Thursday, 17 December 2015

A grand day out

Because of the relocation of the school, we have a longer Christmas holiday than usual with several extra days tagged on to the beginning and the end.

Fortunately the weather has been kind so with the mercury nudging up towards the mid teens in recent days we've not had to be confined in the house as can happen in the winter months. Just as well really as there's over a week until Christmas still and I do like to get out and about when the weather allows - just as we did in October when we made it on to the beach at Skegness.

Today Claire was working and I didn't want to be cooped up at home all day so we decided to go to Towcester for a day out, one of the places we've been considering moving to if we don't make it up to Louth or can't get a decent place near the new school.

We got there late morning and went for a walk up the Bury Mount which is the remains of an ancient castle, now just effectively a big green hill. You can wind your way round this reading the metal plaques in the ground that tell you the history related to it and the town. The kids love this sort of thing. At the very top are a collection of stones you can sit on and admire the view - or in our case, eat our picnic. Despite it being quite windswept up the top, it wasn't cold and we were able to sit and eat quite comfortably - remarkable for the time of year.

On top of Bury Mount

As usual the kids didn't want to eat their crusts - not a slight on my home baking skills but just kids being kids. However, at the base of the mount is a river full of ducks who were only too keen to munch on them. Well most of them anyway. The Dairylea spread crusts from Jamie's sandwiches went down well, but Ollie's Marmite smeared leftovers produced an unusual response. A couple of the ducks were almost fighting over them, but a couple of the others turned their noses up completely. In fact they swam away. I can only conclude that the whole love it or hate it thing about Marmite also applies to our feathered friends!

In the afternoon we did one of my favourite things and went to the races at Towcester. I've long extolled the merits of a day out here because it's completely free to get in and most of the entertainment is free - providing you don't gamble or drink that is. It was packed out today and that was hardly surprising. In addition to the horse racing there was a Christmas market there, a beer and cider festival as well as entertainment for kids. Not that there were many kids there as most of them haven't broken up yet. There was giant Connect 4 and Jenga, and also a very funky bouncy castle. This one was more like a cave, only a small entrance into a fully enclosed play space, but it was the coolest bouncy castle I've ever seen - it was like a disco inside with lights and music. Even adults were allowed in and like everything else at Towcester, it was free.

When it came to the betting, I was not very successful with my modest investments on this occasion. In the first chase we walked along to the fence by the furlong pole where you can get right up close to the action. I told Jamie to look out for No. 6, my horse, as it jumped the final fence, and true to form, it jumped the last magnificently. Unfortunately there was no jockey on it, he had been deposited somewhere over the other side of the track but we were so far away from the grandstands, commentary and big screen we hadn't realised this until the horses actually reached where we were standing.

Later on I picked out what I was convinced was a sure fire winner, a nice price too. Unfortunately this time I had some difficulty getting the kids off the bouncy castle and then Jamie struggled with putting his shoes on. By the time we got to the betting ring the race was off and it was too late to get a bet on. This horse of course romped home! But never mind, these are minor considerations and make for amusing anecdotes. The fact was we had a lovely day out in the fresh air and the kids loved it. There was not a cross word between them or a hint of misbehavior all day and they were polite to everyone we met. I did not have to tell them off once and that's a result. Happy kids is worth any 5/1 missed winner.

We didn't stay right to the end as it started raining about 3pm so we missed the after racing fireworks display but we were happy to go then to beat the traffic. We rounded off the afternoon with a trip to McDonalds and the kids, completely unprompted both said "Thank-you Daddy for a lovely day out" in the car on the way back.

You can't buy that...

 Jason Ayres is the author of seven books, including his best-selling time travel novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Thursday, 10 December 2015

State Of The Art

Yesterday, Claire & I walked up to the new Kingsmere estate to see the brand new school. It has been built to accommodate children from the new estate and to replace the 150 year old St Edburg's site, the oldest school in Bicester.

A random picture of some houses on Kingsmere
(I couldn't find a picture of the new school).

As long term readers will recall, I was an opponent of the original plans to do this. Not only from the selfish point of view that the old school was practically on our doorstep and the new one is half an hour's walk away, but from a traditionalist point of view too. The thought of the lovely old building , which so many generations of Bicester children had passed through being sold off to become offices or something filled me with sadness.

We've known this was coming for a long time and it's been a major influence on our long term plan to move home, but here we are, still here deliberating about where we are going to live and the new school is up and ready to go. The children will walk out of the gates of the old building next Tuesday for the last time.

But, and this is a big but, having now had a tour of the new school I have to say, I'm absolutely blown away by it. Lovely, spacious and modern, the interior is light years ahead of the old building. The lovely "Round" room, a very attractive shared area and superb classrooms are only part of the story. There are now kitchens, with catering run by a local firm who provide incredibly good quality food on a budget, I know because we've tried it - for example there is none of the awful gristly meat I remember from my school days - all the meat is sourced from high quality local butcher Peter Goss and it's a similar story for the other ingredients.

Not that my kids are planning to indulge, Ollie informing me that despite the high quality fayre on offer he will continue to require a Marmite sandwich on a daily basis. Still, maybe that will change when they see for themselves what's on offer. At least they have a choice, we didn't even have that in my early days at Primary School where you got what you were given, some of which was quite inedible. Of course, being the devious little scamp I was (and still am, probably) my pals and I created plenty of innovative methods of disposing of the horrors.

A scraggy bit of lamb could conveniently be coughed into a tissue and placed in ones pocket for later disposal. Very handy if hiding in the toilets during a game of "Hunters" at playtime when we were meant to be outside. The dinner ladies used to come in and check but a well timed drop of the offending article into the toilet behind a locked door would create a sufficiently audible plop to convince them you were having a poo so they would go out again.

If you didn't like something they would insist you tried a "bit". The worst horror of all was the semolina. I would ask for a bit - which would be one tablespoonful approximately. Then I'd swirl it round and round the bowl to make it look like I'd had a full bowl. This never failed. As for the mashed potato, complete with black bits, we had an even more creative way of getting rid of that. By placing some on a spoon and creating a catapult across the edge of the table, great lumps could be flicked up in the air and if you got it right, they would stick to the ceiling and not come back. I'm not sure what was in this potato, some sort of superglue I reckon, because it would stick hard and fast. I'm pretty sure we never got caught doing this and it became a school tradition. Many years later I went back to the school for my younger brother's school fete and just happened to glance upwards to see that the mashed potato was still alive and well and forming its own ecosystem on the ceiling.

Back to the new school: outside the school there are acres of open space. You could fit a full sized football pitch on the field and watch all the action from the banks on the side. The school even has it's own home and away changing rooms. The inside gym is similarly impressive.

All in all, I'm hugely impressed and pleased that despite my earlier reservations they are going to such a wonderful place. Of course none of this helps much with our ongoing dilemma about when & where we are going to move - all is certain is that we are going to move out of this house in 2016. The number of considerations that have to be weighed up changes and piles up on a daily basis - schools, jobs, house prices, family & friends. It's pretty much all we've talked about on a daily basis for most of the past year and still the research goes on. If it sounds like we're procrastinating over the decision, then so be it - a decision that affects the rest of one's life isn't to be taken lightly. A final decision will only be taken when we've examined every possible angle.

Louth remains an option - I do love it up there, but it's not the only option, but in the past few weeks we've checked out Brackley, Towcester and Kingsmere itself. If we can pull the funding together to be able to make a realistic stab at moving there then it wouldn't be out of the question, The books are selling well, so who knows? As new estates go, it's got a lot going for it and if we could get in there, at least we wouldn't be tearing ourselves away completely from our family and friends and at least it's sufficiently far away from Bicester town centre to feel like we're in a new place. And there's nothing to stop us moving again if it doesn't work out.

