Twitter 7-day book challenge – now with explanations!

I’d seen this challenge going around on Twitter for a while so I was delighted when Hisdoryan (check out her brilliant blog http://hisdoryan.co.uk/) tagged me in it. The challenge is to post the cover of a book you enjoy, one per day for seven days, but without any explanations of any further info. I’ve now completed the challenge, so decided to discuss the books I chose and why. (They are all historical novels, by the way). 

While I could easily have chosen 700 books here, never mind seven, these are books that truly left a mark on me. In fact, I read most of them many years ago but they still stick out for me. They are all novels, but in a historical setting, and I highly recommend them all.

(Click on the book titles for further information on them)

DAY ONE: BACK HOME by MICHELLE MAGORIAN

One of the first books that truly left a mark on me. I think I read it four times in as many months when I first came across it when I was 14. I’ve probably read it close to ten times now! Reading about the challenges faced by Rusty upon her return from evacuation in 1945 after 5 years away from her family encouraged me to dig much deeper into the topic of evacuees and the impact the war had on their lives and relationships with their families. You can truly get inside Rusty’s head in this story and you find yourself really identifying, sympathising and engaging with all the together. Such a favourite for me.

DAY TWO: THE SILVER THREAD by KYLIE FITZPATRICK

Okay, this one isn’t the most historically accurate book, but I just love the topic! This books tells the story of a wealthy Dublin woman whose family fall on hard times, and she must try and make her own way in Victorian London to support her family. However some unfortunate encounters thanks to her uncle’s business dealings lead to her to be wrongfully accused of theft and transported to Australia in the early days of the colony. A must read for those interested in 1800s Ireland, London and Australia alike.

DAY THREE: THE LAST RUNAWAY by TRACY CHEVALIER

Tracy Chevalier might be best known for her classic ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’, but she has produced so much more than that. I’ve read four of her novels to date, but ‘The Last Runaway’ remains my favourite. It was probably my first real introduction to the Underground Railroad, and tells the story of a British Quaker who reluctantly emigrates to America and finds herself obliged to assist the plight of runaway slaves trying to escape to the North – much to the horror of her family. Truly gripping and accessible, this is a brilliant read.

DAY FOUR: THE THORNBIRDS by COLLEEN MCCULLOUGH

Okay, so this was written well before my time, and I’ll confess I watched the 1983 TV series before I actually read the book – but as always, the book is much better. Set in rural Australia at the turn of the century, ‘The Thornbirds’ explores a forbidden relationship through numerous decades – that of a Catholic Priest and Meggie, the young daughter of a family he befriends in order to get access to their wealth to feed his political ambitions within the church. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is ‘chick-lit’! Rather, the book explores themes of poverty, hardship, wealth (and the loss of it), politics, religion and taboo – all the while against the backdrop of fledgling Australia.

DAY FIVE: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by KHALED HOSSEINI

Readers will no doubt be familiar with this one, and while it’s not set as far back in history as some of the other books I write about here, it is historic for sure. The follow up from Khaled Hosseini’s award-winning debut novel ‘The Kite Runner’, and set in Afghanistan, it tells the story of Mariam, an illegitimate child born in the 1950s, who, after her mother’s suicide, is sold into an abusive marriage by her father but forms an unlikely friendship with her neighbour Leila. Leila is many years younger than Mariam and has the complete opposite upbringing, but is forced to accept a marriage proposal from Mariam’s husband in order to survive after Afghanistan enters war and her home is destroyed by rockets. The books focuses primarily on female characters and their roles in Afghan society against the backdrop of war and Mariam’s lifelong struggle to escape from the stigma of her illegitimacy.

DAY SIX: WILDFLOWER GIRL BY MARITA CONLON-MCKENNA

My non-Irish readers might not be as familiar with this as my Irish readers undoubtedly will, but this is a classic, and a follow-on from the sensational Great Famine novel ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’. I first read this book when I was very young having already been gripped by Under the Hawthorn Tree. This series, and the third instalment, ‘Fields of Home’, follows the lives of three young siblings during the Irish Great Famine and the years afterwards. In ‘Wildflower Girl’, the youngest sibling, Peggy, emigrates to America and experiences everything from coffin ships to the reality of domestic service in Victorian America. Despite being a children’s book, it is accessible to both young and old and is a real insight into the horror that was the Great Famine.

DAY SEVEN: PROPERTY by VALERIE MARTIN

This was the winner of the Orange Prize in 2003, and not without reason. This book is a history-lovers gem. It has two settings – New Orleans (where our protagonist grew up) and the sugar plantation she now lives on that is owned by her husband. It explores the subject of slavery from the perspective of a childless mistress who feels oppressed and worthless and stuck in a loveless marriage. However in a unusual move, the crux of the story is her resentment of her black maid, Sarah, who she was given as a wedding present. Sarah is also Manon’s husband’s sex slave and this causes increasing tension between the two women. The story is played out against the backdrop of the civil unrest and slave rebellion. A phenomenal insight, and a step back in time. I’d highly recommend this book.

