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Derek Flynn’s On My Bookshelf: Hazel Gaynor

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft
Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn

On My Bookshelf is a feature where I ask authors what are the best books they’ve read recently. This week, it’s the turn of author, Hazel Gaynor.


HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell

The most beautifully written, brilliantly imagined historical novel, which looks at Shakespeare’s life in an entirely new way. HAMNET is the story not just of a beloved young boy, but of his mother, Agnes (who we will all know as Anne), of a twin sister, and of a husband and wife. That I read this novel (set during a time of plague), while in the middle of a global pandemic, definitely lent something extra to the narrative. An incredible novel which has been hailed as the best of the author’s career, and deservedly so.

 THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott

Historical fiction meets spy thriller meets Mad Men. An absolutely fascinating novel centred around Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, and how it became embroiled in the Cold War. Told from the point of view of multiple narrators across multiple settings and dates, this is a clever, compelling book to read without any interruption while sipping a strong vodka martini.

 THE EXILES by Christina Baker Kline

An epic, powerful and heart-breaking tale of British women transported on the convict ships from London’s notorious Newgate Prison to Van Diemen’s land, and an intersecting story of an orphaned Aborigine girl. I was lucky to read an early copy of the book which has just been released in the USA. Based on true events, this is definitely one for historical fiction fans to look out for when it is released on this side of the pond next month.


HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

Order your copy online here.


THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott

1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.

But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.

In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.

Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.

It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.

Order your copy online here.


THE EXILES by Christina Baker Kline

Naive Evangeline lost her position as a governess and her grip on her destiny when she found herself pregnant out of wedlock. After spending months in Newgate prison, she doesn’t know whether she should be grateful or despairing when she is moved to a prison ship. What she does know is that her child will almost certainly be born during the journey to Australia. On board, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, practically a child herself, sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Great Britain considers Australia an unpeopled colony, but Mathinna is the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, one of a number of peoples whose lands have been seized and their way of life subject to criticism, study, and missionary zeal. Adopted by the new governor of Tasmania and brought to Hobart to live with the family, Mathinna is treated more like a curiosity than a child.

Order your copy online here.


Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. She was the recipient of the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year, the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award, the 2020 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award and her novel, LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Her eighth novel, THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE, set in China during WW2, is an Irish Times bestseller, and is out now. Hazel’s novels have been translated into fourteen languages and published in twenty countries to date. She is co-founder of creative writing events The Inspiration Project, and lives in Kildare with her husband and two children.


About The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor

China, 1941. With Japan’s declaration of war on the Allies, Elspeth Kent’s future changes forever. When soldiers take control of the missionary school where she teaches, comfortable security is replaced by rationing, uncertainty and fear.

Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School. Now the enemy, separated indefinitely from anxious parents, the children must turn to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – for help. But worse is to come when the pupils and teachers are sent to a distant internment camp. Unimaginable hardship, impossible choices and danger lie ahead.

Inspired by true events, this is the unforgettable story of the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher, in a remote corner of a terrible war.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Derek Flynn runs Writing.ie’s SongBook blog, and is an Irish writer and musician. He has a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and his fiction was featured in ‘Surge’, an anthology of new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press with the aim of showcasing “the very best of the next generation of Irish authors”. Online he can be found at his writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – and on Twitter as @derekf03

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