Friday, 18 January 2019

Lost Solace - Audiobook Now Available


The tense sci-fi Lost Solace is now also available as an audiobook. Marisha Tapera did an amazing job as the producer and narrator, able to easily switch between scenes of suspense, scenes of action, and scenes of dialogue. I particularly loved the distinction between Opal and Clarissa's voices, since so much depends on it being right. In fact, I was smiling at the interplay between the characters. The laconic and warm-but-controlled tones of Opal were a wonderful contrast to Clarissa, with her childishly-enthusiastic-yet-also-slightly-inhuman cadences. Marisha's voice is really clear and has a rich quality that makes it pleasant to listen to, and her performance was so good that I laughed at parts which brought out the humour, and felt my neck hairs prickle at the emotional highpoints.

Bonus for my fans! I have a few US and UK codes that give a free audiobook copy of Lost Solace on Audible. If you have read and left reviews for my work and want a free audiobook copy on Audible, get in touch! I have codes for my previous audiobooks too (see below).

You can buy all my books here, but these are quick links for the audiobook versions:
Or go to the Audible options for individual books:
  • Lost Solace UK / US
  • Turner UK / US
  • They Move Below UK / US
  • Harvest Festival UK / US
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Friday, 11 January 2019

Cruce Roosters by Brent Michael Kelley


I have read almost 100 books this year. I've not had time to review many of them. I made an exception here because, just as I was getting fatigued by reading the same stories again and again with little invention, or coming across invention that wasn't backed up by good prose, I then started reading Cruce Roosters. I fell in love with this book almost immediately. At every level the first 60% absolutely gripped me and took me into the world.

So, the story. It does two things right. And these are the two things that all books need to get right, but few do. Firstly, it is wildly inventive. Almost every page there was an element that felt fresh: a turn of phrase, a world description, a new name (I loved the Longdongers team), a character, a bit of dialogue, or even a formal element (such as the adverts and inbuilt sponsorships). It was a delight. The second element is that we need a character we can identify with so that the stakes matter. We need a character that takes actions which are believable; and yet for the actions to lead to even greater stakes as the world reacts. We get this with Molly Most, whose arc goes from selfish success to loving disaster. Up to the 60% mark it just got better and better, because her successes lead her to garner attention from the horrendous all-powerful Prophit King (and even the purposeful misspelling ties in to the story and characters in a delightful way). Then we learn more about him and Molly's fate, and I reached a high of emotional investment. I was reading it on a train and arrived at my destination, yet wanted the journey to go on longer so I could carry on. This first 60% is some of the best and most inventive fiction I have read all year. I can't praise it enough. If the whole book had been like that then I'd have championed it to the hilt, forever.

(As an aside, I should also add that the third thing a book needs is good writing, to give the reader confidence in the author, and we also have that in Cruce Roosters. I loved sentences such as "Pretending to be sick all morning had really taken the energy out of her." There were a few typos, but here they didn't stop me because I was so invested in the story. Hopefully they'll disappear from later editions - I'll send the small list to the author).

So, why do I keep mentioning 60%? Well, at that point things reach a high. Molly's actions and the world's reactions have taken her to the point of realising all her options are terrible, yet she has to choose. She is in her hotel room, having had more of the world revealed in gruesome fashion, and she makes a decision. We know we're on a ride and there are many twists and turns to go.

But at this point things changed. The book was still good, but just a notch down from what had gone before, which was mildly disappointing because what went before was stellar stuff. I'll explain a bit more, because this book has earned my time.

Up until the 60% point, Molly has been active. All good characters need to be. They make choices to achieve goals, and the world reacts, and the goals may change, or the stakes go up. This is what makes compelling fiction. Let me give one example from Cruce Roosters. Molly has been "invited" (told) that she will be collected and taken to the repulsive Prophit King. Chances are that he'll molest her, yet to refuse is to invite retribution that's even worse. What a dilemma. But she doesn't give up. She decides to smoke a pile of cigarettes, hoping to put him off close contact. It's a great ploy, and it works (temporarily), keeping her safe even in the midst of multiple dangers. But he warns her not to smoke again and shows her some horrible things instead of molesting her - so her decision drives the plot, but also raises the stakes, and reduces her future options unless she adopts even more extreme measures. It's all great stuff.

At the 60% mark she makes a huge decision. This is the Winston Smith moment of rebellion, and the reader knows it could go either way, but probably badly for the protagonist. However, from the moment she chooses to get out, things change. There is some action, some world-building, but she becomes a mostly passive figure, with things done to her rather than her being the actor. All of the minutiae of her actions and the world fade away to a more passive kind of story. She stops being Molly. The new elements (aliens, Gwetch, parasites) are all still inventive, but not as much as the stuff that has gone before. In fact, in some cases they raise questions that threaten the story. But the biggest weakness is the protagonist's new passivity. She has no more meaningful choices to make. A metaphor could be when she is discovered by a potential danger in a Cruce arena at the end and she could lie still or struggle, but she openly admits the outcomes would be the same, "get her killed". She is saved by deus-ex-machina (not her own actions) as the danger is called away. And then it happens again, "and Molly was powerless", again needing saving by things beyond her control. But, to highlight the none-choice even further, we discover that the danger is actually a help, and whatever she did, she would have still been fine. The delicious action-reaction of earlier has been negated. Even at the end, she is controlled by parasitic bodily modifications which limit her choices to just repeating a message. And all that stems from the decision made at the 60% mark. Almost half the novel follows with limited actor plot-driving.

After the 60% mark we also mostly lose some of the elements that had been driving the novel. The horrendous Prophit King takes a backseat until the finale; the tense and revolting situations and interactions between him and Molly fade away; the fascinating game of Cruce and the Roosters also drops away until the finale. Instead we get new elements (aliens and Gwetch) that are still good, but just not as good as what we already had. They feel almost like a separate, but related, story as new characters, new settings, and new world elements are revealed in linear fashion.

I know it seems like I'm hammering on criticisms here, but it's also high praise. This novella is really, really good. That's a rarity. But it had the potential to be completely amazing. If the last 40% had been more of what had gone before, escalated in level and reaction, with new elements and inventiveness appearing, I feel like it could have been at that top level, and probably still had room for some of the new elements.

But that's just me.

Overall, this is a really exciting and inventive book that I highly recommend. Brent Michael Kelley's story has stood out amongst so many that I've read, and I really feel he is one to watch. If he can come up with more exciting and original plots and premises, then his next book will be an instabuy for me.

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Monday, 7 January 2019

Book Genres - Some Thoughts



Genres Are Categories

They are simplified labels that attempt to describe content.

Genres Are Useful

Genres help bookshops to know which shelf to put a book on.

Genres may help readers to find books that they like.

Genres Are Not Useful

Genres can be problematic when books, authors, and reader interests don't neatly fit into the widely-used categories - and that's more common than you'd think.

Also, authors can get pigeonholed within genres - it's why some authors use pen names when they write in a different genre. Even Stephen King tried to break out with a different name.

I have no problem with a writer who only enjoys writing in one genre doing just that - it's sensible. At the same time, it shouldn't be a shackle. Most writers want to tell stories, and that might mean writing things that fit into different genres (or none at all). More strength to that. The walls should be broken down. No-one would complain if a sculptor known for human effigies switched to sculpting dogs.

I think about this a lot because I write in multiple genres. I find it fascinating when people categorise my books in ways that I hadn't thought of. For example, one review that began with "Cold Fusion 2000 is a novel of incredible genius" (ha, I love that quote!) categorised the book as "romance". I'd never thought of it that way. The mention of romance is spot-on, in that it has romantic love as one of the strands, but it probably breaks some of the expected rules relating to "romance" as a BISAC genre (e.g. needing a clear happy-ever-after). So there are all sorts of problems with many categorisations, and unfortunately no clear answers.

It's the old issue of how to pigeon-hole books to aid discovery, without pigeon-holing books in ways that reduce diversity and experimentation.

Perhaps it's why I sometimes sigh with relief when I write a book that can be easily categorised by combining terms (e.g. "feminist action sci-fi" [Lost Solace], or "rural suspense horror" [Harvest Festival]). It sidesteps the whole issue. But even then there are intricacies - for example, I've just pigeon-holed Harvest Festival, yet in reality it isn't really about surviving a home invasion, or surviving a night in the countryside - that's just the subject matter. The themes are really to do with reconnecting with those that you love, and learning to value what is really important, and making the most of every minute we get with those we care about. Which actually makes it sound less like action-packed horror, and closer to books like Cold Fusion 2000 (which is sometimes classed as women's fiction).

What Is The Women's Fiction Genre? Is There A Better Term?

Women's fiction is a common label applied to books, as if it is clear and unambiguous - but it's not. The "women" bit refers to the target audience, not the author's sex - but why shouldn't men read good books in this genre too? The terminology of "women's fiction" implies a smaller audience than really exists, and may put off some readers. And just because someone is a woman, doesn't mean they don't prefer more clearly-defined genres such as science fiction or horror. So women's fiction isn't read by all women, or exclusively by women, so it tells us little except perhaps the prejudices of the publishers and booksellers, in the same way that if I look at women's slippers in a shoe shop they all have pink hearts, bows or pompoms on (even though many women say they hate those things). So how should we classify these books?
 
Commercial fiction sidesteps the silly "these are books for only one sex" categorisation, though commercial fiction is a large umbrella that probably covers most of what gets published in various genres - crime, horror, thrillers and so on. It's all commercial because it is all popular, or at least the publishers intend it to sell well and count as mass-market fiction. But it's silly to categorise books by their estimated sales potential. How does that help readers? One commercial fiction title and another have nothing in common in terms of stories, settings or characters.

Some authors prefer the term contemporary fiction. Unfortunately it doesn't mean a lot except "fiction written fairly recently that doesn't fit into any other neat category". As such, all sorts of disparate books are also contemporary fiction, and liking one contemporary fiction title is again no guarantee that you'll like the next, because they have so little in common. The contemporary fiction categorisation also confuses things in other ways - what if the book is set in the past? It is contemporary in terms of when it is written (for now ...), but not when it is set.

There's also literary fiction, which some authors toy with as a term, though it can be a bit of a poisoned chalice, connected with boring books that win prizes and get applauded by critics but which make many normal readers fall asleep (don't ever get me started on Sophie's World, or Life Of Pi). Obviously that isn't true of all literary fiction, but it is the reputation it has (along with being "difficult" or "requiring work") among many readers. It can also appear elitist in other ways, implying books without the "literary fiction" tag don't have literary qualities such as clever structure or in-depth character portraits or innovative use of language. And, again, books in this category can be wildly different in terms of settings and quality and readability, so it isn't always much help to the bemused reader.

Alternatives To Genres?

At one point I played around with the idea of getting rid of fiction genres and instead describing all stories via three elements (which could be used for films as well as books):

1: Form (e.g. short story, novel, novella; musical, animation, mockumentary)
2: Subject (e.g. horror, politics, romance)
3: Setting (e.g. fantasy, historical, western)

Then I realised that is as flawed and stupid as the system I wanted to replace, and I gave up.

Please let me know what you think!

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Friday, 21 December 2018

Best Kick-ass Heroine Award 2018


Opal and Clarissa (Lost Solace) are the double winners of the Best Kick-ass Heroine Award 2018 in the Jera's Jamboree Best Fiction Books 2018 list!

"I loved the fact we have two (I’m counting Clarissa, the AI in this) strong female leads who make split second decisions from very limited options, showing true grit and resilience. Who are not adverse to breaking the rules to get what’s needed and pushing through to the end and yet are loyal and steadfast. An appearance from a senior member of the military only serves to highlight issues of freedom and morality. Do you follow what you know to be true or do you bend your knee to the hierarchy? It’s not until later on that we find out for sure what drives Opal’s behaviour. For once it didn’t matter to me.  She had my vote from the beginning. All readers will be able to able to identify with the psychology that underpins the story as well as feel a connection to Opal."

The reviews of Lost Solace constantly state that Opal and Clarissa (the AI), and their relationship, are core to why the book appeals to so many people. You can read an interview between Opal and Clarissa here. I'm so proud of how well this book is doing!

An update for fans: the audiobook is almost finished, and the narrator is so good that my neck hairs prickled when I listened to it. The sequel - Chasing Solace - has been written, and is just finishing the beta reading process. Chasing Solace will be out in 2019, answering many of the questions from the past, plus "what happens next?"




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Thursday, 6 December 2018

Bad Language

1. Some American junk-food thingy in Scotland

I'm doing my "Bad Language" post in a different way, this time. Starting with the (easy) image above and working your way down, see if you can spot what annoyed me about the use of language in each image. Click to see bigger versions. One of them is VERY tricky, so I doubt if anyone will guess all seven. Answers below.

