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On the 14th January this year Words &
Women were invited to the launch of Guinevere Glasfurd’s debut novel The Words In My Hand. Guin has been a
long time supporter of Words & Women and has managed our Twitter feed for
the past couple of years, so we were delighted to accept the invitation and
travelled over to Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge on a freezing, dark night. The
weather was so biting that we were concerned that Guin wouldn’t get much of an audience
but happily the bookshop was packed, many people keen to meet the author whose
book had just been selected as Times Book of the Month.
The Words in my Handis the reimagined true story
of Helena, a 17th century Dutch maid, desperate to educate herself and use her
mind, in an era where women were kept firmly in their place.
Helena works for an English bookseller who rents out a room to
the mysterious ‘Monsieur’. On his arrival, ‘Monsieur’ turns out to be René
Descartes. For all his learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the
surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him. Descartes and Helena form an
unlikely bond which turns from teaching into an affair.
(c) Saskia Glasfurd-Brown
Weaving together the story of Descartes' quest for reason with
Helena's struggle for literacy, The Words in my Handfollows Helena's journey
across the Dutch Republic as she tries to keep their young daughter secret.
Helena and Descartes’ worlds overlap yet remain sharply divided; the only way
of being together is living unseen. However, they soon face a terrible tragedy,
and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.
The Words in my Handtells Helena’s story – a woman
who yearned for knowledge, who wanted to write so much that she made her own
ink from beetroot and used her body for paper.
Dr Erik-Jan Bos (c) Saskia Glasfurd-Brown
The launch began with a short speech from Lisa Highton,
Guin’s publisher at Two Roads Books which is an imprint of John Murray Press.
Dr Erik-Jan Bos, who was the academic advisor on the book, then talked movingly
about Descartes and his relationship with Helena. Guin followed with a reading from her novel, and the evening
ended on thanks for the many people who have given her advice and support during
Words And Women will review The Words in my Hand on this blog at a later date, but in the meantime we wish
to congratulate Guin and wish her every success with the book.
Guin Glasfurd's short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, the
Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland. The Words In My Hand, her first novel, was written
with the support of a grant from Arts Council England. She also works
collaboratively with artists in the UK and South Africa and her work has been
funded under the Artists' International Development Fund, (Arts Council England
and the British Council). She can be found online at guinevereglasfurd.com and
@guingb. She lives on the edge of the Fens, near Cambridge. Rights to the novel
have sold in Germany (Ullstein Buchverlage), France (Livre de Poche),
Netherlands (Luitingh-Sijthoff Amsterdam) and Spain (Siruela).