Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
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Friday, 8 March 2019

Vitalis by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday for March 2019


Welcome to Free Fiction Friday for March 2019. Every month at Wittegen Press we give our subscribers a free short story written by one of our authors (that would be me of my twin Sophie :)).

Our newsletter is really easy to join and we are very strict on our no spam rule and the privacy of our members. Just fill in the form on our Landing Page at Mailchimp and the links to this month’s story files will be in the welcome email.


Vitalis – by Natasha Duncan-Drake



Genre: horror, sci-fi
Hannah won tickets for her and five of her friends to attend the pre-opening, exclusive event for the new Vitalis theme park, the latest enterprise from the phenomenon that is the Vitalis corporation. She is incredibly excited until she gets there and finds it all just a little weird.

Author’s Note:
This story was inspired by my recent trip to a certain theme park near Paris that I shall not name. We had a wonderful time, but it was too tempting not to twist it up for a short horror story :).

~*~
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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Recipe: Roasted Veg, Nuts and Rice - #Vegan and #GlutenFree


Roasted Veg, Nuts and Rice

So while we were a Disneyland Paris, there was a distinct lack of vegetables in our diet, so this week, Rob and I have decided to pack in  as many veggies as possible. We're not eating totally vegetarian, but this dish turned out to be vegan and gluten free, as well as filling and delicious. It's is also super easy.

Serves 2 hungry people
Prep: 15 mins, Cooking time: 45 mins

Ingredients

  • 2 large parsnips (Morrisons Wonky parsnips are great for this)
  • 1 medium courgette (zucchini)
  • 10 small Chantenay carrots (or a couple of large carrots cut into pieces)
  • 1/2 small butternut squash
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 50g pecans
  • 50g unsalted cashews
  • Italian seasoning (to taste)
  • garlic powder or garlic flakes (if your Italian seasoning does not already have it)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (more for drizzling)
  • 150g Jasmine rice

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C (430F, Gas 7).
  2. Peel and cut each parsnip into six (cut in half width ways, split the bottom half into 2 and the top half into 4, for 6 relatively similar sized pieces).
  3. Peel the Chantenay carrots (or peel and chop the big carrots into Chantenay sized pieces).
  4. Cut the courgette into approx 12 pieces (I do batons, but rounds would be fine too).
  5. Peel and chop the butternut squash into chunks of a similar size to the rest of the veg (I tend to buy one that has a longish neck and then use that part because there are no seeds involved :)).
  6. Place all the veg in a bowl and drizzle over the oil and the seasoning and garlic, mixing so all are coated (a pair of silicon tongs are great for this).
  7. Chop off the top and bottom of the onion and peel it. Then make cuts vertically through it that do not quite go all the way through.
  8. Place the onion in the centre of a baking sheet (I cover mine with baking parchment to prevent sticking) and drizzle with a little of the olive oil, and a little of the seasoning.
  9. Arrange all the veg around the onion - keep the bowl with it's residue oil.
  10. Put the tray in the oven for 15 mins.
  11. Turn down the oven to 200C (400F, Gas 6) and turn the veg on the tray. Cook for another 15 mins.
  12. Put the nuts in the reserved veg bowl and cover with the residual oil and spices - there will be plenty.
  13. Scatter the nuts over the veg and return to the oven for the final 15 mins.
  14. Cook the rice as instructed on the packet.
  15. Serve the veg and nuts over the rice in a bowl and drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil for flavour and moisture.
It can be left in the oven for longer if necessary, but be careful that it does not burn.

This really is a wonderful way to do veg - the higher temp at the beginning gives the veg some colour and caramelisation, and then the rest of the cooking softens it to a wonderful roasted consistency. And the nuts, oh my the nuts - yum! I could not finish my portion, it was so filling, but Rob polished his off completely, which is why this is for hungry adults. If people have smaller appetites it would easily do 3, just add a bit more rice.

And the best thing about this recipe is you can use whatever veg you like. You might need to blanch things like broccoli first, to stop it being tough, but it will all work. I understand Aubergine (Eggplant) is supposed to be amazing roasted.

~*~
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Monday, 4 March 2019

Disability and Disneyland Paris


Disability and Disneyland Paris

As you may have guessed I have just come back from the magical Disneyland Paris, and I thought I would share my experiences. We were there from Monday afternoon to Friday afternoon and did just about everything. In case you were wondering, it was a friend's 50th birthday and a whole group of us went to celebrate.
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For those who are unaware, I am disabled. I have severe bilateral talipes, aka club foot in both feet. When I was younger it meant I couldn't run or jump, and walking was harder than for normal people, but I could still cope, these days I use crutches when out and about.

For the first time at Disney I also used a wheelchair.
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Now I cannot stress this enough -  if you have trouble walking or standing and are going to Disneyland Paris, please consider either hiring a wheelchair once there, or borrowing one from somewhere - it will make your life so much easier. I've been know to make my way around places like Howletts Wildlife Park and the odd castle with only my crutches to help me, which is fine, but I could not have done without my wheelchair at Disney.

The place is big! There are seats in various places, but we had fully able bodied people in our party whose feet were incredibly painful by the end of our stay. There are fake cobbles everywhere in the main park - not really bumpy ones, but enough so you know about it if walking on them.

Disneyland Paris has 2 types of accelerated access card for those with disabilities:

  • Priority Card - for those of us who are disabled
  • Easy Access Card - for those who have a temporary disability, for example, a broken leg
These require different documentation to obtain, which you do by going to the City Hall, once inside the park. For more information on what you will need, here is the link to Disney's page:


I have a blue badge, which is one of the documentation options, so I took this with me to the City Hall and a very nice young lady set me up with a pass.

There are 3 levels of disability which come down to how mobile we are without our mobility aides, in my case, my chair and my crutches. They will talk you through this, so don't worry, and cast members on duty on the rides also check when we hand over our passes to go on. In the end about the only ride I couldn't go on was the Peter Pan ride, and this was because, in an emergency, there is an 8 metre ladder. While I can do stairs no problem, as long as there is a hand rail, ladders are out - especially 8m ladders.

They also gave me a map with all the rides and explaining all the mobility requirements for each. It was great.

On the Rides


We can have up to 4 able bodies helpers with us on our pass, but they have to be with us when we register in the City Hall. They write the number on our pass and mark the passes of those with us.

On the actual rides they only checked my pass and the number of people with me, though, so I was able to get whoever wanted to ride with me on in my little party. We were in a group of 11, so I tried to let everyone have a go at the no queuing from time to time. The parks were pretty empty when we were there though, it being Feb and not half term, so they may be more stringent during peak time, I don't know.

There is no constant disabled entrance for rides and exhibitions, but there are signs on each to indicate where the disabled entrance is. In a couple of cases it was a bit difficult to see, usually because some numpty was standing in front of it! But FYI, on the Indian Jones and the Temple of Peril ride, it's hard to see because it's brown on brown - they coloured it to go with the ride - doh!
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In my experience the disabled entrance was in one of three places:
  • A special disabled only entrance - tea cups, photo ops, orbitron etc
  • Through the fast pass queue - Ratatouille ride
  • In the exit - most of the roller coasters and bigger rides
It feels a little weird rolling in through the exit, but you get used to it and all the cast members are fantastic. :)

Sometimes it means we miss some of the special stuff they put in to entertain those queuing, for example, in The Tower of Terror, there are holograms and ghosts stories to keep people entertained on the way in (according to friends who have been there before), but going in the exit meant we missed all that. However, we had a very good cast member, Yolanda, who was playing a spooky bellhop, who was in character all of the time and absolutely great instead.

I think the most we waited for a ride was about 10 mins, even on the busiest day when some of the waits for the normal queue were 90 mins.

It was absolutely great inside the parks - at least as far as everything official went. Some people, are however, numpties and deserve their ankles being bruised by wheelchair bits. The number of people who just walked right in front of my chair as I was moving forward, causing me to have to grab the wheels to stop it in time was large!
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The Wild West Show

We were all booked in for the Wild West show, which is in the Disney village, just outside the parks proper. When we arrived there was no obvious information for disabled guests, so we joined the main queue. I had only taken my crutches for this, because I thought the wheelchair might make it difficult once in the arena.

The reason I wanted to mention this is because of the reaction of the staff. They were brilliant. I sat down on the floor because there were no seats and one of the lasses on duty in the ticket booths spotted me. She immediately came over, moved us to another spot and found one of her colleagues who was on duty in the main arena to help us. They took us into the bar area early so I could have a proper seat, and they reserved our seats in the main arena for us so we didn't have to worry about getting up there in a hurry.

This proactive approach was a wonderful surprise and all the staff have my thanks.

Parking

The only trouble we had on the first day was parking. It was not clear at all what we had to do to access the disabled parking, and the chap on the route was thoroughly unhelpful. Let me make this clear now, so that no one has to suffer like we did.

When we drive up to the park, the first thing we come to are a line of booths (like a toll booth arrangement) where we can pay for parking. We didn't need to because we had it included in our stay at the Davy Crockett Ranch. I think this is where the confusion arose.

THIS IS WHERE WE GET THE CODE FOR THE DISABLED PARKING!

Along with our entry card, we need to show our disabled documentation (or the disabled pass once you have one from the city hall) and the booth attendant will give us a little map to show us where the disabled parking is, and the daily code to get into the car park.

The disability car park is right up near the entrance to the main park and there is a long walk from the other parking, so, yes, we really, really want to use it. It's quite large, but it does fill up. We were in what counted as a Disney hotel, so we had access to the park for magic hour, 8:30 to 9:30 before everyone else is let in. When we turned up for it, we were often first into the car park. However, one day we didn't go early because we were doing brunch for our friend's birthday, and we got the second to last car parking space in the disabled car park - so go early if you can.

Summary


So, yes, it was a great experience. Lots of fun was had. One of the things we never took advantage of was special places for disabled guests for parades and shows, but that's because we were off peak so there was plenty of space everywhere. I am still singing Princesses and Pirates in my head even now.

If you are disabled, take advantage of the options available, they are there for a reason and will improve your experience.
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Hands up who's done Disneyland Paris, or one of the American parks. Anyone had experience of being disabled at the US parks? Was it well organised?

Monday, 18 February 2019

Nightflyers Review - Book to Big Screen to Small Screen


Nightflyers Review

Book to Big Screen to Small Screen


Nightflyers has had a special place in my heart since I first saw the 1987 movie some time in the 90s. It has spaceships and telepaths and telekinetics, so it hits many, many of my buttons where content is concerned. It also has Michael Praed as Royd Eris and Micheal Des Barres as Jon Winderman - 2 of my favourite 80s actors.

For many years I had no idea it was based on a novella, but when Game of Thrones came out and everyone was talking about George R.R. Martin I discovered it. Once again I enjoyed it, although not as much as the somewhat campy 80s film.

So when I heard that it was being remade for TV I was somewhat hesitant, especially given how I really don't like Game of Thrones. Hence, when it hit Netflix I didn't leap in immediately. However, I have to say that, mostly, my fears were unwarranted. Rob and I sat down to watch it and mainlined the first eight eps in one sitting, then went back for the final 2 last night.

The General Plot


The underlying plot of the story, and hence all 3 versions is, a group of explorers and scientists are investigating a space going entity called the Volcryn. Among their number is a powerful, slightly unstable telepath, who is supposed to help contact the entity if and when they find it. The ship is called the Nightflyer and her captain is a man named Roy(d) Eris who is very cagey about himself and his ship. The coordinator for the expedition is a genetically enhanced woman, and the scientist in charge is a man called D'Brannin. Things on the ship start going wrong and people start dying (what else would you expect from George R.R. Martin?).

The Novella


When it comes to the novella, I have to admit, I don't remember a huge amount of the details, I just remember it being close enough to the film to be satisfying, but different enough to be interesting, and that it ends with less finality. It's worth a read, but it did not stick in my brain. Hence this is about all I will be saying about it.

The 1987 Film


The 80s film is where my love of this franchise came from.

This is more of a grunge sci-fi than a shiny sci-fi, along the line of looking like Blade Runner rather than Star Trek. The Nightflyer is dark and industrial looking, except for the main lounge, and Royd appears as a somewhat scratchy hologram.

Michael Praed plays Royd, with his long 80s hair and dashing looks.

He's all mysterious and reserved, and fascinated by Miranda (Catherine Mary Stewart) the project coordinator.
The whole film is very, very 80s. Just look at Miranda (right) - can you get more 80s than mullet, shoulder pads and mirrored shades?

She is also the definition of "strong female character" as far as the 80s was concerned, in that she is stoic, strong, very, very fit and also a little bit mysterious.
And then there is Michael Des Barres as Jon Winderman, the unstable, often drunk telepath, who really doesn't seem to like anybody very much. As ever Michael Des Barres can be relied upon to be great as the character you know is going to go off the rails and be trouble at some point.

I always know I am going to enjoy a film if Michael Des Barres is in it, if not for just him.

Nightflyers is a movie that is going for dark and gritty and misses and ends up somewhere on the campy side. I love it, but it's definitely not high cinema. The characters are all somewhat stereotypes, but the actors seem to really enjoy themselves playing them, which comes across on the screen.

The plot moves fast, keeps us involved and entertained, and has enough gore and action to be exciting. It is sci-fi with a side of fantasy, because it pushes the whole telekinetic and telepathic parts a little too far too be scientific.

It is very much a movie that fit 80s sci-fi and, hence, I was somewhat confused as to how it could be remade thirty years later, let alone turned into a series.

The Series


As you can imagine the series differs from both the movie and the novella in some very significant ways, since it is basically going from a short tale format, to a longer story idea.

First big difference is the much bigger cast.

In the novella and the movie the Nightflyer is a ship with only one crew member: the captain, and the rest is run by computer.

In the series the ship has a whole crew, which gives the main cast so much more to play off of.

Roy Eris - Melantha Jhirl
Second difference from the movie - more diverse cast. Yay!

Third difference, it feels very much an ensemble cast with no one character being the main player. Different characters are important for different reasons. D'Branin is the impetuous behind the search for the Volcryn. Lommie is the somewhat naive heart of the team. Melantha is the strong, unshakeable team lead (to begin with at least). Roy is the mysterious, possibly dangerous captain. Rowan is the cynical but caring friend to D'Brainin. Etc, etc.

Roy Eris - Thale - Dr Agatha Matheson
Not gonna lie, my favourite character is Thale, the L1 telepath, and I very much like the conflict they introduced by making him quite so incompatible with other human beings at the beginning. It creates great conflict around him.

The work-around for this and how they move forward with his character is also beautifully done.

D'Branin, Rowan, Melantha, Auggie, Lommie
The whole look of the show is somewhere between shiny sci-fi and gritty sci-fi. This is not a ship that runs completely smoothly and is spotless like the Enterprise, but neither is is industrial grunge like many darker 80s efforts. It feels to me like someone took parts of the Nostromo from Alien and melded it with parts of the Enterprise and threw in some bits of a star destroyer for good measure.

There are habitat domes that remind me of Silent Running, a robot spider thing that makes me flash back to Tom Selleck's Runaway, and jacking into computers that starts off making me think cyberpunk, but moves a bit beyond that later on.

The ensemble cast means that the plot is never slow or boring, and all the characters have a development path that makes them more interesting. They are all very much not 2D.

Along the way there were a couple of eps that I found did not make a lot of sense in the scheme of things. It's the fact that there does not seem to be a why about them. I don't want to add spoilers to the main review, so I won't say what they were about, but there were two that stuck out as not like the others. One of them seemed to have nothing carried forward, and the other did have some consequences, but the reasons behind the plot of the ep just didn't hang together.

The ending was also a bit of a let down. It's clear they're going for a continuation, which left the end of this season not quite as exciting as the rest of it. Given that George R.R. Martin's name is associated with it, I will say, more people survived than I thought would ;).

There is one bit in the last ep that made me go "Seriously!" very loudly at the screen. I can't help wondering if it was a nod to Game of Thrones, but I also can't say anymore because that would be spoilers. If you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Mostly I found it a very cohesive and well plotted season. Please tell me it has been renewed because it's ends on one hell of a cliff hanger and I want more.

One last thing: it made me so happy to see Josette Simon in Nightflyers because I got all sorts of Blake's 7 feelings seeing her in sci-fi again - I only ever seem to catch her in police procedurals. Mostly I kept thinking, ooh Dayna is playing Servalan :).

Have you seen the movie or the series, or read the book? What did you think?
~*~
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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Fun fun fun! Re-Editing eBooks for 2019

Image of lined paper with 3 tablets showing eBook covers, with "Writerly Wednesdays" "eBook Editing" and "Fun, Fun, Fun!" over the top.

Fun fun fun! Re-Editing eBooks for 2019

It's time for some spring cleaning! As well as writing a new novel, adding to another novella to turn it into a novel, and writing my Open Novella Contest entry for 2019, I had a brainwave and decided it was time to go back and take a look at all my currently published eBooks.

First thing I did was create a spreadsheet and check when each of them had last been updated.
Some of them haven't been touched since 2011!
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Boy is their back-matter going to be out of date if nothing else.

I also discovered several that never made it to Google books, ever. Not that's it's overly surprising, I never sell anything over there anyway, it's just I'm a completist and like to have all my bases covered.

So I have three check boxes on my spreadsheet:
  • needs a new cover
  • needs reformatting
  • needs new back-matter
Let's just say, I have my work cut out for me. I was hoping for more with ticks just in the back-matter col, but there are quite a few that need reformatting too.
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I've decided to go with Kindle Create as a standard start, because it converts easily for Google and it's easy enough to apply a different template for Smashwords to take out anything their converter can't cope with.

FYI - if you, like me, decide to go from the Modern Theme in Kindle Create to Smashwords - the ePub converts fine, but the PDF does not because it doesn't know the font used for any of the page/chapter titles. I subbed in Verdana.

Had lots of fun (can you hear my sarcasm) yesterday, converting Cat's Call to the new Kindle Create format. It is really useful, but it has bugs. Usually I can find a way round them, but not this time. I added numbering to the chapter titles and it screwed up the formatting of my table of contents. No matter what I did I could not make it consistent, even in when it messed up.

I can only assume it's adding in things I can't see, because it has some background processes running, since it's a plugin. If it didn't save a huge amount of time I'd go back to doing it manually so I know exactly what was going on when. Had to number the chapters manually so it would work - which is so against my instincts!
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Anyway, so that's what I'm up to at the moment.
What are you up to? Anything fun?

Monday, 11 February 2019

New Public Patreon Blog Post


New Public Patreon Blog Post

I have a new blog post up at Patreon:


This is a public post for everyone to enjoy, patrons and casual surfers alike, and is all about the start of writing my new novel.

I'm having a lot of fun documenting how I am going about writing the new novel and will be sharing lots of juicy details and exciting previews on my Patreon. Some of it will be public, some patrons only, and there will be patrons only podcasts to go with each one as well.

It was very frustrating last week because I was all ready to go on the first podcast, but I needed to record one more little thing and I had no voice. This cold made me sound like a tenor or high and squeaky mouse! While amusing this was not conducive to recording anything sensible. 😂

My voice still isn't top notch, but I hope it will improve soon.


Friday, 1 February 2019

My Patreon is live! & Free Fiction Friday


My Patreon is Finally Live!


So after all my posts about the trials and tribulations of setting up my Patreon, it is finally live. I have pushed the go button.


I have my about section, my tiers and my intro vid all done and they are now there for the world to see.

It was very nerve wracking hitting launch, but I managed to make myself do it.

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This is worse than publishing my first book - I feel like my child has just gone on stage or something!

Anyway, please go check out my Patreon - LMK what you think.
There are lots of options and thank you in advance for any pledges. 

~*~

Free Fiction Friday


It's that time of the month again as well - no, I'm not about to go all furry and grow fangs and howl at the moon, I mean it's Free Fiction Friday.
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by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: epic fantasy
Length: 8.8k words
Description:
Timon's home suffers under the rule of the magical, despotic Queen and her son, the Dark Prince. But Timon has power of his own and an unusual advantage: he looks almost identical to the prince. He and his friends have plans to use this and end the tyranny under which they all endure.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Dreaded Intro Video #JoysOfPatreon #4


The Dreaded Intro Video 

The Joys Of Patreon #4


Firstly, I must apologise - this should have been up last week, but my kitty Amber was not very well and having to take her to the vet and make sure she was okay put everything back a bit. I didn't get to trying out making my intro vid until this past weekend. She is right as rain now thank you, just in case you were wondering.

So the intro video for Patreon - ah the horror. Now, don't worry, if you don't have anything to make one, or other reasons for not having one, they are not compulsory. In fact many accounts don't have them. They are, however, something that Patreon believe can help us turn visitors into patrons and I'll take every leg up I can get. Having a nose round Patreon some people even use book trailers as their intro vid - which makes sense for us writers.

In my case I wanted to do a bit more and I am very lucky in that:
  • Rob's (my husband) work, Cammegh ltd, were kind enough to lend me a very nice camera to make the recording
  • I have access to Adobe Premier Pro to edit it.
However,  for those that don't there are plenty of options:
  • it is possible to record pretty decent video on most phones these days, or on web cams, 
  • and there are plenty of free alternatives to Adobe Premier - this is a great article all about what is out there: 10 Free Alternatives to Adobe Premiere by Azulia Designs
Now this post is not going to be about the in and outs of editing a vid and making it ready for the web - there are loads of tutorials for that on YouTube and other sites, which are much more knowledgeable than I about such things. 
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What I mean to do here is take about content.

Length

The first thing to consider when planning the video is length. Over the years there has been much research done on this subject and there are great minds who reckon we have about 1m to grab our audience, and 1m30s before most will click away. 
This is not a lot of time.
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So what we definitely do not want to do is waffle. We need to get as much in as concisely as possible

This means preparing our thoughts in advance.

1. Make a List


So I had everything planned out in my head. I had been thinking about what I wanted to say for days, and then I turned the camera on and went "um" a lot.

First tip - unless we have a very good memory we should write a list of what we want to say.

The great thing about video is we can edit it. We can stop, check our list and move on to our next point.
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2. Do Not Be Afraid to Redo


As I pointed out above, video is great because we can edit. If something doesn't feel right we can record it again, and again, and again. So we should not be afraid to make mistakes and try out different things.
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I felt silly to begin with, but then I stopped being self-conscious and got into it.

3. Don't Say Important Things When Glancing Down at the List


I know this sounds obvious - but when I recorded my test vid I found that I kept doing it. We have to train ourselves to stay focused on the camera while we are talking. It's actually harder than it sounds.

Our list is really useful to help us to know where we wanted to go, but it can also be a crutch that distracts us from what we are doing. We can look down, but we need to only do it when we have finished the thought we are elucidating to the camera at the time.

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4. Structure


Now I have no magic formula to make people instantly become patrons, but I figured the content should be similar to the about section:
  1. Welcome
    1. hi, hello, welcome, wilkommen, greetings, felicitations etc
    2. my name is/ I am ...
    3. welcome to my Patreon
    4. thank you for stopping by
  2. This is who I am and what I do (with a little bit of why maybe)
  3. This is why I have set up my Patreon, how it works, and what I would like to give my patrons
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5. Be Personable


Yes, I know, sometimes all we want to do is hide behind our keyboards and type - we're writers after all, but for this we need to be personable.

I went for cheerful and a little wacky, but depending on the subject matter of our Patreon different things may be appropriate. What we have to remember is we are selling ourselves, we want people to be intrigued and like us, and give us their money. I'm also really hoping to get closer to people interested in my books and, on the whole, I am usually cheerful and just a little silly sometimes, hence my choices.
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6. Add Closed Captions if Possible


We want our video to be as accessible as possible, so add closed captions if possible. Youtube has an editor for doing this, and there are other free options out there too. This is a good link to help you get started: The Best Free Captioning Tools by ai-media

In Conclusion


In the end this vid is our own individual representation of what we want to show the world. It can be anything from a quick chat recorded on our phone to a studio recorded masterpiece, or an animation, or a montage or anything else we can think of.

This is about grabbing attention and doing our very best to keep it.

If you are having a go too, I wish you the best of luck. Once I have my vid finalised I will be launching my Patreon, I am so excited. I'm already sure that I'm going to want to do another vid at some point, but I am pleased with my initial efforts :D.

Edit: Wondeful site for royalty free music: 

incompetech.com - Kevin MacLeod makes great music for vids and you can buy a licence or give credit under creative commons.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Tiers - It Should be Tears! #JoysOfPatreon #3


Tiers - It Should be Tears!

The Joys of Patreon #3

The about section was bad, but, oh my, the tiers were more daunting. This is where we have to decide what we do and what our fans might actually like.

On Patreon we can reward our patrons at differing levels depending on how much they pledge to us - these are called tiers.

There are 2 business models:

  • per creation - patrons pay per product we produce - a bit like a kickstarter
  • subscription - patrons pay monthly
I decided on the subscription model, since that is the way I work, so this post is all about that ideal.
(https://media.giphy.com/media/3otPov3WfZDCSslsly/giphy.gif)
Advice No 1:
Read the Best Practices and examples given by Patreon themselves - they know what they are talking about. These are to be found on the Tiers tab of the page editor.

Advice No 2:
Go look at other Patreon users and see what has worked for them.
First thing to consider is sustainability. Whatever we add to our tiers we must be able to produce and continue to produce to satisfy our obligations to our patrons - unfortunately we are not Leonardo Da Vinci and we cannot abandon projects just because we feel like it. So basically we should not add in anything we might not be able to produce.

What is really good is Patreon has a benefits system where we can add in each benefit and then it will track it for us. Benefits can either be one offs at signup or monthly, and it will show us who is in line for which benefit. This means we should never lose track of who has had what when.

Some of the things we are looking for are exclusive content, some is value added content, both of which should appeal to fans. What we have to remember about Patreon is that we are not going to be able to grab everyone who likes our product, be it books, fine art, illustrations, comics etc. The people who sign up are more than that, they are fans who wish to support us in our endeavours to succeed at what we are doing.

Exclusive Content

Exclusive content are, simply put, things that cannot be obtained from anywhere else. For example:

  • Blog posts only available on Patreon
  • Videos or podcasts linked nowhere else
  • Cat pictures (seriously - the internet loves cat pictures, or pictures of any pet)
  • Short stories, new art etc

Value Added Content

Value added content are things that may or may not be exclusive forever, but are special to our patrons:
  • Voting rights on content, e.g. authors can ask for input on character names or which cover to choose etc
  • Previews of work, e.g. draft chapters before release
  • Money off products
  • Shout-out on social media or within our work - e.g. in-book thanks, or thank you blog posts etc.
(https://media.giphy.com/media/jFh7jExjzvQFG/giphy.gif)

The Method In My Madness

This is how I went about this:
  1. Read all of Patreon's advice and checked out other authors.
  2. Sat down and wrote a long list of everything I thought might interest fans.
  3. Crossed out everything that I did not think I could produce regularly enough (but kept the notes to revisit in the future - we don't have to launch everything at the same time, after all this is a learning process).
  4. Ranked all the content on how valuable I thought it would be to people.

Creating the Tiers

Right, so now we have our content sorted, we need to decide what to do with it. 

There are several things to decide:
  1. How many tiers we are going to have
  2. What to call each tier
  3. The price of each tier
  4. What to put in each tier 

1. How Many Tiers

Some people only have one tier, some people have many, Patreon recommends somewhere between 1 and 5.

1 Tier:
  • Advantage - we only have to produce one set of benefits and all our patrons get the same.
  • Disadvantage - we would have to price it higher than some of our fans would be willing or able to pay.
2-5 Tiers:
  • Advantage - we can offer varying levels of price for our fans with differing means or levels of engagement.
  • Disadvantage - we have to decide what to offer where and have enough in each tier to justify its price, which will likely be more work.
How I Decided

My thought process on this was 2 fold:
  • I knew I wanted a range of price points that needed to be 3 or 4, because I wanted a tier at the min of $1 and at least 2 above that.
  • I had my list of things to offer, so I looked at how well it would divide.
In the end I went for 4 tiers because it gave me the range I wanted and I figured if anyone wanted to give me more than my highest range, they would anyway.
(https://media.giphy.com/media/l378kmO7gdbXaesXS/giphy.gif)

2. What to Call Each Tier

The whole point of Patreon is that we're drawing our fans closer, they are becoming our patrons. This gives us a certain relationship to them which is above that of someone who simply buys our product, or even interacts with us online as colleagues or fans. To enhance this Patreon allows us to give each tier a name.

The hard part is coming up with names that reflect how we wish to interact with our patrons and that fit our brand.

I did consider choosing something in the vampire genre for my titles, but decided that might not come across quite right, since the genres tends to use words like familiar and servant etc. Not really the tone I was after, and I don't exclusively write vampires, so I discarded the notion. In the end I went for something more neutral, but I am actually still thinking about this and may yet change my mind.
(https://media.giphy.com/media/8789bJgxz4XUk/giphy.gif)

3. Price Points

Now this is a very personal thing, for some, having prices into the hundreds could be right, especially if we've gone with the per-creation model. However, the subscription model needs a range of price points.

There are 2 main factors in what patrons are willing to pay:
  • means - some patrons have lots of money, some do not
  • investment - patrons who are highly invested in us and our product are likely to be willing to pledge more
So when setting price points we need to consider how to give good value at the lower end, but with bonuses at the higher end to encourage the investment we seek. This is a tricky balance because, of course, we want to bring in as much income as we can, after all this is our livelihood, but we do not wish to short change our fans that do not have the disposable income to give us more.

I went with a very simple structure: $1, $5, $10, $20

My reasoning was that those at one end ($1) are probably going to be either loyal fans with a low income or people who like to support artists that don't know me well enough yet. Then at the other end $20 there would be super-fans who really want to connect and support me in my writing aims.

(https://media.giphy.com/media/O1JySY0iL8RvW/giphy.gif)

4. The Content

Finally the really hard bit: deciding what to offer in each tier.

Those in every tier, from $1 up, are giving us their hard earned money to support us in our endeavours and what we are offering them in return is membership of our community. Hence I believe that is important to be inclusive from the ground up.

Hence I thought of the tiers like a house and my patrons all have a key to the foundation level where I welcome them to my home, but pledging to the higher tiers gives them keys to the stairwell and the more interesting rooms above.

This made the foundation level very important and it needed to be something I could build on. I considered having levels of blog posts for different tiers, but, in the end I decided that blog posts would be my foundation.
My main assumption with this whole endeavour is that people willing to pledge and become patrons wish to know about me, my work, why I do it, and how, hence my decision about blog posts.
After that is was a matter of adding in content for each tier which added to the foundation in increments. The hardest one was the last tier - coming up with something I knew I could produce, but that would give patrons at that level just that little bit more, in essence, a little bit more of me.

I've changed my mind on what is in various tiers at least ten times already, just in case you were wondering (even made some edits while I was writing up this post), but I think I am done now ... probably ;). I'll make a big announcement when I finally launch so everyone can check out my final choices.

(https://media.giphy.com/media/2bgIPiyfxJiTu/giphy.gif)

What kind of thing would you add to your Patreon? 
What would you like to see in an author's Patreon to entice you in?

P.S. This post would have been much easier if I could spell tier - I keep typing it as teir, no matter what I do! Thank heavens for spellcheck. :)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Recipe - Sous Vide Honey Sesame Duck Breast with Rice and Sesame Broccoli



Sous Vide Honey Sesame Duck Breast with Rice and Sesame Broccoli

Ever had the problem of your duck breast going tough when you cook it? Never again with the sous vide method - it comes out perfectly every time. The searing with duck is a little bit more complicated than with chicken, but it is still really easy.

Now, there are 2 ways to go about this:
  1. quick prep, but the skin isn't going to be as crispy
  2. longer prep, with perfect crispy skin
Both give fantastic duck breast meat, so if that's all you're interested in, go with version 1, but if you love yourself a bit of duck skin, go with 2.

Serves 2

Ingredients

for the duck
  • 2 duck breasts (I use the Gressingham duck breasts from Morrisons that they have in packs of 2 on the 3 for £10 offer).
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed - I use a tube)
for the broccoli
  • 1/2 head broccoli
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp normal oil
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed - I use a tube)
75g of Jasmine rice per person

Instructions

For the duck
  • Preheat the Anova to 57.5 °C / 135 °F
Quick prep:
  1. Place the duck breasts in a bag with all the other ingredients.
  2. Seal using the water displacement method or a vacuum sealer on moist.
More complicated prep:
  1. Score the duck skin with long even strokes - do not cut the meat and score against the grain.
  2. Sear in a med pan, skin side down for 2-3 mins until the skin it golden - no oil is required because the fat will render. Do not have the heat too high or it will burn.
  3. Place the duck in a bag with the other ingredients.
  4. Seal using the water displacement method or a vacuum sealer on moist.
Cooking:
  1. Put the duck in the water bath and set the timer for 2h
  2. When the duck is ready, remove it from the water bath and bag and pat dry - reserve the cooking liquid.
  3. In a hot, but not scorching pan, place the duck skin side down and cook until the skin is crispy.
  4. Meanwhile add the cooking liquid to a saucepan and add a little corn flour.
  5. Cook until bubbling and thickening.
  6. Allow the duck to rest for a few minutes before serving.
For the broccoli
  1. Blanch the broccoli by bring a pan of water to the boil, dropping in the florets and cooking for 3-4 mins (if you have small florets, go for 3, bigger, go for 4). Drain and leave to the side until almost ready to serve.
  2. Heat the oils for the broccoli in a small frying pan or wok and add the garlic (you could use a saucepan if you are using your only frying pan for the duck:)).
  3. Add the blanched broccoli to the garlicy oil and stir fry for a minute.
Cook the rice as indicated on the packet - usually in boiling water for about 12 mins.

Serve with the sauce drizzled over the top.

Cooking the duck sous vide with all the flavours in the bag means they really get into the meat, but the meat also stays beautifully soft and juicy.

If you prefer your duck done to a different level, here are the temps chefsteps.com recommend for different results (I haven't tried any of them):
  • 129 °F / 54 °C: Rare, with some chew
  • 135 °F / 54 °C: Tender and juicy (temp I use)
  • 144 °F / 62 °C: Totally tender, a little less juicy
  • 149 °F / 65 °C: Decidedly less juicy but still delicious
  • 158 °F / 70 °C: Cooked all the way through
Do you have any favourite duck recipes you can recommend?