. Wendy shares her history and insights with us.

Welcome, Wendy, and thanks for being my guest at The Bajan Scribbler. Please share some insight on your novel, Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters.

Thank you for having me as your guest, Lisa.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is my third Tudor novel, and the first part of my Katherine of Aragon story, which charts her early life at the court of her mother, Isabel of Castile.

I am now completing its sequel: Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things.

In Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, I decided to give voice to Beatriz Galindo, a real historical personage, to tell this fictionalised story of Katherine’s early years. Beatriz was a scholar, a poet – sadly, like so many talented women of the past, her work is lost to us – and a lecturer at the University of Salamanca. She was not only a Latin scholar, but also studied the philosophy of Aristotle, medicine and rhetoric. In addition to this, she was married, and a mother and step-mother.

Beatriz offered a perfect subject for me as a writer of fiction. I could only find these fascinating facts attached to her life story. That meant there was huge gaps to fill with the use of my imagination. The bones I possessed of her story also opened up a lot of ‘what if’ questions. My imagination was fired by wondering about this woman who lived a life denied to most women in the Medieval period.

Why did you choose to write about this period in history?

I love history, and utterly love those times when my study of history causes a person from history step forward in my imagination. Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is set during a particularly fascinating period and place of history. This was the time which saw Columbus discovering the “New World” and Isabel and her husband Ferdinand engaged in their Holy War.

Married to Francisco Ramírez, master of the King Ferdinand’s artillery, who died in one of the king’s battles, Beatriz Galindo was likely an eyewitness to the fall of Granada. She was also part of Queen Isabel’s court when Isabel exiled her Jewish subjects, after first giving them an ultimatum to convert to Christianity. With her passion for learning, I suspect the expulsion the Moors and Jews would have shaken Beatriz to her core. As an educated woman, she would have known so much of their knowledge came from Jewish and Islamic cultures. As part of this cleansing, they also burned countless and priceless Islamic manuscripts, which erased centuries of knowledge. I am a teacher as well as a writer. I cannot believe Beatriz Galindo would have been happy to witness the burning of books.

Beatriz Galindo lived in a time of great change and upheaval. As a member of Queen Isabel’s court, she frequently accompanied the queen in her court’s peripatetic journey around her kingdom while employed as Katherine of Aragon’s tutor, and likely the tutor to Katherine’s three sisters too. Beatriz was also a personal friend and advisor to the Queen. It appears like she would have accompanied her Queen during the ‘Holy War’, Queen Isabel’s campaign to ‘cleanse’ her country of the Moors, which closed the door upon hundreds of years of Islamic influence in Castile.

Envisioning Beatriz made me wonder and then imagine what it may have cost her to claim her own life.

My imagination also opened the door to Katherine of Aragon, as both child and girl. The youngest child of five children, Katherine suffered sorrow after sorrow before leaving her home to begin her life of exile in England. But she came to England trained and ready to be a queen. Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters imagines how that happened.

That this period was rich, complicated, turbulent and fascinating.

Were you surprised by the role or actions of historical female figures as you researched the period?

The actions of historical women, indeed, of all women, never really surprise me, but I was surprised when I discovered myself growing to respect and like Isabel of Castile. At the start of my research, what I knew about her made me not like her at all, but the biographies I read about her life and times turned that view around. She was an amazing Queen, and recognized as such by the people of her time. But what really changed my opinion of her was Isabel the mother. She did love her children, and suffered deeply when they were taken from her by death. I have studied history long enough now to know L.P Hartley was very right when he wrote:  "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."  My study of Isabel reminded me I cannot judge people through the context of my own times.

Do you have a favorite character in the novel? What makes him or her most compelling?

I love Beatriz.  She is my point of view character, so I had to love her to write this novel. What makes her compelling? In a male dominated society, Beatriz somehow, and extraordinarily so, rewrote her life story. She appeared to have both worked with and resisted a society which could have easily prevented her from reaching her true potential. Knowing this helped me construct and give voice to a compelling character.

The film option rights have been purchased and the movie is about to be produced. Who stars in the film version of your novel?

Now, you have really made me start to dream.  Hmmm – who for Beatriz.  I like Keira Knightley – she has the right balance of strength and vulnerability.

Robert Downey Jr. for Ferdinand, Angelina Jolie would be quite interesting for Isabel I. As for the child and teenage Katherine of Aragon…she would have to be paled skin, redhead and blue eyed, and her friend, Maria de Salinas, dark haired, dark eyed and with the promise of real beauty.

Thanks again, Wendy!

Thank YOU, Lisa!

Learn more about author Wendy Dunn and read Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, available now.

