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: