The Mayday Bank Holiday in Hastings is Jack in the Green day, a traditional or pagan festival that celebrates the ritual slaying of winter and the welcome release of summer into the world. It was a big thing in Hastings until the late 1880s, when the Victorians started grumbling that a more sedate maypole-type ceremony might be in order. A century later the old-style Jack was revived by the locals, and happily it’s now a big thing once again.
As I learned last winter when I attended my first Hastings annual bonfire parade, these rituals are taken seriously here, there’s a special atmosphere that surrounds them. Ancient rituals and beliefs feel very close to the surface. Everyone clearly has a great deal of fun – on Jack in the Green day literally thousands of bikers traditionally descend upon Hastings, the town swells to twice its normal size and yet the atmosphere remains enthusiastically inclusive, one-hundred percent family friendly – but beneath it all there’s something more than that, something old and ingrained, something whispered, elusive, mysterious. Walking around the Old Town and up through the Croft on Monday afternoon, what I kept thinking was: the thing, that indecipherable something we write about is still alive.
Taut bundles of leaves tied with bunting to the Old Town railings, banners featuring green images of Jack, a girl wearing a black velvet cloak and crowned with a circlet of flowers helping some guy start his motorbike, a biker buying a pint of prawns from one of the fish stalls down on the Stade. An odd, roughly made kind of magic, but magic definitely.
(And definitely not unconnected) I’ve been making progress with the book. Today I felt truly excited, with that queasy excitement you get when something moves you, when a piece of writing finally feels like it’s going the way you imagined.
I want to write more about this, to share more, but at the moment each time I try I pull up short. I guess everything is going into the actual writing. More on this soon.
In the meantime here’s Naomi Wood instead, talking about the inspirations behind The Godless Boys. I wouldn’t say the book is perfect. I feel it has something of an ad hoc feel to it, mainly because some of the rationale behind the central premise (OMG am I actually talking about worldbuilding here?) feels insufficiently worked out. But what remains with me, what makes this novel special, is its sincerity. There are some beautiful moments in the prose, and a genuinely affecting ending. It is a Good Thing and so is Naomi. Go read her.