Local author Hazel Gaynor knows a thing or two about fairies, thanks to her latest novel. It was inspired by the greatest hoax of the 20th century, when two young girls convinced the world they had photographed fairies.
Hazel is both a New York Times bestselling novelist and a former Leinster Leader columnist who grew up in Yorkshire. Her latest book, The Cottingley Secret, dates back to 1917 when a nine-year-old girl called Frances and her 16-year-old cousin, Elsie, told their parents that they could see fairies.
As if to prove it, they provided photographs of themselves with the so-called fairies which later caught the imagination of Sherlock Holmes author and spirtualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After that there was no going back for the girls, who continued to insist that the fairies were real, until they finally confessed to the world in 1983 that they were cardboard cut-outs.
“I was certainly aware of the photographs growing up and it definitely captured the imagination at the time,” said Hazel last week. “It was a little white lie that just grew and grew. The girls never intended for anyone but their parents to see the photographs. And Frances always said througout her life that she did see them.”
She also maintained until she died that the final photograph of two fairies in the grass taken without the girls was real.
“It is interesting that there is still a certain mystery about that last photograph. It is a part of history now and fairy folklore. I like to think there is something there.”
Hazel has a talent for taking an historical event and making a story around it.
“I take world-known events like the Titanic and build a story from my imagination around them. I only began writing after I made redunant in 2009 from the corporate world. I always loved reading and when I found myself at home in Kilcullen with my two boys Max and Sam (now 10 and 12) I decided to give it go. I began writing my column, Hot Cross Mum, for the Leader. That helped me to find my confidence.”
Hazel's first book, ‘The Girl Who Came Home - A novel of the Titantic’ - was self-published. It led her to getting a publishing deal. Success followed very quickly after that.
“That became a bestseller on the New York Times list in 2014,” she added.
“I was self-published at first and then to get that level of success so suddenly - it allowed me to combine my work life with my family. The historical novel is what I wanted to write and what I enjoy reading — I was interested in the Titanic since I was a young girl.
“However I don’t just want to write historical novels, but rather the imagined stories around it. The history is there but it acts like a spring board and a way to breathe life back into stories .
“By tapping into the history I can use my imagination to allow people to live and breathe again and have emotions. You really have to do your research and I stay very true to the facts. It is a way for me to step back in time and to build my story.”
Since her first flush of success Hazel has written a book a year since 2014.
“ It was always a dream for me because I never had anyone in my family or around me being a novelist. I took a leap of faith but I had a ton of rejection. There were a lot of knock backs and a lot of nos before I finally got published.”
Below is an extract from the new book.
Cottingley, Yorkshire. August 1921.
Fairies will not be rushed. I know this now; know I must be patient. Stiff and still in my favourite seat, formed from the natural bend in the bough of a willow tree, I am wildly alert, detecting every shifting shape and shadow; every snap and crack of twig. I dangle my bare feet in the beck, enjoying the cool rush of the water as it finds a natural course between my toes. I imagine that if I sat here for a hundred years, the water would smooth and round them, like the pebbles I collect from the riverbed and keep in my pockets.
In the distance I can see Mr. Gardner, the man they sent from London, with his round spectacles and bow tie and endless questions. He peers around the trunk of an oak tree, watches for a moment, and scribbles his observations in his notebook. I know what he writes: remarks about the weather, our precise location, the peculiar sense of something different in the air.
Elsie stands on the riverbank beside me, her camera ready. “Can’t you ’tice them?” she urges. “Say some secret words?”