If we do stay here my new year's resolution is to become more sociable because since I've been working from home I've become incredibly reclusive and it's easy to become isolated. This carries over to when I go out, lately I've found myself standing alone on the playground too often. I need to make the effort more with people I already know and make new friends too. I love interacting with people and I'm not doing anywhere near enough. Had coffee with a friend this morning and meeting another for a drink tomorrow night, that's a good start but I need to do more wherever I end up living. Parental loneliness is something I'm sure many of us have experienced at one time or another and it doesn't have to be that way. I have found most people to be friendly and approachable if I make the effort - so I will be more in future. So watch out if you see me heading your way in the playground, I may be planning to start a conversation :-)

Decisions, decisions. The aim has always been to reach a decision by the end of February so we still have a little time. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing - researching areas and cramming as much information into my overloaded brain as I can. You can never have too much information, especially when it's such a life changing decision as this.

The fantastic new school has certainly put some ++ points in the staying column. I seem to constantly have The Clash's "Should I stay or should I go?" running through my head these days.

Jason Ayres is the author of a range of bestselling time travel novels as well as three non-fiction humorous diaries. Find out more here: Books by Jason Ayres

Thursday, 5 November 2015

"It was like something from East Germany"

Friends and family were last night rallying around a distressed Londoner whose dream day out to an upmarket shopping village turned into a nightmare.

Hilary Cholmondley-Smythe, 33, an investment banker from Kensington, West London, explained how a mix up over parking led to the horror of finding herself not in the swanky designer outlet, but instead in the centre of the adjoining town.

"I had a few grand left over from my quarterly bonus so I decided to treat myself to a trip to Bicester Village. I wanted to see if I could pick myself up a nice dress for a dinner party some friends of mine are throwing in Belgravia next weekend. So I drove up the M40 in my Mercedes-AMG to see what I could find.

Everything was fine until I got off the M40, then I started seeing signs saying the car parks were full and directing me to a park-and-ride system. Obviously, a person of my social class could not possibly be seen dead on a bus, so I ignored those and carried on driving. The traffic was quite frightful on the roads leading to the village, they really ought to do something about that.

When I got there, it was obvious I wasn't going to get into the car park, so I drove along the road a little bit in to some sort of residential area, and found myself a nice spot to park, just over someone's drive. That's when it all went horribly wrong. I should at that point have turned right to get into Bicester Village, but instead I turned left.

I seemed to be in some sort of town, the existence of which I was previously completely unaware. I walked past a church and down a narrow street and then found myself in a shopping area. This can't be the right place, I thought to myself as I walked on. I had been told there were some posh eateries at the village, but all I could see was a Wimpy. When I looked through the window, there was some fat bloke in there eating a bacon roll. It was hideous, quite hideous.

The horrific scene in which Hilary found herself.

By the time I walked further into the town, I felt myself starting to have a panic attack. There were common people everywhere, with scruffy clothes, tattoos, and all sorts. I searched desperately for the designer outlets, but all I could see were charity shops, estate agents, and opticians. It reminded me of an old film I'd seen about East Germany during the cold war. The final straw was when I saw a Poundland. This was too much and I fainted, there and then in the street".

Miss Cholmondley-Smythe was taken to a nearby Costa Coffee shop to recover. Here she was able to call her PA in London who drove up to rescue her. She is now believed to be recovering from her trauma.

This is not the first time a visitor to Bicester Village has found themselves in the town by mistake. In 2014, a Chinese tourist got off the bus from Oxford at the wrong stop and accidentally ended up buying a polo shirt from Sports Direct.

 Jason Ayres is the author of seven books, including his best-selling time travel novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Friday, 30 October 2015

Pastures new

I've been curious about Louth for some time, and found myself strangely drawn towards it ever since I found it whilst I was idly looking through the road atlas looking for new places to explore.

This was some months ago. I started with Wikipedia, where else, then moved on further to find out as much as I possibly could about this town.

Here's a few snippets from Wikipedia that caught my eye:

"Louth has a total resident population of 15,930.[2]"
"The Greenwich Meridian passes through the town and is marked on Eastgate with a plaque on the north side of the street, just east of the junction with Northgate."
"Louth is noted for the wide selection of independent retailers, with around 70% of businesses independently owned.[28] In 2012, it was named 'Britain's Favourite market town' by the BBC's Countryfile.[29]"

"Louth is also known for its specialist grocers,[31] and local butchers, Meridian Meats, have won numerous awards.[33] It is also home toThe Cheese Shop, which has gained nationwide recognition, including in The Daily Telegraph,[34] The Guardian,[35] and on The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain.[36]"

So where is Louth? Well it's about twelve miles from the East coast, situated roughly half way between Grimsby and Lincoln on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The more I read about it the more it interested me, but there's no substitute for visiting a place. So on three of the five days we were in Lincolnshire this week, we explored the town.

My first impression driving in were good. I've never seen the autumn trees in more colour - they were an absolutely glorious mix of yellows, reds and oranges on the tree lined route we drove in on.

As for the town itself? Well despite having a population around half that of Bicester, they've an amazing range of shops in the town centre - every unit occupied with a mix of national chains e.g. Millets, Clarks, Boots, Superdrug, Wilko etc etc and local businesses including five butchers, green grocers, several bakeries, cafes, and proper pubs. The chains that weren't present were welcome by their absence - there was not an accursed Costa Coffee or Starbucks in sight. Give me locally run coffee shops any day. The town has worked very hard to keep it's town centre special and it shows. There were also markets in town - three days a week apparently. I had a taste of a pork pie off one of the markets - I'm not joking, it was one of the most gorgeous pies I've ever tasted. Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I found a cheese shop!

The cakes in the bakery windows were too tempting not to indulge in - but the prices! I would say around half of what you pay in the Bicester bakeries. Great big cream cakes for around 80p and cupcakes and stuff for the kids for about 50p. And absolutely delicious.

As for eating out, there's a good range of restaurants, including a proper steakhouse called "The Ranch". We had a fantastic meal there, made all the better by kids being allowed to eat free between 5pm and 6pm. In addition to the steaks they've got all the ribs, wings etc that you get in such places, and like many of the businesses in Louth, it's independently owned.

We went to visit St. James' Church, the tallest Anglican parish church in the UK. There was a lot going on in there - half term activities for the local kids, a shop, a cafe and local guides. You can also climb the 195 steps to the top of the tower. It's a very tight and very narrow spiral staircase to get up there and very hard work but I made it, and when I got to the top, I took this picture to prove it.

Pass me the oxygen mask, Ollie...

If you add that to my trek up Steep Hill in Lincoln, I've got to have done myself some good on this holiday, even with the indulgence at the steak house and bakery!

Whilst in Louth, I spoke to everyone I possibly could about the town. That wasn't difficult - every person I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming. This included people from Amersham and Birmingham who had relocated there in recent years and hadn't regretted it.

I think you've all guessed where this is leading. It's not a decision we're taking lightly, but we've been thinking about relocating for some time. Initially this was due largely to financial reasons, but the truth is, it's no longer a case of needing to go, we want to go. And that does mean all of us.

The fact is, I've had 25 years in Bicester, most of them good ones, but of late, I've become jaded. I need fresh challenges in my life, always have done, and the adventure of going to live somewhere else is one that appeals. I've never been better placed to do it - the money I earn in royalties from my book sales gives me the freedom to live anywhere, I'm no longer tied to a job. So why not?

There are many things people in Bicester are not happy about, as judged by the endless disgruntled posts on Facebook on various pages dedicated to the cause. I needn't go into details, I agree with most of it. I've never been afraid to jump ship if I'm not happy with something in my life - hence my 10 year transition from working at Nielsen to becoming an author. And the truth is, I don't want to sit around here moaning about the state of the town centre, the evils of BV and all the rest of it. I want to vote with my feet and go. And in the lovely town of Louth, I've finally found somewhere I think I can go to.

