Sunday, 29 June 2014

The dilemma of free school meals

I'm not in agreement with all the new policies and developments that have occurred in education since Michael Gove's regime took over. However the announcement that all children in Key Stage 1 (that's 4 - 6 year olds) will be entitled to a free school meal from September is a fantastic development.

There's always been concern that some children don't eat properly and we often hear figures about hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty. I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of all that here or start trotting out social commentary along the lines of "Oh, they can't afford to feed their children, but they can still afford drink/ fags/ drugs". That's another debate entirely. Let's just say it can only be good for all children.

It's good for parents, whether in poverty or not. Not only does it save money but also time for all. I am sure time starved parents will be glad of having one less packed lunch in the morning. However - despite this welcome new policy, there is a flaw in the plan - for me anyway. I haven't seen this issue raised anywhere else, but I am sure it is one that many parents are going to be struggling with come September.

In the case of our school there is no canteen, so they all take packed lunches. This has not been a problem for us. Ollie takes his lunch and eats it every day. But I am quite relieved that he will be in Year 3 in September, and therefore not entitled to these free meals. Because if he was, it would not even be an option.

As you'll know if you read regularly, Ollie has Asperger's which means he is very regimented in certain areas of his life. This includes food. Since he was weaned our lives have been a constant trade off between getting him to eat anything at all, and encouraging him to eat healthy options. It has been a long and difficult battle and I have managed to compromise with him to the extent that he does at least eat an averagely healthy diet. It has not been easy. Many healthy options are rejected out of hand but he does at least eat a few good things so I make sure they are on offer as much as possible e.g. bananas and pineapple.

But he is a creature of habit. He likes meat, cheese and such like but not in a sandwich. The only type of sandwich he will entertain is a marmite one. So every day his lunchbox is exactly the same. He takes a marmite sandwich, a cereal bar, a packet of fruit flakes and a carton of orange juice. Plus a banana for break time. It's not the ideal lunch - there's plenty of sugar in there but at least he eats it. And it could be a lot worse.

We've just had the menus through for the packed lunches which are on offer each day and there's plenty of options on there - a good mix of possible lunches each day. However, as I looked through that's when the relief that Ollie won't be having these lunches washed over me.

Unfortunately, Jamie, who is not autistic in any way has picked up a number of personality traits from Ollie, when it suits him, and this includes fussiness over food. So we are going to face the same problem with him as we would have had with Ollie. Here's the menu choices for the first 3 days of next term:

Wednesday
Thursday
Friday

So, basically you have to pick one of each of the three choices. A good healthy selection there, don't you think? I do. But unfortunately, I can tell you exactly how Jamie would respond to each one.

Wednesday - The cheese and ham roll will probably be OK, though he'll insist on picking it apart. Crunchy veg sticks and tomatoes? No chance. Option 2 is a total non-starter. From option 3 he'd probably eat the crunchy bread sticks but he hates eggs (unlike Ollie who actually does eat them).

Thursday: Options 1 and 3 are total non-runners. That leaves the cheese and pickle roll assuming he doesn't turn his nose up at the pickle.

Friday: The cheese salad is probably the only viable option though knowing him he'll pick out the cheese and leave the rest.

I've just gone over the menu choices and it's met with the predictable responses "No", "Don't like that", "Don't want that" etc.

So as you see, I face somewhat of a dilemma. We can of course send in our own lunches which means he can have what he wants, but what's the best option? Send his own lunch at our time/ expense knowing it is not as healthy as what the school is providing and the easy option. Or order the lunch and let the teachers at school deal with the inevitable tantrums and upset it will cause - leaving him unhappy and hungry. It's very difficult to know what approach to take.

At the moment I am thinking of trialling the lunches and seeing how it goes. We can always switch to sending in his own lunch if is a nightmare.

What would you do? I am sure there are thousands of parents out there mulling over the same problem. NB: I'm not looking for any self-righteous comments here about "they should get what they're given" or accusing them of being "spoilt". It's quite difficult to get across to anyone who has not been the parent of a fussy child how difficult our daily trials and tribulations are.

Jason

Jason's new novel, "The Time Bubble", set in a small market town near Oxford, is available now from Amazon - click here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=zg_bs_3653245031_6

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moving with the times

During this whole self-publishing process I've done a lot of soul-searching about what is the best way to go. The traditional route, finding a publisher in the UK and getting things done locally. Or the global approach, via the giant of Amazon - which love them or hate them, are here to stay.

