For many years I’ve been a huge fan of the British playwright and film director Mike Leigh. My fascination with his work spiked in the 90s when his filmmaking was most prolific. Relationship dramas such as Life is Sweet, Naked, Secrets & Lies and Career Girls depicted the daily conflicts of ordinary people with a warmth, wit, realism and occasional brutality that no one else was doing (at least not on my radar). And although Mr Leigh is no one trick pony (just watch Mr Turner if you are in any doubt) his colossal and unique ability to portray human frailty is his calling card.
Much of Leigh’s work drips black humour, too. Who can forget Abigail’s Party, originally performed in 1977, about an excruciatingly bad lower-middle class drinks party that spirals out of control?
Mike Leigh has influenced my love of literary fiction, too. Authors like Fay Weldon, Joanna Trollope and the late Jenny Diski, although disparate in style, all have a way of making life’s minutia significant in a way that captivates and entertains readers. It is this ability I aspire to – and I’m working on it.
When I decided to write a novel two years ago, I realised that the lives of friends and neighbours were a rich seam to mine. Not actual personalities – that would be rude and underhand – but the circumstances we find ourselves in. And so I started to write about a couple in their 40s, Kate and Neil, who leave the gritty but pulsating streets of south London for a gentle but suffocating housing estate in a Home Counties suburb, drawing on my personal experience of doing just that some ten years ago.
I still live in that ‘new town’ (a purpose built village if you will) which did not exist thirty years ago, but now has a population of over 8,000 people. It’s a Marmite of a postcode; people love it or hate it. For me, the jury is still out; I love that I live in a place where there is little to no crime, where people are friendly and terribly decent to each other, because community spirit comes as standard, along with a double garage and two en-suites. But there are things that drive me mad, too; the materialism – keeping up with the Joneses. It is a battle I fight – and sometimes lose and roll over to.
It is this struggle with materialism, loneliness, burgeoning mid-life crises and self-loathing that beats within the characters of my debut novel Seeking Eden. That sense of searching for something – and not even knowing what it is; of feeling like a fraud and not quite belonging; of making mistakes and committing indiscretions that cannot be taken back. Of looking out for your friends, but not always knowing who they are.
And if I could tell a story of real, averagely dysfunctional people, doing normal stuff with even a quarter of the wit and authenticity as the genius that is Mike Leigh, I’d be a happy author.
But that’s for you to decide.
Seeking Eden will publish in June 2017 on Urbane Publications http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/beverley-harvey/