Monday, 17 December 2012

One Year On...

As the year comes to an end there's often the tendency to reflect back upon the last twelve months (usually after several vodkas and wearing a ridiculous party hat whilst sobbing in the toilets on New Year's Eve), but as it's also been a year since I started my blog and decided to take my writing more seriously, I've decided to let myself wallow. For a bit. So, where to begin...


When I started my blog last November I had two pieces of flash-fiction published, and a story accepted for a forthcoming anthology.  I now have twenty-two published pieces (including the ones previously mentioned); so while I may get impatient with the slow process of write-edit-send-reject/publish, and berate myself for my laziness, that isn't bad going, I tell myself.  Then writerly perfection creeps.  Most of those stories could have been better: some of them much, much better. I know that writers are rarely happy with their own work, and while I can chart my progress back through my work to some extent, which provides 'proof' that there is progress ('see how shit that bit is, hilarious!'), there is a niggling 'urgh, if only I'd sat on that for a while longer before sending it out!' regarding some of the pieces, at the back of my mind. Conversely though, I read through some of my older work, fully expecting to find fault, and instead I find myself enjoying them, and I notice that there's an ease and a lack of awareness to a lot of them (endless concerns about 'telling' versus 'showing', plot advancement, dialogue etc) that is absent now (for better or for worse, I'm not sure!).

The main change in my writing, however, is that while most of my previous work straddled a literary/genre line (and still does to some degree), and while I'm probably not going to start penning hard Sci-Fi, I am now actively targeting my work at 'genre' markets as that's where it feels more at home, and I am starting to define myself as a 'writer of weird things' whereas before 'author' was a catch-all that belied my lack of focus.

Also, concerning my publications, a big THANK YOU to anybody who took the time to comment on my stories where that option was available (or 'liked' them/ shared on FB, Twitter etc).  It's nerve-wracking to have your writing at the mercy of the internet maniacs, but so far all the feedback has been just wonderful and I've filed it all away for those grey days when I'm feeling useless, and where those kind comments are akin to a sugary cup of tea, or a massive slice of cake, or a big hug from somebody in a furry bear/yak whatever that-over-there-is suit. I have been lax myself, and been a read-and-go type, and was a bit oblivious to 'netiquette' regarding these things, but it's made me see just how valuable a bit of bolstering can be, and how if I do enjoy a story, then I really should just let the writer know, so to all those who took the time to do so, again, sincere thanks.


In January this year I started a creative writing MA at MMU, and while I'm still getting mocked for pursuing a creative degree '(What yer doing that for?' etc), I've really enjoyed it so far, and it's encouraging to be around (extremely talented) people who are all aspiring authors, and who can empathise with the daily writerly woes ('oh, my pov is so wrong, I'm useless, I tell you, useless!'). It hasn't been an easy ride either (for a 'waster's'' degree); whether it's writing your own stuff for workshop; or giving detailed feedback on the work of your peers, or reading a book a week for three months ('actively' reading too, noticing all the techniques rather than cruising along with the story); or doing the creative exercises linked to whichever text is in question, or providing in-depth analyses for seminar.  I can find themes and subtexts and all sorts of sociopolitical nuances within novels (due to my previous degree which DEMANDED I do so), but I really found it a challenge to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the work instead (how the characters are drawn, how effects are achieved, how stories generate suspense/ elicit emotion etc) and it's really a case of seeing the ladybirds on the leaves rather than coolly standing back to assess the tree.


Around February I also started working for the excellent Shimmer Magazine as a slush reader, and I'm still happily slushing away and having fun with it all.  I know I'll sound biased but I love the stories that the magazine publishes -all full of beautiful weirdness and longing and loss and dark lyricism- and I'm really glad to be a part of it; but being a first-reader has also been beneficial for my own writing as it's much easier to assess work which isn't your own, and when you see the same mistakes over and over again (mainly too much exposition, flat characterization, too many superfluous descriptions of the sky, grass, clouds etc), it's easier to notice when you're falling into similar traps, allowing you time to gnaw off your prose and delete before a slusher-sniper out there turns the rifle back on you.

So far (and back to the stats) I've read around 600 stories, rejected most of them, sent some of them to the editorial board for further discussion, of which only one actually got into print.  The magazine does have a very specific style and tone and we do have to reject many wonderful stories just because they don't quite fit, but again, to bring it back to myself (writers are egotists, you know), seeing those odds, and seeing the quality of some of the work that we do have to let go, it certainly makes getting a rejection yourself all the more palatable when you see the process from the other side. Plus the nature of the rejections that we send –personal, rather than form ones- often garners responses from authors appreciative of the constructive criticism that we seek to provide, which makes me feel all warm and smiley and important, and like much less of a ruthless-dream-crushing-monster.

So, the plans for the new year, then: finish the YA novel and start looking for an agent.  Finish the short stories that are three-quarters complete (the stagnating stage, it seems) in my pile, get on with the MA, and the reading, and the slushing, and see where I end up this time next year.  So happy new year, all, see you on the other side :) x

Monday, 26 November 2012

Seminars, Squids and Sex Dolls.

Right, a quick round-up of all things writerly as I've been as neglectful as ever (I even forgot my login details, although I can blame my uni schedule, I hope), so, to begin:


This term it’s a reading module, one book a week for ten weeks, and seminars are based on studying the mechanics of whichever novel is under scrutiny (characterisation, style, P.O.V, themes, plot etc).  It's actually been quite difficult to read novels 'as a writer', and while I can spot various techniques in poems, once a novel grabs you it's tricky to distance yourself to the level where you can see how it's grabbing you; kind of like watching a film and noticing the lighting and the angles rather than focusing on the action.  Some part of this may have been due to me being disinclined to break the mystical spell of the oh-so-sacred-story, but as the weeks have progressed, there is a new ruthlessness in my approach, which means that I do have much more appreciation for the novels that I do like now, and at least I can better verbalise what I don't like, rather than stating: well, it was just..shit. I'll be scribbling in books in permanent pen and breaking their spines before I know it.

Anyway, so far we have torn to pieces:

Everything is Illuminated –Jonathan Safran Foer.

