Wednesday, 31 July 2013

School Holiday Controversy

We are now into the school summer holidays, which has led to some heated debates recently. When I say school holiday controversy, it is more like controversies, as there are several different issues floating about at the moment.

School's out for summer

On facebook there is a page I am a member of called "Bicester Have A Rant Page". Now a very close friend of mine who have the utmost respect for posted up a week a two back that one of the things that really gets her goat is people moaning about the school holidays. I can certainly see her point of view. I have seen quite a few people put up comments during the holidays on facebook about how stressed they are, "bloody kids fighting all the time", that sort of thing.

Parents celebrate during the school holidays in The Simpsons,
as the bus departs for Kamp Krusty.

My friend loves the extra time she gets with her kids during the school holidays, as do I, and feels very strongly on the issue. So when someone put up a message today bemoaning the 6 week long holidays and the problems caused by the kids being off that long, my friend responded, many other chipped in, and all hell broke loose for a while.

The thing is, I can understand both points of view, although I personally love having the kids at home with me, I am very lucky because I am lucky enough to earn my living predominantly from home, that's running the disco business, and developing my writing career. Admittedly, it's much harder to get work done when the kids are around, but I work around it. My writing, other than these blog entries is more or less done for the summer now, so unless fame comes calling between now and September, the kids will have a lot more time with me. Obviously I still have other work to do - I have spent several hours over the past two days putting together and perfecting a playlist for a 70s disco I am doing on Saturday. Why have I spent so much time on this? Because it is for a very good friend's 50th birthday party, they are paying me well for it and they deserve to get their money's worth. I could never be one of those DJ's who just turns up somewhere and trots out the same old stuff.

Another Simpsons picture. I think Disco Stu would enjoy this Saturday's party.

We've also had builders here for two days, replacing the chimney pot, which put the garden out of bounds. However I planned for all of this in advance so the kids were packed off to the grandparents for 24 hours. Now all the hard work is done they can have my almost undivided (it can never be 100%) attention for the next few days.

I think when some complain they don't really mean it, though I have seen statuses (or stati) put up at times on facebook where I wonder, "seriously, why did you have children?". I don't think the school holidays are the great evil some make out, you just need to adjust. If you have read my first book, you'll recall a chapter entitled "Getting out of the term time mentality" which sums this up very well.

Apart from the joy of spending time with the kids, there are other benefits too. Mornings are remarkably relaxed around here these days. We potter about, have a bit of breakfast, I have a cup of tea, chat and relax and head out when we are ready. There is none of the mad panic associated with school day  mornings when tempers can be frayed running against the clock to get to school on time. That we managed a 100% arrival time in the past year was a minor miracle when I recall the number of incidents from the boys in uncooperative mode, failing to eat breakfasts, messing around while getting dressed, pooing a nappy just as the key is in the front door whilst ready to leave the house, that sort of thing.

I think one of the major complaints about the summer holidays is that they are too long. I agree. Not because it is too long looking after the kids 24/7 but because I just don't like the way the school year is divided up. New legislation coming in this year though means that every school has the right to set whatever terms it likes, providing they fulfil the necessary number of weeks a year, which is about 38.

What difference will this make? Diddly squat. I cpnfidently predict that not a single school around here will deviate from the school year we currently have. Why? I'll come on to that. But first we should commiserate with the fact it won't happen for the following reasons.

Firstly it would end the outrageous rip off of travel agents charging 2x or even 3x the cost of a term time holiday in the 6 week summer break. If every school had different holidays, some off in June, some off in July, some off in September, then it would smooth out the prices. It would be bad news for you that don't have school age children as you wouldn't enjoy the cheap breaks you get in term time now, but well, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Or doesn't in this case because it won't happen.

Speaking of controversy, another piece of legislation coming in, announced about 18 months ago by our "esteemed" Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is that Headmasters are no longer authorised to grant term time holidays. We used to be allowed up to 10 days under the old scheme, so you could get your cheap break in, but that's been stopped. Now I imagine a majority of teachers will be positively in support of this - after all they cannot take time off in the term, and also it's disruption for them when kids are off. But not everyone is, including the head of education in Oxfordshire, and the thing I fear most about this ruling is that the travel companies are going to use it to hike the holiday prices ever higher, because they know many parents won't take their children out for fear of retribution.

If only schools did take advantage of this new ruling to set a new imaginative school timetable, so schools were all off at different times, it would solve it, but there is one very good reason I can see it not happening.

