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In Dickens’ Path by Alfred Gardner

Recently, I was delighted to receive the latest book from Alfred Gardner who is best known for his two books, East End Story and Watch Your Fingers.

The new book is called In Dickens’ Path and is a series of short stories. The first story called ‘In Dickens’ Path’ features a fictional meeting between Charles Dickens and a twelve-year-old Limehouse errand boy called Gideon Woolfe.

Alf had drawn on his own family tree for the character of Gideon Woolfe, Gideon was actually Alf’s mother’s grandfather and was born on the border of Limehouse and Ratcliffe in 1839.

To put the story in context, Alf provides some background of both the area and Dickens connection with Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliffe and Limehouse. As a young boy, Dickens would visit Limehouse to see his godfather, Charles Huffman who was a Limehouse sail maker, rigger and ships chandler. Even when Dickens was a celebrated writer, he was known to travel around the area looking for ideas for his stories and articles.

In Dickens’ Path finds the great writer relying on Gideon’s knowledge of the area and quick wittedness to help him with his enquiries.

The next story, An Indelible Impression carries on the theme of being rewarded for kindness but with a modern twist.

A Surprise Encounter brings together an Army sergeant who used to bully his recruits and one of his victims.

It Tugs at the Heartstrings reflects Alf’s love of opera and A Cottage to Let illustrates a life in the country is not always idyllic.

Bogus Callers is about a couple of nasty confidence tricksters and A Canine Tale follows the adventures of an enterprising Dachshund.

Alf lived in the East End for most of his life until he moved recently to the South coast. His books often exposes the kindness and unkindness of modern life and these short stories provide plenty of interest especially if you are a fan of Charles Dickens and the Limehouse area.

This book of short stories is only available from Alf directly and all profits will go to the Children with Cancer UK charity.

If you would like more information or buy a copy of the book, contact Alf at agardner1941@btinternet.com

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Molly’s Christmas Orphans by Carol Rivers

Regular readers will know that I am always keen to find books with a link to the Island. Very few writers have written about the Island in a series of books, the great exception is bestselling author Carol Rivers who has written a number of books which generally feature characters on the Island.

Carol’s gritty and heart-warming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and appear regularly in many bestseller charts and Carol has a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

I was delighted to receive a copy of Carol’s latest book, Molly’s Christmas Orphans which is focused on the   Island during the bombing of the Second World War and tells of the trials that Molly endures throughout the war years.

The story begins with war-torn Isle of Dogs struggling to deal with the constant bombing. Molly and her father own Swift’s General Store on Roper Street, the store is Molly’s domain, where her and her father both live and work supplying groceries to local people. Molly, who has already suffered the tragedy of losing her husband at Dunkirk and daughter to illness, bravely carries on helping and supporting local people on the Isle of Dogs, through the shop and her friendship with people both on her street and the surrounding area.

When a bomb falls in the street outside Swifts General Store, Molly finds herself covered in rubble and not knowing what had happened. Not suffering any injuries, Molly waits in a cold hospital corridor for her father who had his leg broken during the bombing.

A sudden bombing raid forces Molly to take shelter in the hospital basement where she meets good time girl Cissy Brown and merchant seaman Andy Miller and his two young children Evie and Mark and an unlikely friendship begins.

Having been told by the nurse that her father needed to stay in hospital, Molly prepares to return home. During the wait, Molly’s conversations with Cissy and Andy had revealed that both were homeless and had nowhere to go. Molly’s good hearted response was to  immediately offer a roof in Roper Street until they could find alternative means.

Molly’s adventures with both Cissy, Evie and Mark are revealed throughout the book, Molly learns to deal with the shadier side of life, and becomes mother to Evie and Mark and as her relationship with Andy deepens, would tragedy strike again, what lies in wait for Molly during the next few years and will she have a happy ending?

Molly’s Christmas Orphans is a wonderful tale of East End life during the war years, Molly is the central character and follows her  struggles to survive and finds her protective and supportive nature are tested to the limit.

Carol lives in Dorset but still follows closely events on the Island and is a long time supporter of Isle of Dogs Life. If you would like to find out more about the book or other books written by Carol Rivers. Please visit her website here

The Adventures of Young Alfred Hitchcock

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In a previous post about Alfred Hitchcock, I wrote about his formative years when he moved to Limehouse.

The Hitchcock’s moved from Leytonstone to 175 Salmon Lane in Limehouse and opened a shop selling fresh fish, before Alfred’s father purchased 130 Salmon Lane and opened it as a fish and chip shop.

One of the problems of looking at Hitchcock’s childhood is to separate fact and fiction because later in life Hitchcock would tell stories about his childhood which were often fanciful and exaggerated.

This blurring of fact and fiction about Hitchcock’s life has fascinated many writers, but very few have used Hitchcock’s early life to write fiction. One writer who has decided to write about the young Alfred Hitchcock is Jude Cowan Montague with her soon to be realised Young Hitch series.

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Jude has considerable knowledge of the Salmon Lane area after living there in the 1980s. As Jude relates the area was very different in that time.

When I lived nearby in the late 1980s I squatted in an old council block which has now been demolished, so I have my own sentimental connection with times gone by. It was quite run down in those days, but the development of the docks on the Isle of Dogs was already in progress.

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Recently Jude revisited the area to get inspiration for the new books and understanding that Limehouse has always been an interesting mix of old and new. Although the Young Hitch series are a work of fiction they do use real-life history, newspapers and first-hand accounts for historical accuracy.

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Hitchcock was famous for observing life and trying to found out what made people tick, there is no doubt that Hitchcock would have been have been aware of an East End around him that was in turmoil. Industrial strikes, Women’s suffrage , anarchism and general unrest  were commonplace, if this was not enough the start of the First World War saw Zeppelin bombing raids.

Hitchcock was also fascinated with murders, he was fascinated by Jack the Ripper and the cases of Dr Crippen and Adelaide Bartlett. Hitchcock’s formative years were probably vital for developing his famous macabre sense of humour.

Jude taps into Hitchcock’s unique take on the world around him in the Young Hitch books which the following excerpt illustrates 

Sitting in the red plush seats of the Picture Palace, Alfred Hitchcock, eleven years old and eager to grow up, shook as a snake of fear rose from his toes, wriggled through his socks and slid up his sweaty legs.

On the wide screen in front the hero squeezed through a hole and made off for the horizon. He looked back and laughing, in what Alf thought was in a rather superior manner. There was a smug and distasteful manner revealed by the close-up.

The bereft villain shook his fist, silhouetted against the sky. His victim had got away.

‘Curses!’ Alf mouthed, twirling an invisible moustache. 

Baron von Bingsten was not acting in his best interests by drawing attention with his gyrating gurning gymnastics. But then Alf had never met a real baron. Perhaps all nobs, as his father called them, had over-dramatic movements. But he doubted it. He couldn’t test his theory. Grocers’ sons didn’t have the opportunity to mingle with the nobility. If only his Da had a title. Lord Leytonstone? Could be? It seemed you had to be an aristocrat to have a real adventure, if you went by the stories he read.

If his father really thought about Alf’s needs, and wanted to give him all the best advantages in life, he would get himself a title. But despite the lip-service, parents did not think of their children enough. His Da was always thinking of his business.  That was why he had dragged Alf and the Hitchcocks from a perfectly good house in Leytonstone to a crummy place like Limehouse.

Alf felt a tear spring to his eye as he dwelt on this injustice. Through the rosy mists of memory he thought of the beloved house he had left behind. There were roses wreathed around a porch and a mother waiting at the garden gate in a checked apron, greeting him with a warm smile.

Or was that the cottage in ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’, on last week? It didn’t really matter. The point was the same.

He licked a salty tear away, smiling to himself and settling down for the next picture wishing he had some more peanuts.

He idly wondered if he had enough for an ice-cream, but he did not have to pull out the lining to know his pockets were empty apart from the sticky caramel sweet wrappers. And a dead pigeon’s wing.

He was out of luck and out of pennies. Soon it would be time to go home. Back to the real world.

Update : Jude’s first book in the series ‘Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames’ was published on 3rd January 2017 on the anniversary of the Siege of Sidney Street.

If you would like to find out more about the Young Hitch series of books, visit Jude’s blog here

A Promise between Friends by Carol Rivers

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Regular readers will know that I am always keen to find books with a link to the Island. Very few writers have written about the Island in a series of books, the great exception is bestselling author Carol Rivers who has written a number of books which generally feature characters on the Island.

Carol’s gritty and heart-warming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and appear regularly in many bestseller charts and Carol has a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

I was delighted to receive a copy of Carol’s latest book, A Promise between Friends which takes place in the early 1950s and follows the adventures of the ambitious, 19-year-old Ruby Payne and her lifelong friend Kath Rigler. Ruby and Kath both suffer from issues that bring unhappy memories but are looking to start an exciting new independent life by moving into a new flat together.

