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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Thursday, 19 October 2017

Shower Stool. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways... #ThinkyThursdays



Shower Stool. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...


Okay so I'm not actually going to wax lyrical about a shower stool for the whole post, but it got me thinking how sometimes we put off things that can helps us for no valid reason or from misconception.

This is my new shower stool, or at least as close a picture as I can find:
For those who are knew around here, I need a shower stool because I have bilateral talipes, in layman's terms, club feet. I was born with the condition and had several corrective surgeries as a child, but it only improved the condition, it didn't cure it. Unforunately the older I get the more trouble I have with my feet, making standing for long periods (especially on hard surfaces like showers stalls) and walking any distance probelmatic.

Hence I've been considering a shower stool for a few years now, but have always put it off. Mainly through a misconception that all shower stools looked like this:

Having looked into such things:

  • most of them do not take a great deal of weight, 
  • many of them seemed to be too close to the wall,
  • most were expensive,
  • and the installation sounded like it would be a royal pain.
Now knowing that I could have bought my sturdy, free standing, ajustable height little stool, I wish I had done it earlier. Showering is once again a joy rather than a chore. 
  • No more foot pain, 
  • no more weird balancing acts, 
  • no more slipping and sliding.
Seriously, why don't all showers come with shower stools as standard?

Anyway, as I mentioned, all this led me to thinking how misconceptions or worry can stop us doing things that can actually really help us in the long run.

I also use walking aids when I am out and about - crutches to be precise. They make me so much more stable and allow me to keep going when before I would have just had to sit down. They don't take away all the pain, but they defintely reduce it.

Yet I know people who refuse to use walking aids because they somehow see it as giving up, or as a weakness. I've never given up in my life and I am a damn sight better off with my crutches than without. From the knee up my body works perfectly, but from the knee down it's pretty crocked. Choosing to start using the walking aids was quite a big moment for me (quite a few years in the past now), but it made my life so much better.

It's so sad that some poeple see disability aids as making a person lesser.

This includes things like glasses and hearing aids. I'm pretty sure my generation and those following mine are less likely to look on such things as bad (personally I think glasses are as sexy as hell ;)), but I know many from my parent's generation who do things like only put their glasses on when they really have to, or go out without their hearing aid, or even refuse to have their eyes and ears tested at all.

Technology is there to help people and it's getting better all the time. I think it's about time we banished the stigma. Be it a little thing like a sturdy shower stool or something more fundamental like a robotic limb, everyone should have a chance to get the best out of life.

So there you have it, how my brain went from shower stool to something a bit deeper :).

Are you having any thinky thoughts today? Would you like to share them?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

2 Useful Excel Tips When Using HH:MM:SS Duration Format


So this weekend I was playing around in Excel trying to sort out our DVD library. I have a nice program that does most of it for me, but I wanted to do some other stuff, so Excel it was. Don't worry I'm not going to go into details about DVDs, but I did learn a couple of things that I just hadn't come across before.

I used to use Excel a lot when I was a consultant, but mostly I was doing hideously complex things in VBA, so a lot of the normal front end passed me by :).

2 Useful Excel Tips When Using HH:MM:SS Duration Format

The DVD program I'm using exports in hh:mm:ss format for the duration of the film. What I wanted was it all in minutes only. Hence some scrabbling around to find out how to make the data useful.

Displaying Hours, Mins and Seconds

We can use formatting to display just the hours, minutes or seconds.
hh:mm:ss[h][m][s]
01:20:151804815
01:40:1511006015
01:20:451804845
  • Highlight the cell or col with the hh:mm:ss in it
  • Right Click and choose "format cell"
  • Choose "cutsom"
  • Type in [h] or [m] or [s] accordingly
The problem with this method is that the formatting converts the larger units into the chosen one ok, i.e. hours into minutes, hours and minutes into seconds but it ignores the smaller untis. There is not round up, only round down.

Hence if we need to take into account the smaller units we need another method.


Calculating Hours, Mins and Seconds

There is no nice function in Excel to calculate hours into mintes or into seconds, so we have to create a formula. Luckily there are funtions to extract the particualr parts so it is very easy.

A2 is the location of the cell where the hh:mm:ss value is stored.

hh:mm:ss to hours - =((HOUR(A2))+MINUTE(A2)/60+((SECOND(A2)/60))/60)
hh:mm:ss to mins - =((HOUR(A2)*60)+MINUTE(A2)+(SECOND(A2)/60))
hh:mm:ss to secs - =((HOUR(A2)*60*60)+MINUTE(A2)*60+(SECOND(A2)))

This gives us a decimal value. If we want a rounded up value so, for example, 01:40:15 converted so hours becomes 2, because that is the closest, then we can just use the format with no decimal places.
  • Highlight the cell with the formula.
  • Right click, choose format cell.
  • Choose "number"
  • Lower the number of decimal places to 0.
Rounded Up
hh:mm:sshrMinSecshrMin
01:20:151.3480.254815180
01:40:151.67100.2560152100
01:20:451.3580.754845181

These are also numbers so they can be easily compared against other numbers.

As with all things in Excel, there are many ways of doing things, but these two were nice and straightforward and quick :). I also don't have the latest Excel, so for all I know there are now functions to do this anyway!

Friday, 6 October 2017

#FreeFictionFriday - Looking for Luticia by Natasha Duncan-Drake


Free Fiction Friday


Can you believe we're in October already? Nope, neither can I. This year has been flying by. It's the first friday of the month which mean it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. We've posted a new short story for our loyal readers to enjoy. This month it's really spooky.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Looking for Luticia
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: horror, paranormal
Length: ~7.5K wds

Description:
Lucy and her team have the most successful ghost hunting show on UK TV. They investigate, they debunk, and every now and then they catch the supernatural on camera. Their latest project is Darling Manor. This place has a locked room, which may or may not contain the embalmed remains of a dead relative, a very strange inheritance cycle, and more spooky stories than any house really needs.

Lucy and her team have moved in to find out the truth, but the creepy manor has Lucy on edge. Is it her imagination, or is there something to be afraid of? This could be the one investigation that is really dangerous. Will modern technology trump historic legend, or will the supernatural gain the upper hand?

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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing #WriterlyWednesdays


The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing


The butterfly approach to writing is when we, the author, do not write a story from the beginning to the end. Rather we jump around writing various scenes and then going back and filling in what is missing. It is like the butterfly going from flower to flower in random order until it has visited all the blooms it needs.

On a personal level, this is my favoured manner of writing. I can writer from beginning to end if I have to (you can hear the whine in my voice, right? ;)), but I much prefer to butterfly. When writing I rarely do much planning other than jotting down the odd note. Most often I have the beginning and the end written way before most of the middle.

There are however both advantages and disadvantages to the technique.

Advantages


  • The butterfly approach is very much an inspiration driven methodology, so we are able to write what is in our heads right at that moment.
  • Jumping from place to place in the plot can inspire new ideas and ways forward, rather like storyboarding can, but because we're writing in detail it can spark off even more.
  • Writers can and should be able to write when they are 'not feeling it', but the butterfly approach allows much more leeway for leaving off a particular part and coming back to it later. For example it is very hard to write a good battle scene, or sex scene for that matter, when we are not in the right head space. Butterflying around allows us to come back to those scenes on the right day.
  • If our book has more than one protagonist it is possible to follow through arcs individually without worrying about jumping between characters all the time.
  • Over thinking can sometimes result in writer's block, but because this is all about inspiration, over thinking doesn't often happen, especially in the early stages.

Disadvantages


  • Sometimes ideas change, so later scenes that have already been written have to be edited. This has to be done in-line, or at least notes made or it makes for more difficult editing once the first draft is complete.
  • Once most of the story is there it requires much more discipline to go back and fill in the scenes that have been left out. This can be a bit of a shock to our systems after so much freedom.
  • All the hard scenes (like battles and sex and bothersome character interactions) are left until last, so finishing can be difficult.
  • Some planning is needed to go in and make sure our story has everything it needs - this is especially important when 'show don't tell' come into it. It can be very tempting to skim when putting in the final, often not so exciting, scenes.
So both pansters and planners can use the butterfly approach, although planners are likely to have much more stucture to theirs. It can work for both ways of going about things. If you're the kind of writer who writes from beginning to end, have a go at butterflying once in a while; it might be fun! They do say it's good to try new things.

Are you a butterfly writer or a straight line writer? Have you tried both? Why do you like your particular approach?

Readers, I suppose the equivilant might be reading multiple books at the same time and going to whichever one you feel like at the time. Would that appeal to you or would that lose some of the joy for you?

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Potato and Courgette (Zucchini) Frittata #Vegetarian #GlutenFree


Potato and Courgette (Zucchini) Frittata


This is a very tasty meal that is filling and satisfying for any time of the year. It is also one that you can change up to your heart's content. Don't like courgette? Use green beans or aspargus or peas or even sprouts. Fancy spicing it up? Add some chilli. Want meat? Throw some pre-cooked sausage or such in. Whatever your taste, frittata is a wonderful meal. Leftovers can be popped in the fridge and microwaved to reheat as well.

This is not an exact recipe - I use 8 eggs because they fill my pan to a nice depth, but just scale up and down to your heart's content.

Time - 20-30 mins
Serves - 3 hungry people or 2 very hungry people (I can only eat 1/4, but my husband can eat 1/2 :))

Ingredients

  • 1 medium (18cm/7in or so) courgette (zucchini)
  • 1 large can new pots (560g) (you can use fresh and cook them yourself, but the ones from the can are just fine and quicker)
  • 8 large eggs
  • sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese
  • sprinkling of italian herbs (I have a mix, but they include margoram, rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp oil

Equipment

  • large oven proof frying pan (or casserole dish - 24cm)
  • bowl
  • spatula
  • whisk or fork
  • large plate big enough to sit over the frying pan


Instructions

  1. Split the courgette into 4 length wise and then chop into 1cm sized chunks. Don't go too small or it will disintergrate.
  2. Drain and chop the potatos into bite sized chunks. (I like to make them flat rounds where possible so they fry evenly).
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  4. Heat the oil in the frying pan and add the vegetables. Fry until pots are going slightly golden at the edges and courgette is just beginning to go tender.
  5. While the veggies are frying crack the eggs into the bowl, add the herbs and salt and pepper and whisk together. (If you are adding other spices, this is the time).
  6. Make sure the veggies are spread evenly over the bottom of the frying pan and carefully pour in the egg mixture.
  7. Cook for a minute or so until the bottom of the frittata sets up.
  8. Sprinkle the top with the cheese and pop in the oven for 10mins (or until the egg is cooked through).
  9. Turn out the frittata onto the large plate (put the plate over the top of the frying pan, hold on using oven gloves and flip the whole thing).
  10. Slice and serve.

My husband likes meat with his veggies and this works very nicely with chunks of ham or pepperoni in it too. Just pop them in before pouring in the egg mixture. Things can even be put into half the frittata, just as if you were putting toppings on half a pizza. When we last had this I had my half with just the veggies (the 1/4 that was left microwaved up for a very nice breakfast the next day too :)) and Rob had his with tex-mex pepperami in it.