I 'appreciated' this one, in that I liked the scope of ideas and the overall quirkiness and the fresh take on the Second World War and the focus on hidden histories, but due in part to me leaving it to the last minute to read, I couldn't get as fully absorbed as I could have done, and I began to find it tiresome and difficult to plough through as it progressed. My overall impression is then: original but over-hyped. But I must impress, props for the boldness and the approach.

Going Out –Scarlett Thomas.

A stark contrast to the week before, a very easy read (but one with many hidden layers- Wizard of Oz references, capitalism, reality TV etc).  Luke is allergic to the sun and confined to his bedroom, but he and his friends embark upon a journey down the B-roads to Wales in a camper van, in the hope of finding a healer. A coming of age type tale, and another 'quirky' novel (is this a thing now in contemporary literature? Quirky sells, obviously). Interesting and inventive and touching but ultimately forgettable.

Dorian- Will Self.

Will Self makes me sick (in a good way), with his envy-inducing eloquence and his snazzy words (that made me consult the dictionary about ten times per page) and his sardonic face that sneers –oh, you wish you were as clever as me- and this book has probably been my favourite one so far. I loved Wilde's original, and this take, described thus –"Brutal, savage, infinitely readable…it will upset people"- took all of the implied decadence of the former, and transposed the characters to the 80s, where Aids, homosexuality, drug abuse and Princess Di all become commingled with the themes which include power of influence, vanity, vice, superficial society, the creation and reception of art and celebrity culture.  At times the 'shock' aspect did become a little tedious, but maybe that's the whole point, that we are so anaesthetised that it's hardly surprising that people are looking for such thrills, in greater and greater measure, so yes, read it.

A Whistling Woman by A.S Byatt.

A novel of ideas (reason versus belief, faith versus science, mind versus body, good versus evil, evidence versus superstition, revolution versus institutions, female biology versus female independence, passion versus restraint…) ideas that are excellent in theory but in the context of this book made me want to sleep/cry/throw it out of the window. In hindsight, I can again 'appreciate' it, but reading it was an ordeal. And I don't use that word lightly.

Politics-Adam Thirwell.

According to the blurb, it is a book about a) a father and a daughter and b) a threesome, and is not about politics, at all. Which isn't actually true. The broader politics (mentions of Stalin, Hitler, Mao) are juxtaposed here with personal politics, and ones of gender and sexuality and politics pertaining to the body, so cue various cringe-worthy sex scenes that certainly made for lively conversation ('Now, how could you make fisting sexy?').  The main literary device that we focused on was the use of the intrusive narrator, which I really liked (maybe that says something about my own authorial vanity), and the book overall did pique curiosity and there was a certain peering-through-the-keyhole-quality to it that couldn't fail to draw the reader in, not matter how awkward the exchanges. So, overall, the confidence of the voice and dry humour made it very readable, and I did enjoy it.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian- Marina Lewycka

Guess what? Yes, it's quirky! The story is concerned with the romance between an eighty-four year old Nikolai, and his new bride, the thirty six year old Ukrainian 'gold-digger', Valentina, and the effects that this union has upon Nikolai's family as she enters their lives '…like a fluffy pink grenade.'

I liked this one, and found it funny and despite the ease of reading it managed to encapsulate themes such as survival, change, progress, compromise, responsibility, old age, 'will', obligation, love, forgiveness, liberalism vs radicalism etc. Plus the author thanks her former tutor in the book –Livi Michael- who is now our tutor, so that made us all feel that one day it'll be our creation being ripped to shreds by aspiring, scornful authors.

Writing News.

I had this piece published in the Lovecraft Ezine, an unusual publication story in that I was approached by the editor (the lovely and very supportive Mike Davis), and it took a few months and forward-and-backing and rewriting (and me being concerned that it wasn't 'Lovecraftian' enough) for it to be published, but when it was, it was with excellent accompanying artwork (by Robert Elrod, who can find at his site here), and audio by Juliana Quartaroli) which was all very exciting.

The title is basically stolen from James Joyce's poem, itself entitled 'The Twilight Turns from Amethyst', and while it fits the story with regards to Lana Lilac's eyes, there's both a nostalgic and a hopeful tone to the original that I thought would make a good contrast to the overall bleakness of my version.

The story received some great feedback on the site which was wonderful, as I was nervous about how it would be received (being an odd semi-erotic tale about lesbian strippers), and while having that option there –the 'leave comments for the author' one – could easily cause a melodramatic crisis should a commentator be less than positive, getting the good stuff is also an instant come-now-you're-not-really-shit when the inbox is full of rejections.


I submitted this flash piece for National Flash Fiction Day's Flash Flood, where they published a short piece every fifteen minutes for a day, and this I wrote in about an hour and sent off more as writing practise than anything else, but I'm pretty happy with it.

It tells the story of a man and his rubber doll and their romantic trip to the beach, but I hope that it did touch upon loneliness and desire and expectations as much as anything else.

Other writing news included me signing up for NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you well, have to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, without over-thinking, or editing, just going, going going…), and I'm still on 12,000 and the deadline is four days away, so I have a feeling that maybe I won't 'win' it this year!  It's still been a good experience though as I have now fully plotted my novel out, so the not-thinking led to lots of covert thinking that led to lots of solutions to problems that I never knew where there. Or something…

So, now, I'm off to read my next MA book, and check my inbox, just in case a story acceptance is hidden somewhere, or maybe I overlooked something, or maybe one slipped into the junk folder…

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

New Publications.

A much delayed update:

If blogs were cats then mine would have ran away to some kindly neighbour's house by now, tail in the air with ne'er a backward glance, seeking out somebody who'll actually feed it and give it some fuss..  If they be plants, we'll, then they be dead.

I haven't actually blogged much as I've been busy novel-plotting, slushing and working, but not much else, and while there were still billions of writing-related things that I could have used as blog fodder, somehow I slipped into the summer holiday langour and couldn't quite pull myself out. Until now!

So, writing news:

The first National Flash Fiction Day was held on May 16th, and 1000words is a site that started in response to it, and is now dedicated to fiction that is, well, 1000 words, or shorter.  You pick a photo prompt from one of the many images on their Pinterest page, here, and get scribbling.

I chose this one, and followed an usually literal path: "ooh, flying laptops = Arabian Nights...with computers!" 
Not the most avant garde thought process, I must admit, but for a writer, the figure of Scheherazade, from Arabian Nights, who clung to her life day by day, just by telling stories, is a potent metaphor, and one that I was happy to explore her.  Telling stories is also part of the whole social networking culture, where illusion often trumps reality; where 'off the cuff' remarks and ready, obscure quotes have been researched for hours; where people sit in the pub bored stiff, but pose for Facebook photographs like they're having the most exhilarating, fantastic night out that one could possibly experience, ever, and that's all before we even get to the realms of romance, where some degree of deception is perhaps the only way that anybody would ever get a date, ever ("Me? I'm mental, mate.  You should speak to my ex...")

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May- John William Waterhouse, 1908

This was published by Flash Fiction Online, which was an 'easy' write for me, as it's Victorian and dark and I can always find some passion for those things.   

The title is adapted from the poem 'To the Virgins, to make much of Time' by Robert Herrick, and from the opening lines: 

'GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may, 
  Old Time is still a-flying: 
And this same flower that smiles to-day 
  To-morrow will be dying.'

As in within many Metaphysical poems, the Carpe Diem motif here is inextricably aligned with fading female beauty -life is beautiful, short and fleeting, now get your knickers off, before you're a hag- so I wanted to couple this with all the socio-economic pressures and the onus on 'wifely' behaviour, and notions of being an 'angel in the house' that defined a great deal of Victorian discourse, and do a kind of Pride and Prejudice with...pistons, which has left me itching to write a great deal more 'Steampunk' type stuff.

Tennyson. Because he looks cool and has a fine beard.
This is another title that I stole from a poem, Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H:
'Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed.'

The poem is concerned with faith, loss of belief, death, religion, science, evolution, nature versus culture and the irreconcilability of the two, and this quote is often used to symbolise the essence of Natural Selection, and Darwin's theory of evolution, but I wanted to explore it an a smaller scale, and 'survival' as adjunct from good or bad, where there's much ambiguity about whether the protagonist/'survivalist' is both, neither, or one or the other.

This piece was a 'landmark' one, in that the editors required an author interview for the site, which I found a little bizarre, and completely exciting (when I wasn't thinking, "I bet I'll sound like a knob.")

Right, that's that for now.  The Writing MA starts again in a couple of weeks, and as this is a reading module there should be lots of book reviews up soon, so, until then....

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Bad, Bad, Blogger...

As I've completely neglected my blog lately, this will be a brief scoot through everything that's happened/hasn’t happened over the last month or so.

I've finished the first 'writing' module of my MA, and have emerged the other side feeling simultaneously inspired and anxious.  I can now see all the things that I may have been doing wrong with my writing, and I know what I need to change, but I'm not quite sure how to do it, just yet.  I'm hoping that this 'impasse' is a temporary thing, and a positive thing, and while I am ruing my lack of output of late, I can see the improvement when I do manage to sit down and write.

This has meant, then, that I've also stopped bombarding literary journals with my work, and while I still have a few pieces that I would have previously dashed out, I know now that they're not ready, and now I don't want to attach my name to work that is rushed, or incomplete, whereas before the joy of just being published would have overridden such concerns. Now I just sit and stare at them instead. But this is GOOD, I tell myself, as it seems that somehow along the way, I have discovered PATIENCE, which will possibly be my greatest weapon as I carry on down the writerly road. I'm wielding it clumsily, and bearing it with little grace, but it's there, and while I'm currently Daniel-San moaning about his aching wrists and fence-painting and floor-sanding, there's a Miyagi whisper in my ear, telling me that this is PROGRESS.

MA Round-Up: 

After the official teaching ended, my group continued to meet up every week at the same time, and conduct similar peer-feedback sessions, and while this wasn't perhaps as helpful as before (I think there's only so far the critiquing can go while a writer's still at the same stage, and while the deadline does force you to write, I was personally submitting stuff that was rushed, so the feedback I received couldn't be used as effectively as it would have been had I submitted something decent), it was still wonderful to be amongst other people in the same boat, and to have that weekly motivator, and just to have people take the time to read your work and comment upon it.     

We've disbanded now for the summer, and my plan is to work on plot, and outline, and as my novel-in-progress has gone from a 'literary' historical tome, to a YA fantasy-type thing, I'm also aiming to write enough of it to stop me from changing my mind and starting yet another project instead. Fingers crossed.

Writing News: 

The lack of submissions has meant a lack of publication, but I've had a few flash pieces out:

The Thirteenth Step.  A second person afterlife story. Yes, I know, forgive my lack of originality.  In my defence, however, this story is comprised of bits and pieces that I took from a novel that I started about ten years ago, one that followed a young murdered girl around Birmingham as she travelled about on night buses, trying to piece together the facts surrounding her death.  I can't read it now without cringing, but during a huge clear-up of my computer I skimmed through it to see if there was anything worth salvaging, and wanted to try a story with a different format, and this emerged. After slush reading and seeing the amount of similar stories, I'm almost embarrassed at my theme, and I was wary of moralising (as I work in a bar, and spend a lot of time on the other side of the bar) but I like to think that it avoids that, and that there's some originality in it, and it was great to get positive feedback from the readers on the site.

Four Seasons in One Day.  Written from a prompt - 'Seasons'- on the Pure Slush site, and then understandably rejected by them (as I completely ignored their 'no wank' guidelines and sent them a load of 'wanky' indecipherable nonsense), this just came out of nowhere, and no, I don't really know what it's about, but I did enjoy writing it.

Bonnie and Clyde.  Inspired by a friend ranting on Facebook about people who dress up their pets, a quick search led me to furries, and to this.  No offence meant to any furries out there, each to their own, and all, it was more about how difficult it is to find somebody that you're really suited to, and about the masks that we wear.  I am fond of this piece, partly because although it was rejected a few times before publication, those rejections came back with positive criticism attached to them, for the first time; and because, as I've said before, of my soft spot for anything considered 'freaky' or 'abnormal' or just plain odd.

Right then, I'm literally off to plot...

Recent google research history: bees, topaz, sharks, heart attack, wrestling moves, aubergine recipes, chalet clocks.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


I love freaks.  My fondness for all things freakish is almost, well, freaky.  I get ridiculously over-excited about anything that could fall into this category, from Victorian sideshows to modern cultural spectacles; from faded photographs of tattooed lion-tamer ladies in sequinned bikinis, to bespectacled geeks and sad misfits wandering down school corridors, lonesome, in countless TV shows.  My bookmarks bulge with macabre curios, and Lionel the Lion-Faced man is peering down on me (albeit in postcard form) as I tap this out.

