Let me start off by apologising for how late this review came after the first. It was meant to come out the week after the review of the MealPacks App but, unfortunately, shortly after I had to cease eating any food I had to chew. I have issues with my jaw which means periodically, especially when stressed, I have to go on a diet of extremely soft food. This makes it incredibly hard to test recipes as I can’t eat them (and there’s not enough money in the budget to spread to paying for separate food). Anyway, thank you for being patient, and let’s move on.
So, you may recall me saying in my MealPacks review that the CookBooks App is by far our favourite of the two. That has become even more true lately. I can honestly say in the last couple of weeks we have not opened the MealPacks App at all but the CookBooks App gets used regularly. It is basically the only reason we continued to pay for the apps.
Why? Well, there’s one simple reason. The majority of the time, so far at least, the recipes in the CookBook app actually work. Whereas the issue with the MealPacks recipes were that they didn’t feel like they’d had enough time dedicated to perfecting them, the cookbooks seem thought out and well-practised.
Now, we haven’t used all of the CookBooks yet, but I’ll talk briefly about some of the least-used’s layouts. For the most part they are all similar. They all (bar a couple) have a description of the book, like a blurb, at the top when you enter the book and then a list of clickable recipes underneath. Our least used books so far are:
Desserts in Duvets: Mainly because we don’t have a sweet tooth. However I am definitely at some point going to be trying the churros and maybe the banana bread waffles. I am impressed that the Fruit Tarts actually have a Crème Patisserie filling (as all good tarts should—no bias as I live in France, of course) but (and this could just be the angle of the picture) it looks like the crème pat may be a tiny bit runnier than it should be. It looks like maybe the fruits are sinking and the weight is pushing the custard up. I checked the recipe and theoretically there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it but I’d have to try it to check it thoroughly. On a rare occasion we long for something sweet I may just try it to make sure.
Bucket List—The food looks decent and certainly it has some new and different things to try. With this, we haven’t done any as we simply haven’t run to it as much as some others. This one fell down because others were just too good.
AM Menu—Okay, there is a real reason we haven’t done any of these recipes. It’s simply because I can make most of them without any help. The few that I’ve never made I would never consider eating for breakfast. I did try to persuade my mother to try the Breakfast Yorkshire Pudding, but being from Lancashire she hates anything Yorkshire (to clarify, this is a War of the Roses joke. If this were really the case she would hate both of her Yorkshire-born daughters—she’s at least never told us that this was the case).
Hero Veg- Although I’ve barely used this book, I have to admit it’s the one I want to try the most. I’ve always had a love of vegetables and I love to see chefs (and normals) being creative with all they have to offer. This will be certainly one I hope to review later but, for now, other books stole the limelight. We have had one recipe from it: the Wine-Soaked Grape Focaccia. Two words: New favourite. I switched the wine for sherry and put in a splash of white wine vinegar (it’s all we had in as I don’t drink) but, it was amazing and it was soft enough for me to eat with the soup made from the Can’t Be Arsed To Cook Book. I opted out of making the butter because I prefer my focaccia pure but the recipe should work if you want to make it.
To The Beat—This is definitely the least looked at, mostly because it’s just very confusing. The concept is that you seem to choose a description of music which then leads you to a recipe? I assume the pictures are meant to help guide you but, for reading purposes, I didn’t find it very enjoyable. Unfortunately, this meant I read the book less so I didn’t try any of the recipes. It reminds me of a fake restaurant somebody opened once (I believe a spoof one on TV) where you picked an emotion and they brought you a dish. Restaurants don’t and couldn’t work this way. The mine-field of allergies and intolerances, health and safety etc. would prevent it. Also, who would seriously eat there?
How We Cook—It’s a basic instructional book and probably useful for new cooks and those willing to teach themselves. However, I’ve cooked enough to understand the basics (I’m seriously trying not to come off as braggy—I really am not bragging, I promise). For your basics it’s definitely helpful. The section on pork belly was especially interesting as I think it’s a lesser used cut of meat (but delicious).
Can’t Be Arsed To Cook One—I’ve actually only used this book twice, for the Spiced Banana Soup and the Cheats Calzone. The Spiced Banana Soup, although basically potato soup with a small bit of banana, was really nice and we thought would make a perfect match as a sauce with a smoked fish or meaty fish like cod (lightly spiced) but the calzone was a flop. It was a pain to make and didn’t taste that great. The reason we don’t use this book that much is because the Can’t Be Arsed To Cook 2’s layout is far superior. Which we’ll go onto now.
Can’t Be Arsed 2 Cook
How many times have I used this book now? Too much probably. The layout is amazing, the recipes range from good to great (of the ones I’ve repeatedly tried) and it actually feels like somebody understands what people are really like. The first thing you see when you click on the book is again, your blurb, and then you get sections of recipes. You can pick a section to match your mood (and not your emotion, but the mood you feel about cooking).
If you don’t feel like waiting, there’s a range of quick dishes for you. If you don’t feel like cleaning, a group of one-pot-dishes show up when you click on it. If you can’t be arsed to shop there’s a group of recipes (although, I’ll admit this is my least used section as I rarely have the ingredients used in my basic larder and would have to shop). There’s even a section called Can’t Be Arsed To Rush if you actually feel in the mood to cook. We’ve had the Gochujang Pork from this section and, whilst not our favourite and a bit greasy (there was a lot of fat on our pork belly however) we did enjoy it.
Our two most used sections of this book are Can’t Be Arsed To Wait and Can’t Be Arsed To Takeout. We actually can’t get many takeaways were we are, as we live in rural France and as good as French food is they haven’t quite learned the ins and outs of takeaway in our local village (nothing wrong with that, as if there had been a good place we certainly would be coming out of this pandemic rolling down the hill nearby). This means that the nearest good takeaway, too far away to bring back warm food, is a really ‘Can’t Be Arsed’ moment. All hail the Tandoori Chix from this section. A hot mix of spicy curried chicken and fluffy, crispy naan bread. I don’t think I’ve escaped hiccups with it yet but it is so tasty that I don’t mind. Good job, Sorted boys.
Now, let’s talk Pho. Specifically the 10 Minute Pho in the Can’t Be Arsed to Wait section. In the few months we’ve had this app we’ve used this—well, enough times that I now know the recipe by heart and have tweaked it to make it even tastier. It doesn’t take ten minutes. The minimum is fifteen minutes but it is quick, very easy and very tasty for the amount of time taken. My one bit of advice would be to not use the beef as suggested. It gets a bit too tough and loses a lot of the flavour in the broth. Genuinely, the first time we had it my jaw was screaming in pain (granted my jaw’s extremely bad anyway but my Mother also had issues and she has a strong jaw). Ever since that first time we’ve poached some chicken or used leftover roast chicken instead. If you’re using the chicken simply add it to the bowls on top of your beansprouts and then pour the broth on top. In a couple of minutes it’ll be perfectly heated through and even more delicious. I’ll tell you another tip with this recipe in the next paragraph.
