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Behind the Magic

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Last Saturday, Boyfriend and I had free tickets to go and watch ‘Catchphrase’ being filmed. For those not in the know, Catchphrase is a Saturday night TV show from the 80s which has recently been re-done. It involves contestants seeing an animation on a big screen and identifying the catchphrase. For example, we saw one where a guy was having a drink in a pub with a big cheque. Answer? Checkmate. (A mate who is a cheque!) Literally, “say what you see”. Simples!

The show is actually about 20 minutes long once you add in the advert breaks. We were in the studio for three hours. It was a lot more interesting than we expected. The set was a lot smaller than it looks on TV, and you get to see just how much is re-shot. Sometimes over and over. The presenter would say a sentence, pause, then repeat it slightly differently without missing a beat. Of course in the final cut, it would look seemless.

At the end, the presenter was filmed making puzzled faces at the camera, and pointing to where the contestants had been and saying their names over in various ways, and making random comments. This, of course, will be cut into the final edit and it will look like he’s reacting to the contestants in front of him, when he was really talking to thin air!

It wasn’t just three hours of watching bits be re-filmed. There was a lot of breaks and set checks and things, and we had a great entertainer to chat to the audience and keep us amused between filming. He would jump in any moment filming was over. It was great.

So, why am I talking about this? Other than it’s something different to do on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, it goes to show just how much goes on behind the scenes that the audience never knows about. This is the same with other TV shows, movies, and even writing. How many times have you edited something, only to move whole chapters about? How many times have you inserted a character half way through and had to go back and enter the backstory afterwards? Have you ever written the ending first? This is all behind the scenes goings on that the audience (the reader) never sees. These are the secrets behind the front image. The audience doesn’t get to see the sweat and blood and rewrites and edits. They don’t get to see the swearing, the bad times, the times when nothing goes right. They don’t see the characters who just won’t behave.

The audience only sees the final product.

But that’s okay. It wouldn’t be as sexy if they saw behind the scenes. No-one wants to see an author slumped over a stained desk in their favourite oversized PJs, half a mug of cold forgotten coffee by their hand. They want to see the shiny prettiness when you’ve done the hard work.

And likewise you don’t always want to see what a mess your favourite TV show is before you get involved in it. But sometimes it can be fun to understand the effort that goes into something you enjoy. It can be enlightening.

If you have the chance, be nosey. It doesn’t always ruin the magic, and you might get an interesting insight into the unknown.

And if someone asks to see how you work out of curiosity, think about letting them. They might learn from you.

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The Bet – Day One: What I Would Do For £100

Boyfriend has this desire every so often to taken on random and often ridiculous bets with those around him. He’s a determined creature and enjoys proving the world that he’s particularly great at these random things. For example, last year he took on a bet with his best friend. The bet was that Boyfriend would be vegetarian for a month, and Friend would be vegan (Friend was already vegetarian). Seeing as Boyfriend didn’t eat vegetables at all prior to this month, it was an interesting and entertaining month for the rest of us, and a painful month for himself. They decided that whoever broke first had to have a tattoo of the other’s choice. As it happened, both completed the month and neither got a tattoo, seeing as they both won. Amusingly, Boyfriend was ill the first week or so of turning vegetarian and with a month being just long enough for his body to adjust, he was ill when he went back to eating meat again as well.

On Friday he announced he wanted to try a bet with myself. Not wanting to appear weak, I agreed. The bet? He has to give up all TV, and I have to give up reading and writing. The intricate terms are:

Boyfriend:

  • No TV. Of any description. (I said he could watch Arsenal matches but it’s off season.)
  • He’s allowed to watch movies.

Me:

  • No reading fiction at all.
  • No reading newspapers at all.
  • No reading websites outside of work.
  • No writing, apart from blog posts (and work emails) so I can document this.
  • I’m allowed to check Facebook.

He’s currently unemployed and so usually watches a lot of TV. I spend 3 hours a day commuting on the London Underground and will read and write in the evenings, often whilst he’s watching TV as I enjoy the background noise sometimes. We are both giving up something we spend a great deal of our free time embracing and will have to find other forms of entertainment. Ironically, if I can’t read I would watch TV. But as he can’t, I either have to kick him out of the living room or go into the bedroom myself to watch it.

