Cardiff’s “Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime Exhibition”, or the “Great Exhibition” for short , was held in 1896. It was a six month extravaganza that attracted millions of visitors and numerous acts, including jungle scenes with exotic animals; “moving pictures” (a rare and new technology for the time); 9,000-seat concerts; and more.
Amongst the exhibition’s attendees was a fourteen-year old girl named Louisa Maud Evans. Louisa would go on to plummet to her death as part of a daring aeronautic display, and it’s this tragedy that Katie Munnik took inspiration from for The Aerialists.
I found the way that Munnik weaved a tale from the few known facts greatly inspiring. It prompted me to find out more and reflect on Louisa’s legacy, as Munnik puts it (emphasis mine):
When you are researching historical fiction, you are confronted by so many gaps and cracks in the story. There are so many women and girls whose stories have been forgotten and whose legacies have been ignored. My novel became an attempt to remember a few daring balloonists and honour their innovation and courage. As Margaret Atwood puts it: “the true story lies among the other stories”. Sometimes we need fiction to feel our way towards truth.
This was a greatly enjoyable book, with the added bonus of it being set in Cardiff, I loved being able to vividly imagine the book’s locations as they were described.