Category: Dual Timeline, Fairies, Myths, Book Review
1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true–didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished.
One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world.
Being familiar with, and fascinated by, the story of the Cottingley fairies, I was looking forward to Hazel Gaynor’s re-imagining of this incredible tale based on true events. I wasn’t disappointed.
In 1917, after Frances Griffiths’ father left to fight in WW1, Frances and her mother travelled from South Africa to Yorkshire, to stay with family for the duration. Amid the strangeness of a new and very different country and worry about her father, nine year old Frances finds herself being drawn into a new family situation. She and her cousin Elsie get on famously, despite the age difference, and became fast friends.
Already a girl who enjoyed fairy stories, Frances was enchanted when Elsie took her to the beck at the back of the house. She felt it was a magical place and knew she could spend hours there.
At the bottom of the ravine was a glittering stream, about two feet in depth and six feet wide. A waterfall plunged from a shale shelf of shale rock to the right, tumbling in three broad steps towards the stream, where the water bubbled and boiled. Dappled shade from the trees cast intriguing shadows onto the water, while the flickering sunlight painted the early spring foliage in shades of gold and emerald and soft buttery yellow.
In present day Howth, Ireland, Olivia Kavanagh has inherited her dearly loved and missed grandfather’s bookshop, Something Old, and the cottage where her grandparents lived. Her grandmother is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s. Trying to put her impending marriage to the back of her mind, Olivia concentrates on the task facing her. Her grandfather has also left her a document—‘Notes on a Fairy Tale by Frances Griffiths’. And so the connection between past and present is established as it becomes apparent Olivia’s grandmother had grown up in Cottingley.
The Cottingley Secret is such a lovely story, written beautifully, magical and atmospheric. And amazing really to think that two young girls caused a controversy that spanned decades, and included people such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who believed the fairy photographs were authentic and went a long way to confirming the existence of supernatural phenomena. A prank that was meant only for family took on a life of its own and brought the girls to the attention of the media and beyond causing, along with the inevitable negative reactions, hope and enchantment for those who wanted something uplifting to believe in during the dark days of the first world war.
The story alternates seamlessly between the early 1900s and 2017 and once again Hazel Gaynor has done a brilliant job of combining fact with fiction. I became immersed in both timelines and enjoyed them very much. The characters, both real and fictional, are compelling and portrayed authentically adding a great deal of depth to the story, along with the beautifully vivid imagery.
The story doesn’t quite finish when you see the words The End. The author’s notes, the fairy photographs and a note from Christine Lynch, Frances’ daughter, are an added bonus. Even though Frances admitted four of the photographs were faked, as I understand it she maintained the fifth was not. It would be interesting as Christine Lynch says, to have the photograph analysed with today’s technology. Or perhaps it’s nicer just to hold on to the magic…
Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY was shortlisted for the 201 Irish Book Awards, and THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Their most recent collaboration is MEET ME IN MONACO which was shortlisted for the 2020 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award.
Hazel’s forthcoming unforgettable historical novel is set in Japanese-occupied China during WW2. Titled THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE (UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand) / WHEN WE WERE YOUNG & BRAVE (North America), it will be published in August and October 2020, respectively.