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.

What I mean to do here is take about content.


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.

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.

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.
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.

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

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.

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: - 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.
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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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


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


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.
  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 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?

Thursday 10 January 2019

Sous Vide Chicken, Pesto and Mozzarella Roulade + Buttery Potatoes

Sous Vide Chicken, Pesto and Mozzarella Roulade + Buttery Potatoes

I made this recipe yesterday and it was delicious, so I am going to share. First let me say that I used these 2 recipes as a base, but had to do added things:
Now I have no idea if the original recipe could actually work as is, but when I used it, the potatoes just weren't cooked, so I had to add a step. The reason I think it is worth the trouble is because, boy, the flavour of the potatoes is wonderful.

Prep time: 5 mins Cooking Time: 1h20


  • enough salad potatoes for 2 (I did a whole bag of Morrisons' The Best salad potatoes because I intend to use the left overs in a potato salad, but just do as many as you want to eat - also in season new pots would be good).
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt


  1. Set the Anova to 87C or 190F - make sure to use hot water from the tap or kettle to start with because getting to this temp takes a long while otherwise
  2. Put everything in a zip-lock bag and seal using the water immersions method (or if you have a vacuum sealer, use the moist setting).
  3. Pop in the Anova for 1h (you may have to weigh them down because pots float - I used an upturned bowl). 
  4. Once the timer goes off take potatoes out of the Anova and set aside.
  5. Half an hour before serving boil a pot of water on the stove.
  6. Add the potatoes and cook until tender (anywhere from 10-20mins)
Yes it seems like a lot of work and the potatoes are boiled anyway, but seriously, the way the butter infuses with the potatoes is lovely. You could add herbs or just go with olive oil if you are looking for a different flavour profile/lighter option. Honestly, I won't be doing these often, but I wanted to try them and they would be great for a special occasion.

Sous Vide Chicken, Pesto and Mozzarella Roulade

This is delicious, and you may notice that I use a higher temp than the original recipe, this is because my husband just can't bring himself to enjoy the texture of the low-temp cooking.

Prep time: 20 mins Cooking Time: 1h15


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ~100g (4 tbsp ish) green pesto
  • 1 regular ball of mozzarella (~125g)


  1. Set the Anova to 63C or 145F - if cooking straight after the pots, adding ice and cold water to the pot will help cool it down quickly.
  2. Butterfly each chicken breast and beat flat between 2 sheets of cling film (don't go too mad, but show it who's boss ;)).
  3. Spread each chicken breast with half the pesto.
  4. Thinly slice the mozzarella ball and place half of the slices over each pesto layer.
  5. Roll the chicken breast tightly and pack it in the cling film so it is easy to handle.
  6. Place each in a zip lock bag and seal using the water immersions method (or if you have a vacuum sealer, use the moist setting).
  7. Place in the water bath and set the timer for 1h15 
  8. When the timer goes off, remove from the water and carefully take each roulade out of its bag using tongs.
  9. Heat a frying pan/skillet on high on the stove.
  10. Remove the cling film from each roulade and brown in the frying pan on all sides - this only takes seconds.
  11. Serve (the chicken can be left to rest for a few minutes in a very low oven while finishing off the rest of meal).

Wednesday 9 January 2019

The Patreon About Section #JoysOfPatreon 2

Lined background  with quotes from books over it. Title of "Writerly Wednesdays, The Joys of Patreon #2" over the top.

The Patreon About Section

The Joys of Patreon #2

So I spent all of Monday afternoon on this. Wow, it is hard.

The about section is where you sell yourself, and we all know how good at doing that we Brits are.

The first stop is Pateron's "How to Sell Your Page" in the learn more col on the edit page - which is actually titled "How to Sell Your Page in Your About Section" when you actually get there, which makes a lot more sense.

Main Ideas

The 3 main tips I took away from this page are:
  1. Make sure everyone reading knows who you are and what you're doing on Patreon, so introduce yourself properly.
  2. Don't make it sound like you are a charity case, you're asking for patrons and you are giving them value in return, this is important. The section called "Don't use needy language" is very eye opening.
  3. Keep it concise - get the message across completely, but quickly - readers have a limited attention span.


