Bestselling author Gilda O’Neill, who chronicled the history of the East End of London in her novels and non-fiction, after a short illness, her literary agency Curtis Brown has announced. She was 59.
Born in 1951 in Bethnal Green, O’Neill was brought up in the East End, the granddaughter of a Thames tug skipper and a pie and mash shop owner. She left school at 15 but went on to take three degrees as a mature student, turning to writing full time in 1990.
She hit the bestseller lists with her history of cockney London, My East End, following it up with Our Street, about East Enders during the second world war, and The Good Old Days, chronicling the underbelly of London in the 19th century.
O’Neill was also the author of 13 novels set in and around the area she grew up, from her most recent second world war-set Secrets of the Heart, in which 16-year-old Freddie is conducting a secret relationship with a girl from the local Chinese community, to Sins of the Fathers, about East End crime family the O’Donnells.
“Gilda O’Neill was a generous, loving and popular person whose writing and life touched all those came into contact with her,” said Curtis Brown in a statement. “Her works of oral history were held in high regard and widely read.”