Writing


After I’d heard Sara Collins interviewed on Scala Radio (one of many fascinating interviews I’ve heard on this station since I abandoned, most of the time, the ‘other classical music station’) I just had to read her first novel, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. The story is just as fascinating as I’d hoped but it has made me equally fascinated to know on what criteria the Costa prize in awarded.

The writing, in my opinion, is terrible.

Too many similes

I struggled through the first five chapters, much of the time not knowing what the author was talking about. From there it became easier but the overload with similes continued as did the often tortuous metaphors (the word ‘like’ seems to occur on almost every line – now it irritates me every time it occurs).

Nevertheless, I determined to keep going as the story seemed to be becoming as fascinating as the interview promised. As I write this I’ve reached the eighteenth chapter, having recently read at least a chapter a day.

During the interview I was interested to hear Sara Collins say she “hated” the necessary research into 18th/19th century London. I’ve been surprised to find that I’ve disliked my necessary research into 60s/70s London as I try to finish my novella/novel subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London’.

Disliking research

I’ve been surprised because before this I’ve really enjoyed research, first in a research laboratory, then as a journalist. Perhaps now it’s just frustration that my memory fails so often as my novella/novel is based on real experiences. An example: I was at Covent Garden the first time Margot Fonteyn danced with Nureyev; I remembered much, including the 23 curtain calls and, of course, the balletGiselle – but I  could  not remember the precise date (easy to find – 15 February 1962) or details of the environment inside the opera house at that time, vital for my story. I’m still having problems with the latter.

One of the things I often dislike about the writings of ‘indie’ authors is that, as someone who has travelled a lot, it is obvious to me they have never set foot in the place in which they have set their story or action nor done the necessary research.


More on Scala Radio

I’ve found it worth listening to Scala Radio just for some of the interviews (not all, some of the ‘celebrities’ are, as usual, tiresome but not all: Howard Shelley talking about Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto was wonderful).

However I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy much of this station’s output, exceptions (as I’ve said in a past post) being programmes about film music, video games music and pieces from many ‘modern’ musicals. What is certain is that Scala has introduced me to quite a bit of classical music which I don’t recall having heard before, a pleasant surprise as I’ve been listening to classical music for about eight decades.

Unfortunately Scala is not on FM as we cannot get it on DAB at home and don’t have DAB in the car; I listen at home on the app. For the regular listening in the car, school runs morning and afternoon, the Classic FM presenters are two of my favourites: Tim Lihoreau and Anne-Marie Minhall). The third is Alyd Jones but unfortunately he usually shuts down on a Sunday morning at ten in favour of that gardener, just when one of the other Scala programmes I don’t like comes on.

Managed to scribble this short story for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. The theme given to us was ‘radiation’; that’s the title of my story.

Working cover; photo of girl in mini dress holding a ‘Save the mini’ campaign poster

Photo: Daily Mirror

I say “managed” as I’m endeavouring to spend what writing time I have on completing the novella/novel in progress, subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London‘ which was put on the back burner at least a year ago. Now I’ve set myself a target of at least half an hour a day working on it and have managed that for, so far, over a week. I intend to post something here sometime soon on this unusual, for me, way of getting me writing something. As I’ve often said, I usually write only when the muse prompts me.


Short story

Radiation

It all began well, except no breakfast allowed.

Later, I should have been forewarned as it took five attempts to get in a canula for a dose of vitamin k.

Screen please.” A kind of click somewhere beyond the glass screen between surgeon (and me) and the two young ladies who had been introduced as the radiology team. There were another four young women grouped around the operating table on which I was laying, on my stomach, head back, uncomfortable with a tube fed down my throat.

Interesting that the radiology team had to be protected from the radiation but not the six people on this side of the screen, I thought. Of course I couldn’t be, being the subject of the surgery.

Screen please”. Another click. I realised that it was the surgeon speaking, though I could see him only with difficulty, lowering my eyes as far as I could.

I saw the surgeon feeding something down the tube in my mouth, but also the nurse next to him holding something else.

Screen please.” Another click. I realised what was happening; the radiation was turned on for only a short time when the surgeon needed to see what was happening at the end of the tube down in my stomach.

