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Jenny Bayliss on writing about characters in their thirties

Jenny Bayliss on writing about characters in their thirties

In the UK eighteen marks the age at which we legally become adults. From that point on the rest of our lives are spent trying to adult with varying degrees of success. Adulting is hard, not least because we change so much with every decade.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe centres around a group of friends in their mid-thirties. I specifically wanted to write characters this age because our thirties are such a complex rite of passage; a sort of in-between period which bridges the hedonism of our twenties and the more moderate tone of our forties. It’s when we first feel society pressuring us with a side-eye to hang up our Peter Pan and Wendy tights.

The characters in Meet Me Under the Mistletoe were childhood friends who reconnected as adults after the tragic death of one of their own. I had some experience of this myself in my thirties. The funeral was the worst kind of reunion; heart-breaking and agonisingly nostalgic. Unlike the characters in my book, despite heartfelt promises made at the wake, we didn’t stay in touch; the past is a mire in which you can easily lose your footing.

I wanted to explore the rekindling of a friendship group through my characters, with all their post-thirty-insecurities. Reunions with old confidants are like digging up human time capsules, we expect them to have remained unchanged. They are the people who knew the ‘you’ before, who simultaneously know you better than anyone else and not at all.

Thirty is when our ears first become attuned to the tick of time passing. That ticking is likely responsible for the spouses who found themselves unceremoniously ditched for old flames when Friends Reunited burst onto the scene. Adulting is so hardcore that all the frankly hideous things about being a teenager are rendered a misty-eyed reminiscence. Our thirties signify the end of our screw-ups being attributed to the folly of youth; no wonder our twenties become halcyon memories.

If our twenties were about tentatively finding our place in the world and not yet feeling very much different than when we were teenagers; apt to get carried away by our emotions and libidos, with a tendency to party too hard on the weekends. Then our thirties are about clinging desperately onto the former, whilst feeling judged by the world, pressured to be fabulous, still unsure whether the skin we find ourselves in is a suitable fit, and caring far too much about what other people think of us. It’s a complicated decade.

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Now in my late forties I feel more comfortable with myself than ever before. This is I think a result of not giving a flying-monkeys about what anyone thinks of me, my decisions, or how I look. I have no monkeys left. They have well and truly flown. And if my mother is anything to go by, by the time I’m in my seventies my social filter will have left to join my monkeys. If only thirties me knew.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe is published by Pan Macmillan on 10 November 2022

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