The Ultimate Cooking Battles
The last book I want to talk about and another well-used book is the most recent addition. In this book the Sorted boys have written down all of their recipes used in their YouTube cooking challenges. Again, similarly to the previous book, the recipes have been broken up into understandable, well-thought out and well-laid out sections, e.g. Ultimate Sandwich battle, Ultimate Lava Cake Battle etc. If there’s a recipe from their battles you want to try it’ll hopefully be here (the normals battles that is. Hopefully someday they’ll bring out the chef battle recipes too).
By far our most used recipe is Mike’s Chicken Sandwich recipe in Ultimate Chicken Battle and not for the reason you may think. We’ve made the full thing once. We decided that the burger was nice, the dipping sauce was way too salty and didn’t add anything to it (also very messy to eat), but the chicken was delicious. The recipe for the poached chicken here is now what I use to do my Pho from the previous book. I make Mike’s poached chicken from Ultimate Chicken Battle, strain the stock into another pan (saving the chicken), pour in some more chicken stock to fill up our bowls; add some soy sauce, Worcester sauce and siracha, continuously tasting until I get the right balance of flavour; put in my noodles and cook for a couple of minutes; tear the chicken into pieces and put with the beansprouts into the bowls and then pour the stock on top. It takes longer than ten-minutes in total but it is so worth it. It’s amazing.
I’ve also tried:
Ham and Mushroom Stuffed Pizza from Ultimate Pizza Battle: Delicious, even when using the wrong yeast (my bad. I was still getting used to the difference in the French yeast boxes).
Citrus Cheesecake Lava Cake: My only dud so far in this book. The cake wasn’t that flavourful and the ice-cream recipe wasn’t really ice-cream but just frozen cream. If you are going to make this recipe, despite what it says, go back every half-an-hour or so and stir your ice-cream mix (don’t add the fruit until it is starting to set). If you don’t do that you’ll form ice-crystals all over the mix and it will be a horrible eat. Or use an ice-cream machine. I would suggest piping some lemon curd (which was the greatest part of this recipe and was being devoured every morning on toast or with little meringues I’d made to use up egg whites) into little moulds, freezing and then placing in the centre of your cake. Leave it to cook a little longer to let the cake cook through completely and have the lemon curd as your centre. It won’t probably ooze out as much as you’d want from a Lava Cake but it will hopefully taste better.
Candied Pork Belly Boa—The few Boa buns that worked were great (although a bit sweet and needed something a bit sharper to counteract this). We had issues with our steaming, using the wire-rack and bowl method described. Essentially the buns were very soggy and uncooked in many places. The best ones were, weirdly, the leftover ones we decided to put underneath the grill. The bread itself tasted great, the ones that were edible. We may have to get a steamer to test whether it’s any better with the proper equipment (you know, when I actually have money again).
Okay, so maybe we haven’t made as many as I thought, but the ones we have made we’ve made a few times and I’ve read the books for pleasure plenty of times as well. The pictures in the Ultimate Battle book are hilarious and really well done, made all the better if you’ve actually seen their Youtube videos.
If you had to choose between both of the Apps I would definitely choose the CookBooks App over the MealPacks app. It still has the same Shopping List feature as well, so one of the best features of MealPacks is still available. I would highly recommend, if you have the money (which for people who actually have an income is a really reasonable price a month) to purchase a subscription (or at least buy one of their books). Thank you for reading and happy cooking.
P.S. This is just a brief message to say thank you to my mother and father, without which I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I do. This past year with the pandemic going on put a stop on my new business, a Writer’s Retreat in France, pretty much immediately after it began (four days to be exact). They have continued to let me cook, test apps and magazines with their money until I’m able to make my own again.
With that said, their money is finite and there’s a lot of things I’d like to do on this blog, which I wouldn’t like to ask them to pay for.
I’d like to be able to test other cookbooks, apps, machines. I’d like to be able to review books, restaurants and shows. I’d also like to continue posting my own original stories, poetry and plays. All of this involves money that I don’t have so, if you like me and my work and would like to see more, I’m adding a donation button on this page.
If you have the spare cash, you can donate as little or as much as you’d like. If you, very generously, donate over £100—well, first off, thanks, that’s amazing and I’m blushing but also, I’ll make sure to add something into the garden design to thank you (whether that be a painted sign, stone or something else). All the money you donate will go towards this blog and making it, and the videos that are still in the works with what turns out to be a really bad editing system, even better. The money will go towards ingredients, plants for the garden (also talked about on the blog) and a multitude of other blog-related things. Thank you…
Also, please don’t feel pressured to donate. Only donate if you can. I know it’s been a hard year for many of us. Thank you again.
Let’s start this by saying, no, I have not read the comics. I’ve read probably two superhero comics in my lifetime: One X-Men when I was ten and another Spiderman, when I was waiting at the Channel Tunnel on my way to France when I was a teenager. The closest I’ve come to reading comics is reading Mickey magazine books in French when I was little (or I suppose reading the silly comics in my Kraze Club magazine at eleven). I have no knowledge of the comics to compare Loki too so I compare it to what I do know: other TV shows and films.
With that being said, is Loki exactly like Doctor Who? Nearly, pretty much, yes. At times I would say to my mother (especially when they were at the apocalypse on the moon) that Loki and Sylvie reminded me of the Master and Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor. Is that a problem for me? No. Loki was an amazingly written show which deserves all of the praise it receives. Was it perfect? Of course not. There were odds and ends that needed a bit of tweaking but overall it was only minor (certainly compared to a certain other Marvel show that I found so painful to watch that I couldn’t watch past episode 4).
So why the Doctor Who comparison? Is it just because it’s time travel, other planets and British accents? Of course not. It’s a combination of many different things. It also reminded me of the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, with the comparison between the corrupt Time Keepers/TVA and the Time Masters of the first series of Legends (even the Time Bureau wasn’t perfect). Every time travel show follows a pattern. They can’t help it. It’s the personalities within it and what they do to play with this pattern that differentiate them. Writing any type of story is the exact same. We’re all derivative of something else. The Loki writers aren’t going to be able to break a thousand year old pattern.
Loki isn’t brand new. The shots looked like they were filmed in the same areas as Doctor Who. The corruption represented in the TVA is very ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ from The Wizard of Oz. Assigning people numbers instead of names (e.g. Hunter B-15) has been used plenty of times in dystopian novels and the villain to hero concept has been a trend long before it was a trend (Paradise Lost was hated at the time it was written for humanising the devil and his decisions).
