All Through the Night

FCBG are hugely thankful that author Polly Faber has written a blog post for National Non-Fiction November. Her beautifully illustrated book, All Through the Night, shines a light on the heroes who work nightshifts while the rest of us sleep.

‘So they went out in the dark, and all the street lamps were lit, and all the cars had their lights on…’

There are many reasons Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea has been a much-loved bestseller for over fifty years but I don’t think they’re all to do with the tiger. The delicious thrill I first felt as a child at the spread where Sophie’s Daddy takes the family out for sausage and chips after dark, Sophie dressed in her nightgown and duffle coat, has never faded. The trick of the dark to make a familiar environment strange is perfectly captured by Kerr. But, just like the tiger, that strangeness is both exciting and frightening. The duality of both longing for the adventures that might come from staying up past bedtime and longing to hold on to the safety of my own bed have never really left me.

Unlike Kerr’s Sophie, the little girl who narrates All Through The Night, doesn’t go out into the dark herself and there are certainly no tigers. The book opens with her getting ready for bed. While she’s doing that, her mum is getting up and having her breakfast. It is through her mum’s retold stories that we discover what happens in the city while our narrator sleeps. By getting to know some the workers who keep the city running and learning about the essential services they provide, both our narrator and we as readers may get the information we need to sleep more easily: The night becomes a little less strange and scary; not least through the warmth and vibrancy of Harriet Hobday’s colour palette for her wonderful illustrations. Never has a version of “the dark” felt more comforting.

In the book we meet, amongst others, cleaners and musicians, security guards and journalists, doctors and delivery drivers, shelf stacks and bakers, railway workers and paramedics and see snapshots of their nightshift ‘days’. Each role is given equal weight. How does our narrator’s mum know so much about what happens in the city? Her own vital job as night bus driver is revealed at the end of the book.

Of course which jobs matter most and who is really an essential worker is something that has been brought into sharp focus over the last eighteen months. It’s been such a privilege to work on this book at this time when my family was fed, kept safe, warm and electronically connected through others prepared to risk their personal safety for the rest of us. I really hope All Through The Night gives the spotlight to and helps a new generation celebrate some people long overdue their turn. It may have taken a pandemic for our true heroes to be recognised but they were there before the pandemic and will be there after is over too.

Once upon a time, many years ago, I worked on call shifts as a midwife. Not a natural owl I found it a hard ask even though I only had to stay up intermittently for particular women in labour. At that time the core night care in the maternity ward was provided by a dedicated night shift staff. Some of the midwives in those roles had been there keeping watch in the small hours for over thirty years. They’d worked in the hospitals at night and raised their families by day. There was nothing they didn’t know about bringing babies into the world. These night-workers I knew best were, like the tiger and like the dark, wonderful and a little scary. I am so grateful to have worked all through the night with them.

All Through the Night by Polly Faber, published by Nosy Crow is available in bookshops.

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