Virtually every box I want it to tick, it's ticked. In addtion to all I wrote above;

Great schools with good OFSTED ratings who are good with SENCO kids - tick. I even managed to talk to a teacher while we were there who went to the school that Ollie and Jamie would go to. And we went to have a look at it too.

Low crime rates - tick.

Very affordable housing (half Oxfordshire prices and rents).

Near the seaside, so you can visit any time you want - tick.

And much more...

So, what now? We've talked and we are quite excited about the possibility of moving to this new part of the world. But I want to keep my feet on the ground. It's early days and I don't want to rush into anything just yet, so what we've decided to do is this.

Firstly, take a second trip up to Louth over the next couple of months, but without the children this time. Then we can get out into the local pubs and spend more time meeting people. There's lots of nice looking pubs in the town - none of your Wetherspoons chain shite, but we didn't get a chance to explore them with the children in tow.

Then, give ourselves a cooling off period to think about it. We feel excited about all this now but perhaps we should give ourselves three months to be absolutely certain it's what we want to do. We can spend that time finding out more about the schools, and Claire can try and find work with the NHS in the area. Then we'll look at moving in the spring.

When and if we do decide to take the plunge, then we'll go and rent a place for a year - sort of a 12 month trial. If after that year we want to stay, we'll then look at buying in the area. If not, we can always come back.

I feel this way, we're covering all the bases. We're giving ourselves a year to experience life in a new town and a new community. Life is to be lived and I feel rather as if I am stagnating sitting around in Bicester and Oxfordshire in general. There's just nothing new here to excite and stimulate me. I need a new challenge, a new place, and I believe this is going to be it. I've found the right place, and the time feels right.

So, yes, it's official - if all goes to plan, I'm leaving Bicester. I won't be leaving my friendships behind, though. I hope when we get settled we'll be able to receive visitors - and if any of you ever holiday in the area - we'll be a mere stone's throw from Mablethorpe and Skegness, you'll come and see us in lovely Louth.

Exploring Lincolnshire

This is going to be a two part blog as there's a lot to tell you!

We've just come back from a four night holiday in Saltfleet on the Lincolnshire coast.

Now it might not sound like the first choice of holiday, four nights in a caravan at the wrong end of October on the windswept east coast, but we had a fantastic time. We packed an amazing amount into the time we had available.

I have a theory that you get more out of a short break than a longer one. When you know you've only got three full days, it focuses the mind. There's no time to waste lounging about or taking a day or two to settle in. You've got to be full on from the start. And you've also only got to make your money last four days, so you don't have to eke it out so much as you do on a longer break.

There was an ulterior motive to taking this break. As I've mentioned previously, we have for some time been scouring the country looking for somewhere potentially to relocate to. Why? Well the high cost of living and housing here was the initial reason, but to be honest, in recent months I have begun to feel more and more that I want to move on in any case. I've been here 25 years and I feel ready for a change. I want to find out what it's like to live in another county, in another town.

So far our travels around the country have not yielded any positive results. I have said all along that I wouldn't move unless I found somewhere that really felt right. I knew that when I found the place I would know. Travels around Norfolk and Devon proved fruitless. Nowhere did I find somewhere that I could hand on heart imagine one day calling home.

So it was very much third time lucky this time and after months and months of research on countless towns across the UK and turning them down for various reasons, my sights alighted on Louth in Lincolnshire. This sounds like a bit of a cliché, but as soon as I saw it on the map, I almost felt it calling to me. I knew I had to go and check it out.

Louth is not far from the coast, and as luck would have it, I found us a very cheap caravan by the sea at Saltfleet, about 12 miles away. So it was a perfect opportunity not only to have a nice half-term break, but also to check out Louth at the same time to see if it was everything I hoped it would be. And was it? It certainly was, everything and more. But let's deal with the surrounding area first.

Louth is situated roughly halfway between Lincoln and Grimsby, places I had never been. In fact, Lincolnshire as a whole was a closed book to me before this week. Quite how I had never strayed into the area is surprising really as during my time with Nielsen, I travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting clients. There are very few major towns and cities I haven't been to. I also used to travel a lot around the country meeting friends I'd met on holiday. But none of these trips ever took me to that particular part of the country.

I didn't know much about either city, but had made the assumption that Grimsby, having "grim" in the name was probably just that. The other major place of note in the area is the seaside resort of Skegness which I'm ashamed to say, I'd also assumed was a dump. That famous poster Viz once posted of Skegness had stuck in my head (Google Skegness Viz and you'll see what I mean), and the name Skegness itself doesn't conjure up a picturesque scene in the way that say "Bourton-on-the-Water" does. This does pose a question. It is just me or is it a human trait to make assumptions about a place purely based on its name. It's tantamount to discrimination when you think about it.

Well all I can say is, after visiting both Grimsby and Skegness, I'll be making a conscious effort never to discriminate against a place based on its name again.

Take Grimsby, for example. On the route we drove in, we were on a wide tree lined avenue, with lovely big houses on either side. Seriously, I could have mistaken it for Woodstock Road or Banbury Road going into Oxford. It was exactly like that except you could knock a zero off the end of the house prices. We didn't spend more than a couple of hours in Grimsby, but we didn't see anything grim about it. I've seen a lot rougher in cities further south, put it that way.

As for Skegness, well, I was hugely impressed. I have been to many British seaside resorts in recent years, and Skeggy knocks them all in to touch. It's not dissimilar to Yarmouth, which I quite like, but better. It's one of the few such resorts I have been to where it doesn't feel tired, run-down and in decay. It was lively, fun and with a lot more going on than in Yarmouth. And this is in October, remember, not the height of the summer season.

The children were even more fearless than in the summer when it came to the rides on Skegness sea front. They continually surprise me, particularly Ollie, who despite his reticence in other areas is a complete thrill seeker when it comes to rides.

Riding fast and high.

The other seaside resort worth a mention is Mablethorpe which has a lovely beach. As far as I could see it was perfect golden sand from one end to the other, no seaweed, no stony bits, nothing horrible at all. It's how I imagine a beach should be and quite refreshing after several recent disappointments. The boys had a good run around on it which helped to keep warm - it was a tad chilly to say the least.

Mablethorpe beach. Too cold for my speedos I'm afraid, girls.

The highlight of our tour was undoubtedly Lincoln. We parked in the centre, down by the canal, and immediately on emerging from the car park were greeted by a welcoming scene. There was a large square with old fashioned carousel, next to a canal with a floating cafe on a barge, lined with various period buildings.

Fun on the carousel

As we wandered through the shopping streets, the paths began to turn uphill as we headed towards the castle, eventually leading us to the aptly name "Steep Hill", a beautiful cobbled street lined with all sort of interesting boutique shops - from antique book shops to a specialist Russian doll shop. Ollie has been asking for some Russian dolls for years, and here was the perfect opportunity - we were able to get a traditional hand painted set made in Russia, and he and Jamie have been playing with them ever since.

Jamie and Ollie on Lincoln Castle walls

The whole area is quite stunning, and quite hard work getting up the hill which is almost 1:2 in places, but well worth  it. At the top lies the castle and cathedral, steeped in history. With about an hour of daylight left to us, we just had time to do the walk of the castle walls before we headed back. The views from up there were amazing.

So, Lincoln, what a lovely city to visit, and we will definitely be going back to spend more time there when we get the opportunity.

So, what about Louth? Well that's going to be covered in Part 2 of this blog, which I am going to start writing right now. Give me an hour or so and it'll be up.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Fan Mail

Here's a thing. Back in the dim and distant reaches of the last century, when I was still an impressionable young lad, I wrote a few fan mail letters, mainly to pop stars of the time. This was not unusual activity at the time, and probably no different to the tweeters of today who tweet to their superstar icons in the usually forlorn hope of getting a re-tweet or maybe even a reply.

