Today is my fiftieth birthday.
I confess that I have always been rather dismissive of people who pay too much attention to their age. And yet here I am, half a century old, rethinking all this. 50 does feel like a milestone worth reflecting upon, just a little.
If you’d asked me twenty-five years ago where I would be in another twenty-five years’ time, I would have assumed, or even hoped, that I’d be a senior partner in the London law firm where I was then working. I would most certainly nothave guessed that I’d be living in Missouri (because I’d never heard of Missouri), owner of an independent bookstore, author of seven novels, and director of a literary festival. (I am still a lawyer, but most days it feels like I just play one on TV.)
This is not the life I ever imagined for myself – hell, even ten years ago I would never have dreamed about Skylark or Unbound – but I feel nothing but gratitude at all the unanticipated twists and turns my life has taken. There was a time when I seemed destined to follow a particular course. What’s interesting, looking back, is that I was totally fine with that, back then. These days I have no idea what lies ahead – and that feels like a blessing to me now.
In April, the fifth Unbound Book Festival will take place. In May, The Paris Hours will be published. I’ve begun work on the next book and am very excited about that. Every time I walk into Skylark Bookshop, my heart fills up. My family and friends, near and far, complete me. Had I stayed at that law firm in London I would be earning, quite literally, twenty or thirty times what I do now, but this is a life far richer than any I could have dared to imagine for myself back then.
Of course, turning fifty makes you aware of time passing. The future no longer stretches ahead, carelessly infinite. Sometimes I wonder how many books I have left to write. My eldest child has left home, and the others will follow before I know it. I have to wear glasses now. I remember my friends who have died, too damn soon. But I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m learning simply to be grateful for every day. And as I’ve contemplated all this, I’ve come up with a little mantra, which I’m going to do my best to follow from now on.
Work out what brings you joy.