I’m originally from Manchester, and it’s my setting for my first novel, The Second Cup – which is the first book in The Butterfly Effect series. In that novel, Manchester represents an “any town” of a certain size and in many ways is a generic urban setting.
But London was important as the main setting for The Victoria Lie – the second novel in the series – because the city captures the idea that you can be surrounded by thousands of people but still be alone, which is important for the plot.
My first chapter is set on a tube train on the London Underground. My character Zoe is able to sit on the train going back and forth on its route for hours on end without anyone making any real conversation. She has fleeting interactions with a homeless woman and elderly lady, but nobody questions what she’s doing – which is exactly what she wants.
I lived in London until last year and I noticed that if you’re crammed into a small space with lots of strangers every day, you stop seeing them as other people. You have to switch off from them because it’s the only way to create mental space for yourself to make up for the lack of physical space.
For my novel to work, I needed a second place, somewhere smaller, to represent a dichotomy between the noise and aggression of London and the relative serenity of elsewhere. At the same time, I was looking to leave London because my health was deteriorating: I have a lung condition and the air pollution in London was making me too ill to work.
When I was searching for suitable places to move to, I discovered Whitstable – and I realised it was the perfect place for my novel as well as a new home for me!
Whitstable is the first coastal town on the “High Speed 1” train out to Ramsgate/Deal and is only 1 hour 13 minutes from St Pancras station and the bustle of the capital. This means it’s easy to travel from London to Whitstable and back in a day – something which would make it easier for me to accentuate the differences.
My characters Alison and Ruby grew up in the pretty coastal town and head down for a day trip. This physical distance away from the other characters in the book allows them to focus on themselves and their friendship.
Herne Bay, Whitstable’s neighbour, has a pier that plays a key role in my novel. I often have an idea of what needs to happen, but not where – and have to search for places that will make my story work. The pier gave Ruby an excuse to be looking out to sea.
If you want to know why Zoe was riding the tube train all day long and why it was important that Ruby looked out to sea, you’ll need to read the book!