Today is such an exciting day because I am joined by Debbie Johnson to talk about birthdays and her new book the Birthday That Changed Everything.
Birthdays are funny things, aren’t they? I look at my kids, and it’s all about the parties. The soft play centres and swimming pools and discos and bouncy castles. The balloons and party bags full of sugar-rush sweets and coming home and unwrapping all the presents.
As you get older, it changes slightly. My oldest turned 18 this year, and he also wanted a bouncy castle – he’s mature like that – but at that party, it was all about making sure nobody was so drunk they threw up, stopping people smoking while bouncing, and laughing at them as they got progressively more wobbly.
Once you’re an adult – a Proper Grown Up – it’s only the bigger ones that tend to take on real significance. I remember my 30th very clearly – I drank 30 vodkas to celebrate. I look back now and am simply grateful I lasted until 31; that was such a stupid thing to do. But hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!
I know a lot of people dread their 40th – it is a bit of a ‘you’re on the other side’ birthday – but mine was fantastic. Myself and a friend threw a joint party, packed out the venue, had a band, food, drink, and a DJ who played exactly the kind of music we wanted. I remember vividly dancing in a massive circle, with all my friends from university, who’d travelled from all over the country – to The Stone Roses’ I Am The Resurrection. We used to do exactly the same when we were 19, and it was incredibly life affirming to know that those people were still with me, still getting drunk, still dancing badly.
We’d lost a friend along the way, sadly, at a stupidly young age. Some of us had kids. Others had been married and divorced. A few had fantastic careers; others had backpacked around the world. We’d been battered by life – but we were still high on the music and the friendship, and simply being together again and celebrating everything that we’d been, everything that we were, and everything that we could be. To me, we were all still teenagers – even if our bodies insisted we were in our 40s!
That year was also significant for me in that I decided to start writing fiction. Not in the ‘one day I’ll write a book’ way that a lot of people do – but actually sitting down and doing it. The first book I ever completed was the one that eventually became The Birthday That Changed Everything, my latest release. It took a long time to get published, but I like to think it was worth the wait!
It’s a story about a woman called Sally who is just about to turn 40, and who discovers that her husband is leaving her for a much younger girl. Not exactly the birthday gift she’d been hoping for, obviously.
Sally finds herself very suddenly single, with two teenaged kids who are at best indifferent and at worst totally vile, and wondering what her life has become. She’s one of those women who somehow ended up with her entire existence defined by what she was to others: a good mum, a good wife, a good neighbour. Many of us have been that woman, or know someone who has.
Once all of those roles are taken away from her – the kids too old to need her, hubbie shacked up with his mistress – she wonders what’s left. Low on confidence; high on self-recrimination, she has no clue what to do next. In a fit of defiance, really, she books a holiday for herself and the children – a desperate attempt to bolster her crumbling life, or at least cheer them all up.
Sally spends her 40th birthday in Turkey, at the Blue Bay Hotel, surrounded by people she’s only just met but who become a major part of her world. The rest of the story unfolds over a period of several years, with Sally and her holiday pals returning to the same hotel at the same time each year.
There’s a big journey of self discovery for Sally; of finding new relationships, new friendships, new ways of communicating with her maturing kids, and, of course, new romance. She’s a very different person by the end of the book than she is at the beginning – but one thing stays the same. Every year, there’s a birthday. Every year, she’s in a new position – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but inevitably getting that little bit older.
I’m 46 now, and birthdays have ceased to be quite as exciting. I did go out clubbing for my last one, which is always amusing – myself and a gang of similarly aged friends, busting our superlative moves on the dancefloor, while bemused 20-somethings look on, in either awe or horror, I’m never quite sure. I don’t really care – if they’re still dancing by this age, still surrounded by people they love, still high on the music and the friendship and simply being together, they’ll have done well.
So, to anyone celebrating – or dreading! – a birthday sometime soon, make sure you have a good one! And you never know – this might just be the Birthday That Changes Everything!The Birthday That Changed Everything by Debbie Johnson
Also by this author: Cold Feet at Christmas, Pippa's Cornish Dream, Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Jumper, Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe
on 28th January 2016
Amazon Kindle, Audible
She wanted a birthday surprise, just not the one she got…
The last thing Sally Summers expected from her husband on her special day was that he’d leave her for a Latvian lap dancer half her age. So with her world in tatters, Sally jets off to Turkey for some sun, sea and sanctuary.
The Blue Bay resort brings new friends and the perfect balm for Sally’s broken heart in gorgeous Dubliner James. He’s just the birthday present she needs. And when the chemistry between them continues to spark as the holiday ends, Sally wonders if this is more than just a summer fling.
But James has scars of his own and Sally isn’t quite ready to turn her back on her marriage. This birthday might have changed everything, but what will the next one bring?