Imagine if one of the Primary schools in Bicester decided to radically alter its school year, and for sake of argument, have its six week break in June and July, going back just as all the other were breaking up. Good news for the parents? Well maybe, if you have only got one child, but what if you have got older children at another school that sticks to the original timetable? Six weeks off for one and then six off for the other? That's 12 weeks of childcare to sort out if you work and you can't go on holiday at all, because they are all off at the same time. No - there would be uproar and it would never happen.

The only way I can see to beat this, is if individual counties were to set there own radically different holidays. So in Oxfordshire we all do the same, but in Berkshire their holidays are all completely different. That means we've got consistency locally, but screws up the travel agents rip off business plans. Will it happen? Of course not, it's a sensible idea!

My idea of the perfect year? Scrap half terms. Have 3 weeks off at Christmas, 3 weeks off at Easter, 4 weeks off in July and 4 weeks off in September. Sorted. You don't want to be off in August anyway, that's a crap month and there are too many wasps about. Sorry Ollie, I know I promised you'd never have to go to school on your birthday but under my plan you will!

Before I go, if you did not know already, I am absolutely delighted to announce that my second book was launched yesterday and is now for sale in the Amazon store, with a paperback due shortly. This is a sequel to my first book and is called Austerity Dad. If you enjoyed my first book, I really hope you'll want to purchase this one too. I am still awaiting my first review, and I'm not going to canvas for reviews, if you do buy and want to leave one, I'll be flattered of course, as I was last time.

Here is the link To view Austerity Dad on Amazon, click here

I personally think this book is a great improvement over my first offering. I have taken a lot more time, chosen more carefully what to include and what not to include, and found the perfect picture for the front. The piggy bank timer works on so many levels - the austerity, money saving theme of the book, my general love of ham, bacon and pork products in general, and the little timer on the side, which is quite apt when you consider the early morning races against time I mentioned above. Oh and buying this book and following the tips within will be like putting money into your own piggy bank. Well most of the tips anyway, some of them are spoof tips, but I am sure you know me well enough by now to know what's real and what isn't.

Just keeping in with the Simpsons picture theme there.

If I could review it myself I'd write all of the above and tell you what a comedy masterpiece it is, and to buy it now before I'm finally discovered so you can say to people "I knew him when he was just a small town DJ, and I bought the first copy of his first book when he spelt "diary" as "dairy" in the introduction on the first print run - it's worth a fortune now you know".

But I'm getting a bit above myself there, still, I have to sell myself, so I say, buy the book for £2.50 and have a good laugh, you won't regret it.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

Friday, 26 July 2013

Quest for success

This is quite a difficult subject to write about, and part of me wonders whether it is even something I should write. I've always felt that the quest for fame selflessly pursued by the type of people on reality shows is rather vulgar is some ways, much preferring the quiet life out of the limelight.

However things have changed somewhat for me lately. I realise that most of those people are just looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. In some cases e.g. Big Brother it is not even about talent.

The fact is though, whatever the merits of any of these people, we all deep down would like to be famous or at least recognised and respected in our field, whatever that may be. In most walks of life this simply isn't possible. You don't become famous for being an amazing estate agent (if such a thing is possible). A few select experts in their fields e.g. gardening can become household names on TV but generally the main route to fame is through either the sporting or entertainment genres.

When I started writing all those years ago, silly letters, plays and emails, and even my blog in its infancy on MySpace six years or more ago when hardly anyone read it, I had no inkling that my writing could take me as far as it has done. I knew that I enjoyed writing and that I could write material that I personally found hilarious, but I had no idea that the wider world would.

And in fact, many didn't. I have come to realise that I am a bit like Marmite when it comes to my writing, and myself in general really. Some people don't get me, others do.

It's really difficult to write about oneself without coming across as egotistical or showing off, in fact this is partly why I use a lot of self-deprecating humour in my writing to try and offset any hints that I might be boasting. Because boasting is not something I do. I recognise what I am good at, and try to let that come through in my writing.

And bit by bit, it has done. My writing has gradually built up an audience and I have gained a lot of what I can only describe as fans. Again that sounds egotistical, but it really isn't meant to be. You have been there for me, encouraged me and been with me all along the way and I have come so far in this past few months in a way that I could never have done without you.

On my readership list are lifelong friends, local acquaintances, and people I have never met. All of you have contributed in your own way to the inspiration that led me to launch my book and the initial success of that overwhelmed me.

