Friday, 29 July 2016

Fun not in the sun

One of the bad things about holidays in the British Isles is that generally the weather tends to be crap. You head off to a nice seaside resort dreaming of gorgeous sunny days on beaches, but rarely does it turn out that way. To summarise:

The dream

The reality

Once again, this is how it has turned out this week. Why oh why must the British weather always tempt me in this way? Chuck a 30+ degree heatwave at me a few days before we depart only to replace it with 17c, cloud and rain as soon as we arrive wherever we are going.

Still, it's not all bad. It hasn't been as bad as the picture above to be honest, just not warm enough to spend days on the beach. We did manage an hour or two on Monday afternoon, when the kids enjoyed swimming in one of two natural swimming pools that forms on the south beach when the tide goes out. Tomorrow morning looks cloudy but dry, so we are determined to go down and build a few sandcastles. Timing is everything when it comes to sandcastles - the biggest fun for me has always been building them just below the high tide line and then valiantly trying to defend them as the tide comes in. High tide here tomorrow is just after lunch, so we will be down there building in earnest from mid-morning, providing the BBC weather forecast us accurate for once and the fucking drizzle doesn't descend on us for the umpteenth time this week.

In one of the natural high tide pools. I even had a paddle myself.

To be honest, it hasn't been all that bad, mostly cloudy. Not being able to hang out at the beach has given us the opportunity to visit a few places. On one of the more clement days, we took a boat trip over to Caldey Island, a few miles offshore. What a lovely find this was! The island is owned and lived on by monks, but there is plenty to see and do there. A lighthouse, some ruins that you can actually walk around in and explore without the usual restrictions, and even a chocolate factory! It's a lovely little island, only a mile or so in length but well worth a visit. We walked all around it, and as on a few days this week, I reached 20,000 steps on my Walkmate.

Exploring the ruins on Caldey Island

Yesterday we went to Oakwood Theme Park. This is one of many regional theme parks we have visited around the UK which whilst lacking perhaps the glamour and high speed thrills of the big name Merlin parks, make up for it in other ways.

One of the less exciting rides, but the kids loved it anyway!

These regional parks usually have a good selection of medium sized rides, plus a few larger ones, though not in the same league as Alton Towers, obviously. But that's more than made up for by the more agreeable entry fee and also the fact that you don't have to queue for more than a few minutes to get on anything. We managed to do pretty much everything that was available, and yes, I did get soaked - again. This time I fell off the raft at the bottom of the water slide. It was actually a pretty decent day weather wise - about 18c and a fair bit of sunshine, but I felt more than a little chilly with my whole left side soaked. If you find yourself out in West Wales, I definitely recommend a trip to Oakwood.

We also took a trip to an evening meeting at Ffos Las, one of Britain's newest racecourses and another one to tick off my list in my attempt to visit them all. It's a small course with low grade racing but the Welsh crowd were in high spirits and I had a pretty decent burger off the van in a small window when the rain stopped so we made the most of it. Managed to back a couple of winners too, though they weren't anything to get excited about, price wise.

The only disappointing day was when we went out exploring in the car around some of the other towns in the area. Maybe we just went to the wrong places, but we didn't find anything of note in Pembroke, where we ended up eating our lunch on a dilapidated bench next to a boarded up shop by a roundabout hoping we wouldn't get mugged by some of the rum looking characters hanging about. As for Milford Haven, described by no less than Admiral Lord Nelson as "the finest port in Christendom", all I can say is "what a dump". Perhaps we weren't seeing it at it's best in the inevitable rain, but after a few minutes there we hurried on back to the sanctuary of Tenby.

Overall impressions of the holiday? Tenby? Great - a lovely town. Probably the jewel in the crown of Pembrokeshire. Surrounding area? Not so brilliant. Would I come back? Most definitely, I feel we could easily get another good week out of this place.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Next Doctor

In a shock announcement today, the next actor to play Doctor Who was revealed at a hastily assembled press conference at a secret location in Wales.

A spokesman claiming to be from the show said "Rather than go through all the speculation that normally follows a lead actor announcing that they are leaving the role, we thought we would get the new man on board before Peter Capaldi actually leaves. As let's face it, he's coming up for his third series and bound to quit soon, just like all the others do just as we are starting to get used to them."

The new actor was truly a surprise, as he is better known as a novelist than an actor. Oxford born Jason Ayres, 46, rebuffed claims that he had no acting experience at the conference, listing a number of TV and film appearances over the years.

We checked him out on IMDB and found that he had played the following illustrious roles:

Man in Pub - Eastenders (2 episodes) - 2015
Man in Kebab Shop - Emmerdale Farm - 2013
Fat Bloke singing on the karaoke - Benidorm - 2012
Man in Chip Shop - Coronation Street - 2010
Pork Pie eating competition contestant (as himself) - Man vs Food - 2008
Man ringing in work putting on a pathetic voice to try and pull a sickie - The Office (2002)
Man standing behind John Mcrirrick waving (as himself) - Channel 4 Racing 1999
Man playing golf very badly - Happy Gilmore (1996)
Man feigning broken ankle to get out of going to wedding - Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Some early publicity shots have already been released, here's one of him getting the keys to the Tardis taken today:

The new Doctor on his way
to an exciting adventure!