London in the early 1950s was a city in transition, still suffering from shortages and bomb damage whilst trying to forge a new future. In the pursuit of the good things in life, some people were willing to take chances and the book captures the period when shady deals and false promises led many people into trouble. Ruby desperate to rise above her humble beginnings finds out that there is always a price to pay.

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Carol Rivers

What really sets Carol’s book apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who are faced with situations familiar to many of us, in overcoming these problems they often seek help from their extended families who are considered of great importance. However, Carol’s books acknowledge that even though extended families were a great source of support, sometimes those loyalties were tested and could lead to conflict. This is another characteristic of Carol’s books, she often displays some of negative aspects of London life when characters go off the rails.

But for all the pain and conflict, Carol pays tribute to the strong characters, often women who manage to keep going through adversity. Ruby and Kath are two such characters who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships.

A Promise between Friends is the latest book from a writer who still takes a close interest of events on the Island and continues to be inspired by this small piece of East London.

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, it is available in many formats at Simon and Schuster, you can visit their website here

The Little Brown Bus by William Pett Ridge

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The ship Milverton in Stewart’s Dry Dock, Manchester Road, Isle of Dogs, ca. 1919 Photo (c) William Whiffin

Regular readers will know that I am always on the look out for stories related to the Isle of Dogs and recently came across a humorous short piece by W. Pett Ridge. William Pett Ridge was born at Chartham in Kent 1859, in the 1890s, he began to write humorous sketches for newspapers and magazines and became well known for his ability to write entertaining portraits of working class life. He went on to write a number of novels with Mord Em’ly published in 1898, the most successful. Pett Ridge’s great popularity as a novelist and writer was in the early part of the 20th century and it was at this time that he wrote The Little Brown Bus which involves a character that is familiar to all of us, namely the person who travels on public transport who will not shut up, in this case it is a sailor who meets a variety of characters on the little brown bus.

 The Little Brown Bus by W. Pett Ridge (The Sailor’s Voyage to the Isle of Dogs)

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East India Dock road is half inclined to put up its shutters, but reluctant to do this-albeit the hour is late-because foreign sailors, much more at sea here than when on the ocean, are still loafing on the edge of the pavement. The shops have everything a sea-going man may desire, from bars of hard yellow soap and fur caps and scarlet pocket handkerchiefs to chromos of smiling young women in hats of the early eighties; the job lots of literature tied up with a boot lace are calculated to satisfy nearly eve’ry taste. Outside the long red Asiatic Home and on its broad steps a few melancholy Chinamen stand, with queues carefully twisted up and pinned under their blue linen caps; this because the Limehouse boy has a weakness for pulling a pig-tail when he sees one, crying, “Shawp!” and running away. Chinamen up Millwall way are carrying round baskets of vegetables yoked over their shoulders. By the side of the tram terminus, and near the red eyed fire station stands the ‘bus. A little brown ‘bus, with yellow wheels, there for the convenience of those whom circumstances compel to go the Isle of Dogs.

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Strangers’ Home in the West India Dock Road was also known as the Home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and Others. Date c.1901 ( National Maritime Museum)

THE ‘BUS FOR SINGAPORE

“Right for Singapore, cap’en?” “Jump in,” says the driver from the pavement, making one more attempt to light his pipe. “Change anywheres, cap’en?” “Yes,” replies the driver, curtly; “you’ll have to change a lot ‘fore you get on board your ship.”

“Not ,cross, are you, cap’en?”

“Look here, my lad,” says the driver goaded by this inquiry. “You get into that bloomin’ bus and take your seat and shut your head. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

“I’ve seen your face somewhere before,” says the peak-capped sailor.

“Any relation to old Frank Macey that used to live at Devonport ?”

Sulky reply in the negative. “Then ‘ave a cigar,” says the sailor genially. ” Put your pipe in your hat and have something to smoke. Lor’ bless my soul, I am glad to meet you. How’s the missus?”

Driver, accepting two pale brown cigars from the envelope offered, says that he never had a missus, and expresses a pious hope that, with the help of Providence and his own acuteness, he never may.

