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Recently I was contacted by writer, illustrator and broadcaster Jude Cowan Montague who has just published her latest book entitled Love on the Isle of Dogs.
The book is a graphic memoir of her early life against the background of a changing Isle of Dogs in the 1990s. Jude Cowan Montague lived on the Isle of Dogs with her husband in the early 1990s, it was a whirlwind romance and a very difficult time for her as she became quickly pregnant and her husband’s mental health began speedily to degenerate. The stress increased and the knock on effect for both after the separation dominated their lives for years to come.
What is unusual about the book is that the story is first told visually using drawings and then by using text.
Jude’s drawings illustrate how the Island provided the background for her life and romance. In the beginning, the drawings have a children’s picture book quality but gradually they become darker and more menacing.
Jude’s husband was one of the participants in a self-build scheme on Westferry Road and their house was close to Mudchute Farm, which became for Jude, a welcome escape from the pressures of modern living.
The text part of the book is more about how Jude tried to make sense of her life as it enfolded from working at an Arts Centre and moving forward to marriage and motherhood. It is an honest portrayal, full of unrealistic dreams, denial, love, concern, anger, fear and loss.
The book is very much a modern love story about romance, marriage and having a child. However, not every story has an happy ending and a series of incidents turns the relationship into a nightmare. The Isle of Dogs like any place is not just a location but a home to thousands of people. Those people all have a story to tell but not everyone can tell that story in such a graphic or creative way like Jude. It is her talent that she can see her own story in a wider perspective and understands that sometimes the environment reflects the personal. The confusion and changing times of early 1990s Docklands reflected the strangeness of a relationship that moved quickly from light to darkness.
These are lessons, all of us have had to deal with in recent times, when the familiar has become strange and unsettling. We can take some solace from Jude’s end of the book which reflects her hope and determination to create better times in the future.
You can order or buy a copy of the book here
I was delighted to contacted recently by writer, illustrator and broadcaster Jude Cowan Montague who we featured on the website when she was writing her Young Hitch series of books about Alfred Hitchcock.
Jude’s latest work is on a more personal level and illustrates her changing personal life against the background of a changing Isle of Dogs in the 1990s.
Jude Cowan Montague lived on the Isle of Dogs with her husband in the early 1990s, it was a whirlwind romance and a very difficult time for her as she became quickly pregnant and her husband’s mental health began speedily to degenerate. The stress increased and the knock on effect for both after the separation dominated their lives for years to come.
The work is very much her story and a love story told with affection but also humour as her style is comic and tender.
The backdrop is the changing times of early 1990s Docklands. The level of construction taking place on the island at this time echoes the confusion of the relationship. The sounds and remaking of the physical world of the Isle of Dogs, the erection of Canary Wharf, the cranes embody the frustration of trying to build a family life.
Her husband was one of the participants in the self-build scheme on Westferry Road. Their house was close to Mudchute Farm, which provided a bucolic escape and a much-needed space for reflection.
In her drawings the Isle of Dogs is a ghost land, full of memories and fear as well as happiness, love and sheer dogged determination of a young pregnant woman and young mother trying to hold the world together.
Holding her domestic world together turned out to be impossible and there are some moments which are too painful to share in this tender narrative which has a wider interest for its psychological interaction with the changing landscape.
The work is still in progress. If you’re interested in keeping in touch with the project, email email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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