It's not that likely because such superstars tend to have several million followers and in many cases don't even see the accounts - they are "managed". Presumably this is either because they are too busy or more likely because their carefully controlled public personae can't be allowed to tweet themselves in case they say the wrong thing and get caught up in a media storm. Such is the way of the modern world.

Back in my day...(wow, I sound so old), we wrote our fan mail on good old fashioned pen and paper. Most used to write to ask for a signed photo and such like but I used to prefer the personal touch. This is possibly why I never got any replies. Indeed, my teenage letters might have seemed stalker-esque, assuming the word stalker had enter the lexicon by then, of course.

In hindsight, asking Samantha Fox for a date was realistically never likely to succeed, nauseating 15 year old boys with excessive levels of testosterone not generally being seen on the arms of Page 3 girls. Similarly, my cosy approach to Morrissey, on seeing that The Smiths were playing a gig in Oxford in the spring of 1985 didn't succeed either. In my chatty missive to him, I suggested popping round for tea before the gig. Again in hindsight, this was probably a bad idea as well. I am pretty sure it was a Monday, and Mum normally cooked gammon steaks that night. This was around the time the Meat Is Murder album came out, so it probably wouldn't have gone down well.

Morrissey: Didn't want to come to tea.

Thankfully my three letters to Jim'll Fix It all went unanswered, so not getting replies to my mail wasn't all bad.

Never did I think, thirty years on that I would be getting fan mail of my own.

There's no way to mention this without it sounding egotistical, I suppose, but that's not the intention. When I say fan mail, what I mean is that an increasing number of people who have read and enjoyed my books are contacting me via Facebook and Twitter to express their appreciation and to chat to me.

Now, I'm no big star, far from it, and probably never will be, but the thought that there are people out there all over the world who are enjoying my work enough to want to write to me is quite lovely and I always reply back. I absolutely love engaging with these fans and listening to what they have to say about the books. Although I get lots of reviews on Amazon, that's one way feedback to which I don't reply - but direct contact with readers is amazing and invaluable. It allows me to have a two-way conversation with people who have been genuinely touched by my work, something which both they and I enjoy.

I know I said it sounded egotistical to admit to having "fans" but I've not got my head in the clouds at all and I can't imagine that I ever would, even if I did become successful. It is these people who've enjoyed my work, given good feedback and spread by word of mouth (still the best marketing there is), who have got me as far as I have - and I truly would never have done it without them.

I still remember a couple of years ago joking with a star struck friend (her words, not mine, and I really wasn't any sort of star to be honest) that she was my first "fan". I'm not going to embarrass her by identifying her on here, but we still correspond regularly, and she will know who she is from these three words "Serial Drama Sid". And just for her, I still reckon Lord Grantham is going to kop it before the end of the series.

As for fan #2, you deserve a mention too, so if you are reading, I await your latest news with baited breath. My half price ham depends on it!

To everyone else who has written to me and shown support, I'm really happy that you did, I have really enjoyed our conversations and I will always reply. You just don't get this kind of service with Stephen King and co...

Thursday, 24 September 2015


There's no such thing as bad publicity, they say (whoever they are). I think I'd have to disagree with that after reading about "Maggot-gate" and the resulting "Big Stink" outside Nando's restaurant in Bicester. I can't honestly say that it's going to make me more likely to dine there, that's for sure. Perhaps it's all about brand awareness, who knows?

Quite honestly, it seems to me it was more a problem with the bins outside rather than the restaurant itself. Nando's has borne the brunt of the problem, but I have to say, those bins aren't particularly pleasant at the best of times. I had been in the habit of walking past them on a daily basis during the summer, usually travelling from Sainsbury's, grumbling at the prices, towards Poundland in search of better value. I did note some unpleasant smells on occasion, but then unpleasant smells aren't unusual in Bicester, so you sort of get used to it. It's a bit like the fishy smell outside the back of the chippy on market square. Not very nice, but, it's a fish & chip shop - what do you expect?

I suppose they have to put the bins somewhere and that alley's a bit of a dump anyway so they might as well go there. As an alternative route, I can recommend a short cut through Superdrug, very handy if it's raining, though you may encounter some traffic problems. The aisles are quite narrow and there's always some people dawdling about or getting in the way. You know the ones I mean, you get them in the supermarket too. The ones who have perfected the art of standing exactly in the right spot (or the wrong spot as far as I am concerned) to block your progress through the store. I think they do it deliberately. One of their favourite tactics seems to be to search out an aisle where a shop assistant is stocking up the shelves and therefore blocking up half the aisle with a great big pile of crates on a trolley. They then position themselves in the exact spot that makes it impossible to for anyone to get by on either side, dig out their reading glasses, and begin examining the labels on all the jars of baked beans, or whatever, in great detail. Any tuts coming from the queue of people in either direction are conveniently ignored. Perhaps eventually someone will timidly say "excuse me", perhaps not.

I often wander off topic in this blog, but anyway, I've only been to Nando's once and it wasn't really that great. Invariably, I still gravitate towards Nash's which does the best bacon bap in town, but, and I never thought I would say this, I actually went off bacon for a couple of days earlier this week.

That is a shocker, I know. I had planned to have my usual Tuesday morning bacon roll, but as I approached Nash's I suddenly had these very horrible images of David Cameron coming into my head, and no, I don't mean literally. I'm not a pig after all - well, only in my culinary habits. Of course, I reassured myself that if the alleged incident had occurred all those years ago, it would be highly unlikely that any bacon I was being served now, some decades later, might have any connection to "that pig".

I'm pretty dubious about the whole story, to be honest. After all, I went to college at Oxford and there were no shenanigans of that nature as far as I know, or not any I was invited to anyway. OK, admittedly, my two years at Oxpens meant I wasn't quite mixing in the same social circles as David and his pals at Brasenose College, my debauchery extended only to a few sneaky under-age halves of lager in The Duke Of York across the car park. There were certainly not any pig related initiation ceremonies. I can tell you that. I never so much as stuck my cock inside a packet of Smoky Bacon crisps during my whole two years there, let alone a dead pig, and if anyone says otherwise, I'll say "show me some proof". That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And on that note, I shall excuse myself...

Careful with that, Mr Ayres.
You don't know where it has been...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Look who's back!

Gerald is absolutely delighted. In fact he can barely contain his excitement. Last night while we were watching the England match he was jumping up and down on the sofa in joy. Not at Harry Kane's goal, but at another former England goalscorer, Gary Lineker, whose half time appearance brought a look of sheer joy to his face.

What is all this about? Well, good old Gary, Gerald's all time favourite football player, came on during the advert break to inform us that Walkers are bringing back lots of old flavours of crisps for a limited period. Now you may or may not be aware of this, but this is something that Gerald and myself have been campaigning for for years. Many years ago, he and I formed the CTBBOFOC, short for the "Campaign To Bring Back Old Flavours Of Crisps". I was never particularly happy with that acronym, I felt it was too long and took up too much space on our headed paper and business cards but Gerald insisted it was catchy.
A glorious day for the CTBBOFOC!

To cut a long story short, we devoted our time to finding a band of like minded people who bemoaned the disappearance of their old flavours. When Facebook came along this was ideal for us, and we set up a page which swelled our ranks further. I believe at one point we had seven followers. As a more direct approach, we wrote numerous letters to crisp manufacturers highlighting our campaign and suggesting areas where we thought they could improve.

Two of the flavours we particularly highlighted to Walkers that we wanted to see return were "Toasted Cheese" and "Beef & Onion". We received a negative response to the first letter and no response at all to the second. Gerald was very upset by this, even going to the extent of forming a one-man picket outside their factory in Leicester, walking up and down outside wearing a sandwich board reading "Bring back Toasted Cheese Flavour".

