Meet a member: Alex Fenton

- Interview by Sophie Gordon

This month I caught up with self-confessed recovering pun-oholic, Alex. Read on to hear how he made the move from account managing to writing, and what a dishwasher and a fountain pen have in common.

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do.

I grew up in High Wycombe, studied History in Exeter for four years, then made the predictable London move. I’m glad I did. I’ve come to love London more than anywhere in the world and now proudly call Crystal Palace home. 

Monday to Friday, I’m a Brand Strategist at a creative agency based in London Bridge specialising in culture and place. 

Where did your love of words come from?

I think anyone who uses words has a love of them on some level. But we take them for granted because we have to use them for basically everything, from dentist forms to DMs. I spent years in denial, then finally realised an affection for them had been smouldering there all along. 

Using them rather than reading them was the catalyst. Like, really using them I mean. You can have such fun with words (I’m a recovering pun-oholic who falls regularly off the wagon), and I suppose it was the way they can draw smiles across our friends’ faces that stirred something in me.

I find other human beings fascinating and love connecting with them (I would have been an anthropologist in another life). Words unlock people. I think that’s why I love them. 

Oh, and books. Books are really good.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

Dark Angels.

I began professional life as an account manager. I made a right good go of it, but it was never going to be my calling. Luckily, I was at a friendly little agency without in-house strategy or copywriting, and after putting pen to paper a few times they thought there was something there worth investing in. So they sent me on the Dark Angels Foundation Course. 

For my brain, it was like finding a new room in the house after years of living there. It just opened something. I ended up attending the Advanced Course later the same year which was even better. I owe a lot to both experiences.

Becoming a member of 26 felt like the only thing to do. I wanted to spend more time in my new writing room with projects that weren’t at the mercy of a client’s damning red pen.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

I wrote for 26 flashes, responding to a trippy, tarot-inspired brief with three slides for instagram. I had great fun with that one. 

I then took to the streets of Bloomsbury to write a villanelle for the EYE:SPY project at that weird point in 2020 where we were coming out of lockdown but everything was still a bit weird and empty. 

Last year, I wrote a centena for 26 Habitats to help raise awareness of the fragility of our country’s diminishing natural spaces. I’m particularly proud of this one because it allowed me to connect with (and hopefully do justice to) one of my favourite parts of the world: Dartmoor.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I find instrumental music helpful, otherwise my mind tends to latch onto every little sound that floats by. Film soundtracks are especially good for sinking into that ‘zone’. 

I’d always choose pen on paper over hammering the keys. At least for a first draft. I remember Jamie Jauncey explaining that a screen puts a barrier between you and the words, whereas holding a pen in your hands strengthens the bond with them. It really stuck with me.

I use a fountain pen too, rather than a biro. I feel about fountain pens how I do about dishwashers: once you’ve experienced having one you just can’t go back to living without. 

What are you working on at the moment?

At work, I’m currently grappling with defining and giving voice to a place brand for a major London regeneration area. It’s a toughie. All places are palimpsests of history, memories, people, architecture… I love getting to know them better. That’s possibly one of the best things about my job. I’m now intimately familiar with the stories hidden behind the unblemished glass and steel of modern London. I could fill books with everything I’ve stumbled upon from Braveheart executions to flour mill explosions.

Outside of the 8:30 to 6, I’m currently pondering what to do with a heap of poems I wrote over the lockdowns. At the time, I thought I’d only spewed out a handful, but on looking over them again recently, I found I’ve got close to 20. 

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

My 26 Habitats contribution, Great Southern Wild, has got to be up there. Mainly because my mum liked it so much she got it framed for her house. There’s just something about nature and landscapes that lends them so well to writing, you know?

I’d also pick out the final piece I wrote on the Dark Angels Advanced Course in the shimmering heat of Aracena. It was a kind of ode to my ancestors that somehow made it into the back pages of ‘Dark Angels On Writing’. I was so honoured to have something I wrote

 (even if only one page) published in a book written by such incredible writers.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Other writers.

I’m often scanning the brandscape, jealousy biting me every time I read something magnificent written on the side of a can of ethically microbrewed organic session IPA. 

But also, the world really. I have an allotment, and sometimes just being around growing things is enough to plant an idea in your head (there I go, off the wagon again!). I once wrote a poem about collecting sprouts, carrots and parsnips for a roast. It comes that easily sometimes.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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