Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Meat Elite

 Hi all,

As you'll know if you're read my novels, I do like to explore alternative, dystopian futures on occasion. I have all sorts of ideas, often inspired by current affairs, that don't make it into print as they aren't substantial enough to make into a full novel. So they sit on the backburner.

What I'd like to do is explore some of these through short stories, so here is the first of what may become a series. Here, I imagine what might happen if future people in power looked back at what happened over 2020-2021 and used it as a template to pursue other objectives.

I wanted it to be concise, so I've kept it to 1,500 words. I'd be interested to hear your feedback. If you like it, I may write some more. Enjoy!

The Meat Elite - by Jason Ayres


As Annie pushed the swing doors that led back into the kitchen, the unmistakable smell of sizzling steak assailed her nostrils.

How long had it been since she had tasted meat? It must be getting on for two years now. As the chefs scurried around in their white shirts and check trousers, she felt an all too familiar craving, one she would have to suppress. For she was not one of the privileged few.

They were all here tonight. The elite. The exclusive members club where she waitressed was hosting a big Christmas bash for a group of senior cabinet members and selected friends. Such gatherings were illegal under the 2025 Infectious Diseases Act, but the attendees tonight considered themselves exempt from that.

It was all strictly top secret. To work tonight, Annie had been required to sign a non-disclosure form with a threat of up to ten years in prison should she break it.

The dinner was being hosted by the new health secretary who had taken over after the 2024 general election. Annie had also recognised other senior medical staff she had seen standing at the podiums during Downing Street press conferences. There were also several prominent television presenters and well-known climate change campaigners. As she had served them their starters they had all been laughing and joking like they didn’t have a care in the world.

They had ignored her, of course, but then she barely even registered as a human to them, hidden behind her mask. Ordinary citizens were required to wear them in all public places. It had been that way on and off ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, some seven years ago.

It would soon be time for her to take out the main courses. She watched as one particularly flamboyant chef tossed a steak in the air like a pancake before it landed back in the pan with a flash of flame.

When she was growing up, she could never have imagined a world where eating meat would now be the preserve of the super-wealthy. Her father had been a traditionalist who insisted that the family came together for Sunday lunch every week. She recalled the joints of meat now, gorgeous, rare topside of beef, with Yorkshire puddings cooked in the dripping, and succulent legs of pork, with perfect, crispy crackling. No-one had been able to make crackling like her dad.

Gosh, she still missed him so much. It had been six years now, and she still couldn’t believe he’d left her the way he had. Seeing these Government ministers here tonight brought it all back. They weren’t the same politicians who had been in charge during the Covid-19 crisis, but no matter – they were all the same in her eyes.

Her father had retired in 2019 and poured his life savings into opening a lovely little family restaurant in their hometown. It had thrived, quickly gaining a loyal following of local devotees.

But all that changed in 2020. The business survived the first lockdown and struggled through the second. They had been all ready to bounce back at Christmas, but then they were forced to close again. As 2021 wore on, with one reason after another for extending the lockdown, the business was forced to close. Her father lost everything, and not long afterwards took his own life.

Slowly, the world had returned to normal. But then, in the autumn of 2024, news of a new pandemic swept the globe.

This time, the virus was spread by animals, starting, as it always seemed to, in China. It began slowly, with rumours of a new strain of flu in chickens before spreading to cattle. Before long cases were being reported on every continent.

The media frenzy soon began, with experts warning that eating contaminated meat could spread the virus to humans. A computer model from a prominent London college suggested that five million could die in Britain if all meat consumption did not cease immediately.

Overnight, all meat products were pulled from supermarket shelves. Those who had seen it coming and stocked up their chest freezers were not sitting pretty for long. Draconian fines were introduced for even being in possessing any meat, with police given powers to enter any home to carry out a search. Keeping food animals, such as chickens, carried a jail sentence.

For their own safety, the people were put under lockdown again, with other restrictions such as face masks reintroduced. Many deaths in hospitals were connected to the supposedly infected meat, though those who questioned these diagnoses were ridiculed and cancelled.

All livestock was slaughtered. The meat industry was up in arms, but the farmers were sated by massive handouts from the Government to permanently convert their premises. There had been huge advances in the technology for producing vegan food and the choice between financial security or utter ruin was not a difficult one to make.

The same choices were being made all over the world, with the source of cash being used to bankroll these huge changes never being identified.

The crisis dragged on for the best part of a year, during which many climate campaigners stepped up declaring this had been a blessing in disguise for the planet. They had long stated that intensive farming had been disastrous for the climate’s carbon footprint, and welcomed this opportunity to enact permanent change.

Social media joined in of course, with those in favour cheering on the cause. Opinions polls showed 75% in favour of a permanent ban on meat. Annie found these figures hard to believe.

She had never had a problem with vegetarians or vegans. She felt that everybody had the right to make their own choices on these issues. But it didn’t work both ways. Anyone who protested against what was happening was denounced and discredited.

Now, over two years after the outbreak had started, a tiny amount of organic farming was permitted again, under strict guidelines. The total production was less than 1% of what it had been before the pandemic. Not only did you have to have a licence to sell it, but you also had to have a licence to buy it.

