Two Great Author Events in Scotland and the Midlands: from Brechin, Angus to Kenilworth, Warwickshire

November 2021 for me has been an amazing month. In the last two weeks of November 2021 I’ve met so many exciting fellow authors at two fabulous book events. There has been a great sense of cameraderie, we have all deepened relationships or made new ones, discovered each other’s books, and we have sold our books to keen readers too!

SC Skillman author

Thank you to two multi-genre authors: Wendy H Jones for inviting me to the Brechin Angus Bookfest in Scotland, 19th to 21st November; and Shelley Wilson for inviting me to the Meet the Author event run by the Socially Shared Business Support Network at the Priory Theatre Kenilworth on 24th November 2021.

I was delighted to be invited to take part in these two events. I came away having signed up for mailing lists, bought new books, sold some of mine, listened to several fascinating talks, enjoyed creative conversations and experienced kindness, generosity and friendship. There were lots of warm, smiling authors, readers and book-buyers.

As a postscript, at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, I also added a few ghost stories to my collection, including ones about theatrical ghosts which I wish I had known about while I was writing Paranormal Warwickshire! (They may come in useful for a future book). Here are a few photos which give a flavour of these two events.

The authors of the Socially Shared Business Support Network at the Meet the Author event, Priory Theatre Kenilworth 24 November 2021
Authors SC Skillman, SR Summers and Shelley Wilson at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth 24 November 2021
Author SC Skillman at the Meet the Authors event at the Priory Theatre Kenilworth 24th November 2021
The authors who exhibited their books at the Brechin Angus Bookfest, Northern Hotel, Brechin, Angus, on 20th and 21st November 2021 – photo credit Wallace Ferrier
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Book Review: ‘Write Well’ compiled by Amy Scott Robinson published by Instant Apostle

I have just finished this excellent anthology Write Well which I found an inspiring resource.

Write Well, published by Instant Apostle

A varied selection of writers have contributed pieces to this book, which are arranged under three main headings: Section One: Digging the Well; Section 2: Priming the Pump and Section 3: Filling the Bucket.

I found the different chapters very inspiring and encouraging, with diverse viewpoints and experiences about the writing and publishing journey. One very powerful insight emerged for me: so many of the authors had travelled a path between multiple obstacles, of disappointment, discouragement, new hope, fresh inspiration, unexpected help and guidance, unlooked for success, fresh turnings… This book is a valuable resource for all writers on their journey across rocky and uneven ground.

Amy Scott Robinson has compiled this anthology. Amy is herself a prolific writer, storyteller and ventriloquist, as well as being a lovely, bubbly personality whom I have met and chatted to at a few writing conferences. She has published a series of delightful children’s books for children age 7-9 as well as Images of the Invisible, a book of daily bible readings for Advent.

Do follow the links and check out these books if you are looking for ideal book gifts for Christmas.

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Book Review: Power Unimaginable, Book 3 of the Fantasy Trilogy Oron Amular by Michael J Harvey

Today I bring you my review of the final book in Michael J Harvey‘s fantasy trilogy Oron Amular. I reviewed the first two books in the trilogy here in my last blog post.

Book covers for the fantasy trilogy Oron Amular by Michael J Harvey

I found this, the third in the Oron Amular Trilogy, a very intense read. King Curillian, along with his Captain of the Guard, Lancoir, his magician ally Roujeark, and his loyal band of Armist comrades go through a series of extreme ordeals, tests and snares in the Mountain of Aron Amular. These tests are set for them by the Wizard Kulothiel, along with all the other tournament competititors from various races. Their company is joined by a new heroic figure whom I found fascinating: Sir Theonar of the Pegasus, who wants to challenge Southilar for the Clan Lordship of the Aranese.

With dazzling eloquence and extended scenes of violent action, the narrative seizes you and never lets you go in this book. Many pages are devoted to a ferocious account of brutal fighting. The narrative drives you along relentlessly and the series of ordeals is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, and not unlike some of the scenes in an Indiana Jones film.

Along with this the author explores the emotional and psychological landscape of his principal characters with great conviction. The outcome of the story totally defeated my expectations. I have given this book 5 stars for its power to engage, but will admit the end left me unsettled and disturbed.

We are told the story will continue, so do look up the author’s website World of Astrom to find out more.

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The stories of people who believe they have had strange experiences

Recently I visited one of the locations in my current work-in-progress, Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire to be published by Amberley Publishing in 2022.