There is no news yet on who the new Doctor's companion will be, however it seems rumours that Noel Edmonds is being drafted in to play The Master may well be true.

"I'm really looking forward to getting the keys to the Tardis" said Ayres. "And I'm gonna wipe the smug smile off that beardy face, you wait and see. He'll be going straight to the 1p club when I put my sonic screwdriver where the sun don't shine!"

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Treasure Trails

It's the first week of the summer holidays and I'm writing to you from Tenby, here in the south-west corner of Wales. And what a lovely little spot it is too.

This isn't my first visit here. I stayed here in 1975, a trip I have some vague early memories of. I also stayed here in 1992 with my then girlfriend, but oddly, I can't remember a single thing about that holiday or the town itself. That's very odd for me as I have a pretty photographic memory and can recall the finer details of many of my other trips. Yet Tenby in 1992 has somehow erased itself from my hard drive. Where I stayed, where I ate, even what I did remains a complete blank. I can only assume that being 22 I must have spent the whole week drinking and lost the memories because of it. It is a bit worrying that entire chunks of my past can simply disappear like this, though. If only I had had a blog then, I could have written it all down for posterity.

Never mind, we'll just have to start again. All I can say is, what a lovely place. The town itself has very Cornish feel to it, and reminds me a lot of how St Ives used to be twenty years or more ago. It is also  very different to traditional seaside resort in the vogue of Blackpool, Skegness or Yarmouth. Tenby is just a pretty little town by the sea that's managed to stay true to its roots without becoming either run down and shabby, or upmarket and elitist.

The beaches here are amazing, they simply have everything. Lovely golden sand with not a hint of seaweed, or other rubbish on them. A tide that when it runs out leaves rock pools and also natural salt water swimming pools. And best of all, caves! And I mean proper caves that you can actually go in and explore. Here's a couple of photos of Jamie exploring them.

We've eaten out twice already and had two lovely meals, both which ended with a bill of around £40 for a family of four, and that wasn't skimping. I had steak both nights. The town is really lively and there are plenty of places to eat and lots of old fashioned sweet shops and the like. There's also a harbour, cliff walks and stunning views. Tenby really does seem to have it all. I can say this with some confidence as I managed to reach 20,000 steps on my Walk Mate today, the first time I have ever reached that total. And it wasn't from playing Pokemon Go either. Much as this town is loaded with Pokestops and Gyms it's almost impossible to take advantage of them. I don't know if it's just Vodafone, but 4G is practically non-existent in this neck of the woods, 3G is also very hard to come by. In fact, if it wasn't for the apartment we are staying in having Wi-fi, you'd be lucky to get this if I tried to send it via text message.

At least half of those steps came from something fun and different we all did as a family this morning. Before I came away, I chanced across a site called Treasure Trails which you can find here 

What's this all about? Well, what the good people at this site do is provide walking treasure hunts around hundreds of towns and cities throughout Britain. The one we did was like a cross between the car treasure hunts that my family used to do when I was a kid and a game of Cluedo. You walk around the town following clues to various landmarks e.g. gravestones, commemorative plaques, monuments etc, and from the answers you eliminate the suspects, Cluedo style until you are left with just one, plus a murder weapon. It's a great way to explore a new town, get some exercise, fresh air and learn a little about a place's history too. And all this for the princely sum of £6.99 which provided us with a good couple of hours of entertainment. If you have kids, you'll know that seven quid doesn't go a long way, so this is an excellent way to spend a few hours.

I will definitely be investing in a few more of these treasure trails as they will be a great incentive to get out and explore some more new places during the summer. Hot on the heels of Pokemon Go, I have to say, I've never been so active.

So that's the holiday so far, lots more to come, including a trip to Caldey Island, Oakwood theme park and an evening at Ffos Las races (a course I have never visited before). Thumbs up to Tenby, if you haven't been here, I highly recommend it!

Just before I go, I don't like to over plug my books (no-one likes being given the hard sell) but my new novel is released this Friday, and you can find out all about it here:

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Now it's The Bicester Grand Prix!

This weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone could be the last at the venue if those at the head of the sport get their way.

It has long been no secret that F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone covets holding a race around the streets of London. However the logistics of staging such an event have proved insurmountable thus far. There were a few glorified electric go-karts trundling around Battersea Park last weekend in the Formula E race, but that just doesn't cut the mustard with die-hard petrol heads.

Some Grand Prix cars having a race.

Now we have it on good authority that Bicester is being considered as a possible alternative venue. Our roving correspondent, Gerald Mincen, explains more.

"Silverstone is all well and good, but let's face it, it's not the most picturesque venue in the world. At other races you've got everything from medieval castles in the background to nice harbours with yachts and stuff. And what do we have here in Bicester, that attracts people from all over the world? Bicester Village of course! I am sure they would be only too willing to stump up the millions it will cost to put on a race here because think of the coverage it would bring them!"

