It’s however many weeks into lockdown we happen to be now, and we’ve lost track of the days of the week, let alone how long we’ve been inside. We’ve also been bombarded with more learning opportunities than we ever knew were possible. Who knew you could learn so much from your teeny, tiny bedroom?
Whether it’s free software or your seventeenth educational Zoom call of the week, everyone is keen to help us by helping us up-skill. And, sure, we’re guilty too (you can see our full list of support here) – but we also know that not everyone has the mental capacity to work right now. And even if you do, you probably deserve a bit more down time than usual.
So, in the spirit of escapism we spoke to Dr Sarah Lonsdale, a journalist, author and lecturer whose PhD examines the depiction of the journalist in fiction from 1900 to the present day. Ever wondered what the best books featuring journalist to lose yourself in are? You might not have thought of it as a genre, but it’s a pretty good one to dig into.
The Best Wild Card Novel – Savage Coast
This book was only published in 2013, but is actually a re-discovered semi-autobiographical novel from the 1930s. But don’t let that put you off if you’re not a fan of historical novels – the main reason it didn’t get published was that it was so far ahead of it’s time.
The plot? “A young female reporter who goes to Spain to cover the people’s Olympiad in 1936 and ends up in the middle of the Spanish Civil War,” explains Sarah. “Give it a go, the writing is out of this world.”
As with most of the books on this list, it’s not just about reporting either – Muriel also writes evocatively about her political and sexual awakening.
The Best About Local Papers – My Turn To Make The Tea
Another semi-autobiographical novel with parallels to the present day, Monica Dickens’ novel was first published in 1951.
It follows the work of Poppy, a junior reporter in a local newsroom who struggles to cut through in a male-dominated environment. The title alone is a pretty effective way of summing things up.
“[It’s] a darkly satirical account of a women’s experience of local papers,” says Sarah, “and the dangers of the lack of accountability when local editors get too close to the powers that be.”
The Best On The Popular Press – Yellow Dog
“Read Clint Smoker’s devastated prose and weep,” says Sarah. And that was enough to sell it for us, to be honest.
Published in 2003, Martin Amis’ novel revolves around several connecting stories, with the way they’re linked slowly becoming clear.
Watch out for Cling Smoker, a downmarket tabloid reporter, with a huge amount of struggles of his own.
The Best On The Stress Of The Job – Fullalove
This 1995 novel is a “heart-breaking dissection of what the job can do to you if you’re not careful”, according to Sarah.
It follows the story of Norman Miller – formerly one of Fleet Street’s finest journalists, who now finds himself burnt-out and with a knack for a sensational tabloid story.
He tells himself he’s just a witness for the stories he’s writing, but the reality is actually very different.
The Best For Contemporary Resonance – The Heart Broke In
Published in 2012, Sarah describes James Meek’s novel as full of “dark warnings about the unaccountability of online site, as well as the hunting and cannibalisation of celebrities by the popular press”.
The premise kicks off boldly – will a famous man get exposed for having an affair with a 15-year-old girl? But the tale that follows encompasses many more questions about families, betrayal, death and forgiveness.
If you’re looking for it summed up in a two words, Philip Pullman called it a “moral thriller”. Intriguing,
The Best For Being Funny – Towards The End Of The Morning
Ever been on a press trip? Ever been on a press trip that’s gone wrong? “This one will help you see the funny side,” promises Sarah. Maybe it will also help if you’ve never been lucky enough to snag one.
Micheal Frayn’s Towards The End Of The Morning, is set in the crossword and nature notes section of an obscure national newspaper during Fleet Street’s waning years.
John Dyson longs for the “gentlemanly life” – until he actually gets it, of course.
The Best For Literary Merit – The Quiet American
If, at this point, you capacity to read words is waning, you’ll be pleased to know Graham Greene’s 1955 novel has also been turned into a film twice.
But, if you do decide to opt for the on-screen version, you’d be missing out warns Sarah. “It’s one of Green’s finest – a many layered study of guilt, motivation, and the journalist’s dilemma of whether to stand back and observe, or get involved.”
Set against the backdrop of French colonialism in Vietnam, cynical British hack Thomas Fowler must wrestle with the consequences of hapless CIA agent Alden Pyle. Trust us when we say there’s a lot going on here.
The Best On Stereotyping Women – Keeping Up Appearances
It may have been published in 1928, but Rose Maculay’s novel is very relevant to a 2020s audience too.
Successful journalist Daisy Simpson battles with her alter-ego Daphne, who is everything she thinks she wants to be, woven in with struggles around class and gender.
“It sums up the view that all women are good for is writing about knitting and babies,” says Sarah. “And that’s still relevant today.”
The Best On Fleet Street’s Glory Days – Everyone’s Gone To The Moon
“This is a wonderful evocation of what it was like to be on Harry Evans’ Sunday Times at its pitch perfect height,” says Sarah.
It’s a fiction, but the story very much draws on Philip Norman’s own experiences as a correspondent at The Sunday Times.
Everyone’s Gone To The Moon follows the story of regional reporter Louis Brennan and his ambitious boss who end up in the whirlwind of a London journalism scene, writing for a trend-setting colour magazine.
The Best Of All – Scoop
Lord Copper has always prided himself on spotting the best reporters – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t prone to making mistakes.
Mistakes like accidentally sending the person in charge of the “nature notes” sections to cover an emerging war zone.
“It’s still the most sublime evocation of the essential absurdity at the heart of journalism,” says Sarah.
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