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Historic Facts about the Bolivian Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni)

I ticked a long-standing aim off my bucket-list in 2018 – visiting the Bolivian Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni). It didn’t disappoint from a natural perspective! But I was delighted to uncover some bitesize pieces of history about it. Here are some historic facts you will learn while touring the Bolivian Salt Flat:

  1. The Bolivian Salt Flats were formed sometime between 11,500 and 13,400 years ago years ago, the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert-like, nearly 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-white flat salt. img_0948
  2. Name Origin: Salar means salt flat in Spanish. However Uyuni originates from the Aymara language and means a pen (enclosure). So Salar de Uyuni loosely translated means ‘salt flat with enclosures’. It’s disputed as to whether or not the enclosures are referring to the various islands on the Salt Flat itself, or animal enclosures at Uyuni town itself. 
  3. The Aymarans lived in the region before the arrival of the Spanish arrived. Today, they are one of few native south American peoples with a population of over 1 million. Aymara legend claims that the nearby mountains were original giant people. When one of the giant wives, Tunupa, was left by her husband Kusku for Kusina, Tunupa started to cry while breastfeeding her son. However, her tears mixed with milk and formed the Salar. It’s a legend, but many Aymara say that Salt Flat should be called Salar de Tunupa in her honour.
  4. In the centre of the salt flat sits Incahuasi Island (or Isla Incahuasi). Well, technically it’s not an island anymore, but rather, a hilly outcrop from which stunning views of the salt flat are available. Numerous fossils have been found on Incahuasi, and the whole place is the top of an ancient volcano, which was submerged by the lake some 40,000 years ago. The name comes from Quechua, with Inka meaning Inca and wasi meaning house. Inca House. (It’s sometimes also called the Isla del Pescado thanks to its fish-like profile). Oh and it’s famously covered in cacti – be warned!
  5. Near the town of Colchani (a salt-mining town), there is a cave on the hillside with the 900-year-old remains of eight figures. This grave is largely intact, with three full skeletons (including a mother holding a baby). The skeletons are all intentionally deformed, which is believed to have been done deliberately so that they would stand out to the Gods. 
  6. On the outskirts of Uyuni lies an enormous Train Graveyard which most tour companies will bring you to (although it’s walkable from Uyuni town). In the 19th century, plans were afoot to build huge networks of trains out of Uyuni into neighbouring countries. but the project was abandoned because of a combination of technical difficulties and tension with neighbouring countries. There is now an enormous collection of late 19th and early 20th century rusty trains sitting on the salt plain. The salt winds have corroded the metal, and many have been vandalised, but they remain an astonishing (and marginly eerie) remnance of an industrial dream.
  7. One of the first things you notice in Bolivia (whether or not you end up visiting Salar de Uyuni) is that almost every Bolivian elderly woman will be wearing a Bowler Hat. It’s claimed that a line of Bowler Hats were created in the UK my two brothers, who intended to sell them to British railway workers working in Bolivia at the time. But the hats were too small for men and were instead given to local women. Today, they areworn slightly too small still – symbolic of the mistake – but the original bowler hat women were spun a yarn that this was the female fashion back in Europe!

Historic Facts about Yellowstone National Park

Historic Facts about Yellowstone National Park

I made my first trip to Yellowstone National Park a few months ago and it blew me away. An imminent return visit is certainly on the cards, but in the meantime, I’ve drawn up a list of some Historic Facts about Yellowstone National Park:

  1. Humans have inhabited the Yellowstone Region for over 11,000 years. This is known thanks to archeological sites, trails, and oral histories.
  2. The region was not properly explored until the 1800s, but it kept hitting barriers. The first visitors were largely hunters, seeking fur. Among them was Daniel Potts, who also published what is largely regarded as the first account of the beauty of Yellowstone, in a Philadelphia newspaper. (You can read more about Daniel Potts here).
  3. Yellowstone was the first ever National Park in the USA, created by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.Initially run by the Secretary of the Interior, the US Army oversaw the management of the Park for 30 yers until 1917, when the National Park Service, then one year into it’s existance, took it over. 
  4. The hugely famous Old Faithful geyser got it’s named before the creation of the park. It was named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, on which Nathaniel P. Langford was a member, and was the first geyser in the park to receive a name, and was given the name for it’s predictability, erupting every 45-90 minutes. In the early days of the park, Old Faithful proved to be an effective laundry machine!
  5. Yellowstone’s first superintendent, Nathaniel P. Langford, who was part of the party who named Old Faithful, was unpaid. Without pay, without funding and without laws to protect wildlife and other natural features, he did his best to promote the park but was removed from the post in 1877.
  6. Nathaniel P. LangfordThe first Yellowstone railway station was built near the north entrance to the park, at Livigstone, Montana, in the early 1880s. There were 300 visitors to the park in 1872, but this numbered had increased to 5,000 in 1883, largely thanks to the introduction of the railway. (Read more about early rail travel to Yellowstone here
  7. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt lay the cornerstone to the Arch at Gardiner. The 1903 visit was his second to the park – he loved it, and took with him a naturalist, opting to camp outside for many nights and really experience the beauty of the area. 
  8. Cars were first permitted in the park in 1915, much to the upset of stagecoach drivers, whose horses were startled by the new vehicleYellowstone stagecoachss and often caused injury to both horses and humans. Frequently, horses had to be used to rescue cars that became stuck in the muddy roads or broke down miles from any places they could be repaired.
  9. The park’s boundaries were officially expanded for the first time in 1929, by President Hoover.
  10. Nearly one third of the park was lost during fires in 1988, with the summer wildfire’s being the largest in the history of the park
  11. The creation of the national park did not provide protection for wolves or other predators. This meant that wolves were constantly being poached. The last native wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926. But with elk populations getting out of control, they were reintroduced in 1995 and now there are over 100 wolves in 12 packs in the park.

