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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Queen Victoria Had Two Half-Siblings! | All About Princess Feodora Of Leiningen

Queen Victoria Had Two Half-Siblings! | All About Princess Feodora Of Leiningen

A fantastic article from http://www.historicaldiariesblog.wordpress.com on the siblings of Queen Victoria that no one knows about!!!

THE HISTORICAL DIARIES

In today’s post we will be discussing Victoria’s relationship to Princess Feodora of Leiningen and Carl, 3rd Prince of Leiningen. The two older half-siblings of Queen Victoria  were born through her mother’s first marriage to Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen. 

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What to pack when hiking the Inca Trail or Lares Trek

Before you set off for a wondrous step-back-in-time on the Inca Trail (see my article here on Historic Facts I learned on the Inca Trail) there are a number of essentials you must ensure you’ve got with you. Here is what to pack when hiking the Inca Trail /Lares Trek/Salkantay Trek:

Machu Picchu own

Day Pack:

There is no excuse for skimping here – you need a proper day backpack (in addition to your main baggage) that won’t weigh you down on the trek. Your clothes and heavy baggage will be carried by llamas, so this is just for your day items while trekking. You will need a bag that can carry a few litres of water, snacks, a jacket, camera, sun cream, wipes, and more. I used the Osprey Tempest 30 litre.To be honest, I probably could have gotten away with around 22/24 litres, but I did make use of the day pack in other areas of my trip, when I often carried more, and I didn’t regret the splurge.  The bag moulds to your back so that you don’t feel the weight, and is equipped with special mesh to avoid a sweaty back.

Click here for the Osprey Tempest 30 litre.

alpaca carrying bags
These guys carry the heavy stuff! But you still need a proper daypack. 

Hiking Books

Don’t be fooled – your trainers/sneakers just aren’t going to cut it. You’re going to spend days going up and down rough terrain, and you need protection and support. NB: You can’t skimp here. That pair that cost you a few bucks won’t do the job. Be prepared to invest. 

My Scarpa Women’s Terra GTC Boot were just the ticket.

lares trek views
Just LOOK at those views! But that’s why you need good hiking boots 🙂

Baby Wipes

Sooooo useful. Trust me. Toilet, refreshment, cleaning your hiking boots…trust me. Best 50p you’ll ever spend.

Suncream and decent Sun Glasses

The sun is a lot more biting at altitude. You are much more at risk of burning, or effects you cannot see. Furthermore, it can affect your eyes. Even at the peak of the trek, where there is snow, the sun is biting you. Always have proper protection.

50 Deet insect repellent

I forgot to slap it on one day and boy, did I regret it. Depending on the time of year you go, the mosquitoes will be out in force. South America is also a region where the zika virus is a problem, so a minimum of 50 deet insect repellent is a must. You of course should attend a travel clinic in advance of travelling to get your injections and they will certainly advise you to use 50 deet repellent.

Altitude Tablets

So I made a huge mistake on the trek. For the first day in Cusco, and the early days of the trek, while everyone was feeling the effects of altitude, I felt fine. No problem. So I did something drastic. I DIDN’T TAKE ALTITUDE TABLETS. BIG MISTAKE.

Flash forward to the summit of the Lares Trek (supposedly the highlight), and there’s me, trying to smile for a photo but really trying to keep down the vomit. WORST MISTAKE. You will need to join the School of Preventative Medicine on this one. Just take ‘em.

Powerbank

A given for any phone-junkie – you won’t have access to power points for 3-4 days, and as you will be at altitude, you need a good back-up to charge your phone, e-reader and more. I used this Powerbank by RavPower. It charges three devices at once and always last me a few weeks. I was using my phone so much to take photos on the trail, that I definitely needed it and it didn’t let me down.

Money Belt

Always carry your passport and cash in one of these for safety. The CampTeck RFID Hidden Money Belt  RFID Hidden Money Belt did the job for me. It had room for all the important stuff, but was hidden under my t-shirt and no-one suspected a thing. I would say that it’s absolutely vital you carry one of these.

Thermal Sleeping Bag

Don’t be fooled – it can get very cold on the trail at night. I barely slept a wink the first night I was there, and that was despite wearing a thermal underlayer and all my clothes! I’d recommend you invest in a really decent thermal sleeping bag.

g adventures camp site
Our campsite on night #1 (I was super pleased to discover there was plumbing!)

Hot Water Bottle

This was one I didn’t actually have myself, but I’d advise anyone who is going to do the trek to bring. A lot of people don’t realise just how cold it can get on the trek at night. I wish I’d had a hot water bottle to help me sleep. Companies such as G Adventures will provide you with hot water in the evenings, so you could fill a hot water bottle then. But you can also buy those magic ones that heat up at the touch of a button!

Thermal Pyjamas

The hot water bottle alone won’t do it. I found it really difficult to sleep at night because I wasn’t prepared. You must have proper thermals. I didn’t…and regretted it. If I was going again, I’d be sure to bring some proper ones. I’ve learned my lesson!

Travel Pillow

And while we’re on the topic of sleeping, again, this was something I didn’t bring and I was kicking myself! I ended up bunching up loads of clothes, but it wasn’t enough. It’s worth the extra bulk.

Headtorch

You’d be surprised how much you need your hands when trying to get settled in a tent in the dark! A must have-item is a good headtorch. Not least for trying to find the toiler in the dark.

Travel Towel

This travel towel was a last-minute purchase but boy was I glad of it in the end! G Adventures give you warm water every morning and evening at your tent to wash your face, hands, and whatever else (I do remember bathing my feet in it at one point). So glad I made the decision in the end.

