The Dinosaur Came to the Party

The aspects I love about words are the same aspects that make English such a difficult language to learn to speak fluently as a second language. Examples:

“You disgust me”
“I don’t think we discussed you at all.”

Overheard at Athens immigration:
“No, just here on vacation.”

What did the cheese say when he looked in the mirror?

And so on, we all know them. The magic of words. When I was a young, innocent, trainee radio copywriter I had a brilliant mentor who taught me about the theatre of the mind, sound effects, music and word pictures that trigger an instant emotional response. If you want to cut through the clutter of talk on radio do it with silence and then a well-timed scream, you’ll get their attention!

It’s three days till lift off on the Dinosaur Party. Our house looks like a craft shop. We have a pile of painted dino goodie bag eggs on one chair; aluminium roasting dishes full of sand and buried fossils and treasure on the floor; large green, silver and gold painted dino footprints in a cardboard box, alongside brown paper bags with paintings of dinosaur and the word “palaeontologist” stencilled on them; a magnificent hand painted T-Rex head with open mouth and one huge tooth missing, along with many teeth to be stuck on (Pin the tooth on the T-Rex was going to be Stick the Little Dinosaur in the T Rex’s Mouth but Nana T objected to me introducing violence); a painted cardboard bowling alley and a painted dog bone for “Bone Bowling”…and as of yesterday, some very cool little individual volcanoes. You take a strip of black cardboard and bring the ends across each other to form a cone and staple it, then take a little bag of sweeties in red cellophane and pull the top through the cone so the cellophane sticks up like lava.

I’ve taken a whole lot of photos as things have developed and have decided that I will write a small book, “The Dinosaur Came to The Party” and put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. My practical and cost efficient ways of staging a dinosaur birthday party. Many of the ideas can be adapted into other themes and as the year progresses and I may do other parties, I’ll create little books about them too.

The cake has been decided at last. It’ll be an exploding volcano cake, chocolate naturally, iced with frosting mixed with crushed Oreo cookies, with red icing lava and edible rocks (chocolate dipped mini chocolate eggs) and some meringues swirled with red food colouring, mini chocolate dinosaurs made with my moulds, and long sparkler candles in the top throwing sparks everywhere. I shall take photos as it is assembled and decorated. I know how I want it to look, we shall see if I can turn the vision into reality.

Party volcanoes



Secrets and Celebrations

Life, today, is a mixture of happy and sad, excited and reflective and personal and part of a wider community.

It’s six months today since I posted my first book on Amazon. From there it’s spread to Smashwords and itunes, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Diesel and others I don’t even know about. There are four books up, over thirty reviews and around 25,500 ‘sales’. I’ve had lots of lovely comments from people who’ve been moved by my words, by my Dad’s words and have enjoyed reading something I wrote. I hope I never take that experience for granted, I hope it is always thrilling.

Last night I watched a programme on Prime called “The Secret War”. It was the first in a series and this one was about a group of secret commandos in the North African Desert. They were mainly German Jewish refugees who had joined the British Army and they trained them to go behind enemy lines, with the newly formed SAS, and sabotage German military bases and operations. They posed as German officers and the SAS posed as their prisoners and that got them past German checkpoints. It was genuinely fascinating. At one point they were involved in a failed attempt to take Tobruk and I knew that my Dad was flying fighter cover to the bombers that were bombing the city. He was also involved in the original fall of Tobruk and helped fly Spitfires out of the city so that they didn’t fall into German and Italian hands. If it hadn’t been for the letters and writings he left behind I’d never have known about his Middle East war, he never talked about it. Again, the power of the written word. It made me reflect on all the brave men who have fought in the Middle East over the years…including the six British soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan this week.   

A great New Zealander is nearing the end of his battle with cancer. Jock Hobbs was an All Black and he headed the campaign to bring the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand last year. It was a huge success and many people saw our beautiful country and we all enjoyed some spectacular rugby and we won! My thoughts are with his family and all his friends today. Especially his children, I know what it’s like to lose a Dad to cancer and may they know that he will always be with them in a special way.

Another cool thing happened this morning. I have sent out some friend requests on Facebook because I decided I should broaden my circle of friends. One of them was to a woman called Deb Filler. She’s a New Zealand born comedian and she does one woman shows. Several years ago I went to a show she did in Auckland about her late father, Sol Filler. He was a Holocaust survivor. I have never forgotten that brilliant show, it made me laugh and cry and marvel at the power of humour to make a searing point. And today I got the chance to post on her Facebook wall and tell her that.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a publisher. He found me through the article in the Cambridge Edition. He wanted to ‘pick my brains’ about ebooks. It’s a very steep learning curve and if I can help some others, as people helped me, than I am happy to do so.

And I guess it wouldn’t be an early autumn blog without some mention of cooking or preserving! I stewed some plums yesterday because they weren’t very nice eating, and guess what? They’re not very nice as cooked plums either. So thinking cap on…maybe a plum loaf or plum muffins. They definitely need to be reincarnated as something.

Interviews, cuddles and sales

Yesterday was a busy day. I like busy days, but it is nice to have normality restored today and be back to writing about killing people with chocolate.

Yesterday the lovely young lady from the Cambridge Edition came to interview me. It’s a weekly newspaper that’s delivered locally and when Mum lived here in the 1920s and 1930s, it was called The Independent. She looked young enough to be my Granddaughter but she knew her stuff. I’d printed off the covers of my books and mounted them on cardboard so they’d stand up. After trying a couple of other, not successful, poses with me fanning the covers out in front, we settled on a shot at the dining room table. I removed all the apples and pears ripening and waiting to be stewed, so we propped up the covers in front of some of the MANY jars of jam and chutney we have in the pantry and I sat between them.

Then we spent 45 minutes talking about writing, ebooks, digital publishing, censorship etc. She chose to kneel on the floor and I felt, vaguely, like royalty receiving my subject. I also felt very old. In a couple of days I shall see what she made of me.

Then I made chutney, again. It is a recipe of my own invention, marrow, tomato, onion, dates, ginger and spices and it’s a dark, rich chutney, like a Branston. Beautiful and full of flavour! Today I have the last batch of apple to stew and I’m thinking of adding something, like roasted rhubarb from the garden. In a month or two our laden fig tree will give up its goodies and we will be making jam or chutney or something. The other day I cooked black-boy peaches and apricots together. The black-boy is a dark skinned peach with a ruby-red flesh inside. I cooked them in a cranberry and pure plum juice syrup, flavoured with cinnamon, clove, ginger and a touch of honey and they are like fruit in a mulled mixture, really divine! We have a separate chest freezer and it is becoming a treasure-house of fruit for the winter.

At half past two Nana T and I set off for Ohaupo School where we picked up a very excited Lucas. I hadn’t seen him since before his brother’s arrival and he had so much to tell me. We took him to his place and met Dyfan (pronounced Dee-VAN) Llewellyn Griffiths who is just gorgeous! Gemma made me laugh when she told me that the midwife was very put out when she was told the baby’s name. She said she doesn’t like all these ‘new fangled names’, you can’t get two more ancient Welsh names than Dyfan and Llewellyn. He is a very beautiful baby and very placid. I played with Lucas and Nana T had a cuddle and then I had a cuddle while Lucas played at my feet. He adores his brother and strokes his head so gently.

Smashwords are running their annual Read an Ebook week promotion. I have discounted “The Secret Keeper” and “In Vino Veritas” and the purchase notifications are coming in. If you want “Vino” in any format, at a very good price, until March 10th, you’ll find it here:

And “The Secret Keeper” is free here until March 10th:

They send out a catalogue to a huge mailing list of authors, publishers and readers with all the books enrolled in the promotion. My other two are free on Smashwords so are automatically enrolled. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Amazon has a much wider reach and beats Smashwords hands down for numbers, but Smashwords gives you access to the affiliates, itunes, Barnes and Noble and Sony etc. They are VERY slow reporting sales figures and you only get a true indication about four times a year. I was astonished to realise that “The Secret Keeper” had sold 1500 copies at Barnes and Noble in January. The royalties are also much higher, 80% of Smashwords sales and 60% from their affiliates. I suspect that once you settle into a pattern it becomes more regular, according the accepted ‘wisdom’ of the writers’ forums it takes around 12-18 months to find your readership and start getting regular streams of royalties. Still, at least 25,000 sales in six months (this Friday) is not a bad start and I am more than happy with progress.

And so, back to the gooey, delicious, fictional world of wine filled chocolates. Happy day.




From new life to plagiarism and cats

Isn’t new life a wonderful thing? Little Dyfan was born yesterday. He weighs 8lbs 80zs and his mother describes him as “huge and healthy.” His name is Welsh for David and there is no doubt about it, he will be a Cymro Bach (little Welshman). His elder brother, Lucas, is as proud as punch and ready to lead him by the hand into the big wide world. Eventually there will be someone else to be the rest of the world in backyard rugby when Lucas is the All Blacks. Can’t wait to see him and have a cuddle.

In other news I see the self publishing world is all A-Twitter because someone called Kay Manning took a short story belonging to Liz Fielding and ‘rewrote’ it by changing the characters names and the location and published it on Amazon and Smashwords as her own. When she was outed she apologised and said she put the story in the wrong folder on her desktop and thought it was one she’d written herself, so she ‘polished’ it and published it. Wrong choice lady, if you are going to plagiarise someone (and one hopes you’re not) then don’t choose a well-known writer with lots of fans. I think I’ll just take ‘The Green Mile’ and switch the location to Mount Eden jail in Auckland and change the names and make the main character a huge Maori bloke and hope no one minds??

It’s annoying on one level, but incredibly frustrating on another because you wonder if it tarnishes the reputation of all self published ebook authors. Especially in the eyes of traditional authors. The percentage of people who steal other writers’ work is incredibly low and yet it makes everyone seem less honest. Just because there is no filter, you can upload almost anything and the only person who makes decisions is the buyer, it feels like people take advantage of that.

I don’t buy much from the fruit and vege shop these days, yesterday’s lunch included beetroot, carrots and lettuce from the garden, last night’s dinner included lovely new potatoes, marrow and courgette from roadside stalls and blueberries from another stall. But I do buy bananas as the Waikato climate is not conducive to the growing of bananas, and next door to the fruit and vege shop is a pet shop. I pop in and say ‘hi’ to the inmates and let them have a lick and a gnaw on a finger.

Yesterday they had three chocolate labrador puppies, all sad eyes and big paws. They also had a Bengalese kitten, four months old. As it grows the markings will darken and the coat will lighten so the colouring will be even more dramatic. It’s a female and all its brothers and sisters have gone so it’s lonely and loves to play and play fight. Apparently, it loves water and can be taught to sit and come to you on command and walk on a lead and it certainly has that Asiatic ‘cry’. It is also $600 and I went home and cuddled my Chloe, who cost $125 from the SPCA and has the loveliest nature in the world and does wonderful catty stretchy exercises and doesn’t cry at all, she just chirrups.

Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling

Today is National Drink Wine Day. Oh good. Actually I don’t drink a lot of alcohol. I do like a glass of Riesling, especially the superb Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling.

I like bourbon, but a single within a long drink of L & P ( a New Zealand made mixer with a lemon flavour) and there’s a pre-mix vodka based milk shake drink called a “Mudshake” which comes in a yummy pina colada flavour. It’s like drinking a milkshake and you drink it too quickly and want another one. In my (not very) misspent youth I used to like Harvey Wallbangers and Fluffy Ducks – both cocktails. Both taste like non-alcoholic drinks so you drink too many and then can’t stand up. Because my excursions into the world of being drunk were rare, I remember them well. I remember being in the UK in 1980 and drinking too much at a race meeting and the next day someone had the bright idea of going to the Windsor Safari Park so we were in a car, in the middle of Summer, with the windows wound up and terrible hangovers.

Enough of this. I went to a chocolate factory yesterday, in the interests of research. Before you say, “a likely story,” the next instalment of the “Blood and Wine” trilogy will centre around chocolate and the making of wine filled chocolates. It will be from Anna’s point of view and will feature a battle royal with the strong women of the dastardly Lane family… and will have to feature some kind of death by chocolate. So it was necessary to see how chocolate is created, tempered and how chocolates are filled etc. And I had a bowl of hot chocolate made with real melted Belgian milk chocolate and hot milk, spoils you for Milo in  so many ways. Rotten job, research, but someone has to do it.

“In Vino Veritas” murder and wine, now $1.99 on Smashwords with a 30% download. Have you never wanted to kill someone with a bottle of Petrus?

Lunchtime and perhaps a wee half glass of Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling….



“In Vino Veritas” A Book Uncorked

Once again a blog of shameless self promotion…well you have to admit it has been awhile since the last one. And today I have something to celebrate…

After months of writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting and correcting, my new ‘baby’ is done, cooked, bottled and has been unlaunched on the unsuspecting public. It is a ‘wine crime’ book, now, who knew that was such a sub-genre of crime fiction? If you give your characters glasses of wine to drink, then kill them, does that make it a ‘wine crime’ book?

So I took the finished manuscript and I formatted it for Amazon, which means a page break after every chapter and all the right “stuff” in the front and back pages. It goes through three different conversion formats and then…no problem at all, it is reviewed and a few hours later it is ‘Live’.

and for the UK

You need to write a Product Description to entice people to part with a little of their hard earned money in return for your entertaining world of characters. But there are things I didn’t want to give away, so I constructed it carefully:

“Vinnie Whitney-Ross is passionate about wine, he sells it, he talks about it, he lives it and he drinks it. He, and his wife, Anna, enjoy their life in the heart of London, a life that revolves around wine and chocolate. Then a twist of fate puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time and he witnesses two gruesome murders. By another twist of fate he knows the murderer, from another life long ago. He’s left with no choice and in order to survive he must commit a terrible crime.

In return for testifying against his childhood friend, he receives immunity and both he and Anna are placed in witness protection. He fulfils his dream, instead of selling wine he gets to make it. They buy a boutique winery on an island off the coast of New Zealand and, with new names and new identities, they continue Rocky Bay’s fine tradition of exquisite Bordeaux blends.

But festival success brings recognition and recognition brings danger. Some very nasty men are hunting Vinnie to convince him to rescind his testimony. Everything is at stake, his precious wife, his dog, his winery, it is time to stand and fight…and add to the rising body count.

“In Vino Veritas” is the first in a trilogy of crime novellas featuring Vinnie and Anna Whitney-Ross and Detective Inspector Peter Harper. Death by a bottle of Petrus, death by drowning in a vat of must…In Wine, Truth. “

So far, so good. Then I had to format it for Smashwords and that is waaaaaaaaaaaaay harder. I do the nuclear method, which means you take your manuscript and copy it and put it into Notebook. That ‘nukes’ all the formatting, all the italics and all the subscript etc. and then you copy it back into a clean, empty word document. Then you re-enter all the formatting using their guide to the absolute letter of the law. Then you submit it and cross your fingers. And it comes out approved!! So you do a small dance around the room at 11.45pm and pat yourself on the back. This means it’s approved for the Smashwords Premiere Catalogue and will be distributed to all the other e-retailers, itunes, Sony, Barnes and Noble etc. I had a record to maintain, none of my books have ever been rejected on the first attempt and I wasn’t going to give that record up without a fight!

Then the promotion starts, a Facebook page:!/pages/In-Vino-Veritas/168826483225829?sk=app_208195102528120

And Tweets and posting on forums and blogs. I had a list of people who had emailed and said lovely things about “The Secret Keeper” and asked to be notified when new work was uploaded, so I have contacted them.

Is is selling? Yes, it has sold a few, but it is only Day One and this is a marathon, most definitely not a sprint.

The most important thing is I can call myself a writer. I have sold 21,000 copies over five months and have several lovely reviews. This is all I’ve ever wanted to be and I could, honestly, die tomorrow and be perfectly happy and content with my achievement. I have the start of a trilogy up there and now I have to fulfil my promise to my readers and write the next installment.

If you like wine, crime, witty dialogue, unusual ways to die, gorgeous vineyards and you just want to give an indie writer a hand, have a look at “In Vino Veritas.” If you know anyone who might also like all of the ab0ve, spread the word. I shall pause, with my fingers above the keyboard, and know that you have and I shall smile.


Afternoon Enchantment

Yesterday I picked Lucas up from school at 3pm. It was hot. A really hot Summer day. We went to Lillypad, a local cafe and sculpture park. We wandered through the gardens and looked at ceramic animals of all shapes and sizes and discussed the sculptures made from bits of metal and engines. The lady in the art shop was fantastic and she explained to him how everything was made. We played in the sand pit. There was no one else around so we could bury treasure on a pirate infested island and play sandstorms and quicksand.

Then we went and had a cool refreshing swim. There are few sensations I love more than diving into cool water on a baking hot day. He is very confident on the kickboard now and motors up and down the pool by himself. There’s a blowup orca and I was the penguin going out to sea to get fish for my baby and running the gauntlet of the orca to get back to the ice. All hail the “Frozen Planet.” Picking up a delighted child so he can pluck a ripe plum from a tree is up there with my favourite things and it was a perfect Summer afternoon.

This morning I am formatting the new book for Amazon and Smashwords and soon it will be launched on an unsuspecting world. Then this afternoon I shall pick up my buddy and we may well go blueberry picking, or if it is just too hot for that we may come home and paint plaster dinosaurs with paint and glitter.

It’s like having a grandchild or a great-nephew all to yourself, with time and patience to explore the world through the great questioning eyes of a child. He asks questions constantly, what do frogs eat? Why are the big goldfish separate from the small goldfish? How do these rocks hold the sun’s heat? How do you make metal bits stick together? Why do spiders have eight legs? If I don’t have the answer he often has a plausible opinion and we discuss how we’ll find the answer. His imagination goes from one story to the next with lightening speed and he can play five different games with one spade and a pit of sand, add a tip truck and a rake and you’ve got five more.

On the way home from the farm we played dinosaur music and sang (or croaked as the case may be) along to “Triceratops Rock” and “I am a Stegosaurus and you can call me Pete.”  These are our afternoons and this is a summer of discovery, I know who is the most blessed and it ain’t Lucas.


Of Festivals and Sales

My favourite quote this week comes from my favourite programme of all time, The West Wing:
“You disgust me”
“I don’t think we discussed you at all.”
That’s why you can watch this programme more than once or twice and pick up new things every time. The dialogue is so brilliant and witty and sharp and fast, you laugh and you miss the next thing. I believe everyone who wants to write dialogue for any form of writing, and especially for film and TV, should be made to demonstrate that they’ve watched The West Wing in its entirety before they’re commissioned for anything.

Last year I went back to Auckland a week after we moved south for the annual Readers and Writers Festival. It is on again in May, three days of lectures and workshops and social events and absolute fascinating bliss. Don’t know who the key speakers are yet, except for Stella Rimington and Roddy Doyle. The programme and ticketing will be released March 22nd. Absolutely can’t wait, this is one of the highlights of my year. 10 lectures, a couple of workshops, at least one dinner or hightea, 3 days of brain food!!

Last year I entered a competition there to win book vouchers and you had to come up with a pithy statement about writing. Mine was “My characters are the family I’d have if I’d been allowed to choose them myself.” And I won. I’ve emailed the festival organisers and suggested they don’t ignore the world of digital publishing, there is so much to learn when you first dip your toe into the water of publishing on Amazon and Smashwords. The faster you learn it, the more you’ll sell. A lecture on chosing your platform, the importance of a good cover and professional proof reading, pricing strategy, which promotional outlets to use, making use of the back pages of your books to plug your other work etc. would be gold dust.

Speaking of sales, I have cracked 20,000 and under the five month mark. The other retailers who distribute through Smashwords, itunes, B & N, Sony etc. report at different times and I know there are lots of 2012 figures still to come in. Barnes and Noble reported 1500 sales for January and the novel has had two short, but sweet, reviews. The other thing that’s nice about those retailers is that they pay 60% royalty, they keep 29% and Smashwords take 11% and you get the rest. So 1500 B & N sales pay you nearly twice as much as 1500 Amazon sales.

The siren call of the writing muse is ringing around the room and I must away, the second book of the “Blood and Wine” trilogy awaits my attention. And I promise there’s not a vampire in sight.

Amazon reviews, friendship and Sir David Hare

Something very nice happened this morning. I was doing my first check round the book sites and forums etc. and I found that “Our Father’s War” has another 5 star review on Amazon. Since it was reduced to Free it has had 2287 downloads and one of those people has been moved enough to post a review. Which shows you that reviews are hard to come by. I was very interested to read a famous author, with many books to her credit, asking on Twitter for people to review her latest release on Amazon the other day.

The part of the review that touched me the most was:
“Flight Lft. Hal Thomas was a Spitfire pilot in Great Britain and the Middle East and his daughter has published a collection of his letters, letters written to him and at least one official report from an engagement during the war. The letters really bring Lft. Thomas to life. You can feel his intensity to fight, as he learns for himself what the British have been going through, his disgust at those who have been shirking their duty, his joy at hearing from his family and his pain as his friends die or disappear. It’s very interesting that censorship seems to be much higher in the Middle East, than it was in Great Britain. The letters also show how normal soldiers were during the era. They like girls and want warm socks, just like the rest of us.”

If you’re interested and haven’t downloaded it, you’ll find it here

and here

The other subject that is exercising me this morning is friendship. One of my friends has a birthday today. We met in 1973 when we were 13, at school, and we’re still friends nearly 40 years later. We’ve  lived at opposite ends of the world for years, she lives in London and I live in New Zealand, but the friendship has survived and at times we have a code, a friendship shorthand, that no one else understands. Happy Birthday, sweetheart, I may not say it often, but I treasure your friendship.

I have two other friends whom I met in 1995, through work,  one now lives in Sydney and the other in Palmerston North. Both guys, both hard cases, both have enriched my life with their humour and wisdom. I have some others I’ve met more recently, one in 1998, one in 2002, two in 2004, one in 2008, mostly through work, these are special as well. You don’t see them often (especially now I live in the ‘sticks’) but when you do it’s like you’ve never been apart. And then there are the ones I remember who’ve come and gone in my life, lovely at the time, but nothing in common apart from what or who brought us together. A couple I lost contact with and shouldn’t have and miss. What makes a friendship survive I wonder? What magical mix of experiences and understanding makes a bond that stands the test of time?

Writing tips today come from Sir David Hare, a British playwright, screenwriter and director. He’s had a long and distinguished career but the work I love the most is the screenplay he wrote for ‘The Reader’, from the novel by Bernhard Schlink. It is one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen and I still think about it sometimes. See it.

1. Write only when you have something to say.

2. Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.

3. Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.

4. If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.

5. Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

6. Theatre primarily belongs to the young.

7. No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

8. Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.

9. Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

10. The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”.

Life’s subtext

Every so often you have a day of genuine subtext. What I mean by that is living at more than just the surface level of daily activities. Life does operate on many levels. You eat, sleep, breath on one level and do your usual chores, housework, shopping, gardening on another and deal with repercussions of past actions and plan for your future on another.

Yesterday I read the paper, went shopping and bought some plants for the garden, planted them and turned over the soil in the vege patch again, did a washing and hung it on the line, ate three meals (including a lovely spring lamb chop with new potatoes, miniature carrots and silverbeet from the garden), picked Lucas up from school and played a game about a toy zebra having a conversation with a whale shark, helped him make a birthday card for his Dad, did the ‘tickle dance’ with him in the kitchen, fixed a broken dinosaur tail with glue (as you do), read and knitted yet another square for the Big Blanket Project while I watched a TV programme about Ronnie Biggs on the Discovery Channel, then did two hours writing draft two of the next novel….all in all, just another brick in the wall.

Yet underneath all that normal stuff,  book ‘sales’ of my suddenly free book on Amazon climbed from 529 to 1122. And for much of the day I was rated number one in the memoir rankings for free books. Number two was Mark Twain. And in the paid ranking number one was Steve Jobs. That was a touch surreal. I also ‘sold’ forty copies of ‘The Secret Keeper’ on Smashwords.

People saw my note at the end of “Our Father’s War” and they visited this blog, read about me and clicked through to Smashwords to see my other books. So the theoretical system of cross-promotion does, in fact, work.

So on we go, gardening, writing, living and being a #1 ranked Kindle author, ah, the subtext of life!

Vulcanologist in the making


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