Mincen went on to explain the route of the potential course.

A map of the proposed route.

"We would have the pit straight on Pingle Drive, for sure, using Bicester Village Car Park as the pits. Obviously customers wouldn't be able to park their cars there that day, but we'd just direct them into Langford Village or somewhere and then bus them in. From there we would go up Oxford Road as far as Kings End, then through Church Street, The Causeway, Market Square and back down London Road. Finally we'd turn right past the station to bring us back into Pingle Drive. It's very important that we feature Bicester Village as heavily as possible if we are going to persuade them to sponsor the event. I'm hoping we can get lots of the drivers and their girlfriends involved. Imagine that, Lewis going shopping and getting kitted out in all the latest of last year's lines. You just can't buy that sort of publicity".

Although Gerald seemed excited about the route, others were not so happy. One local F1 fan described the course as ridiculous, particularly the decision to place the DRS zone in The Causeway, claiming there wasn't room to overtake a bike down there, let alone another car.

Another resident claimed that the Grand Prix would cause traffic disruption in the area and make it difficult for her to get to Big Tesco that weekend to do a big shop.

Mincen dismissed these claims, saying "That's just Bicester residents, they're always moaning about something or other. They won't be complaining when the Grand Prix puts Bicester on the map and brings millions more visitors to the town, spending millions of pounds in Bicester Village. Think of the boost to the local economy!

Organisers of the event will be hoping that it is more successful than the last major sporting event that took place in Bicester. In 2015, a stage of the Tour De France descended into farce when the entire pelaton was held up for 25 minutes while they waited for a train to pass at the London Road crossing.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Cover Story

"That fat bloke on the cover looks vaguely familiar" writes reader Dave from Shillingford.

Indeed, he does. So how did I end up starring on my own book cover? Have I become so carried away with dreams of stardom that my massive ego has got the better of me?

Actually, it was more a case of needs must. I shall explain, but first let me introduce you to Daniela.

Daniela has been the cover artist for every one of my novels, from The Time Bubble onwards. She lives in Brazil and is one of a stable of artists who produce work for a site called It was on this site that I found the cover that I used for The Time Bubble. Since then I have got to know Daniela, working with her on the design of all my book covers since. I can't rate her highly enough. She seems to instinctively pick up what I'm trying to convey in my books. Here are a few examples of her work for me:

The Time Bubble trilogy - cover art by Daniela.
My favourite of these is Global Cooking which perfectly conveys what the book is about.

Daniela has also produced hundreds more customisable covers that are well worth checking out here.

As you can see, they vary in cost between $69 and $98 which quite honestly is a very small price to pay for a decent cover. It never ceases to amaze me the number of self-published authors who produce very polished novels but then bash out a cheap cover themselves and put it up on to Amazon hoping for the best. Fact is, people do judge books by their covers and getting it done properly is vital.

My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday - this cover is from the audiobook 
edition hence why it is square! A simple design using 
the backwards calendar which instantly intrigues the viewer.

Anyway, back to the story of the cover for the new book. My brief for Daniela was this, copied directly from the email I sent to her:

My new novel is another Time Bubble spin off about a middle-aged man who is down on his luck. He is 42 years old, has lost his job, is unhappy in his marriage and also has let himself go physically. He’s overweight, his hair is thinning and he is struggling to fit into his clothes.

Then he gets the chance to go back and live some of his life over again – back to the days when he was young, fit, happy and had his whole life to look forward to.

The rough idea I had for a cover was to have the man as he currently is (the unhappy 42 year old version) on the left looking into a mirror on the right and seeing his happier younger self, aged about 21, looking back at him. The younger one should be thinner, fitter, and have better clothes but be recognisably the same person."

What Dani does really well in her designs is to combine her own artwork with stock photos from Shutterstock. In this case, it was a little more difficult. If you go on the internet and search for pictures of fat blokes it's not hard to find them. However, in this particular instance, we needed someone looking in a particular direction and as you'll see from the cover, that's not an angle that people tend to pose for photographs in as a rule.

We found the young guy no problem - he looked great, young, good-looking, exactly as per the brief. But we couldn't find the older version. So in the end, I suggested to Dani that I filled the role myself.

Obviously in order to fit the profile of the middle-aged fat version of Richard Kent, the main character, I had to bulk up considerably, a bit like Renee Zellweger did to play Bridget Jones. It was a tough couple of weeks, but with plenty of trips to the Wimpy, doubling my crisp consumption to twelve packets a day and doing all my cooking with lard, I eventually built myself up to a profile I was happy with. Then it was simply a case of pushing out my belly as far as I could and posing at the right angle for the photo.

And here we have the end result!

Me as "Richard Kent", now and aged 21.

I think you will agree that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As for the guy in the mirror, did I really look that good when I was 21? Well Dave says no, but he takes the piss all the time and he didn't even know me then, so I think I'll just say I did and hope no-one that knew me as long ago as 1991 reads this!

And when can you read this latest masterpiece? It will be out on the 29th July and is available for pre-order here: