Turning Forty

turning_forty.jpgHow to turn forty:

1. Set yourself a personal challenge.

2. Clear wardrobe of all age-inappropriate clothing.

3. Relax. How not to turn forty:

4. Have a complete meltdown...

High-flier Matt Beckford's sole ambition is to turn forty with his life sorted. With a Porsche on the drive and a job that requires him to spend more time in BA's club lounge than his own lounge, it looks like things are going in the right direction. But when Matt's wife unexpectedly calls time on their marriage, a chain of events is set in motion that very quickly sees him facing forty broke, homeless and completely alone. But all is not lost because Matt has a plan...

 

 
Turning Forty
by Mike Gayle

What made you decide to write your first ever sequel?

For the only reason that a writer should ever return to a story: because there's still something left to say. Funnily enough when I wrote Turning Thirty I never thought for a moment that I'd revisit those characters, but then again when I was thirty, forty seemed like a lifetime away! The older I got and the more things happened in my life and those of friends the more I began to realise that Matt's story was a long way from being finished.

How did you find writing a sequel?

Incredibly difficult! I think because I never had a sequel in mind when I wrote Turning Thirty, nothing was left in a perfect place to pick up from and this in turn led to the odd false start. In fact I ended up completely ditching 90,000 words (a whole novel!) after it had been edited and was ready for publication. It was a horrible experience but one I don't regret because it was the right decision.

What was so wrong with that early draft?

Everything. The tone was wrong, and it was something that I could only appreciate once the book was finished. On the plus side however I think the experience is a sign that as a writer you never really stop learning and in my view, that's a good thing.

So when were you sure that you got it right second time around?

I think second time around it just felt right from the outset. I knew who Matt was and more importantly what he wanted and that was all that mattered. Introducing great characters like Gerry and Rosa helped immensely.

Funnily enough, I was going to ask you about those two. What was the thinking behind them? Are they based on people you know?

I get this question all the time, and no, they're not based on anyone I know. With Gerry I wanted a larger than life character who could become Matt's friend once he was no longer friends with Gershwin and Ginny and the idea that it could be his former teenage hero seemed apt given that Matt, like a lot of people thinks of his hay days being back when he and his friends were young. As for Rosa I suppose I wanted someone young so that through her in a way Matt could revisit his youth but I also wanted her to be strong so that she wouldn't put up with his nonsense. Both characters are essential for Matt's learning curve and hopefully they learned things from him too.

We really wanted Matt to end up with Rosa. Why didn't it happen?

At first that was what I wanted for Matt too. She's so lovely I could really imagine them being together. But when I looked at everything that had happened to Matt during the course of the novel I thought to myself, 'This guy is a mess!' he needs to sort himself out before he can jump into another relationship. And that's sort of the message of the book. Too often we think that relationships will make us happy. But the truth is you need to be happy with yourself before you begin the relationship. If you're not then once the honeymoon period is over you'll be back to your old ways. For Matt to be happy, I think he needs to realise that actually being alone isn't the worst thing in the world. Plus, now he's finally put down some roots I think his whole worldview will change.

So there's still a chance he might end up with Rosa?

That would be telling!

You mentioned earlier about Matt putting 'down some roots'. That's sort of a theme of both Turning Thirty and Turning Forty isn't it?

Absolutely. In Turning Thirty Matt starts off in New York, moves back to Birmingham before heading off to Australia. In Turning Forty Matt's in London having returned from Sydney. As a generation, it feels like we're truly global, happy to move from one country or city to another for work or for love, but we forget that there are consequences to such freedom of movement, namely, not being sure where home is. Is it the place where you grew up? The place where you live with your partner? Or simply wherever it is you've lived longest? At the beginning of the book I think Matt thinks he is on a journey to find a new relationship, but actually by the end I think he's realised that it's more about finding a place to which he can belong.

How was turning forty for you?

It was oddly stress free actually. I didn't do anything special just hung out with friends and family. Like Matt I have pretty much ditched any clothes with a logo on and find myself wearing shoes more often than I do trainers but I'd been going that way for a while anyway! The thing that shocked me most about it however was that even a year later I still felt like I was in my thirties. It was as though my brain was refusing to accept the truth. I've come to the conclusion that I probably won't actually feel forty until a lot further into the journey. I know it's an old joke but right now I actually do feel like a thirtysomething with an extra decade's worth of experience!

What would you like readers of Turning Forty to take away with them?

First and foremost I want them to have enjoyed the story. After all that's the whole point of the exercise! But beyond that my main aim was to persuade people to get rid of this ridiculous notion that they need to have their life sorted by some mythical age. The truth of the matter is that whether you're single or coupled up, have been in the same job since you were seventeen or change jobs weekly, life isn't something you sort, it's something you experience. Part of that experience is accepting that sometimes it doesn't go your way and even when it does it's often not quite in the way you expected.

What do you think will be next for Matt, Ginny and the gang? Will there be a Turning Fifty?

When I finished Turning Thirty I was convinced they were done for good and look how that ended up! There are still a lot of loose ends to do with Matt and Ginny, but who knows if they'll ever get tied up for good. I think part of Turning Forty's charm is that, much like real life, all the strands don't get tied up in a neat little bow.

And finally tell us something about Turning Forty that we don't already know.

I have to confess I share Matt's love of sheds (I have one already and I'm ordering another this week!). It must be the age I'm at but there's nothing quite like having your own shed!

 

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