I could elaborate further, but there's no need as it's all covered in great detail in my parenting book, Fortysomething Father, which I am sure you have all read. If you haven't, what is all this stuff about crisps doing in a book about parenting, I hear you ask? Well, that's a very good question, and one a number of my less enthusiastic reviewers have posed. Jamie Oliver probably wouldn't approve either, but then again, you never know. At least there's no sugar in crisps.

As for the answer, I don't have time to go into that right now, but I'm sure Gerald can explain the next time you see him.

Anyway, it seems that perhaps our letters did eventually reach the powers that be, because now Toasted Cheese, Beef & Onion and many others are indeed back, and up for sale right now in Poundland. In fact I've just had a packet of Toasted Cheese for my lunch. As soon as the delicious cheesy flavour hit my lips, my mind was transported back to 1988, A-levels at Oxpens, lunchtime drinking in the Duke Of York and illicit games of poker in the refectory after the pub shut for lunch. Happy Days!

 Jason Ayres is the author of seven books, including his best-selling time travel tale, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Friday, 31 July 2015

Through the looking glass

I'm nearing the end of writing The Time Bubble trilogy, and a most rewarding experience it has been. All being well, the final volume will be released at the end of September.

Thoughts are of course turning to "what do I write next?" This has been on my mind for some time. At one point I had a real fear that perhaps I had put so much into the books I'd already written that I'd run out of ideas. If that had been the case, then I would probably have stopped - there's no way I'd want to churn out unoriginal, sub-standard material just to earn a fast buck. I owe my fans more than that - I hope that's not too egotistical a thing to say.

Fortunately, the seeds of an idea have been forming in my mind as I've been writing the latest book. I'd like to share this idea with you now and ask what you think.

I feel I've pretty much gone as far as I can with the time travel theme. I've explored it from many angles, including a few quite unique ones. What I want to turn my attention to now is the "alternate universe" concept. This is nothing new. Star Trek had a whole mirror universe theme running through it's shows, and it's also been explored by Doctor Who, notably in episodes such as Inferno, Turn Left and Rise Of The Cybermen/ The Age Of Steel. There was also the little known American series Sliders, dedicated completelt to travelling through alternate worlds.

On the less hardcore sci-fi front, the most obvious example is the movie Sliding Doors, which at the risk of sounding sexist, I would class as female friendly sci-fi. This is a classic example of a film that bridged the gap between sci-fi and chick flick - of appeal to a far wider audience than the likes of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

Helen's life changing moment

Obviously I'm not going to try and replicate any of those programmes and films - I like to be original. However, I can't help but be influenced by them. I liked the way that Sliding Doors examined how different Helen's life became, based on one chance happening.

I want to explore this from a different angle.

I thought back about my own life and the huge number of chance happenings that led me to where I am today. There are more than I care to recant. One small change anywhere could have altered things unrecognisably - something as small as picking up the local paper and browsing it the day I saw the ad for the job at Nielsen or whether I went to the pub or not on a certain night and met a new girlfriend. I could have lived any number of lives. But what kind of person would I be now if I had taken a different path. Would I still think and feel the same? Would I be a "better" person or a "worse" person, if it is even possible to measure such a thing?

My idea, is to take a man, aged around 35, and examine how his life turned out based on one key turning point in his life when he was younger.

Let's say for example, he could had a trial for a football club when he was 15. Depending on whether he passed or failed made the difference between become a rich,successful England striker, or just an ordinary Joe. It might not necessarily be football - I could just as easily make him a pop star or an actor.

What I want to do is take the two versions of this man and have them wake up in each other's shoes one morning. Then follow them as they try to adjust to their new found lives.

How will I write this? Well, in my usual "chatty" style, as one reviewer described it. It will definitely be written in the first person - I think that plays to my strengths as it did in My Tomorrow Your Yesterday. I can really get inside the character's head(s). As for the format, that's where I've come up with an idea to make it stand out from the crowd.

I want to write it as two books, simultaneously, each telling the same story from the other's viewpoint. For sake of simplicity, let's call them Black and White. The covers would reflect that - perhaps two sides of a chessboard. The two books would be released on the same day, with the key point that they are not volume 1 and volume 2 - they are volume White and volume Black. My intention is that it doesn't matter which book you read first - they can be read in either order and it will still make perfect sense.

Obviously writing two books at the same time means a long wait between releases - it could be as much as a year, maybe less, maybe more. If we get the go-ahead on the self-build plot we've applied for at Graven Hill, I imagine that's going to take up a huge amount of my time, but we will have to see.

Anyway, it's just an idea at this stage, I haven't even reached the planning stage yet, but I'd be interested to hear what my readers think about it.

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Where to buy?

We had a fantastic week away in Yarmouth last week, and were very lucky with the weather. On the day we drove back, it began pissing down with rain. Prior to that it had been lovely - warm enough for us to go the outdoor pool at the park, a rarity indeed on our holidays on the home front in recent years.

Whilst we were down in Yarmouth, we spent quite a lot of time looking at property in the local area. This wasn't a spur of the moment decision but part of a long term plan, of which relocating is one of a number of options.

We've been privately renting in Bicester for some years, which has suited our purpose well, up until now. When Claire and I got together and Ollie was born we were on somewhat of a less secure financial footing than we are today and renting was our best option.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, if you own a house), property prices have spiralled in Oxfordshire in recent years, to prices that I consider to be quite ridiculous. A recent survey showed that compared to average wages, this is the most expensive place to buy in the country - even more so than London.

This has made me extremely reluctant to buy back into the property market here, when prices are so inflated. If it was a case that we had jobs here that we were tied to - well paying jobs, then it would make sense. That's why it makes sense for so many London commuters to buy here. They need to be in range of the capital to be able to travel there to bring home the big salaries. It is partly the demand for housing from these people that drives the property market in this area. I don't have a problem with that or any cause for complaint - it's a simple case of supply and demand.

Up until about 18 months ago, I had no choice but to stay local. I was earning a good living as a DJ, with a regular slot on a Sunday at the White Hart and lots of lucrative weddings and other gigs bringing home plenty of bacon. The downside was, it tied me to this area. We probably could have scraped enough together to buy a house locally at this point, but it would have meant mortgaging ourselves up to the hilt.

And I was tiring of the DJ'ing. It was something that I loved doing, but I never truly got the chance to express myself in the way I would have liked. Playing an old skool gig full of Ibiza tunes or an Indie music night would have been my dream night as a DJ - making a room full of like minded people go crazy. Sadly I never got to do that, not once in seven years. Week after week, I had to rely on the same old cheesy 80s tunes, Motown songs and R&B to keep the crowd happy at the weddings. Playing it safe like that just isn't my way, and I found it increasingly boring.

My writing career was blossoming at the time. I already had my blogs, my non-fiction books and my Oxford Mail column and I was toying with the idea of writing a novel. The thing I loved about writing was I had total freedom to be myself. For the Oxford Mail, I just wrote exactly what I felt, in the same style I'd always written. They didn't edit it any way, and ran every one, word for word. It was a huge confidence boost for me and gave me the impetus I needed to embark on the the novels.

Now here we are a year or two on, and I'm so chuffed to be able to say I'm making a living from my writing. Every time a new review pops up on Amazon from someone saying how much they love my work, it makes me feel like I'm finally doing something worthwhile with my life and I can express myself completely freely. My heart and soul goes into those stories, with no need to doctor for the audience. No-one half way through any of my books is obliged to burst into a chorus of Agadoo to please a pushy bride!

Where's all this leading? Well, crucially, my writing is something I can do anywhere. No longer am I tied to the local area. My books will earn the same money in Bicester, Yarmouth or the Outer Hebrides. I've given myself the freedom to move - if I so want to. I could not have done so if I was still DJ'ing for a living. The other good thing about the writing is that the sky is the limit potentially, and my books keep earning money long after I've written them.

Claire works for the NHS, so she too has transferable skills. In short there's nothing to keep us here.

