Feature Book By Hazel Gaynor

The Cottingley Secret

The Cottingley Secret

Comments by Elise Cooper


The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is literally a “fairy” tale. Most everyone can refer back to their childhood and remember their longing for a fairy, whether it was the tooth fairy or Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Remember the line, She's going to die unless we do something. Clap your hands! Clap your hands and say, 'I believe in fairies,’ and both adults and children participated. It was the belief that fairies do exist.

Hazel GaynorGaynor in her latest brings back all those fond memories and more. She takes readers back to a world of enchantment with this intriguing mystery. Even the setting in Yorkshire appears magical, the shallow Beck with the little waterfall, the willow bough seat, and the sunlight illuminating the leaves on the trees.

She also believes in fairies, “100 %. They are like Santa Claus where you do not want to question that sense of another being. During World War I so many lives were lost. People latched on to this magical story and were primed to believe there was an after life. They chose to escape the horrors of WWI and hoped there was another realm, where life went on. If we believe in something then we can make it happen. I think they were symbolic for a sense of hope, faith, and belief.”

Cottingley Yorkshire became famous after two girls in 1917 claimed they saw fairies. One, Francis Griffiths, believes she actually saw them, and the other, her cousin, Elsie Wright, thought it would make a great practical joke. Displaced after her father went off to fight in World War I and moving with her mother from South Africa to England Francis sees these magical figures, pixies, to combat loneliness. After telling her family and wanting very much to be believed she and her cousin Elsie take photographs of fairy cutouts, drawn by Elsie. It got out of hand when the famous British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, known for the Sherlock Holmes character, and photography experts heard about it, and in the course of investigating said that the photos were 100% authentic.

Fast forward 100 years to 2017 when Olivia Kavanagh finds out that her great grandmother was Francis’ teacher and played a role in the fairy hoax. But, she finds more information after her grandfather dies and while combing through the old bookstore left to her, discovering a photograph and a manuscript about the Cottingley fairies. This leads her to realize how Francis and Elsie’s lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, allowing fairies to be their sense of hope and comfort. She becomes almost obsessed to find the answers to the mysterious photo and manuscript, hoping to sort out what is real and what is imagined.

Struggling in love and life Olivia must cope with having lost a mother in her formative years, her beloved grandfather’s death that leaves her more alone than ever, her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and the realization that her fiancé is not someone she wants to spend the rest of her life with. Her grandfather’s words become more potent, “You need only the permission of your heart.”

Gaynor’s scene about the loss of a loved one is very powerful, where her words express the feelings of anyone who also had someone they care for die. “The awful reality of his absence hit her… sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners. He wasn’t there, and yet he was everywhere.” This can also be applied to scenes involving her grandmother. Alzheimer’s tore apart any attempt for her to get advice or connect; although physically there, she was not there mentally.

The author noted, “I lost my mother when I was in my twenties. It could be written from my raw experience. As I grow older I feel that sense of loss because I could not talk to my mom about becoming a woman, a wife, and a mother. I just write on my life experiences as I enter into this fictional world. I expressed some of my feelings through Olivia because I could not express it through myself. I hope that the way I describe it makes sense to readers as well.”

It is as if someone suffering from Alzheimer’s is similar to a photograph. As described in the book, “There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.” The photo Olivia found was a simile for her grandmother now and then.

Regarding Alzheimer’s, she commented, “my husband’s nana was suffering early stages of dementia before she passed. I wrote Martha’s story as her story. There is a sense of a fading away with the memories. For me, that is why a photograph is very important because it is a very permanent record of family. I also spoke with friends and how they felt the frustration of seeing their loved one slipping away.”

This is a book for adults who never want to grow old, or those who have a speckle of childhood left in them, and for parents to read to their children as a bedtime story. It is a magical tale that is moving and relatable, a wish for a better life that maybe can be brought about by the belief in fairies.


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