A Note from Jo Baker on The Midnight News
From the best-selling author of Longbourn, The Midnight News is a gripping novel of one young woman’s unraveling during the Blitz. It’s a love story, a war story, and an unforgettable journey into the fragile mind and fierce heart of an extraordinary young woman.
To learn more about the story behind The Midnight News, keep reading for a note from author Jo Baker.
War has always been a preoccupation in my writing. I’m of that generation who grew up with grandparents who’d been through the Second World War—as a child, one was always just a hug away from history. The counterpoint of grand public events—my granddad piloting a landing craft at D-Day—with the intimate and personal—my grandma carrying on in London with work and a difficult pregnancy—has always shaped my understanding of war. And that very much came into play in the writing of The Midnight News, which takes as its main characters two people getting by on the margins, whose daily battle is just to hold on to what they love, and to live life on their own terms, while the terrifying, exhausting struggle of the war goes on around them.
The Midnight News was begun before the pandemic, but it was mostly written in lockdown. Each day’s work effected a strange shift from one confined, catastrophic world into another. That year, we hit the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and then the Blitz. Much was said about ‘Blitz Spirit’ in Covid-stricken Britain: everyone was doing their bit, and we were all in it together, again. But with my head lost in the world of wartime London, I knew that this idea was an over-simplification, even a myth. Of course there was community, self-sacrifice and heroism in the Blitz. But there were also hustlers, crooks and creeps, there were hoarders, dodgers and profiteers. There was also a vast disparity in safety; the rich could escape to their country homes, from solid townhouses that were safer by far than the cheaply-built working-class terraces clustered round power stations, factories and docks. It was a myth about the Blitz and it was a myth about Covid too. Then, as now, we were only ‘all in it together’ in the way that ships are when they’re in a storm at sea: it’s a very different experience in a luxury yacht than it is in an over-crowded, deflating dinghy, with night coming down. The Midnight News was to capture some of this murkiness, this complexity, this disparity of experience.
But the novel is also, at heart, a love story, between two people who, for very different reasons, consider love to be entirely out of the question for them. I’ve loved spending this time with them and with the others in their lives; I hope that you do too.