For point #3 above I used the age old technique that comes into play with all blurbs, synopsis and descriptions:
Write long, edit short.
A huge amount of what I was doing what taking out words and phrases and whole sentences that were entirely unnecessary. Most of us writers are wordy creatures, it's in our nature, and so one thing is nearly always true: it is easier to edit out words than to force our brains not to produce them in the first place.

Hence I started with a brain dump of everything I thought prospective patrons might need to know. It was long and repetitive and full of a whole load of information that was entirely unnecessary.
For example, my intro paragraph started off at 80 words - by the time I was done, it was at 35.
Another very useful device is bullet points. Readers skip over the end of long paragraphs, but break that paragraph down into each bullet point and they are much more likely to see what you want them to. It is also another great way of spotting duplication and unnecessary information that can be cut out.

Final Format

In the end I broke the whole thing down into 4 sections:
  1. Hello, this is me (1 line of greeting, and 1 paragraph [35 wds])
  2. This is why I am here with preemptive thank you (1 paragraph [55 wds])
  3. This is what I am offering (1 section of bullet points) - this section doesn't need to be too detailed, because that's what the tiers are for (which will be a whole other post).
  4. Thank you (1 line)
I also added a footnote credit for the photos I used in my cover image, because they might be royalty free, free to use, no credit demanded photos, but they are someone's hard work and they deserve to be thanked.

One thing I always do on projects like this, just in case, is copy everything to a Google doc. We never can tell when something might go tits up and accidentally delete all our hard work, so never forget a backup.

And that's that! No doubt I will make tweaks after leaving it for a while, but I think I am almost there. I look forward to showing it to everyone when I am ready to launch. Still thinking about how to do an intro vid to go with it.

Anyone have any tips for the about section? How would you go about selling your skills?

Tuesday 8 January 2019

A Gem of a Find in Gel Effect Nail Polish #TipsTuesdays

A Gem of a Find in Gel Effect Nail Polish

Now I know I don't usually talk about things like this on here, but this stuff is too good and so reasonably priced that I had to mention it for Tips Tuesday. I do not usually go in for nail polish because I put it on and within hours it's all chipped and never looks great anyway. Also, mostly, I can't be bothered, but my darling twin convinced me to try some of this for Christmas and I love it.

I also can't find it online, not even on B&M's website, which is the shop where we bought it. The brand is Expressions and they do all sorts of nail stuff as well as polish.

Three regular size bottles of Expressions nail polish in dark blue, purple and gold, with a smaller bottle of top coat in front and a box with a larger bottle of top coat behind.

Now this is gel effect, so no UV light needed, but it gives great coverage and shine.

Each nail polish comes with a small bottle of the top coat as shown in front in the image, but we can also buy it by itself as shown behind. They also have a nail strengthener that I use as an undercoat, which I forgot to take a picture of, and a nail growth enhancer that I have not tried.

Now I am completely incompetent when it comes to nail polish, but even I can get great results.

Four fingers of Tasha's hand with Expressions iridescent, purple nail varnish.

It goes on smoothly and the anti-chip coating is awesome. This is day 4 for this colour. Also, the photo doesn't really do it justice, the nails look iridescent and much shinier in real life. (Please ignore the blob of dark colour on the third finger - that is just my incompetence showing through where I messed up and tried to fix the edge, which, of course, didn't work ;)).

Soph says she only ever needs one coat of the colour, but she has tiny wee nails, where as mine are much larger and I need 2. However, even with an undercoat of strengthener, 2 layers of colour and the anti-chip top coat, the nails are touch-dry in 30-40 mins. Of course it's another couple of hours before they are rock hard, but that's the same with anything in layers ;). After 30-40 mins, eating and nipping to the loo etc are not a problem, as long as approached carefully.

And do you know what is the most amazing thing about these nail products? Price!
Each box of nail product costs a whopping £1.49!
So lads and lasses and anyone else who likes lovely nails and has a B&M in their vicinity - now is the time to run along and check out their range. They're in the hair and beauty aisle at the end in our B&M and they have lots of lovely colours from black to pastel pink and sparkles.


  • Comes in a large range of lovely colours
  • So cheap, especially for gel effect - £1.49 for a normal 10ml bottle with free top coat
  • Goes on smoothly
  • Looks great


  • Very dark colours will stain nail beds if no undercoat is used
  • Can't find the brand online
Sorry US folks, I have no idea if you can get these - I Googled for the brand and literally nothing came back except another lass's blog who reviewed their stick-on fashion nails.

So has anyone else tried this brand? Can we get it anywhere else except B&M?

Monday 7 January 2019

Review: The House With a Clock in Its Walls #MonsterMondays

Review: The House With a Clock in Its Walls

Rating: 12A
Jack Black ... Jonathan Barnavelt
Cate Blanchett ... Florence Zimmerman
Owen Vaccaro ... Lewis Barnavelt
Kyle MacLachlan ... Isaac Izard
Summary: A young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.
I wanted to see this film when I caught the trailer, and I can very much say, I was not disappointed.

Apart from the superb cast, this film has everything we could want from am urban fantasy film. There's action, adventure, peril and a great bad guy.

The film is set in the 1950s in a small town in the USA. It's a great place for such a plot because it's a little claustrophobic where lots of people know your business, but it's also the kind of place where people might whisper about the eccentric people, but they would never say anything to their face. In fact it is the perfect place for Lewis' (Owen Vaccaro) uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and his closest friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett).

Lewis is the slightly nerdy kid, with a very big brain, trying to fit in to a new school and deal with the tragedy of having lost his parents. He's the perfect protagonist for the strange magical world he is thrown into that starts to give him a place to belong and new things to learn.

Owen Vaccaro gives a great performance (mostly) and makes us believe every step he takes. There is one scene where he has to cry that felt like the worst stage school performance ever, but that was the only blip.
Jack Black is absolutely brilliant as Uncle Jonathan, eccentric, free spirited and in a superb game of who can insult the other better without being crude or horrible with Florence Zimmerman. He has a touch of the same self-doubt that Lewis carries with him too, and both of them overcome it together.

Cat Blanchett is as fabulous as always as Florence, with her penchant for purple and a spirit damaged almost beyond repair by the Nazis in WWII. She too has a journey to make from the beginning of the story to the end, which is nuanced and well conceived.

Then we have our baddie, Isaac Izard as played by Kyle MacLachlan, who is, in fact, dead at the beginning of the film. You would think this might cause issues with him being the big bad, but, like Voldemort, what is a little thing like death to a powerful warlock? He's evil and creepy and just as broken as most of the other characters, which makes him a sad character too.
This is a fill with layers. Every character carries something with them so they are far from perfect. Each could easily have swapped places and ended up with bad guy with what they have been through. The war broke some, tragedy and personal loss broke the others and they all put themselves back together in different ways, becoming more powerful within themselves as they do.

There is a lot of magical lore in this film, but it doesn't throw it at us like an encyclopedia, it does a great job of showing it instead. It leaves questions, but they are not troubling, annoying questions, they are spaces for the imagination to grow. The film has a great balance.
The only problem I had with it was some of the CGI. There is a bit at the end which just made me shudder, and not in a good way. I think they were going for freaky, but they mostly hit bad. I won't say more because it would be a spoiler, but it is very easy to spot. Given that the rest of the CGI is superb and it suggests it was a production decision mistake, not a reflection of the artists creating it.

So. all in all, a great movie. I have the blu-ray on pre-order and intend to watch it many more times. It is a film that is going to become one of my go to favourites I believe.

All images courtesy of IMDB.

Have you seen the film? What did you think? What was your favourite part? If you haven't seen it yet, have I convinced you to give it a try?

Saturday 5 January 2019

The Wonders of Sous Vide! My new love...

The Wonders of Sous Vide! My new love...

My wonderful twin bought me the most amazing machine for my birthday in December - the Anova sous vide cooker (pot not included).

Sous vide - "under vacuum" in French - is a method of cooking that cooks the food in a bag with all/most of the air removed, in a water bath maintained at the chosen temperature.
I was unsure when I first tried it, but now I am in love.

The most important bit is the water bath, which is what the Anova does. Some people buy a vacuum pack machine to go with it, but that's unnecessary - I use the water immersion method to force the majority of the air out of the bags before cooking. Below is a lovely vid from Anova explaining the water immersion method:

Now the sous vide method takes time, the whole idea is to cook the food longer at a lower temperature to produce the best results. Think of it like pasteurising the food. Sorry to my vegetarian friends, but I have only used it for meat so far, although I am assured you can use it for veggies and eggs etc.

The Anova comes with a great app that not only allows us to control the machine from afar, but also has many guides and recipes to get us started. The app is not fool proof in that it works wonderfully on my Sony phone, but has a bit of a mare on Rob's Samsung in that the app keeps losing connection with the phone. However, what I do to be safe is put on a backup timer so I know when things are done.

Just to be clear, the Anova itself has never forgotten how long it is supposed to be on or anything like that, it has always pootled on beautifully, but the app on Rob's phone did fail and didn't seem to want to reconnect so it didn't alert us about cooking time etc. On my phone, before I enabled the wifi, the bluetooth did drop out once the first time I tried it, but it reconnected with no probs and continued from where the Anova told it, it had got to.
What is really great is we can pick a guide or a recipe from the app and it will program the Anova for us. This has never failed to work.


Photo by Mark DeYoung on Unsplash
I tried chicken first and, wow, I never want to cook chicken breast any other way again. The results were so soft and tender and juicy. Not going to lie, when I usually eat chicken I require mayonnaise or gravy because of the texture. However, don't need a thing when it comes out of the water bath.
The usual technique with chicken breast is:
  • load up the bag with the flavourings and the chicken,
  • use the water immersion method to force out the air from the bag and seal it,
  • pop it in the water bath at around 60C /140F for about 1h 15m, 
  • pour out the juices into a saucepan to reduce to make a sauce,
  • pat the chicken dry
  • heat a frying pan/skillet until very hot and show the chicken breast to it on either side for 15s or so to colour
and it's ready.
Perfect chicken every time.

So far I have tried the recipe on the app for Sous Vide Honey Mustard Chicken Breast by Christina Wylie, which is my fav (I just use English mustard instead of whole grain) and I used the techniques in the Sous Vide 5-Spice Chicken Breast by Barbara Freda, but with my own ingredients for Honey Sesame Chicken.


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Then there is the steak. My father's birthday is 24th Dec and for his lunch he asked for steak. So we decided to try it sous vide. Now I don't like steak, but my husband, my sister and my father do, and, frankly, they were blown away.

With this one we didn't even use a recipe, we just went with the guides in the app. We has 3 rib eye steaks, all of which had quite hard lumps of fat in the them that would have been worrying cooking in just a pan.
The usual basic procedure with streak is:
  • season the streak with salt and pepper,
  • place in the bag and use the water immersion method to force out the air from the bag and seal it,
  • pop in the water bath at 53.9C/129F for 1h (this is for medium rare - the guide has exact temps and times for however we might like it)
  • take out and pat dry
  • in a very hot skillet/frying pan sear the meat on each side in 15s bursts until the desired colour is reached (no more than 2 min total).
Perfect, juicy, tender steaks every time in a totally predictable manner - no more guessing.

Other Requirements

To go with our Anova we need:
  1. a large heat proof pot of some kind as in the pic at the top - my large crock pot which used to be used only for the potatoes at Christmas is now getting much more of a workout :)
  2. sturdy zip-lock bags that will completely seal - if they are too flimsy they could split during cooking and some versions do not seal well enough, they have to be able to maintain a semi-vacuum - I use the medium bags I can get from Home Bargains, which work perfectly well.
  3. some sort of pegs or clips - these are to clip the bags to the side of the pot so they don't float around, I bought some soft grip pegs from Home Bargains :)
This is a scientific, easy way of cooking that produced perfect results every time. I love it and I look forward to experimenting some more.

Does anyone already use a sous vide machine? Any recipe recommendations? Any tips or tricks? Anyone thinking of getting one?

Friday 4 January 2019

Free Fiction Friday for January - 2 Exclusive Free Short Stories

A dragon in purples in the background with "Free Fiction Friday" and "Mark of the Dragon" over the top.

Free Fiction Friday for January 2019

It's that time of the month again, the first Friday, which means free fiction! Yay. And this month we have 2 free short stories for our readers, one of which is a little bit naughty.

In case this is your first visit and you have no idea what Free Fiction Friday is, every month at Wittegen Press we put out a new short story exclusively for the members of our Newsletter. We chose the first Friday because we're writers and we like alliteration ;)

If you're not a member, don't worry, the password and link for the current month are also in the final welcome email for new sign-ups, so you won't miss it.

Free Fiction Friday is only one of the perks of being a member, we'll also give you 2 Free eBooks just for joining and you'll be the first to know about new releases, competitions and everything like that. We use MailChimp, so all your data is perfectly safe and we will never pass it one to anyone else.

This Month's Stories

The Wand

by Sophie Duncan

A person in silhouette in front of a tree holding a bright wand.
Genre: high fantasy
Length: short story
Aelwin is a Maker, like her mother before her: she knows this in her heart, but will the fae Match her to her calling? When a hostile Shadow Coat arrives to perform the New Year Matching Ceremony for her and her friends, disaster threatens. Only Aelwin can stop it, but she doesn’t know how.

Mark of the Dragon

by Natasha Duncan-Drake

A dragon in purples in the background with "Mark of the Dragon" over the top.
Genre: contemporary fantasy, lgbtq+
Length: short story
Luke has always known he has a destiny, after all he has the manifestation of a dragon on his skin that moves around as it pleases and a book in his head that explains all about it. However even dragons can't help with relationships, or can they?

Hope everyone is having a great New Year so far. Do you have anything interesting going on? Any new releases from the writers out there? How about any great finds by readers? I would love to know, do feel free to comment.

P.S. I'm always open to hosting guest posts - details here:

Wednesday 2 January 2019

The Joys of Patreon & Happy New Year!

Beige background with Writerly Wednesdays at the top and "The Joys of Patreon" over the top as a title.

The Joys of Patreon

Welcome to a new year on Tasha's Thinkings - I hope you're having a good one so far.

I have all sorts of exciting plans for this year, one of which is setting up my very own Patreon.

For those who don't know what this is, Patreon is a site where artists of all kinds, from authors to illustrators to bloggers, can set up a page to offer exclusive content to and create a community of patrons. Some people use it and ask patrons to pay on a per creation basis, others ask patrons to sign up for a period of regular donations, anything from $1 up.

It's an old traditional system brought into the 21st century for the internet age.

I've decided to take the plunge because I love to produce content and I would really like to get closer to my readers too. I originally created my Patreon account some time ago, but I have been nervous about jumping in and actually becoming a creator. It's a bit daunting!

Since I am in the setting up stage at the moment, I thought I would share my experiences as I go along in case anyone else is thinking about doing the same thing.

Starting Point

First thing I learned is that we need the following to even begin to set up a page:
  • Profile Picture - time to look our best or come up with a stunning avatar
  • Cover image (1600x400px)
  • About section - like a book blurb but for us to entice patrons to become part of our community rather than buy our book
  • Intro vid - this is optional by highly recommended since apparently vids engage more people -we live in a visual age I guess :).
Luckily for people like me, Patreon has plenty of information about how to create these things and the best practices for doing so. They have heaps and heaps of helpful stuff to read through and watch, which is what I am in the middle of at the moment.

There are so many decisions to be made, like what content to offer, how to set up tiers of access, how to make everything sustainable. It's really exciting, but really daunting too. 

Watch this space for updates as I plan everything out!

Do any of you already use Patreon? Any advice for a newbie like me? Many thanks.