The subject matter of the book varies widely but is largely about curious events in the physical world, based in known fact; however, the first chapter is devoted to strange and spooky tales.

The West Gate of Warwick

The venue was local to my home in Warwick, and I had already received a full account of strange experiences from a very reliable informant, lasting over a period of decades. Now I was seeking a story which might corroborate his description, but describe much more recent experiences. Sadly, the people I questioned on two separate visits had not experienced anything at all. I was inclined to put it down to the Covid-19 lockdown: presumably, I thought, the ghosts had gone into lockdown too. I respected the fact that they had no story to tell, and acknowledged this in my book, believing that a lack of stories is also important to record. For the mystery of paranormal experiences is that whilst many may visit a particular location, some feel and see nothing: others sense a rich atmosphere: and still others do indeed see, hear, and feel things that have no scientific explanation.

This reminded me of a series of questions that collectors of paranormal stories are to ask.

  1. Can you tell me how you first became aware this was more than a mundane incident?
  2. Did any other explanations come to mind?
  3. What conclusion did you reach as you thought through these possibilities?
  4. Did you take any action based on this?
  5. How did it affect you from then on?
  6. Do you have any background, cultural or historical, that sheds light on this?

These are the questions I kept in mind as I researched various stories for my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15 November 2020
Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15th November 2020

Paranormal Warwickshire emerged from my experience in several places, which I describe as spiritual resonance.  These great buildings, maybe in a ruinous state, are not simply piles of stone, but animated by that “indefinable spark.”

In my book, the curious anecdotes told of these buildings acknowledge the life that fills the spaces between the stones. I include stories of everyday places as well: shops, railway stations, houses, pubs and churchyards, not just castles, abbeys and manor houses.

When I hear stories, I listen respectfully, even if I feel some may be conjured up by the imagination. I also ask why several different people, independently of each other and unknown to each other, should have the same experience in the same place over a long period of time. There have been many recorded cases of which this is true. Then, if you think it was “all their imagination”, you have to ask “what is it about this particular place that makes so many different people imagine the same thing there?”

The most compelling ghost stories are not about famous historical characters. A lot of them turn out, after research, to have emerged from the lives and deaths of people who never made their mark on history: people about whom we would have known nothing if the paranormal event had not alerted our attention and prompted research.

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Blog Tour for ‘The Trials of Isabella M Smugge’: new fiction by Ruth Leigh

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this, the second of Ruth Leigh’s contemporary novels about Isabella M Smugge, lifestyle blogger and instagram influencer. The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is published by Instant Apostle.

Ruth Leigh, author of The Diary of Isabella M Smugge & The Trials of Isabella M Smugge, both published by Instant Apostle in 2021. Ruth is a novelist, blogger and freelance writer based in beautiful East Suffolk.

I found the previous Isabella book a surprise, expecting a high farcical content: instead, it was a poignant and touching story of about contemporary family life and relationships. Fans of the first book will find this follow-up exceeds all their expectations.

I was intrigued by how Ruth chooses to handle the character of Isabella: lifestyle blogger and Instagram influencer, a style guru with enormous expertise in fashion, interior decor, and haute cuisine. Ruth is acutely observant about our consumer society, obsessed with brands, trends and image. She is brimming with phrases like ”carefully curated personal appearances”; “doyenne of the lifestyle blogging world”, “so not me”; “I was the first to spot that seagrass was over”; “my trademark eye for a good finish”; “conceptual layered pieces”; “a delightfully on-trend and vibey air”. I did love this, and it often made me laugh out loud.

Behind it all, we feel great sympathy for Isabella herself, in her increasingly chaotic personal life: betrayed by her husband, coping with an unexpected baby on the way, targeted by a vicious gossip columnist, and trying to rebuild her life as a single mother. Alongside all this, her drive to keep up her perfect online image becomes increasingly ridiculous.

Johnnie, her faithless, charming, hedge-fund-manager husband, masquerades as protective but in fact is emotionally manipulative and controlling. Around Isabella and her family, the author develops a cast of characters who either support or goad or torment her, some leading her along the path to true authenticity, others urging her to negative behaviour and values.

Ironically, Isabella appears to be “a woman in control”, on top of things, telling other people how to attain high society‘s false idea of perfection; yet in reality we can see she is not in control at all. She is not liberated in the true sense of the word, she is enslaved by what her husband thinks of her, and is rarely true to herself. We just want her to break through the web of artificiality she weaves around herself, to become real and honest about who and what she truly is.