An Excerpt from 
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters

“Follow your star and you will never fail to find your glorious port,” he said to me.
~ Dante Alighieri

Burgos, 1490

Doña Beatriz Galindo caught her breath and tidied her hábito. She shook her head a little when she noticed ink-stained fingers and several spots of black ink on the front of her green gown. She sighed. Too late now to check my face. “The queen has sent for me,” she told the lone guard at the door of the chambers provided for Queen Isabel’s short stay at Burgos. The young hidalgo straightened his stance, then knocked once with the back of his halberd on the door, his eyes fixed on the white, bare wall across from him. The door opened and a female servant peeked out at Beatriz, gesturing to her to come in.

In spite of the hours since dawn, the queen sat in bed, her back against oversized cushions. She still wore her white night rail, a red shawl slung around her shoulders, edged with embroidery of gold thread depicting her device of arrows. A sheer, white toca covered her bent head, a thick, auburn plait falling over her shoulder. Princess Isabel, a title she bore alone as the queen’s eldest daughter, and named for both her mother and grandmother, sat on a chair beside her mother, twirling a spindle. Her golden red hair was rolled and wrapped in a cream scarf criss-crossed with black lines, a wry grin of frustration formed dimples in her cheeks before she discarded the spindle in the basket at her feet with the others. She nodded to Beatriz with a slight smile. “Good morning, Latina,” she murmured, using the nickname bestowed on Beatriz by the queen. Beatriz hid her stained fingers behind her back and curtseyed her acknowledgement.

Straightening up, Beatriz gazed at the bed-hangings, unfurled behind Queen Isabel. His wooden club on the ground beside him, a naked Hercules wrestled with a golden, giant lion. Turning to her queen, she fought back a smile and lowered her eyes, pretending little interest in Hercules, especially one depicted in his fullest virility.

Queen Isabel balanced her writing desk across her lap, scratching her quill against the parchment, writing with speed and ease. A pile of documents lay beside her. An open one, bearing the seal of the king, topped all the rest. Beatriz’s stomach knotted, and not just through worry. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. I am free; I am always free while the king is elsewhere. Pray, it is not bad news about the queen’s Holy War. The knot in her stomach became a roaring fire. Holy War? Jesu’ how I hate calling any war that. Pray God, just keep my beloved safe.

She almost laughed out loud then; as one of the king’s most important artillery officers, Francisco Ramirez, the man Beatriz loved and had promised to marry, did not live to be safe but lived to live. His zest for life was what first made her fall in love with him. Waiting to hear the reason for her summons, she gazed around the spacious bedchamber, composing in her mind the letter she would write to him tonight:
  My love, my days are long without you...

No she couldn’t write that. If she did, it would be a lie. Her days were full most mornings she spent tutoring the girls before relishing in the long afternoons free for her own studies. She missed Francisco, but still lived a rich life without him, a richer one when he was at court.

What to write to him then? She could not tell him of her hatred of the Holy War. She could never name as holy a war stamping out any hope of another golden age, when Jews, Moors and Christians lived and worked together in peace. Francisco was a learned man, but a man who used his learning to win this war. Her learning taught her otherwise. It taught her to keep silent about what she really felt to protect the freedoms of her life. Could she tell him then of her joy of teaching the infanta Catalina and her companion María de Salinas? For six months now she had been given full responsibility for their learning. She looked at the queen. Surely the queen was happy with the infanta’s progress?

As if Beatriz had spoken out her thought aloud the queen said, “I want to speak to you about my youngest daughter.” She waved a hand to a nearby stool. “Please sit.”

The queen put aside her quill and pushed away her paperwork. She lifted bloodshot, sore-looking eyes. A yellow crust coated her long, thick lashes.

Seated on the stool, Beatriz gazed at the queen in concern. If there was no improvement by tomorrow,  she would prepare  a treatment of warm milk and honey for her eyes, even at the risk of once again upsetting those fools calling themselves the queen’s physicians.

“Si, my queen?” she murmured.

“Tell me, how do you find my Catalina and our  little cousin María?”

Beatriz began breathing easier. Just another summons to do with the infanta’s learning. “Both girls are good students, my queen,” Beatriz smiled. “The infanta Catalina is a natural scholar. She relishes learning even when the subject is difficult, but that does not surprise me. Your daughter is very intelligent, just like her royal mother. María too, is a bright child. Slower than the infanta, but already the child reads simple books written in our native tongue, as well as some Latin. The method of having books written in Latin and Castilian placed side-by-side is working well.” Beatriz straightened and lifted her head. “It was the method used to teach me when I was the same age as the infanta.”

The queen exchanged a look with her listening daughter.

