You are Known By the Company that You Keep
'Malkinda awakes to find a man dressed from head to toe in black clothing. He is holding a bible in his hand. This man is so thin that Malkinda thinks his whole body could pass through the eye of a needle but this man has the strength to pull Malkinda to his feet.
“I belong to a Christian charity,” he tells him. “These docks are not safe for strangers unaccustomed to the dangers of alcohol and the sweet talk of wicked women. Do you understand?’
Malkinda does not but he nods anyway. The charity worker indicates that Malkinda should go with him, and having no other option, Malkinda.'
B r i c k L a n e C i r c l e
YVONNE L THOMAS
I am the daughter of parents who came to England after the Second World war and settled in East London. I am also a primary teacher. My passion for London’s heritage comes from my personal interest in multiple identities and from visits to local museums, historical sites and historical archives. Before beginning the project I had no experience of combining sources on London’s history with fiction writing.
The project provides an opportunity to reflect on my knowledge of London’s past. Henry Mayhew’s study of London communities was a useful source to reimagine how the East India Company and East London Docks might have generated many different stories of newcomers to England. The source is also a reminder that personal stories are hidden in general descriptions of London’s diverse immigrant communities. The project provided tools to reconstruct a story of one newcomer to East London.
The project has extended my knowledge of London’s rich heritage. The walking tours, visits to the British Library and archives were useful to identify sources of inspiration for the project. Visits to different places and to different heritage organisations generated many ideas for ‘a setting’ or ‘a scene’ but the challenge was how to construct main characters for a story. After this, the next challenge was how to link characters to a plot in a story. At this point, writing workshops were an invaluable resource. The sessions were well structured and the content enabled creative ideas to flow. So long as tasks between the writing sessions were completed, the writing workshops were informative and enjoyable. They were enjoyable because individuals who delivered the workshops provided personalised support. Individual support played an important role in developing strategies to overcome barriers to creative writing. The workshops demystified the process of writing fiction and empowered a novice writer to fully engage with the practical task of writing a short story.
The story is set in late Georgian or early Victorian London. It is a tale of an Indian manservant whose employer abandons him in London. The servant is led to believe that he will act as a butler to his employer at an address in London. The servant’s employer is an English family with strong personal links to Bengal and good business links with the East India Company. As the servant develops strategies to cope with his predicament and to help him to return home to Bengal, he embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery. This journey enables him to re-examine how his personality, cultural identity and professional relationships contribute to his current situation. This helps him, for the first time in his life, to glimpse how other people see him. This discovery then helps him to decide how he would like other people to see a different side of his character. London awakens a new adventurous spirit in the servant, who decides to take control of his own destiny. This topic was chosen because historical records show servants from India were abandoned in London. As little is known about how they survived or how the experience affected them, the story of the Indian servant hopes to fill in gaps in incomplete tales of new arrivals to London.