Sylvie I compared to Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor for a few simple reasons: English, clever, blonde and carried herself confidently. She was a good person with a dark past. She’d lost her entire home and people. Sylvie is what the Doctor could have been if they’d chosen to only see the darkness they’d been surrounded by. Sylvie is the Doctor without what makes them the Doctor: the joy of living life. I loved this twist and I think Sylvie’s script was incredible. She was recognisably a Loki even without all of his traits and her ending made sense. The Doctor almost made those decisions themselves on multiple occasions– but there marks the difference again, Sylvie was willing to carry on going and wouldn’t listen to any ‘companion’ telling her otherwise. She was a Doctor who’d been alone too long.
Tom Hiddleston was as good as ever. He built a comfortable relationship with everyone around him. To compare him to Doctor Who, yet again, I would say that he was the Master. He was the Master if he felt inferior. The Master would always try to defeat the Doctor, no matter what. He wanted control because he felt superior to everyone. He was a Time Lord. It was his right to rule an inferior species. Loki twisted this feeling because, although this is the impression he gives off, the writing allowed him to show that the actuality of it was he felt inferior to other gods and that’s what made him try to be superior. He wanted to prove he belonged in Asgard. He deserved to be treated the same as his brother.
We got to see him learn his lesson by the end of Ragnarok and into Infinity War, but this Loki proved that he would learn it over and over again. He could learn it earlier than these two films, if he’d only had the right people around him. In short, where Sylvie lacked her ‘companions’, Loki was a Master that needed a ‘companion’ to stop him and show him the right way. It wasn’t surprising to see him try and save He Who Remains as he had taken on the role of Sylvie’s companion and wanted to do right by her, the same way Mobius had done right by him. (Another comparison I could make here is Once Upon A Time when a person’s heart is darkened and their loved ones try to prevent it).
And of course, an obvious Doctor Who comparison is with the multiple variants or ‘lives’ on He Who Remains planet/time. Although I will admit an Alligator Doctor would be an interesting series for them to write (I need a fan comic of that yesterday, please). Maybe that’s who will replace Jodie Whitaker? Probably not but if it was an April Fools joke they pulled it would be hilarious.
Overall Loki was a great time. It set up the future projects (as Marvel products usually do) and it made me excited to see what’s next. After ten years they can still make people want to watch more, which is the mark of good planning, writing and film/TV-making. It’s a writers dream to have enough skill to make that happen for your own work.
You may have noticed I said there was some minor faults and there was. A bit of the writing, especially early on, could be a bit clunky (specifically between Sylvie and Loki early on) but it improved over time. No episode wasn’t needed and Miss Minutes, the Tara Strong-voiced cartoon, served as much of a purpose as anyone else. Everybody else jumped when she appeared in the last episode, right? Perfectly done.
Loki deserves to be loved. It gave us joy and (ironically) purpose every Wednesday in a time when it’s hard to find either. Thank you, Loki. Thank you Disney and Marvel. Looking forward to what you have in store next (though I would like a word with the writers of your former program, please).
Thank you for reading this far. I know it doesn’t have pictures. Usually I would have drawn some but I just wanted to get my thoughts down and gush over Loki a bit and drawing takes me a long time compared to writing. I hope you enjoyed reading. What do you think of Loki? Too much like Doctor Who or you enjoyed it regardless? I’d love to know.
You may have heard of the SortedFood crew. If you’re reading this review I would certainly expect you have, but I’ll give you a brief summary if not. The SortedFood are a collection of ‘mates’ (friends, if you’re not familiar with the British vernacular) who live in London and cook together on YouTube. They do relays, challenges, create recipes, test products and a plethora of other things. They’ve also become my mother and mine’s latest addiction to watch, whilst there’s been a lull in cooking programs on TV. Their gimmick is often pitting trained chefs (Ben and James, both of which wear chef-whites on the channel to prove they’re professionals) against their ‘normal’ home-cook counterparts (Barry, Jamie and Mike—apron wearers). It’s a fun watch and a great way to find out some of the latest trends in London.
But this review isn’t about their YouTube videos. This review is about another project they use to, I can only assume, help fund their videos: their apps. For £4.99 a month you can download and use both their Meal Packs app and their Cookbooks app. We wanted to see if their recipes met the expectations from their videos—and if the way they were written was developed enough to work for every person, every time. So, without further tangents, let’s get into it.
Meal Packs App
IS IT USER FRIENDLY?
The first app I want to talk about is their main one: the main one they consistently try to sell on their channel, that is. The Meal Packs App allows you to choose one pack of meal recipes a week, with one credit received each Friday with your subscription. The app itself is fairly simple to use. You simply click on the packs collections, flick through and click ‘Get’ if you want it. The issue comes up after you get the pack.
The pack comes with a choice of 2 People or 4 People and you can switch to one or the other as soon as you open the pack, but for some reason everyday I went on it kept switching me back to 2 people. It was only a small gripe however and as soon as I realised what was happening I learned to check to make sure the 4 person recipe was on.
When you go onto one of the recipes themselves it shows you the ingredients you’re going to need. Very helpful and made creating shopping lists very simple. It does offer to create a shopping list for you but, as it only plans for three/four days and I tend to use other recipes during a week as well, I made my own in my notes app on my phone. I do like that it offers to make the list for you though and I think a lot of people who use their recipes more consistently would find it a time-saver.
After the ingredients you go straight into the recipes, which I personally wish it wouldn’t do. I learned a long time ago, on my first disaster in the kitchen involving burned-something and uncooked lamb, that you should always read a recipe through first. On the Meal Packs app a voice starts telling you the steps before you manage to mute it and click on the full-recipe. However, I do appreciate that they give you the option to look at the full recipe, which is a positive.
I personally would just wish to see the full-thing first and then go into the individual steps. It helps me to plan around my own kitchen where things are not always to hand and I may need to go find something in another area. Not so much in my latest kitchen, but certainly in previous ones where I kept kitchen tools in different rooms of the house (due to lack of space) I would need to be fully prepared before starting.
The steps are read out to you by one of the cast or crew, a different one for each recipe. This was a great choice as it allows for hands-free cooking (easier to keep your hands clean—your phone will be the germiest thing in your kitchen, I assure you). If they could somehow make it voice-activated to go onto the next step, that would be another step in a positive direction as I had to wash my hands consistently after pressing a button to the next step (or—I got my Mum, who wasn’t cooking, to do it for me). The best thing about the experience with the app was that the screen never went dark after no use for a while. You may think this is a very strange positive but I have other recipe apps on my phone that consistently do this all the time. It was amazing not to have to stop every few minutes to turn my phone screen back on.
I had my Dad test one of the recipes to see whether non-cooks/non-technology lovers could use it just as easily. He really enjoyed the experience and was excited to do it again. He even offered to do the recipe again the following week, so thank you for that, Sorted Crew.
Overall my experience with the app has been positive. With a few tweaks I think it could be even better but I have faith that they’ll consider this as they seem to be open to users’ feedback.
And now we move onto, arguably, the most important part of any food-based product: the actual food or recipe. I tested a few different packs over a couple of weeks: vegetarian food, family food, cost-savers etc. and I had some… mixed feelings. Instead of trying to remember them all loosely I thought I’d look at one pack in detail and give my review of the individual dishes within it.
1st PACK I COMPLETED: Hone Your Skills
Lemon Baked Salmon with Watercress and Potato Salad
Okay, I’m not going to lie, this was not difficult. I can say with complete surety that this is one of the easiest dishes you can make, and the reason for that is I already made it regularly. Salmon in tinfoil has been a staple in my household throughout my entire childhood. 100%, if you want an easy recipe you can use over and over again and requires little skill, do this one.
I don’t like potato skin or potato salad, but for anybody who does it was a fairly simple process. Their may-be slightly too much mayonnaise for some people (like my mother) but on your second time cooking this dish, it’s easily adjusted. My only suggestion would be to put some fresh herbs and perhaps some caper juices to loosen the mayonnaise before putting on the potatoes. It was just missing a bit of freshness, but otherwise it was very well seasoned with a nice texture.
The timers that were included in the recipe, for this one and all of the others, were a great addition. The reminders to wash hands were also helpful for home-cooks/normals as until you train to be a chef it can be a difficult thing to remember.
The cider vinegar added to the package with the salmon was a great addition and provided an amazing dressing for the mache we used in place of watercress. However being accurate about the size of tray to initially use would have been helpful for a new cook like my Dad.
OVERALL RATING FOR RECIPE: 9/10. I’d certainly suggest it for a beginner but would say it’s a little too simple for an experienced home-cook.
CHICKEN MOZZARELLA BAKE WITH WATERCRESS
This recipe, unfortunately, I had a lot of issues with.
We were given a 15 minute timer for cooking the chicken, which is great, but it came out overcooked and chewy. I have issues with my jaw so it was near on impossible for me to eat.
The sauce had too much sugar in it. It may be a difference in the canned tomatoes that were used but, if something like a can of tomatoes may change the outcome, I would somehow give the person a fair warning. It tasted similar to a tomato toffee sauce and didn’t balance with the rest of the dish.
The breadcrumbs toasted separately to top the salad were a great textural and tasty addition, however the breadcrumbs on the chicken became soggy underneath the sauce and slid straight off when eating. The mozzarella had no flavour (it was good quality mozzarella, tasty to eat outside of this dish) as there was nothing to balance with it and make it shine.
It was easy to cook, which is a great thing, but it took a substantial amount of time for my mother (an experienced ‘normal’ with all the ingredients prepared) to make this ‘easy’ dish. Again there was a lack of tray size and I would argue that, in order to help with pane, you should recommend the use of plates for the breadcrumbs and flour (it’s far easier with a wider surface area).
I understood where they were going with this recipe as there is a popular dish very similar to this one but I felt the balance was slightly off. With a richer, deeper tomato sauce served separately to the baked chicken, and some more flavour injected into the chicken it would have been a lot better. I would suggest as well that the breaded chicken should be fried completely, or poached then baked to keep its moistness.
OVERALL RATING FOR RECIPE: 4/10—With a lot of tweaks it may be accomplished dish, but in this guise it’s lacking balance and texture. Even though it’s simple to make it takes a lot longer than it would suggest which, for the people cooking after they get home from work, may be an annoying wait.
POACHED EGGS WITH ROAST POTATO SALAD
Okay, where to begin with this one? How not to be insensitive about this recipe? Genuinely—and honestly—it was inedible.
Where the chicken dish was overly sweet this was ridiculously sour. If you had no tastebuds you would still say it was too strong. My mother only put in 3tbsp of the recommended 4tbsp of mustard and even that became like a cough syrup. It certainly cleared my sinuses. Granted, again, our mustard may have been stronger than theirs, but how was a hypothetical amateur cook meant to know this? It really should recommend to taste your ingredients and decide for yourself when it comes to flavouring like this. Even still, with a weaker mustard, I would still think it was too much mustard. Perhaps they meant tsps.?
The potatoes didn’t take 20-35 minutes to cook. They took 45 minutes. Other recipes I’ve done from both their apps have also had issues with timings. The entire dish took longer than expected, despite how easy it was to make.
The vegetables included in the dish were all bitter and the green pepper should have been roasted (it also would have been better if it had been red or yellow pepper). The peas didn’t add enough sweetness to the dish. The main problem was a lack of balance. It was all hitting the acidic receptor on our tongues and missing the rest of them.
My mother followed my own easier method for poached eggs but their method does work, as it’s another method I’ve used plenty of times. If you were to follow their recipe I’ve no doubt that it would work.
I assume the sauce was meant to be an alternative to a hollandaise, but an easier alternative for a beginner cook. I would suggest to any beginners that you follow the Sorted Recipe for hollandaise instead as it’s a new skill to learn and it’ll taste 1000 times better. They have a hollandaise recipe in one of their other Meal Packs, which my Dad managed to follow and make, despite not even knowing how to separate an egg at first.
OVERALL RATING FOR RECIPE: 1/10. The poached egg method was explained well but everything underneath the sauce became inedible, unless washed.
This was simply one pack and we’ve done more since then. There are certainly issues with many of them, usually circulating around lack of balance or wrong timings but, for a beginner cook, I would recommend using them to gain the skills and encourage you to cook. It gives you the feeling that you’re not alone in the kitchen which, especially for people who live by themselves would be a bonus. An option to cook for one person would be a good step for the app as it certainly is a perfect design for them (and also, from experience, cooking for one is harder than cooking for 2 or 4).
The aubergine curry was a bit more balance away from being perfect (it was a bit sweet again), and a bit more flavour in the flatbreads would go towards an amazing dish (similar to their flatbreads in their Can’t Be Arsed 2 Cook Cookbook which utilised spices to make the flavour go up a notch). In fact, all the recipes in their Fail-Safe pack seemed to be of a good standard. Unfortunately I haven’t made the cheese souffle yet as we decided to try something different than the eggs we’d already had the day before.
The Sorted Crew often try the ‘Economy Gastronomy’ method (it’s an amazing cookbook and old show from the UK; one of the first cookbooks I ever used), in that they try to repeat ingredients and use them differently the next day. This works sometimes and certainly cuts down on waste but often, not dissimilar to the book above, the people following aren’t likely to do it. To have watercress as a side two days in a row isn’t too bad, as it’s a side and inconsequential, but to have chicken two days in a row is less likely to make you happy. Also, leftovers from good chicken aren’t likely to be around for the next day and you could buy a smaller packet of chicken easily so you didn’t have to repeat.
The App itself is easy to use and with some minor tweaks would be perfect for a home cook but, unfortunately, I think all the recipes need some more development. More choice would also be amazing as they all fall into a similar vane of cooking, although I do appreciate the high amount of vegetable-focused recipes as it promotes healthy eating and shows how much flavour you can get from your veg. For experienced home-cooks like my mother the choice is perhaps not as exciting as she’d hoped. For the first week she was excited to try the meal packs but, having been subscribed now for a couple of months, she’s finding it harder to choose what she would actually like to do each week. The Cookbooks have definitely been utilised more in our kitchen.
Which reminds me, as this has become a very long post, I’ll move the review of the CookBooks App to another post which will be released next week. Thank you for reading and, if you download the app, happy cooking. I hope you enjoy yourselves, as I know I did. If you’ve used the app yourself, what did you think? Did the recipes work out for you?
There may be a few of you reading, wondering (there also may not, but I know I’m wondering) where the blog posts about the garden have gone. We did one blog post, written by my mother, one video produced poorly by me and then suddenly nothing. The thing is, I wanted the content to be interesting and so far, well, it’s not.
Since the creation of the initial two we have been doing practically nothing but digging up grass. With many fields to turn into gardens and no digger to help us with the chore it’s up to the two of us and a couple of garden forks to do it all. And this isn’t just any bog-standard garden grass. In a small garden in England you may have a lawn that a lawn-edger can easily cut through, that’s reasonably easy to maintain. Our grass isn’t like this. Ours is full of weeds and wildflowers, built up over decades in the orchard. The root systems can be as much as a foot deep (even deeper if we’ve caught onto a heavy load of dandelions) and we keep finding the roots of old trees that’ve been left in the ground. Even dead they’re strong and hard to move.
At our fastest we can manage a metre squared an hour, which is a poor showing when our time is often taken up by other jobs or the weather has stopped us from going out. Currently we’re in the process of digging out two gardens: Merlin and our Beatrix Potter vegetable garden. So far, as of 2nd May, we’ve been doing the job for a couple of months (since March) and we have dug up roughly a third of Merlin and a twentieth perhaps of Beatrix Potter. It’s hard going and it gets very dull. Sometimes we have to take a day off digging to do something else because we’re just so bored with the same task.
You can understand then why there hasn’t been much content. As much as I’d love to show the process behind creating our book-gardens, at the minute that would simply be many videos worth of us digging… and more digging… and more digging. It’s tedious for us so I’m not willing to put readers or viewers through the same thing.
However, excitingly there has been some progress outside of digging (all in Merlin, as Beatrix Potter isn’t even close to get onto the next step). Merlin’s paths are partly down. I mean partly, in the sense that the main path around the width of the plot is there but the centre rambling path is yet to be completed. Each path has been edged with whatever was affordable. For the pond area it’s been edged with cheap wooden rolls (costing 2 Euros 50 each—we used roughly thirteen); the entry way’s edging has been done with old slate roof-tiles we had in abundance in the barn (so, free); and the centre path is going to be using straight unbendable wooden edging (around 4 euros at our local supermarket).
At all times we’ve been trying to cut down on costs but the bill still goes up. We used cheap slabs in the paths to break them up and also to cut the quantity of gravel we would need. Even still, with a reasonably priced gravel (8 Euros 75 for 35kg, and a red gravel on sale at roughly 5 Euros for 25kg) we’ve still had to use a large quantity and that’s made the bill skyrocket. Each time hard-landscaping adds up it cuts into our plants bill which, for a flower lover like my Mum, hurts a lot. If it had been a normal year it may have been fine. We may have been able to open our business and throw the money earned there into our gardens but it just hasn’t happened.
The funniest thing is that in order to be allowed the time to do all of the work in the garden it’s helpful not to have guests, but that kicks our budgets for the garden (also, emotionally, not receiving guests has been draining). I realise that I’m not breaking into complaining about an issue a lot of people have in 2021, but just allow me this quick rant. I promise I’ll stop soon (I can promise no such thing as I have no control over future Amy).
So, the paths are getting there. The pond is almost dug out and we’ve purchased the liner etc. ready to go down (but we’re avoiding it until the remaining grass has been removed). The Mediterranean bed has been planted after purchasing the plants before lockdown began again: Three types of lavenders make up the bulk of the planting, then we have salvias, two evergreens and a curry plant (because I wanted to use it in cooking). We also have plants growing for shady areas inside the house which we purchased last month as rootstock from Farmer Gracy.
The syringa (lilac trees/shrubs) have been planted along with another evergreen and a rose down the side of the entrance path to lead your eye down to Merlin’s tomb (a big rock that was already there and I couldn’t even pretend I could move—thankfully it was perfect for the design). Next, after digging up the remaining grass we’ll be laying down the centre dark path and the hidden reading area. In total the Merlin garden will have three relaxing spots: a chair to read in secret just off the hidden pathway, a bench (yet to be purchased) next to the pond and a hammock (yet to be purchased) in Merlin’s bedroom in the centre. Originally the hammock was going to be a raised bed you could lay on but, after searching for clover for ages we decided to go the hammock route and plant underneath it instead.
Videos will be coming but, I’m simply waiting until we’ve moved onto another step (a more interesting step than digging at the very least). Until then I’m considering setting up an Instagram account so that I can at least post pictures of the digging we’ve accomplished that day (or pictures from our visits to the local Pepiniere/grower). I’ll let you know if I decide to do ahead with it.
Again, my apologies for not posting as often as I would like. Writing has become a bit of a struggle as of late. I wish I could say it was because of not having enough time, but I have that in abundance unfortunately. Instead my mental heath has been the cause of the block and has made it hard to concentrate on anything—or accomplish any of the multitudes that I wish I could be doing. I’ll try and update this blog as often as I can. The next blog post will probably be a review of the SortedFood App (an app designed by the YouTubers SortedFood to help cook during a week). Keep an eye out for that if you’re interested and thank you for reading.
Note from The Literary Onion: Hi. I hope you’re all doing okay, despite these very trying times. The Secret Gardeners, creating Book Gardens is a project both my mother and I are working on together. The blog posts will mostly be written by my mother, like the one below, and the videos are created by me. Hopefully, we’ll improve the more we go along but we hope you enjoy our attempts whilst we do. Thank you for reading.
To plan and build a number of gardens (actual number to be decided) based on book themes at our Writer’s Retreat in Cotes D’Armor, Brittany, France.
We opened our Writer’s Retreat on 13 March 2020 four days before the first lockdown in France (so, well timed). Between lockdowns and border closures we have had no visitors this year.
We live in a semi-secluded valley with a few neighbours scattered around. Our Retreat is an old Breton farmhouse (circa 1890’s) complete with outbuildings and 19,000ish metres squared of land (roughly 4 ½ acres). A lot of this land is woods but we do have four distinct other areas where we hope to develop our gardens. We will describe these in more detail as we go along.
WHO WE ARE
We are a couple of British expats (Mother and Daughter) who moved to Brittany in October 2019 with hopes for a new life and a new business venture. Together with our long suffering husband/father (who also provides some of the labour but who, he says, is retired) and two dogs we moved to Le Stylo Noir (The Retreat) in February 2020.
When we first moved to France we lived for a while in our small holiday home before we bought the Retreat.
When the lockdown came we had to decide where to base ourselves. Since we had a few jobs to do at the Retreat we decided to stay there for, we thought, a couple of weeks until the lockdown was lifted. We had taken clothes to last a couple of weeks and a small amount of furniture and personal possessions. We had already moved some things: our book collection, pots and pans and bed linen. So on 13th March (a Friday, *insert-haunted-sounds-here*) we moved to the Retreat.
At the Retreat we only had an old gas bottle oven which was falling apart and no washing machine. This was still at the holiday home. Needless to say the lockdown lasted a little longer than two weeks. I washed the clothes by hand we’d taken with us, cooked on the gas cooker and we read a lot of books and watched too much Netflix.
We got through the jobs quite quickly and wanted to get started on a veg garden but as all the shops were closed except supermarkets we couldn’t buy any seeds apart from a few packets in the local supermarket and a couple of bags of compost.
By the time we were ‘released’ it was well into the growing season so we went to the garden shop and bought some veg plants, mostly late-tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, chillies, lettuces and, of course, courgettes. We made the classic mistake of overwatering until we read that this wasn’t good for the plants and cut back drastically (note from The Literary Onion: this is putting it mildly. We watered twice a day, rotting their roots :P).
As time went by and summer came we made jam from our rhubarb and chutney from the plums in the orchard. We had plenty of time on our hands as we had no guests so we renovated the small cottage at the end of one of our buildings.
The plants grew, one courgette produced plenty of produce and the other didn’t. The beans and chillies did well but the tomatoes, like a lot of people’s, got blight and were disposed of. We had quite a few pumpkins (in fact we’ve still got some stored away) and we spent a lot of time mowing the grass.
And then in October we had our second lockdown. Nothing to look forward to this time, just long nights and short days and even when the lockdown was lifted it didn’t make much difference. There were no Christmas events or markets. Christmas Day was spent with the three of us and then Boxing Day was on Zoom with the other members of our family (when we could get through).
NEW YEAR 2021
New Year brought some good news (Vaccines) and some bad (UK had really high Covid numbers and people we knew of were struggling to return back to their French homes after visiting relatives).
Now, on 3rd February 2021 as I write, we are not in lockdown but it feels like we are waiting for another one. We don’t really go out except for food shopping and a couple of other essentials (including getting the two cats we’ve adopted neutered, after we had to cancel their operation because of the previous lockdown).
PLANS FOR THIS YEAR
We have decided that until the world is vaccinated we aren’t likely to get any visitors, so we need a project to keep us sane. The one thing we are not lacking in our current house is land.
Our previous gardens in England (East Yorkshire actually) have been modest in size. As we worked full time, we spent very little time ‘doing’ the garden. We have always had a greenhouse so have grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chillies most years. However, any other vegetables were always a challenge as the soil in our gardens was heavy clay and resisted the attempts to make it any better by adding top soil or manure. The most success we had was with fruit bushes and courgettes (which seem to grow anywhere).
We decided we wanted to at least have a decent vegetable garden. We both enjoy cooking (daughter is a trained chef) and we miss some of the vegetables we were able to buy in England. France’s supermarkets are very seasonal (this is not a criticism) and this is reflected in the vegetables for sale. We use our local supermarket which is only small so it is even more restricted. You can’t expect to find chillies and herbs every week. Summer is the season for soft fruits and salads and winter is very much cabbage, cauliflower and squashes. So in order to be able to cook some of our favourite dishes we are going to have to grow some of their ingredients and either store or freeze them.
Whilst doing all the research on the vegetable garden for the coming year we decided, as we had a lot of time on our hands, why not plan more gardens as well. We have a lot of grass on our land and we spend a lot of redundant time mowing it. So any improvement which lessens the grass expanses would be time well spent.
In September, we came up with our grand plan, as I like to call it. We are a Writer’s Retreat so why not plan a few small gardens based on the books we have read?
We are going to concentrate on our plans to design and build our gardens and share them with other people in this blog and our accompanying videos on YouTube.
So here goes on our new life working on our gardens. Hopefully in late 2021/2022 we’ll welcome people to our Writer’s Retreat (with Gardens!).
Editing. The word I love to say and love to do… as long as it’s for other people. Yes, I’m one of the sad people who actually will sit there helping to proofread or edit other people’s work. Have I ever been paid for it? No. Although I think I’m competent at it, I feel uncomfortable taking money for something that up until now I’ve always offered to do for free. Part of me knows that’s stupid. After all, I’m currently sat in a house with my parents with no income coming in. Money would certainly help me a lot, but my stubborn brain refuses to accept it for something like editing.
Now, I count myself as very good at editing. Ever since University, when I read an entire book about spelling and grammar (it repeated a lot and was very dull) I’ve been pretty good at utilising it. I also understand flow, syntax, how to write descriptions, how to build characters and when you should ‘tell, rather than show’. I also make sure when helping friends/other writers with editing that I find some positives to tell them so they’re not completely defeated by negatives. I’ve helped edited for University friends (including one who this year, despite having been locked in and isolating since March, has now officially gained her Masters. Woo!); I was in charge of a group of editors who helped edit fanfiction a few years ago and my old computer is riddled with all the stories…
But then it comes to editing my own work. I hate it. I love editing, hate editing my own stories. But why? If I like to edit others work? I’m the sort of person that will say, when editing others work, that there’s good in everything. If you work on the bad things it will only make the good things even better. But, despite this positivity towards others, I look at my own work and I can only groan. These are characters that I love, people I’ve spent my life with. Some of these characters have been inside my head since I was a child. They’re as much my family as my actual family, and closer to me than a lot of them as well.
The thing is, because of this, I want the work to be perfect. I want it to be perfect for these people that I love and that makes me brutal when editing. I will tear into my own stories like a hungry wolf, separated from its pack. By the end there’ll only be a few scraps for the vultures to peck at. It sucks. There’s no formal term for it, it just sucks.
At one point I was so bad that I would delete whole stories from my laptop and throw the paper in the bin, never to see again. Now, I look back at this and curse myself. Even if the writing wasn’t up to standard it was a look into my brain: a brain that has a few good ideas. I could have taken the idea and improved them. Luckily, the majority of my characters remain in my head, but the words disappear.
My Mother monitors my editing these days. She reads it before and she reads it after, knowing full well my tendency to pounce on any perceived mistake. In the past stories that she’s loved have been destroyed in my attempt to perfect them. I assure her that I only do it because I want the words to match the care I have for these plots and characters but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s right. I destroy my works and leave my initial effort pointless.
Now, you could ask whether I edit these pieces before posting them on my blog? Well, you’re reading it, what do you think? No, the answer (at least usually, not always) is no. The truth is, this being myself speaking, makes me even less likely to edit. I have no confidence in myself and I hate to speak about myself in the first person (sometimes even breaking into third, accidentally, in real life as well). I read these posts, occasionally, to my parents to make sure it sounds okay. Then I spend a few days on a picture (yes, it takes me that long) and post it.
