Unlike most people Matt Beckford is actually looking forward to turning thirty. After struggling through most of his twenties he thinks his career, finances and love life are finally sorted. But when he splits up with his girlfriend, he realises that life has different plans for him. Unable to cope with his future falling apart Matt temporarily moves back to his parents. During his enforced exodus only his old school mates can keep him sane. Friends he hasn't seen since he was nineteen. Back together after a decade apart. But things will never be the same for any of them because when you’re turning thirty nothing’s as simple as it used to be.
About a year before the dreaded age hit me I began thinking about turning thirty a lot. It's funny because in a lot of ways you know it's not really a big deal but at the same time you just get this huge feeling that it is. And it's because turning thirty is a benchmark. I've lost count of the number of times I've read interviews where some twenty-something celebrity begins a sentence with the words: 'By the time I'm thirty...' then reels off a long list of things they hope to achieve. I think we've all done that at some point. Thirty just seems like the right age to have your life sorted. Obviously the closer you get to the big three-oh the more you realise that things might not actually work out the way that you always hoped they would. I wanted this to be the starting point for the novel: the countdown to turning thirty.
When I was in my early teens I hoped that I'd either be playing professional football for England or be a celebrity of some kind. I think I just wanted to be famous for doing something relatively skilled. A few years on I moved on from football and TV celebrity to simply wanting to marry Madonna. I really thought it would happen. After that I discovered music in a big way and like most teenagers I wanted to be the lead singer in a famous band and appear on Top of The Pops. That would've been my dream. The only thing stopping me from a career in music was the fact that I couldn't sing or play an instrument. By the time I reached university my pop star dreams had reluctantly been replaced with wanting to be a journalist or a social worker or an English teacher. I had pretty random ambitions back then.
Because so many novels are set in London it easy to get into the mindset that it's impossible to write a novel set anywhere else. I ended up setting both My Legendary Girlfriend and Mr Commitment in the capital but that was because the storylines demanded that this be the case. Turning Thirty was my first opportunity to break free of London and my home town seemed like the perfect setting.
Kings Heath and Moseley are parts of the city I know well. And because they have a high proportion of students and ex-students living there they just seemed like the perfect setting for a book like Turning Thirty.
Is the Kings Arms in Turning Thirty based on any particular pub in the area?
Put it this way, those who drink in the pub that inspired it know which pub it is.
I was actually looking forward to it and I think that my thirtieth birthday was the best I've ever had. It wasn't just because I had achieved most of the things that I wanted to do in life (with the exception of playing soccer for England, being a pop star and marrying Madonna) it was more about being happy in my own skin. I now feel a bit more like I know who I am and so I don't waste a lot of energy trying to be someone I'm not. Also...I suddenly began to appreciate what a great group of friends I had managed to collect together in my life. In fact I think that more than anything was the true reward for turning thirty.
After living in London for a number of years I moved back to my home town and settled there and I love it. I'm constantly bumping into people I went to school with and it's always great to hear what they are up to. I'm always amazed to discover the things people end up doing. For instance as well as doctors, nurses, accountants and the like people at my school have ended up working in funeral homes, the film business and politics too. It's incredibly amusing to compare these people in their professional lives now to the people they were when I knew them.
I have to admit that Matt's perspective and my own are pretty similar. The thought of going to a pub and not getting a seat makes my knees ache. And I do own quite a number of classical compilation CDs. I also have to admit that most of my clothing is in the blue/black colour spectrum. I still feel young in myself however and it's only when I come face to face with real youth (i.e. someone who has just turned twenty) that I realise that I'm not young at all. I live quite near a university and every year when new students enrol I'm shocked at how young they look.
I know the high school reunion is very much an American thing but it has caught on here in the UK a bit too. A few years ago a website where people could contact people you had gone to secondary school with called friendsreunited.co.uk became very big and people became obsessed with tracking down their old school friends. I think the whole thing was driven by nostalgia — which is obviously one of the main themes of Turning Thirty. I think for a lot of people their school days are very special to them and although they seemed complicated at the time now you're an adult you appreciate just how simple life was then.
Of all the books I've written Turning Thirty is the one most readers have told me they want to see a sequel to. Partly it's because they want to know what happens next for Matt and Ginny and partly I think it's because they want to know what other turning thirty tribulations might be waiting in store for the characters. I have to admit I'm a little curious too so there's a strong chance that you might be meeting Matt and the gang again soon. I'm also desperate to know what will happen to Matt's ex-girlfriend, Elaine, as she's one of my favourite characters ever.
My advice would be: don't panic. Turning Thirty isn't about ticking off all the things in life you wanted to achieve — and feeling like you're a failure if you haven't —it's about feeling happy with who you are, and if you're not happy doing something about it...and finally, it really is about not going to the pub unless there's somewhere to sit down.
A friend of a friend of mine is actually called Gershwin. I thought it was such a brilliant name that I filed it away as soon as I heard it and was chomping at the bit for years to use it for a character.