He reckons I’ve got it easier but he doesn’t read fiction and therefore doesn’t grasp the sheer depth of this bet for me. I’m halfway through Justin Cronan’s ‘The Twelve’, and I have Zoe Marriott’s new book ‘The Night Itself’ waiting in a Foyles bag for me! I didn’t even mean to own any new books after the bet was made, but on Saturday we went into Foyles and I went browsing and saw two books I instantly wanted. One was The Night Itself, and the other was ‘Angel Fever’ by L.A. Weatherly – the third of a trilogy that I’ve been waiting for for a year! I couldn’t say ‘no’! I spent Saturday and Sunday evening, and most of yesterday, devouring Angel Fever before midnight struck (I succeeded), and I got a tweet from the author:

Tweet - Me

Tweet - Lee

(Amazing trilogy by the way! Highly recommended. And if you’re waiting for Angel Fever, I will just say two words – THE FEELS!!!)

Of course the big question is – what do we do if we lose? We pay the other £100. We’re withdrawing the money tonight and keep it in the flat so when one of us breaks – we can instantly pay up and flee to our vices.

There isn’t a time frame on this at the moment, although we’re debating adding one for our sanity. I’m heading home to visit my family on Wednesday 25th for five days and we’ve already decided we are putting the bet on pause during this time, as I will have a 2 hour train journey to contend with and a LOT of free time in my parents’ house, which I usually fill with re-reading books I’ve left behind. It was too much. And Boyfriend has a friend staying over for a couple of days whilst I’m away so it’d be super tough for him, too.

So, for the time being, I am not reading or writing. But I will be blogging about how I get on emotionally with this. It’s one thing to choose not to do something, or not feel like it, but another entirely to have that choice taken away from you.

Here’s to the next few days!

The Hardest Thing in This World is to Strive For Your Dreams

I have a vivid memory of myself when I was 8 or 9 years old. I was standing in a corridor in school and determinedly thought to myself about what I was going to do once I had finished primary school. I was going to go to high school (at age 8, I didn’t realise this was compulsory), then college, then university, and then I would become a published author. It was somewhere around this ages I wrote my first short story (available to read here).

It’s now 18 years later and I have achieved all but the last of that list. And it’s the last item, which is my dream and therefore has been the hardest thing to reach for. Why? Because the only person I really have to motivate me is myself. I’m not harming others, or giving happiness to others if I do or don’t get published. This is something to do solely for myself, and I think that’s what makes it hard. Not because I don’t feel I don’t deserve it, but because there’s no outside drive to push me into it.

Recently my boyfriend and I began the nuts exercise regime called ‘Insanity’ (Google it). It’s essentially 6 days a week of a 40 minute intense aerobics session and you end up dripping sweat afterwards if you do it properly. After the first two days my calves hurt so much I had issues walking up and down stairs. As we’re doing this in our flat, it would be easy to say we’re not going to do it one day ‘cause we’re both tired. But with the two of us doing it, we’re encouraging each other on the days when one of us feels less than enthusiastic about it. So far, we’re doing amazingly well. If either was doing this on our own, we wouldn’t be still going.

This is why I believe NaNoWriMo is such a great thing. Because no matter where in the world you are, you can connect with other people doing the same insane challenge through the power of the Internet and can get the support, the encouragement, the cheers, whenever you need them. Having people around you doing the same thing you are I believe helps you to achieve what you’re trying to do because it’s easier if you know someone is going through the same thoughts, problems and who understands how you’re feeling.

Going back to my 8 year old dream – I still want to be published. I have a novel in the process of being edited. But I haven’t edited in so long. I come up with a ton of lame excuses as to why I haven’t edited. The last time I looked at my novel, I had left it a few months and couldn’t fully remember the story prior to where I was up to. Rather than back track a bit, I decided to leave it. And now the situation will be worse.

With editing, I have a completely different mindset to writing. Writing I can do anywhere, especially if I have a pair of headphones with me. But with editing, I need to be in a room by myself, with a spacious area for spreading out notebooks, post-it notes, pens, etc, and the space to pace the floor when I’m thinking or working something out. (I’d probably be thrown out of a coffee shop if I kept jumping up to pace between the tables.) This means, I only have myself to fully motivate me, and it’s a struggle.

