The Borrowed Boy is set in Jaywick Sands, a seaside village a few miles from where I live on the Essex coast (England). I was inspired to write this story after riding my bicycle along a cycle path from Clacton pier to Jaywick, a journey that my protagonist Angie Winkle makes on several occasions. The postcard bottom left of the book cover is of Jaywick Sands.
Jaywick has been much aligned by the media. In October 2018 in the USA a Republican advert for Nick Stella used images of Jaywick Sands with the headline, What could happen if you don’t vote for Trump.’ There was of course outrage in the British press at this defamation of Jaywick using old images that did not reflect improvements by the local council. But the British media have also presented Jaywick negatively. A couple of years ago it was the focus of a TV series, Benefits Britain, which portrayed a small proportion of the village’s residents.
There is no doubt about it, Jaywick is run down. It has been named the most deprived neighbourhood in England on the UK Government index, three times since 2010. However, people who have been rehoused from Jaywick into what are considered to be more affluent villages have told me that they miss the community spirit of Jaywick. ‘People look out for each other there,’ I have been told on more than one occasion.
A London cabby spent an entire journey reminiscing about holidays spent at Jaywick Sands when he was a ‘nipper’. The internet is full of shared recollections of Jaywick in its heydays – the donkey rides on the beach, the little chalets with the Elsan toilets. My elderly neighbour grew up in Jaywick and remembers taking mugs of tea from his house to day-trippers on the beach. I think that Jaywick Sands is a very special place. In my author’s note at the back of the book, I have said a little about its history, but I wanted to share it with you here too.
In 1928 Jaywick was developed as part of the Plotlands craze which was popular in South East England. Cheap agricultural land was sold off to Londoners so that they could build a holiday home. There were no building regulations and councils were not required to provide sanitation, electricity, or drainage.
Land in Jaywick was bought up by employees of Ford’s, as it was relatively close to the Dagenham based factory. Chalets were typically constructed from Ford’s packing cases and the streets were named after cars.
During the second world war, London’s East-enders moved out of their bombed homes to live permanently in Jaywick. Whereas other plotland sites in England were developed into new towns, Jaywick residents refused to budge.
Over the year’s residents petitioned the council for funding towards sanitation and electricity and this common purpose created a strong sense of community.
The closure of Butlins Holiday Camp in 1983 led to a further decline in the holiday village, although many Londoners today still treasure childhood memories of holidays spent on Jaywick’s sandy beach.
Holiday experiences have changed so much since the 1960s. I never had a holiday abroad with my parents, I was one of four children and airfares were unaffordable. We went to holiday camps, like Butlins although the Pontins camp in Camber Sands was our favourite.
The first time I went abroad was in 1979 when I went with a friend to Los Angeles on the Laker Sky Train. Freddie Laker brought down the cost of air travel and opened up many more opportunities for travel. There was a time when cruises were a luxury that only an elite group could afford, but they have become much more accessible in the past few decades. Holiday experiences are about to change again, as the Pandemic of 2020 leaves its legacy on the travel industry. Maybe English seaside resorts will have a renaissance as the British rediscover holidays closer to home.
I hope that you enjoy visiting my fictitious version of Jaywick Sands in The Borrowed Boy and maybe discuss some of the themes in your reading group.