Screen please.” Click. Then “One centimetre please.” The second instruction seemed to be directed at the nurse who I now saw was moving a black and white striped ‘cord’. “Ah, they must be centimetre markings,” I deduced.

Screen please.” Click.

The feeling in my throat was getting more and more uncomfortable. I expected to feel nothing as a result of a foul tasting spray into my throat before the procedure began. The pre-op letter had not prepared me for this. The spray had me gagging though, as I had been told not to eat for at least six hours before, I was not actually sick.

Screen please.” Click.

It was becoming more and more difficult to remain still. I had an almost irresistable urge to pull the tube from my mouth. Fortunately, my position on the table would have made it extremely difficult for me to do it. “This is far worse than open surgery with a general anaesthetic,” I thought.

Screen please”. No click? Then a rushing sound, getting louder and louder followed by a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass.

A scream, cut off sharply as shards of glass began to radiate above me from a point somewhere behind me. The surgeon grabbed at his chest as a red stain spread over his green surgical overalls then he collapsed to the floor.

A second shard hit the assisting nurse in the throat. A stream of red covered my face as I forced my arms upwards to grab the end of the tube coming out of my mouth and pulled, ignoring the pain as the long tube was withdrawn.

The other three, observers including a student nurse, fared better than the surgeon and his assistant; the radiating shards hitting them being small they were just covered with tiny cuts.

I woke up in recovery, two days later I understood.

Why am I here,” I asked.

I had been subjected to a high dose of radiation, they told me, as had been the five staff who survived. The surgeon did not.

Nor did the assisting nurse.

Months later, I’m still enjoying the lingering sweet salty taste of her in my mouth.

Thumbing through the notebook I use for writing pieces to be read at a meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, I saw a ‘poem’ which I thought I had never read. Evidently I did when there were few members there so I read it again today.

The theme set for today, ‘Change’, prompted another bit of nonsense in the form of an acrostic.

Facebook

Facebook
So many people on the hook
They’ve forgotten how to write
They’ve forgotten how to spell
Punctuation is nowhere in sight
While distorted grammar makes me yell.
Lies broadcast at random
Often with overphotoshopped pictures in tandem.
Plagiarism is rife
Just forwarding others’ work, not acknowledging the source.
Bullying too often takes a life
Particularly of the young and vulnerable, of course.
It all began with an idea which was great,
Now so often it is just an instrument of hate.
Recent changes are not to improve it,
Just to make bigger the owner’s pot of gold.
If it were up to me I’d remove it
But will any who have the power be so bold?
If I could I’d never give it another look.
Do you get the idea? I really dislike Facebook!

Acrostic

Cos of a little variation
He subjected himself to some radiation
Atoms and the like are not to be messed about
Neutrons should be left alone without doubt
Grizzly face is all that remains
Electrons pouring out of each of its veins
All change
Electrons are probably no longer there
Grizzly features covered with hair
Neutrons lost in their neutrality
Atoms give the face brutality
He shouldn’t have gone through that door
Cos the sign said ‘No entry’, and more.

Trying to keep up the momentum for new grumpytyke posts in 2020, I decided to add a short story dashed off over my morning tea yesterday, for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the  Wharfe. I didn’t give it a title as I couldn’t think of a good one which didn’t give too much away.


Short story

Seeing a chateau in the Loire valley for sale for less than £300,000 we just had to buy it.

With four towers, one on each corner, surrounded by a moat and set in about 8 acres of land, somewhat overgrown, it was a magnificent sight. We expected a lot of work to make it habitable. That was not why I ran from it, alone, one night, screaming, never to return.

It was a few weeks after we acquired it that we ventured to the top of one of the towers. The steps of each tower were in a bad state and our priority was to make some of the ground floor rooms fit for living. At last that was done and Peter, my husband, set about making the steps in one of the towers safe to climb. 

One evening, after dinner at which I ate locally collected mushrooms in cream laced with very strong garlic I had brought from Romania, Peter returned to the tower saying he had only two or three steps still to do. He avoids garlic, disliking it intensely, so I had to make a separate dish for him; it was no problem as I just put the crushed garlic in mine at the last minute, so it wasn’t cooked.

Picture of a chateau at night

Credit to ‘Escape to the chateau’

After about half an hour Peter emerged, covered in dust and cobwebs, from the door leading to one of the towers saying, excitedly, “You must come and see the view from the top of the stairs. The nearby river is glistening in the light of a full moon, as is our moat; each of the distant surrounding farmhouses is bathed in a warm light, very romantic, and the sky is full of stars. Come on.”

The torch Peter held illuminated the spiral steps to the next turn as we slowly climbed the four floors of the main part of the house then one more to what seemed to be the top of the tower. A single window, wooden frame rotten and no glass, framed a view just as Peter had described. I was speechless. We stood in silence for what must have been at least five minutes. “So beautiful,” I whispered at last. I felt Peter squeezing my hand. No words from him were necessary.

“Are we actually at the top?” I asked, gesturing to a dusty door at the final step. “I think so,” Peter answered,” but I haven’t yet tried to open the door.”

“Let’s see if we can open it,” I pleaded, “it seems a pity to climb all the way up here without knowing what’s behind that door. Maybe the view is even better”.

Peter picked up the iron spike with which he had been prising muck off the steps, inserted it between door and jamb, then put his shoulder against the door expecting a lot of resistance but it flew open with such ease that Peter had difficulty keeping on his feet. Total blackness. No sign of light from a window like at the top of the steps, but as Peter began to turn the torch to shine through the door there was a loud rushing sound, like an extemely strong wind, and dozens of small dark  shapes emerged from the door, causing Peter to fall against me, before the black shapes disappeared out of the window. I screamed.

“Just bats,” said Peter. “They’re probably protected; we’ll have to get someone in to advise us before we do anything to what seems to be another room. Let’s go in, shall we, to see just what we have here?”

Nervously I nodded, holding his hand tightly, as we entered the dark space in front of us, making out beams and the underside of slates making the conical top of the tower.  Everywhere was festooned with spider webs, thickened by layers of dust. “Let’s go,” I said. “I’m sure it’s better to come up here in daylight.”

Before Peter could answer there was an unearthly shriek from somewhere in the room, followed by a sound like flapping of enormous wings. The torch fell to the floor, its light going out as Peter screamed, more of an uncanny gurgle through which I could just make out “Get out, get out for God’s sake”.

I fell down the first few steps, past the window, and turned to see Peter on his back half way through the door, his head flopping loosely over the first step, blood spouting out of two punctures in his throat. I crawled up to him putting my hands to his throat trying to staunch the two fountains of blood. I frantically tried to rip off a sleeve of my dress but as I did so I saw Peter’s face by the moonlight coming through the window distorting, becoming more and more terrifying as two fangs grew longer from where his canine teeth had been. Ignoring them, I decided I must try mouth to mouth resuscitation but as I lowered my mouth to his an horrific scream came out of his mouth, he rose up throwing me aside, seemed to grow black bat-like wings and flew out of the window.

I half ran, half tumbled, down the tower steps, wrenched open the door of the chateau, ran over the causeway crossing the moat and ran the kilometer or so over fields to the nearest farmhouse. There I lay on the step, covered in blood, banging on the door till it was opened by my horrified neighbours. The police arrived a short time after that.

They found Peter at the base of the tower, half in half out of the moat with two deep punctures in his throat, made they said by the spike Peter had been using. 

I said I never returned to the chateau. I cannot. Most of the time I’m shut in my room in a secure women’s hospital for the criminally insane.

Ben Nevis, Britain's "highest hill"Those of you who have followed me for some time (11th anniversary for grumptyke the other day) will know for my attempts at poetry and short stories I like to write short, often very short, and in a form for which there are strict rules.

Something I have never tried before is a pantoum, based on the Malay literary form of pantun, which has a rhyming structure and in each quatrain repeats lines from the previous quatrain.

Wanting to write something in praise of my friend Ruxandra’s (and founder/leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe) amazing hike of 120 miles in 3 days in the Scottish Highlands, in aid of a young persons’ mental health charity – Young Minds Trust – I chose to scribble a pantoum over my pre club meeting lunch.

Here it is:

Homage

She climbed Britain’s highest hill
In a trek of some 120 miles
Covering Scottish Highlands with only will
Yet her reports were filled with smiles

In a walk of some 120 miles
Some of us might give up before the end
Yet her reports were filled with smiles
Not a glum face wherever she might wend

Some of us might give up before the end
To return to the start by bus or train
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But a walk for troubled youngsters has much to gain

To return to the start by bus or train
Never entered her crazy Romanian head
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But I bet she welcomed at last the stay in bed

Struggles with longer writing

My battle to finish the one ‘long’ piece of fiction, working title Miranda, I’ve attempted continues. Starting as a 300 word short story, it’s now become a novella at about 30,000 words but my ambition is to grow it into a novel. The subtitle – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London‘ – tells me there’s enough material in my head from that exciting time, my time, in our capital to merit it. Dragging distant memories to the fore and turning it to fiction, easy for the first few chapters, is proving more difficult as  the journey through subsequent chapters continues. It is, after all, a period of my life between 47 and 52 years ago but draws somewhat on my experience a few years further back than that.

A photo of the moon taken from my sitting room window

Moon from my sitting room window (photo on film, ‘legacy’ Zeiss Sonnar lens)

It is now unusual for me to pick up on the theme given for members of our local writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe – to write something for the following meeting. Our most recent meeting before today was on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing so the theme given, no surprise, was ‘moon’.

Why it appealed to me I don’t know, perhaps  because on a clear night I follow with wonder her travel across the sky from our sitting room window, perhaps because I covered the event (from an engineering point of view) as a journalist in 1969.

My ‘poem’, however, has nothing to do with engineering.

Moon
brightly watching me through my window
Venus at her shoulder
stirring thoughts of love
Mars more secretly telling of his presence
protecting the three of us
from what I do not know
i feel the trio watching over you too
so far away
can you see them?
i know you feel the stardust
always
even when you cannot see the stars

My ‘poem’ is dedicated to my female blogging friend(s) who feel the stardust.

I’ve written once or twice about my attempts at a novella or novel (I’m still not sure how it will end up – it began as a short story). About a week ago, reading a short bio of my blogger friend Iulia Halatz on the blog of the literary collective Sudden Denouement I saw she said she was much influenced by W Somerset Maugham, which tempted me to pick up his “masterpiece” – Of Human Bondage. It’s a long book for me; I’m about two thirds through now at about chapter 80.

Autobiographical?

Without reading anything about the novel it seemed to me to be largely autobiographical and seemed in many ways to be similar to my attempts at a longer story. I have said more than once that my fictional writing is not entirely fiction, my factual writing is not always strictly true. Somerset Maughan said “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

That gave me some hope.

The necessity of personal experience

One of the things which has struck me forcibly is that his descriptions of his main character’s (Philip’s) times in London, around the turn of the century, indicate that it was not substantially different to ‘my’ London of around half a century later, despite two world wars. It is of course a lot different now. Perhaps the biggest difference between Somerset Maugham’s fictional London and mine is the attitude to the ‘gentleman’, the professional and the tradesman.

Initial boredom

As for his novel, I found the first 25-30 chapters – about Philip’s school days – boring. I think a chapter or two would have done. However, after that his times in London, Heidelberg and Paris, and the attempts at art, accountancy and medicine, I found fascinating and it is clear that the author was writing from experience. It reinforced my belief you should only write from experience, laying creativity over that; no amount of research can substitute in my opinion. I’ve been to both Heidelberg and Paris more than once but could never set a story in either; even my small reference to a visit to Paris in my tale wouldn’t be there if I had never been there and knew the event written about could have happened (it could not now).

What I have gained most from my reading of Somerset Maugham so far is an idea of where to go in my story and if it leads where I think it might lead it could well become a novel rather than a novella.

A photo of the working cover showing a mini-skirted girl 'with attitude'

My first attempt at getting my story going again was to format it as a book (https://wp.me/pkm0h-1G9)

I’ve often said I cannot write (fiction) to order, only when my characters hassle me to be heard; getting up early, or staying up late, to write 1,000 words come what may, as so often advised, is a pointless activity for me. So my first novella/novel(?) – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London’ – has lain untouched for several months.

Yesterday morning my two protagonists demanded that I pick up my fountain pen and give them a voice again. Why, I do not know. They did not say much, half a chapter from only one of them before I had to leave home, but they were clear what they wanted to say, each demanding a new chapter to give more details of a close friend, a friend who had a major influence on our lovers’ relationship. More than that I do not know.

It’s not writers’ block

Some time ago I felt I had not let them say all they wished to say but their tale had stopped at around 30,000 words. I had the idea that they each wanted to say more about a friend mentioned in passing but they wouldn’t say more at that time. I put the idea of filling out two other characters to my blogging writer friend Kristina Steiner, who has just published the second novel in her trilogy; despite her support for the idea my characters wouldn’t say more. Until now.

Beginning as a short story

The tale began as a short story, prompted by a theme set in our writers’ club: ‘what if?’ The story resulting, no more than two or three hundred words, became a chapter as one character began to speak. Shortly after the other of the couple demanded to be heard, so another chapter flowed out of the pen. They each now seem to be settled on allowing one to speak to me without interruption, for a chapter, then keeping silent while the other speaks.

Initially, each chapter finished with ‘what if?’ but that became tiresome and was deleted. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the idea of a story having more than one ending – ever since reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ when it was published during the era in which my tale is set. So my complete story became a ‘what if?’

Will my protagonists continue to speak? I don’t know but I would like to learn what happens to them. Hopefully, so will you if they do continue to speak.

 

 

 

 

Several members of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, took a break from writing on Saturday evening to take part in a ‘crime party’, organised by our founder/leader Ruxandra. I was not keen but went along to support Ruxandra.

I’m glad I did. I’ve never laughed so much at a ‘party’. The words spoken by each character were of course scripted but the cast being made up of writers there was a great deal of ad libbing, often hilarious.

If your club is getting rather ‘dry’ (ours was not) and needs an energising boot I can recommend the activity.

The ‘cast’: Pointing fingers accuse! Back row, l to r, gipsy fortune teller. grieving widow, retired army general, butler, victim’s lover, local PC and moonlighting stripper. On the sofa, the maid, academic and the murderer, French detective, chauffeur. At the front, the cook.

A ‘new’ word for my vocabulary

Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity with PMJ

Listening to PMJ (Postmodern Jukebox) today I was introduced to a new word, by somebody commenting on Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity. What a perfect word for a perfect performance.

The word? Eargasm

Another perfect performance giving me an eargasm, though I didn’t know the word then, was introduced to me the day before by my blogging friend Ilze. This was Miche Braden performing a blues cover of Prince‘s Purple Rain. Ilze had sometime earlier introduced me to PMJ.

PMJ’s pianist and founder of PMJ I believe is extraordinary – brilliant.

Anyone reading this blog for a while, or my ‘about’, will know me as a ‘classical music’ fan; in fact most of the day I have music from Classic FM playing. Until now my alternative has been Romanian ‘musica populara’. But I’ve now found another great alternative for when the Classic FM presenter (only a small number of the men, none of the women!) or programme irritates me.

Top of the list of irritating presenters is Alexander Armstrong with his unwitty, pointless  ‘wit’ and horrible presenting style. Thank heavens the station seems to have stopped playing his attempts to sing: he has a passable voice but he cannot sing.

One irritating programme is a kind of top of the pops (in which he figured for some time) which, based on the best  selling so called ‘classical music’ of the week, not surprisingly mixes some truly great music with a proportion of, to my ear, rubbish.

Definitely earache not eargasm!

PS. Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas‘s daughter, so the fact I’d never heard of her shows how out of touch I’ve been. And the fact that I find most of PMJ’s covers better than the originals probably says much the same.

 

A screen shot of a preview screen showing the menu structure of my reorganised blog.

I still use the editor with which I began 11 years ago; in my opinion few, if any, of WordPress’s changes have been an improvement, rather the reverse. I disliked the ‘app’ from the start and I haven’t changed my mind.

