Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet is a new novel by Maggie O'Farrell. It tells a fictional tale of William Shakespeare, his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their life in Stratford-Upon-Avon and London in the 1500's.

It is a great story of love, life and loss. A definite must-read, it is the 2020 winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction.

We used to have a lovely home in a small village in Warwickshire. Ilmington offered one shop, one school, one Catholic church, one Anglican church and two pubs. And while the village was quaint and bursting with English Country charm, the real selling point for us was it's location. Exactly 100 miles, door to door, it was an achievable commute from London. It sat at the foot of Ilmington Downs; perfect for daytime rambling night time star-gazing. And for my troupe of transplanted Americans, the best thing about Ilmington, was it's 8 mile drive to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ilmington Downs, Warwickshire

Stratford was our go-to weekend highlight, and not because it still had a Blockbuster.

There was always a lot to do in Stratford. And while visits to the butterfly museum were replaced with visits to the Falstaff Plague Museum as the children got older, there was always time for an ice cream from the longboat cafe.

Walking around the old town was magical, and we always dragged, without fail, our visitors past the Tudor building that then housed what we called 'Ye Olde Pizza Hut'. Though we never ate there.

With guests, we always made a visit to Shakespeare's Birthplace. I had been so often I'm sure I could have skinned a goat and stitched up a pair of rabbit-lined 3/4 length gloves faster than you could say "John Shakespeare was a shady business man" (John, William's father, was a glove maker, trading in black-market wool.). After the tour of William Shakespeare's childhood home and garden, we drove out to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, which became a family joke after the release of the Princess Diaries (Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare's wife.).

Shakespeare's Birthplace, The New Place, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Ye Olde Pizza Hut

But, though having dived so deep into Shakespeare's architectural history, I had never read much more than high school Midsummer's Night Dream. This changed when my friend asked me to join her on a reading course called Friends with Shakespeare. You might think reading text in 16th century English out loud in front of trained actors to be tricky, and, yes it is. But it is also a lot of fun, and very good for the brain (though I must confess that I need adequate nap-time before each class to be at my peak performance.). I have now conquered FOUR complete plays, beginning to end, I am, in my own head, a bit of an aficionado.

So when that same friend presented me with a copy of Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell, I approached it with the gusto of a pastry chef's first visit to a Parisian patisserie. Simon Savidge, on Sky Arts Bookclub Live, claimed that he has never cried reading a book, but did with this one. Sign me up!

This book is fiction. We know so little about Shakespeare's life, that we have room to imagine what it might have been like in 1582, when William, then 18, married 26 year old Anne Hathaway. He fathered three children while living in Stratford. Soon after, his family behind for fame, glory and the bright lights of the big city. Nature, family, hierarchy, social constructs, death, love, lust, service, relationships with God are all on-going themes of Shakespeare's writing. With the subtlety of a feather pen, these themes are fleshed out and explored within the pages of Hamnet.

But this is a love story. The love between two people who fully understand each other, and the love of a mother and her children. It is also a story of loss. Hamnet elevates Agnes (Anne) from the footnote of history and places her front and centre in the mind of the world's greatest playwright. Hamnet is the 2020 winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction. I didn't cry until 3/4 through, but didn't stop until the end.

Queen's Golden Jubilee, 2002, Ilmington, Warwickshire

#London #TheGlobe #Shakespeare #StratfordUponAvon #Warwickshire #UKTourism #StratfordTourism #ShakespeareBirthplace #AnneHathawayCottage #Hamnet #MaggieOFarrell #WomensFictionPrize #Ilmington #SkyArtsBookClub #SimonSavidge #IlmingtonDowns #Rambling #AnneHathaway

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About Us


Fearing the empty nest? Don't! Since my children have flown the coup, I have had time to refocus on my passions of travel, art, and writing.  This little blog is a handy tool that helps me share what I have learned with others.


I grew up in the States, but have lived a large chunk of my adult life in the UK. I now split my time between London and South Africa as well as chasing the sun around the world. 


 When my nest emptied, I began to plan my trips according to my own schedule, indulging in going solo. Once one gets used to traveling solo, it can be a very freeing experience. I seek out interesting, informative and unique experiences, and proffer advice with my network of readers.  I also have a lot of fun!


 Spa retreats and personal growth travel are core to what I do.  If there was a master's degree in the art of booking massages, I would be a scholarship student! I also plan to conquer Europe one city break at a time and with all that effort, I need as many beach holidays as possible. 


So please enjoy reading my tales of travel. I hope you are encouraged to get on that plane and perhaps have a few giggles along the way.


When my large family was quite young, we lived in several international postings. In an age before Google Translate,  I negotiated the grocery stores of foreign countries in search of tasty ingredients. I soon became an expert at discerning information from food labels and also learned to cook healthy, quick meals from local sources. 


From this experience, I became quite the foodie, even before 'foodie' was a word. And now as an empty-nester and devotee of food travel networks, I  interpret those old recipes into smaller, even tastier versions. 


Being an editor and food/wine travel columnist,  I travel the world sampling indigenous recipes which I share on Old Bag on a Plane. I also love wine!


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As we are all not traveling much, now would be a great time to share favourite travel, wellness, and food stories. We would love to include your best tales on this blog. If you would like to collaborate, please email us here at oldbagonaplane@gmail.com

Around this time each year, we would create a recap of all our best adventures from the year just passed. As this is 2021, and there were no adventures in 2020, here is a short video montage of all the things we did while we were not doing anything at all.