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Saturday, November 26, 2022
At 85, NOTL author launches her first novel

Jean Baker’s ‘Albatross Hall’ features famous historical characters, including Napoleon and Duke of Wellington

Brittney Cutler
Special to The Lake Report

At 85, Jean Baker is a lover of history, playing piano and classical music. And she is also the newly published author of her first historical fictional novel, “Albatross Hall.”

Born and educated in England, Baker lived there for 22 years before moving to Canada. Her husband, Peter Baker, died in January 2020. The mother of three and grandmother of two has dedicated “Albatross Hall” to her late husband.

Over the years, Baker also has written for several magazines, including British Heritage, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Classical Music magazine and Canadian Living. She has covered history, classical music, medical issues, mental health, real estate and memories of the Second World War.

Those interests and experiences came in handy writing “Albatross Hall,” a historically correct novel set in the early 1800s during the reigns of George III and IV.

It embraces an aristocratic family, the Ponsonbys, who live in the Elizabethan Albatross mansion. Their lives interact with numerous historical figures such as Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington (in the battle of Waterloo), and Gen. John Burgoyne.

Baker says it took her about four years to write the nearly 77,000-word manuscript and then seek out a publisher.

“It took a long time for it to get proofread and there were more than 60 emails exchanged at least, between me and the publisher,” she says.

She officially launches her book with a COVID-friendly kickoff this Saturday, May 22, starting at 9 a.m. – from the driveway of her home at 24 Coach Dr. in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

With the novel completed, Baker says it gives her great satisfaction that it’s done and she is excited to see her book now available to readers.

“When my husband became ill with dementia, I had to look after him. I was a constant caregiver to him and I couldn’t leave him really, so I couldn’t concentrate on anything,” Baker says. “Peter was ill for a long time, several years.”

Her love of history became Baker’s motivation to write “Albatross Hall.” Research was key to developing the novel; to ensure historical accuracy, she meticulously checked all information related to the timelines, events and references to the famous figures who are featured.

Lake Report columnist Dr. William Brown, a professor of neurology at McMaster University, wrote a foreword for “Albatross Hall,” commenting on the historically well thought-out characters and noting the book is well worth the read.

“Jean Baker has written a historical novel of fecklessness, dimwittedness, intrigue, humour, romance and murder spanning the decades between the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. From cover to cover she has introduced a wealth of well-drawn characters, with accents to match their station in life and the times. Her book has pace and an eye for detail, whether high-born or low, manor houses or bawdy places. Frankly once I started, I couldn’t put her book down – and for good reason, Jean Baker has written a rollicking story well worth the read,” Brown wrote.

In her teenage years, Baker wanted to become a newspaper reporter, however, that was almost 70 years ago and overt sexism got in the way of her desires.

“I would have loved to be a reporter. I could’ve interviewed people to my heart’s content, but nope, ‘We don’t want women in our newspaper. That would interfere with the men.’ We’re talking in the 1950s here, when it was frowned upon,” Baker says.

In Baker’s free time, when she’s not writing, she loves to play piano. Her favourite genre is classical music, particularly the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann.

Her advice to anyone who wants to become a writer and publish their work is to be prepared to really work hard to achieve your goal.

“I think, first of all, you have to have a real desire to write, and I think talent is there too and you have to be able to express yourself,” Baker says.