Even if you did possess a licence, the cost was beyond the means of most people. Something as simple as a chicken breast would now set you back a three-figure sum, leaving meat as the preserve only of the elite.

Like these people here tonight, thought Annie. For them, a hundred pounds was the equivalent of about 50p to her. These same people, who had screamed for the slaughter and more restrictions. These same people, who had told her it was all for her own good. Well, it wasn’t good enough. She simply wasn’t going to take it anymore.

It was time for the meals to go out. She was handed a plate and gazed lovingly at the juicy, perfectly cooked meat in front of her. This one was for the health secretary, who liked his steak rare. Dripping with blood was how he had requested it.

A second plate was handed to her. This was for a daytime TV presenter who had never shut up about the need to convert to a vegan diet after she had realised that was the bandwagon to jump aboard. What a hypocrite.

She pushed through the swing door that led out into the corridor, but instead of going straight across into the dining room, she turned right. She walked to the end and around a corner, where she would be out of sight at the foot of a staircase.

She sat on the stairs, picked up the rare steak by hand and gorged on it, stuffing the meat into her mouth like there was no tomorrow. As she did so, rivulets of bloody juice ran down her chin, dripping on to her white waitress uniform and staining it with blood that would probably never come out. But that didn’t matter. She wouldn’t need it again after tonight.

The first steak was demolished in a couple of minutes, and then she started on the second. She had heard people talking about having experiences that were better than sex. As she savoured every precious mouthful, she now knew exactly what they meant.

Finished, she left the plates on the stairs. Then she looked up and saw the CCTV camera trained directly upon her.

No matter. What else could they do to her now that they hadn’t done already? There was no point to life if you couldn’t live it. And tonight, for possibly the first time in seven years, she felt incredibly and wonderfully alive.

She got up, ripped off her mask, and pushed the bar marked emergency exit on the doors opposite the stairs and walked out into the cold night air. For this moment at least, she was free.


Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The importance of branding

 Every store you shop in, every product you buy is a brand. The biggest brands are recognisable the world over, from the red and white of Coca Cola to the golden arches of McDonald's.

Any professional business needs clear and consistent branding, and books are no different. When I started writing my Time Bubble books in 2014, I had no inkling that seven years later I would have eleven of them on the market. When I started, I had no great marketing plan - I was learning on the job. I realised early on that I needed my covers to match, so I had the hourglass on the first few, but over time, I deviated away from that.

There was nothing wrong with my old covers - they served their purpose, but I realised over the past year that I needed to upgrade them. Some of them were looking a little tired, and dare I say, even a little gloomy, so I got together with my cover artist and we came up with a plan to relaunch the range with a bright, shiny new selection of colours.

My idea was straightforward - a set of eye-catching covers that would all match. The same fonts in the same places on every book - the only variation being in the colours and images. I also believe that simplicity is key. Many book covers are far too complicated. I think some authors feel they need to tell the whole story on the cover. I wanted to go for just one simple image on each that would tie into the book's theme.

The results are the eleven brand new covers I am going to unveil today. Here they are in turn, with a little explanation below each about why I chose each image.

The first book in the series is the one with the most generic image. This was deliberate because this one needs to tell people not only what this book is about, but also what the whole series is about. So it's a simple clock face being sucked into a time vortex. Note the other elements on the cover. I've gone with a teaser line at the top, a bold title and author name, and a brief snippet from a five star review with the stars on the cover to emphasise this.

For the second book we went with a cold, blue background to reflect the title and the theme. For the image we came up with this rather clever Earth frozen inside an ice cube sketch, which sums up nicely in one image what the book is about.

Man Out of Time is set predominantly in the future, including some scenes set in the early twenty-second century. When visiting that time, Josh marvels at the futuristic buildings of his home town and I believe this image sums that scene up nicely.

The main focus of this book is Josh's nightmarish journey through a succession of alternate universes. This image of multiple Earths, tailing off into the distance captures that theme brilliantly.

This book is the first in the range set predominantly in the past, most of it in 1992 as the title suggests. I wanted to go with a nostalgic theme to reflect the times. I was inspired by a scene in the book where Peter is bemoaning his problems with the local video shop - such as being charged 50p for not rewinding the tape!

I love the effect on this cover. It refers directly to a scene in the book where one of the main characters disappears. She literally fades out of existence, leaving the man depicted holding only fresh air in his hand.

This book is another nostalgia fest. In an early chapter the main character, Richard Kent, finds himself in 1984 on the day he bought his first record from Woolworth's. 

It's established right from the start of this book that luckless Kay, is negotiating the pitfalls of her life with the help of copious amounts of vodka. For a book which is largely set in the pub, this seemed an appropriate image.

This is possibly my favourite of the lot. We used a backwards calendar on the old version of this book, but it wasn't particularly clear. This image, where Tuesday follows Wednesday capture the theme of the book beautifully.

There's only one obvious image to use for a book set around New Year in the UK, and that's Big Ben and fireworks.

And now, the one you're all waiting for, which will be out next week! This is the sequel to My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday and focuses on Thomas Scott's one, unwavering mission - to make it to Ibiza at a certain time on a certain date to meet his wife for the first time and fulfil his destiny. Needless to say, this isn't as simple as it sounds!