Please Note: Mary now has a Blog for "Stop Press" news items. As a result this "Latest News" page will only be updated once or twice a year to create a News archive. To visit "Stop Press" for up to the minute information, such as the 2011 lecture schedule for The Churchills, other events and news, please click here.
I am pleased to report that my latest book, The Churchills, is to be published on April 7th, a month later than expected due to last-minute problems with copyright permissions.
Jane Digby’s Syria and JordanTour 2010
The trip to Syria in April & May 2009 was a very successful and enjoyable trip with a very happy and friendly group. So much so, that immediately upon the group’s return Steppes Travel asked Mary to repeat the tour in 2010. Mary agreed, but stressed that it would have to be the final Jane Digby tour for her, as she wants to travel elsewhere in subsequent years.
The trip went ahead to Syria and everyone had a fantastic time, apart from a distressing accident when a member of the group fell off a camel and broke bones in his face. This occurred at 6am, in the middle of the desert, on a Friday – when everything in Syria is closed! However, the difficulties were overcome, thanks largely to a friendly Bedouin with a mobile phone. This enabled Mary to phone a friend in Damascus who is a part owner of one of the best private hospitals, and organise a paramedic ambulance. It was no fun, but we were able to carry on with the tour.
After the Syria tour ended, part of the group went on with Mary to Jordan – visiting among other places Petra where her friend Marguerite still lives. By coincidence Ross Burns, the author of the standard work on Syrian archaeology ‘Monuments of Syria’ was also visiting Marguerite at her little shop in the old city of Petra, close to the cave where she used to live opposite the Roman theatre. See photo below of the four writers.
Please note that although Mary will not be leading any more Jane Digby tours you can still travel to Syria with the highly recommended Steppes East, if you book early enough you may be lucky enough to get Hussein Hinnawi as your guide. He knows all the Jane Digby sites (and no matter what other Damascus guides might tell you, they don’t). Hussein and I have been continuously researching Jane’s career in Syria since 1993 and found new places even in 2010, using Jane’s diaries as our original material. Mary will visit in October 2011 to continue the work.
For details of Steppes Travel please click on: http://steppestravel.co.uk
Hussein Hinnawi, is an acknowledged authority on Syria and Syrian ancient historical sites (see http://husseinhinnawi.com ).
The Amelia Earhart Movie
The movie Amelia, based on Mary’s book The sound of Wings - the biography of Amelia Earheart, starring Richard Gere and Hilary Swank, is due for release in the USA on October 23rd 2009 (Mary’s birthday!) and in the UK in mid-November. Please click on the following link to watch the brilliant and exciting trailer: http://foxsearchlight.com/amelia/
Jane Digby's Syria. In response to countless requests from readers Mary has agreed to lead one more group trip to Syria. It will be for 12 days and will leave on April 25th 2009. As before the ethos will be a group of friends leisurely travelling in company around Syria NOT a lectured tour group, although our guide, Hussein Hinnawi, is an acknowledged authority on most Syrian historical sites (see http://husseinhinnawi.com ).
Mary and Hussein will show you the Syria that Jane roamed over and loved, not just a few places associated with Jane such as her grave and what remains of her house in Damascus.
The tour is strictly limited to 16 places (best size for such a group), of which 9 places are provisionally already reserved before advertising commences. If you are interested please email Kate Burnell at Steppes Travel for full details and cost of the tour. Click on: KateB@steppestravel.co.uk
A Spanish edition of A Scandalous Life has just been published as La Escanalosa Vida de Jane Digby by the publishers Almed. Please click on the following website for direct information http://www.almed.net
The Sound of Wings - at last - the film of the book!
Mary's biography of Amelia Earhart, The Sound of Wings, has been continuously optioned for film since its publication in 1989. Now, a movie based on the book is actually being made. Shooting began in Toronto, Canada in April 2008 and will later move to locations in the USA and Africa. The movie, titled Amelia, stars Richard Gere as George Putnam, and two times Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Amelia. It will be released in 2009.
For further details about this production there are hundreds of websites on Google about it if you search on any combination of the words: Amelia Gere Swank Lovell.
Mary's latest book The Churchills is running behind schedule due to her ill-health in 2006 and 2007.
She is now back working on the Churchill project full time and hopes to complete it by the end of 2008, for publication in autumn 2009.
There are only a limited number of talks this summer due to the above:
June 3rd 2008 - Two illustrated talks on Bess of Hardwick (afternoon and evening) at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
June 4th 2008 - One illustrated talk on Bess of Hardwick (afternoon) at Hardwick Hall
Tickets for these talks are strictly limited, so please telephone Hardwick, direct, to book on: 01246 858400
June 5th 2008 - Evening talk on Bess of Hardwick at Waterstones book shop in Sheffield, for the Friends of Sheffield Manor Lodge.
To book please telephone Friends of Sheffield Manor Lodge. Tel: 0114 - 2762828.
Mary's latest book, Bess of Hardwick was launched in August 2005 to critical acclaim and within a month had gone into reprint. Meanwhile Mary was already at work on a new project; The Churchills, due for completion in summer 2007.
In autumn 2005 she will tour the UK speaking about Bess of Hardwick, delivering a 40 minute talk illustrated with 50 colour slides.
