Posted in Writing

A Writer’s Journey joins Guinevere Glasford’s Book Tour with her debut novel THE WORDS IN MY HAND – short listed for the Costa Coffee Book Awards…



For fans of The Miniaturist and Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Words in My Hand is the re-imagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
Helena’s life, like that of so many women in history in history, is scarcely recorded. In The Words in My Hand she is a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society as a servant, and as a woman.
Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, Helena has much to teach him about emotion and love.
When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 eBook: Guinevere Glasfurd: Kindle Store


This was a complete departure from my usual choice of read but having read and reviewed for Hodder and Stoughton on previous occasions I knew this was going to be an excellent book.  And it was. The Words in My Hand truly did not disappoint.

From the first page I was drawn into the world of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid working for an English bookseller inn Amsterdam. The arrival of a mystery lodger is set to totally change her life. Told from Helena’s viewpoint, the author skillfully entwines fact with fiction as she tells Helena and philosopher Renee Descartes (the lodger’s) story. The two of them are a most unlikely paring for a love affair.  But then Helena is an unusual young woman, who has a great thirst for knowledge and the written word. Someone who copes with no access to pen and paper by making ink from beetroot juice and writing on her own skin. And as for Descartes, he may be the teacher but he also finds there is much to learn from Helena.

Written with great depth and acute observation, I was immediately immersed in the everyday life of seventeenth century Amsterdam. In fact it almost made me feel I was physically there – as an observer rather than a reader – to witness this bittersweet story.

A wonderful debut novel.

About the Author

guinevere-glasfurdOriginally from the north of England, Guinevere Glasfurd now lives and works in Cambridgeshire. She has a background in historical research and has worked for BBC History Online.

Her short fiction has been published by Mslexia and the Scotsman and she has won awards from Arts Council England and the British Council for her work.

The Words in My Hand, her first novel, is based on the little-known story of Helena Jans, who worked as a Dutch maid and was Descartes’ lover. Although many books have been written about Descartes, about Helena almost nothing is known. What survives is tantalising. Descartes is often thought of as a terrible loner, alone with his thoughts. Helena’s story will make you question that.