Of course this wouldn't work when cooking for a vegetarian and a carnivore because of cross contamination, but it works well for those who just like different things because the flavours do not spread from one half to the other. As long as you are careful when pouring in the egg nothing moves either :).

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Recipe: Curried Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds #TipsTuesdays #Vegan #GlutenFree


Curried Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I  literally just finished making this and it's yummy, so I had to share. Roasting the pumpkin is a bit of a faff, but it helps get rid of some of its water and starts the sugars going, so it is worth the time. From start to end it took me at least 2 hours, but it makes a lot of soup - easily enough for six hungry people, or packed lunches for days and I suspect it would freeze well. I already sent my parents off with a batch because there was no way Rob and I could eat it all :).

This recipe can easily be made vegan and gluten free, just use the right curry powder and the right stock depending on the dietry requirements of the diners.

Ingredients:

  • 2 red onions
  • 3 tbsp curry powder (check it is gluten free if that is a requirement)
  • 1 tbsp garlic puree (I use it from a tube, but you can crush your own)
  • 1/2 tsp ground dried garlic (optional to taste - I have it in a grinder)
  • salt to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • 1 large pumpkin (no idea of weight, but when cut into chunks it almost filled my shallow casserole pan)
  • 1 L/4.2 cups stock (chicken or veg - depending on whether you are making the carnivor or vegan version)
  • 400ml/13.5oz can coconut milk
  • oil for cooking

Equipment:

  • 1 large pan (at least 24cm/9.5in x 7cm/3in shallow casserole 3.2L)
  • 1 stick blender (a standard blender can also be used, but the soup will have to be blended in batches)
  • 1 spatula
  • 1 spoon
  • 2 large baking trays
  • baking parchment/paper
  • 1 sharp knife

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
  2. Cut the pumkin in half with the sharp knife.
  3. Remove and reserve the seeds (if you run your fingers gently through the inside of the pumkin the seeds will come away easily without any of the icky stuff).
  4. Scrape out the stringy insides of the pumpkin with a spoon.
  5. Rub the flesh of the pumpkin with oil (I used a spray oil for ease) and place on the baking tray. (Don't worry if it hangs over the edge, mine did, just make sure it goes in the oven :)).
  6. Place in the oven and bake until tender - this will be at least 45mins if not longer.
  7. Line the other tray with baking parchment/paper and spread the pumpkin seeds on it.
  8. Sprinkle with oil and salt and place in the oven as well. Bake for about 45 mins, turning occasionally until the seeds are lightly toasted.
  9. When the seeds and pumpkin are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. The oven can go off now as well.
  10. Chop the onion. (It doesn't have to be too fine, but the smaller it is chopped the faster it will cook, so smaller is better).
  11. Put a teaspoon of oil in the casserole, add the onion, the curry powder and the garlic and cook on low until the onion is soft and translucent.
  12. Skin and cube the pumpkin (don't worry if it isn't all completely cooked because we're going to cook it some more anyway - the roasting was for flavour).
  13. Add the pumpkin, the stock and the salt and pepper to the casserole and stir to mix with the curried onion.
  14. Bring to the boil, still stiring.
  15. Turn down and simmer until all the pumpkin is soft and juicy.
  16. Take off the stove top and roughly blend the pumkin mixture and return to the low heat. Give it another ten minutes to make sure it is completely cooked through. (Best to put a lid on the pan at this point because it's like hot mud and can splooge over the edge as air is forced to the surface).
  17. Take off the heat and add the can of coconut milk.
  18. Blend until smooth. (This can take a long time - there is a lot of soup - don't give up before it has a silky texture).
  19. Return to a gentle heat and taste. Add more seasoning if necessary. (This is where I added the ground garlic to give it a little bit more of a punch, but that may not be to everyone's taste).
  20. Serve with the toasted pumkin seeds scattered on top to give it a bit of crunch.
This is a hearty thick soup and can be stored in the fridge and reheated easily. It can be eaten on its own and be very satisfying or it would go well with a dollop of greek style yoghurt/yoghurt substitute or a sprinkling of paprika or both. I also never met a soup that didn't go well with a hunk of crusty bread as long as diners are not gluten intolerant :).

Creme fraiche could easily be substituted for the coconut milk as well if you happen to have that to hand, and you aren't worried about the dish being vegan. That's the joy of this recipe, it's very versatile.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

To NaNo or Not to NaNo - That is Always the Question


To NaNo or Not to NaNo - That is Always the Question

I know, it's only September, but this is the time of year I usually start planning for NaNo. Well that's if I have a plan. A time or two I have just jumped in and hoped for inspiration.

Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about NaNo is NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month and happens every November. The idea is to write a novel of at least 50K words in a month. There is a website and lots of things to help you achieve your goal as well as having other events through the year to help you actually polish the novel.


I usually use November to start a new book and get it well on it's way or to finish one that I have just started. I have also used it for fanfic projects.

NaNo is a great way for those of us with a procrastination problem to focus and get things done. The daily word counts etc are very useful as a gentle reminder to get our posteriors in gear :). If you haven't tried it before I recommend giving it a go. It's the perfect help for getting the first draft down since the idea is not to perfect the text, but just to get it on paper.

However...

After some thought, this year I have decided not to do NaNo. First and foremost my choice is based on the fact I don't have a new novel I want to finish at the moment. Instead I have decided to take November to finish the rewrite of Cat's Call and the re-formatting of Cat's Creation and Cat's Confidence so they are ready for paperback in time for Christmas.



I had hoped to have them ready long before this, but let's just say life got in the way and leave it at that. The new covers are done at least :).