But do I want to move away? It's been our home for so long and there are the kids to think of. It would be a big wrench to leave everything behind. But buy a house here when we don't need to? To me that's madness along the lines of going to fill up the car for £2 a litre at Esso when Shell have got it for £1 next door.

To put it in perspective. We looked at several perfectly nice 3 bedroom houses in Yarmouth that were in the £120k to £150k range. Here in Bicester, you would not even get a 1 bedroom flat for that.

So - two options really - carry on renting forever or relocate...

...or are those the only two options?

There is in fact a third, and it is one I am leaning more and more towards. In fact, I've already put in an application. There are to be 1,900 new plots of land made available on the old Graven Hill army site. These are being sold at affordable prices for people who want to build their own homes - not for property speculators! A few months ago, I became aware of this, and I thought, what if we could build our own house?

The more I've thought about this, the more it's seemed like a possible solution. Build our own house? Seems like a monumental task. But I've got a good team on board. My Dad designed and built his own house in the 60's, and not only that, my brother-in-law is a builder.

For the past few weeks we've been doing some serious research into this, and we truly believe it is a possibility. There's no guarantee we'll be accepted, and it will be a lot of hard work if we do go ahead - but what an exciting project if we do.

It's a hugely daunting prospect, but if other people can do it, why can't we? If I really put my mind to something, I can achieve it. If we are given this opportunity, I'll grab it with both hands. The chance to build a home for my young family? Bring it on.

And if we don't get a plot, well there's always Yarmouth.

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Monday, 20 July 2015

The village that fell into the sea

What an amazing day today turned out to be.

My life at home is a very busy routine of school runs, looking after the house, writing for a living and more. So when we do get away for a couple of weeks each year, I’m absolutely determined not to waste the time.

I don’t know if it’s the change of scene, the freedom from responsibility or what it is, but all I know is that away from Bicester and day to day life, I seem to take on an entirely new lease of life. When I'm away and I'm out for the whole day I don't feel tired at all, so pumped up I seem to become just on the adrenalin of doing something different.

Today was certainly no exception.

I have always been fascinated by the British coastline and all the stories that go along with it. The BBC’s documentary series Coast is one of my favourites. I’m just drawn to the sea, and I could sit for hours and hours on a beach or on a cliff and never get bored. One day I hope to live by the sea. 

Every place has a story to tell, be it of smugglers, lighthouses, or the cruelty of the sea. And so it happened today, as we explored the Norfolk Coastline that we happened upon the small and relatively anonymous village of Happisburgh (pronounced Haze – borough).

We’d been travelling along the coastline, investigating various places off the beaten track, so I got my Sat Nav to direct me to Happisburgh which I had picked off the map. When I typed “Happisburgh” in to the device, it came up with “Beach Road” as a suggested destination, so I went for that, assuming it would be by the sea. Quite how close to the sea, I hadn't bargained on.

Being austere as I am, I refuse to pay £50 a year or whatever it is to update my TomTom, so it hasn’t had an update to its maps for a few years. I mean, I always figured, “How much can a place change?”

Well quite a lot as it happens. My Sat Nav was only able to direct me so far along Beach Road before we encountered some “Road Closed” signs. Fortunately, there was a car park across the way with toilets and a play area – both big ticks for the 5 and the 7 year olds in the back who have scuppered the plans of many a day out with the words “I need a wee, Dad”. We then went for a wander around, heading down Beach Road past the road closed signs.

The road ended abruptly. The double yellow lines on either side continued until they disappeared straight over the edge of a cliff. From what I could tell, my nice and friendly Tomtom lady would have quite happily have sent me over this to my doom. Perhaps I really should update my maps – but really? Come on Tomtom, I paid enough for the thing in the first place.

Are you sure this is the right way, Tomtom?

So we wandered back and down the coast path that led to the beach. Here were a number of information boards explaining all about the woes that the residents of Beach Road have undergone in recent years.

We all know that the coastline changes over time, of the dangers of rising sea levels from global warming and erosion. People tend to think of this on long time-scales. There are all manner of legends about other lands that used to exist thousands of years ago, such as the lost kingdom of Lyonesse. This is believed to have existed as a landmass between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles but vanished a long time ago.

In Happisburgh, it’s happened in less than a generation.

Aerial photographs from 1990 show streets of houses, far back from the edge of the cliffs, in no apparent danger from the sea. But now, they are all gone, devastated by coastal erosion that has brought the sea hundreds of yards inland from where it was then.

The reasons? Well, I won’t go into them in detail, as there’s a lot of politics involved to do with the amount of investment into sea defences. Needless to say, whatever was done was not enough and too late to save dozens of houses from the ravages of the sea. Those that weren’t demolished simply fell in. 

Not your average rocks on the beach.
This was part of someone's home.

It really hits home when you go down on to the beach. Nestling among the rocks on the shoreline are all sorts of clues that you are standing on a site that was once solid land. At first we spotted the odd red house brick among the rocks, then great clumps of them, torn off the houses as they fell into the sea. Then, when you look up at the cliff face you see all sorts of pipes sticking out of it – pipes that once carried water to and from the houses.

Clues in the cliffs.

It’s all very humbling and a reminder of how much as a species, no matter how advanced we are, we are still very much at the mercy of the elements.

Thankfully, a lot of Happisburgh is left, and hopefully will continue to be so as sea defences are shored up for the future. I don’t think I’d risk buying a house within a few hundred yards of the sea here, though. It's such a beautiful area, though and one I wouldn't mind living in. Like most of north Norfolk, the property prices are unbelievable compared to what we're used to back home. It does make me wonder why I continue to cling to my Oxfordshire roots when a lovely big 3 bedroomed house can be bought in this area for more than you'd pay for a 1 bedroomed flat in Bicester. If you're not tied to an area by a job, why stay there? The beauty of making a living from book sales is that I get paid the same per sale wherever I live.

In the evening, we went to the races in Yarmouth. Not horse races or dog races but stock car and banger races. What an enjoyable evening’s entertainment that was. Not for the first time, being in my mid-forties I had the exciting thought first of “Wow, I could do that. I’d love to do that”, followed by the more sobering thought of “You’re 45, if you were going to do that, you really needed to be starting at least a quarter of a century ago”.

What a pity we can’t live twice. There’s so many things I’d do second time around I never got round to doing first time up, as well as not wasting so much time on all the trivial things that I did the first time. Oh well, that’s life.

No matter, we got a great evening’s entertainment out of the Banger racing, the first time I’ve ever been, and another box ticked off of things that I really ought to have got round to doing by now.

Let mayhem commence!

The day ended with fish and chips from the seafront at Yarmouth. Which were gorgeous.

To sum up: A full-on and interesting day full of new experiences. Not bad after over 16,000 days on the planet. 

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

An amorous disappointment

The film High Fidelity was on television the other night and it brought back memories of a rather disastrous date I had with the girl I took to the cinema with me to see it.

A bit of background first. I've never really been one for dates. My preferred way of meeting people has always been through contact in every day life, which for most of my single life meant the pub. However, from the conversations I have with my single friends now it seems that on-line dating has become hugely popular. Does it work? Well it didn't work for me on the one and only occasion I tried it - and that was way back in 1995. At that time internet users consisted primarily of Star Trek fans and people who didn't mind waiting roughly the same amount of time as a ZX Spectrum loading screen for a naughty picture to download on a 28.8k dial up modem.

It is very possible that I was the first ever person to go on an internet arranged date in Oxford. A friend based at the University had just set up a local online dating site and invited me to try it. Since there were only about four members (this wasn't exactly Tinder), my choice of potential dates was limited, but I emailed a promising sounding girl and amazingly, she agreed to meet. This was three days after Christmas and we met in the Turf Tavern. Although we hit it off quite well, it was quite clear early on that nothing more exciting than friendship was going to come of it. She was one of those many women in my youth who "didn't want to spoil the friendship" and we all know what that really means.

