The Arkship Ulysses – Part 3

3 November 2014

Part 3: Unspoken

Words: 6,595

POV character: Michael

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Through back story we find out about the Captain’s first fiance, a noble woman he was due to marry years ago but whom he publicly shamed in order to call off the wedding. We learn about how perfect everyone said his bride-to-be was and how terrified Michael was of the prospect of marrying her. For he has eyes only for Susan, the enigmatic woman who’s identity he has spent his entire life keeping secret. He sees how the proposal is driving her away from him and he is determined to call the wedding off at any cost in order to salvage their relationship. Even if it means ruining his reputation and leaving a bunch of scheming enemies in his wake, for Susan he will do anything.

Notes:
Hey would you look at that! My second chapter in less than a week. That must mean my writer’s block is gone, right?

Well… not exactly. Don’t get me wrong: I’m absolutely thrilled to be posting this right now but the sad truth is it’s a chapter I wrote a very long time ago. In fact, these Michael chapters were pretty much the first things I wrote for this book way back when it was about 10 times more complicated than it is now and had a cast of thousands. These chapters were designed from the beginning to serve as mile stones in the story that would bookend each section of the story while welcoming in the next.

The chapters were designed to do two things:

  1. to give the reader new information on back story they otherwise wouldn’t get to see, and
  2. set the tone for the part ahead.

You might think it’s pretentious, but I’ve always liked it when books are broken down into several parts like this. To my mind it gives the reader a natural stopping point in the story. It’s a chance for the reader to cleanse their palate so to speak. To put the book down and reflect on what they’ve read in a way that a simple chapter break can never manage.

The idea was that this book would be written in several parts (originally planned to be five back when I didn’t realise just how long this thing was going to be) with each part serving as a prologue for the next section written from the point of view of Michael, the ship’s lame duck of a captain.

These chapters would be special too. While most of the chapters in this book are written from the closed first-person perspective (meaning they are written from inside a character’s head with each moment recounted to the reader in a blow-by-blow fashion), these prologue chapters have a wider scope in mind. The action here is less linear and more free form. It’s actually a style I really enjoy writing in and it’s one I’m definitely going to use more of in the future.

So, in the first part we had the back-story of how the Earth was lost and the Arkships were launched. We found out about Michael’s family and how this society has devolved into a feudal one over the years. We also got a glimpse of the mysterious Susan who wouldn’t appear again for some time. It was a teaser chapter designed to set the scene. I’ve always liked it.

In the second part, we got the back-story of the bunks. Although the reader had already got the chance to see the bunks and meet the unspoken who lived in them during the first part, it wasn’t until here that the reason for their existence is explained. I show how close the Captain is to Father Estavan and how suspicious he is of his Second, High Commander Hathaway. I talk about the food crisis and how, although the Captain knows it is happening, he is powerless to do anything about it.

Now it’s the third part and in some ways it’s the most crucial part of all because it’s here that we get the back-story of Michael himself. We find out what he’s been doing as Captain all these years since taking command. We find out about his history with marriage and the perilous lengths he has gone to over the years to keep his beloved Susan safe from harm.

It’s only after getting all this information that a discerning reader should be able to work out everything that’s happening in this book. Why is Nathan Hathaway staging an elaborate coup designed to overthrow the Captain and instigate a riot among the unspoken? Why is the Captain finally allowing himself to get married after all these years of saying no? Why is it the disgraced Father Estavan that Michael has gone to to organise the whole betrothal? What, really, is the deal with Susan? And so on. All these questions (and more) are answered in this chapter.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 20

28 October 2014

Chapter 20: Gambits

Length: 5,851 words

POV character: Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Abi is determined to find out the truth about what’s really going on on the ship. Resorting to desperate measures, she steals an ident card from one of the most powerful men on the ship and then takes a uniform hostage. Using these two sources, Abi starts to piece together the truth but it’s a truth that’s unlike anything she was expecting to hear.

What she finds out shocks Abi to her core. But is it too late to do anything about it? Ultimately, what can she – a single terrified woman trapped between two worlds – really do when the entire fate of the human race is at stake?

Notes:

Hard to believe it’s been over a month since I last posted a chapter on here. Dear God this chapter was hard to write.

True, I’ve been ill for the last two weeks. And true I was in England recently. It’s also true that my wife and I are starting to look for a new house, and that I’m currently in the middle of being promoted. But these are only excuses designed to salvage my pride.

The truth is, I took a long time writing this chapter because I got… writer’s block.

the-writers-block-photo

Not this type of writer’s block, either

It’s one of those strange things about writing that never fails to amaze me:

Sometimes writing just seems to flow. The ideas pop out of your mind, one behind the other. It happens too fast for you to keep up sometimes. You get lost in the act of creation. It’s fun. Chapter 16 was a good example of me during one of those times. If you read the notes I made for that chapter now, you get a real sense of the swagger and verve with which I was attacking my work.

Other chapters, however… The words won’t come. It’s like trying to push out the world’s most painful bowel movement. You find yourself actively trying to procrastinate. You’d rather do anything other than tackle that Godforsaken scene.

In this case, the problem was with my outline.

You see, long before writing this book, I sat down and created an outline for it. It was a simple document (as all outlines should be) of just a few pages. It was designed to do little more than help me keep track of my characters and set the overall tone for the book. Suffice to say I have digressed from that outline multiple times during the course of writing this book but the overall shape of the story remains the same. I like outlines. Usually I find they help keep the mind focused. Just a couple of sentences is enough sometimes to prod your creative mind off in the right direction.

It keeps me motivated.

Sometimes, however, this system breaks down. Take, for example, this chapter. The ‘notes’ I had written for it were ludicrously sparse things: “Abi sneaks into Hathaway’s quarters while he’s away and finds out the truth about what’s going on on the ship. Scene ends with her running for help.”

That’s pretty much it.

Laughable, right? I mean, how could anyone think that was enough to go on? But the sad truth was, I really thought it was. After all, hadn’t I set up the events for this chapter perfectly in the last one? Hadn’t I made sure to give Abi both the motivation and the opportunity to pull off this scheme? My outline for this chapter didn’t need to be detailed because at this stage, the chapters should be practically writing themselves!

Except that they don’t.

Time after time I would sit down with my notes in front of me and the fragments of story that my earlier drafts had left me and I would try to start putting it all together. And every time, no sooner had I started writing than some inner part of me would pipe up, “This is stupid.”

“Abi shouldn’t be snooping around in Hathaway’s office!” that inner critic cried. “Why would she do that? It’s the most dangerous place on the whole ship. She wouldn’t go there at the best of times, least of all when she’s on the run from the law!”

Then I would stop writing and I would turn to that inner critic, eyes rolling and excuses already spilling from my tongue. “Trust me,” I would say. “I know this girl. I know who she is. Abi has two motivations in life right now. 1) she wants to find out what’s going on on the ship and 2) she wants to get away from those who keep trying to control her life and reclaim control for herself. In Abi’s mind, she believes she can only accomplish point 2 by doing point 1 first and so finding out the truth is her central motivation!”

“By sneaking off?” the inner critic sneered. “By snooping around? That doesn’t sound like the Abi you’ve spent the last two years writing about. That sounds like something the old version of Abi would do. The flat, two dimensional version of Abi that only exists in that sorry excuse for an outline.”

“Hey!” said my outline, slightly offended, though it didn’t say anything else. As I’ve already mentioned, it is a very short document and never has much to say for itself.

“The Abi you’ve been writing about for the last few years is better than this. She would never be so stupid as to march right into the middle of the most heavily guarded area on the ship just to satisfy her curiosity!”

“True,” I said. And somehow a whole week flew by.

“Not only that but reading about someone snooping around in a filing cabinet gets boring very quickly,” the critic added. “Surely no one would want to read what essentially amounts to a list of documents?”

“True,” I reluctantly agreed and suddenly another fortnight had gone.

“But what can I do instead?” I despaired. “This is one of those chapters which simply has to happen because it’s here that the entire central gambit is unveiled to the reader! I have to put something here! I can’t just cut it out or write around it. Abi needs to have her turning point. Her character needs to have its moment of glory. What should I do?” I asked my outline, who just shrugged at me and repeated the same short line it had been saying for the last two years. “What should I do?” I asked my inner critic.

“That’s for you to figure out,” my inner critic sniffed. In my mind’s eye I saw him sipping a glass of brandy. “I’m just here to criticize. You’re the one who’s supposed to write.”

Writer’s block is a horrible, debilitating thing. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you doubt the story you’re trying to tell. It makes you feel like a failure.

Fortunately, there’s always a solution to any problem and in this particular case, the solution to clearing the writer’s block was to add another character. A uniform in fact – one of the people whom Abi hates the most on the whole ship. And if she is to reassert control over her life, then who better to do it with than McMullen, a character who had already briefly appeared in an earlier chapter and with whom Abi had a bone to pick. It would create a nice mini-character arc, a moment of closure and redemption in the eyes of the reader.

So instead of snooping around, I now have Abi taking the man hostage. Instead of having her looking through a filing cabinet pulling out documents, she now demands answers from him personally at gun point. It’s a much more human approach to problem solving and (most importantly) I feel it’s more interesting to read. My inner critic was satisfied. So was my outline. At least this way the plot has been salvaged.

The chapter’s done. I can finally put this whole episode behind me. Right now I feel like Zeus must have felt after giving birth to Athena via a migraine. Onwards to the future and the third act of the book…

I just hope it’s easier this time!


News and updates

4 October 2014

plane-taking-offI’m going on holiday today. Two weeks in the country of my birth to celebrate my 31st birthday.To say I’m looking forward to it would be a huge understatement. It’s been a loooong time since I was last in the UK.

But before I go, I promised you all some news last week. I was waiting until it became official before properly announcing this and now that it has I can finally reveal that…

I just got a promotion!

That’s right: six months into my new job and I’ve apparently done enough wheeling and dealing to impress the higher ups enough to trust me with the well-beings of 20 other people.

My new job title is Overnight Shift Leader and it’s nice because it’s the sort of job title that succinctly explains itself (unlike my current job title of Presentation Graphics Specialist for the Investment Banking Division which is such a mouthful people tend to forget it after about two seconds).

32a00d1722efa7a768265e00d0e1976e

Just like this guy

Anyway, I’m very happy. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for this role and I can’t wait to get started.

In fact, it turns out that the reason I was hired by Credit Suisse in the first place was because they were considering me for this shift lead position all along! Their nefarious plan apparently involved hiring me on as a regular grunt just to see how well I took to the job. If I did well, they would promote me. If not… oh well, at least they’ve still got a Presentation Graphics Specialist out of it so no real loss.

Those crafty…

Now I think about it, it was kind of obvious all along. I mean I’ve never had much in the way of graphical training. Never used Photoshop before starting this job. Never went to art college or to business school to study economics or finance.  On the surface I’ve always felt like a bit of an odd one out in the team. My colleagues are capable of doing some amazing things with a computer that I can barely even get my head around and pretty much the only skill I have in my personal arsenal is the ability to speak English.True, it’s a useful skill, but it isn’t exactly special.

However, I do have experience with managing people. Organising. Delegating. Communicating with diplomacy and tact. Leading by example. Working with integrity. These are all skills I developed over five years of teaching English and running my own company. Apparently they are also skills that Credit Suisse needs in its Overnight Shift Leader.

Either that or I just got really really lucky.

So yeah, go me. Lots of new responsibilities and a job where the stress level has just jumped through the roof. All day this week people have been coming up to me for advice or just to bitch about other people on the team and the role wasn’t even official at the time! God only knows the hell I’ll be walking into when I get back from my holiday.

Boring paperwork

I do know there will be lots and lots of paperwork though…

 

By the way, if you fancy listening to my dulcet voice whittling on about unimportant subjects for 20 minutes at a time, you can tune in to Wroclaw’s Radio Ram where I recently took part in a radio show as part of Radio Ram’s English Zone. Check out the link here (I’m in episode 7).

Me and the rest of the team recording an episode

The rest of the team and I recording an episode

And that’s not the only place you’ll be able to hear my voice. In a couple of months, the latest book by my old boss Terrance Clark-Ward will be released. This one is aimed at children and whad’ya know? I’ll be singing on it! More on that later when it’s finally made official.

Fun times. Maybe all of these things added together go some way to explaining my lack of progress on my book of late.

Probably not.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 19

29 September 2014

Chapter 20: Something new

POV character: Stuart

Length: 5,686 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

It’s Earth Day and in the Captain’s quarters the beautiful unspoken girl Kara is finally unveiled to the gathered nobility. She is to be the Captain’s future wife – the so-called savior of the ship and all its woes. But not everyone is happy about it.

Stuart watches from his hiding place, fascinated by the events unfolding in the rooms below. He wants to keep watching and find out what happens next but unfortunately there are more pressing concerns. His captor is becoming increasingly suspicious of Stuart. She questions him, pressing him for answers that come a little too close to unveiling his secret.

At the same time, Stuart’s connection with the ship is starting to unravel. He knows that he needs to fix these rooms quickly if he is to have any hope of stabilizing the connection, but to do that he’s going to need to get rid of his captor.

Stuart finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to tread a difficult middle ground between the woman’s inquiry and the voice’s erratic demands to simply wash his hands of her and walk away for good.

Notes:

I know – you don’t need to say anything. This chapter is extremely late in coming.

No excuses. True, I’ve been late with chapters before but this one was more than two weeks overdue. Two weeks! I’m sure on the surface it just looks like I’m slouching, especially considering the post I made not two months ago about how well my progress has been going of late. I’m sure you guys are just rolling your eyes thinking, “See? I knew he’d mess up.”

I know it’s what I’m thinking about myself.

What makes it even more frustrating is that I’m almost certainly going to miss my original deadline of finishing this book by my birthday. In fact, at my current writing speed I’ll be lucky to get it out before Christmas. That makes me sad to report.

So why the sudden slow down?

Well there are a number of reasons, a couple of which I’ll be posting about later this week, but the main reason is simply due to the fact that writing an ending is much harder than I thought it would be.

And to be fair, I had no way of knowing that in advance. I mean, I’ve written a lot of beginnings over the years. Dozens of the things. I have whole folders full of files on my PC made up of nothing more than novels I started and then abandoned long ago. It’s safe to say at this point that when it comes to writing story openings, I am something of a master. I’m pretty good at middles too.

Endings though? Not so much. In fact, this will be just the third time that I’ve reached one.

George R. R. Martin once said that writing a novel is a bit little going on a train journey. You know where your train is starting from and you know where your journey is going to end but you don’t know much about the journey in between. You don’t know, for example, what stations you’ll be stopping at. You don’t know what interesting people you might see on the train. You know nothing about the scenery you’ll be passing through. All you know is where you’re starting and where you’ll finish. The rest you leave to the journey.

I’ve always felt much the same way with my own writing. For me, the end of the story is usually one of the first things that pops into my head when I’m still in the drafting stage. First I come up with an interesting setting. Then I’ll place a character into that setting and – pow, just like that – there’s a story with a logical end materializing before my eyes. It’s like entering a complex sum into a calculator. You already know what the answer is because it’s written there on the screen.

Now you just need to show your workings.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I always assumed that just because I knew what the ending of this book was going to be, it would somehow make it easier to write. I’ve spent such a long time battling with this novel’s middle section. I’ve chopped out whole characters. I’ve rewritten huge chunks of the plot and completely reworked how A gets to B. It was a really hard slog but in the back of my mind I would always be thinking, “At least I know where my ending is. All I need to do is write X more chapters and then I’ll be there!”

Often it was the sole thought that kept me writing.

Now I realise the truth. Just because I know what’s going to happen in my book, doesn’t make it any easier to write. I still have loads of plot threads to tie up. I still have momentum to maintain. I have secrets to reveal and pages to keep turning. I have readers to satisfy.

Writing an ending is hard.

But – and this is important – at least I know that I will get there eventually. Because the fact is that I am near the end and I do know what’s going to happen when I get there. At this point I know that there aren’t going to be anymore surprises. There aren’t going to be any random characters appearing out of nowhere or sudden sub-plots taking the story in some whole new direction. For the first time, I’m writing with my face fully turned in the direction I’m traveling. It’s terrifying and it’s a lot of hard work but for the first time I can finally see that train station looming into view.

I just need to get the train there now. Even if it means getting out and giving it a push.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 18

8 September 2014

Chapter 18: Earth Day

Length: 8,923 words

POV character: Father Estavan and Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

It’s Earth Day and time is now up for Father Estavan and Abi. Tonight is the night that the Captain will finally gather with the most powerful people on the ship and Kara will be presented before him.

The Captain suspects that there’s more going on than it seems but he is powerless to do anything about it. Instead, he welcomes Kara into her new quarters and gifts her with servants to serve at her beck and call.

With all the changes happening in her life, Kara doesn’t even need Abi anymore. But that’s just as well because Abi has errands of her own to run, ones that will soon take her deep inside the mysteries of this wedding and allow her to finally find out what’s really going on underneath all the politics once and for all.

Notes:

Oh man where to start with this chapter?

For one thing, it took me a lot longer to write than I originally planned. I’m sorry about that but this is, after all, a pivotal moment for Abi and Estavan’s characters and I needed to get it right. We’re right at the end of the second act now. This is the tipping point for many of these characters and I needed to get it right.

However… just between you and me, I’m actually getting a bit worried by all the ‘word creep’ going on lately.

My original plan for this book was that it would contain 20 chapters of 5,000 words each, bringing the total number of words to around 100,000. Why that many? Well as a first time writer, conventional wisdom says that it’s very difficult to get published if your book is longer than 100,000 words. Sure, big name authors like George R. R. Martin can get away with publishing door-stop tomes three or four times longer than this because the publishing company can be almost guaranteed to make their money back. For first time writers, however, the odds aren’t nearly as good.

Every bit of wisdom I’ve ever read on the subject has always counseled to keep your first novel short if you want to see it in print.

However, the opposite piece of wisdom is that a book needs to be as long as it needs to be in order to tell the story you’re trying to tell. And believe me this book is as long as it needs to be. I’ve already cut a lot of the fat out of this book. I’ve removed characters and whole sub-plots, often ones I’ve grown really attached to. I’ve been forced to simplify the core situation and streamline its issues in an attempt to slim the book down… I thought I’d done enough.

The sad truth is, though, that books tend to grow in the telling and I already know that this one – even with my attempts to the contrary – will run to at least 25 chapters. Additionally, as is the case of this chapter, many of these chapters are starting to run much longer than their 5,000 word limit. At this stage, I think I’ll be lucky to get the final book in under 150,000 words and that’s a very sad thing to report.

I fear another redraft may be needed after this one, one that features nothing more than me going through each line and hitting the delete key as I go. I’m really not looking forward to that.

But that’s one of the reasons why I’m ‘publishing’ the book here. These chapters are supposed to serve as a record, not only of the writing process but the actual work itself. This is a writer producing a book with the door thrown wide open. You can see the process, you can understand the reasoning, you can experience the ups and the downs, and, hopefully, you’ll get to witness the final triumph at the end.

By the way, I’ve totally fallen in love with Abi’s character after writing this chapter. Easily my favourite in the whole book. I hope you grow to love her too.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 17

25 August 2014

Chapter 17: In High Places

POV: Stuart

Length: 5,013 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Stuart continues to recover from his earlier ordeal. It’s a long process and it’s made even worse by just how terrible the situation he’s in truly is.

Missing a leg. Trapped in a room at the top of the ship. Held at the mercy of a strange woman who won’t even tell him her name. There’s a voice in his head that only Stuart can hear and  strange powers to control the ship seemingly manifesting themselves in his brain. It’s a terrifying experience and it all leads Stuart to wonder, what, really, is happening to him?

Now, Stuart intends to find out.

Notes:

As you can no doubt tell from the lack of updates lately on any subject other than my novel, I’m getting pretty darned invested in this book.

In fact, strike that, I’ll even go as far as to say I’m getting excited. And with good reason: the end is in sight! Finally, once and for all, I can look at this book and know for sure that it will soon be finished. Believe me, that is an amazing thing to say. I’ve spent the better part of my life scooting around this world in my mind, trying to write a great epic story out of the fragments of my frustrated teenage imagination. I’ve always known there was a story here waiting to be told but until very recently the actual shape of that story remained elusive.

In his book On Writing, Steven King talked about a story being a little like discovering a fossil buried in the ground. At first you’re only vaguely aware of it. You stumble across some hint of it – maybe a fragment of bone sticking up above the sand, or just a vague hump that shouldn’t be there – and you have some inkling that something is down there, you just don’t know what. So you dig out the pieces and you see how big it is. You try to put the pieces together and you discover it’s a dinosaur. There’s a lot of trial and error involved and the chances of failure are high.

Writing this book, I’ve really come to understand what King meant by those words. I’ve been digging in the excavation site of my imagination for a long time now but until very recently I was never sure what the eventual dinosaur (story) was going to look like. How many pieces did it contain? Was it, in fact, one big fossil or several smaller ones jumbled together? Would the fossil hold up under its own power? Would people be interested in paying to see it? If not, would they be more interested in looking at it if I painted it pink and dressed it in a top hat? And so on.

Well now, I’m happy to report, I know the answer to some of those questions and for the first time I’ve got all the pieces of dinosaur out of the ground, cleaned up and ready for assembly. It’s a very exciting thing to experience.

One final push — a few more chapters and this beast will finally be ready to unveil to the world. Pink paint and top hat on standby.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 16

11 August 2014

Chapter 16: To the Top

POV character: Dawn

Length: 5,211 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Down in the bunks, tensions are rising. Following the death of Charity and the New Girl’s disappearance (seen in this chapter), a turf war has kicked off among the remaining capos . Dawn intends to put a stop to it. A momentous day is fast approaching – a planned breakout that will sweep across the bunks and bring down the feudal regime that has given the unspoken nothing but grief for so long – and Dawn intends to be riding at the crest of that wave when it comes. All she needs to do is restore order to the bunks first.

Pulling in every contact and favour she has left, Dawn hits the turf war full on, kidnapping one of the capos, starting a fight with another and causing instant chaos between the warring gangs with the sole intent of bringing the bunks into line. It’s going to be tough to get out of this one alive but fortunately, Dawn has a plan…

Notes:

What’s this? A brand new chapter? One that didn’t even exist in any form whatsoever as little as a week ago?

Well, yes, that’s the nice thing about redrafts, you see. It’s time consuming as all hell and sometimes you wonder why you’re even bothering with it when you could just be off writing something fresh and new but then there are those moments when it fully justifies itself. Suddenly you find yourself exploring a brand new plot avenue you’d previously overlooked and suddenly the whole novel benefits as a result.

That’s what happened here. In previous drafts, all of the events of this chapter happened off-page, referred to only in expository dialogue from the likes of Commander Hathaway and Abi. It worked but it didn’t exactly make for a page-turning read and their import often threatened to get lost among all the other pages of exposition.

In a way, I blame George R. R. Martin for that. A Song of Ice and Fire has had a huge impact on the writing of this novel, especially with regards to its pacing and characterisation, but that influence hasn’t always been a good one. In the case of POVs, for example. Martin writes with a clear structure: each chapter is written from the point of view of a single POV and one POV only. He has a set of about 20 characters through whose eyes we can see the story unfold and he never deviates from this core.

As a result, it never occurred to me to actually show the reader Dawn’s rise to power simply because Dawn wasn’t one of my POV characters before. Abi, Stuart, Father Estavan, the Captain: these are the heroes through whose eyes my story is being told. The idea of writing just one chapter from a new POV simply never occured to me.

In this case, however, it needed to be done. The needs of the story come first after all. I owed it to these characters and the situation I’d established to show these events first hand.

This chapter was also a chance to indulge myself a little. Keen-eyed readers will remember during my notes for this chapter that I kind of fell in love with some of the smaller characters during the redraft process. At the time I lamented the fact that I’d done all this character building only to never get the chance to show these people again. Well, now they’re all back and their inclusion in this chapter creates a nice capping off point to the whole ‘unspoken’ story arc that started in chapter 2 and finally gets its payoff here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. If the writing seems a little rough around the edges here then that’s only because it is! At this stage, this chapter is little more than a polished second draft but hopefully it’s a fun one for all that.

Also, hey, it’s a chapter made up almost 100% by women. If this book were ever made into a movie, you can be sure it would pass the Bechdel test.


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