What do you do when you need to motivate yourself? There’s nothing I particularly want right now which I can offer myself as a reward, so I’m thinking more along the lines of withholding things I enjoy until I park myself at my desk and flippin’ well edit the thing!

Enjoying Your Writing

I’ve managed to get a more decent amount of editing done this week than the last couple. It helped that I’ve been visiting friends in Lancaster, which involves a 2 1/2 hour train journey up and again back down. Whilst I haven’t used the full 2 1/2 hours each way to edit, I used some. And I managed to do a bit of editing whilst we were just chilling out and watching TV as well. After some working out, I’ve realised I’m over 2/3 of the way through my first edit! Woohoo!

But this isn’t about how much I have or haven’t edited this week, not really. On Friday when I was sat on the train, reading and editing my novel, I found something wonderful. I found a beautiful minor plot point that I had forgotten about entirely! Why was it beautiful? Because that fleeting young plot point is going to become all grown up in book two! And will blossom into a crucial element of book three! 

Have you ever done that? Read something you wrote months ago and found a piece of writing which absolutely makes your year writing-wise? The thing is, at the time I wrote it I’m pretty sure I was just trying to add words but now it’s added flesh to the barely even bones of my outlines for books two and three. I was really excited! I’d had a very stressful Friday and finding that absolutely made everything okay again.

There is a great thrill in reading over your own work and loving the story. The general consensus is always say “write what you know”or “write what you’d read” etc. It’s the idea that if you’d get bored reading it, you’d get bored writing it, so you won’t care as much if it’s any good. It makes sense, when you think about it. But, even though you know that when you’re writing a genre you enjoy, it still comes as a surprise when you really enjoy reading your own book. You find that you remember the plot and the big turning points but you don’t remember the Gems. The intricate details that make the story work. And when you read them, it makes you feel like a “real” writer. It does me anyway. It reminds me that if I wasn’t at least partially good at this, I wouldn’t still be plodding along with it. It’s a great feeling to have.

It helps if you ever plan on being published, as well. If you write a genre that you often read and you enjoy the story from a reader’s point of view, there’s a good chance that your potential future readers will enjoy it as well!

Apologies for the shorter blog post this week. It’s been a busy weekend and I have plans to chill out for a couple of hours before bed.

Don’t forget – I’m still running a competition to win this quirky handmade plot bunny!

Entry is simple and I will post to anywhere in the world! Extra entries for Facebook and Twitter shares, too! Just click here.

Have I Edited Today?

That’s a really good question. And… no. I haven’t edited today. But! I’m totally going to. I promise! After ignoring Scrivener wanting to update for about a month, I decided to finally let it update. That update is taking much, much longer than I thought it would. After 15 minutes of downloading the update, it’s only downloaded 15%… And when it’s finished download, it has to install the update.

I hope it doesn’t take all night.

Back to my original question and answer. After all my blogs of how I was going to get my novel edited before November and how having my desk was going to help, I didn’t edit. I maybe poked it with a virtual stick but I didn’t edit. And I pretended to feel bad about it. But, the truth is, I’m a horrible procrastinator. I’m pretty sure it’s trait which comes with writing. There’s so many other less important things to do which are suddenly more exciting! If I don’t check Twitter every few minutes, I might miss something! (I wish I was joking. But, sadly, I’m not. I’ve got Twitter open on Chrome right now and on my task bar I can see it says I have 13 new tweets to read. It’s killing me that I’m ignoring it.)

On Sunday, I decided to Do Something About It. So I made a sign. I made a sign out of bright orange paper and stuck it on the wall above my desk where I can’t help but see it. And that sign?

And on Sunday, I edited! On Monday, I edited again! It was brilliant! I actually guilted myself into editing my novel. I felt good, it was fun to get my novel moving again and I figured I may be able to at least get through the first edit by November.

And then on Tuesday, I didn’t edit. I went swimming after work and by the time I got back and had a shower and something to eat, it was late and I was tired and blah blah blah. But I didn’t edit. I pushed the guilt aside.