As the story builds, the author includes sharp and waspish descriptions, especially of church services and Christians praying. Yet it is Christian friends who become a lifeline to Isabella. Following childbirth she suffers what many would recognise as postnatal depression: nothing she has to say about her baby is loving: the only things she notices are very negative and even cynical. Then we feel a great sense of relief when Isabella’s friend Nicki speaks the truth to Isabella at last, about herself, and Johnnie.

This is very much a book about family life and friendship as well as growing self-knowledge. I do like the end, very much: it is clever and perceptive, and the signs of transformation in Isabella may give rise to sparks of amusement and recognition in the reader.

A highly recommended book. You may find it online among contemporary women’s fiction.

Ruth may be found on Facebook as Ruth Leigh Writes and as @ruthleighwrites on Twitter and Instagram. You can visit her website at ruthleighwrites.co.uk if you would like to order a signed copy of the book.

Published by Instant Apostle, Ruth’s books are widely available in bookshops and all online book retail stores as well as from her website.

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Book Blog Tour for ‘The Migrant’: action thriller novel by Paul Alkazraji

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop today on the blog tour for Paul Alkazraji’s powerful novel of Albanian and Greek aspirations, politics and social tension, The Migrant. In view of the current world situation, the themes of this novel are acute: “Crossing borders does not always lead you further from home.”

The Migrant: action thriller fiction by Paul Alkazraji

The action of the novel is set during the 2010 anti-austerity movement in Greece. But all the themes and issues raised in the story are highly relevant to what is going on in the world right now.

Paul Alkazraji, author of The Migrant

I found the novel a rich and detailed evocation of Albania and Greece: the people, their lives and longings, the geographical landscape, and the huge political, economic and ideological challenges they must navigate. The story is relevant to all of us who care deeply about the the plight of those who are deprived of the opportunity to live a fulfilling life in an environment that respects their rights and allows them to flourish on every level.

We follow Pastor Jude, an Englishman who has been working in the Albanian church, as he sets off on a rescue mission to Greece with two unlikely and rather tough companions – Mehmed, a reformed gangster and Luan, a secret-service agent. The tensions between Mehmed and Luan are sharply conveyed, as Jude – whom I found a very attractive character – acts as a bridge between them.

They are searching for Alban, Luan’s nineteen year old nephew, young and vulnerable, who has dodged border police to cross into Greece in the vain hope of finding work there in a country hit by anti-austerity riots.

I have spent some time in Greece in the past, and I was captivated by the author’s evocation of various locations in Athens. His description of the car journey from Albania to Greece, too, is rich and detailed. I could sense the atmosphere strongly and especially his lovely descriptions of the sights and sounds and scents, and particularly the taste of the national dishes and the food and drink they order in the cafes and the tavernas.

Jude’s fears for Alban are fully realised, because this young man’s most likely fate has always been either to fall into the hands of callous sex-traffickers, or to be drawn into the turbulence of violent anti-austerity riots.

This novel held my attention throughout and I was fully engaged in the search for Alban. On the way, I found very different lives being opened up for me in a fresh and compelling way. Highly recommended.

Book cover image for The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His articles were published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times, The Baptist Times and other publications. His travel articles were also published in The Independent. His first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001. His second book Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Zondervan in 2001. From 2004 to 2010 he was editor and publisher of Ujëvarë magazine in Albania. His first novel, ‘The Silencer’, was published by Highland Books in 2012. His new novel, ‘The Migrant’, set in Albania and Athens during the austerity troubles, was published by Instant Apostle in February 2019. 

BLURB

Fascist populists, callous sex-traffickers and murderous mafia gangs – these were not what Pastor Jude Kilburn had expected to face when he moved to Albania. But when vulnerable 19-year-old Alban disappears from his poverty-stricken village to seek work in Greece, Jude has to undertake the perilous journey across the mountains to try and rescue him from the ruthless Athenian underworld. Accompanied by a volatile secret-service agent and a reformed gangster, Jude soon finds himself struggling to keep everyone together as personal tensions rise and violent anti-austerity riots threaten to tear them apart and undermine the mission. Caught between cynical secret police and a brutal crime syndicate, the fate of them all will be determined by a trafficked girl – but not every one will make it home. The Migrant is a tense and evocative thriller with a powerful redemptive twist.

EXTRACT FROM THE NOVEL

Chapter One Part One

Alban Gurbardhi lay with his face pressed into the earth. He eased his breath out through pursed lips as he tried to stifle any sound he might make. It seemed his heartbeat would be heard across the valley as it pounded in his ears. An angry, black beetle marched across the thyme-grass centimetres from his nose. He glanced at Ervin, who lay in against the crumbling stone wall, and saw his eyes darting.

‘Sssst … They are near here. We’ll get them,’ Alban heard one of the men say in a low voice. ‘Keep looking. Óchi … over there.’ Ervin lifted a finger to his lips and gestured with his palm forwards to stay put. Alban blinked and thought. They should have waited at the last Albanian village for the full cover of darkness before entering Greece. He remembered Ervin saying he’d come this way many times before and not to worry. The Greek border guards were less active these days – they were lazy. As they’d taken the track up from the old Communist hut at dusk, they’d still been visible in the open from lookout points in the woods to the east. That’s why they’d been spotted. He glared at his friend: older, yes, but wiser? Stones ground underfoot as one of the policemen trod close to the other side of the wall. Alban waited for a hand or something worse to strike down on him.

He flinched and screwed up his eyes, bracing himself, and a tear welled out of one corner. Oh, Lord … let us pass, he pleaded in his mind.

The sounds of shuffling over fallen branches and rocks moved away. Alban waited. He raised his body slowly with his hands and slid his feet under him. He glanced at Ervin, who nodded, and eased his head over the top of the wall. The two men were moving up into the pine trees around five metres away. Alban saw their dark blue T- shirts and black military boots. The taller of the two looked a strikingly muscular and athletic man. His hair was dark and razor-cut close in at the sides with a quiff on top.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY

If you share this blog post on any social media platform, please do include the hashtag #THEMIGRANT

Here are the author’s social media links:

Twitter: @paul_alkazraji

Amazon Author Page

 Goodreads

Blog Tour for ‘Creativity Matters’, a new inspirational anthology compiled by Wendy H Jones

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour today for an exciting new anthology for writers, Creativity Matters, the third of a series published by Scott and Lawson, and compiled by Wendy H Jones.

Wendy H Jones is a fellow author who has been a great encouragement to me and many other authors, and for this book she has invited a number of writers to contribute chapters. So you will find a wide variety of different types of writing represented here, together with varied outlooks and themes. This makes for a stimulating collection of encouraging pieces which seems set to be very popular among aspiring writers.

Wendy H Jones, author and compiler, Creativity Matters

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon #1 international best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, was released in December 2018. Motivation Matters: Revolutionise Your Writing One Creative Step at a Time, was released in May 2019. The Power of Why: Why 23 Women Took the Leap to Start Their Own Business was released on 29th June, 2020. Marketing Matters: Sell More Books was released on 31st July 2020. Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games will be released on 5th May, 2022,  and the third book in the Fergus and Flora Mysteries will be published in 2021. Her new author membership Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy launched in January 2021. Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion for Writing, the third book in her Writing Matters Series, is published in September 2021.

BLURB

Have you always thought about writing a book but don’t know where to start? Are you an experienced author and want to spread your wings? Are you looking for inspiration for every step in your writing journey? This is a book for everyone who wants to write, whether history or contemporary, science fiction or humour, local fiction or set in a made-up world, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, there’s something here for you. Join thirteen authors as they share their passion for why you should write in their genre and find your own passion as you read.

It’s time for you to spread your wings, follow your dreams and find your passion for writing.

MY REVIEW OF CREATIVITY MATTERS

This book brings us the work of several different authors, who have each contributed a chapter about the particular genre in which they write, and why they love it. The editor and compiler, Wendy H Jones, herself provides three chapters: on writing Humour, Crime and Non-fiction. In her introduction, she promises “ideas will be popping up and exploding all around you.” She  encourages the readers to have confidence in their ability to try new genres.

I enjoyed the array of authors who share their passion in this anthology. Sheena McLeod opens up the subject of historical non-fiction; she was first motivated by a desire to convey little known stories about Scotland’s history.

Next, Janet Wilson sets out her thoughts and feelings about children’s books; what she writes is powerful and inspiring, and it rings with truth.

Allison Symes writes flash fiction, and I will certainly be following her recommendation to polish up my writing exercises, turn them into flash fiction and submit to writing competitions.

Fay Rowland offers a witty and funny piece about scriptwriting.  Joy Margetts expresses her own passion for historical fact-based fiction; her dedication to research is evident.  Kirsten Bett writes Cat Tales, and again her passion for this genre shines through.  Jennifer Ngulube’s piece on writing memoir is challenging and stirring.

Maressa Mortimer provides two chapters:  in the first, on writing faith-based fiction, I found her arguments moving, convincing and thought-provoking.  The second, on writing novels set in a different world, sparkles with infectious enthusiasm, and fills the reader with a “can-do” attitude.

Nanette Fairley moves and excites us with her thoughts on writing in the ‘Third Age’. Andrew Chamberlain’s chapter on Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found fascinating, and it may well be the chapter that most inspires me.

Wendy H Jones writes in a stimulating and enjoyable way about crime and mystery; she gives good practical tips on the topic of writing Humour; and makes some intriguing points on the subject of writing Romance.

I love the quote at the end of the book, under the title “What Now?”

Fortune favours the brave and the future belongs to those who are not afraid to step out.

This is certainly a book which will awaken fresh enthusiasm and new ideas in its readers and encourage writers to try out new genres.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY 

Please include the hashtag #CREATIVITYMATTERS  and the following social media handles when you are sharing your posts about the book. Wendy’s website may be found here.

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/wendyhjonesauthor

TWITTER

@WendyHJones

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

INSTAGRAM

https://www.instagram.com/wendyhjones/

Book Review: ‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

Today I review a recently published Christian Fantasy novel, Book 1 of the Masters series. Urban Angel by A J Chamberlain was published by Nielsen both as paperback and ebook on 23 May 2021.

‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

This is a fascinating story: for the young main protagonist, Alex Masters, the journey to faith has been marked by grief and loneliness, but still she chooses to believe…. Alex thinks she is truly alone; but she is not, and never will be … Daisy is a child of the social media generation, lost in every belief and none. When tragedy strikes, she seeks out her cousin Alex because she knows that Alex understands what it is to face the darkness.

Alex and Daisy come together, hunted by an enemy that will do whatever it takes to achieve its goal. Alone, Alex and Daisy would be defenceless, but this is not a struggle against flesh and blood, and not every weapon is visible.

As I read the story, I loved the way the author describes the interactions of angels and demons as a seamless part of the narrative, weaving in and out of the choices and actions of the characters in the physical realm.

The story reminded me a little of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s film Bedazzled, and also of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens – and this despite the fact that I am well aware the respective creators of those works hold a different worldview from the author of this novel! One part of A J Chamberlain’s story even reminded me a bit of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, when he is in the mind of The Assassin, and when he makes mysterious references to ‘his master’.

I believe all these comparisons show how well tuned in to our culture A J Chamberlain is, whilst handling this subject of a spiritual battleground. The dialogue and relationship between 20 year old Conner and Daisy absolutely rings true. The dilemmas, conflicts and temptations the characters face are all so authentic and relatable.

The narrative moves at pace, and is very tense, strong and gritty. I found this a wonderful depiction of spiritual warfare around human activity. This first book promises very well for the next one in the series.

A highly recommended novel.

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Out and About Collecting Photos for ‘Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire’ due out from Amberley Publishing 2022

A view of the River Avon at Bidford.

Fiction Genre: What is it Exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to our lives as readers too.

I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.
I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. Now, as I work on a new novel I still have trouble trying to work out what genre I’m writing in.

I have just received reports from five beta readers and am considering their thoughts, and working on polishing and sharpening my final draft. One of the big questions has been: what genre do they consider this novel to be?

Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?
Another piece of advice we find floating around the publishing scene is that an author should, when pitching to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?”

Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.
All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.
So now, for the benefit of the readers of this blog, I shall say that my WIP is most likely to be gothic mystery.
An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC, as one of three writers on the Authors Stand.

So what do fighting fantasy and interactive and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?
The atmosphere at the Games Expo is always wonderful, there’s a great sense of fun, excitement and good humour. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

My own fiction is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as he finds himself in a deadly situation from which he must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There is an unexpected connection for me.
Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to my fiction genre. Family relationships also play a strong role in my novels… I find these provide a fertile stage upon which the action can be played.
Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; sometimes magical realism, paranormal, ghost story, gothic mystery, psychological suspense … all is possible.