During 2006 several international lecture tours are scheduled. In the spring Mary will be speaking in the USA (Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Boston), about Bess of Hardwick for the Royal Oak Foundation.
Dates already fixed for the USA tour are:
May 4th: Lecture at the Octagon Museum, 300 D Street SW, Washington DC
May 8th: Lecture at The Bard Graduate Center, Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium, 417 East 61st Street, New York
May 9th: Lecture The Union League Club, 140 South Broad Street, Philadelphia
May 11th: Lecture at the Atheneum, 10 Beacon Street, Boston
Please contact the Royal Oak Foundation, New York, at http://royal-oak.org for further details.
During 2004 Mary made a world lecture tour, and completed her biography of Bess of Hardwick. In the spring she led two groups of readers to Syria on a tour called ‘Jane Digby’s Syria,’ with Hussein Hinnawi as guide and interpreter. The first of these groups included nine of Jane Digby’s closest present -day relatives. This is Mary’s short account of the trips:
Without exception we were received everywhere with utmost kindness and amazing hospitality. I have been the fortunate recipient of this Syrian warmth so many times that I can only feel humbled by such generosity of spirit. The ethos of our trip was that of a wandering house-party of friends, and we were able to adjust our daily schedule as we went along, to accommodate the wishes of the groups.
The itinerary included Aleppo, St Simeon, Ebla, Apamea, Hamah, Krak des Chevaliers, Palmyra and Damascus as its cornerstones. But around that base we were able to see many other places and things not normally part of tourist itineraries, in order to bring Syria and Syrians alive for out first-time visitors. For example in Aleppo, as well as the Citadel , the world famous souks - a must for all visitors - and the Baron Hotel which inspired Agatha Christie to write Murder on the Orient Express, we toured the old Armenian quarter at night, dined in local cafés, and after dinner walked through the narrow cobbled alleys lit by lanterns, and drank zuhurat (flower tea) under the stars beside a great wall covered in sweet-smelling Yasmin and honeysuckle.
In Hamah we again toured the old quarter at night, under a full moon in fact, had drinks in river-side cafe and watched dozens of old (medieval) norias – massive wooden waterwheels splashing and creating haloes of spray. These waterwheels predate the Roman occupation and were designed to take water from the Orontes River up to the fields along an amazing network of aquaducts. The surviving wheels were mostly replaced in the 14 and 15th centuries - though of course any broken parts have always been repaired/replaced annually so there is probably nothing original left except the stone bases. These structures are beautifully illuminated at night, and are very appealing, not least for the sonorous groaning sound they make as they turn in the fast-flowing river. Each one has a different "voice". One evening we were invited into a private courtyard which we inadvertently wandered into.
In fabulous Palmyra, which played such a major role in Jane’s story we not only toured the exquisite desert ruins, by day and at night, but we walked through the ancient lanes in the oasis, and stopped and took photographs of the pool where Jane bathed naked in the moonlight on her honeymoon. We met local people and talked to them about this pool and about Jane. We were told that the Bedouins have used this pool for 5 centuries and on both occasions that we visited it, it was being used by Bedu women to wash sheepskins and by children to swim and cool off . We also visited a film set, which was great fun.
With each group we had one night camping in the Syrian Desert about 30 miles S.E. of Palmyra. We all bathed (in swimsuits, of course) in the hot, soothing waters of a sulphur spring. We visited a Bedouin family, and were given a tour of their tent, and enjoyed a fantastic Bedouin party (with music and dancing which we joined in). We also experienced a simoon, a very hot almost gale-force wind, which I wouldn’t have chosen given the option, but it was certainly an interesting occurrence and it gave us a practical example of the problems with which Jane had to contend (except that we had an air conditioned vehicle and tents with electricity and private bathrooms).
On the 2nd trip while staying at this desert camp a Syrian TV Breakfast Show heard we were there and tracked us down. As a result I sat cross legged in a Bedouin tent, and told the story of Jane and Medjuel with Hussein doing a simultaneous translation. It went out several days later, and by total coincidence, we saw it broadcast while we were visiting Jane's house in Damascus. It was bizarre to sit in her old salon and watch myself telling her story - if I had tried to arrange this scenario I couldn’t have done it.
The first group visited the home of friends of mine for a Damascene tea party, and Hussein and his beautiful wife Nahed, invited the second group to tea at their home. This gave an opportunity to eat local delicacies and to talk and ask questions. There is so much to see in Damascus anyway, but Hussein and I also showed our visitors some of the secret beautiful places of Damascus some of which he first showed me and others I have discovered alone, during the dozen years that I have been regularly visiting this amazing city.
On the final day of each tour we visited Jane’s grave. Especially for the first group this was a moving experience as it was the first time any family members had seen it.
My intention was to show our visitors the Syria with which Jane fell in love, and if my mailbag is anything to go by, we succeeded. Hussein was brilliant throughout both tours. His historical knowledge of Syria is vast and our tour members were so impressed with him, with his amazing energy and kindness, that several invited him to visit them in England last August, when he also found time to give an interesting talk on Syria. This event was organised by Lady Digby and her daughter, and raised enough money to fund a University scholarship for a Palestinean student.
We plan to make another similar trip, still taking in Aleppo, Damascus and Palmyra, but with a slightly different itinerary, in spring 2006.
Other places of interest