So, why is the novel set in the places I've chosen?
The narrator, Olivia Penn, lives in Finchley - quite a pleasant part of north London. OK, it's not Hampstead or Muswell Hill, but it's sort of solid and safe. You have to be quite fortunate and reasonably well-heeled to live there. It's a bit of a struggle for the Penns, financially, to remain there, but they believe it's the ideal place for them
The Penns might live in a house like this - or maybe a little bit smaller and shabbier
I wanted to show that, despite having many 'advantages', Olivia is still subject to some of the pressures that all women have to deal with when they reach 'a certain age'.
I let Olivia go shopping and for lunch in Hampstead. The way she feels she's treated in the restaurant even in this so-called enlightened place deflates her ego even further, and her uncharacteristic purchase of an expensive outfit there also plays a part in events ...
Early in the novel, Olivia visits her friend Sarah in Brighton. For me it's a place of churning emotions for various reasons, and that's what it becomes for Olivia. Our daughter did her first degree at Sussex University, so we got to know Brighton pretty well. The two contrasting piers there always fascinated me, so they make an appearance as a 'significant image'.
Ahead of us now was the West Pier, the 'other' one, destroyed by fire - only not entirely destroyed: just made unusable. Very, very depressing, with its tragic, burnt-out, Sylvia Plath look. It felt as if the wind were deliberately hurrying Sarah and me towards it. The charred skeleton haunted the water-front like some sad old relative at a family celebration that no-one knows how to include in the conversation: there, unignorable, but making everyone feel a bit awkward
With the coming of darkness, the wind had dropped a bit. We just leaned against the railings, side by side. Along to the left the undamaged pier was lit up like a woman off to a party, tastefully gaudy, glimmering with artificial jewels. To the right, her burnt-out, lonely self. The charred skeleton was even more eerie now, its black bones so brittle and sad against the almost dark sky.
Like Olivia, Sarah is someone who appears to have every material advantage in life, but this still doesn't protect her from the depradations of female middle age. Olivia's first visit to Brighton is on an appropriately windy day with a rough sea - in tune with the emotional content of the story at that point
On the evening of her second visit, the fog is kind of symbolic - and is also the real reason she remains 'trapped' in the horrid room at the B&B. Again, kind of 'significant' in terms of her emotions at the time.
I chose Aldeburgh because I know it well as the place of many happy family holidays, so I use a visit there, near the end of the novel, both as a 'relaxed' occasion before more intense emotions kick in again and as a significant step in the novel's dénouement. (You'll see what I mean if you read it.)
Perfectly Fine by Heather Reyes is out now from Oxygen Books