Three months on, sales have tailed off somewhat, but I remain undaunted. The approval and interest from people, not only for the actual writing, but in how I live my life has continued.

Dear readers, I do wear my heart on my sleeve and know you are with me for both the highs and the lows. I feel the book was a great success, but if I could go back, I would have taken a little longer over getting it perfect. Now I am working on the sequel, which I am getting quite close to publication. I have high hopes but I still need to get some more exposure. There is a step jump I need to get over from being a local writer selling a few hundred books to people locally to one where I'm getting some national attention.

People have shown interest in me - my blog has already brought me to the attention of one major radio station which I appeared on in May. I've also been featured in the Bicester Advertiser and Oxford Mail and have attracted attention from others. I recently spoke with a researcher from one of the main TV channels who are planning to make a documentary about karaoke. Nothing further has come of that, but the point is that all of these things even if they don't come to fruition are potential opportunities.

I completely believe in myself and what I am doing and a great deal of that is down to you. The number of you out there who have encouraged me and made me believe I could do this and go far with it has led to me really starting to believe I could fashion some sort of career out of this. I know by saying that I am potentially setting myself up for a fall and there will always be people out there just waiting for me to fail but I am not turning back now.

I thought long and hard about whether to tell you this next bit, but then I decided I would, but without any names of people involved. It's all true and is something that could be seen as ending in failure for me but I have always been completely honest with you, so why not share my experience.

I have just come extremely close to being featured in a major national newspaper. I was contacted by a very well known and respected national journalist a few weeks ago following my appearance in the Oxford Mail. This person (I'm not going to identify him/ her for reasons of confidentiality) felt that my whole story of being a stay-at-home Dad and writing an on-line diary had massive potential.

This story almost made it to print in a major daily national newspaper but failed at the final hurdle. The features editor loved it, but it didn't make it past the final say so by the paper's main editor.

This was a huge disappointment for me, but I have to take heart in the fact that I made it that far in the first place. The best analogy I can think of is of being a small town football club improbably defying all the odds to reach Wembley and then getting absolutely hammered in the final.

No matter, that is only one paper. The journalist in question still believes in me and wants to continue to act as my agent. In the meantime I have to turn my attention back to the book sales. Sadly that huge rush of sales of the book was not sustained and having sold 122 in June, I have sold the laughably low total of 1 in July. I could have kept that to myself too but I want to be honest with all of you, you have been with me all along the way and I want you to continue to share in the highs and lows.

It is odd that sales fell off a cliff so much but I suppose every product has a shelf life. Not a single copy was shifted after the story broke in the paper. I also find it quite amusing in a way that absolutely dozens of people have come up to me and told me they have seen my book in Cole's and that they are planning to buy it, yet Cole's report not a single sale.

So it seems like doom and gloom but I am not a quitter by any means. I have achieved an awful lot to get this far and it's unrealistic to expect fame and fortune to just land in my lap overnight. The fact that I made it to inches away from a major feature in a paper read by millions should not be seen as a massive failure but a big achievement that I made it as far as I did.

I've read countless autobiographies of actors, comedians and other entertainers and the first half of many of these books recall the years of struggle before they got their big break. Of course there are millions of unwritten autobiographies too of people who never got that break but I don't want to be one of them. Through an unswerving self-belief, entertaining writing, being honest and being myself I will have my day in the sun. Even if it is not in The Sun if you catch my drift.

What can I do now? Get my head down, keep in touch with all of you through blogging, and work really hard on getting book two to the market. It is literally days away from completion, it's called "Austerity Dad" and if you liked the first one, you'll love this because I think it is a huge improvement on the first offering. Not that I am saying that one was bad of course. Having two out there has got to be good - if people like one they will buy the other.

I have a lot of other ideas in the pipeline and if I could get into the national press, I have all sorts of ideas to pitch, such as a weekly "Dad's Diary" column or maybe an advice column, "Dear Dad", aimed at people like me, stay at home dads, or even mums looking for a man's point of view, who at present make up a lot of my core readership. A weekly column would be a fantastic way for me to get myself established and known and it also has the benefit of providing a regular income.

As for future book ideas, I will have to get back to you on that, my ideas are too vague at present.

One thing did come my way this week which made me really feel like I am a "real writer" at last and that was my first royalty payment from Amazon for book sales in May. It's not a massive sum but it is the first money I can honestly say I have been paid as a writer and that is an achievement in itself.

Thank-you all for your continued support, comments and many private messages, please keep them coming as they mean so much. You are all simply wonderful and continue to inspire me.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx