‘There is no me; there is no you. There is only us.’
The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.
Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants.
Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.
This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.
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I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the
Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished
manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.
My thoughts: I really enjoyed this, Eliza and Mary are brought vividly to life, kind and brave, enduring people’s stares and comments all their lives. All they want is to be happy, to live in their village with their family and devote themselves to music (Eliza) and healing plants (Mary).
Conjoined twins are very rare and in the 12th century seen as either divine marvels or tools of the Devil. Luckily for the Chulkhurst sisters, most seem to see them as marvels, and treat them kindly. It helps that they’re clearly intelligent, gentle and care for others. Their father is a decent man and even their stepmother comes to love them and feel terrible guilt about her earlier treatment.
They are talented and meet many important figures of the day, including the Queen, in this novel inspired by their lives, although they most likely merely lived quietly in Biddenden, and never achieved such fame. But by creating a version of the world where they do meet notable people, their world is much bigger than one Kent village and they interact much more widely than you would expect. I liked their courage in the face of their differences, their bond with each other and the way they worked together to be both be happy.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.