By this date I had written Parts 1 and 2 of my book – it was running away with me and and I was about to start Part 3. But at times, I found myself floundering – lost in a sea of confusion and wondering if the setting of my story was being depicted in a way which was accurate. Writing about East London was one challenge – but how different was this location in 1972, which is the year I chose for my story to begin?
This is what drew me to the Whitechapel Gallery in East London, where I discovered an exhibition of photographs by Ian Berry, titled ‘This is Whitechapel’ – but what interested me most of all, was that these photos were taken in 1972.
What an amazing insight that was! It showed me the people, the architecture and the whole East End culture of the era. These photos not only opened my eyes, they pulled me into another decade. I still find it incredible to this day, how this photographer could depict such poverty and deprivation, yet at the same time create an impression of such camaraderie among the people.
At the same exhibition, I also got to watch a short film titled “Tundes Film” directed by Maggie Pinhorn and Tunde Ikoli about the sad lives of East London teenagers, made in 1973. Once again I was stuck by the powerful imagery of the film – allowing me to visualise what East London was really like in those days.
And there were other exhibits to pour over – such as the letters written to Tower Hamlets Council by concerned residents, about the scale of demolition which was taking place at the time, to make space for modern high rise blocks of flats to accommodate the masses. And there were even a few old newspapers to glance through – which is how I learned a little more about the poverty and homelessness and how charitable institutions such as Toynbee Hall evolved to offer help to the poor and the lonely (featured in my book).
So that was the first research trip, it was a real eye opener and gave me bags of inspiration to work on my descriptions – and improve on everything I had written to date.