I don’t, however, do that with stories or poetry. They have to hit that perfect mark that my voice never will. You can see one of my story collections on this blog: ‘The Street Crawlers’. Now, you may have believed that I’m currently writing them and that’s why it’s been a long time since I posted another one. Nope. I wrote these stories over a course of a few years (starting at 16/17 years old) and finished them about four years ago. I’ve been editing them ever since. Yes, I have all of the stories to post all ready to go on my laptop. I’m just waiting until I’m happy with them and I never am. It took all my courage to put the ones out I have. I still have plans to put out the rest as, at least in my eyes, the best ones are yet to come but editing… it takes me a long time.
Editing for me isn’t just a job to do. It’s a battle with myself, with my emotions and a fight to keep sane. It’s a battle ground where my anger and perfection keep charging at my optimism and determination, knocking them down with hit after hit until they fall to the ground and I walk away. It’s tiring but it’s how it is.
I’m not aware of anybody else feeling this way, but I could be wrong. I know nearly all writers struggle with editing their own work. My friend, who I edit often, comes to me because she reaches a limit on being able to do it herself. But as far as I can tell, the problem she has is that she loves her pieces so much that it’s hard to see the bad in all of the love she has for the piece. I’m the opposite. I see all the bad and none of the good. It puts me in a very negative head space.
So, is anyone else like this? Does anyone else find themselves hating their own work so much that they struggle to edit without seeing red? Or is everyone, like my friend, so in love that they can only see the good? I’d love a sprinkling of your optimism. It would certainly makes things a lot easier (in writing and in life).
Thank you for reading my ranting. This was mostly to serve as an explanation as to why it takes me longer to upload a new post than perhaps I would like. I do plan to upload more Street Crawlers stories, including some of the really good ones (in my personal opinion—actually, that’s a lie, I’m mainly talking about my Mum’s favourite). I have plans for the Books Into Dishes, but again I need time to be able to make them work. Unfortunately, I’m seriously lacking in funds (i.e. I have no funds) which makes it harder to work on dishes that I need money for. I hope that you’re having a good 2021 so far, despite all the misery it seems to be trying to push. Keep writing, keep trying to edit and let’s make 2021 a good year for everyone (characters and real people).
It’s another year. 2021. After all we’ve been through in 2020 it’s hard to be optimistic about the future. I could count the numbers of bad things that have happened to me personally on more than two hands, but hey, I’m still here. I’m alive which means I still have the potential for good things or, at the very least, a few more stories to tell. So, instead of counting the bad things I want to use my new year to think of all the good things that happened in the past year (no matter how small the list could do). I could joke around, as I usually would and end the list right here but, you know what? I’m not going to do my usual and hide behind jokes. I’m going to be honest with myself. Positivity let’s go:
I successfully opened a business on the 13th March 2020. I did this in a different language, in a different country and I’ve kept on top of looking after the website etc. even after the disheartening lockdown that happened (and continue to happen) since the 17th March.
In the first lockdown of many, I successfully finished a short novel from initial idea to editing. I may have done this for a competition that I then went on to not win but I actually did write again. More importantly for me, I finished it, which is rare on a normal year.
I created a picture book in a month about a Christmas day under Covid regulations (a Christmas Lockdown) and I put myself out there on Amazon. Again, it was unsuccessful as it didn’t sell any copies (I’ll admit I’m still not good at marketing) but I actually did something towards gaining a career as a writer. And, unlike my usual negativity towards my work, I’m actually very proud of the drawing and the writing. It may have cost me a thumb for a month as I got a massive cramp from working so hard on it but it was 100 percent worth it.
I started working on cookbooks and other picture books. Although they won’t be ready/up to my own self-prescribed standards for a couple of years I have started to compile a selection of my own creations. As anyone who saw my limited creations on this site (or it’s predecessor Literary Onion, which I disbanded because of money issues) I have a high amount of creativity and I throw them into my cooking. Hopefully I will be putting more recipes up on this blog this year, but I’m not holding myself to it because… well, hopefully new year, new me will mean something to me this year.
I got through my depression. I’m not a-okay by any means but the fact remains that I don’t feel like staying in bed and staring at the floor anymore, which is a major win. As anyone who follows my Twitter may know (all two of you), I lost my dog a couple months ago. This is a big deal for me. We got her when I was fourteen. I wanted a dog, not just because I loved them, but because I had a fear of them. Kimi helped me to get over that fear and because of her I got myself another dog after I graduated university. On top of how much Kimi had helped me, it also came as a major shock when we lost her. She was well. She wasn’t young but she wasn’t old (according to the vet). She was bleeding, so we took her to get checked out. We gave her medicine and a week later we took her back, as she seemed to get worse. They gave her more meds and again we waited to see if anything would happen. Again, she didn’t get better. She started to become a rag doll, not able to lift her head to drink. We went into another lockdown, shutting down everything but managed to get through to the vet and agree to an emergency appointment. She went in again. The vet drained her and gave us more meds. It turned out we never had to use them. By the next morning, Kimi was gone… And I’m crying as I type that. So that’s fun. What followed was utter misery and, unfortunately, I’m still unable to sleep properly, but I’m starting to accept that she’s no longer here. I’m slowly starting to be able to remember all the good things that happened with her. All I want to tell her, and I am as I let loose in this blog, is thanks, Kimi. Thanks for helping me get over that fear. Thanks for being a good friend and loving me, despite all my faults. You were the best.
Okay, on to more positivity. I started to design the gardens. You’re most likely going to see more of this in the future as it very much suits the theme of my blog. Our new house, which we moved into just before the first lockdown and is the basis for our business has a lot of land. We have woodland we’re slowly climbing our way through and three fields to work on. My plan is to turn each of these fields, slowly, into book-themed gardens. Unfortunately, it won’t be very fast at this rate as we’re lacking majorly in the money department but we’ve started our first two at least (Merlin and Beatrix Potter). I’ve also helped my sister to design her garden in England so, all in all, I’ve got to start doing something I truly love and haven’t been able to do in years (this time on a grander scale so… yay).
I taught my first class on Creative Writing and I actually managed to help a fellow writer. When you’re a person as low on confidence as me all the time, it’s hard to think of yourself as anything but an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about (even if you know you do) so it’s nice to have someone to talk to who does think you understand the things you love. It turns out I’m a smart person. Weird, huh? All joking aside, I’m glad to be able to be of use for someone and to help them. I’ve only managed one class so far, as we went into another lockdown straight after, but hopefully I’ll be teaching a lot more in the future (is this the point I shamelessly plug my courses on my website: www.lestylonoirretreat.com ?).
I successfully helped somebody I loved through a panic attack. As someone who has them a lot it hurt majorly hearing someone I care about experiencing the same but I managed to help them out of their panic and taught them a bit about how to manage it next time. I guess there are benefits to having so many problems with anxiety? Who knew?
Although we lost one dog, we did gain two new troublemakers into the household. Two little rescue kittens called Clio and Trixie (Beatrix for long). They are both little terrors and cuddle buddies. Pepper (our other dog) absolutely adores them and will rush to see them whenever she can. So far they’ve climbed everything they can see, got stuck underneath the stairs (which is blocked off), chosen Dad as their lord and saviour (the man who didn’t want them in the first place) and successfully infiltrated every place they shouldn’t be going. But they did it all with a cute face and purring so we forgave them.
I didn’t want to leave it at nine, so here’s a tenth. I started writing and preparing a project for YouTube. Basically for me this was the year of Percy Jackson. It was the year I decided to read the books and then buy the next series and then buy a shirt and then think obsessively about a Percy Jackson themed plate of food. So, with that in mind (with many things on my mind), I decided to write a Percy Jackson-based audio series and record all of it with my own voice. It will explore a previous generation of Camp Half-Blood campers, before any children of the big three, came around in Percy Jackson. In other Percy Jackson related news, we found a natural archway in our woodland that we have now declared to be the entrance to Camp Half-Blood (picture below). This is the first and only time you’ll probably see a picture of me so… well… enjoy, I guess.
Overall, 2020 has been a horrendous year. It’s a year where I feel like I shouldn’t complain because I am still alive, and everyone I care about (bar one, none-Covid related) is alive too, but I still feel like screaming. I opened a business in an industry that was set to self-destruct four days later. Every other industry I have any skills in is crumbling as well and all I can do is watch because, well, I’m in it too. I don’t have any money to help them. I’m barely able to get up in the morning and I can’t sleep at night.
It’s a year in which everyone, ironically, got a glimpse into how I think on a normal day. A year where everyone had to experience anxiety, misery, low confidence and over-thinking in a way that I wish they never had to. I wouldn’t recommend living like me as a lifestyle choice, just for your own sanity. But I’m glad I could find some positives. It’s highly unusual for me.
I hope you’re all doing okay. If you actually made it to this sentence then thank you. Thank you for reading my rambles. I can’t promise anything for the future of this blog, especially as money continues to be an issue (it costs to be a blogger, unfortunately, especially one with food etc.) but I really do hope I can get up the courage and the motivation to write again because when I do I’m at my happiest.
Have a great 2021. Let’s find more positives, shall we?
Fanfiction. You may have heard of it, you may have even partaken in it, or (just as likely) you have no idea what it is. Fanfiction is exactly as it sounds—it’s you as a fan of something, writing a fiction about it. You can write Fanfiction about anything: do you love a TV show so much that you can see new storylines in your own head? Do you appreciate a book’s characters so much you want to see what they’d be like in a different setting? Do you want to play in somebody else’s lands but copyright stops you along the way? Fanfiction. That’s the answer.
I wrote fanfiction when I was seventeen, through to about twenty. Many of my friends write fanfiction, even now, as it keeps them sharp and engaged with other writers. Incidentally, the most famous fanfiction is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ which started out life as a Twilight Fanfiction and then was tweaked to make it what it is (holding off on my opinions of the actual text, as I’ve only read snippets of lines). If you think back though, there’s been many cases of fanfiction writing being published. If you continue a deceased author’s work, you’re writing fanfiction. If you’re re-writing a classic story, you’re writing a fanfiction. ‘Four Children and It’ by Jacqueline Wilson, ‘Austen Land’ by Shannon Hale, any Enid Blyton book written post Enid Blyton. All of these are merely fanfictions that someone has been allowed to defeat the copyright (given special permission).
Now, of all my ramblings, why am I so adamantly telling you this? Because, my dear readers, I believe we should all start out by writing fanfictions. Why? Because it will ultimately make us better writers. When we start out we can appreciate what makes a good character, we can even create the basics of one, but to truly understand how to write characters we have to know them inside and out. The best way to do that is by characters we’ve seen and read multiple times, who we already know inside and out because of another writer’s successes.
During my time writing fanfiction I got to know the process of developing characters. Because it was in a fantasy world, I got to learn the process of developing worlds that people love and wish to escape to. I became an editor, helping many people on the platform I was on help reach their story’s potential. I became involved in the writing world, and got to know many people across many different countries and continents who all shared the same passions as me: the show/book and writing.
Fanfiction is also useful for another reason. As well as growing you as an author, it connects you to an audience. You learn to take criticism, you learn to pick yourself up, you learn to accept praise. If you become a popular enough fanfiction writer, you can then more easily sell your own original stories to them. You’ve gathered yourself an audience. Yes, admittedly, an audience that’s there because they want to read stories based on the shared book/story you love, but one that you can persuade to love your writing style; to love your work.
When writing fanfiction, you can go with any genre. You’re not stuck writing romance, if it’s a romance (remember somebody took ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and made ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, if that’s not fanfiction in a nutshell, I don’t know what is). You can do anything with fanfiction. If you want to change the plot of the original story, or change one of the characters, or the details of any of the characters—write an Alternate Universe (AU) story. If you want to take an episode of ‘Friends’ and make it into a thriller, then do it.
Do you know what’s so amazing then? If you spend your time developing your skills, using the building blocks somebody has already laid out for you, you can then start creating your own building blocks. You can understand the effort it takes to create all the different elements that make up a book. You can take your fanfictions, later on, look through them, pick out all the elements you like and write an original piece mixing the two pairs of building blocks together. If you’re very, very lucky you could be able to write fanfiction professionally (again, if the copyright police deems it so).
Does it feel slightly dirty, like your cheating by not coming up with your own original ideas? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no. It’s an easy way to teach yourself how to write, and for me (mostly to do with the website I did it on) I learned by reading other people’s work and editing some others. There’s plenty of websites you can use, some better than others. I know some people who do it through fanfiction.com, some who do it through writer’s apps, some who write on their own blog (hey there!), some who do it on specific shows fanfiction sites (fimfiction.net, being the main one I know), even some who do it through social media. My friend, the main one who continues to write fanfiction, does all of hers through Tumblr and she often collaborates with other writers through the site.
And on the fanfiction sites, you can often find even more. Due to my (very small) success on my site, I had people offering me artwork for front covers of my stories. All of these artists where better than I was, and the relief at not having to spend hours labouring over my own covers was amazing (unfortunately, I do all of the artwork on my blog though, hence why certain posts take so long to come out).
I even met poets, like myself, who loved to write poetry about the shows/books we loved (incidentally, poetry is the easiest way to get through copyright, I think). You can choose anything, even real people (though I often think that’s a tad creepy, especially if they’re alive) and have fun with it. Because that’s the word of the day with fanfiction: Fun. Have fun, mess around a bit and see what you come up with. You’ll be surprised how much better a writer you’ll be by the end of it.