Interview with Adrienne Dillard.
Congratulations, Adrienne – on the wonderful and well deserved success of your first two novels. Cor Rotto, your first novel, told the story of Catherine Carey, a person I also wrote about in The Light in the Labyrinth, could you please tell me what first drew you to tell the story of Catherine Carey?
AD: Thank you, Wendy! And congrats on the success of your novels as well! Catherine kind of randomly came into my life several years ago. Having just watched The Other Boleyn Girl, I was researching the lives of her mother and aunt. As I scoured the history books, I realized that there was nearly nothing out there on Mary’s children. I remarked to my husband how strange it was that no one had ever given such an interesting woman a starring role in a novel before so he told me that I should write my own. About halfway through, I was online doing some research and discovered an article you had written detailing your own book on Catherine. I was so excited! TWO BOOKS! Catherine was finally getting her moment in the spotlight.
WJD: It was so surreal knowing both of us were writing about the same person. LOL – and made me wonder yet about whether there are unseen muses that latch on to us and inspire us with ideas. If we prove ourselves unworthy of their time, they just go elsewhere. Kate was clearly so important, she had two muses ensuring there was no chance of her being overlooked. Well – that’s my little story, and I’m sticking to it! It was Kate’s time to step out of the shadows of history. Can you please tell us why you decided to give voice to Jane Boleyn in your second novel, The Raven’s Widow?
AD: Julia Fox’s bio on Jane was one of the very first books I read about the Boleyn family, and though it made me see her with a more sympathetic eye, I just couldn’t let go of the image that popular culture had given me of her. I had a passing inspiration to make her the subject of my second novel, but I just wasn’t sure about it. I tried for a year to get her off my mind, but she would not let me go. While I was recuperating from surgery, I picked Fox’s book up again and just fell in love with Jane. Going through my own tragedies made me see her in a completely new light. I thought it was time for us to hear her side of the story.
WJD: What are you writing now?
AD: Sadly, I’m not getting any writing done at the moment because I am studying for a really big test for work, but once that’s finished I plan on delving into a novel on Jane Seymour and the keeper of her jewels, Margery Horsman.
WJD: You are obviously a passionate about telling the hidden and less known stories of women in history. Why are these stories important to you?
AD: They are important to me because I can relate to them so well. Anne Boleyn is fabulous, but I am nothing like her. Catherine, on the other hand, is very relatable. She’s not particularly beguiling or heroic in the way that her aunt is, but she is a loyal friend, a caring mother, deeply compassionate…She strives to be everything to the people she loves. It’s so sad to me that women like her are overlooked because they are deemed “boring.” They aren’t boring at all – they are the ones who make things work behind the scenes.
WJD: Smile – that reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Middlemarch by George Eliot, her closing words about her main character, Dorothea:
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Why do you think the Tudors continue to arouse so much passion for readers and writers, Adrienne?
AD: They are just so interesting! Even the birth of the dynasty is a dramatic episode! We just keep coming back to them because they are exciting. The best and the worst of humanity is represented in one era.
WJD: Do you think you will ever write a novel NOT set in the Tudor period?
AD: Definitely! While doing my ancestry, I discovered that a woman my 4x-great-grandfather was married to was a neighbor to Laura Ingalls Wilder when she lived in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. I would LOVE to tell her story. Once I finish with my Tudor series, I will be delving into her history.
WJD: Who is your favorite Tudor person and why?
AD: Catherine Carey Knollys, all the way. She was the very first one I fell in love with and she never leaves me. In fact, I have a photo of her monument at Rotherfield Greys as the background on my work computer! I don’t think I will ever stop researching her. Every year, I learn something new about her and her enormous family.
WJD: You do intensive research for your work. What kind of research is important to you?
AD: Primary sources! They are a MUST! Don’t ever take another historian’s word for gospel.
WJD: Do you continue to research as you write your novels?
AD: Absolutely. I do a bird’s-eye-view at the beginning, and then as I write, I am constantly looking things up. I want to have the research fresh in my mind as I’m writing the scene.
WJD: What is more important to you: historical accuracy or writing a good story?
AD: Historical Accuracy all the way…HOWEVER…Those two things do not have to be mutually exclusive. You can be accurate and tell an excellent story. There is no getting around it, some things have to be made up…but they can be made up in a way that’s smart and rings true for the subject.
WJD: What authors did you like to read as a child and teenager? Now?
AD: Oh man, I read a LOT of Michael Crichton and John Grisham books. I was really into Amy Tan too. Now I read everything!
WJD: You live in America. Do you find that frustrating when it comes to writing books drawn from English history?
AD: Yes, I do. There is a wealth of resources online for research, but as I found after my trip to London last year, nothing replaces actually setting foot in the places you are writing about. Only then can you really engage your senses to pick up the details. Can you hear the river from the Tower of London? How long would it take to walk from the royal apartments to the site of Jane’s scaffold? There are steps that lead into the chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula? I would have never known these things for sure had I not visited. It made writing those scenes infinitely easier.
WJD: Any advice for writers just starting on their own writing journey?
AD: Don’t give up. There will be times when you doubt yourself. There will be times when you want to just throw in the towel. But don’t do it. The road is long, but it’s always worth it.
WJD: Thank you, Adrienne, for taking the time to answer my questions!