 

10 Historic Facts you might not know about the London Underground (Tube)

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Photo: author’s own

Having lived in London for six years, I use the Tube virtually every single day. The history of it has always fascinated me – I was aware that civilians had sheltered in it during World War II, but actually descending into the stations…I couldn’t believe this was where they slept and it got me thinking about the creation of the Tube and what’s it become. 

    1. The London Underground was the first underground railway system in the world. In 1863, The Metropolitan Railway, as it was then known, began running between Paddington (then called Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street. Around 30,000 passengers went on The Metropolitan Railway on its first day of public business – January 10, 1863. It was not until 1890 that the phrase ‘Tube’ was used, and the name ‘Underground’ did not appear in stations until 1908.
    2. The Tube was originally steam-powered. Although the underground railway has opened in 1863, it wasn’t until 1869 that it began to run under the Thames and south of the river, through the Thames Tunnel. And it was not until December 1890 that the world’s first deep-level electric railway was opened, running from King William Street in the City of London, under the Thames, to Stockwell.
    3. As noted above, it wasn’t until 1869 that the Tube started running under the Thames, and through the Thames Tunnel. The Thames Tunnel had opened in 1843- the first tunnel under a river – and upon its opening became known as the Eigth Wonder of the World. Built by the Brunels, it’s construction was not without its flaws – the miners were subjected to sewage flows, ignited methane gas and some died during construction due to flooding – but the completed tunnel provided the basis for the Tube to run under the Thames.
    4. The Tube was designed so that illiterate people could navigate it. Ever noticed how some Tube stations are coloured/some tiles contrast? The reason for this is because the designs were originally created to help commuters recognise the station they had arrived at without the benefit of the blue and white signs commuters are used to seeing on a daily basis.
    5. It’s a well-known fact that many Tube stations were used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War, but the Central Line was even converted into a fighter aircraft factory that stretched for over two miles, with its own railway system. Its existence remained an official secret until the 1980s. Brompton Road (now disused) on the Piccadilly, Line was apparently used as a control room for anti-aircraft guns.
    6. But while the Tube acted as an air-raid shelter during World War II, it was not without its tragedies. The worst civilian death toll on the Underground occurred at Bethnal Green Tube tragedy in 1943, when 173 people died in a human crush. And earlier, than that, in 1940, 41 people were killed when a bomb burst a mains pipe,causing people sheltering in the Balham Tube station to drown.
    7. Winston Churchill had his own secret station during the World War II. Down Street was a working station between 1907 and 1932, and was converted into bomb-proof shelters during the Second World War. Initially on what was to become the Piccadilly Line, it was between Dover Street (now Green Park) and Hyde Park Corner stations. Mainly used as a shelter by the Railway Executive Committee during the war, it was also used by Winston Churchill and his war cabinet until the Cabinet War Rooms were ready for use. The London Transport Museum offer tours of Down Street as part of it’s Hidden London series – https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/hidden-london/down-street
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      Photo taken August 2018 by the author

      After the war, the deep level shelter at Clapham South housed 492 immigrants from the West Indies who arrived aboard the HMT Empire Windrush, having responded to an advertisement for labourers to come to London. When they arrived, the colonial Office didn’t have enough accommodation for them all, and they were sheltered in the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. You can visit the shelter today thanks to the London Transport Museum – https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/hidden-london/clapham-south

    9. One of the proposed names for the Victoria Line was Viking Line. Sadly though, this wasn’t for historical reasons, but more-so because it would run through the stations of Victoria and King’s Cross.
    10. And finally…on it’s inaugural journey in 1863, around 30,000 passengers traveled on the Tube. On 4 December 2015 (a day when I travelled to and from work at the BBC), I helped contribute to a new record – being one of 4.82 million people who traveled on the Tube that day.

THANK YOU TO THE AUTHORS OF THE FOLLOWING SOURCES FOR HELPING WITH MY RESEARCH FOR THIS POST: