The Seventh Train by Jackie Carreira – a journey without end?

This is a book of train journeys that are significant for not really ever arriving as far as the main character is concerned. They are an adventure yet also an escape, from what and to where is never clear. While it tackles some difficult topics head on, it is also very funny. It is eloquent on feelings that many might have but few admit to, let alone take life changing action. Elizabeth is a fascinating character, and remains the strongest in a book that eventually introduces several memorable and surprising people. Beginning in London, this is a book which reveals a fascinating insight into the Suffolk countryside, as well as the realities of British trains. Tackling themes such as loneliness and the rules that govern lives, this is a book of great contemporary relevance and puts a sometimes comic twist on serious ideas. I greatly enjoyed its characterisation and pace, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.


The book opens at Harlow Town railway station.  The announcer intones a warning of delay “This is due to a passenger on the line at Harlow Town”, a coded indication of a suicide in Elizabeth’s opinion. Managing not to argue with a singular woman in the cafe as other passengers gawp, she takes her coffee, shocked that the fatality is labelled an “inconvenience”. Daniel Cotter, the driver, realises that he has killed a human being, and is deeply traumatised. Elizabeth travels on to Cambridge, encountering in the cafe on the station a man who seems determined to discover why she is there, intent on taking a particular train, carrying no luggage to speak of, quietly determined. Then a memorable young woman arrives, loud, disruptive, encumbered with a suitcase obviously overstuffed with fashionable shoes and clothes. She breaks into Elizabeth’s thoughts, full of her own stories and phrases, most memorably “The world is my lobster!”. She wants to go to Brighton explore on her own, discover the world, change everything for two weeks.  Elizabeth is pressed into explaining her story, her reason why “The seventh train” is important, even if she is not sure herself at certain points. She has her stories, and it transpires that she is not alone in making revelations. The train journey is the thing, but is the destination, the end, always important?


I found much to enjoy in this novel, developed from a play, which explains the realistic dialogue and deep feelings expressed here. There are surprises, but set in a context where they fit and make sense. The facts, the trains, do hold together, as I have some knowledge of one of the destinations mentioned in some detail. There are rules, there is a framework, an ultimately there is hope. This is a deceptively important book, with an unerring sense of purpose, even if at times the whole premise seems unfocused. It examines various experiences from a safe place, and demonstrates a great understanding of what makes the quiet, the anonymous  passenger on a train may be thinking, why they do what they do. Carreira is a watcher of people who has committed her imaginings to a novel which has a quiet power, well expressed, and which has the capacity to make the reader think, while being entertained. I recommend it as an excellent read for all those who wonder about other people, and indeed their own motivations, when travelling on trains.


I have of course recommended this book to Northernvicar! He will no doubt give his verdict on at least the train information ( but the pieces I have read him have met with his approval!)

The Woman with the Owl Tattoo by Anne Walsh Donnelly – poems of a personal discovery and more.

If good poetry is about revealing one’s true self, this book is full of good poems. Anne Walsh Donnelly is revealing a great deal of her life and strongest feelings in her writing in this beautifully produced book. The title is significant as the owl and a tattoo are both significant features in a book which is primarily about relationships. Husband, parents and children are all featured, together with the growing realisation that her thoughts are increasingly directed towards other women. This is far from a gentle book of love poetry however; the telling phrase and the often painful imagery of body and memory dominate these verses. This is poetry at its most raw, but also touching and truthful. I was grateful to have the opportunity to experience and review this book as part of the blog tour.


The book opens with a poem called “Guide to Becoming a Writer”, which shows both how not conforming to expectations and yet trying to fit in provides the experience and drive to write. The visit to “a therapist” who “tells you to start writing – Just Do It” provides the impetus towards poetry, and hence this book. “The Tawny Owl” reveals the poet’s love for an owl, and what she comes to represent. Animals are significant throughout the book, as images and also in the hard reality of their farming life. She comes to realise that her husband will never keep his vows, his promises. Her therapist confronts her with the truth that will propel the rest of her life, as she takes a look at herself in many ways and discovers new ways of loving. A series of poems reveals her coming out to her children and parents, and their individual reactions. Her son’s reaction is perhaps the most beautifully described “His acned cheek touches my forehead/his gangly arms wrap around my shoulders./Same as his toddler arms used to, but different. Similarly, her father’s verdict is also touching “you were my daughter the day you were born/and you’re still my daughter.”  


