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Tweeting with authors!

Twitter is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

Last night I HAD to go in and Tweet my new favourite author Elizabeth Wein about something I had just read in her new book Rose Under Fire, which was released on June 3rd 2013.

AND SHE REPLIED!!!

How amazing is it that you can interact with the author of a book WHILE YOU ARE READING IT??? And what a lovely lady she is too.

I must just say WHY she has become my new favourite author, and it all started when I was reading THIS post by the awesome Chuck Wendig (who I have mentioned once or twice here before…ahem…) about Young Adult fiction. He talks about ‘Riskier Stories’:

Personal opinion time: some of the bravest, strangest, coolest stories right now are being told in the young adult space. It’s stuff that doesn’t fly by tropes or adhere to rules — appropriate, perhaps, since young adults tend to flick cigarettes in the eyes of the rules and don’t play by social norms as much as adults do. (Though teens certainly have their own social codes, too.) I wish adult fiction so frequently took risks on the material at hand, but it doesn’t. And as a person (relatively) new to the young adult spectrum, I used to assume it was all Twilight: generic pap. But then you read John Green, or Libba Bray, or Maureen Johnson — or holy shit, have you read Code Name: Verity?! — and your eyes start to go all boggly. Amazing storytelling in this realm. Amazing! I’ll wait here while you go read it all. *stares*

So I went to find Code Name Verity. AND WOW…just WOW, can that lady write. Her story is gripping, her characters compelling, I was totally knocked off my feet and blown away.

The tale is about two young women in World War II who become best friends, and who inadvertently end up flying over German occupied France together. Their plane is shot down, and the passenger parachutes out, only to be caught by the Gestapo and tortured for information about the British war effort. She tells it through the story of her friendship with her pilot.

Its a heart-rending tale and should be read with a box of tissues close to hand. What I loved best about it was the depiction of love and friendship between two people; how another person can mean the world to you and carry you through the very best and worst of times.

I have now purchased Rose Under Fire, and am a few chapters in, but I will review it here when I am done.

Back to Twitter. I was SO excited to be able to have a conversation with the author of the book I was reading, so humbled that she replied straight away, that I have made myself the promise I will endeavor to do the same should I ever get my book finished and published, and  have fans who follow me on twitter.

WRITE THE BOOK, KATE.

Tiger-Moth-flying

#AmWriting

I know. This is supposed to a be a ‘daily blog’, but it has been anything but, even from the beginning. I should really re-title my posts.

So what have I been doing?

Well, for one thing I have been undertaking an on-line course for writers, ‘The Story Cartel course’. This invaluable course talks you through how to build a platform, engage with your readers and share your story. It takes you through simple practical steps whilst enabling you to interact with both the founder himself (Joe Bunting) and other course members – budding writers from all over the world with varying levels of writing and publishing experience (from never having shared a story with anyone, to experiences in both the self-publishing and traditional publishing worlds).

The course can be found here:

http://course.storycartel.com/

Of course I can’t even BEGIN to ‘engage with my readers’ if I don;t have anything for them to read, and this is my current agony. What WILL they want to read? I have such a great idea for a story (well, I think it’s great) but I have started it three different ways so far and I STILL can’t decide the best way to approach it. My characters have changed from teenagers to adults and back again, and one of them has changed genders twice! Part of me thinks I should maybe just move on to the next chapter, KEEP WRITING and somehow it will sort itself out.

Hopefully.

My daughter and dyslexia

IMAG0635

I wrote this for The Write Practice today – a short piece about my wonderful daughter and how she was affected by Dyslexia.

I sat in the village hall with all the other proud parents, on hard plastic chairs, watching two little girls singing on their own. They were a comical sight really – one small and round, one tall and lean, wearing their black Stage School t-shirts and leggings. They were singing ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele, their voices loud but shaking slightly, not able to disguise the nerves they were obviously feeling.

I had salty warm tears pouring down my face. I felt kind of embarrassed because no-one else was crying as much as I was, but one of those little girls was my youngest daughter. Two years previously she would never have done anything like this. Two years previously she wouldn’t have even wanted to sit in the front row of the audience – “I don’t want anyone looking at me!” she used to say.

My daughter has Dyslexia. And yes, it’s not a life threatening condition or an illness where one has to have treatment or medication, but for her it is a huge stigma. Especially in a family where her mother and older sister eat books and love to write. She just wanted to be like everyone else.

It took quite a long battle with the school to get them to recognise she was having problems. I realised when she was in year 2 that things were not quite right, but her teacher just told us our daughter had some mild difficulties that didn’t require any extra help and she’d soon catch up. My daughter hated school that year. Her friends were all reading and writing. She thought she was ‘stupid’. Her worst experiences were when they were expected to read aloud to a group of class mates. You can imagine how humiliating it must have been for her to have to stand there in front of her peers and not be able to make sense of the words on the page.

My daughter is beautiful. Yes, I know what you are thinking – I’m biased, I would think that, but we get comments about this all the time from friends, acquaintances and people we have just met. “She could be a model!” they say. I tell her this all the time, but she can’t see it. She has other qualities too – such determination! If she decides she is going to do something, then she is going to do it, come what may. Her sister is two years older, but my youngest daughter was the first to ride a bike without stabilisers, the first to learn to swim. I’ll never forget the first time she swam under water. It was in the middle of a hot summer, and they were in the little outdoor pool at the school. I was stood watching on the side, wishing I could be in the cool water with all the children. My daughter’s  best friend wanted to show me what she had learned on holiday, and ducked under the surface of the pool, and then my daughter, not to be outdone said “I can do it too!” and flung herself down. My heart was in my mouth, I thought she was going to drown, but seconds later up she popped, a huge grin on her face, and then she did it again and again. There was no stopping her from that moment on.

It was Year 3 when we finally had a breakthrough at the school. She had a wonderful teacher that year, one of the best I have ever met. A large, solidly built rugby player of a man, loud and enthusiastic and great fun. He had a knack for bringing out the best in his pupils, and was always very encouraging. We told him of our concerns and a few weeks later he came back to us with an apology. “Yes, you are right, she does have dyslexia,” he told us, “we are going to put in some extra support for her.”

Her confidence soared that year. Suddenly she was asking for speaking parts in school plays and telling us she wanted to join the Stage School her sister attends on Sunday mornings.

Two years later there we were, watching her singing and dancing and acting in front of an audience and loving it. I’ve never been so proud.

http://dyslexiaaction.org.uk/

Ok….slightly freaked out that WordPress.com has changed its format since I was in last…where have all my widgets and stuff gone??? I suppose I will find them in due course…

(ETA – never mind…found them…)

Meanwhile, apologies for not updating my blog in over 2 weeks – I have been working on the concept for another book. This one is going to take some time if I want to get it right – and I DO. I’ve got such a great idea, and I’m so excited about it, but it has to be perfect or nothing at all.

And at the same time I am starting to re-write the novel I wrote for Nanowrimo – initially I was just going to concentrate on this new idea I have, but there are times when the new idea part of my brain has a temporary shut down, so its nice to work on something that I can use a different part of my brain for.

Its all good.

One thing that has been weighing heavily on my mind is what to do with these books when I have finished? Self-publish or traditional route?? There are lots of authors out there with conflicting views and experiences. Take for example Chuck Wendig, one of my writing heroes (my spell checker tells me heroes has an ‘e’ in it…not heros but heroes…kind of like potatoes?). Chuck has written a whole blog post on the publishing route today, and advises:

“You should try the traditional route first.”

His reasons? Well, he has used both the traditional route AND the self-pub route, and though both are earning him money, it’s the book he had published via the traditional route that has given him the most success, the most money, the most exposure – and something about a ride on a flaming unicorn dispensing food to the hungry. He may have made that last bit up…. (If you click on that quote above, you can see the whole post).

In contrast, Joanna Penn has had much success with self-publishing, and has much advice and information (plus various online courses) to offer on this route.

I change my mind with the wind. Every new piece of information I read on the subject of publishing has different advice and convincing ideas. Every road is different it would seem – every writers journey is unique, and in the end all we can do is try and see what works for us.

At present I am thinking I will try and self-publish my nanowrimo novel and go for the traditional route with my new one. We’ll see what happens.

I have to actually WRITE them first, right???

Does anyone else have an opinion on this?

Toxic

Happy New Year!!! Here’s to a fresh new year of creativity and stories! Looking forward to reading and writing, and sharing stories and ideas with all the other awesome writers on the internet.

This piece was written for Words on Wednesdays in The Write Practice. Today’s word was Toxic. I really enjoyed writing it – maybe I can do something with these characters sometime?

 

As Thomas opened the huge wooden door to the stone walled chamber, she was the first thing he saw.

Vivienne – beautiful, bewitching, toxic. He had to lean against the door frame for a moment to steady himself.

She lay on her side across the chaise-longue in front of the fire, in a black and red corset and thigh length boots, with her long curtain of sleek shiny black hair tumbling down her shoulders.  She broke into a seductive smile, and Thomas was sure he could hear her purring.

“I knew you would come,” she said, her voice slithering towards him and tickling his ears. It was intoxicating.

Thomas cleared his throat. “Don’t imagine I’m falling for this, Vivienne.” He told her, in what he hoped was a strong unwavering voice, “You are pure poison. Toxic. If I touched you, I would burn in hell.”

Vivienne giggled “Oh come now! Let’s be friends!”. She rolled smoothly onto her back, lifting one long, shapely leg and hooking it over the back of the chaise. She lifted her hips a little, the sight of which almost caused him to stop breathing. It would be so easy to give in and lose himself in lust, but he had come here for a purpose, and he must not fail.

He took the dagger from his belt and marched purposefully towards her. He was breathing hard, his heart racing at the thought of what he must do. Her intoxicating scent hit his nostrils and surged into his lungs, and it took every last scrap of will power he had to hold the dagger above her chest.

“Must….stab….” he gasped.

But his senses were overpowered. He could hold back no longer. His dagger dropped to the floor, and he fell into her embrace, into the burning fire and poison of this evil, toxic witch. With one move, she flipped him over onto his back and moved on top of him, a ritualistic dance.

Annabelle tutted. She had watched the whole thing from behind the door.

“If you want something doing properly…” she muttered to herself, as she entered unseen into the room. Picking up the discarded dagger, she lifted it with both hands and plunged it into Vivienne’s back.

There was a split second of silence and stillness, as if the world had stopped for a moment.

Finally, Vivienne exploded with a roaring scream, filling the room briefly with hot red smoke and then vanishing with a noise that sounded like a hundred souls being sucked into a void.

Thomas fell to the floor, wide eyed and gasping. He looked at the chaise where he had been locked in Vivienne’s clutches moments before.

“Thanks,” he said, looking sheepishly up at his friend.

“Think nothing of it,” said Annabelle, curtly. She turned and walked out of the room.

 

Flitter-mouse

This is a story I wrote for a competition a while back. I didn’t get anywhere in the competition, but I was proud of my story anyway. My Tea with Trolls story went down so well with everyone the other day, I thought I might throw this one at you too. 

Flitter-mouse

I stood outside the dusty shop and hesitated for a moment. I really didn’t want to do this but I had no choice. It was the lesser of two evils – I didn’t want to go through another night of hiding in the bottom cupboard of the large dresser that stood in the parlor. It was too cramped. For 13 years old, I was small and slight but still, it was not as easy to hide there as it had been when I was 5. That was when the creatures of my nightmares had sprung, uninvited, into my real life. Every full moon they came to get me. In the early days, before my grandfather had his stroke, he would hide me in the dresser and then sit in his parlor chair, smoking his pipe. The smell of the tobacco hid my scent, and when the creatures came he would tell them I was not at home. They would turn grudgingly, and slither back into the night.

Nowadays I had to fend for myself.

I had found this shop quite by accident when I was 10. I was on my way to school, an awkward little girl with mismatched socks and clothes that I was going to grow into, walking alone as usual. I spotted the shop out of the corner of my eye – a crooked little building with faded peeling paintwork, broken roof tiles and filthy windows. It took me several months to pluck up the courage to go in, and several months more before I was brave enough to buy anything.

I had tried a variety of amulets and incantations lifted from dubious hand written spell books, and last time a throat burning, stomach churning potion. None of it had worked for long. The creatures guessed at my tricks. They were always just a step behind me.

So here I was again, desperate to find the answer.

I pushed at the door. The tinkling bell above the entrance announced my arrival, and I shut the door behind me and waited, biting my lip.

It was dark inside the shop, and it took a while for my eyes to focus on the dusty shelves lining the walls that held all manner of unusual objects – battered pots and tattered books, packets of incense sticks, strange contraptions that ticked and whirred, and bottles of potions that glittered darkly.

It was a moment before I noticed the old woman standing there watching me. When I met her eye, she gave me that familiar toothless grin that made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle.

“Back again, little Flitter-mouse?” she crooned.

“Um, yes,” I replied, fidgeting my feet and twisting my fingers round each other in my clasped hands. I cleared my throat a little. The words were having difficulty forming themselves in my mouth, “That potion you gave me…”

“You want some more?”

“NO! No,” I shook my head vigorously. I didn’t want to go through that again.

The old woman observed me shrewdly, nodding to herself.

“Some thing else.” she all but whispered with a wicked grin and beckoned me forward as she turned to the back of the shop.I followed her through a curtained archway behind the dusty counter into an old glass-house.The unwashed panes were murky and covered in green mildew. It was humid, and smelt damp and musty. Plants of various sizes fought for space in old plant pots. I noticed that some of the plants were moving…there was an ominous hushed rustling sound, as tendrils slithered and crept, and leaves wriggled and dripped.

I stood in the middle of the room my hands clasped under my chin, making myself as small and thin as I could. The old woman was hunched over in the corner, busying herself with a small pair of clippers and a trowel, humming tunelessly as she worked. Finally she turned round and held out a cracked, faded pot containing a small green cutting in a little bed of soft brown soil. It had one leaf and a tiny bud.

I took it from her uncertainly, holding it at arm’s length.

“It won’t bite!” she cackled, “It’ll grow fruit, and you want to eat ‘em if you want to stay safe. Before the full moon rises, girl!”

She took every last coin I had in my purse for that little cutting. But it was worth it.

Over the next few days, before the full moon, my cutting grew into a majestic plant with sturdy green leaves, and on the day of the full moon, pale yellow fruit appeared, with soft velvety skin, like little peaches.

And so, with much trepidation, on the night of the full moon, as the sun set in a pinky-orange sky, I sat on the cool stone step in the door way of our cottage with a little yellow fruit on my plate.

I lifted it to my mouth and bit into the soft flesh. It was sweet and juicy and so good to eat that I did not at first realize that my body was changing. I shrank smaller and smaller, and webs appeared between my fingers as my hands stretched into wings. My ears grew bigger, and I sprouted black fur all over my body.

You might think this alarming, yet somehow the transformation felt natural, even the first time it happened. I turned into a little bat the size of my human hand. And the best part, the most amazing, exciting, exhilarating part was that I could fly.

I swooped and I flitted, I dived and I soared, around the roof of the cottage, over the garden, through the trees in the wood.

That night, when the creatures came, those monsters from my nightmares, with their shadowy faces and their rasping moans, could not find me.

And they never will.

Oranges and fire hazards

In my internet world today, there have been TWO blog posts talking about quality of content over quantity. Apparently it is not WHAT we write about, in our stories and our blog posts, but HOW we write it.

(See The Write Practice and Jeff Goins).

This is kind of comforting to me. Some days I have no idea what to write. Yet I have a friend who lives thousands of miles away who I can happy chat to on the internet almost every day, and we can usually find something to talk about. That says to me that I have plenty to say.

So in my post today I am going to tell you about my youngest daughters Christingle service at the church. Don’t go thinking this will be a religious post. I’m not especially religious. I mean, you know, I have beliefs, but I don’t follow any particular church group. My kids go to a local village school which is connected to the church, although most of the kids are not Christians. They are taught about other religions, but mostly about the Christian faith, and they go to services at the church. We join them for end of term services. I rather suspect the end of term services are the only times (other than weddings and funerals) when the church is full.

If you don’t know what Christingle is, you can find out about it HERE. It’s Wikipedia, I know, but it gives you the general gist. I’m not convinced about the story of the 3 children…I suspect someone made that up at some point. But then some people are not convinced the story of Jesus is true either so…what do I know? The general idea is that children are given an orange, with four cocktail sticks stuck in it with fruit on, a candle on the top, and a red ribbon round it. The orange is supposed to represent the world, the ribbon is the blood of Christ, the sticks are the four seasons, with the fruit (or sometimes sweets) representing the harvest, and the candle is the light of the world.

A picture of a christingle, picture taken by m...

A picture of a christingle, picture taken by myself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, I have never been to a Christingle service, and this is the first time my daughter’s school were doing one.

The church is beautiful. Its a gorgeous ancient stone building, circa 14th century. All Norman arches and Gothic carvings, stained windows and wooden pews. I love sitting in it. It seems full of magic and spiritualism to me.

The children usually sit with their class mates in the pews at church, but today they sat big kid, little kid, big kid, little kid. One of the things I love most about my daughter’s school is how they encourage the bigger kids to take care of the little kids. It’s so cute. And it has resulted in BOTH my daughters having a total love for younger children.

The Vicar of the church is smaller than usual. Size challenged. I’m not sure of the current politically correct term, but he had to stand on a stage so we could see him. You can imagine that with a school full of children. Kids tend to say what they see, and find humour in the inappropriate.

This Vicar likes to sing and play guitar. He is fond of actions for songs and seems to think he is quite ‘down with the kids’. He is nice enough though.

There were songs, in this service, that we had to join in with even though we had never sung them in our lives before…they helpfully set them to the tunes of songs we HAD heard of, such as Puff the magic dragon and Show me the way to Amarillo. We did the best we could. Including the clapping. And the actions.

And then the kids (all approx. 150 ish of them) were given an orange with red tape round it and a bag. The bag contained cocktail sticks, dried fruit, some silver foil and a candle.

With the Vicar’s instructions, they set about putting the sticks in their orange, decorating the sticks with raisins and candied peel, and plunging the candle into the top. Making the Christingle orange was clearly a social event, and resulted in lots of chatter from the kids, despite the Vicar’s valiant efforts at having the task done quietly. “There’s no need to talk! Lets see if we can hear that little church mouse scampering about!” he implored. The kids weren’t listening for the mouse or the Vicar.

I thought – surely though, they are not going to light the candles? Not all these kids sitting so closely together?? What happened to ‘Health and safety’?? Surely someone would get burnt…I wondered if there was any water in the baptism font, or maybe some fire extinguishers…I guess they have to have some, but they weren’t especially obvious…

But yes they DID light the candles, from the flame of the candle at the front and all passed round. THIS was why they had big kids sitting next to little kids. Damage limitation.

All the candles were lit and then they turned off the lights in church.

And then silence. Or at least as quiet as 150 kids all sat together can be.

It was quite beautiful.

We were asked to think of children who were less fortunate – those on the streets or being bullied or abused – and to send them light.

And then the kids were asked to blow out their candles, and the lights came back on.

As far as I know, no-one got burnt or singed or in anyway set on fire. I have to hand it to the school for their achievement.

I patted the arm of one of the teachers on my way out of church – “Well done! I really thought there were going to be burnt fingers or singed hair!”

“So did we.” She muttered.

Anyone else want free e-books?

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

I recently joined a group called Story Cartel. It was set up by Jeff Goins and Joe Bunting as a way of ensuring reviews for new e-books.

The idea is that they send you notice of new e-books, and you can download them for free. In return, all they ask is that you write a review on Amazon.

Seems like a good deal to me – who doesn’t want free books? And they say one of the best ways to improve your writing is to read. Plus I’m hoping that one day I can put out an e-book and get reviews in the same way. Its all win, win win!

While I was downloading today’s free book, Roxy by PJ Reece, I checked out the authors blog and saw that he has another book out about writing stories - Story Structure to Die For. I had a look on Amazon uk and it was £1.50 (!!!) so I thought what the hell, lets see what he has to say. I really like his ideas about heroes and tragedies, and how to draw your readers in. I’m going to try his ideas with the re-write of my nano book.

Incidentally, just in case you didn’t know (because I didn’t until fairly recently), you don’t actually need a Kindle to read free books – you can download an e-book reader on your laptop or your phone, and voila!

Ok, that’s enough plugging stuff today I think. I’ll post another story next, I promise!

Tea with Trolls

One of the practice pieces in The Write Practice this week was to write in the style of JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’I really enjoyed writing this, and could have written pages and pages on it. 

There was an afternoon late one spring when a troll unexpectedly came to have Afternoon Tea with a wizard.

The troll hadn’t intended to take tea at all – Afternoon Tea is a delicate refined affair, much unsuited to the particularities of a troll. Supper was more his thing – a hearty meal slurped straight from a bowl and soaked up with big chunks of bread.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon. He had been merrily stomping through a hitherto quiet little village, bashing through doors and smashing windows, collecting unwilling dwarfs and hobbits with which to make a stew. In a bag over his shoulder he carried a growing collection of them. They were unusually still; some had frozen with fear and others had passed right out and were happily oblivious to their impending doom.

The Wizards house was much like the others in the village – small and slightly crooked, but brightly painted and cosy looking. So imagine the trolls surprise when the door was opened just as he was about to put his fist through it, and who should be standing there but a smiling little old man with silver hair in a long grey robe.

The Wizard carried a long staff. He waved it in a casual manner in the general direction of the troll, who succumed almost immediately to a severe bout of amnesia.

“My dear boy!” cried the wizard, “You are here at last! I have a pot of tea and a plate of hot buttered crumpets waiting for you in the drawing room! Not to mention a rather delicious spiced apple cake that I made just this morning! Won’t you come in?”

The troll, who could not recall at all who he was or why he was there, managed to mutter “Er…” before finding himself being divested of his coat and hat and being ushered into the little hallway.

“That’s the fellow!” said the wizard congenially, “Now why don’t you put down that bag of yours, it looks frightfully heavy!”
The troll looked with surprise at the bag as if noticing it for the first time. It WAS rather heavy, now the wizard came to mention it, and he was very glad to heave it off his shoulder and onto the carpeted floor of the hallway (much to the relief of its contents who set about planning their escape).

The wizard took the troll through to a curiously floral drawing room, where afternoon tea had been set on the table. A steaming teapot sat amongst plates of sweet and savory delights. The troll sat rather awkwardly on a chair that was much too small for him and attempted to take tea. It wasn’t easy at all! The china cups were much too dainty for his huge unwieldy fingers, the tea not sufficient to slake his thirst, and the sandwiches (cucumber, crusts removed) did not satisfy the hunger in his belly. Added to which the wizard kept up a stream of endless chatter that the troll could not keep up with and which prevented him from having the time to just think for a moment why he was here.

All too soon he found himself being hurried back out into the street with an empty belly and an equally empty bag.
“Goodbye then!” called the wizard, “No need to thank me for having you, the pleasure was all mine! Mind how you go!” and he banged the door shut.

The troll stood for a moment staring at the door, trying to work out in his befuddled brain how he came to have had tea with a wizard. But as it made his head hurt to think about, he decided to let the matter rest. He stumbled out of the village in a distracted way with a puzzled frown on his face, and was never seen again.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

This post is WELL overdue. I haven’t been in here for so long.

So how did I do in Nanowrimo?

Well, I DIDN’T write 50,000.

I wrote 31,634 words, which is more than I have written for anything ever. AND I wrote a whole story from start to finish. So, I am really proud of myself!

I learned lots of things during the month. I learnt that I COULD write every single day, and I always wanted to. Some days I didn’t know what to write, but I never felt like I didn’t want to write at all. I found I had to force myself to write the first few words, and usually something would follow it. Some days I only wrote a few hundred words, other days I wrote a couple of thousand. The ‘pep talks’ in the Nanowrimo web site, and on other writers blogs, kept me going even on the worst days.

I also learnt that however prepared you think you are, when you come to write it doesn’t always work the way you think it’s going to. I had many days where my characters would turn to me and say “You want me to do WHAT?” – and I had to figure out something else for them to do, or find some motivation to get them to dance to my tune.

I also found a million plot holes. Well, maybe not a million, but a lot anyway. But in the spirit of nanowrimo, I just kept going – I will go back later and fill them all in.

And I learnt that I definitely want to keep writing. I want to get a book published, in PRINT, in a real book, on the shelves of Waterstones.

That is what I am working towards.

So now to take a month off, decorate the house, write greetings cards, wrap presents and enjoy Christmas with my friends and family. And then it’s back to the grind stone to re-write my novel.

 

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