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People: Wendy J. Dunn
Writer of Historical Novels
Valerie, Wendy & Maurice
An iPad as a camera records history
The girls listen attentively as Maurice shares
The Hall is history
In Search of History: A Day with Wendy J Dunn (24th Sept. 2012)
(For the sake of this article, we will adopt Wendy into the ‘People of Rochford’ Section of Rochford Life)

Rochford must be getting popular in the antipodes, Australia to be precise, for twice in this past week, here at Rochford Life we’ve had contacts from the land of kangaroos.  The first one was a lady searching for her past and the second one.... well....

Once upon a time your friendly editor was typing up an interview when the phone rang and a friendly Australian female voice asked if he knew how to gain access to St. Andrew, Rochford’s Parish Church. She explained that she was a writer of historical fiction and she and a friend were intending to come down to Rochford later that morning to do some research for her latest novel. Looking out the window at the pouring rain, pity stuck the heart of this aging editor and before he knew what he was doing he offered to pick them up at Rochford Station, whenever they arrived – just ring again when the train gets to Hockley.

Contrary to public opinion your editor doesn’t know everything about Rochford, and at this point the key point of ignorance was who to ask to get access for them. David Coster, the recently arrived new rector, wasn’t answering his phone and the prospect loomed of two young women (and me) standing around in the rain. Now if you belong to St. Andrew’s you probably know all your key-holders, but the rest of us don’t!  But it was Monday morning. Might someone be in the church cleaning up after Sunday? Worth a quick visit to check to see if a cleaner could tell me who to contact. Out into the pouring rain.

St. Andrew is a nice old church with a lot of doors. To the uninitiated this is daunting. Eventually one opened and instead of a cleaner there was the rector just finishing with a small group. As they left, I introduced myself and told of two young ladies coming to visit Rochford in the rain, hopefully to gain entry to the church (linking it historically with The Hall of Tudor history days). The rector turned to the lady standing with him and said, “Well I’ve got a meeting elsewhere later on. Who might be around who could open up for them?” “Well Maurice might do it and he’d be the man to talk history to them.”

Maurice turned out to be the ladies husband. Oh, Maurice Drage, yes I know Maurice! OK, let’s cut this short. It’s only supposed to be a short story after all. The blessings of the modern mobile phone! Before I left she had rung Maurice who said he would come down about 11.45 to open up for the young ladies. Excellent, I replied, and then left.

Problem! I don’t know what time these girls are coming. I look up train times and guess about the 11.44.   I sincerely hope they won’t leave it later otherwise Maurice is going to be standing around on his own (OK, with me!) 11.42 the phone rings and they are at Hockley and should be at Rochford in a few minutes. I leap into my car. All things seem to be working together for good.  

Which is how I came to meet world famous (well she’s got to be world famous because she comes from the other side of the world, and someone has described her first book, ‘"Dear Heart, How Like You This?" as "one of the best novels ever written about Anne Boleyn's life,"  so she’s got to be famous!) writer of historical novels, Wendy J. Dunn, together with her history-buff friend from London, Valerie Brook.

So we leap into the sturdy Rochford-Life-mobile and scoot round to the church to find Maurice still waiting for us.  The next hour (or so) was an education. I don’t want to embarrass him but Maurice knows his local history and your history-ignorant editor soaks up the past of the church and the hall and the area. There are some seriously good spin-offs to this job! I’d like to tell you all about the church and the hall and the area but that would spoil it. I think Maurice ought to do monthly guided tours!  As a member of the Rochford Hundred Historical Society I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at his knowledge but it was good to be on the receiving end of it. Thank you Maurice – and that’s from me and the girls.

As we talked it over afterwards, before the girls climbed back on the train for London, I think it had been a good experience, and that, Maurice, it was all down to you.

Wendy, who is married, is a primary school teacher who, her online bio says, “after completing her Masters in Writing at Swinburne University (Melbourne) in 2009, took up a position as a sessional tutor in Writing. She became a PhD Candidate in August, 2010.” Read on and you find “Author and playwright, Wendy J. Dunn is obsessed with Tudor History. Her first published novel, the award-winning "Dear Heart, How Like You This?" is described as "one of the best novels ever written about Anne Boleyn's life." (Wendy explains that the title is the first line from the poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt, cousin of Anne Boleyn).

You’ll find her on her university site  -
- or her own site -

Wendy said, “being an Australian and getting all my information from history books, I have no idea of location. I think to myself, these places must be so close to each other but, for example, the walk from the Tower of London to Westminster took us hours.”  Valerie chips in, “Some books say that Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn walked to their coronation but I’ve shown Wendy that it wasn’t really walkable; they would have been carried in a litter.”

This explains something of the pilgrimage to Rochford, to catch a feeling of the distances and scale that will go into the detail of the next book that Wendy is writing which, she explains, is revisiting a lot of questions that were left from that first book. In her words, she’s over here for two weeks to pitch this new book, which is virtually complete, to the Historical Novel Society, and to do final research for it. Anne Boleyn and Rochford, well of course they go together, but actually getting into the feel of how life was then, how far apart places where, and what conditions were like then... now that’s another thing altogether. The title of the new book should be “The Light in the Labyrinth,” so keep an eye out, you historical Amazon watchers. She describes it as a young adult novel.

Wendy is half way through her PhD on how identity is constructed by story-telling, so today’s little story was for you Wendy. All the best with the book and let us know when it’s published.

A phone call, a rainy day, a writer from the other side of the world, and a local church key-holder who just happens to be a local history buff; good ingredients for an unusual and enjoyable day. Next?

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