Hodder & Stoughton has pre-empted Blitz Spirit, a book anthologising the voices of everyday people as they dealt individually and collectively with the crisis of the Second World War.
Drawing on the Mass Observation Archive held at the University of Sussex, which specialises in material about everyday life in Britain, the book is being compiled by Becky Brown (pictured) and will be published in hardback, e-book and audio this October. Hodder non-fiction publisher Rupert Lancaster acquired British and Commonwealth rights, including serial, in a pre-emptive deal orchestrated by Gordon Wise at Curtis Brown, acting on behalf of the Mass Observation Archive and the author.
The extracts showcased in the book have been chosen "both to uplift and to ground", Hodder said, noting parallels with 2020, and they are described as reflecting the range of diarists from every level of society, from warehousemen to widows, soldiers to farmhands, Women's Royal Naval Service staffers to architects. Each chapter will showcase the "most evocative" diary entries from Mass Observation’s archive, primarily using previously uncollected writings.
Brown is a literary estates specialist agent at Curtis Brown Heritage, who looks after the legacies of 20th-century writers including Elizabeth Bowen, Stella Gibbons and Margaret Kennedy.
She said: "As the true scale of the pandemic has emerged, I’ve found myself continually offering up Mass Observation as a source of comfort to my friends and family. I’ve always been interested in 'small' lives and the idea for Blitz Spirit came from the conviction that we can draw on the collective experience of our predecessors for solace, wisdom and perspective and, in doing so, gain a new vantage point on our national story."
Lancaster said: "Blitz Spirit feels very much like a book we need. I’ve always admired the way Mass Observation allowed ordinary people to be seen and heard. This book enables us to share not only their fear but also their stoicism—and even their sense of humour."