I chose the second route. I would liked to have done a mix of the two, but it just didn't make sense for me. There are many reasons for this - but ultimately it came down to what was best for me as a writer and how I envisage the marketplace going in the future.

Let's backtrack a little here and look at some other markets. I've talked many times on this blog about the relentless march of progress and how one must adapt or die. In a blog post I wrote back in September 2011 entitled Weighty Matters I picked out five retail chains I felt would find themselves in trouble over the next couple of years.

Of those five, four have either bit the dust or have been, or are in receivership. Some survive in a reduced form. The only one of the five still thriving is Thorntons.

I'll take HMV as my example. I felt for a long time that they would not survive in the changed world of music in the 21st century. When downloads and MP3's first came in, they were illegal - and rightly derided as such. Then music started to be sold in that format. The digital world moves on rapidly and now even DVD's are become obsolete as people can buy on demand or subscribe to services such as Netflix. It's easy to say in hindsight that companies should have seen this coming but they didn't - they stuck to their traditional sales models and paid the price. HMV lasted longer than most - the likes of Woolworths, Virgin and Our Price disappeared a long time ago.

It's easy to lay the blame at the door of big enterprises such as Amazon and Tesco - but the fact is, love them or hate them they have been very efficient at what they do. I am no fan of Tesco, and can't help admitting taking a little pleasure in seeing their recent poor results, but you cannot argue with the fact that they have been successful.

40 years ago all the talk was of supermarkets killing off local shops. Those old enough will remember all those traditional old grocers where they used to weigh everything out on scales and everyone had a cosy chat and a gossip. Sadly such places if they do exist are few and far between. This is sad - but unfortunately invevitable. The world moves on. The independent grocers were no doubt up in arms back at the time, urging customers to support their local businesses but ultimately they all went to the wall. The simple fact of the matter that no matter how much most consumers preach about supporting local businesses and ethical business practices, when it comes down to cold hard cash, most people will buy things where they are the cheapest.

Another local business, Wadleys, has bowed to the inevitable and decided to close its doors. Another sad day and many have expressed their regrets. I think Wadleys are to be applauded for lasting as long as they did. They sold themselves on service and they were very good at it - the good news is they will continue as a servicing business only. Fact is though, they could not compete on price and in many cases became a showroom for people who wanted to buy elsewhere. How many people I wonder went into Wadleys to browse the tellies, noted the price tag, and then went home and bought it online from whoever was cheapest instead? A lot, I'll warrant.

Many would rail against the arguments I'm presenting here but I'm not saying what's right or what's wrong. I'm just telling it like it is. Everything moves on. Otherwise we'd all still be listening to music on wax cylinders.

And so we come on to the world of books. I write books as you can't fail to have noticed. And I've had to make decisions as I've gone along about how and where I am going to sell my books.

I have not been rejected by any publishers - because I've never approached any. Over the past couple of years I have read millions of words on the subject, joined countless writers groups on the internet (all free I should hasten to add - unlike many traditional author's circles) and every time I have come to the same conclusion. Like almost everything these days, I can do it all for myself. So I am rejecting traditional methods and moving with the times.

I can choose and design my own cover. I can choose who proofreads my work. I can set the prices, see the sales in real time and in the giant marketplace of Amazon, instantly offer my work to millions of people worldwide.

The way to market books on-line is completely different to traditional book-selling - about which admittedly I don't know a lot, but then I don't need to. Selling books on Amazon is all about algorithms, sales ranks, popularity and reviews. It's one big numbers game and I love it. I've no qualms whatsoever about giving away hundreds of copies of my books. I've done it with all of them. Why on earth would you give away something you've sweated blood and tears over? Because that's how the game works. You give away all those books and suddenly you're visible when it goes back to full price. You're higher up the popularity lists, you get reviews, and then you make sales.

One month after I launched Fortysomething Father I hadn't made more than a handful of sales, and then I put it on free download. I gave away about 200 copies. The week after it went back to full price (about £2) I sold over a hundred copies. I wouldn't have sold any of them without the freebie loss leader. And these weren't just in the UK but all over the world. I can analyse my sales at any time. Most sales are in the UK and US but I've sold everywhere - including 7 in Japan. It's a big world out there.

As for paperback vs ebook well there is a debate in itself. I don't think ebooks will replace paperbacks as entirely as downloads have replaced CD's, but there will be a continue trend towards the new medium. Research shows that the % of readers of ebooks is very heavily skewed towards younger readers. Those who have grown up living and breathing tablets and mobiles live their whole life around them. With my latest book being aimed squarely at the young adult audience it's essential for me to be in the ebook market. Paperbacks? I can take them or leave them. I have a paperback offering via Amazon but I'm not really that interested in selling traditional paperbacks. I know there will always be those who want a genuine book in their hands so that is why I do have them, but it's not really worth my while expending time and effort trying to get bookshops trying to sell my books when they are already available in the biggest bookshop in the world.

This will probably anger those who like bookshops and traditionally published books, but I've no problem with them at all. Some will very much enjoy going down that route. But I don't personally like the idea of a publisher having control over my book and all the information. Of it being in bookshops all over the country but me having no idea if anyone is buying them or how they are being received. It's just not my way of doing things. Amazon has given me absolutely everything I need and I've nailed my colours to their mast - for better or worse. Hopefully better.

Anyone who wants to know anything about me or my books can find out in an instance simply by going to Amazon. Author bio, list of books, reviews, where my books sit in the sales charts, the lot. Just a couple of mouse clicks away. Easy.

There will be those who scorn this - many accusations have been levelled at indie authors on Amazon - that it allows people to publish any old load of rubbish. Well that's true - but the market will soon find them out. The fact is there is a load of old rubbish in any walk of life. You only have to look through the daily schedules of the TV channels to see that. As always the wheat is there, if you can sort if from the chaff. Hopefully I count as the former - time will tell. And the fact is, if I am part of the chaff, well none of the publishers would have touched me in the first place so at least I haven't wasted my time chasing them.

Those involved in doing things the traditional way are never going to like the changes that are taking place just as all those independent grocers hated the supermarkets all those years ago. I don't want to be on that side of things - I want to go where the future is. I don't have a Time Bubble to get there though so I will have to try and predict. What does that future hold? Well the ebook will continue to grow and grow. More will be able to adopt - after all, people don't even need Kindles any more - you can do it all on a phone app (though a lot don't seem to realise this - perhaps I should publicise it a bit more). There will always be bookshops just as there will always be record shops - it's nice to think there is room for everyone. After all, even the giants of Tesco and their peers haven't wiped out all the independent shops.

And it doesn't stop there - look what else is coming, the world of 3D printing, and goodness knows what else. Soon, there will be very little we cannot do for ourselves. The future is truly an exciting place.

Jason.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Time Bubble Q&A

So, as they queue outside the doors of the Kindle store in Bicester awaiting the midnight release of The Time Bubble, here on my blog I have secured you an exclusive interview with myself to tell you all about it:




Q: So, The Time Bubble. What’s this all about then?

A: It’s a story set in a small market town near Oxford about two boys who discover a time portal inside a railway tunnel.

Q: That sounds like Bicester? Is it Bicester?

A: It’s no more Bicester than Candleford was Bicester in Lark Rise to Candleford. It’s an unnamed town somewhere in the South Midlands on the route of the new HS2 line. There are some scenes set in Oxford, though, which should look good when the movie comes out.

Q: So it’s a time travel book then. Hasn't that subject been done to death?

A: Well you might think so. But I've come up with a concept that I'm pretty sure has never been done before.

Q: What’s that exactly?

A: The basic premise is about a bubble in time which people trapped in for a set amount of time, e.g. 15 minutes. During this time they vanish. From their perspective they don’t go anywhere they just leap instantly forward in time.

Q: Can they go back in time as well?

A: No, only ever forwards. The twist is that the duration of the time in the Bubble increases over time. Once people start disappearing for days at a time it starts to have an impact on the lives of those around them.

Q: I see you've listed it in the Sci-Fi - Time Travel section on Amazon. Does this mean it’s going to be of interest only to hard-core science fiction fans?

A: Absolutely not! If I could describe the book best it would be as a romcom movie with a sci-fi element, rather like the movie “Sliding Doors” – to give one example. I thought about listed it in the Romance Time Travel section as well - but I didn't in the end as I didn't want people to think it was a Mills & Boon.

Q: So is it chick lit then?