So, when I first heard about Freaks, and found out that there was a way that I could help to promote it online, of course, I leapt at the chance.

Freaks is published today, and is a collection of short stories by Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes, with comic book type illustrations by Darren Craske. 

The dedication says it best: ‘To all who, if only for a moment, felt that they didn’t belong’, and within the pages, over fifty characters are contained, each one blessed/cursed with an unusual superpower, each exploring the benefits/drawbacks of having such a gift/burden, and each inhabiting the awkward space between each opposition. Cue a zombie hairdresser, a man who can invade the dreams of his lovers, a woman who can photocopy herself at will, a woman clad in My Little Pony Pants who likes to be a pony. Wonderful.

The book is available on Amazon, here, (Kindle version here) and for a sneaky peek, here’s one of the stories from the collection, ‘Invisible’:

[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]

If I stay totally still,
if I stand right tall,
with me back against the school wall,
close to the science room’s window,
with me feet together,
pointing straight,
aiming forward,
if I make me hands into tight fists,
make me arms dead straight,
 if I push me arms into me sides,
if I squeeze me thighs,
stop me wee,
if me belly doesn’t shake,
if me boobs don’t wobble,
if I close me eyes tight,
so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,
if I push me lips into me mouth,
if I make me teeth bite me lips together,
if I hardly breathe,
if I don’t say a word.
I’ll magic meself invisible,
and them lasses will leave me alone.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Geeks and Gurneys

A brief update this time around:

MA News:

There are only two weeks left of the writing module, and in the short space of ten weeks, the intense, critical focus on my own writing, and on the work of my colleagues, has seen me reassess EVERYTHING…and then abandon the novel I’ve been toying with for years.    

The story that I’ve been presenting to the group/plotting out up until now is loosely based on the lives of my grandparents, and is set in the late 1940s, in England and in Latvia, but after becoming completely over-whelmed with research (where every paragraph prompted a million questions: “Would they have eaten this then? Said this? What flowers do they have in Latvia? What was the immigration process like for displaced people?” And on, and on…!); and also struggling with style versus subject, I’ve decided to shelve it for a while and stop attempting to be more “literary” than I am, and actually focus on the writing that I enjoy, the kind of stuff that I’ve been sending off to journals for a while.    

My writing has always contained elements of magic realism, and it often strays into speculative realms, be it fantasy or sci-fi or horror, but oddly I never thought to actually attempt a “genre” novel. Maybe I've been subconsciously buying into the snobbery regarding such "pulp", an issue that China Mieville briefly addresses here, or maybe I'd convinced myself that writing a novel had to be a torturous, intense experience, and that it had result in something 'literary' and Booker-worthy and address all the ills of the modern world. Now that I've actually sat down and attempted to commit 80,000 words to paper, though, it’s clear that nothing is ever going to get finished unless enjoyment overrides any agenda, and that I need to be honest with myself.  And have some fun with it.


This “epiphany” then has also been aided by my new role as a slush pile reader/ associate editor at Shimmer, a wonderful, speculative magazine (the latest Kindle version available here); and while it was a job that I sought due to my fondness for reading this type of writing, it's now a job that’s further pushing me in that direction as a writer.    

I’ve been doing it now for about a month, and while I do feel at times like a despicable, soulless fiend firing out rejection letters, it’s already made me see EXACTLY why some of my other stories were rejected, and made me feel like sending apologetic emails to those poor editors with the lines “sorry for that drivel, and for ever questioning your sagacious decision, really, forgive meeeee!”   

One of the Shimmer staff has outlined the slush process well here, and I've found it helpful as it gives clear examples of why a particular story is successful or not, and also provides insight into the rejection process for somebody who is frequently on the other side of it. So sad rejectees take heed: it's nothing personal, and you're not crap (I repeat this mantra, constantly.)

It is a shame as many of the stories that I do reject are “not-quites” rather than “absolutely-no-fucking-ways!” (although I have encountered a few of those), but it is great to see things from the other side, and, despite the need for the repeated affirmations, it has lessened the sting when I get THOSE "sorry, not for us" emails in my inbox.


I had this published in Swedish journal Frostwriting, and as I sent it off in September and had forgotten all about it, it was a nice surprise to receive the acceptance email.  The initial title was 'Bitten' (although I toyed with 'Havisham' as a possibility; again, my English student brain was striving for literary intertexts!), but the editor wasn’t too keen on either so we decided that “mine” would suffice.  I suppose it’s a little Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where a woman seeks forgetfulness/numbness following a past heartache, and while I’d love to re-write bits of it, considering it is so old and unrevised by knowing MA eyes, I'm quite happy with it.

I also had a "horror" piece, Straw-Girls,  published by Eschatology journal (which included another mention of gurneys?! Mmm. My subconscious is troubling, but the least said about that the better!) and I enjoyed playing around with the narrative form and am pleased with how it turned out.

The plans now then are: finish the MA module, read more genre stuff, and YA, stop fretting about writing a five-generational masterpiece.

Google research history: Latvian migratory birds, crystals, Faustian pacts, Siamese twins, wrestling moves, Romulus and Remus.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Womb(an) in Black (sorry).

I recently went to see The Woman in Black, and in-between clutching at the arm-rests and groaning and jumping about like the rest of the audience, afterwards I started thinking about ghostly females, and Gothic mothers, and felt myself getting all…feminist. 

I then got hold of the book, and while I couldn’t get Daniel Radcliffe’s tortured little face out of my mind as I flicked through the pages; and while I spent most of the time reading it thinking, “well, that wasn’t in the film!”, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts and have a semi-academic, meandering ponder about female ghouls in general, and try and find out why they are so scary.

I came across this article in The Guardian some weeks ago, and while it skims the topic rather than fully exploring it, it does observe that female ghosts often exhibit the same behaviour:

1)“[they]… are often perverted mother figures who exhibit infanticidal tendencies or homicidal jealousy in place of the expected maternal nurturing qualities…Or, like the shades in Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense, J-Hôra movies such as Ringu or Ju-On, or the Thai film Shutter, they seek vengeance on the people (usually, but not always, men) who wronged them…”

and that…

2)“The ghosts of old women are viewed as particularly repulsive…. Old ladies represent all that's most frightening in a society where youth is viewed at something to be preserved at all costs, especially for women.”

