A Way Through the Woods was inspired by the antics of two young cousins – Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths – who, in 1917, claimed to have taken photographs of fairies. Nobody would have paid them much attention had it not been for the involvement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who believed in the spirit world and claimed that the photographs were genuine.
The story captured my imagination in part because of the period, in part because of the extraordinary audacity of the two young girls involved. Everything about the story intrigued me – not least the period and the collusion between two cousins who must suddenly have found themselves completely out of their depth when such an august figure as Conan Doyle claimed that their photographs were not fakes.
The period – immediately post World War One – was one which evoked for me my great aunts, Gracie, Winnie and Madge, who had been born at the turn of the century and never married, probably in part because of the carnage of the war. But they were indomitable career women; a nurse, a civil servant and a secretary. I sensed, even as a young child, that a great deal about their lives was unmentioned and out of reach. I was a feminist and knew that post world war period had been a tricky one for women – poised between their Victorian mothers and the men who returned to battle to find that the monstrous regiment had performed well in men’s roles, was gaining entrance to university, and had won the vote.
In the end I wrote a novel about a sophisticated town cousin and her dreamy rural counterpart who communes often with fairies in the woods near her home. The fairies are real to Helena, patently a fantasy according to cynical Sophia. They are a symbol of coming of age, the loss of innocence, and above all the damage that lack of love can cause and unconditional love can mend.
Well shaped and lovingly crafted…. The author’s touch is appealingly fresh and she succeeds in suggestion the complexity, waywardness and inexplicable patches that constitute life.
Elizabeth Buchan, The Times