Water Bladder

Your travel companies will provide you with boiled water every morning and evening. In addition to a bottle or water container, if your daypack allows, you should get a water bladder so that you don’t have to take you pack off every time you need a drink on the trek (which is a lot!). It tucks in nicely at the back of your pack with an easily accessible straw. I didn’t think I’d use mine but it came in super useful when I got altitude sick and was struggling to reach the summit.

lares trek and tent
A lunch spot! We ate some delicious fresh fish on this one. G Adventures were super efficient and always had the food ready the moment we arrived (we were starving by then, so it was welcome!)

Warm Hiking Socks

I’ve actually worn these so many times since the Inca Trail because they are so soft and warm! My bank account cried when I initially purchased them (I kept thinking: that’s an outlandish price for a pair of socks!), but I’ve seen bought a few more pairs. Not only do you keep your feet dry on the trek, but they also keep them warm at night. I’d recommend two pairs, and always go for merino wool like these ones.

I hope this is useful! Check out my article on Historic Facts I learned on the Inca Trail!

100 years since the first female MP was elected to Westminster

28 December 2018 marks the centenary of the election of the first female MP to the British Parliament. Countess_MarkiewiczImprisoned at Holloway Prison upon the time of her election, she didn’t take her seat in parliament…but her imprisonment was not the reason…

1918 was a revolutionary year in many respects. In November, the First World War finally came to an end, and almost immediately, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George called a General Election. And it was a revolutionary election. Women over 30 were allowed to vote. But more than that – women could now stand for election.

Miles away from the Western Front, it had been a turbulent few years in Ireland. The long-running struggle for independence was reaching a head. The 1916 Easter Rising failed, but the nationalists were not ready to give up yet.

Most Irish nationalist were members of a party called ‘Sinn Féin’ – who had a policy of ‘abstentionism’. This meant that they took their seats in the Irish Parliament – Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

So when Markievicz was elected, she didn’t take her seat in Westminster. When the Irish Parliament first met in January 1919, she was still in Holloway Prison. When her name was called out at the meeting of the Dáil, she was described, like many of those elected, as being “imprisoned by the foreign enemy”.

The first women to take her seat was Nancy Astor (Viscountess Astor), after a by-election in December 1919.

Random Historical Christmas Facts…

No particular order here; just some random facts about Christmas that got my attention…

JESUS WAS PROBABLY NOT BORN IN DECEMBER

Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no evidence that Jesus was born in December. In fact, most historians not only don’t believe he was born on December 25th, but we he also probably wasn’t born in 1AD, largely because we understand Jesus to have been born on the night of the census under the rule of the Roman Emperor Herod. But no census was taken under the rule of Herod.

So why, then, is Christmas celebrated in December? Well, like most traditions, it’s probably a hangover from Pagan Times. Christmas didn’t officially become a holiday until many years after Jesus was born, thus it is believed that the celebration of his birth was tied in with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honoured the god Saturn by celebrating and giving gifts. December 25th is also a few days after the Winter Solstice, so it’s believed the early Roman Catholic Church chose December 25th as a means to tie all the festivals together.

SAINT NICHOLAS DAY IS ACTUALLY ON 6 DECEMBER…

Following on from the post above, ever wondered why some countries celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus on 6 December and then still observe Christmas on 25 December? Why do countries such as the Netherlands, Poland and more still celebrate the arrival of Saint Nick on 6 December?

It’s more likely another case of festivals being absorbed into one another. The American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas likely originated from the Dutch Feast of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nick). Born in the 3rd century, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and tradition holds that he had a long white beard, a red cape, rode a white horse and had a list of children who had been ‘naughty or nice’. He apparently gave away his inheritance to needy children and his feast day was 6 December.

Tradition holds that Saint Nicholas would bring gifts to children who had been well-behaved on the night of 5th/6th of December. So why then, do most Western countries observe his arrival on Christmas Day? Well, one of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men, so that’s why Saint Nicholas is linked to Christmas. But after the reformation in northern Europe, stories and traditions about Saint Nicholas became unpopular. Reformists such as Martin Luther wanted a Protestant alternative to the feast of Saint Nicholas. So Saint Nick morphed into Father Christmas/Pére Noel/Kring Kindle (depending on where you are from). And his arrival in most countries was moved to December 25th.

NO-ONE KNOWS WHY WE USE CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS…

But there are some interesting stories behind the custom. Legend holds that in Saint Nicholas’ time, there was an old man with three daughters who couldn’t afford their marriage dowries. Saint Nicholas wanted to help, but he needed to do it discreetly, so as not to upset the old man or get the nosy neighbours talking. So one night, after dark, he threw three bags of gold through an open window, and one landed in a stocking. It is believed the tradition of putting Christmas presents in the stocking originates from this.

HENRY VIII WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO EAT TURKEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Most people know that turkeys are not native to Europe, so how did we end up eating them for Christmas in Europe? Well, turkeys were first brought to Britain from the Americas in 1525. Prior to that, Christmas day dinner often consisted of goose, boar head, or even peacock. Even when King Henry VIII ate turkey for Christmas Dinner in the 16th century, turkey did not become a staple Christmas dinner meal in Europe. Edward VII became a big fan of turkey on Christmas Day, but was popularised as Christmas Day dinner from the 1950s onwards.

The small Wexford village forever affected by the deaths of three young women during WWII

You can read my article for http://www.thejournal.ie in remembrance of the bombing of a small village in Wexford during WWII here: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/campile-bombing-ireland-4203766-Aug2018/