Jane Austin

Author of Renegade and News From Nowhere

Max LevitasThe summer has been filled with local pleasures. I’m loving the vibrancy of Whitechapel and meeting my neighbours. I had tea with a young woman in our block and noticed a striking photo of a distinguished looking old man in her hallway. This was of Max Levitas (1915 – 2018) who used to live in this flat. Max was an Irish communist activist and antifascist fighter, the son of Yiddish-speaking Jews fleeing programs in Imperial Russia. Max was prominent in the Battle of Cable Street to prevent a fascist march through the East End. During the second world war, he organised the occupation of the bomb shelter at the Savoy Hotel in protest at the lack of shelters for working people, and soon after the government agreed to open underground stations as bomb shelters. What a wonderful legacy to have on our doorstep!

Our local Watney Market is filled with fabrics, fruit and vegetables and splashed with sunshine and colour, and shoppers and browsers looking for a bargain. At the library, I picked up the Tower Hamlets newspaper featuring the mural of boxer, Ramla Ali, who competed at the Olympic games. As a child she was a refugee from Somalia, fleeing the civil war. Ramla is proud to be painted across a building to show ‘to other young women who look like me and sound like me…that with perseverance and determination anything is possible.’

Ramla Ali

Gentleman JackMy plans for research on the Eliza Raine novel are falling into place, as my India trip takes shape. I’ve got my visa, SAGA insurance, Covid travel certificate, and flights and hotel booked – I just have to pack!  Temperatures will be in the high 20s to mid 30s, which I’m acclimatised to after our British summer. I’m immersing myself in my subject, thanks to Patricia Hughes’ book, Gentleman Jack: The Early Life of Miss Anne Lister and the Curious Tale of Miss Eliza Raine. It’s packed with letters between the lovers and references to the documents in Halifax Archives. I have an itinerary planned to explore Chennai (Madras) with an experienced local guide. We’ll look at the historical areas of Fort St George, St Mary’s Church and Choultry Plain, where Eliza lived with her parents and sister as a child. When her father died, he left the girls a substantial legacy, 20,000 Star Pagodas to be held in trust ‘for the maintenance and education of my beloved daughters Jane Elizabeth and Eliza Raine.’

I’m speaking at York Library and Archives Big Read Festival on Saturday 22 October at 2pm:

From Madras to Micklegate, follow in the footsteps of Eliza Raine

Join former York resident, Jane Austin as she shares research for her novel in progress about Eliza Raine, the woman Anne (Gentleman Jack) Lister called, ‘The most beautiful woman I ever knew.’

Eliza Raine was Anne’s first love. She was the daughter of an East India Company surgeon; one of two daughters born to his Indian wife who came to York following her father’s death. Jane will be joining us fresh from a trip to India where she has been researching Eliza’s background.

Jane will also talk about her 2022 novel, Renegade, about Justin, a Leeds university professor and onetime bomber, who seeks redemption in the ashes of rebellious youth.


We want our Big City Read events to be as inclusive as possible. We are running a Pay what you can system for some events to ensure that no one has to miss out. The are 4 ticket options for this event £0, £2.50, £5, and £7.50. If are able to pay, please pay what you can up to a maximum of £7.50; in doing so you will enable us to continue to offer events that are accessible for everyone.



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See you next month with updates on my Indian Odyssey!

Watney Market