When I read through the books to start editing them for paperback the first thing that was blatantly obvious was that the first half of Cat's Call just doesn't have the same flow as the latter half or the other two books. Hence I am rewriting it and Cat's Call will get its second edition. It will be the same story, just smoothed out with the help of my editor :). One of the advantages of it being an eBook until now is that I can make the changes and everyone who already has a copy will be automatically updated.

I'm going to be using a lot of paper in November, but I promise to recycle it. As I learned with Dead Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse, the only way to do a final proof read is to print it out and go through with a red pen. The number of typos, extra spaces etc that slip through if very surprising.




I also want to use November to get a head start on lots of the short stories for Free Fiction Friday. On the first Friday of every month we're giving away a free short story to our Wittegen Press Newsletter members. All the details are here if you would like to know more. If you would like to see what stories have been posted so far click here to see the Free Fiction Friday tag.




Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you find the camaraderie and word count useful? What tips do you have to beat procrastination?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Recipe: Hearty Mexican Style Bean, Rice and Chicken Soup


Hearty Mexican Style Bean, Rice and Chicken Soup

This is a wonderfully hearty recipe and it is very easy to bulk up for more people. It's also gluten free and if you want to make a veggie version replacing the chicken with tofu or mushrooms or quorn, and the chicken stock with vegetable stock would work well.

This dish also only takes a few minutes to throw together if the chicken and rice are cooked in advance, so it is great for those dinners when there is little time to cook.

Ingredients

serves 4
  • 2 or 3 chicken breasts (you can also use chicken thighs, just up the number depending on the size of the thighs)
  • 2 tsp oil (olive, sunflower, or whichever you prefer)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red or green pepper (capsicum) (I use a roasted red pepper from a jar because I don't like pepper skin)
  • 250g/9oz (about 2/3 cup) cooked rice (brown rice cooked = 2x uncooked weight, white rice cooked = 3x uncooked weight) I use a basmati/wild rice combo when I can get it, but plain basmati when I can't - a pouch of precooked rice also works :)
  • 1-2 tbsp chipotle paste (chipotle is spicy, so go with your personal taste on amount, also check the label if you need it to be gluten free - not all of them are)
  • 200g/7oz (just over 1 cup) sweetcorn (I use a can, but frozen is okay too)
  • 400g/15oz can black beans (1.75 cups) (if you can't get black beans, kidney beans, haricot beans or whichever is your fav canned bean will do as long as they are not in a sauce).
  • 1.2 l ( about 4.5 cups) chicken stock (I use dilutable liquid stock)
  • a handful of fresh coriander finely chopped or 1 tspn dried coriander leaf

Optional to serve:
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe avocados
  • 1 lime
  • garlic powder or grated garlic
  • soured cream

Equipment

  • sharp knife
  • large caserole pan that can be used on the hob
  • spatula

Instructions

  1. If using dried rice, cook as instructed on the packet, drain and put aside for later.
  2. Fry off the chicken in the pan with 1 tsp of the oil until it is cooked through, remove from the pan and leave to rest. (You can do this in advance or use left over chicken as well - it does not need to be hot).
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Heat the other tsp of oil in the same pan and throw in the onion, cooking on a low heat to sweat it down until it is translucent. Do not allow it to colour.
  5. Chop the pepper.
  6. Add the pepper to the pan. If it is raw allow to cook for 2-3 mins before continuing, if it is roasted from a jar go on to the next step immeditately.
  7. Add the chipotle paste, rice and sweetcorn to the pan and stir to make sure everything is coated in the paste. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add the stock and stir.
  9. Drain and add the black beans and stir.
  10. Up the heat and bring to the boil before turning down the heat again so the pot is simmering.
  11. Shred the chicken and add half to the pan along with the corriander.
  12. Let it simmer for a minute or too and then let it sit for another minute.
  13. While the soup is simmering, cut the avocados into small cubes, add the juice of the lime and garlic to taste and stir.
  14. Ladle the soup into bowls and add the rest of the shredded chicken on top.
  15. Serve with a dollop of soured cream and the acovado salsa scattered on top.
For some added crunch, crumble a few tortilla chips onto to the top of the soup before eating. But not too many or they will go soggy :).

This works really well reheated the next day and is great for a packed lunch where there is access to a mircowave. Just make sure the soup is piping hot when reheated because of the rice and the chicken.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

How Not to Write a Police Procedural with Female Leads


How Not to Write a Police Procedural with Female Leads


Please be aware this post has SPOILERS for Women's Muder Club ep 1.

So I just watched the first episode of Women's Muder Club and I'm hoping that it is an aberation and the rest of the season is better, because it get's one more chance and I'm done.

For those who don't know, Women's Muder Club is a TV show that aired back in 2007-2008 based on books of the same name by James Patterson and the reason it caught my eye is because it stars Angie Harmon of Rizzoli and Isles fame. I love Angie Harmon, but if the second episode does not portray the female characters better I am not watching any more.


It was so bad I made claw marks in the table cloth. What is disappointing is is looked so promising with many lead female characters, one of whom is a WoC and all about solving crime.

This is supposedly a show about a female detective (Inspector Lindsay Boxer played by Angie Harmon), a female deputy DA (Jill Bernhardt played by Laura Harris), a female medical examiner (Dr Claire Washburn played by Paula Newsome) and a female crime reporter (Cindy Thomas played by Aubrey Dollar) and yet the entire first episode was all about men.

I kid you not!

In the first ep Cindy isn't really a major player yet, so we will concentrate on the other three.

I'm pretty sure they did not manage to have one conversation that did not revolve around men, and I'm not even talking about the case. The first scene they are all in together is at a crime scene and do you know what they end up talking about? Let me tell you: Lindsay's ex-husband Tom. No, really, and Jill and Claire are trying to convince Lindsay to get back together with him.

BTW - I would like to point out at this point that I only know the women's names becuase I looked them up, but Tom's is forever stuck in my memory because they talked about him so damn much!

So for Lindsay there's Tom - who turns out to be her new Lieutenant too.

Then we have Cindy, who is apparently commitment shy (we aren't given any hints as to why in the first ep). In her first scene away from the murder site, her boyfriend is asking her to move in with him and they almost go at it in her office with the door wide open, but Lindsay interupts them. This woman is supposed to be a well respected Deputy DA and yet she has sex with a man (not her boyfriend) in her office later on without the slighest reguard for professionalism or even making sure the door's locked! This scene is only there to make her realise she really should commit to her boyfriend, BTW.

She only gets to shine once in the episode where she actually does her job and brings a public defender down to size (the same one she later sleeps with if you were wondering and it's him doing the instigating). It's almost as if a woman isn't allowed to dominate a man without there being payback or something.

Claire is happily married and seems to think everyone else should be too.

The only female character with a major impact on the plot whose life does not revolve around a man is the reporter who is killed, Theresa Wu. Yep, that's right the murder victim and she is portrayed as a lonely workaholic, which is what Lindsay is desperately tyring not to turn into.

The entire message of this episode seemed to be that a woman needs a man and is only whole with one. Now I love my husband and I consider him in my life decisions, but I do manage to have whole conversations on a daily basis that don't even mention him - especially when I'm working! I also know many, many women who are perfectly happy without a man in their life at all!

Even the villain of the piece in the first episode is motivated by a man. She is a doctor who runs a free clinic and her husband is a womanising restaraunt owner. The dead reporter was having an affair with her husband, but that wasn't why she killed her. No, the reporter was working on an expose, which was why she was banging the husband to get access to their house. The doctor had been fraudulently claiming money off the government for non-existent drugs by using homeless people, which she was only doing because her husband's resturant was failing and she needed to help him.

In the end she even confesses to save her husband, not because the police  have the evidence or anything, but because they are accusing her husband.

If this had been a rom-com with a police detective in it, I might have forgiven it some of the dialog, because it would have been about romance, but Women's Murder Club is supposed to be a police procedural.  It's supposed to be a show about leading women. I can't be sure, because I was tuning half of it out by the end, but I don't think it even passed the Bechdel test!

This is not how to write a show with leading female characters! What I really don't get is that the shows creators are two women as well. What were they thinking?

Maybe the first ep was a blip. I'm praying it was and the writing will improve, but I'm not holding out much hope.

UPDATE:


So we've watched the next few eps and they aren't as terrible as the first, but the show does make me wince at regular intervals. The women still have relationship talks at the oddest moments, but they are able to have entire conversations without mentioning their significant others or their potential significant others. However, they don't seem to be able to solve a whole case without doing so.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Free Fiction Friday - Dark Celebrations by Sophie Duncan


Free Fiction Friday


It's the 1st Friday of September and that means it is Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. A new short story is now up for all the subscribers to our newsletter. Soph has written today's offering and it's a little bit spooky with a touch of sci-fi.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Dark Celebrations
by Sophie Duncan
Genre: ghost, science fiction
Length: ~9K wds

Description:
Mina is enjoying hers and her brother, Ali's, new posts as Ensign Navigators on board Interstellar Cruiser Queen Elizabeth VI. The entire liner has been booked out by Axis, the company that brought the known universe Carbon Prime, the key to interstellar travel, and they are celebrating their primeversary, so it's party time all round.

Yet, an encounter with an impossible, derelict ship and the death of a guest in strange circumstances lead Mina to think there is something very wrong on board.

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
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We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Recipe: Delicious Sticky Chocolate and Treacle Cake

Delicious Sticky Chocolate and Treacle Cake

This is based of the "Delicious Sticky Ginger Cake" recipe I posted last week. It's my own creation and was consumed with great speed by Rob's work colleagues who were very happy to test it for me. This makes a soft, light, sticky chocolate cake, but you do have like treacle too because that is a prevelant flavour along with the chocolate.

The only changes are:

  • substituting some of the flour with cocoa, 
  • adding vanilla instead of cinamon, 
  • 2 tblsps of golden syrup rather than one to up the liquid content slightly because cocoa is drier than flour, 
  • and an extra 1/4 tspn of bicarb to account for the cocoa being more acidic than flour.

Equipment

  • 1 large saucepan
  • 1 small (milk) saucepan
  • 1 bowl
  • scales
  • spatula
  • 2 2lb loaf tins (approx 21x11x7cm | 8x4x3inches)
  • loaf tin liners or grease proof paper or baking parchment
  • small hand whisk or fork
This recipe uses the hob to heat ingredients, you could probably use a microwave if you are more familiar with that - just use microwave proof bowls instead of saucepans.

Ingredients

  • 8oz | 230g | 2/3 cup Black Treacle (Molasses)
  • 8oz | 230g | 1 cup Soft Spread (you can use butter, but a baking spread makes a lighter cake)
  • 8oz | 230g | 1 1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 tbsp Golden Syrup (US peeps, if it's not in the baking section, try the international section - at a push you could use corn syrup)
  • 1/2 pt (UK) | 285ml | 1 1/3 cup milk (I used semi skimmed, but the recipe probably originally used whole milk - so just use what you have)
  • 3/4 tspn Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda)
  • 9.4oz | 265g | 1 4/5 cup self raising (rising) flour
  • 2.6oz | 75g |  3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 tblsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C | 300F | Gas Mark 2.
  2. Put the loaf tin liners in the loaf tins or line the tins with you lining of choice. (You really don't want to try and get this cake out of an unlined tin - it is very soft and moist ;)).
  3. Put the treacle, soft spread, brown sugar and syrup into the large saucepan.
  4. Heat gently until these all melt together, stiring at times to make sure it all mixes.
  5. Measure out the flour and cocoa into a bowl and put aside for later.
  6. Put the milk and egg into the small saucepan and beat the egg into the milk using a small hand whisk or a fork.
  7. Add the flour and cocoa to the treacle mixture in the saucepan and stir together.
  8. Add the vanilla to the treacle mixture and stir.
  9. Heat the milk/egg mixture gently to blood temperature (easiest way to measure is to stick your little finger in every now and then and when it feels like it isn't cold it's at the right temperature :)).
  10. Add the bicarb to the milk mixture and stir.
  11. Add the milk mixture to the treacle mixture and stir together.
  12. Pour the cake batter into the two loaf tins.
  13. Put the cakes in the oven and bake for about 1hr (stick a skewer into the middle of the cake to check it is done, if not let it cook a little longer).
  14. Take out of the oven and allow to cool in the tins until cool enough to handle, then turn out onto a wire cake rack to finish cooling.
The cake keeps very well, easily up to a week and even up to 2 weeks - just pop into an air tight tin. This is a moist cake, so it actually improves with age.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Why the Decline of Livejournal Was Such a Loss


Why the Decline of Livejournal Was Such a Loss


A quick history of Livejournal for those who were not part of the community. Livejournal.com is a blogging platform which used to be the hub for just about everything from 2000 through to about 2009, expecially fandom.

  • 1999 Livejournal was created by Brad Fitzpatrick
  • 2000 Livejournal starts to grow and users have to have an invite code to start an account. Fandom takes to Livejournal in a big way, as do other bloggers. This is the golden age of Livejournal.
  • 2005 Brad sells Livejournal to Six Apart all is well for a while. 
  • 2006 There is some controversy and counts are suspended and deleted without warning (I won't go into the details). Fandom starts to bail.
  • 2007 Six Apart sell Livejournal to SUP Services, a Russian company, but the servers remain in the US. Fandom starts looking elsewhere. The rise of Tumblr and several incidents cause fandom on LJ to decline in a big way.
  • 2017 Livejournal is transfered to Russia completely and has a new ToS that says all accounts have to obey Russian law - for fandom LJ is effectively dead.

The thing about Livejournal that makes it so different from all the other social media flying around today is that it was so flexible and it was built for communication. No matter how you look at Twitter and Tumblr, they are not built for happy community, they are geared towards shouting into the void and controversy. And Facebook has algorythmns that show you only what they want you to see.

Livejournal always showed you your timeline in chronicological order and did not deem to tell you what you were allowed to see and what you were not. If you were friends with a thousand people/commuities it showed you every post from those thousand in date and time order so you could read them all. You could make your own custom groups so if you didn't have time that day you could read your own chosen subset of posts. It was all the users choice.

Livejournal was concieved with the idea of community - literally. It has personal accounts and community accounts, with different functionality to allow communities to be overseen by groups of people.

Personal accounts have levels of security:

  • private - posters eyes only
  • public - everyone can see
  • friends only - only those people you have friended can see the post
  • friends group - users can create custom groups of friends and then allow only them to see a post (awesome for organising get togethers, or secret gift projects for other friends).
Communities can be open to everyone or on moderated membership or completely closed so you can only join if you are invited. This meant groups could set up safe spaces to talk. Sometimes it was as trivial as risky fanfiction, sometimes support or survivor groups.

Posts exist as an entitiy with comments on the post - no need to reshare something just to comment on it. There is also a memory option to save a post so you can go back to it and re-read later.

Comments have streams so converstaions are easy to follow. Many users and communities made use of this for comment fic or long meta discussions. Comments even had titles for a very long time - when SUP removed them it caused a riot (another reason fandom left).


Posts can have parts hidden away that can only be seen when clicked upon and there can be more than one of these in a post. You can have an itro paragraph, then something behind a cut, then another paragraph and then another cut.

It was considered impolite to have an image larger than about 300px across above a cut on LJ in the early days, because it cluttered the timeline and caused slow loading when most of us did not have broadband. Anything not safe for work was usually placed under a cut so people could click or not as suitable to their environment. When posting fiction there was an almost standard form of header that everyone used so that the fic could be posted under a cut and other users could see what it was about at a glance when scrolling through their timeline.

Users can get at the html of a post and turn off all the automatic formatting to make posts look exactly as they want. This might not seem useful to many modern users who prefer the simple point and click, but to me it's perfect. I can point and click when I want to, but I can also take a post from here and pop it straight into LJ wholesale.

Livejournal let you know when someone commented (y'know like FB and Twitter are supposed to, but sometimes don't bother) and you could put watches on comms or particulars posts.

Livejournal was all about communication and community. (We had our fandom wars and our moments, but the communication was still there).

I had forgotten how much it meant to me until I was sorting through my fanfiction directory this weekend. I always put my LJ headers in my fanfic files and I was looking at some of the author's notes. So many of the fics are dedicated to people or have little notes to friends or were written in fic exchanges or prompt grabs for other users. I see their names and they bring back such fond memories.

Most of the time we didn't even know each other's real names, but we were friends. We organised virtual birthday parties on communities we had set up for that specific purpose (those custom friends groups came in really handy to organise those). We had huge fic exchanges where tens of writers (in some cases hundreds) came together and wrote fic for other people, all handled by the moderators who matched up writers to prompts (I've run several in my time and I miss them).

The biggest is undoubtedly Yuletide which is for rare fandoms and is still running, but the fic posting is now based on AO3.

A lot of us fandom peeps were hoping Imzy would become the new Livejournal, but they just didn't make it. Dreamwidth is out there, which is a Livejournal clone specifically for fandom, but it has never enticed all the people over. The move of LJ to Russia finally caused even more of a migration, but I think the LJ model is missing the ease of posting the pretty that Tumblr and Facebook have.

Tumblr is showing all the signs of discontent that LJ did when it was sold and TPTB decided they knew what was best for fandom. What would be really awesome is if Dreamwidth had an upgrade to make pictures and vids as easy as places like Tumblr. It's already much easier than it was, but nowhere near as easy as point, upload and click.

The decline of Livejournal has been a great loss. It did not evolve to counter the threat of something like Tumblr, which is all about the visual, and allowing the Russians control with their homophobic laws and draconian media laws killed it for fandom and freedom of speech bloggers alike.

I miss being able to talk to my friends in more than 140 characters. I miss the long indepth discussions about fanfic and meta where everyone's comments are there to go back and read in chains that make them easily understood. I miss the community.

If you would like to see what I am talking about I am here on LJ: beren_writes and here on Dreamwidth beren_writes. I suggest you pick a year like 2006 to see what I mean - if you click the view subjects button for a month you can see all the titles of my posts.

Were you on Livejournal? Do you miss it?

Friday, 4 August 2017

Free Fiction Friday - The Beast in Me by Natasha Duncan-Drake


Free Fiction Friday


It's the 1st Friday of August and that means it is Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. A new short story is now up for all the subscribers to our newsletter.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

The Beast In Me
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, contemporary fantasy
Length: ~8K wds

Description:
There are worrying reports about the Misomene Corporation's business dealings. Teiji Inoue was sent in to investigate, but he cover was blown. Now Teiji must survive Misomene's attentions as he discovers that the rumours of illegal practices pale in comparison to the reality.

Misomene are engaged in occult research and Teiji has become one of their experiments. Even if he comes out alive he may not come out sane.

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
Wittegen Press

We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

* indicates required

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Delicious Sticky Ginger Cake


Delicious Sticky Ginger Cake


This is my mother's ginger cake recipe and I have loved it most of my life. I always find other people's ginger cake not gingery enough and I figured out why when I finally nabbed the recipe off her There is a lot of ginger in this. If you don't like it quite so gingery, alter the amount to your own taste.

This recipe is also one of the easiest cake recipes there is - no folding, no need for electric whisks, just a couple of sauce pans and a flick of the wrist. It turns out perfectly every time.

The recipe is enough to make one huge cake, but my mother recommends making two smaller cakes in loaf tins because otherwise the cake sinks in the middle and it's harder to make sure the middle is done and the outside is not over done :).

I finally remembered to take a picture of the finished product, but, as you can see, not before I had given my hubby a slice :).

Equipment

  • 1 large saucepan
  • 1 small (milk) saucepan
  • 1 bowl
  • scales
  • spatula
  • 2 2lb loaf tins (approx 21x11x7cm | 8x4x3inches)
  • loaf tin liners or grease proof paper or baking parchment
  • small hand whisk or fork
This recipe uses the hob to heat ingredients, you could probably use a microwave if you are more familiar with that - just use microwave proof bowls instead of saucepans.

Ingredients

  • 8oz | 230g | 2/3 cup Black Treacle (Molasses)
  • 8oz | 230g | 1 cup Soft Spread (you can use butter, but a baking spread makes a lighter cake)
  • 8oz | 230g | 1 1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Golden Syrup (US peeps, if it's not in the baking section, try the international section - at a push you could use corn syrup)
  • 1/2 pt (UK) | 285ml | 1 1/3 cup milk (I used semi skimmed, but the recipe probably originally used whole milk - so just use what you have)
  • 1/2 tspn Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda)
  • 12oz | 340g | 2 3/4 cup self raising (rising) flour
  • 25g | 4 tbsp ginger (yes that really is table spoons not teaspoons)
  • 2 tspn cinnamon
  • 1 large egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C | 300F | Gas Mark 2.
  2. Put the loaf tin liners in the loaf tins or line the tins with you lining of choice. (You really don't want to try and get this cake out of an unlined tin - it is very soft and moist ;)).
  3. Put the treacle, soft spread, brown sugar and syrup into the large saucepan.
  4. Heat gently until these all melt together, stiring at times to make sure it all mixes.
    Don't stop stiring yet!This is what you're after
  5. Measure out the flour, ginger and cinnamon into a bowl and put aside for later.
  6. Put the milk and egg into the small saucepan and beat the egg into the milk using a small hand whisk or a fork.
  7. Add the flour, ginger and cinnamon to the treacle mixture in the saucepan and stir together.
    Stir gently in circles to mix in flour them beat
    vigorously until all the lumps are gone.
    This is what you are after
  8. Heat the milk/egg mixture gently to blood temperature (easiest way to measure is to stick your little finger in every now and then and when it feels like it isn't cold it's at the right temperature :)).
  9. Add the bicarb to the milk mixture and stir.
  10. Add the milk mixture to the treacle mixture and stir together.
    Stir as quickly as you can, but take it easy.There will be bubbles showing as the bicard activates
  11. Pour the cake batter into the two loaf tins.
  12. Put the cakes in the oven and bake for about 1hr (stick a skewer into the middle of the cake to check it is done, if not let it cook a little longer).
  13. Take out of the oven and allow to cool in the tins until cool enough to handle, then turn out onto a wire cake rack to finish cooling.
The cake keeps very well, easily up to a week and even up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long :D) - just pop into an air tight tin. This is a moist cake, so it actually improves with age.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

5 Reasons Taking Part in Challenges on Wattpad is a Great Idea #TipsTuesdays


5 Reasons Taking Part in Challenges on Wattpad is a Great Idea

So with everything that's been going on at home lately I really have gotten much writing done. It also hasn't just been a matter of time, but of motivation. My spark dried up because my brain was too busy focusing on other things. It's back, but I decided to feed the flames and make it burn brighter. One of the way I decided to do this is by joining in Wattpad challenges.

Wattpad has lots of communities (even though it actually has no structure to cope, communities have found a way :)). These communities often run challenges where writers submit their writing and there are usually prizes for the best. At the moment @WattVampires is running their Summer Challenge - Vampires Everywhere. Each week they choose a genre and writers are asked to submit a flash fic of between 50 and 200 words with vampires in that genre.

The first week was sci-fi
my submission Sunlight is here
and this week it is the classics
my submission Traitor's Fate is here.

Taking part in these challenges is great idea for many reasons and here are five:

1. They're Fun

It's fun to just grab an idea and run with it without having to worry if it will fit with anything else, or lead on to more. The challenge is the challenge and does not have to have any consequences except making sure we read the rules and tag it correctly.

2. They Get the Creative Juices Flowing

Sometimes it's good to write something we hadn't considered before. Taking a challenge from somewhere else is good for our creativity. No matter how good a writer we are, it is all too easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if we are concentrating on a big project of some kind. Taking a momentary step back and writing something completely different can spark new ideas and new thinking, which can only be good for us.

Taking part in the @WattVampires challenge has me raring to go on my other projects as well.

3. Exposure

Wattpad does have some official clubs, which are basically like bulletin boards, which help get exposure for your fiction, but the communities actually work way better. I've found that a lot of people in the clubs just post and run, the engagement is better in the commnuities.

Taking part in challenges exposes our writing to lots of like minded people and the rules often state that the entries have to be short, so people are more likely to take the plunge to give our fiction a go.

Also there is often a prize for the best (usually a banner for the cover and maybe a interview or a spotlight on the community) and honourable mentions. This can give us even more exposure to like minded readers.

4. Good Way to Find New Fic to Read

There are always excellent fics submitted to the challenges. I haven't tried one yet that does not have some gems well worth reading. Communities offer an easy way to find the kind of fiction we really want to read. It's a win, win situation and I am sure many people see them the same way.

The creativity in the challenges is usually amazing. From the same challenge completely different stories appear. For this week's classics challenge at WattVampires there are already fairy tales, a historical insert and Shakespeare, and the prompt only went up yesterday.

5. Excellent Way of Making New Friends

As I have already mentioned the communities are full of people who like the same thing we do, or we wouldn't all be hanging about in the same place. Wattpad can sometimes feel like shouting into a void because it's so big and so diverse. Catching the eyes of readers can be hard.

Taking part in challenges waves at all those like minded people and goes 'look, I write about vampires or werewolves or romance or whatever the niche of the community is'. We write our fic, they write theirs and it is a great way to get talking to people by swapping comments.

For example WattVampires has 6.5K followers but only a handful of those enter the current challenge. It's an easy way to see who is active at the moment and who might like to chat about similar things.

If we're open and friendly and drop comments we are much more likely to make friends.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Those Mad Ideas #WriterlyWednesdays


Those Mad Ideas


You know sometimes we writers have mad ideas - oh boy did my darling sister (Sophie's Blog) have one :). She decided, in her wisdom, that it was time to create a database of all her fiction, from ideas through to finished novels, including fanfiction. So she jumped into Airtable with both feet.

Of course the next thing she did is drag me along for the ride ;).

It's actually a really good idea, because I had no clue how many drabbles I had scattered around this blog alone, let alone elsewhere. It's going to take work, but it will be so useful in the end.

So far I have learned one valuable thing - I use the name Jack for characters far too often. I don't think I have any major novel characters called Jack, but I have so many in drabbles and flash fiction. Clearly I like to abuse Jacks ;).

Do you have any names for characters that always pop into your head?

There's also part of me that loves cataloguing. I suppose it's my inner librarian - not that I have the skills and training that my friends who are actually librarians have :). My skills lie in databases since that was my speciality before this whole writing thing.

Do you have skills from your "proper job" that help with writing, be it for profit or for fun?

I like Airtable - it makes some things much easier than your average, from the ground up, databse. However, it does freak me out a little that it kind of pretends to be a relational database, but hides things like many to many relationships and indexes :). The fact that it pretends its primary key field is a name also rubs me the wrong way, but since it does not in fact have to be unique I know it has proper one hiding in the shadows.

Now all I have to do is convince my brain not to vanish into this database for days at a time. I shall have to be firm with myself and only do a little bit every day until it is done :).

What things do you have to ration so you actually do some writing/work?

My father has had his final round of chemo now, which means his treatment is finished and its all about recovery now. His consultant is incredibly pleased with his progress, which is a great weight off all our minds. I'm hoping to get back into the flow of proper writing and marketing and, y'know, all this author stuff again now. :D

To all whose families/friends are going through similar things, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you love and hope and patience, as well as a healthy dose of good luck.

Best wishes to all. To the writers: may your words flow and the feedback be joyous. To the readers: may you find stories that fill your heart with wonder and enjoyment.