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Author Interview: Sharon Kay Penman (page 2)

by Wendy Zollo

Here Be Dragons was Penman's next outing and the first in her Welsh trilogy, which also includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning. Dragons is one of her most beloved novels and when I asked why she thought this was, she responded. "I think Dragons is so popular because it was virgin territory for most readers. The saga of the Plantagents was much better known, but not many people were familiar with medieval Wales or its princes. And then, too, the story of Llewelyn The Great and Joanna, King John's illegitimate daughter, is a remarkable one, which struck an emotional chord with many readers." 

Here Be Dragons is an incredible love story knotted neatly and accurately with the fierce history of Wales and its ongoing struggle for independence.

Joanna is a deeply drawn, emotionally complex personality and an interregnal figure in Dragons; I asked how she was able to uncover the specifics regarding a mere baseborn daughter of a king.

"All we know," Sharon answered, "about Joanna are the bedrock facts about her life. I took those facts and did my best to breathe life into them, seeking to create a woman who would have acted as we know she did. For example, I think the greatest proof that there was love in her marriage is that Llewelyn was able to forgive her for such a public infidelity. That would not have been an easy thing for any man, especially a prince of the 13th century. And if he loved her enough to forgive her, she must have loved him too, or his own love would have withered on the vine. At the time of her adultery, they'd been wed for more than twenty years, and no unrequited love could survive that long! The fact that she secretly warned John of the Welsh conspiracy against him is strong evidence that she loved him, and her involvement in diplomatic matters testifies to her intelligence."

"Women in history are too often overlooked; somehow they fall through the cracks. This is especially true for those born out of wedlock. Joanna is a rare exception, a woman who made an impact upon her times and who is still remembered today in Wales as Llewelyn's Siwan."

When asked if she took any liberties with Joanna's character, Sharon stated that she stuck to the known facts and did her best to flesh the skeleton out. Adding, it was not a case of poetic license but rather of filling in the blanks.

Our discussion continued onto some of the minor players in Here Be Dragons, how she discovered Llewelyn's brother Adda and Henry Tudor's forbearer Ednyfed Fychan.

"All we know of Adda is his name. Until I stumbled upon Peter Bartum's wonderful life work, I was under the impression that Llewelyn was an only child, as all the other historians reported this. When I discovered Adda, I was faced with a dilemma. Why did Llewelyn's brother play no role in Welsh politics? He'd lived long enough to father a child, so that only deepened the mystery. I eventually concluded that he had a disability, and I explained my reasoning to my readers in my Author's notes."

Regarding Llewelyn's senschal Fychan, Penman states, "I can't recall a time when I didn't know that Ednyfed was the ancestor of Henry Tudor. I assume I must have encountered that fact early in my research. Despite his dubious descendants, I was rather fond of Ednyfed as a character."

It's difficult not to be caring of the scores of characters Penman writes about. She deeply involves her readers into their lives with her careful research and intensely drawn personalities, intertwining her fans emotions with the peoples she writes about.

In her quest for the facts, Sharon developed a deep affinity for Wales and the Welsh people. She says. "Whenever I cross the border from England into Wales and see the Red Dragon sign that welcomes me to Cymru, I always feel as if I'm coming home."


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