So now my sign has a friend:

And if I do edit:

And right now I’m considering adding a sad face for when I haven’t edited and a happy face for when I have. See? Procrastination at its finest! By the time the novel is finished, I’ll have a wall of messages to myself. I’m not sure if that’s pushing the boundaries of sanity or not.

My point is, it’s possible to make yourself feel bad and it can take more than staring at the paused DVD on your TV and debating whether to stop watching so you can write/edit. Because staring at the TV from the comfy-ness of your chair will not ensure you write. It will ensure that the DVD will stare back and force you to stay right where you are.

You need something that you have to move or hide or fix in order to avoid writing. Put a post-it note on your TV, on the fridge, on your current book of choice. Have your post-it note be blunt, be mean. Turn it into its own little post-it note character who won’t let you do what you want to do until you’ve done what you need to do. Have the post-it note stalk you around the house, taunting you until you sit down and write 500 words, or edit four pages. The post-it note is your worst enemy, yet it’s the best friend you’ll never realise you have. It allows you to hate it so you can be the person you want to be. Because it can take it. Because it’s not your hero. It’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

….

I got way too much into that didn’t I?

Highly personified post-it notes aside, you need to be strong enough to set up the reminder in the first place and let it guilt you. I don’t like sitting at my desk with a blunt “Why not?” tagged onto “Have you edited today?” Because I can’t answer it. I never have an excuse good enough for why I haven’t even given 10 minutes to my novel. But I know I can’t remove the “Why not?” until I have removed the need for the question to be there. So, I sit down and I edit. And then I can turn over my “Why not?” into “Yay!” and my world is a happier place.

I’m no longer entirely sure where this blog is going… my brain keeps conjuring vivid memories of the dream I had between 7:05am and 7:30am which involves our toilet breaking and water shooting up out of it, especially when I managed to disconnect the toilet bowl from the pipe underneath which looked more like a shower pipe. My dream self got very wet.

Also I keep thinking that it’s Friday.

But, yeah, guilt yourself with colourful notes. Your future self will thank you for it.

P.S. 

What I’m Learning From Editing

These last few days, I have been Seriously Editing. Don’t look at me that way, I have! Okay, so I didn’t edit yesterday but I have a perfectly legit excuse! I was training to volunteer for a children’s helpline. See, legit. I will be editing after I blog this. I have my Scrivener open and everything.

But I did edit for two hours on Sunday (as mentioned in my last blog) and for about an hour on Monday. Editing is actually fun sometimes. I haven’t read this writing in over a year and sometimes get so involved with the story that I’m supposed to be looking for typos and bad sentences. (Luckily, this is only the first edit so anything I’ve missed I have a good chance of catching the second or third time round.)

But on top of the fun-ness of realising my writing doesn’t totally suck, I’m learning a lot which is very interesting…

  • I write notes in whichever notebook I have closest at the time.

This is not as useful as it sounds because then, a month later, I can’t find which notebook I wrote in and thus can’t remember what my plan was. I then spend several minutes searching each notebook I can currently find (which isn’t all of them) and yelling at my past self.

  • I start a lot of sentences with “so”:

1. So did you find any groups at all?
2. So you only found one group, so what?
3. So that’s cool.
4. So he began to tell himself he was alright.
5. So go for it.
6. So no one begrudged him a bad night.

All those examples came from a section 353 words in length. Examples 2 and 3 were in the same bit of dialogue, one sentence after the other. I suddenly realised (probably around this point, which is in Chapter 9) that I start way too many sentences with ‘so’ and it’s really not needed in the vast majority of cases. I can just delete the word and the sentence not only makes perfect sense, it doesn’t read like a babbling fool wrote it. I’ve since realised that I say ‘so’ a lot when I’m talking, which is why it’s in my writing. Gosh darn it! I’m going to need to keep an eye on that…

  • I can see the points where I was hitting the wall and just scrambling for words.

And the penalty of doing NaNoWriMo: trying to meet that word count. These moments are jumping out at me and I can see that then I was either behind for the day and desperate or writing on kamikaze mode on Write or Die and just needed to keep writing no matter what so my words didn’t get eaten! For example, these two sentences came after each other yet both say the same exact thing, but differently:

“Right now their choices seemed to end up between a rock and a hard place. It was a case of trying to pick the lesser of the two evils.”

(If anyone’s wondering, I kept the first one.) It is interesting to see these sort of points in my writing though. It’s almost like I’ve gone back in time to watch my former self write the novel. A bit Ghost of Christmas Past. But with novels…

  • On occasion I had the same idea when writing, as I do when editing – 18 months after I wrote the first part of this novel.

Let me explain. At one point, I realised I needed a certain character to do something and I groaned because it would involve a lot of re-writing up ahead (I really wish I’d copied down the scenario because now I can’t remember it) but then a paragraph later, the character was already doing it! Which means that when I was writing it, I realised part way through that this character needed to do this particular thing and went ahead and changed the story there and then without going back to edit the bit before. This was an absolutely awesome realisation! Partly because it was nice to feel that my ideas are consistent, and partly because it was a lot less re-writing to do.

  • It is far too easy to switch a character name without realising it.

I have a character called Don but at various points in the story he becomes Dan, because clearly my brain has issues with vowels. And at one point Michael became Martin which was horribly confusing because I actually have a character called Martin…

And finally…

  • There’s something satisfying about deleting a bad sentence.

I don’t know about you, but noticing a truly bad sentence that has no right to be in your novel and just hitting that delete key is immensely satisfying. I enjoy having the ability to realise that it’s a bad sentence and that as I delete it, my novel is instantly that little bit better than it was before.

And that is what I’ve learnt from editing so far! It’s like looking into my own soul and I’m coming out the other side knowing myself that little bit better.

The Joys of Having a Desk

Do you remember my blog post about needing to have a particular set up in order to edit? (If not, well just clicky here!)

I’m super excited. For the first time in 2 1/2 years, I have that set-up! *does a little dance, makes a little love, gets down to tonight* A week ago I entertained the good people of Leytonstone in East London by purchasing a second hand desk from the British Heart Foundation second hand furniture store. Why is this entertaining? Because the desk had wheels. And since I only lived a 15 minute walk away, I decided to decline the store’s offer of delivering the desk and instead I wheeled the desk back to my flat. The majority of the roads I walked along were main roads with lots of people and passing cars. I told myself I was doing everyone a favour; when they went home, they’d have an interesting tit-bit to tell about the strange girl pushing a desk around.

In order to get to my flat, I had to pass under the A12 road, which was also the entrance to Leytonstone tube station. If you think wheeling a suitcase through a tunnel makes a lot of noise, you have clearly never wheeled a desk with a wonky wheel through one. I actually felt sorry for anyone I passed who was on a phone.

It was actually kinda awkward to push. It wasn’t heavy but it was too low down to push from behind without hunching over it awkwardly. I could push it from one side but one end tended to stray (like a trolley with a dodgy wheel). I ended up more pulling it along beside me and suffered a very stiff shoulder and arm for two days afterwards.

By the time I successfully manoeuvred the desk to my flat, I decided that pushing a pram around the pavements must be hell. They’re all bumpy with holes and in many places the ground is raised by the tree roots beneath it.

But! I had a desk! I then spent a good hour deciding where to put it. This involved much moving of furniture but eventually I decided to move my bed and put the desk between my bed and the wall, giving me both a desk and a bedside table at the same time (I know, I’m a genius).

I really like the desk. It’s small and used (and I managed to scrub some of the surface off when I was cleaning it) and I had to remove some weird half shelf which was at the annoying height of the middle of my shin but it’s mine. Why is that important? Well, I live in rented accommodation. I’m aware that the furniture isn’t mine and if I wreck it, I pay for it. But this little desk is 100% mine to do what I want with. I can burn candles without worrying if the wax drips, I can get ink on it, doodle on it or put stickers on it. And it’s a computer desk so it has the little pull out shelf for a keyboard. However, as I have a netbook, I’m using it as a shelf for my collection of notebooks. It’s totally awesome!

But the editing space wasn’t ready yet. Have you spotted why? Yes! I didn’t have a chair. Purchasing the chair was a less exciting story. I just bought a simple folding one from Argos and carried it back in plastic wrapping.

But what does this all mean? It means that I can now commence with Serious Editing (so serious is deserves capitalisation). And today, I did just that. It was glorious. I’ve edited on and off for several months but always in drips and drabs and never consistently over a number of days. That can all change! Now, I can have a daily editing schedule. It feels so wonderful I could cry. Today I edited for two hours in one hour slots. I intend on editing for at least half an hour a day from now on.

This blog was initially going to be about What I Have Learnt About My Writing From Editing but I kinda got carried away with the excitement of being able to edit. So, that blog will appear in a couple of days time.

The Trials of Editing

I don’t know about you, but I find that whilst I can write anywhere, I need a certain set-up in order to be able to edit. I need a desk. Well, a table of some description, with a chair. It needs to have space for my netbook or laptop, a drink of some sort and a notepad and pen. You may be thinking “well, that’s not particularly a lot to ask for” but it is. You see, I don’t have a desk. I haven’t had a desk in over two years (something which continues to pain me). Before I moved to London I had the box room at my parents’ house. That’s the smallest room in the house, for anyone unfamiliar with the term “box room”. It was seven foot squared (I measured) and had a bed, a bedside table and a wardrobe in it. The TV was mounted to the wall and I had shelves inside the wardrobe for my books and DVDs and boxes under the bed for storage. I sat on my bed with my laptop for writing and Internet. It wasn’t the best, but I made do. I didn’t really edit at all when I was in this room but didn’t think much of it.

I have since discovered that I cannot edit without a proper formal setting. In London I now have a bigger room but still no desk. The infuriating thing is that I have a lovely desk and chair in pieces in my parents’ loft and the room to have it set up. I just can’t get it down here! I’d have to pay to rent a van or something. So, I sit on the floor mostly. My laptop sits on top of my bedside table (which is not next to my bed) where it remains plugged into the mains (it’s old) and I use it for Internet and TV. My netbook is usually on the floor next to me for everything else computer related. I have a mug with writing impliments in it and notebooks scattered around me. I eat sitting on the floor and that’s where I rest my candles when I burn them. I call it my “floor-desk” which as fun as it sounds, is not very practical.

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Before I started paying rent and commute on a temp salary, I could afford to go and sit in Starbucks or somewhere for a while and use one of their chairs and tables. This worked and was fun and I got to people watch and drink hot chocolate. Now, however, I find myself illogically monitoring my money. I say illogical because I’m more than happy to fork out £12.50 to see The Dark Knight Rises (worth it!), and £80 for two Olympic tickets for the swimming but then I question paying £3.25 for a hot chocolate at Starbucks. I don’t understand my own mind sometimes but it does mean that when I have the time to sit in Starbucks, I worry over the £3.25 and end up not bothering.

I’ve tried taking my netbook into work and using the hour I spend 4 days a week covering the reception to edit. But it’s incredibly hard to concentrate when I can’t quite move the computer’s keyboard out of the way to make enough room, have the phone ringing at uneven intervals and staff coming by to pick up post or to chat.

I always viewed editing as something I didn’t enjoy. There was something about poking through the dregs of a novel written at speed which wasn’t really that thrilling. And I always made this the reason I didn’t edit when I was living with my parents. But then in February 2012 I began to edit what was to be the first book in my trilogy. And it was interesting! I enjoyed re-writing the parts that I knew needed re-writing, getting to know the characters again and analysing their relationships with each other, and I loved finding all those little golden parts that are awesomely written but you’ve forgotten about and it’s like you’re reading someone else’s work. I came to believe that in order to edit something, you really have to believe it’s worth editing. I’ve tried editing novels before (with a desk) and just got nowhere. But then, We All Fall Down is something I really want to work with. It kills me that I can’t settle into a good editing session anywhere, it really does.

At the moment, my answer is to buy a cheap desk. I can get one for £12.99 from Argos with has decent reviews for the price. And a cheap chair. My boyfriend says I should trawl second hand stores for a better desk for a similar price ’cause he got lucky wih his desk that way. I’m willing to have a look but if I can’t find anythig, it’ll be Argos. I really want to turn it around and have a proper working space. It might not be the lovely desk I have in my parents loft with spaces to keep folders and space on the desk itself for various things, but it would be a flat surface that will hold my netbook that I can sit at. Right now, I’d be content with that.

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Maybe I could edit for a couple of hours at a time regularly, instead of five minutes every so often.

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