Invisible Ink: No 202 - Walter Greenwood


Early success is often damaging to a young writer. Everything you write afterwards is measured against your initial popularity. Walter Greenwood was born in Salford, Lancashire, in 1903, to left-wing, working-class parents, and started work at 13, using his spare moments to educate himself in his local library. Steeped in radicalism, books, and music, he was intelligent but untrained, and frequently found himself out of work. During one of these spells he wrote Love On The Dole, set in a Northern town during the depression. Its language was blunt but shockingly honest, which caused consternation to would-be publishers. However, it arrived in print in 1933 and caused a sensation.

It’s the story of siblings Harry and Sally Hardcastle, who grow up in a grim landscape of back-to-back slums, illness and grinding poverty. It’s an extremely dark novel shot through with humour, and predates the arrival of the 1950s’ “kitchen sink” dramas. It prompted parliament to conduct an investigation, and ultimately led to welfare reforms. Certainly it changed Greenwood’s life. As the book became a play and eventually a film starring Deborah Kerr, he moved to London and wed an American actress, but the marriage didn’t last.

Many books followed, along with a credit for a George Formby screenplay, but nothing matched the impact of his debut. Greenwood had not abandoned his beliefs but the world around him became more comfortable, and it was harder to capture the grit and grimness of his former world. Everything except his first novel – which now has classic status – is out of print, a victim of changing society.