“I have been pleased to see how much my Catalina, my sweet chiquitina, enjoys her mornings with you.” Queen Isabel brought her hands together, drumming her fingertips together for a moment. “Latina, I believe the infantas Juana and María can be given over to other tutors now that you have provided them with an excellent grounding in Latin and philosophy, but I desire you to be Catalina’s main tutor, of course that includes María, her companion.” Queen Isabel twisted the ring on her swollen finger.

“One day, my Catalina will be England’s queen. It will be not an easy task – not in a country that has known such unrest for many, many years. I want to make certain my daughter is as prepared as I can make her, but I need your help. Can I rely on you to stay with us, and teach Catalina what she needs to know of England’s history, its customs, its laws?”

“My queen, of course...” Beatriz halted her acceptance when the queen raised her hand.

“Think before you commit yourself. You are betrothed. What will happen when you are wed and, God willing, have the blessing of children? We talk of an obligation of at least ten years, and for you to be not only my daughter’s tutor, but act also as her dueña.”

Beatriz smiled at Queen Isabel. “Francisco and I are both your loyal servants. When the time comes, we will do what needs to be

done for our marriage and children, but I will confess to you that my real life is here, and as a teacher at the University of Salamanca. I am honoured that you wish me to continue in that role for the infanta. And to be entrusted with teaching your daughter, now and in the future... my queen, words can not describe what that means to me.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Why Moorish Spain Fell

Happy New Year! But back on January 2, 1492, this day would not have been considered a joyous occasion for the Muslim inhabitants of Spain. Their world had ended as more than seven centuries of Moorish rule in what was now a majority Catholic country collapsed. Historians have referred to the event as a dying gasp or whimper as the last Islamic rulers, the Nasrids, handed over the keys to the city of Granada and access to their Alhambra Palace to the Catholic monarchs of a united peninsula. Moorish Spain had long been in decline. Several factors aided that final push over the precipice, much of which I've explored in the six-part Sultana novel series.

"La rendición de Granada" or The Capitulation of Granada by F. Padilla
Five hundred and twenty-seven years later, I'm reflecting on the reasons for the fall of Moorish Spain. Having spent more than twenty years researching the time in which the Iberian Peninsula was once a predominantly Muslim region, the actors who played their roles in the last act of what I consider a great tragedy are as familiar to me as old friends and hated enemies. The Sultans; proud Abu'l-Hasan Ali, his rebellious brother Muhammad al-Zaghal and the luckless Muhammad XI, fated to be the last Muslim monarch to reign over a diminished Granada. Fierce Sultana Aisha and her daughter-in-law, Sultana Moraima, who did not long survive the surrender of the final Islamic kingdom. The rival Isabel de Solis who captured a Sultan's heart but ended her days as a Christian again. Queen Isabella of Castile with her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon accomplished what no other Christian predecessor of hers had done; undeniable submission. While I've painted her as the villain of my novels, I can't deny the transformative effect of her accomplishment. With the fall of Granada, Spain and Portugal stemmed their adversary's access to the gold of Africa and invaded the continent, while also pursuing the exploration of what they would come to call the New World. One of the purported witnesses of the Moors' exodus from the city was the young captain Christopher Columbus.

While Isabella's aims were achieved, it's impossible for me to view them without a cynical view or negate how events within Granada's Alhambra Palace, completely outside of her control or influence, allowed her to obtain victory. She inspired religious zeal by portraying her crusade against the Moors as a holy war, but in the end, her efforts paved a path towards the Inquisition and the deaths of thousands of Jews and Moors, the latter of whom she had promised would not be forced to convert to Christianity. She could not have anticipated how Abu'l-Hasan Ali's clashes with his younger sibling Muhammad al-Zaghal and his son Muhammad XI would have fractured the Nasrid Dynasty. Nor could she have known that the rivalry between supporters of Abu'l-Hasan Ali and his first wife Aisha would have led to the Moors' downfall. Centuries of knowledge were destroyed as Arabic and Jewish texts fed bonfires. Yet, ultimately, Isabella is responsible for maintaining much of Alhambra Palace as it was at the time of her conquest. Beyond her grandson's destruction of the southern portion of the complex, which might have been part of the royal harem, the site largely remains the same. Never seen Alhambra? Now's as good a time as any to go; personally, I prefer winters in Granada than a hellish summer.

If you walk the corridors of Alhambra Palace today, there's an Arabic inscription that occurs repeatedly throughout the stuccoed walls and tiled rooms. Wa-la ghaliba illa-Llah, which translates as 'there is no conqueror but God.' It had been the motto of the Nasrids for two hundred and sixty years. As a devout Catholic, Isabella believed in the power of God fervently too, that He was on her side. Did the fall of Moorish Spain prove her right?    

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...