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About Jane May

 

 

London is like any other big, magical city - it's a drug. It's the lifeblood of a country that flows through its people and every city dweller knows the feeling of being the centre of the universe.

Some years ago I moved from the City to the sticks, or to the seaside as we Brits call our coasts. England is such a small country. You can comfortably travel from the top to bottom in a day and on up through Scotland the next. So London never seems far away, especially when you meet half your relatives in the place you move to. Every English seaside has its fair share of Londoners. The communities established themselves largely during and after World War Two and are known as evacuees.

London was bombed so badly that the lifeblood almost stopped pumping. The East End docks - were a particular favourite of the Luftwaffe. Under the bombardments, survivors dug themselves out of the rubble, gathered their families and piled them into trains, busses, any form of vehicle that would take the women, kids and old folks to safety. Those who remained in the City refused to be driven out by the constant bombing - and some of these people were my family. They had survived the First World War and were not about to be beaten by a second.

It's of these people I've written, though of course I've changed the names of the characters and the streets. But the Isle of Dogs remains the heart of the heart. Nowadays, Docklands is a thriving, exciting, commercial community. Perhaps you have heard of the Millennium Dome? This unique structure represents Britain's entry into the year 2000 and lays just across the river from a horseshoe shape of land surrounded on three sides by water. Its name harks back to the time of the kings and queens of England who kept their hunting dogs on a waterlogged patch of marshland, named by the sailors as The Isle of Dogs.

So this is where my history began - in the mud and marshes and turgid water of the great river Thames. Out of this concoction evolved a gritty artisan who kept and trained the hounds bred for hunting for the Royals. I suspect the Islanders lived by their wits, because my family certainly did, just like the Allen family in Lizzie's London.

My paternal grandfather raced greyhounds, even painted one a different colour to obtain an entry to a race at White City. He made quite a name for himself at the markets too, selling everything and anything. You'll probably recognise the same traits in the characters of Cox Street market.

My maternal grandfather was shipwrecked, found passage to Canada and became a mounted policeman. When he returned to London he confessed to my grandmother he'd loved a girl in every port. But from the day they married he never looked at another woman. Well, that's the way the story goes and I'm a romantic, so I believe it. And I hope all the magic of the stories I've ever been told over the years translates into my writing. At least - I'm pretty certain I know a hereditary gene when I see one. The Island genes have given me a fondness for markets, dogs, any animal in fact - and water. I love the early morning mists and the warm summer breezes that lift off the sea. And when my husband and I travel back to the City, we head straight for the Embankment and the heart-stopping sight of the river flowing down to the Island…and it's then I can vouch for the saying 'it's in the genes' - because suddenly I know I'm home.

Jane May

        

 

Isle of Dogs

Islander At War

 

 

 

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