A BREEZY ‘BUS FARE

A piano organ starts one of Sousa’s marches, and the sailor, encouraged by the comparative friendliness of the driver, solicits the favor of his hand for a waltz; but the driver draws the line, and with the assistance of a strap cranes himself up into his seat, giving the sailor renewed advice to secure a place inside; which the sailor does, hailing the passengers with a seafaring salutation and lurching into the one vacant seat more by accident than design. The little brown ‘bus turns and goes across the tram lines.

“Well.” says the friendly sailor, “how are we all getting on this voy’ge?” Some of the passengers are sleepy and some are thoughtful; the sailor, closing one eye, selects a quiet, puss-headed Japanese. I’m very’ glad to hear,” he says, laying one hand on the other’s knee, “that me and old Solsbury managed that little affair all right. ‘We’re chums, ain’t we?”

The short Japanese sailor, with N.Y.K. on his collar, smiles and nods. Very well, then!” says the sailor with an injured air, “why not shake hands? Has anybody been telling you anything about me? Because if so–” The Japanese accepts the large hand. “That’s better!” remarks the sailor, restored to good temper. “Now, having gone so fur,

I should like to go a bit further and shake ‘ands with everybody – just to show there’s no ill-feeling.”

A SAILOR’S SONG.

The little ‘bus swerves round between the high walls that border the commencement of West Ferry road.

“There!” Now you can all say you’ve shook hands with a honest seafaring man.”

“I shan’t brag about it,” remarks a stout woman opposite.

“Oh mother! protests the sailor, tearfully. “Don’t be so harsh with your blue-eyed boy.”

‘Blue-eyed nuisance,” amends the stout woman.

“There’s a nice parent for you ! Bring up a mother in the way she should go, and when she grows old.

Anybody got any objection to my singing a song?”

“Yes,” says the other passengers with unanimity, “we have.”

“You ain’t so fond of me as you used to be,” remarks the sailor, regretfully: “Ever since that affair out at Valp’raiso you all seem different somehow. ‘Oh, thou ‘ast changed, my darling,’ ” sings the sailor; ” Thou smilst no more at me, Thou ‘ast no word of fond farewell, As I put out to-Way–ho!’ ”

The little ‘bus rattles across a wooden bridge separating the docks from the river; the passengers find coppers and hand up their pennies through a hole in the roof to the driver.

THE THIN LADY’S MOTTO

Some want change and this makes for conversation. One spare, melancholy woman who has been marketing with a shining black bag, the lock of which has long since refused to perform any of the duties of a lock, deplores the price of bread, and says with determination that she has really made up her mind if it goes much higher ,well (despairingly), she does not know what she shall do.

From which the conversation goes by a rapid stage to the difficulty that the thin lady has with her youngest boy, who has lately been going to theatres; the other beats this with a deplorable story of her Uncle John, who went in for religion.

“It all goes to show,” says this lady, as she pulls the strap and prepares to alight at Glengall road, “that it’s a mistake to go to either extreme; the ‘appy mejum’s my motto. Good night, all! Don’t be late in the morning.”

The Japanese also descends here to disappear in the meagrely-lighted streets, and on the talkative sailor who has been asleep, discovering this, he weeps, and declares that he has not a friend left in the world; that he is forsaken and alone; for two pins he would –

WANTED A WIFE

If only he had some one to love him! if only some, tidy, respectable woman, with a bit put by in the savings bank, would come to him and say, “Jim Allwright, give up seafaring life and settle down on shore and keep an eye on the shop and entertain your friends with a glass now and then,” why, then he would say, “Done with youz” and give the old ship the chuck without the least hesitation.

“I’m the most reasonable, good tempered man alive,” remarks the sailor contentedly. “Nothing ever upset me. I take everything as it comes. What you all getting out for?”

“Because,” explains one of the descending passengers politely, “because we can’t go any further. That’s why!”

“And a dashed good reason, too,” cries the sailor agreeably. “Goo’ ni’ everybody. Goblessye.”

The spare, thin old woman stands on the edge of the pavement watching him as he goes. The driver of the little brown ‘bus announces his intention of utilising the minutes of waiting before the return journey by going into the tavern in order to get the right time; the bystanders ignore the hint, and he goes alone.

“I used to have a son that was that way inclined,” says the thin woman, rather wistfully, “only, he was never funny with it.

The Fight for Lizzie Flowers by Carol Rivers

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Regular readers will know that I often try to find books that feature the Isle of Dogs, it is often surprising just how many have featured the Island. Much rarer is writers who locate a series of books on the Island, one writer that does is best selling author Carol Rivers and I was delighted last week to receive a copy of her latest book, The Fight for Lizzie Flowers .

