In terms of style, this piece is far more “literary” than the others. One of my first readers said it reminded them of Terry Pratchett, a comparison I am more than happy to accept! My starting point was a mood board of different images representing “Summer”. Among them were those of the Glastonbury Festival. Using a contemporary music festival as a setting gave me the chance to bring the collection up to date. I remembered how Maria Aberg’s 2013 RSC production of As You Like it had shifted the action out of the Forest of Arden and into a festival setting, capturing the sheer heady joy of the text.
The clearest influence on this tale is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Being a Shakespeare scholar, the opportunity to work with elements of the play in a creative way was irresistible. I picked the elements carefully, focusing on the fairies and the tale of the “Rude Mechanicals” rather than on the lovers’ plot, primarily to distinguish it from the Beltane story. I decided to make my protagonist an echo of Bottom, taking his first name (Nick) and his profession (Weaver) to create the headline star of the festival. Similarly, his bandmates Pete, Frankie, Rob, Tom and “Nuggie” share names and traits with Bottom’s friends Quince, Flute, Starveling, Snout and Snug. I used Shakespeare’s Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed as a starting point for own band of fairies, using plants as a focus and literally drawing out characters and costumes from their leaves. The character of Bill the security guard is meant to be the figure of Shakespeare who “protects” his creations and speaks (broadly) in the playwright’s own words – hence why no one can understand him! The better you know Dream, the more references you will find in this tale.
At the time of writing I was walking regularly along a beautiful abandoned railway line near Stratford-upon-Avon called the Greenway. I threaded elements of landscape and flora, along with some jokes about local issues, into the tale to give the piece a greater sense of place.
I wanted to add some obviously pagan elements to the story. Recalling the section in Dream where Bottom has an asses head, I wanted my fairies to pull a similarly mischievous trick. I used the tale of Herne the Hunter, associated with Alban Hefin, with the fairies attaching a stag’s head to Nick’s shoulder, an evocation of the God in the midst of chaos. I also added in a dream section for Nick, based on the story of Talesin; pursued by Ceridwen, Talesin transformed into a series of different beast. In the first draft of this tale, Nick had been the epitome of “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. Aware that I wanted to aim for a broad audience, I began to develop his love of red meat as an alternative. Having a central dream where Nick changes into different beasts seemed an effective way of achieving his transformation.
Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)