An Exquisite Addition
All being well, my story from the Literary Mix Tapes: Eighty Nine anthology should be live on the site for a limited time only. If you’re reading this in the future then sorry, the story is no longer available for free. But hey, you can buy the book!
For those who don’t know, the concept behind Literary Mix Tapes is a playlist of songs which then inspire a selection of stories. For Eighty Nine, songs from the year 1989 were selected. I was assigned “Summerland” by King’s X.
So how did I get from a power ballad to a crappy little waxworks in a rundown seaside town?
Summerland suggests to me loss and regret, about someone past their prime who is looking back on their life. Now hold that thought…
In May of 2010 I had a weekend break with my wife in Great Yarmouth, a seaside resort I hadn’t visited since I was a child. Very little had actually changed, even down to the acts appearing in the theatre on the main pier. Whatever else Great Yarmouth is known for (and for my family, a running joke is the open-top bus tour we took which showed us the “Findus frozen food factory–now closed down”) it is known for Louis Tussaud’s House of Wax, reputed to be the worst waxworks in the world.
Shortly after this break, the idea of a town where nothing much changed, where the acts of twenty years ago were still appearing, where the waxworks is quite sinister in its awfulness, played about in my mind. And a story started to form.
A story about a washed up comedian, playing to small audiences in seaside towns across Britain. A “Northern club comic” type, specialising in blue, slightly racist, slightly sexist material that has fallen out of favour and meant he doesn’t get much of an audience any more. And about his visit to a seaside town with a waxworks. One where the very people modelled in wax also still appear on stage, at the very time their exhibit cases mysteriously empty…
I had the story, but never the push to write it. Until I was offered a slot in Eighty Nine and given “Summerland” as my prompt. The comedian, Barry Doyle, regrets the path his career took. In a longer story I would have explored his decision to go down the “blue” comedy route, and the fact that he is an intelligent and calculating man, trapped portraying an ignorant and offensive buffoon because that’s what the people who pay to see him want. We would have met his manager, a young Asian man who is often the brunt of his off-colour jokes, yet who he increasingly relies upon.
And Mr Mould and Mr Clay would be far more obsequious, far more loquacious, and far more sinister…
The sense of the song Summerland fitted Doyle as a character, and gave me the impetus to write it down. I named the theatre after the song, and the initial setting of the story is in 1989.
1989 is the year I first visited Great Yarmouth, and the son mentioned by Doyle is based on me.
As for Great Scarpool itself, it is an amalgam of all the seaside resorts my family holidayed at when I grew up. The name derives from three of them: Great (Yarmouth) Scar(borough) (Black)pool. I enjoyed my holidays as a child, but returning to these places years later as an adult, and time has not been kind. With the advent of cheaper foreign holidays, a downturn in the economic fortunes of the country and the change in the tastes of the public have left many of these towns struggling, at times retreating into the kitsch of the past.
All the elements combined together to create a disturbing little tale of wax and regret…