Carol’s gritty and heartwarming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and have appeared regularly in many bestseller charts and have a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

The Fight for Lizzie Flowers is second of the series of Lizzie Flowers dramas, the first in the series was Lizzie of Langley Street which took place in the period of the First World War. The  Fight for Lizzie Flowers is set in the 1930’s and begins with Lizzie preparing to marry Danny Flowers. It was Danny who had asked Lizzie to leave for a better life in Australia but Lizzie was not willing to make the break from her family and ended up marrying  Danny’s brother Frank instead. It was a decision she came to regret but had stayed with him until he met an untimely end when he was drowned and fished out of the Thames at Limehouse.

Since Frank’s death, Lizzie  had made a great success of running the Flowers greengrocer’s and Danny had come back to ask her to marry him. For all her hardships of the past, it now seemed her future was bright and full of hope. However an unwelcome guest arrives and Lizzie’s life is turned upside down.

What sets Carol’s book apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who inhabit an Island that is still reliant on the docks and where family is still of great importance.  Whilst the extended  families were a great source of support, sometimes loyalties were divided that leads to conflict. This is another characteristic of Carol’s book, she often displays some of negative aspects of London life when characters go off the rails.

But for all the conflict, Carol pays tribute to the strong characters, often women who kept families together through adversity. Lizzie Flowers is one such character who is full of true East End grit who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships.

I am sure that The Fight for Lizzie Flowers will be just as successful as Carol’s other books and will generate plenty of interest in the Island’s fascinating past. If you would like to read The Fight for Lizzie Flowers, it is available in many formats at Simon and Schuster, you can visit the page here

The Isle of Dogs During World War II by Mick Lemmerman

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Last year I reviewed a book called The (Old) Isle of Dogs from A to Z by Mick Lemmerman, I am pleased to say that Mick has just published another book entitled The Isle of Dogs During World War II . Mick with colleagues Con Maloney and Peter Wright are well known for their work on Island history and have been responsible for collecting photographs and documents about the Island and  making them widely available on a number of websites. Mick also has his own blog called Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives.

In my time writing this blog I have written about various aspects of the Isle of Dogs in the Second World War. However, Mick has written probably the first comprehensive account of the Island at this time that places the many personal accounts in their historical context. Mick acknowledges his debt for the personal accounts to Island History Trust who collected and published many WWII memories of Islanders.

Mick makes the point that on the eve of the war, the Island was essentially a self contained community little changed in generations, the pubs and the churches were hubs of support and entertainment and work was often available in the docks or other industries.

The book then looks at the preparation for war, it quickly became clear that the docks would be a prime target for German attacks and certain Air Raid Precautions were put into place. However, at the start of the war, there were no purpose-built shelters which would have tragic consequences. Originally trenches were built but were soon seen to be inadequate. The local council allocated public shelters in warehouse basements, church crypts  and railway arches, the danger of these approaches would soon become apparent.

Mudchute became the base for a Anti-Aircraft Guns battery and Barrage Balloons became a common sight around the docks. For all the preparations, it was probably the evacuation of the children of the Island community that caused the greatest upheaval. Many parents were aware the docks would be in the front line and sent their children away.

The wisdom of this approach was made clear with the First Night of the Blitz, the book shows in detail the damage sustained and people’s memories of the Blitz and the aftermath. The horror and bravery of the people and services in those dark days are illustrated by the stories of those who had to deal with death and destruction on a daily basis. The Cubitt Town School Disaster and Bullivants Wharf disaster were two of the worst events on the Island with multiple fatalities. After surviving the Blitz, the danger was not over with subsequent raids and the V1 and V2 rockets.

During the war, the Island population fell to around 9,000 , after the war, even with this smaller population, the damage to the housing stock was so severe that Prefabs were built to provide temporary accommodation. This housing shortage had a number of long term effects that would change the character of the Island.

Reading this well written and well researched book underlines the way that the Second World War changed the Island forever, many of the close knit Island community were scattered over London, the country and the world. Many children evacuated never returned to their Island homes but went with their parents to new homes elsewhere. Most of the churches and pubs, formerly hubs of community life were now destroyed. This important historical record pays testament to the courage of those who survived and picked up the pieces to carry on to rebuild their lives and lists the memorials around the Island to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

If you would like to find out more or buy a copy, visit the Amazon website here