There are so many other strands to this book of emotions elegantly, painfully and truthfully expressed. The poems are not long and wordy, each is taut and compressed, each word carefully chosen and balanced to the whole. These are pictures of people, of the poet, making a difference, dealing with new truths, creating new creatures. The honesty of this book is powerful, masterly in the way it is presented, and this makes for a book that makes an impression. Contemporary poetry is presented here in all its shocking power, and this publisher has done much to make it available to all.  


This is my third poetry book this mother I think – I will be getting a reputation for it! I have enjoyed looking at them, and maybe one day I will do more. What do you think?

The Sewing Room Girl by Susanna Bavin – a powerful novel of a woman fighting to survive in the 1890s

In 1892 the position of unmarried women was often difficult, if not impossible, even if that if one was talented and skilled. Juliet is a young woman who is attractive and brought up as a skilled needlewoman with a real flair for design, but circumstances, and some people, seem anxious that she does not succeed. This is a saga which reveals real challenges and some opportunities for young people at a time of change. Clothes and gardens can present new openings, but the power of gossip and jealousy can seem overwhelming. This well researched and brilliantly plotted novel is a powerful tribute to the strength of character of a young woman who has to fight against even members of her own family to find a role, and a way forward, as a new century dawns. I was grateful to have the opportunity to read and review a copy of this powerful novel.


Juliet Harper is just fifteen when  the book opens in 1892. Her father has just died in an accident, and she is left with her mother, the tempestuous Agnes, who feels deeply the criticism she has always shown to her husband for making her ambition to open her own salon disappear. The village community in which they live has long been unimpressed by Agnes’ ambition and simultaneously admiring of a Mr Nugent, the local lord’s land agent. Juliet is fated to learn more of the latter as she moves with her mother into a sewing room at the local big house, as her mother is given the job of overseeing much of the household sewing, together with an ambiguous position in the hierarchy of servants. Juliet hates her job of caring for an old woman of the village, and seizes the opportunity to gain a position in a local shop where she can begin to use her sewing skills and talent for design. Her mother is jealous of her success, and Juliet’s life seems well set for success when she meets the young and ambitious Hal Price. Things begin to spiral out of her control when her mother falls ill, and a certain man acts to gain access to her. The anger and jealousy of another woman leads to a catastrophic event, and Juliet must act to save herself, even at the cost of leaving all she knows and loves. A new start seems to offer new hope, but she has reckoned without her powerful and influential grandmother, who determines that Juliet will be under her control. Can Juliet grasp the small hope that friendship brings, when she seems to be fighting on all fronts?


This book is a powerful testament to the courage of a young woman when everything is against her. In today’s society when we are aware of how the abuse of women can affect their lives, this book can be painful reading as brutal acts against teenage girls are tacitly accepted, whatever the results. The odds which are stacked against the characters and the ways they must employ to survive are well handled and the ending more than satisfactory. This novel reflects well the research and feeling for the period that the author has unquestionably developed, and as historical fiction writing it is an effective piece of social history in very dramatic form. I recommend this book for fans of sagas in which women must fight to survive, and who enjoy realistic writing.     

There is a giveaway opportunity for several of Susanna Bavin’s books, which is being done through a rafflecopter. I believe you can enter at    Sorry, UK only!


If you are tempted to comment on my posts, please feel free! I know most of the authors and or publishers have a look if they know I have posted on their book, so you will be communicating with them as well! (Besides, it’s great for my ego!)



The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner – The Aftermath of War through the people of 1920

At first glance this could be a novel of the First World War, and in a way it is, though it is mainly set in 1920. Rather than the anger or despair of the actual battlefields, or even harrowing details of soldiers’ experiences, this is a book of the aftermath, of those who are trying to capture or recapture their lives. Featuring two young men who have shared fighting life, and have been left with different dreams and problems, and two young women who seem to be heading for unmarried lives, this is an important and revealing novel. The style is meticulous, divided into carefully dated sections which focus on a particular event or reaction sometimes from two different points of view on the same day. While each character is described from outside, the author has been sufficiently skilled that the reader understands what they are feeling at any one time. The supporting cast includes a heart broken couple whose son did not return, a small boy who is going to frame the action, his mother and a kindly but  determined clergyman. Strong women, challenging men and the way people perceive events all contribute to a tale in which the stories of people are so carefully realised, this seems like a slice of real life. The research is so successful that a real feeling of the period emerges as the songs, the fashions and even the cigarettes convince the reader that this is an impressive picture of immediate postwar life. I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review a copy of this book.


The novel opens with a young man, Patrick, meeting two older ladies in London. It is November 1940, as the Blitz of the Second World War is beginning to affect daily life, and the women, Evelyn and Catherine are almost revelling in their adventure, and thrilled to see Patrick, a young man who they have obviously been very fond of for years. They appear to own their own hotels and tea shops, and be very much together “the same height”, wearing the same colour and “They were often taken for sisters”. Patrick narrates their meeting, reveals that he had been on a ship rescuing soldiers at Dunkirk, drops in references to Edward, and later discusses with the women William, Georgette and Isabella. These are merely names at this stage, but the reader learns that these are people of significance; how much will emerge later in the book. On the brink of another conflict shadows of the past intrude, these people have left their marks, and just how close these two world changing wars were together.


The main bulk of the novel is the story of Edward, mysterious musician, who was seen as the “Lucky Lieutenant” during the hardest of battles. His undoubted talent has brought him to Margate to play the piano at the Winter Gardens, a prestigious venue for classical music concerts. He has travelled with William, who is a chancer, his manager, and operates by a dubious moral code. As they wade into a violent dispute between a tobacconist and a disabled war veteran, it almost descends into farce with prosthetic limbs being used as weapons. It emerges that Edward is memorable for his facial covering, a metal plate which covers one side of his face including an eye. This mask is a significant theme, as they meet Evelyn who tries to be sympathetic but not patronising. A vicar’s daughter from London, she is in Margate to help a friend of her father’s, Alastair, a painter who owns a tea shop with his wife, Alice. Alice is pregnant, and deeply saddened by the loss of their son Curtis in the War. Catherine appears as a staunch friend to all, brought up by Beatrice, a strong woman who values her independence.


As the narrative progresses during 1920, we see the friends coping with challenges and changes, as death, birth, relationships,  music and painting all contribute to a rich and detailed story. This is an intensely detailed book, hardly fast moving but overwhelmingly powerful in its careful description of life. I appreciated the reality of the characters, the background of grief and loss, and yet the satisfaction and humour of real life. This is a saga, a huge read, and I recommend it as a subtle picture of the immediate aftermath of war, and what will contribute to the almost temporary peace before the plunge into the Second World War. It is an undertaking of love, with impeccable research and genuine feeling.     

Confessions of a Bad Mother – The Teenage Years by Stephanie Calman – Family life!

This is a funny book. It may be a cliche to say that anyone who has had children will recognise elements of this book, but it certainly brings back memories. Not limited to the teenage years, this book’s reminiscences extent into childhood and in one case the early twenties, as two children (and briefly those of friends) overturn the theories and rise above expectations. This book either deliberately or inadvertently reveals more about the writer than the children, her background and her relationship with her own parents. This is not a book of advice, rather an expression of solidarity with all those who find themselves perplexed or bewildered by their offspring or even their partner. Calman is brutally honest in this book, but these are not so much confessions as admissions that she frequently struggled to understand or predict what her children would do, perhaps expecting the worse. This is a book which possibly exaggerated or lightly fictionalised certain events, but essentially this is the truth in all its confusing, funny and messy glory. Family life is often complex, and the contrast between Peter, her partner and her own attitude to child care is always frustrating and funny, as he wants to be the cool parent. Cliche or not, this is a book which will chime with the memories of many who have had the care and control of children. I was very glad to have the opportunity to read and review this book which celebrates family life.


The book opens with a difficult shopping trip as Calman tries to get a suitable dress for her  seven year old daughter, Lydia, who refuses to even try on the most appropriate choice. She realises that her daughter has already developed a mind of her own, something that she had assumed would not happen for a few more years. Not that Lawrence, her slightly older son, is proving any easier to handle. As a family holiday trip triggers the signs of food deprivation, she signals that like many mothers, she occasionally has to fall back on sweets and blatant bribery for the sake of armed truce. Peter takes Lawrence on an expedition which frightens the parent  more than the child, who is desperately unkeen on the whole project, whereas the younger Lydia flourishes on a similar challenge. It emerges that Lydia soon carves her own path, developing advanced craft skills as well as being utterly fearless, while Lawrence expresses his independence and later cooking ability via some minor rudeness. As is common, Calman has to apply to her children for technical help with her mobile phone and much else, while her subtle help and ambitions for them are achieved in unexpected ways. The most tender episode concerns the illness of Calman’s mother, as teenagers rise to situations in the most mature ways. Here is much about parties and comparisons with friends who have experienced teenager led situations, which ring true in so many ways.


This is a delightful book in many senses, as the honest revelations of feelings, some fears and many frustrations emerge from a writer who carefully balances farce with reality. I found it funny and realistic, and flows well from episode to explosion and explanation. I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would, and found it very readable. I would certainly read other books by Calman, as this is a balanced and essentially lighthearted read.           

You Are What You Read by Jodie Jackson – the Media and solutions based journalism



The subtitle of this this thoughtful book is “Why Changing your Media Diet Can Change the World”, and most of it refers to the problem of negative news. Jackson argues for a more balanced approach to the news media rather than the immersive twenty four hour news cycle available online, and the tabloid brevity of many  newspapers. Highlighting the psychological dangers of constant news checking in terms of a pessimistic worldview, this book is an impassioned plea for a more balanced approach to the presentation of events. A founder of The Constructive Journalism Project, Jackson has evidently worked hard to formulate and refine a programme for journalists and those who present the news. In doing so, she provides a guide and reassurance for all those who consume the news in any way, and who can accordingly feel depressed at the way of the world. This is a very significant book for all those with an interest in the media , and I was very interested to be given the opportunity to read and review this title.


Using a quick poll in the Introduction as to whether the reader believes that global poverty has increased, as well as later referring to a relative who feared for the future of the author’s own baby, this book carefully challenges our perceptions of the present and future of our world. There are examples of issues and presentations from the United States and Britain, of how a different view of the same event can alter the reception of a news report. The introduction of solution based news means that the observer can not only discover what the answer to a problem may well be, but also how they can be involved. Jackson does not want all the news to be good news, along the lines of the last item of evening bulletins, but to be constructive stories that do not merely offer a despairing if dramatic story. She criticises a Russian ‘experiment’ when a news source changed all their stories to good news, lost two thirds of their audience  and swiftly reverted to business as normal. She also deplores the fact that when tragic events are continually presented in dramatic and shocking terms, viewers and readers become so familiar with the concepts that they no longer register surprise and merely add to their perception of the world as a dangerous place. She shows how even the truth can be sacrificed to deadlines and the sheer volume of articles and reports that must be churned out to meet the demands of news outlets.


Jackson’s ability to suggest positive alternatives and possible coping mechanisms makes this a valuable book for many readers. She presents six effective ways to change our media consumption to “help us become more informed, engaged and empowered”, including becoming a conscious consumer and reading solutions-focused news. Freedom of the press is far from being a straightforward issue, as different forces operate on journalists and others in constructing and delivering stories. Solutions based journalism is a complex idea in some ways, being more sophisticated than just good news, and far more positive than the shocking themes which currently dominate the programmes. There is an impressive set of notes for each chapter and a list of books which serve to anchor the book as well as offer information to the reader. The most interesting point is the insistence of hope in the production and reception of news, an “emotional coping mechanism” that can combat the feeling of doom that can characterise our world view. This is a positive book in a controversial area, and I recommend it to the general reader as an enlightening read.       

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – a funny classic republished by Persephone

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Diary of a  Provincial Lady by E.M.Delafield


This is a well – known book, even a classic, and deserving praise for many aspects of its subtle comedy, insight into a woman’s life and relentless good humour in the face of trying events. The unnamed narrator is always caught in the midst of activity; this is not the artistic musing of an idle writer shut away from life, but the almost notes of a busy woman, continually caught up in the family and domestic crisis which strikes a familiar note even in the twenty first century. This is a book of its time, first published in 1930, but which can still amuse today, especially in the illustrated edition produced by Persephone in 2014. While it is far from poverty, money is often tight in this small family, which after all includes a governess, a cook and a maid. However, this book was written at a time when having at least one servant was normal for even the lower middle class; in the days before labour saving devices in the kitchen and vacuum cleaners for the rest of the house, help with cooking and cleaning was perhaps a reasonable expectation. Certainly the carefully noted expenses, overdraft and even pawning of a family ring give the impression of a woman having to manage her money. Not that this prevents her from spending money on carefully described clothes and having things altered. This was a time when social convention demanded specific clothes for evening functions and a hat for everyday wear. We recently discussed this book at a book group and actually found much to talk about.


The book opens with a description of the narrator planting some bulbs, which are soon condemned by the visiting Lady B as being too late, and inferior to a Dutch brand. The narrator’s quick witted response that she prefers to buy “Empire products” is a bit deflated by her daughter’s pointing out that they came from Woolworths. The ill – fated bulbs become a theme throughout the book, as whatever she tries, her display is confined to empty or broken bowls. Odd friends turn up to stay, rejoicing in the name of Cissie Crabbe, and make demands on the household in which Robert, the husband and father takes little interest. Lady B. tries to persuade and influence the family’s politics “she says Look at the Russians” “I find myself telling her to Look at Unemployment”, and “Relive my feelings by waving a small red flag belonging to Vicky”, much to the astonishment of a passing maid. As the narrator visits Rose, her socially successful friend in London, she conducts the “Beauty Parlour experiment” and tries unsuccessfully to go to the Italian exhibition which everyone says she simply must see. She wishes that she had read the latest novels, and memorises just one fact on many subjects for conversation. She often feels distracted and inadequate socially, and tries very hard to do the right thing. We were fascinated by the character of “old” Mrs Blenkinsop, who has a very funny way of depicting herself of the centre of interest. Wrapped in blankets and always seen in an armchair, she is seen as frail and elderly, needing her adult daughter’s constant attention. We found it very funny that she was only in fact sixty – six, an illustration of the changing perspective of age!


It is difficult to describe why this is such a funny and enjoyable book. The characters can be exasperating, there is no great drama (though in pre antibiotic days even minor illnesses could have been serious) and this is not real poverty. The reader is swept along by the diary form, without chapters, as situations develop and are solved. This edition, with its witty and timely illustrations, does not include the three sequels, which lack the original spark but are still a fascinating insight into the time, especially as the narrator seeks worthwhile war work as war begins to affect the country. This book is a funny and enjoyable read, and while possibly an acquired taste, gives a fascinating picture of life in the interwar years.   


So the Book Group found this an interesting choice! As with all Persephone books, mine is a lovely edition, but there are many editions available, especially the rather large paperback which includes all four books. Apparently this book appears to be on several lists of books you must read – and I would agree!

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace by Carola Dunn – Daisy D strikes again in London of 1928!

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The title reveals something of this cosy crime book, one of a series set in the interwar period, featuring the wonderfully named Daisy Dalrymple. Now Mrs Fletcher, unofficial sleuth, writer of articles and mother of twins, runs true to form in accidentally finding a recently dead body in the historic ladies conveniences in Crystal Palace, London, at the time a shabby but still immense attraction in London. Dealing with Nannies (plural) several children, good friends and eccentric characters all over London, helping to crack the case despite her husband’s misgivings, and discovering memorable characters en route make this an enjoyable, sometimes funny and clever read. There is enough information to enjoy this novel even if you have not read its twenty two predecessors, but you could become addicted to the undoubted charms of this series. Daisy is a great character, and while her husband tries to dissuade her from actual danger, her aristocratic connections and her quick thinking are often necessary to get her and her associates out of some tricky situations. As each character is carefully and consistently introduced, familiar landmarks of London visited and the pace maintained, this is a not always serious tale of well plotted murder and mayhem in London, 1928.


As the book opens, Daisy is visiting her long term friend Lucy who is in a delicate condition, but still as forthright as ever. This is a world of servants with dedication, and nannies of terrifying aspect, which is why the sight of several nannies behaving oddly during a planned visit to Crystal Palace attracts the attention of Belinda, Daisy’s stepdaughter and two boys who Daisy is temporarily in charge of, and sends them scurrying around in pursuit. A body turns up and another nanny is found in a desperate state, leaving Daisy, her friend Sakari and a retired policeman, Tom Tring, to secure the site and make sure all the children are safely returned home. When Alec eventually becomes involved and Scotland Yard swings into action, there are many leads to follow as the career of a deeply unlikable character is revealed. As usual, Daisy accidentally on purpose finds the pieces of information that Alec needs as he tries to find the murderer among a mass of multiple motives, and there is the usual quota of high speed journeys and last minute discoveries.


This is an assured novel with much to interest the reader with an interest in the era of amateur yet effective detectives, set in a Britain where women still changed for tea and at least one servant knew what was really going on. Dunn has made every effort to include a wide range of characters and reflect what was going on in the background for people from various countries in the early part of the twentieth century. London is still a place of private cars being something of note, when people left messages with real people when calling on the telephone, and policing used very few scientific options apart from fingerprints. Not terribly literary, but an excellent mystery with many red herrings (and a few dogs) and insights into life in a different era, this is an enjoyable and relaxing read in an addictive series.   


Happily I have managed to finish a readable draft of my essay / presentation for Wednesday on Eva Peron and Evita. Who knew that knowing all the words of a concept album and musical would come in handy? I hope that it will be suitable! Now to find many images of the lady, the musical and film so even if my text is boring there will be something to look at! At least this book was a welcome distraction…  

The Abandoned Daughter by Mary Wood – a powerful tale of loves as the First World War ends

This is a powerful book with memorable characters in every sense.

A young woman who was an abandoned child with no knowledge of her birth family is the main character of  this second book in the Girls Who Went to War series. It stands alone as a vivid story of the ending of the First World War, and how the myth of a land fit for heroes in many ways proved to be false. The situations that Ella finds herself in, the risks she takes and the love she experiences make for an enormous saga of people and place, a frequently moving story of the fight for survival, and a complex tale of love and loss. With near breathtaking confidence and a sure way with plot and dialogue, this is one woman’s powerful story of a dramatic life that literally kept me awake, so keen was I to find out what happened next. As with Wood’s other sagas of a young woman fighting to survive despite jeopardy, this is a powerful story of wit and determination against the odds and complications of life. I was so pleased to be asked to read and review this book by an established author of this gripping type of novel.


Ella is a voluntary nurse dangerously near the Front during the final months of the First World War.  It is while a brief respite occurs that a long term friend Jim changes violently, and it is only the caring actions of new friends and fellow nurses, Paddy and Connie, that gets her through a traumatic move. Battling on under catastrophic  conditions she meets a brilliant doctor, Daniel, and shares a significant experience. As peace is declared and on her return to London, she soon discovers that not everyone finds a home and a bright future, and it is in the time when she tries to cope with those who are in difficulty that she seeks to contact Paulo, a young French officer who has quickly stolen her heart. While her bravery is celebrated she endures loss, and soon finds that her past is posing a danger to her present and future just as she believes she has found love. Her life becomes increasingly desperate, and she is forced to seek to find out more about her birth family from her beloved Nanny, who is the slender connection with her homeland and the truth. Dramatic danger dominates her life, and there are some vivid scenes of abuse as nothing seems impossible. Can she and her loved ones survive when friends are sometimes the only hope?


This is such a powerful and well paced book which carries the reader onwards, desperate to find out the next twist and turn in the fate of the central character. Ella must be resourceful and brave, but even courage and intelligence sometimes seems too little as life hurtles along. The real achievement of this novel is to create a character who feels real, that the reader cares about throughout the book. This is done by a real human insight and thorough research to capture the sense of a life lived in such difficult circumstances. A book that lingers in the mind long after reading it, I recommend this book to those who enjoy a strong story well told with a central female character.


I am particularly excited to be reviewing this book on publication day! Definitely one to look out for in many shops.


Pressing on with my Evita paper, Northernvicar managed to find me a brilliant book from 1996, “The Making of Evita” by Alan Parker. Featuring an account of the making of the film a fair while after the successful stage show first appeared, it tells of the difficulty of making a film where its obvious setting, Argentina, was fraught with challenges. It is a beautiful book, full of production photographs of significant moments. I hope it inspires me to finish this paper soon!