Emerging out of the 1940–1941 London Blitz, the drama of these two short works, a novel and a memoir, comes from the courage and endurance of ordinary people met in the factories, streets and lodging houses of a city under bombardment.
Inez Holden’s novella Night Shift follows a largely working-class cast of characters for five night shifts in a factory that produces camera parts for war planes. It Was Different At The Time is Holden’s account of wartime life from April 1938 to August 1941, drawn from her own diary. This was intended to be a joint project written with her friend George Orwell (he was in the end too busy to contribute), and includes disguised appearances by notable literary figures of the period.
‘Whether her dialogue is invented or recorded — probably a mix of both — Holden was expert at capturing a whole person in their words. Whether it’s a long recollection by Mabs, one of the factory workers in Night Shift that’s almost a one-act play about battling Romeos, or just a line or two, Holden’s gift for exposition via dialogue is exceptional.’ The Neglected Books Page
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Blitz Writing contains two works by Inez Holden: Night Shift and It Was Different At The Time. The experiences recorded in It Was Different At The Time overlap in period and subject with Night Shift, setting up a vibrant dialogue between the two texts. The struggles to maintain any kind of domestic routine in wartime are documented with a dispassionate eye for detail, and an ear for the strange sounds of war. In Night Shift Inez tells the story of factory night shift workers through their chatter and casual talk, on and off their machines, in and out of the bombardment. We enter their lives and they enter our hearts.
Inez Holden (1903-1974) was a British writer and literary figure whose social and professional connections embraced most of London’s literary and artistic life. She modelled for Augustus John, worked alongside Evelyn Waugh, and had close relationships with George Orwell, Stevie Smith, H G Wells, Cyril Connolly, and Anthony Powell.
The introduction and notes are by Kristin Bluemel, Professor of English at Monmouth University, New Jersey.
The cover image of women wartime workers is from the archives of the Imperial War Museum.
Watch our video, in which we explain how important Inez Holden’s writing was, for her own period and for ours.
The Neglected Books Page writes: ‘I wrote about Holden’s other war book, There’s No Story There, back in August of 2018. I owe Kate Macdonald, the owner of Handheld Press, for passing along a PDF of a well-worn copy of the book that she in turn got from Kristin Bluemel, and these two women are responsible for bringing Blitz Writing to print. Bluemel’s introduction is invaluable not just for putting these two books in the context of writings about the war but also for providing the only available overview of Holden’s life and work to be published this century … WorldCat tells us that there are a total of 23 copies held worldwide of Night Shift and only 13 copies of It Was Different at the Time. Neither book was ever reprinted or reissued until now. This is what saving neglected books looks like, folks.’ 14 June 2019