Character Interview- Mack Walker

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Mark Gillespie is an incredibly talented and prolific writer. I can’t keep up with the number of books he releases! This character interview is with Mack Walker, the main protagonist in his dystopian/post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction style trilogy, The Future Of London. (I’ve read two books in the series so far, and it is brilliant!) Enjoy!

Mack Walker (The Future of London Series)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

I suffer from obsessive tendencies. But I don’t know, are those negative traits? To wake up in the morning knowing that only one thing matters above all else? That sounds like clarity to me. I’m looking for someone you see – that’s my thing. You could call it hunting rather than looking, because when I find him, well…

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

Obsessive tendencies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

To kill a man called Hatchet. In 2011, he did a terrible thing, something that changed all our lives for the worse. Someone has to make him pay and only a few people know what he did back then.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I still don’t know what happened to my parents. Nine years after they locked us up in London I don’t know what happened to them. Did they stay behind to look for me or did they make a run for it and try to get out before it was too late? I’m afraid I’ll never know the answer to that question. Most of all, I’m afraid they stayed behind.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

Friends don’t last long in this city.

6. Have you ever been in love?

I was only 16 when they locked us up in here. I never had much time for all that stuff back then. I’ve got even less time for it now.

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Yes, but not without good reason. I don’t even know what counts as a ‘crime’ anymore in here. We do what we do to survive. Things like stealing and murder, they don’t mean what they used to.

8. Do you have any secrets?

I have a big secret. I know why no one is a hurry to let us out of London even though it’s been nine years since they sealed off the city. I’m certain they could find a way to bring us all back into society if they really wanted to. Only one other person in the city knows what I know. They’re using us – they’ve installed hundreds of thousands of micro-cameras everywhere, all over the city and they’re filming us. Not only that, we’re part of a reality TV show called The Future of London. Apparently it’s very popular and people pay a lot of money to watch us in here. They gain nothing from letting us out but they stand to lose a lot of money.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d never moved to London in 2011.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

There haven’t been any new headstones in London for a long time. But it doesn’t matter if no one remembers me. Not as long as I find him.

Thanks so much to Mark (and Mack!) for this interview! You can find out more about Mark’s books on the link below;

Mark Gillespie books

 

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Getting Out of The Dumps

Last week I posted very excitedly about my writing goals for 2017 and I was feeling very vibrant and energetic with the start of a new year, full of possibility. I was just brimming over with exuberance and ambition. Annoyingly so, I feel.

This week? Not so much.

Call it the post Christmas and New Year anti-climax. Maybe that’s what it is. A sort of slumping of the shoulders at the months of cold weather ahead. A general loss of enthusiasm, I guess.

Writing is a strange affliction, where you are constantly indulging your selfish dreams and passions, your desire to write, while at the same time, constantly battling self-doubt and reality checks. I know I am not alone when I ask myself on a regular basis, what the hell am I doing this for?

Well, the answer is still the same and always will be. I’m writing because I have to, because I’d go crazy if I didn’t, because I live in perpetual hope and aim to keep getting better.

That’s enough, believe me, it will always be enough. But when slumps like this hit, it can be hard to claw your way back up again. So I thought I would attempt to list the things I am feeling down about, and then try to counteract that with a list of things to feel hopeful about, possibly with the result of cheering myself up. We’ll see!

