Is it enough to see Sarah Miles in Lidl?

Writing in Brighton with writer Mo Fanning

Brighton with Mo FanningThe Fannings have reached a bit of a crossroads again. After so long in Amsterdam, it’s proving harder to find the right place to settle back in the UK. We own a house that Mr. Fanning poured his soul into giving a major makeover and rent a Brighton flat that takes damp to new levels. It’s time to decide whether to head back up north or buy a place down here.

The one flat we think we might love has been on the market for two years thanks to steady price drops and a water-damaged lobby. That said the place feels as close to right as we can get for now. And so we’re off to give it another once over with a bloke called Peter who knows a thing or two about damp Brighton basements. This aside, the flat lies hidden at the back of a square where we saw Zoe Ball attempt a three-point turn. In other celeb spotting news, our near neighbour would be Nick Cave and we recently saw Sarah Miles finger mixed peppers in the nearby Lidl. It’s a whole different world.

Middle class conversations

Talking of different worlds, the other day I overheard possibly the most middle class conversation ever. It revolved around the trials and tribulations of moving a piano from one floor of a house to another. The pitfall being it invariably goes out of tune. Luckily for both parties, they knew a marvellous little man who could fix that. I thought only Penelope Keith characters in 70s sitcoms knew  ‘marvellous little men’. Turns out to be common currency for the Brighton middle classes. Even the corner shops round here sell kindling.

Until very recently, I’d have never dreamed of making a pizza base. Now I’m ready to experiment with different proportions of polenta to typo 00 flour. Mr. Fanning bakes a sour dough loaf every two days.

Whether this is reflects isolation from the outside world, I’m unsure. In Amsterdam, we knew hardly anyone, but that didn’t stop us indulging in the twin British pastimes of binge drinking and passive aggressive whispering. Although occasionally lonely, I don’t think we ever felt truly alone there.

What about the writing?

And then there’s the impact this has on writing or creativity in general. As amusing as piano moving can be, I miss the truth and humour of really decent overheard conversation.

We recently went to see an Alan Bennet play. It was marvellous. Not just the theatre, or Nicola McAuliffe’s stormer of a star turn, but the beauty of the words.

I worry I’ve lost touch with the real world, having not written anything that keeps my attention in an absolute age – and what’s worse, I pepper my blog with phrases like ‘absolute age’. I’ve had a few goes at cobbling together a story, but characters lack edge, the story lacks drive and I inevitably give up. If it doesn’t keep me interested and wanting to write, why would I expect anyone to read it?

The thing is, writers write what they know. Your life seeps into the words. That’s not to say Nicki French murders on a regular basis or that JK Rowling has first-hand wizard handling experience. You do though need to pour feeling into the words you produce if they are to sound in any way genuine.

Endless weeks in a damp Brighton apartment don’t make for great stories. Sarah Miles in Lidl isn’t enough. Possibly.

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