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Author releases sequel to novel inspired by Dagenham’s banjo cul-de-sacs

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 August 2020

Elaine is due to appear at the borough's literary festival in September. Picture: Danann Breathnach Photography

Elaine is due to appear at the borough's literary festival in September. Picture: Danann Breathnach Photography

Danann Breathnach

An author has published the sequel to a novel celebrating the people and history of Dagenham.

The Banjo Book Two continues the story of neighbours in the fictional cul-de-sac Cromwell Close from 1971 up to the present day. Picture: Lisa Morena and Brian SpiresThe Banjo Book Two continues the story of neighbours in the fictional cul-de-sac Cromwell Close from 1971 up to the present day. Picture: Lisa Morena and Brian Spires

The Banjo, Book Two continues the stories of families living in the imaginary Cromwell Close from 1971 up to the present day.

The title comes from the word used by people in the borough to describe the round-ended cul-de-sacs which are a unique feature of the area.

Elaine Spires, explaining what makes Dagenham such a good place to set a story, said: “For the change that it went through at such a fast pace.

“And also there’s such a rich tapestry of white, working class people, a lot of these people were the salt of the earth.

A Dagenham banjo. Picture: GoogleA Dagenham banjo. Picture: Google

“They came through world wars, living with uncertainty and death. They took care of each other, looked after the neighbours’ children.

“Then how this community then changed,” Elaine added.

However, the author – who was born and bred in Dagenham – pointed out that the 370 page story does not make judgements about how the area has altered.

“The book is my truth and the truth of a lot of people who grew up in the borough. I hope I’ve told a realistic story of the changes there have been in the borough since the 1970s and 80s and not in any critical way,” Elaine said.

There is some familiar history in the novel, including former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s years in power, the death of Princess Diana and England losing to West Germany on penalties in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup.

The coronavirus pandemic also features in the the story.

Closer to home, the book takes in the changes in Dagenham’s make up as it became a more diverse place.

“You can’t talk about the last 30 to 40 years without looking at the changing demographics of the borough,” Elaine said.

Other changes include the gradul disappearance of front gardens as lawns and flower beds get concreted over to create space to park cars and store wheelie bins.

“All this has taken away from the appearance [of Dagenham],” Elaine said.

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She explained how neighbours scooped prizes for their award winning blooms at the town show in book one.

But by book two all that changes, not least because of the town show’s disappearance.

The vanishing of the borough’s pubs as hubs for the community is also considered by characters in the novel, including Dolly White who appeared in the first book as a young mum moving into the banjo.

However, by the end of book two, Dolly is in her nineties and suffering from dementia.

“Dolly tells it like it is. She shares her views but not maliciously,” Elaine said.

She explained that The Banjo Book Two doesn’t shy away from politics – the effect of the right to buy policy on social housing is one issue considered within its pages – but presents things happening without taking sides.

“When you write a book, you have to make your characters true so they have opinions you don’t necessarily have. As Picasso said, ‘You don’t have to be a cat to know how to draw one’,” she said.

On writing the sequel, Elaine added: “It was absolutely fantastic revisiting all the characters.”

And she paid tribute to members of the Memories of Dagenham Facebook group who shared their recollections with her.

“People were great,” she said.

While book two sees the story of Cromwell Close come to an end, the borough is still a source of inspiration. Elaine hinted at a possible future novel.

“The biggest tragedy ever was the way the old Dagenham village was just bulldozed. They could have gentrified it. It could have been made into something beautiful,” she said.

Meanwhile Elaine, who now lives in Chelmsford, is hoping the second instalment of The Banjo will be as well received as the first.

The Banjo Book Two is available at Amazon priced at £9.99 for paperback and £2.99 Kindle.

Elaine is due to appear online at Barking and Dagenham’s literary festival at 6pm on September 15.

For more go to pentoprint.org/readfest/


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