A: I'm not particularly keen on giving things labels,  but I like to think it'll appeal to both a male and female audience.

Q: So there’s a bit of romance involved then Can you tell me a bit about some of the characters?

A: Well – I don’t want to give too much away but there are two mains sets of characters. Firstly there are the younger characters, a group of Year 12 A level students. Much of the first half of the book revolves around the relationships between them. Later in the book the emphasis shifts more to some of the adult characters and there may or may not be some more romance involving them. You will have to read it and find out.

Q: So it’s not just a teen book, then?

A: Indeed not. Although it’s the teenage boys that initially discover the Bubble, other adult characters become drawn into the story. There are three police officers who become involved when one of the principle characters goes missing, plus a teacher that the boys enlist to help. I've also got a local drunk who features in a few pub scenes. He’s based on an amalgam of every annoying drunk bloke I've ever met in a pub - and there have been a lot of them.

Q: So he’s a comedy character? You used the term “romcom earlier” – can we expect lots of humour in the book as well then?

A: Well, anyone who has read my other books will be familiar with my style of humour and know the sort of thing to expect. There are a few characters with a comic side. A couple of my favourites are an obnoxious overweight schoolboy who is a thorn in the side of our heroes, and an ineffective D.I. from the local police in charge of the missing person investigation.

Q: Sounds great! So where can we buy the book?

A: You can get it on Amazon now – Kindle or paperback editions. Here is the link. It should also be available through local book stores soon – either off the shelf or they can order it in for you.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Q: And do you have any plans for a sequel?

A: I've got something in mind featuring some of the characters dealing with a scenario described near the end of the book. I can't say much more here without giving away too much of the plot so I'll just give you a one word teaser: "Snow". You'll see what I mean when you get there.

Q: Well, thank-you for your time and good luck with the book!

A: Thank-you.

Jason

Decisions, decisions

Hi all,

The decision over what cover to use for the book has been causing considerable angst - and not just for me. A friend offered weeks ago to help design a cover - she didn't want payment as it would be a good project for her and some other students to work on.

She (and I) spent a lot of time trying to get it right and incorporate all of the elements of the plot into the cover. However, and this is where I am very much to blame - I just don't have a clue when it comes to design, fonts you name it. Certainly don't ever ask me to help choose a colour scheme for anything - it would be a car crash.

We ended up with something that I thought looked pretty decent and that we could use. But I needed to be sure so I got hold of an alternative cover from another source. What many authors do is buy pre-designed covers from websites. How this works is that a site such as the one I used, http://selfpubbookcovers.com/ allow artists to upload covers that they wish to sell. There are 1000's on there. You go on, put in a search term e.g. Time Travel, and up come the results.

If you choose to buy one of these it becomes your exclusive property - no-one else can use it, you pay the site and the artist gets the royalty. The prices vary from a few dollars to hundreds.

I decided the best way was to ask my audience what they preferred so I put the two covers side by side on Facebook and asked people their opinions. The majority preferred the one from the website so in the end I decided to use that. But encouragingly there were also some positive comments about the one we'd designed so it was definitely worth doing and an education if nothing else.

I do feel very sorry for my friend as she worked very hard on the design, as did I, and it is disappointing to see all that effort go to waste. I think where we possibly went wrong was me trying to tell her what I wanted when I didn't really know myself. I should have just given her free rein to use her imagination. I didn't handle the whole situation very well if I'm being honest with myself - and I'm man enough to admit it.

I guess at times in life we all end up in such scenarios where it is impossible not to hurt someone's feelings. I think Julie is really dedicated and good at what she's doing and the fault was entirely mine for giving her erroneous instructions. I wish her every success in the future - she is also a very good photographer if you are looking for one.

The other thing that swayed me in my decision was thinking about my target audience. Again I hate to use phrases like "romcom" and "chick lit" because it's putting things in categories but the book is very much not a hardcore sci-fi book. If it was then the first cover would probably have been better. My book is light-hearted easy reading with a time travel twist. I have listed it in the "Time Travel Romance" category on Amazon. Hence the pocket watch cover - it's more in keeping with the genre.

However - I could be wrong? Who knows. The beauty of self-publishing is you can always change things. I've changed the covers on two of my other books and they seemed to do better afterwards. And publishers produce second editions etc all the time. So we'll see what happens - I will keep an open mind.

The book should appeal to young and old alike - I have a little teenage coming of age romance in there as well as some involving the older characters. I'll tell you more in the Q&A blog tomorrow.

Thanks to everybody by the way who has offered opinions over recent days - your feedback is invaluable to me.

Jason

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Which cover?

Hi, I wonder if you could do me a big favour, blog readers.

I've got a couple of possible covers for my new book, a time-travel romcom. Could you tell me which of the two you prefer?

Cover A: (NB - ignore the diagonal /vertical/ horizontal lines on it, they won't be on the finished version) This is a cover from a site that has a number of custom made covers that you can adapt for your needs.



Or cover B (designed specifically for this book).



















Burning the midnight oil

Last night I finished working on the copy for my book, at approximately 2.30am. This must be what it is like to be a workaholic - there's a comment that will make my ex-Nielsen colleagues chuckle.

Why was I up so late? Well, I was almost at the end of the final task before being ready to upload, I had worked all evening with the World Cup as a backdrop and I didn't want to go to bed so close to completion.

What I was actually doing was going through the copy for the last time, making all the changes that the proofreader found - and there were a lot. I am completely convinced now that hiring a proof reader is essential if you planning to put out any sort of serious publication.

My document, whilst looking OK at first glance had many problems that needed resolving. Whilst it wasn't full of spelling errors there were many small punctuation errors such as use of commas that were picked up on. Then there were all the inconsistencies in things such as times - for example 4:00pm vs 4.00pm vs 4pm. It seems that the accepted British usage is a full stop as opposed to a colon - there's something I didn't know. The other thing I seem to be quite weak on is hyphenation and where to use it. e.g. which would you use here: overprotective, over protective or over-protective?

And there's also the case of saying the same thing twice e.g. "They chorused in unison". Well if they chorused, it would be in unison so you don't need both words.

It's very hard to choose a proofreader. There are some on the internet who charge several hundred pounds. At the other end of the scale my Dad met a bloke in the pub a couple of weeks ago who offered to do it for twenty quid. Like most things, it's a case of finding a happy medium and luckily I did.

I chose my proof reader or rather he chose me through Twitter. He was keen and interested and it goes to show - never underestimate the power of social media. He was reasonably priced and able to deliver in under a week. So I gave the job to him. He went over the document with a fine tooth comb and did a very professional job. His name is Matt Rance and he's known as the "Proof Professor". You can find his website here:  http://www.proofprofessor.com/

So - that's the content all sorted - and I am very pleased with the end result. We then come to the thorny question of the cover. This is another area I tend to underestimate the importance of. I like to think that my writing will be good enough that the cover won't matter, but I know that's not true. People do judge a book by its cover and always will do.

The next blog entry will have two pictures on it for you to look at:

I've also got a Q&A interview lined up where you can learn more about what the book is about. I'm also setting up a facebook page for the book for the same purpose - look out for an invite coming your way soon.

Jason.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Environmentally conscious?

You know, I'm all for recycling, saving the planet, charitable causes and such like but there are times when I question the motives behind it all.

What particularly irks me is when things are done "in the interests of the environment" when really they are not at all - they are done in the interests of the organisation.

Hotels are a prime example. In most hotels these days you'll find various planet-saving policies in place. A common one is a complete lack of a plug in the bath - message being - don't have a bath, have a shower. If you can find any literature relating to this you'll find that it's in the interests of conserving that most precious of natural resources - water. Which I think you'll find we have pretty much an inexhaustible supply of - it's recyclable you know.

Fair enough if you're in a hotel in the middle of the Sahara desert, I can go along with that policy but when you're looking out of the window of the Holiday Inn at Gatwick at the never ending torrent of rain pouring down outside the window it's slightly less convincing.

Anything to do with the hotel's hot water and energy bills, perhaps?

And it doesn't stop there - you've got towels and bed sheets. Nowadays you'll find a little sign in a hotel saying "In the interest of the environment, bed sheets are only changed twice a week and towels once a week".

Now again I don't have a problem with the policy - I can live without clean sheets every day - who changes them every day at home? I don't. But it's the way the hotel tries to make out they are doing it for the benefit of the world rather than saving money on laundry that annoys me. If they could just be honest and put up a sign that read "In the interests of keeping costs down to give you the lowest room rate possible, we only change towels twice a week". There - no problem, it's honest, and it makes the customer feel good because by doing their bit to save the planet they are saving a few quid of the bill as well.

Such policies are everywhere. I made the mistake of signing up some time ago to Parentmail. For the uninitiated this is the system where you get all of your correspondence from school on email rather than on paper. Good idea in principle. It's sold as saving the environment. Unfortunately once you've signed up, that's it - no more paper copies. Now I used to find it very useful to have these things pinned on a board in the kitchen. During any one term at school there are no end of events and trips which require money, special clothing etc. In the mad panic that constitutes most breakfast times in households with small children in them it is very handy to have such newsletters to hand - much easier than having to boot up the computer or search around on a phone for them.

Other forms have a slip that needs to be signed and sent back - so you end up having to print them off anyway. So you don't save the planet at all - all you do is save the school the cost of the paper and ink and incur it yourself instead. That's assuming you've got a printer of course. Otherwise you can waste time go into the office to get a form at pick up or drop off time in the morning, that's assuming of course you can remember or perhaps email the school and ask for a copy but it's all unnecessary admin!

I wish I'd never signed up for parentmail - but once you are on it, you can't get off it seems. Try to protest about it and you're marked down as someone who doesn't give a shit about the environment so you're basically screwed. It's not done me any favours, just made life extremely disorganised as a consequence.

There was one bit of good news from the school this week - the building of the replacement school on Kingsmere continues to be beset by building delays. The longer the better as far as I'm concerned. I love the school being where it is and it will be a sad day when the children have to move.

Separate topic - I see there are now loads of people moaning on facebook about all the football talk relating to the World Cup - some even going so far as to say that "football is shit". Well no - that isn't the case - it's simply the case that you don't personally like football. When will people get it into their heads that something isn't shit just because they don't personally like it. These same people have no problems posting endless statuses about whatever it is that floats their boats but do I complain when there's endless pictures of cars and motorbikes and pets and god knows what else that to me are about as exciting as watching paint dry? No I don't because while it is of no interest to me personally I recognise that is what they are into and they enjoy it so I live and let live. Well now the football's on and it's what I like so if you don't like it, tough. Live and let live, I say and follow my philosophy which is to remember that things aren't shit they are just not to my personal taste.

Apart from the X-Factor, obviously, which really is shit. That's my exception that proves the rule. Bye for now.

Jason xx

Jason Ayres is the writer of three humorous non-fiction books and new novel The Time Bubble, released June 2014. You can check out his profile on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jason-Ayres/e/B00CQO4XJC/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Joy Of Tesco

We all make bad decisions in life. Do things we later regret and then think "what the hell was I thinking?" Even I, from my lofty perch of 44 years life experience, am not immune.

Why did I do it? I don't know. Perhaps it was some moment of madness. Perhaps it was down to some deep-rooted psychological problem where I feel the need to punish myself for past sins, like a gambler pouring all his rent money into the roulette machine in the bookies. Perhaps it was just because I fancied some cheese flavoured Ritz crackers and I know Sainsbury's don't sell them. Who knows?

All I know is that for some reason, last Sunday morning as me and the boys were about to go into Sainsbury's to do our shopping I got some irrational urge to go into Tesco instead. Quite why I should want to do this, I don't know. After many bad experiences in the past with incorrect price labelling, rude staff and all the rest of it, you think I would have learned. Still, I thought, maybe it's changed. We'll give it a go.

The shopping itself went quite well. Despite Sainsbury's apparently heaving next door, Tesco was almost deserted. I also managed to procure for myself a number of items that were marked "Reduced To Clear". There seemed to be loads of these around the store. Everything was fine until we got to the checkout.

For some reason, nearly every checkout was manned yet it seemed I was the only one in any of the queues. You'd think they'd find something else for them to do, but there you go. There's a plus point - no need to queue. I chose the till with the least looking miserable person on it and she started scanning my shopping through. Now as you know I have two very lively little boys and as they often do they decided to spend the time while I was packing running around behind the tills, laughing and enjoying themselves.

If anyone who hates kids wants to come on at this point and slag me off for bad parenting feel free and I'll respond in kind. I've already had one idiot try and tell me I'm a bad parent this week just because I complained that the school had arranged an induction evening for parents of new starters in reception class at the exact same time as England's world cup game against Costa Rica. I had expected such a response on the status I put up - it's inevitable there will be some holier than thou comment. This meeting is not even for the children but purely to introduce new parents to the school and explain how things in reception class work. Which I already know as Ollie has already been there - but when I wrote it on facebook someone decided to comment on how much I value my children's education and general upbringing.

I thought of two possible responses to this comment. The first one was "Get a life". The second one was "Fuck off tosser". However I decided to write neither as the fellow is a rather sensitive soul and I wouldn't want to upset him so I opted for a little gentle sarcasm instead. Now I just need to find a way of stopping him reading this. And someone else as well come to that - perhaps I'd better put a sweetener in here before I continue. "The bakery in Tesco is lovely and so are all the people who work in it". There! That should cover it.

I've digressed. Back to the tills and the "bad parenting". I am very careful with my boys to ensure they are not endangering themselves so they have to behave themselves on the travellator in Sainsbury and they have to stay close by me and hold hands when shops and streets are busy and it it dangerous. In open spaces where there is little danger I allow them a little more freedom. You judge each situation as it comes as any parent will tell you.

So there they are having a little run around and one of the more senior cashiers (that's more polite than what I wanted to put, but there's no need to get personal) on one of the other tills decides to shout at them to stop it. What happens next? Two boys go from happy and having fun to bursting into tears. It's actually very hurtful for a small child to be shouted at in this way by a complete stranger. They were both completely traumatised. She was lucky I've been too busy to complain to head office, as I was thinking about it.

So I spend the next half an hour consoling them. Cheers Tesco. My own fault for going there I suppose. Before I left my cashier asked me for my Clubcard - I replied "There's no point - I won't be needing it anymore".

Then as we left, Ollie started crying even more. Apparently the woman had pulled a nasty face at him as he left. My parting shot was "Come on boys, we'll be doing our shopping at Sainsbury's from now on".

And so we have. We are now back over at our favourite store which as quite the friendliest staff I've ever encountered in a supermarket anywhere. I'm on first name terms with most of them and we just love going there. The place is a joy to shop in.

When I got home that day I was delighted to read in the business section of the paper what an awful time Tesco are having. Over 1.5% lopped off the market share and sales declining year on year. What a shame. It couldn't happen to a better retailer.

Ollie meanwhile spent all of Sunday going on about the "horrible lady" and how he was going to tell all his friends at school. Now normally I would attempt to discourage such behaviour but on this occasion I just thought "Good".

On a final note on the shopping front, I am planning to head up to Aldi at some point over the next day or so. They are now selling Wagyu steak can you believe! At £6.99/kg or something ridiculous which is about a tenth of what it costs in Harrods. Amazing stuff.

You'll be wondering how I'm finding time to write this blog, well after going over the finished manuscript for the third time, yesterday I sent it off to the proofreader for it's final checks. I have been working around the clock on it for the past few weeks, basically any time when I wasn't parenting, I was writing. This also accounts for my lack of activity on Facebook. However, now The Time Bubble is very close to launch. I am also excitedly waiting on the cover which is being designed by graphic design students at Brookes University and all being well, the book should be up and running on the Kindle within another couple of weeks. Just in time for my next interview on Radio Oxford on 27th June.

Jason xx

Jason Ayres is the writer of three humorous non-fiction books and new novel The Time Bubble, released June 2014. You can check out his profile on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jason-Ayres/e/B00CQO4XJC/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Author bio

I've just updated my author bio at Amazon as I felt that it was, well, a bit boring.

So here's the new improved version. I must point before you get excited that sadly the adventures of Captain Jason, like many 1960s episodes of Doctor Who are missing believed wiped. Unlike the Doctor Who episodes though, I am very relieved about this!

My new bio is as follows:

Jason Ayres began his writing career at Primary School in 1979 with a 94 chapter epic space adventure featuring the exploits of Captain Jason who bore more than a passing resemblance to a famous starship Captain of the era. Sadly the plot was just getting going when his teacher firmly suggested that he try writing about something else.

Never one to let the creative sap rest for long, by the mid 80's he was furiously scribbling down plays in "spare" exercise books liberated from the stationery cupboard featuring his various classmates in a number of outrageous and libellous scenarios. These have now been placed securely under lock and key with strict instructions never to release them to the general public.

Unfortunately his budding aspirations as a writer were somewhat stifled after his teenage years by an ill-advised 15 year career in the Market Research industry during which opportunities were somewhat limited by having to go to work every day. However he still found time to write many letters to various crisp and snack product manufacturers advising them on their product ranges as well as writing numerous spoof newsletters for the various activities that a social life based around the local pub entailed.

Inevitably the wonders of modern technology led him in to the blogosphere and eventually, having exchanged counting tins of beans for changing nappies, he found his raison d'ĂȘtre - writing about it. His first two "humorous" parenting diaries were published in 2013, followed hot on the heels by another diary all about sausages (it's probably best not to ask). He also began writing a weekly column about his parenting experiences in the Oxford Mail and online.

Now, in the summer of 2014, his first proper novel, "The Time Bubble" is eagerly awaited by his seven at the last count) fans. Due for release in July, here's a sneak preview of what's to come:

"Charlie and Josh's main interests were the same as most other teenagers: drinking, parties and girls. That was until the day they discovered the Time Bubble.

What started at a bit of fun, jumping a few seconds into the future soon begins to have more dramatic implications as the leaps forward in time increase in length. When a teenage girl goes missing and the police become involved, suspicion falls on Charlie. How can he explain where she is? Will anyone believe him?

A time travel tale with a little romance, humour and mystery thrown in, this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys sci-fi stories set in the real world".

Want to know more about Jason? - find him on Twitter @AusterityDad

I think that hits the spot quite well - a bit of humour but informative as well. After all, people considering buying any of my books are quite likely to read this, so it ought to read in the style of how I write - which the old one didn't.

As for the book, I have nearly finished the first draft. Only one more chapter to go and then I've got to go over it again with a fine tooth comb, making sure it all ties up and getting rid of as many typos as I can before I pass it on to a proper proofreader, or maybe even two as I've now got two offers on the table.


Jason xx

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Film Crew

There's been so much going on over the past week I've barely had time to breathe let alone blog, but just wanted to put in a quick summary of things we've been up to.

Dominating proceedings was half-term - and what a miserable one it started out to be weather wise. We had several outings over the week but most of them were indoor based. The highlight was a trip to Bicester Bowl. Now I have seen this place maligned in some quarters with people moaning that "we need a proper bowling alley" but I can't see the problem myself. We went up there on a drab and cold Friday morning and the kids had a great time. It's handy, within walking distance and cheap - I paid just £7 for the four of us to play. That compares very favourably with prices at the Kassam and others you have to drive too.

It was Ollie's second visit there in the past month as his friend Thomas had his birthday party there a few weeks ago. Now Ollie has asked if he can have a birthday party there - I don't see any reason why not - in fact it might be quite fun.

What else is happening? Well later this month I've got a film crew coming to the house to make a programme about getting the best out of the great British barbecue. We are going to have a celebrity chef here fronting the whole thing and of course it will also be featuring me in a starring role. Despite my many press and radio appearances this will be my first time properly in front of camera so I am hoping to make the most of it. I'll let you know when and where you can see the finished article when it's completed.

The book is fairly racing along and I'm certainly not being idol in making contacts to help me realise its full potential. The latest word count is 43,000 and there's only a couple more chapters to go, then I need to go over and edit it before I hand it over.

I mentioned in my last blog entry that I've been on the lookout for a proofreader, well in the past week or so I've found two. The first came from a chance encounter at my friend Jane's 40th birthday last weekend - a local lady who specialises in independent publishing. The second came through a friend of my Dad who not only does proofreading but also happens to be married to someone who works in a publishing house. So who knows where this might lead. The jury is still out on whether I'm going to be publishing it independently or not. That remains the plan at present, but if an offer came along to publish it for me, I'd be crazy not to consider it.

I still also have my other friend working on the cover for me. I have to say I've been overwhelmed by the many of you out there who've shown me support in the venture and I can see my acknowledgements page having quite a few names on it when the time comes.

Back to school for the kids tomorrow and on with the writing for me. Seeing the book take shape like it has is an extremely gratifying experience. I already have the last couple of chapters mapped out in my head, it's just a case now of getting them down on paper.

I've got ideas too for more novels, all sorts of weird and wonderful ones, some practical, some not. What will come next? It's probably too early to say, but after this novel is published I'll have all summer to think about it. The six weeks off school are going to be, as ever, dedicated to the kids. And then come September, perhaps I shall be ready for the next one - whatever it may be.

Jason xx