As I walked my elderly dog this morning, the soft rain freeing the honeyed scents of early summer, it occurred to me how thin-shelled modern living is.
Like squillions of other people in the Home Counties, I live in a new town. It began life as an estate but twenty five years later, with supermarkets, gyms, dozens of independent shops, several restaurants, doctors, dentists, a plethora of blue chips companies in residence, its own church and community hall, and a population exceeding 8,000, there is no denying it has grown into a town.
In a recent poll by Match.com, my community was revealed as a UK dating hotspot, enjoying one of the most active singles scenes in the South East; hardly surprising, given the large number of people rubbing along in such a small area of the Kent countryside.
But I digress. It’s a thin-shelled existence; physically and spiritually, where walls are paper thin, gardens are overlooked, and one meets the same people, sometimes several times in the course of one day…on the school run, in the gym, in the supermarket and in the doctors’ waiting room. Claustrophobic might be another word for it – this is not a place for those who seek solitude and anonymity. Community spirit flows as freely as Prosecco on a Friday night, and family life here is an open book. There are no secrets – especially in the summer as windows are thrown wide and back-to-back gardens become pop-up restaurants and party venues.
My town, a veritable Marmite of communities (people love it or hate it) inspired my debut novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching. It’s the perfect backdrop for a style of living which can feel materially bloated, but spiritually starved; a place where loneliness can thrive in a crowd and lead to desperate and regrettable measures, and where secrets can be swept under the sisal carpet…but not for long.
Without exception, the characters are fictional – but as they reflect real life, don’t be surprised if Lisa reminds you of a woman at the gym, if Kate is the image of someone in your book club, or Ben is a photo-fit of past loves. It’s all eminently recognisable – and it’s all between the pages.
Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching is a completed 80,000 word novel; now seeking representation and publication.