During the nineties and noughties, my life consisted of longish periods of being in relationships, sandwiching shorter periods of being single. As mentioned previously, arranged dating didn't really work for me. On the odd occasion I did find myself getting involved in the whole blind date thing, it was invariably a disaster. Nothing is more demoralising to the lonely soul than to meet someone on a blind date and see the disappointment in their face in the first two seconds of clapping eyes on you. No, it wasn't for me, if people wanted to judge me just on first appearances and find me lacking, that was their loss. I decided it was far better to be the life and soul of the party in the pub, get to know people the old fashioned way and let them appreciate my inner qualities. Whatever they were.

So we come to the summer of 2000 and the story of High Fidelity. I was slightly nervous about seeing this film in the first place, even without taking anyone along on a date. It was a movie that had been adapted from my undisputed all time favourite book by Nick Hornby. The book could have been written for me - everything in it from making compilation tapes to top 5 lists of all manner of trivia made me feel almost as if I was reading my own autobiography. Without a doubt, Hornby has had a huge influence on my writing. Maybe he is even a distant relative - my grandmother's maiden name was Hornby.

The book was set in London but the film was relocated to New York which set alarm bells ringing. English stories don't always translate well to the States, but in this case I had no need to worry. The film was every bit as faithful to the book as I had hoped, and Jack Black's casting was inspired - he truly stole the show.

It was perhaps fitting that a major part of the film's narrative was about the lead character's past love life and partners and dates that had gone badly. Because the date I was having was going extremely badly. It was probably even worse for her, because as far as she was concerned, she wasn't even out with the right bloke.

How had this happened? Well, I had been out the previous Saturday evening, and footloose and fancy free as I was at that time, I had spent a fair bit of the evening chatting to various girls I had met. One of these I seemed to be getting on pretty well with, so I asked her if I could have her number. She agreed so we tapped each other's into our clunky little Nokia's which we all had back then, and the evening progressed on, I went off with my friends somewhere else as did she.

The next day was Sunday and I was bit bored, so I decided to try my luck and text her. To my delight she replied straight back and was incredibly friendly. Planning to go and see High Fidelity on Monday night, I asked her if she wanted to come with me. I got a big fat yes in reply, full of enthusiasm, so went off to work on Monday feeling pretty pleased with myself. We arranged that she'd call round my house after work and I'd drive us both to Milton Keynes to see the film.

Dates can go wrong pretty quickly, but not as quickly as this one did. She knocked on the door and I opened up, expecting great things, but as soon as she saw me, her face fell. The first thing she said was "Oh - it's you".

To cut a long story short, it seemed that after we'd parted company on Saturday night, she had gone on to the Litten Tree and met another bloke also called Jason, whose number she had also put into her phone. Obviously this Jason must have been a great deal fitter and more attractive than I was, because if she was making any effort to conceal her disappointment at getting the wrong one, she wasn't making a very good job of it.

In the end I tried to laugh it off and suggested that since she was here, we should go anyway. Big mistake. She said it was the worse film she'd ever seen, citing the phrase "nothing happened" a few times. I've heard this levelled at films (Lost in Translation is one that springs to mind) and books before (including some of my own). Unfortunately it seems for a large percentage of the movie-going public, a film is not a film unless it contains some huge car chase, lots of "unexpected" twists and some huge over-arching plot. For them, a film about ordinary people leading ordinary lives just doesn't cut it, apparently.

So, my favourite book of all time had been made into a film which my date considered to be the worst film of all time. So was there any future in this relationship? Unsurprisingly not and I never saw her again after that night.

As for dating, I only went on one more after that. She turned out to be a teetotal vegan who didn't believe in sex before marriage. Clearly we had nothing in common, so I didn't see her again either. Now that I'm settled down with a family, thankfully I shall never have to put myself through the horror of dating ever again. Amen to all that.


 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

ENT & Choosy Bookworm promotions

Yesterday was the 3rd day of my Countdown Deal and I had 3 partners lined up to promote my book. These were Booksends, Choosy Bookworm and ENT.

How did it go? Absolutely brilliantly - compared to Monday I saw some serious uplifts in sales. But is it possible to identify from which partner?

Let's deal with them one at a time.

Booksends - I am unsure about how effective they have been. The book appeared on their website as promised, but a couple of things concerned me. Firstly, I have twice signed up for their daily email of bargain books but have received no emails. Secondly I noticed on checking out their social media pages that they suddenly stopped posting tweets and Faccbook updates on November 15th 2014. Obviously the site is still active, but these things don't inspire confidence. Bearing in mind I paid $25 for this ad, with no tangible results I don't think I'll use them again.

Choosy Bookworm - this site is a delight to use, very user friendly and the proprietor, Jay, comes across as a really nice and approachable guy. I paid more for the ad with them than any other ($36). The email from them arrived at 3.36pm UK time, and I immediately started to see a boost in sales - 30 or more by 7pm. However, the biggest gun was yet to fire.

ENT - the email from them arrived at 7.15pm and then sales really took off. They were flying all evening, and by the end of the day, I'd sold 132 copies in total. I have to conclude that ENT has been the most effective of all the partners I've promoted with, and best of all, I paid just $20 for this ad.

Undoubtedly Choosy Bookworm made a big contribution to this too, and if could only use two sites in the future, it would definitely be these two.

As of now, my paid rankings stand as follows:

US: #1,904 - this is serious stuff, and the undisputed #1 in Dark Comedy.
UK #4,016 - pretty good considering I have done no promotion here at all - yet.

Overall sales for June now stand at 536 which puts me nicely on target for my target of 1,000.

I still have one final blast of promotion to come - today's feature will come from Bargainbooksy. I also mentioned that I'd done no promotion in the UK so far. That is about to change. I am going to do a Facebook ad today - that's a sponsored post on my author page - I did one of these before and it was very effective - just £14 and it reached 4,000+ people. More on that tomorrow.

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Kindle Countdown Deal Day 1 Results

Yesterday, the first day of my week long promotional campaign for My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday began. I have reduced the price for a week to 99c in the US and 99p in the UK, and supported this by taking out advertising with seven different promotional sites. These were cherry picked after much research as I felt that they were the ones that could give my book the best possible exposure.

The prime focus of my campaign is to build awareness and ranking though increased sales during the promotional period that will position my book for long term success. Whatever I achieve in sales during the promotion itself is fantastic, but it is what happens afterwards that really counts.

A recap on where I am in June so far. My target was to sell 1,000 books this month. By the end of yesterday (the 14th) my sales stood at 283. This was some way behind the target figure of 466 at this stage of the month, but with all the promotional activity to come, I'm confident of catching up.

So how did the first day go? I was hopeful of a good start as I had activity from the first 3 of my partners, these being People Reads, Books Butterfly and The Fussy Librarian. The Countdown Deal itself started at midnight in both territories, so it started several hours earlier in the UK. In the USA, it started at midnight PST, which is 8am over here in the UK. So unsurprisingly, not a lot happened in the first few hours as everyone was asleep. By mid-morning here in the UK, I had 4 sales and 4 borrows for the day, not far off what would be expected for an ordinary day. Before lunch MTYY was ranked as follows in the UK:

#9,983 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#9 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Humour & Satire > Dark Comedy
#14 in Kindle Store > Books > Romance > Time Travel
#22 in Books > Fiction > Romance > Time Travel

And in the USA:

#19,087 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Humor & Satire > Dark Comedy
#41 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Time Travel
#62 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Time Travel

The first partner to kick off with some activity was People Reads. The main thrust of my activity with them was to be the subscriber email which was due to go out around teatime, UK time. However, I got an email from them at 9:17am informing me that they were now featuring me on their website, and I got my first tweet promoting the book an hour or two later. This had been retweeted 19 times by lunchtime, which is pretty encouraging. Bearing in mind that it was still early morning in America, I still wasn't expecting much to happen until late afternoon here, so I was quite pleased to see that by 2:30pm, my sales were up to 11, with borrows at 5.