Down

  1. Doing my tax return. Yep, it’s that time of year again where I am smacked right in the face with how little I earn at what I do. This then leads to building guilt and panic telling me that I need to stop it all now and get a real job fast!
  2. Lack of interest/support from loved ones. This is not uncommon, in fact pretty much every indie writer I know has experienced this. I even wrote an article about it for Author’s Publish which went down rather well. Like I said in that piece, it’s not always what you think it is, it works both ways, there are so many reasons why, blah blah blah, but just for a moment let’s acknowledge that it does actually hurt. Which leads to further self-doubt and guilt and telling yourself to just stop it.
  3. Lack of reviews. It’s nice to get sales but what authors really really want are more reviews. This is so we can find out what we are getting right and wrong! Even bad reviews are helpful as they add to the overall amount. With no new reviews, writers feel totally alone. It’s nice to get the odd pat on the back or helpful suggestion. New reviews pick you up when you feel close to quitting. They keep you going and make everything worthwhile.
  4. Never ending guilt. Yes, the guilt again. Guilt about not earning enough money, guilt about being almost constantly in another world of my own construction, guilt about wishing the kids bedtime would hurry up so I can get on the laptop and get writing. Ugh! So much guilt!
  5. Feeling like a fraud. Oh, this one is bad at the moment. It rears its head from time to time! I think it’s because I’m running an adult workshop in March and although I enjoy this and have done this before, this is the first time on my own, not with Dorset Writers Network, and every time I stand up and talk to other writers I feel like a massive fraud. I feel like I should say, Google me! Then decide if I’m worth listening to!  Same goes with writing my books. Some days I feel like a writer. I am a writer. Other days, not so much.

Up

  1. Face reality. I can’t realistically look for any other work that is not in some way self-employed or done from home as I have a two-year-old to care for. When he starts nursery in September, I will be looking at my options, and again when he starts school the year after that. So maybe I should stop worrying so much that I am not contributing. I’m raising him! And he’s awesome
  2. Some friends and family are with me all the way, so I need to appreciate and concentrate on these. Remind myself that no one shows a lack of interest deliberately to hurt me and that there are many, many reasons why this happens. Move on, head held high and remember to always, always, prove them wrong.
  3. Reviews are wonderful. They will brighten an entire week! They remind you that people are reading, digesting and reacting to what you have written, so yes, they are worth their weight in gold. I need to concentrate on making sure readers realise how important they are and I need to continue to approach book bloggers in order to secure more reviews.
  4. Well, the guilt will always be there. From when I was a child nick-named ‘cloth-ears’ to now when my husband accuses me of constantly thinking about characters and plots…It’s just who I am and I don’t think I would want to change anyway. I generally only write once the youngest is in bed, so it doesn’t steal too much time from the family. Maybe I should remind myself how artistic and creative all of my older children are. They’ve followed me in my love of books and reading, and if they’re not writing their own stories, they are making music and art.
  5. I think unless I truly ‘make it’ one day (whatever making it means!) I will always feel a bit like a fraud but I will try to remind myself that I have achieved a lot, and if I can offer words of advice or just talk about the mistakes I made in the beginning, with a writer at the start of their journey, then I am doing a good thing. I love running my writing group. The writers are unbelievably talented individuals, who also all happen to be bloody fun to be around. We talk a lot and laugh a lot. The same goes for the outstanding children who come to the kids workshops. As long as people keep turning up, then I guess I am doing something right!

Right, now I think I have talked myself out of that miserable little slump, how are you all doing post Christmas and New Year? It is a really weird time of year, to be honest. We’ve all eaten too much, drank too much, and watched too much telly. We’re struggling to get back to normal life, and January just feels so bleak at times. It’s cold and dark and Summer feels like it is never going to return. How do you cope with this time of year? What are the sort of things that get you down in the dumps, and how do you manage to cheer yourself up again? Please feel free to comment and share!

 

Christmas Guest Post; Anna Lock

A few weeks ago I set my writing group a prompt, which was simply ‘Christmas Is…’ I was hoping they would come up with either a memory, a rant, or a piece of fiction based on the prompt which I could then use as a guest post on my blog. I had some amazing responses, and as usual, all very, very different! But I had to go with this one by the wonderful Anna Lock. A poignant piece of fiction on the fragility of family life at Christmas…

Christmas is …

I looked through the box of photographs the other day Dad, the ones from that last Christmas. It was difficult but I made myself do it. There you were, sitting on that shiny blue settee smiling at the camera whilst Janet and I played with our new toys at your feet. I can see it now, of course, the illness, the portents of death that were written into your face, but then, we were children and unaware. Do you remember that Christmas Dad?

The next photo is the one with Joe wearing a hat from a cracker and blowing a silly whistle – it must have been taken after lunch. I don’t recall. It’s strange that isn’t it? The way when you look at a photo you can convince yourself that you can remember that very moment in time even if that isn’t true? He looks really happy; so youthful and unworried, God, he was so young then, my big brother and I was totally oblivious of how difficult that period of his life was for him. He was rarely at home –that was the source of so many rows and bitter fights between you wasn’t it? Janet and I used to pull the blankets over our head in bed to block them out, that and the sound of Mum sobbing and pleading with you both.

Joe is pretending to be tipsy; so ironic when I think of him now, and wonder where he is. How is he spending Christmas this time? Another year in some remote godforsaken land, keeping us all at arm’s length, and in that place he goes to in his head, where the hurt can’t penetrate. He’ll be wasted and alone. I could always try texting him again, although he probably won’t reply and then I’ll get sad and worry that he’s dead somewhere and the cycle of anger with him, you, Mum, God and the world will start again and cripple me. That unbearable burden that each of your children carry, because you left us too soon.

In this photo, Mum and Auntie Audrey are clinking sherry glasses and laughing at the camera. Audrey always spent Christmas with us didn’t she; all those years, before she finally married in her 40s. How she made us laugh! Her exuberance seemed to fill the house, revelling in everything, even Julia’s dreadful mince pies and inedible Christmas cake. Looking back I can see now that we were her surrogate children but at that time, all I knew was that she was such fun to be around; the loud bubbly extrovert and contrast to her quiet sister. Mum looks okay, given the circumstances. Did you know, she mentioned that Christmas to me a few years ago? I can’t remember the context but unusually for her, the rose tinted specs were off, and she told me how Joe had lost yet another job a few weeks before, and that she had given him some money to buy his sisters a present each. Money was so tight then, and she could ill afford it, poor love. But I remember what he bought us, Dad. We had a bottle of bubble bath each and the stopper was like a Barbie head! Janet’s was blond, mine was brown and Julia had a red head.

Mum said that because you had been so ill that autumn, and hadn’t been in work for such a long time, she had been rushing around and consequently neither of you had been able to get a present for Joe – it is difficult to find the right present for an 18-year-old whose only interests are T. Rex, Slade and Manchester United I suppose. So you had decided to give him a cheque. But what with one thing and another it didn’t get written, so you had tried to do it secretly on Christmas morning and hide it in the tree. But somehow that hadn’t happened. Mum was still so sad about that after all these years you know? She had tried to tell Joe later that it wasn’t because you had forgotten him or didn’t care, but deep inside she knew that his pain that day, just added to all the other hurts he was collecting in his heart. She didn’t know then how to handle him – after all her life was so busy with the relentless struggle to make ends meet and look after four children in addition to an increasingly ill husband. And so time ticked on, and Joe gradually dropped off the edge of the family until one day, he slipped beyond our reach.

But none of this is visible in that photo. Maybe in that fleeting moment, Auntie Audrey had succeeded in resurrecting her fun-loving older sister and Kevin had captured it with a “click” – proof preserved forever that the happy, smiling mum once did exist. After you had gone Dad, that mum vanished too. Oh, I’ve seen a similar smile on occasions, when she looks at a new-born grandchild, or when they climb onto her lap for a cuddle but it’s never quite as full, never whole or secure, never quite complete again.

In the photo of Julia, I can see the tree behind her. Ah, the tree; our one luxury, always a real tree, no matter what eh? And the excitement of the trip to choose it! Do you remember Dad, the fun we had fixing it to the car roof and the drive home again singing Christmas carols in the car all 4 children squeezed in tightly in the back? Mum kept this ritual, despite the financial frailty – did you know that? We tried hard, but with just Janet and me at home, and little money the tree became thinner, subdued and less robust – a bit like us.

Do you remember the Christmases before that Dad? How you and Joe would carry the massive tree through the house and upstairs to the cosy lounge, where Mum had lit the fire in the huge Victorian fireplace, scattering pine needles in your wake. The annual drama of wedging it into the bucket and the “it isn’t straight yet” arguments between Joe and Julia, while Janet and I danced around gleefully, full of anticipation, picking up on wafts of excitement and cheer from the conversations between the adults, happy, for once, that there were no rows or slamming of doors, or tears. We inhaled the wonderful pine scent that meant Christmas was really here as the fire crackled cheerfully, impatient for Mum to finish untangling the old fairy lights, traditional red, green yellow and blue, with a nursery rhyme motif that mysteriously tangled themselves in their box each year.

For two weeks the tree shone in the huge bay window, and on Christmas morning it was surrounded by a sea of wrapped presents quietly waiting for the 6 of us, Auntie Audrey and Godfather Kevin. Oh, the anticipation of that moment, the build-up was almost unbearable for us then. I can’t find any photos of the tree Dad. I suppose that’s because only Kevin had a camera, and he liked to take pictures of people. Thank goodness he did, otherwise, we’d only have our memories and that would be unbearable. It was thoughtful too, of him to send us the photos, or bring them with him when he came to stay the following Easter. He knew of course; he was your best friend and confidant. He stayed loyal to us Dad – but you’d know that wouldn’t you, why would you have doubted that?

We found loads more photos from Christmas when we cleared his flat – he kept them all you know; we hadn’t recognised our value to him then when we were children. But we loved his expensive gifts from Harrods and Selfridges. The trip to the station to collect him from the London train on Christmas Eve was the start of Christmas proper. He was the one who bought Mum the lovely presents, perfume, expensive chocolates and silk scarves because he could see what the rest of us could not, her selflessness, and the grim future that lay ahead.

Do you remember Dad, those endless monopoly games with him that lasted the whole week between Christmas and New Year? All the arguments and negotiating that went on – that time when Auntie Audrey stood guard of the board over night because we were convinced that Kevin was cheating! It was all put on of course, for Janet and me; adults conspiring in the great adventure, and jolly larks, and, oh, how we revelled in that! Leftover turkey with bubble and squeak, cosy afternoons with the telly, satsumas and Christmas chocolates and that protracted game of monopoly. Those were the best Dad, really happy times, for us all I think because everyone joined in, battles forgotten, money worries, sickness and impending loss and grief suspended momentarily. A family united and sharing good times with a friend.

That was over 40 years ago Dad, such a long time ago, yet it’s as fresh a memory as if it was last year. The grief is less raw now of course, but it never goes away; all those other Christmases stolen from us, future photos that were never taken and happy new memories that could not be born. Just memories of that last Christmas, kept alive through those photos, and made so poignant by the knowledge that 3 of the key players were keeping a dreadful secret, and hiding it from the children. Do I wish we had known? I don’t know Dad; how could an 8 and 6-year-old handle that knowledge? You all meant well I realise that; you thought you were doing the right thing.

But each Christmas became harder to get through than its predecessor, for fifteen years. The tree lights that didn’t work and were cracked or broken came out of their box only to be put back – no money to replace them. The Chinese lanterns that we repeatedly sellotaped together and resolutely stuck to the ceiling were eventually thrown away when they became beyond repair and the decorations that we fixed to the tree using paperclips grew fewer each year. It was good that we had learned at school to make 3 d shapes. Janet and I would spend Sunday afternoons each December making a batch and eking out the remaining glitter in the Christmas decoration box, to hang on the tree when the time came to cover its bareness.

So here I am, with these photos and memories, planning Christmas with my children Dad. I shall check the boxes of decorations surreptitiously to reassure myself that everything is intact and working, so that when they open them to start decorating our tree, and I watch their excitement at discovering favourite treasured memories again, when they exclaim aloud at the ones they had forgotten, I shall know that we will not have to put things back in the box quietly and go without. I will check, double check and then check again, that everyone has been accounted for with presents and cards well in advance, and that I have some spares tucked away just in case, so no one can feel the hurt of being overlooked.

And there will be the real tree. We’ll all go to collect it, and we’ll pick a huge, bushy, scented evergreen – all of us together; my children, their boyfriends and cousins and the dog, all crammed into the car. There will be shrieks of laughter as we try to fit the tree into the car, around all the bodies and the bags of Christmas veggies, while Pip the Christmas tree man joins in the fun giggling at them all while he secures the half open boot with rope. Then we’ll drive home, boot slightly ajar, with two feet of Christmas tree trunk sticking out behind, children clutching the dog, and complaining merrily of pine needles ticking their ears and everyone will sing along loudly and exuberantly, to my old Christmas cassette tape that is saved just for this occasion each year, and marks the start of Christmas proper. Faces will be suffused with happiness and smiles at the golden oldies, groans will be heard at the corny cheesy songs and, then we will get to track seven. In that moment I will look back in the mirror and watch as my children exchange glances, nudge their boyfriends, and my nieces grin at their cousins, and, then, surrounded by the heady pine scent mingled with that aroma of satsuma that epitomise Christmas as one, we will take a deep breath and sing. We will sing at the top of our voices and slightly out of tune, to accompany Wizzard with “I wish it could be Christmas every day” and everything will be all right Dad.

Thanks so much Anna! Now, don’t forget, I am always on the lookout for guest posts and submissions for my blog! I’m looking for anything to do with writing or reading, as well as essays/articles/rants etc on being an outsider, and any short fiction or extracts from novels which are along the same theme. 

My Shit Tree…And Other Christmas Let-Downs

I blame the perfect people of Facebook and their perfect trees and decorations. I mean, once upon a time, when there was no such thing as social mediawe didn’t know what anyone’s house looked like at Christmas unless we visited them. Although, I suppose, to be fair, there have always been those treacly Christmas movies, with their perfect trees and perfect families. But these days it’s pushed into your face even more and  we know what everyone’s Christmas tree looks like. And they are all gorgeous, and evenly balanced, with matching decorations and a colour theme. The lights hang perfectly, looking like they are a part of the tree, not some extra tangled mishap that’s been thrown on in some haphazard manner.

funny-christmas-trees-expectation-vs-reality

My tree looks like…well, it never looks like the picture I have in my head. This current one looked awesome in the shop (my 9-year-old chose it) but when I got it home, I realised the trunk was too short and stubby at the bottom and would result in the heavy tree falling over in the pot. (Been there, done that.) That’s okay, I cheered, while my cynical, Christmas-hating husband looked on, I just have to lop some branches off the bottom! He left me to it, and once I’d trimmed it, I found the giant pot that sits by the back door waiting to come in every year and started to dig the weeds out of the dirt. I released a few worms and checked there were no slugs or snails on the bottom, and then I lugged it in through the back door and positioned it proudly on the carefully laid out Christmas wrapping paper.(Every year I promise myself a proper tree skirt AND a little wooden train going around…) All good so far! I was feeling all excited and festive. I wanted to get it up with the lights on before my son got back from school, so he could do the rest of the decorations. I dragged in the tree and husband dutifully held it in place while I shoveled dirt back around it.

And inevitably it leaned a bit, so I fiddled some more, added more dirt and some bricks for good measure, and said aloud to my husband; every single year I say I am going to buy a tree stand and every year I don’t and use this same old annoying pot. Then my poorly 12 year old looks up from the sofa and claims; ‘the problem is, it is not a very neat tree.’

No. Well, real trees are not ‘neat’ are they? That’s what we love about them! They’re bushy and fragrant and real! They come in all shapes and sizes and that’s what we like! It’s interesting!

Refusing to be beaten by cynics, I set about sorting the lights. Two sets worked but had become so entangled I swear to God they have actually fused together and become one. I gave up on them before I got too angry. Another set didn’t work. I plugged in a brand new set I purchased from eBay last January (yes, January!!) when I was searching online for lights that looked really traditional. I found these beautiful lights from America, with ceramic bulbs! It wasn’t until they arrived that I realised our plugs are different. Not to be deterred I purchased what I believed to be the correct adaptor, but when I plugged it in, the whole thing blew up.

Well, I’m sure I’ll definitely get around to fixing that one day and won’t have wasted any money whatsoever.

But for now, luckily, I had purchased another set of star shaped lights this morning at a bargain price, plus they are battery operated! Yay me. I put them on and they looked fantastic. But they also looked sort of out of place among the other smaller lights. Never mind maybe I will grab another pack next time I’m there?

On with the rest of the lights. One twinkly multicoloured pack also battery operated and work! One ancient pack, they work, but only some come on, but oh well, stick it on anyway. How the hell do other people wrap lights around trees? I look forward to doing it and then start hating it right away. There is never a branch where you need one to be! You can see way too much wire. I end up with bare areas no matter how hard I try to distribute them evenly. I thought I liked it until my daughter told me to look at it from where she was sat. Where it looked crap.

Disheartened I turned them all off and decided to forget about it for now. In my head I was thinking, isn’t this the same thing that happens year after year? It’s like Groundhog Christmas for me. Every year I do the same thing. I promise myself next year I will get the best tree ever. I will buy more lights, because more lights is surely the answer and I never seem to have enough lights or remember how many lights will not work or be tangled together never to be parted again. And I think about all the lovely trees I have seen in shops, on TV and on Facebook, and I long for the same look, the same feel, and I make plans to achieve it.

And yes I actually do make plans. I have a little Christmas notebook I write in all year, adding presents when I buy them so I can tick them off. Last year I decided I wanted this year to be much more traditional and home made in look and feel, hence the sought out bulb shaped lights. It was going to be home-made this and home-made that, old fashioned and cosy. With paper chains and paper snowflakes and even home-made crackers on the list.

Why do I already feel like that picture is slipping away from me?

Because my tree looks shit.

And money has done that thing it does so magnificently at this time of year. You know, vanishing, drying up, running out, backing off, hiding. It does then suddenly start to get stressful, and I feel angry with myself again because last year I promised myself as usual that this year would be different. I would buy more throughout the year and would avoid a last minute financial meltdown.

Why am I always searching for the perfect Christmas?

I suppose they sell it to us, don’t they? In movies, and in adverts, (God don’t even get me started on those bloody adverts), and in shops and catalogues. And I’ve saved about a million different recipes about how to cook the perfect dinner because of course I will do it this year, because after last year I promised myself I would! (When serving Christmas dinner I lose the ability to count, often forgetting to serve one person, or like last year, dishing up an entire plate for an extra person who did not exist.)

When I look back on all the Christmassses of the past and I try to work out what made them great, or okay, or even terrible, it’s strange what actually comes up. I can remember some awesome Christmassses. When I was about seven or eight and it felt like the presents under the tree were a mountain. I got a Charmkins house and  My Little Pony stable, and a great big rag doll. I’ve seen the photos. We were all very, very happy. When I was ten I got a flufy tiger and sat on the landing after we’d been sent to bed, listening to the adults still talking and laughing, and feeling sad that Christmas was over. I remember sitting by the tree and staring at the lights, feeling dazzled by them, like I might cry. The best things were stuff we weren’t normally allowed like fizzy drinks and sweets and chocolates, and everyone watching TV together, and passing them around and having extra people in the house like grandparents and funny uncles.

I can only really remember two really sad Christmases. They were both terrible and heartbreaking for very different reasons. The kind of things you think at the time will mean you will never enjoy Christmas again.

But you do. Our first Christmas as a family was one of the best ever. Our first daughter was only 4 months old and everything was just so exciting. Another one I remember as being above and beyond was our first in this house, after a terrible year of things going wrong, we were finally settled and secure, and the kids all had bean bags and we had this dopey foster puppy with us, and I can just remember us all sprawled out, or cuddled up.

Last year was pretty damn good from start to finish, yet as normal, there I went again afterwards, scribbling in my book, trying to plan it better for this year, trying to achieve that elusive stage of perfection I seem to see all over my Facebook feed and on TV.

But maybe it’s good to stop and think and try to remember the ones that counted. Why they were sad, or why they were amazing, had nothing to do with trees, or lights, or crackers or food. It was only ever to do with the people you love.

So, in tribute to this and to them, my loved ones, my family, I will endeavour from this moment on to forget about the lop sided, leaning tree with its mismatched only half working lights, and forget about the plans to collect holly and ivy and spray fir cones and make centre pieces, and name plates, and I will forget about how beautiful other people’s trees and houses look compared to mine, and I will just relax. Love my shit tree and everything else that will inevitably go wrong at this strange time of year. I will accept my shit tree and concentrate on the people, knowing that in their little eyes, every Christmas tree is amazing and beautiful, and every wrapped present exciting, and that just being together is all any of us ever really want.

And when it is all over, I will try really really hard not to think about how much better it could have been, if only…