Recently I decided to restructure this blog, in particular to highlight things which interest me more than when I began to post on it seven years ago (though it was created four years before that!). I didn’t want to change the overall look of it, with which I’ve always been happy; in particular, I now want it to be principally a ‘library’ of my fictional prose and ‘poetry’, grouped under menu headings. So I’ve changed the tag line in the header a little too to reflect that.

What has amazed me during this exercise is not only the number of short stories and ‘poems’ I have written but the different genres I have tackled. My first attempt at a short story was almost seven years ago; the ‘poems’ began about a month after that, prompted by a haiku from a blogger ‘five reflections‘, who I believe posts no more.

However, the greatest influence has been our local writers’ club, Writing of the Wharfe, formed by our lovely Romanian ‘leader’ Ruxandra Moore. I was a founder member.

A change of emphasis only

I continue to ignore the desperate attempts by WordPress to change my way of editing: “There’s an easier way to edit posts …”, it insists at the top of every editing screen. Not for me there’s not!.

Although I’m changing the emphasis, I do not want it to be a blog only as somewhere to publish my fictional writings, as many writers’ blogs are. I still want grumpytyke to feel free to have a grump about something from time to time and, when appropriate, give some background to the ‘creative writing’.

Until now all my so-called ‘creative writing’ appearing on this blog has been within a post giving some background, eg, this piece was what I wrote to read at a meeting of my local writers’ club, that piece was what I presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, this work was inspired by something written (link) by this blogger, etc. So I wanted to separate the story or ‘poem’ from the post originally including it. Eventually there will be a link to the original post including it. I did this with my ‘haiku’ (I don’t now believe they are haiku – just 5-7-5  verses) and ‘tanka’ some time ago, collecting them together on a single page.

A work in progress

It’s a work in progress at the moment. It’s not too difficult to extract pieces from a post, put them on a page and put them under the appropriate menu or sub-menu heading, though I’m no IT expert so it’s far from perfect. Another problem is that I have quite a bit of writing which has never appeared on this blog.

’Poetry’ not Poetry

You may notice that I usually put inverted commas round the words ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ when referring to my own creations. After reading and listening to poetry for more than seven decades I’m still not sure what poetry is so I am reluctant to call any little piece of mine a poem. Of course I have to tag them as such.

One of my favourite poets, David Machin, a member of our writers’ club, insists on calling his creations ‘verse’,  not poetry. Another, Matt Abbott told me during an hour spent with him on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, “If it makes the audience cry it is poetry” (see my ‘poem’ A Lesson in Restriction). The poetry of another, Iulia Halatz, which I ‘lost’, I’ve just unearthed hiding in an interesting writers’ collective, Sudden Denouement

An added difficulty is that for the past few months I’ve produced so-called ‘creative writing’ only with a fountain pen. So, unless I’ve typed it up to put in a post, it has now to be typed up to add to this archive.

A novella/novel in progress

Finally, I wanted this library to include pieces I’m working on so I have a sub-heading ‘Writing in Progress’. At the moment this is mainly chapters of a novella?/novel? I pick up from time to time (it began as a 5,000 word short story; now it’s reached about 30,000 words). Even this list gives something away: I don’t write by starting at the beginning and proceeding to the end. Nor do I ‘work’ at it; I write only when I feel the urge to write and may pick up a story, or ‘poem’, at any point. (Recently I read a blogging ‘guru’ saying that writing was hard work and there was no such thing as an innate ability to write. That may be so for him but in my view it is nonsense, even arrogant, to apply it to all writers.)

The work in progress is password protected.

For me, the only art form to compete with writing is music but as I do not create music I do not have a menu heading for that, any more than for my reading, though I may occasionally have posts about either. I’ll rely on the search facility to find those.

Food and Romania

I used to blog a lot about cooking/food and Romania so I decided to leave a menu heading for each of those categories, to display posts which fall into that category. At some point I’ll sort those out too.

As I said above, this reorganisation is a work in progress. If a particular story or ‘poem’ is clicked, you should be taken to that story or poem. If you click on a menu heading or sub-heading it should take you to all the posts in that category, as usual, but it doesn’t always do that. I’m working on it!

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