The real action kicked off around teatime. The first email to go out was from The Fussy Librarian. That hit my inbox at 4:11pm, just in time for breakfast in LA. Within an hour or so, I was starting to see my sales ticking over nicely. The People Reads email followed at 5:35pm, and finally the mail from Books Butterfly at 10:19pm. By the time I went to bed I was up to 40 sales on the day, and when I got up in the morning, I was up to 57 (with 10 borrows). Most of these extra sales had come in America as I expected - that is where most of the subscribers to those sites are based.

So, how do I feel about day 1 of the promotion? Pretty pleased. The performance is about what I expected. But did I get my money's worth? Well, let's look at what I paid and what I got.

The Fussy Librarian has a nice easy to use site, and my feature cost me $16. My book was the first of two in the science fiction email they sent me. My People Reads feature was $15 and lasts all week - in addition to the email I'm featured on their site and they are putting out regular tweets. Finally, there is Books Butterfly. Their site isn't the easiest to negotiate, and it's not easy to judge the effectiveness, as the promotional activity is spread out over a number of sites. They do offer a guarantee with their campaigns - I had a "Silver 25" which means a guaranteed 25 sales for $25. However, this is based against your normal daily sale when not on a deal, and does not take into account any other activity going on. So there is no real way to measure it. One thing I will say for this site is that the owner is very friendly and approachable and will talk over your campaign with you. It is also a two day campaign with them so I am only half way through. Tehnically I've met their criteria of 25 extra sales, but how many of those were as a direct result of my feature with them I cannot tell.

So how many extra sales did I get altogether? Well, I've calculated this based on past experience and performance, and I estimate that about 35 of my 57 sales yesterday were down to the promotional activity from these sites. So have I made my money back yet? Well, technically, no, because between them I invested $56, and at 70% royalty on 99c, I'm looking at about $24 returned. But that is only so far...the campaign continues today so there will be more sales, and crucially, those extra sales have given my book a strong boost in the rankings that will stand it in good stead when the really big guns come out tomorrow. Just basic sales figures are not the whole story.

Tomorrow is the real centrepiece of my campaign - when I will be featured on ENT, Choosy Bookworm and Booksends. The fact that the book will already have a strong ranking by the time those emails go out can only help with consumer confidence. So I'm very happy with the contribution that my first 3 partners have given me and that $56 was well spent.

I spoke about rankings, well, as of this morning, the rankings are as follows:

US: #7,749 - and crucially it's hit #1 in the Dark Comedy category which means it gets an attractive Orange banner declaring the fact that it is a bestseller.

UK: #5,205 - not as dramatic a climb as in America, but all the focus of my activity is over there this time.

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Friday, 5 June 2015

On yer bike, son.

Yesterday I did something I haven't done for at least a year. I went for a bike ride.

Yes, my poor unloved bicycle had been sitting in the shed all that time, neglected and unloved, with tyres going flat and a colony of spiders building webs among the spokes.

This is a crying shame, because for as long as I can remember, I've loved riding my bikes, and there have been a fair few over the years. Why haven't I ridden it for over a year? Because it's just turned into one of those many things on the ever growing list of things that I "used to do".

Growing up and growing older is a strange thing. There are all manner of things that we stop doing at various points in the process, without perhaps realising at the time we last perform them that it is in fact the last time. For example did I know, growing up, that I was having my last game of "tig" with my mates? I can't remember when the last one was, but I subconsciously stopped at some point. It's quite sad looking back at these things and realising that maturity takes away so many of the unbridled joys of youth. Thankfully, I'm still a big kid at heart which stands me in good stead as a father - I love joining in again now with my kids and doing these things all over again - though some of them are a little trickier now than they were in my youth. Hide and seek is definitely not as easy when you're my size and trying to wedge your ample frame onto the windowsill behind the curtains without leaving too much of an obvious bulge.

So what about bikes? I loved them. There's a famous family anecdote that apparently when I was about two, my parents went out for an evening leaving me with a babysitter. When they came back about midnight, I was out in the front year riding round and round on my tricycle, the legendary "Crazy Driver".How accurate this story is, I don't know, it seems to get more exaggerated over the years like the size of an angler's catch. But clearly I loved my bikes from a young age.

By the time I was primary school age, my friends and I biked everywhere, all over the village. There seemed to be very little in the way of supervision then, but it was in the 1970s and that was just the way things were. From about the age of 7 I could go wherever I wanted. Bikes formed a large part of games with friends as we got older, including a fantastic scrambling track we created around a felled tree, a victim of Dutch Elm Disease. It even had it's own pits area. Happy days.

When I got older, it was the only way to travel. When I chatted up a girl on my CB radio in 1983 (we didn't need the internet), I cycled over to meet her in Kidlington, a few miles away. I was only 13 at the time, and rather inexperienced in such matters so confident chat on the CB turned into awkward teenage shyness - needless to say, it didn't go anywhere. On another occasion, my mate and I staged an elaborate accident outside the house of two sisters we fancied in order to get them running to our mercy like young Florence Nightingales. Unsurprisingly this was not successful either, and a waste of £1.50 spent on fake blood from the joke shop in the Covered Market. Just two early examples of the many amorous disappointments destined to plague my life during my teenage years.

In the absence of a driving licence, my teenage years were spent cycling all over Oxfordshire. What a lean, mean, flying machine I was then. And I really could shift it. Once I bet a friend I could beat the bus back from Oxford to Eynsham (about 5 miles), and I did it - that's no lie. It nearly caught up with me as I entered the village, but all that time wasted at bus stops in Oxford had given me the head start I needed. Thinking about it now, the first thing that springs to mind is that the road to Eynsham was incredibly dangerous, but did I wear a helmet? No. Why? Because I had a deathwish? No - because no-one ever did back then - this was the 1980's and hardly anyone did. These were the days when health & safety was in its infancy and I was possessed with the arrogance and immortality of youth so didn't give it a second thought.

In the 1990's my trips grew shorter, my most regular one being from my house on Southwold down to The Plough, and then back again, six pints later in a somewhat less than straight line. Sometimes it was further afield. Drink driving was something I never did and never will - but somehow drink cycling seemed acceptable. However, after a lengthy session in the Red Lion at Stratton Audley one Saturday evening that ended with the bike somewhere in a ditch on the other side of the A421, I decided to review this strategy. When I came back the following day and saw the jagged rocks and broken glass all around the entry point of the ditch I realised how amazing it was I hadn't done myself serious injury. Somehow my beer coat had saved me, but it was a sobering scene.

After that, things started to tail off a bit. I still went out on the occasional bike ride, but it was no longer a necessity. I still tried to use the bike as much as possible for local trips, such as nipping to the supermarket with a rucksack in tow to carry the goods, but all that went out of the window when the kids came along.

Me on my bike, about three years ago.
Not done much mileage since then,

Now they are a little older, and I desperately want to persuade them to join the cycling fraternity. It would be so much better for all of us. Our school is relocating to a new site over a mile away in January and I know it's going to become much more difficult to do this trip on foot every day. If they could both cycle with me it would be so much better for us all round, but Ollie remains resistant. His autism makes him incredibly scared of trying any new experience, and cycling is no exception, but we conquered his swimming fear so I live in hope. Jamie is getting a bike for his birthday next month, complete with stabilisers and I'm hoping if I can catch Ollie in a good mood, with the bribe of some sweets I can encourage him to take the plunge.

Just before I go, an update on my 1,000 book sales in June challenge.

Day 4 Sales: 18
Running Total: 86
Running Target: 133 (behind by 47).

MTYY UK Rank: #6255 (down from #5,555)
MTYY US Rank: #22,820 (up from #26,071)

More tomorrow!

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here: