A short break in France

Writing by Mo Fanning

What a close-to-perfect week the Fanning clan had in a remote French farmhouse, miles from the nearest shops with no Internet, no phones and no English language TV – we watched the French version of Wheel of Fortune twice and didn’t quite get why a small white dog was part of the proceedings.

The only down point involved driving. I’m not a natural behind the wheel and so, negotiating the streets of Amsterdam in the first torrential downpour for months took my stress to whole new levels. Had someone the foresight to attach crocodile clips to my ears, I could have saved the city of Amsterdam money and powered the street lights.Photo of cottage

Mr Fanning did his best to navigate from the hire car shop to our street, making calming noises and trying not to flinch each time I came within a hair’s breadth of a parked car or oncoming cyclist. We parked up – five minutes walk from our front door – I absolutely refused to ‘go round again, just to see if there was anywhere better’.

En route to remote France, I managed to do the usual getting lost around Antwerp thing. Never ever trust Belgian road signs that suggest time-saving diversions. We were routed through grim industrial estates and miserable satellite towns before arriving at the entrance to an expensive toll tunnel.

Road trip

Photo of cowsAnd why are the roads in Belgium so terrible? We’d no sooner left Holland than the surface broke up and turned bumpy. Single lanes and crawling jams blighted our passage through this God-forsaken chunk of Europe.

After a holiday two years back in an Ardennes village of the damned and subsequent train journey through hell-hole stations en route to Paris, I’m convinced it’s not a country I’d ever care to visit again.

So road trip aside, Mr Fanning and I enjoyed a perfect seven days. The cottage we first rented three years ago hadn’t changed much and felt like home almost immediately. The sun had its hat on and we walked for miles; taking the dog up narrow paths past cows, fields and not much else.

Mr Fanning had his new camera and got terribly artistic, prompting a strange competitive edge. Every now and then, I’d demand control of his all-new all-singing and dancing Cannon something-or-other and try to better his shots. Barbed wire became a feature – as did cows. After every walk, we’d rush back to the cottage to download the images and decide who’d done best.Photo of telegraph pole

And we ate. Loads. Twice at my absolute favourite place in the whole world – Le Ferme des Chartroux. Everyone there is so lovely and they pile the plates high. Mr Fanning and I are still not entirely sure you’re actually meant to empty the entire tureen of soup they put on your table before the starters arrive. Nobody said anything, but I swear looks were exchanged when the waitress took away the bread basket to refill it a second time.

Suffice to say we left groaning to totter down a 1km unlit road insisting we’d never eat that much again – until the next time. Seriously, if you are ever in the area, do try it out. I’m not on commission.

Back to Dam Life

Then it was back to Amsterdam. And after seven days of peace, it all seemed so loud, so dirty and so stressful. I’d turned from road rage driver to laid back motorist. This changed very quickly. Within ten minutes, I’d sworn at some hapless soul in a cheesecloth shirt riding his bike up a narrow pavement with a piano on the parcel shelf and his brains on vacation. (I might have made up the bit about the piano bit, but he looked the sort.)

As I write this, the skies are back to grey and ‘Strictly’ clogs up Saturday evening TV. And I already miss the sunshine. I knew when I signed on for Dutch life that 60% of the year, the skies would be heavy and white – it’s not so very different from the UK – but the flat landscape and lack of any space is making me hanker for pastures new.

Write On

And so what about the writing?

One good thing about living in a country where indoor life rules is I have time to plot.

With a sigh of relief, I finally finished revamping an old story; bringing it up to date, with new twists and chopping a good 20,000 words in the process of simplifying the plot. Already one of the recipients has made happy sounds, although right now, it’s tough to break into the market. Few publishing houses seem able to take a punt on an unknown.

Still, it was fun to write and I finally think I’ve lain to rest the story of Faith and Pearl after six endings and I dread to think how many drafts. The 78,000+ surviving words are hewn from at least 300,000. Along the way, characters have been culled and new ones written in. One went from potential romantic lead to outrageously camp flirt. In the end, the story picked up a supernatural edge and put to rest loads of things that have floated through my head for some time.

And already I’m plotting anew. There are two ideas bubbling on the back of my story stove. One revolves around a gay wedding and the quest for talent show fame. The other is a cautionary tale of online dating.

Best Rant

Time for my rant. I know language is a living thing, but when did ‘best’ become a verb – as in ‘the sales of his new album bested those of …’?

Is this just an American thing or is it how da kids is speaking, innit?

I probably need to know because the story I’m leaning towards includes a particularly sassy wedding planner hailing from Chicago. She’ll be feisty, fierce, fearless, frank and all sorts of other words beginning with f.

And she’ll best everyone to land the job of rescuing a calamitous gay wedding.

Now I get it. It’s all about context.

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