ellie seymour | secret brighton
Journalist Ellie Seymour went from blogger to author in (almost) one fell swoop after her Brighton-focused blog caught the eye of travel publisher Jonglez. Secret Brighton was the rather wonderful result – an unusual guide to the city’s hidden curiosities and unexpected treasures. We caught up with her to to chat about how she got started, her favourite secret city hotspots and why so many of us miss the gems that are right in front of us…
When did your blogging adventure begin?
I started Ellie & Co in 2015 but only posted privately to friends and family at first. Once I felt more confident and felt I could deal with the ‘stage fright’(!), I ‘went public’ in 2016.
So it’s been a few years now! What prompted you to get started in the first place?
At the time, I’d lived in Brighton 15 or so years and was feeling a bit restless, at a bit of a turning point. I didn’t want to move cities, though. I’d also just left a job on a national travel magazine and needed a new challenge. The idea of creating a blog and being able to write about anything I wanted has always excited me. So I think it just slowly fell into place that I should start one as a little scrapbook of my discoveries and stories. While I was planning what I’d write about, I kept imagining myself as some kind of investigator so I decided to call it Ellie & Co, like a kind of fictional detective agency.
I think New York has a special place in your heart, too, doesn’t it?
Yes! It’s my favourite city in the world. [Ed: after Brighton, we hope!] I always dreamed of going since I was little, after hearing my grandfather’s magical tales of sailing into Manhattan in the 1940s with the Merchant Navy. Needless to say, I was hooked on the city after my first-ever visit in 1995! There’s really no other place with creative energy like it, in my opinion. And it’s full of secret, unusual places steeped in history to discover, not to mention some of the best restaurants in the world. I’ve visited almost every year since that first time and write a blog on it, too.
But let’s get on to your first book, Secret Brighton… First of all, congratulations! How did it come about?
Thank you! I’m so excited to finally see it in print after all the hard work that went into it. It happened completely out of the blue to be honest! I’d been writing about Brighton, among other things, on my blog Ellie & Co for just over a year. Then, one day, I woke up to a comment from my now publisher on one of my posts, asking if I’d like to write the Brighton guide for their ‘secret city’ series. I’ve long-loved JonGlez guides, so it was a dream come true. I replied straight away to say I’d be thrilled, then jumped up and down like a crazy woman in the kitchen for a few seconds, before phoning a few of my favourite people.
How long did it take to write?
A year. Although I’m still finding things, so it’s an ongoing work-in-progress.
We loved the book here at BOTI and it introduced us to loads of secret places in the city, many of which even long-term residents like us had no idea even existed! How do you find them all?
To be honest, it’s amazing how many ‘secrets’ are hidden in plain sight. One part of finding them is to start thinking differently. Most of us live our lives at such a fast pace, in a constant rush, looking down and focused on our destination that we forget – or don’t get a lot of time – to look up and around. So at first, it was purely a matter of opening my eyes and taking the time to really look around. I did a lot of reading on and offline, too, but talking to people was one of the greatest sources of inspiration. Ironically, everyone was quick to share secrets when I told them about my project. It also often occurred that I’d start out asking someone about a particular place, and end up finding out about three more, just from this one conversation. And the more I got into it, the more things I found. I probably unearthed the best ones towards the end of the project.
And how do you feel about the fact all your city secrets are now out in the open?!
Funnily enough, relieved. I would be sad to think I spent all that time writing away diligently in my little back-bedroom office just to create a book full of secrets only I would know about!
We’re working our way through all the discoveries, but do you have a secret favourite yourself?
I love the idea of visiting museums from the inside out, so my jaw dropped when I discovered you could go behind the scenes into the secret stores at the Booth Museum – an unusual hidden gem in itself. There are around one million objects relating to the natural world at the Booth – some collected, others donated – most of which aren’t in the main museum. I also loved discovering the little pet cemetery near Preston Manor and finding out about a community arts space called the Secret Garden Kemp Town hidden in an old kitchen garden near Sussex Square.
You’ve been in Brighton for over 15 years, so you must have visited most of the city’s bars and restaurants – do you have any favourites?
My favourite types of restaurants are those little neighbourhood gems – I love knowing where locals eat wherever I travel. My favourites are Semolina Bistro, Carlito Burrito (amazing margaritas and fish tacos) and Mediterraneo Deli for hearty Sicilian comfort food. I like to call it the ‘abandoned restaurant’ as it always looks like it’s shut down. It isn’t; it just only opens at the weekend. Then there’s Bincho Yakitori for fried chicken. I could go on! For drinks, I love proper pubs like the Park Crescent or for cocktails, the Plotting Parlour. For coffee, my local cafe Tilt is my favourite in Brighton. I dread to think how many cups I had there while writing my book.
You’re a born and bred Londoner, but you chose Brighton over the Big Smoke – what do you love most about living in our city?
I won’t lie, I do miss London – those Georgian townhouses, historic squares, so many secret places to discover! But after a day or weekend there, it’s nice to get a lungful of fresh air when you get off the train. I also love that Brighton is small enough to bike or walk around and that it’s only five minutes from some of the most beautiful countryside in England.
How few industry jobs there are in the city, and how neglected so much of the city’s old architecture and public spaces are.
And what about a favourite place when you just want to escape from it all?
The tiny village of Streat near Ditchling. Not many people mention it or know about it, but its setting in the South Downs is stunning and it feels a world away from Brighton. It’s also home to the most intriguing manor house called Streat Place, with big iron gates and a huge sweeping gravel drive. I’m always curious to know who lives there.
What’s next for the blog and for you personally? Will there be a follow-up to Secret Brighton?
Ellie & Co has just had its first ever redesign which I’m excited about, and I’ve a stack of posts to share with everyone on Brighton and other things. I’ve also a few collaborations in the pipeline with some interesting partners – and yes, there could well be a follow-up to Secret Brighton in the next year or so. Stay tuned!
Finally, can you talk us through your perfect day in the city?
I’d wake up bright and early, jump on my bike and cycle through town, along the seafront to Café Marmalade in Kemptown for a long lazy breakfast. I love taking photos around the city to post on my Instagram account so any spare day is likely to include some photo wandering, to see what I stumble upon. I also love browsing all the little shops along St James’s Street in Kemptown, especially the flea market and the Real Patisserie, my favourite bakery in Brighton for bread and treats. A perfect evening must involve a delicious Sicilian dinner with friends at Mediterraneo or a cosy movie date night at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse.
Want to read more? Secret Brighton by Ellie Seymour published by JonGlez guides is out now priced £13.99.
Photo credits: Lyndsey Haskell (Secret Garden Kemp Town, Booth Museum); Lucy Sharpe (Pet Cemetery)