Hmmm. Taking the first point then (and before tackling the issues of birth and maternity and psychoanalysis), ‘expected’ seems to be the key issue here, and a woman who doesn’t conform to ‘expected’ modes of femininity (who isn’t moderate, nurturing, caring, selfless etc) is immediately monstrous before any special effects or floaty, lacy, nightgowns are thrown into the mix. 

This argument may seem redundant in 2012 with “career women” the norm now rather than the exception etc, and while we all know that the “bitch” label is still applied to women exhibiting the kind of behaviour that would be deemed ambitious in men (although some of them are just bitches), and we know that the slag/stud divide does still exist (I work in a bar, and I’ve overheard many a “woah, she’s fit!” “Nah, she’s a slag”; the response usually from the women rather than the men, incidentally, as men really aren’t as concerned with a woman’s ‘purity’ as much as other women are); and while most of us can pity the people who still subscribe to these outdated opinions (I hope), these labels only highlight that beneath all the progress, there is still the notion that women should take responsibility for the actions on the basis of their gender. 

It’s also the case that when one woman fucks up, then the whole (imaginary) sorority is judged, when men don’t have to, and when they are considered alone.  For example, a man driving his car into a kerb wouldn’t warrant the comment “Tssk, male drivers, ban them all!”, nor would a man fucking up the accounts at work prompt his boss to say, “I knew it! I should have listened to my gut, I rue the day I ever employed a, a…man!”

Language and labels, of course, are the foodstuffs of feminist theorists, and while I’m not going to go into that too much here (I’m rusty, and it makes my brain hurt), I will mention the work of Dale Spender, whose study in the eighties considered the ‘male’ bias of language, and the way that language is anything but neutral, and more an instrument through which the patriarchy finds expression (although I hate the term “patriarchy”, as it conjures up images of some complicit Illuminati-type be-cloaked corporation, all hell bent on oppression, but I suppose that’s beside the point).

Spender’s ideas have been expanded upon/challenged by/been an influence upon many successive feminists, including Susan Gubar and  Hélène Cixous, as nods to further reading, and she states:

Language is our means of classifying and ordering the world: our means of manipulating reality. In its structure and in its use we bring our world into realisation, and if it is inherently inaccurate, then we are misled. If the rules which underlie our language system, our symbolic order, are invalid, then we are daily deceived.

So how do we classify the world? Structuralist and Post-Structuralist critics alike (feminist ones included) have observed that the world has been culturally broken down into binary oppositions: white/black, good/bad, male/female, yin/yang, alive/dead, and on, and on.  The problem is, however,

At the most basic level of meaning the status of the female is derived from the status of the male and on this has been erected many strata of positive and negative classifications.

For example:

Man                                                  Woman
Rational                                             Irrational
Active                                                Passive
Reason                                               Emotion
Public                                                Private
Mind                                                 Body
Culture                                              Nature
Spiritual                                            Maternal
Virginal idea                                     Sex object
Mary                                                 Eve
Inspiration                                         Seductress
Good                                                 Evil

As you can see, even at the level of language, woman is: ruled by emotion, akin to the natural world, beyond reason, a thing a thing apart from any rationale.  She is already a ghoul.

Binaries will always have a privileged half, and therefore a shadow is present, its detriment; which is invariably a characteristic aligned to the female.

Freud really didn’t help by calling female sexuality “a dark continent”, either; nor by blaming our unruly wombs for our ‘hysterical’ behaviour; and psychoanalytical theory can also come into play here with regards to Freud’s notions of penis envy.

Not having a willy then means that women are solely defined by what they lack, rather than defined as merely different. 

Freud gets on a lot of people’s tits, and there are countless arguments refuting his claims etc, and while he may or may not have been concerned with the actual, physical object, it remains, it seems, that the penis is still the signifier of power, and of social advantage. 

But why is this so important? Well, there is no reality outside of language, and once we enter language, we effectively consign ourselves to a prison.  Within it, reality is cleaved into these unyielding binary oppositions that would metaphorically divide the dinner hall and see all of the men on one side, getting the access to the pool tables and the phone-calls home and Sky Sports channel; while the female inmates stay on the other, left to stare at the walls and endlessly peel the spuds. 

Language leads to representation, which leads to ideologies, which then give credence to the male myth of superiority that although disputed, lingers in our consciousness, as myths are wont to do.  Spender notes:

It is a myth which may be attacked but one which is not easy to eradicate…and this one, which is fundamental to our social order, is particularly pervasive and particularly hard to dislodge.

So, to bring it back to The Woman in Black, and ghostly goings-on, what do we have? The story is one of a woman who loses a child, and whose very presence from beyond the grave then causes other people’s children to die. 

She is described thus:
 She had been a poor, crazed, troubled woman, dead of grief and distress, filled with hatred and desire for revenge. Her bitterness was
understandable, the wickedness that led her to take away other women's children because she had lost her own, understandable too but not forgivable.
This works on two levels. 
Recall the TV footage of mothers tried in Sudden Infant Death syndrome cases, hustled into police vans under blankets as the mob scream and bang their fists on the side of the departing vehicle; the media frenzy when women do kill, the absolute outrage when they kill children (which I’m not downplaying; and I won’t refer to specific cases here as I don’t want to discuss them in such a sarky tone, nor in this context).   

She’d be one of those, for sure, Jennet (the eponymous 'woman' in question), the subject of experts and therapists sitting on the GMTV sofa as they discuss post-natal depression, and those “women who snap.” 

Jennet then signifies a female who is completely at the mercy of her emotions, whose instability has overridden even her own maternal instinct; her own ‘natural’ capacity for compassion. 

But the reverse is also true.  Recall the fierce matriarch, the god-fearing mafia mamma who’ll smuggle drugs for her sons; the Peggy Mitchell type mother who’ll defend her bully boys to the death. Now crank that up until it becomes grotesque, a caricature, and that’s also what you have here. 

The Woman in Black then explores the mothering nature taken to the extreme; the “bunny boiler” type, the obsessed femme fatale, the trapdoor spider, the praying mantis, the Medea lurking in us all.

The maternal body provokes both awe and disgust, with the female body a site of both attraction and repulsion with its sly, hidden genitalia and sneaky child-bearing transformative capabilities, and it seems that the maternal instinct does the same.

We just can’t ruddy win! Career women are neglectful; stay-at- home moms miss out on a fulfilling career; baby-killers are vilified, ones that love their children too much appear in haunted mansions and make Harry Potter poo his pants. Sigh.

I can’t even count the amount of times that I’ve heard from my male friends: “she’s fucking nuts” “you’re all mad, all of you etc" when encountering female, shall we say “temperamental” behaviour (that men themselves are often the cause of, and who resort to the “mad” tag to absolve themselves of any blame), and it is this divide between the rational/irrational, and the cerebral and the emotional that allows female ghosts to work so well on our greater anxieties.
The female ghost seems credible; they are a magnification of what we believe is already there. You can't reason with them; they can’t let go, they lurk, passive but deadly, immured in the private sphere; they defy logic.   

Consider the male horror monster: lumbering down the street, in public, brandishing a glove full of knives or a chainsaw, hacking/slicing/slashing some dumb college girl with massive tits to pieces.  Not phallic, no, not at all.  Pah. They’re a magnification of male aggression, of hunt and pursuit, and the gathering of... body parts; all fisticuffs and blood, then over with, done forgotten (well, aside from the sequels).  Female forms need to be unlocked, they are the secret rooms, the complex emotions, the elusive g-spot, to rid yourself of them you need to find ways to make amends, to untangle their motivations, their desires, which are bound to be obscure, and dark. This could take centuries, of terror, of cold sweats, of corner-of-the-eye-glimpses and hairs-standing up -on- the -back- of- the- neck…

Whereas female murderers then seem to exist beyond our comprehension; and while they threaten our assumptions and the linguistic constraints that corral them (although they are soon re-categorised accordingly, usually with a punchy media nickname), they are still moving within a patriarchal realm.  The vengeful female ghost has escaped this system of control, and is exhibiting all of those worrisome traits ascribed to her, but there’s no chance of reining her back in with that swirling macho lasso of enlightened thought and all that comes with it.

The narrator of The Woman in Black, Arthur Tibbs, is ‘reasonable man’ personified, and throughout the novel he is torn between what he sees and his need to unravel it, to pin it down with logic. He becomes increasingly spooked by the emotions that he picks up from the woman, and states:

It was true that the ghastly sounds I had heard through the fog had greatly upset me but far worse was what emanated from and surrounded these things and arose to unsteady me, an atmosphere, a force - I do not exactly know what to call it -of evil and uncleanness, of terror and suffering, of malevolence and bitter anger. I felt quite at a loss to cope with any of these things.

Moreover, that the intensity of her grief and distress together with her pent-up hatred and desire for revenge permeated the air all around. And it was that which so troubled me, the force of those emotions, for those were what I believed had power to harm. But to harm who?’

This sounds in part like a man daring to ask to watch Match of the Day when his girlfriend has PMT, but it both exemplifies the indecipherability of female emotions to the staunchly male psyche, and highlights the need to keep these binaries apart, as ‘male’ anger and rage mixed with female capriciousness and irrationality is a fearsome cocktail, but it also shows the damage that this system of opposition causes.   

Were Mr Kipps to embrace his ‘female’ intuition and empathy rather than seeing the whole thing as superstition or a puzzle that needed to be solved, then maybe the outcome would have been quite different.

Even after all that he endures at Eel Marsh Harsh (a place accessible only when the tide is out, which brings all kind of female/lunar associations that I won’t go into now), his curiosity, his need to figure it out, to bring it back into the rational order, overrides his fear.  His curiosity is an unbearable itch, and he vows to solve the mystery of the malevolent woman even if it means enduring black-outs and creaky rocking chairs and the ghostly wail of children. Male logic will prevail, dammit!  It will be the Enlightenment freeing us from the Dark Ages, the light saving us from the night (masculine versus feminine, masculine versus feminine...). But she is no longer privy to this type of categorization, and will elude it, over and over.

This also brings us to her appearance.
 The Woman is described as looking like:
 …she was suffering from some terrible wasting disease, for not only she  extremely pale, even more than a contrast with the blackness of her garments could account for, but the skin and, it seemed, only the thinnest layer of flesh was tautly stretched and strained across her bones, so that it gleamed  with a curious, blue-white sheen, and her eyes seemed  sunken back into her head. Her hands that rested on the pew before her were in a similar state, as though she had been a victim of starvation. Though not any medical expert, I had heard of certain conditions which caused such terrible wasting, such ravages of the flesh, and knew that they were generally regarded as incurable…”

A right hottie, then?  In common parlance, she’s let herself go, a little. The disease is seen as a manifestation of her grief, so not only have female emotions run amok, unfettered, worse than that: they’ve smudged her mascara.

Female spirits also always seem to be in some sort of disarray- wild hair, no make-up, shapeless smocks.  This ghastly, ghostly female is particularly common in Japanese horror, and with Japanese patriarchs even more patriarchal than the Western patriarchs (apparently), this dishevelled appearance signifies a body free from body politics, and from expected notions of femininity.  

The figure is then doubly terrifying, as not only has she side-stepped/revved up expected female behaviour, she is also the dotty old hag in leg-warmers picking fag ends up of the floor, the girl with unruly eyebrows and hairy armpits, the fat one daring to wear tight clothes, so being dead bit is the least of her worries.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi’s Klein’s attack on the propagation of impossible ideals of beauty in modern society, she states that,

Ideal beauty is ideal because it does not exist; The action lies in the gap between desire and gratification. Women are not perfect beauties without distance. That space, in a consumer culture, is a lucrative one. The beauty myth moves for men as a mirage, its power lies in its ever-receding nature. When the gap is closed, the lover embraces only his own disillusion.”

In this case, however, the seemingly ‘illusory’ figure is the one manifesting a ‘beauty’ that is shorn of cosmetics and make-up and socially accepted constructs of what is or isn’t attractive. 

The female ghost is then breaking through this gap, and while her general appearance has been rendered shocking by the movie makers, it’s her substantiality in the midst of the mirage, the fact that she solidly exists, as herself, beyond the facade, that truly has people leaping back into their seats. It is Sadako, crawling out of the television at the end of Ringu, with her hair over her face and on her knees; edging out of her film reel prison and slowly away from all of the media air-brushed, silicone representations of beauty.

As a final point, however, the book was written by a woman, Susan Hill, who follows in a long line of female, Gothic authors.  Hill is far from a strident feminist, and the depiction of Jennet is of the "typically" crazy chick who needs to be contained (although the fact that her child was taken due to its his illegitimate status could prompt a feminist reading); but The Gothic tradition has long been associated with female writers.  This stems right back to the works of Anne Radcliffe in the 1800s, and has been seen by many theorists as embodying women's attempts to escape, via writing, from firstly their boredom, and frustration at the cloistered lives allocated for them; and also from the impossible ideals of femininity imposed upon them.

Cue lots of visions of Emily Bronte sat out on the moors, polite and sedate, but dying for a shag and frantically penning Wuthering Heights -with all its savagery and cruelty and doors slamming and fires raging- in lieu of any action (elements that were described by one male critic as" the eccentricities of ‘woman's fantasy'); or Mary Shelley, making tea, thinking of exactly how Frankenstein could seek bloody revenge on his maker.   These stories then let women transcend their roles, to slip through the walls of their parlours, to vanish into their own imagination, and, as The Woman in Black does, ultimately prevail.

Monday, 13 February 2012

'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader'- Robert Frost

So, I’ve had my second stint in the MA hot seat (with my novel under the collective magnifying glass) and again, it was completely helpful and encouraging and inspiring, BUT… I have noticed that somewhere in the process of critique-reflection-renewed resolve-frantic scribbling-critique, there’s a slump, where the whole thing seems impossible; where the notion that a novel can ever be completed becomes ludicrous, and where you read all the wonderful work by your colleagues and decide that your own is appalling and that you’re the worst wannabe-writer in the world, ever.

The peer feedback is fantastic; it is essential, and it will no doubt prove to be the most beneficial part of the degree, but you do need to be careful that you can filter through all the disparate opinions and not be discouraged, and can take on board all of the suggestions without feeling overwhelmed.  The critiques prompt questions where non-existed before, and draw attention to weaker areas that you may have been oblivious to, and while all the compliments have bolstered you up to the point where you’re rolling up your sleeves and getting prepared to pummel all of your problem prose into pulp, there’s a weedy, wounded side of you snivelling in the corner and cowering as your book rustles its big, scary, stupid pages in your face.

Then, of course, the next deadline looms, fretting is jettisoned, the next session is undertaken, and then you’re back at the beginning, thinking, “Yes! A few more months of this and I’ll have a proper chunk of book under my belt!” (Or nervously stored on countless hard drives/memory sticks/email drafts, in case there’s a fire.  Or a burglar.  Or a cyclone.); but then it starts again: “mmm, is my dialogue really that stilted?” and on, and on.

It all feels a bit bipolar, this flitting between delirious elation and crushing self-doubt, but then, consider the whole writing process: living day-in, day-out inside your own crammed cranium, your cohabitants all your neuroses/fears/hopes/memories/disappointments (who have to be the most despicable bunch of housemates ever); as you become gradually immersed in your imagination, insular, desocialized…well, it just isn’t healthy, or sensible, or sane.

While I loathe people who call themselves mad (as they’re usually infuriatingly sane, boring fuckers who call themselves “random” and say things like “woah, I’m wacky I am, I’m a right nutter, me!” at any given opportunity); I am intrigued by the link between creativity and madness, and the studies that seek to make connections between the two.

On this, a quick google of “poets” and “mentalists” unearthed these two articles that are worth a peek:

And then I found this, Chuck Wendig’s ever-amusing exploration:

I would have to agree, and not because I’m like, really fucking wacky, but I do think that writers do see the world differently, and make associations and connections and find resonance between things that may not be apparent to other people.  Thoughts/people/actions are over-analyzed; conversations are clues to character; a cigar is never just a cigar. Like I said, far from healthy.

But of course, then there’s the opposite, to quote Graham Greene:

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

Best stick with it then...

Right, in other writing news:

I had a short story, Brotherhood, published in What the Dickens? Magazine (pp 28-30), which is based around the Pre-Raphaelites and their muse, Lizzie Siddal, and narrated from the viewpoint of her dowdy, overlooked workmate.  Lizzie is often seen as 19th Century supermodel/Kate Moss type, hanging out with the boho folk, letting them near freeze her to death in the bathtub (for Millais' Ophelia), which called to mind all of the discourse surrounding this era regarding the male gaze and masochism, and also Angela Carter's comparisons of the the Marquis de Sade's Justine and Marilyn Monroe:

...both have huge, appealing, eloquent eyes, the open windows of the soul; their dazzling fair skins are of such a delicate texture that they look as if they will bruise at a touch, carrying the exciting stigmata of sexual violence for a long time, and that is why gentlemen prefer blondes."  

Siddal may have been a redhead, but you get my point, and I was keen to reflect some aspects of this in the story, and hopefully succeeded. 

Big Jim was also published, a flash fiction piece that explores masculinity and blokey behaviour and cherubic assault.

Ubi Sunt was also published, as part of Paraxis magazine's 'transformation' themed edition. Ubi sunt means "where are" from Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?- "Where are those who were before us?", which is a common motif in Anglo-Saxon poetry, used to reflect upon loss and the transience of life (and here's an article exploring its use in Beowulf).

I’d actually been trying to get my head around Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation (largely unsuccessfully), and then starting thinking about lack of meaning and tradition, which led to thoughts about tattooing; more specifically the infuriating Miami Ink school of elaborate-sob-story-behind-my-kanji-nonsense, with a nod to all those absent parents on Jeremy Kyle who prove their 'devotion' by getting their kid's names etched into the necks, which then led to a reflection on heroism and masculinity and all the other gender issues that always seem to work their way into my writing.  But if all that doesn't sell it to you, it's just a creepy tale about an odd kid getting inked.

Google research history:  Latvian customs, Wordworth's 'The Solitary Reaper', drugs that enhance memory, ration books, The Little Mermaid and slaughterhouses.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

To be a Williams, or a Young, or a Zelte...

My surname has always given me grief.  Nobody can pronounce it (it’s Latvian, and is pronounced belt-tee, not belt, or bette, or ho ho ho, balti); and it doesn’t bode well when the order of things is determined alphabetically, either.  When this is the case, there ALWAYS seems to be a distinct lack of “A”s around, meaning that I’m often first in line for such lovely things as injections and group introductions; and while I did get to swagger through the school corridor like some mega hard Prisoner Cell Block H bitch after getting the TB jab first, sneering “piece of piss” to all the quaking T’s and W’s; this week I felt more like the poor, meek minor-offence wuss that gets their hand melted in the laundry press.

I had to present my novel to my group. First. 

While last weeks session involved giving a brief summary of our work, this week we had to submit 3,000 words for inspection, and then sit back and wait as our precious, heartfelt renderings were torn to shreds by the online mob.  Louis de Bernieres once likened "the pressure of trying to write a second bestseller to standing in Trafalgar Square and being told to get an erection in the rush hour", which (although not comparing myself to a best-selling novelist) perfectly encapsulates the strange tension between the public and the private that defines the writing/publication process. This unveiling of work-in-progress then was akin to sitting there naked while a group of onlookers poke at you and mutter things like, “mmm, nice tits, but those thighs need some work.” And it was GREAT!

I was a little startled by how helpful the whole thing was, and had been prepared to be disagreeably defensive, clutching my manuscript to my chest away from any critical claws, but it was so encouraging and positive and ultimately inspiring that I now am eagerly anticipating my next stint in the spotlight. Any reservations that I may have had about undertaking a writing MA have all but disappeared, discarded in the almost euphoric wave of inspiration that follows these sessions.  Plus it’s great to chat to people about things like P.O.V; prologue versus a first chapter; and present tense versus past tense, as people at bus stops, boyfriends on the xbox and housemates watching TV just aren’t that bothered, I’ve found.

With regards to my writing, aside from sending an email (albeit a reply to an acceptance of work) that was intended for my boyfriend to the editor of a literary magazine; one full of love declarations and kisses (and swiftly followed by a sheepish apologetic one); this week saw the publication of two shorts pieces: Entertainers And Dreamers Grow Bitter Eventually and Scissors,Paper, Stone.

The first was for Pure Slush, an Australian journal I was immediately drawn to because of the tagline, “Flash... without the wank.” Having encountering countless literary mags that seem purposefully and pretentiously obscure, this seemed like a good opportunity to try and write something that didn’t have five million layers of meaning, and that wasn’t jam-packed with esoteric metaphors.  The theme for the month was “music”, and I enjoyed the “brief” and am pleased with the finished product as it was fun to write something light-hearted and amusing rather than the usual horrible gloom.

Speaking of which, my second publication was with Ink Sweat & Tears, a short prose/poetry piece (another experimentation of style) concerning the merciless universe and our trifling, insignificant roles within it, all encapsulated by a young girl making paper dolls.  And that now sounds completely wanky in light of my last paragraph, but there you go...

 Google research history this week: A Midsummer Nights Dream, Punch and Judy, The Second World War, cigarette advertisements, Dust Bowl, stunt men,  why do onions make you cry?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

back to school....

So, the MA has begun!  I had my first online seminar this week, which consisted of everybody taking it in turns to briefly present their novel/novel-in-progress to the group.  A day or so before we’d had to post our synopses online, plus indications of the potential audience, genre, age group etc, along with any anxieties that we had about our work, and areas we needed assistance with, be it P.O.V, dialogue, pacing, the correct amount of dragons, whatever. 

Being part of the January intake (along with two others), I was a little nervous about barging into an already well established group, especially when I then had to comment on their personal work (like the equivalent of shaking hands, and then remarking, “god, you’ve got big ears, haven’t you?!), but everybody was so completely welcoming that a few minutes in I’d completely forgotten my status as a “newbie” and let myself get carried along by the enthusiasm and humour and sheer passionate creativity of the group. 

Facing the mini-critique felt a little like gawping at a malfunctioning tennis ball machine that was pelting you non-stop, albeit with questions and suggestions rather than balls; and it was difficult, under pressure, to bat many answers back, but the session is saved and re-reading it it’s unbelievably helpful, and I’m amazed at how much was squeezed into such a short space of time.  
I'm also impressed by the other ideas put forward by my peers; a wide range of material, from 'young adult' stories, to fantasy, to historical fiction, but all brimming with imaginative potential, all interesting, all viable, to my eyes, at least.  Plus knowing that you're in the same boat as a load of other people, all rowing towards the same seemingly impossible horizon, only makes you want to work your oars that little bit harder.  And oh, how I do like to exhaust a metaphor....

But I do need to learn to catch up.  The chat moves so fast that by the time you’ve answered somebody, the subject has changed and you’re lagging behind.  This can be perilous (ahem)..

Person 1:  so we’re the cool group then?
Person 2 (tutor-commenting in general): We’ll lose access at half six, we’re screwed.
Me (replying to person 1): I hope so!

Whoops. I did the same later, when somebody said something that prompted the response, “no way” from me, but as the conversation rushed past, I typed this to her later offer to accompany me to Latvia for a research trip, and it whooshed past again before I could explain myself. I can hear them now: “That new girl’s a swinger AND a bitch…”

Aside from the MA, I had this published: Mavromoth (Mavros-which means ‘black’ in Greek, and err, moth).  It’s an attempt at horror flash fiction, and the 'Mavromoth' character itself is lifted from a children’s book of mine I near finished (but never revised) years ago.  The publication of this has been an epiphany of sorts, in that while I like the general idea of it, I think it reads like an early draft, and is clearly rushed and could be a whole lot better.  The initial excitement of getting stuff published has seen me bombarding editors with unpolished work, and then either bemoaning the rejection (made worse as I know that the piece deserved it), or ruing the acceptance if it’s not up to scratch. Of course, all writers are perfectionists, so a piece can never be completely finished; and seeing the errors in earlier work IS a sign of progress, but still.  The lesson learned then is patience.  I am now intending to sit (not literally) on my stories when I think that they’re finished, and approach them weeks/months/? later, with fresh eyes. Oh, and I need to read more poetry.

And that’s it, for now. 

No, it isn't, read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, it is wonderful. You won't regret it.