2. Joel Black Knives

3. Rock Paper Shotgun

4. Mother Dirt

5. Ebay


7. Pumpernickel


Answers

  • 1. Some American junk-food thingy in Scotland: (I think it calls itself KFC, which stands for "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" according to this acronym site). Easy one here. In the UK we say "through", not "thru". I'm sure that in the US "thru" may be their norm, just as KFC's corporate norm would be US dollars, and full US language: but this is a junk-food place in Scotland. If a Chinese company set up an outlet in the US they'd be expected to follow US law, US customs and norms of behaviour, and use US English. I think US companies should show the same respect in return. And they know this - I'm sure KFC wouldn't mention fannies in a UK advert. What's even stranger is that they're not being consistent with their language, since they use partial UK English and partial US language, which is laziness or ignorance on the corporation's part. Though it is kind of irrelevant, since I'm not keen on junk-food places, heavily focussed on animal products, and take-aways which add to the amount of litter and throwaway packaging.
  • 2. Joel Black Knives: presumably they don't award a prize to everyone entering. What they should have said is "Enter for a chance to win."
  • 3. Rock Paper Shotgun: prepositions are needed with certain words. We talk about topic X, not talk topic X. This error occurs when people get mixed up between the verbs talk and discuss (for the latter no preposition is needed: "We talk about spelling" but " We discuss spelling").
  • 4. Mother Dirt: it's the email subject line. You're done, not your done.
  • 5. Ebay: once again, the required preposition is missing. We shop for car parts, or dictionaries, or brain transplants. We do not shop car parts.
  • 6. The Mirror: Her mother ... rapped? She recited the words rapidly and rhythmically over an instrumental backing?
  • 7. Pumpernickel: apostrophe abuse. Children's menu.
How many did you guess?

Other Stuff

Recently I was reading a book by an author I liked but groaned at some of the errors. It talked about thick black arterial blood - no, that's venous blood, since arterial blood is bright red and fast-spurting. Then it talked about someone's pupil changing colour, when they meant the iris. Even when the author makes mistakes the editor should pick them up - that's our job!

Also Kettle Chips irked me. It's fine when they're sold in the US, but in UK that food is called crisps, not chips. Chips are a totally different (and 10x better) food. To me it is like calling an Eccles Cake a doughnut. (Plus Kettle Chips use environmentally-harmful complex laminate non-recyclable packaging, so I wouldn't buy their stuff anyway).

Here's a few more quickies. I read this on a forum: "everything is still in tack for you to scavenge". "Intact," not "in tack". I also read “Right of passage.” Nope. It is a “rite of passage”.

Finally, something that is not an error. I used the word "gotten" in a post and it led to a few comments such as those below:



For any people with knickers in a twist about the word "gotten" ... it is a traditional old English form, predating the United States and Canada by several centuries, and often used in the UK's north. Where I come from we'd use it as a past tense of got. "She'd gotten ill before losing her job" etc., so it was just part of the way we spoke. And if it wasn't for those pesky kids, we'd have gotten away with it. Now I'm off to spend my ill-gotten gains.

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Monday, 26 November 2018

Kendall Reviews Talks To Author Karl Drinkwater



On 5th of November I was interviewed for Kendall Reviews, a brilliant horror-focussed review site. You can read the interview over on the KR site. I've also included a backup of the article below.



KR: Coffee?


KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m an ex-librarian who now writes and edits fiction for a living. I write in multiple genres, and my author clients also cover a wide range of genres, so I never get bored! In fact, I’m fascinated by the core elements that make a good story, regardless of genre. I’ve lived in Wales for 20 years but I’ll soon be saying hwyl fawr i Gymru and moving to Scotland.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

Playing the guitar and making music with friends; playing boardgames with friends; exercise; cooking; talking to the cat. Also anything connected to stories, so that includes watching films, playing computer games, and reading.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

I have eclectic tastes, so can’t pick a single album. But music is incredibly important to me. One of my novels, 2000 Tunes, had a main character and structure inspired by Manchester music, with chapters named after key songs and albums. 2000 Tunes will be getting a new edition in 2018.


KR: What are you reading now?

I can’t say. :-) I’m chairing a judging panel in a major international horror competition, so am reading horror every single day.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I go for the middle approach. Over a year or so I come up with ideas for characters, plot events, settings and so on (as a background thing while working on other books). Then when I come to write the new work, I go through all these ideas, discarding some, connecting others, until I have a rough outline of the story and the major events. But I don’t fill in every detail. That way the characters can lead, and surprise me, and take things in different directions. It means that I have a structure so am not wasting my time writing randomly; but it is also exciting to write, because I don’t quite know what is going to happen when all the characters face the different situations. A book should be as much fun to write as it is to read – joy comes through in the words.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I research in every way possible. It depends on what the topic is. Some research is from life, and remembering how something felt when it happened. Some is from experiences – if I want to write about being freezing cold, then I’ll stand in a freezing shower until I “get it”. If it’s a topic that can be researched such as astrophysics or homelessness, then immerse yourself in it. For the horror genre, having bad dreams helps. I’m never as happy as when I have a heart-pounding nightmare about being pursued by eyeless crab men to serve as pre-digested food for acidic lobsterfarian maggots. My process usually involves a year or two of idea gathering and reading while working on other projects; then more intensive research in preparation for the first draft; then research during the rewriting process, making sure facts are correct (especially anything I made up on the fly so as not to break the flow). I like to have some experts as beta readers, who will spot any mistakes in their specialist areas.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes. I think it’s the least I can do when someone took the time to write it. I discount the ones that are obvious trolling or mistakes (luckily I don’t get many of those, but I know some authors who suffer from it a lot). I pay attention to any criticisms, and evaluate how much I agree with them – that may affect future books, or new editions. I am grateful that most of the time it is just a case of reading lovely words and praise. I share reviews on social media, often highlighting a key quote. I also include quotes from some of them on my web page about the book, linking back to the source. A few of my favourites will make it into blurbs, covers, editorial reviews, marketing materials etc.


KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

Most people have to write about ten books to get a handle on the craft of writing. There are shortcuts, such as working with really good editors. All books need editors, and proofreaders; beta readers and early reviewers are also lifesavers. Always be willing to look at criticism and evaluate it without your own feelings getting in the way. Some of my favourite editors are the ones who tell it straight. It smarts at the time, but the key thing is that you remember it and your writing is better next time. And there’s no end to it, where we are perfect writers – we’re always learning – but it does get easier with experience and professionalism. Also, don’t do it all alone. Join networks and organisations; make friends with other authors. Listen. Read. Do courses. Seek feedback. Book three or four could be your big hit.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

Whatever the reader wants. They’re customers. Lovely, intelligent, huggable, awesome customers. It’s why I don’t make my books exclusive to Amazon, or add DRM (when I have the choice) – let the reader choose where to buy their books, and let them convert between formats and devices if that’s easier for them. It’s our readers and fans and superfans that give us our living.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

Lost Solace was my first full-on sci-fi novel, and it’s been a real success. It began as a short project to tie up a NaNoWriMo, but I fell in love with the story and kept writing, and the short story ended up as a novel. Reviewers seem to like the fast pace of it, since the novel is almost real-time, with action and suspense and all sorts of creepy goings-on. They also praise the main character, Opal, who kicks arse and is backed up by an artificial intelligence spaceship called Clarissa. They’re a great team, and for most of the novel they are the only two speaking characters – something I wasn’t sure would work, but people seem to love it, and their core relationship carries the emotional heart of the book. Although Lost Solace is classed as sci-fi, it’s the kind of sci-fi you’d get if you mixed the films Alien, Pandorum and Event Horizon, because it is really a haunted house story in space. I think that’s why I had such fun with it.


KR: What are you working on now?

A sequel to Lost Solace, called Chasing Solace. I’m having a blast writing it – the first draft is 80% complete, and I have beta readers lined up, all wanting to be the first to find out what happens next. :-) I also have a collection of literary/contemporary stories with an editor. They’re tales about love, but in unexpected ways – often dark, sometimes absurd, sometimes incredibly tense. I’ve already mentioned a revamp of 2000 Tunes, which is with a different editor. And I am working with different audio producers/narrators for the audio books of Cold Fusion 2000 and Lost Solace. I’m always in awe of how talented these people are! And it ties in to making my work available in whatever way the reader likes. Once all that is out of the way I have two sequels to other books planned, and three new works, though it will probably be 2019 before I get started on any of those.

KR: Thank you very much Karl.



You can find out more about Karl via his official website www.karldrinkwater.uk
Karl’s Facebook page can be found here
Follow Karl on Twitter @karldrinkwater
You can sign up for Karl’s newsletter Tales From The Lighthouse here

Sometimes spaceships disappear with everyone on board – the Lost Ships. But sometimes they come back, strangely altered, derelict, and rumoured to be full of horrors.
Opal is on a mission. She’s been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship.
Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship, in a lonely nebula far from colonised space.
The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star, and will soon be truly lost … forever. Legends say the ships harbour death, but there’s no time for indecision.
Opal gears up to board it. She’s just one woman, entering an alien and lethal environment. But perhaps with the aid of Clarissa’s intelligence – and an armoured spacesuit – Opal may stand a chance.
You can buy Lost Solace from Amazon UK & Amazon US

First the birds went quiet.
Then the evening sky filled with strange clouds that trapped the heat below.
Now Callum wakes, dripping in sweat. Something has come to his isolated Welsh farm. If he’s going to keep his family alive during this single night when all hell breaks loose, he’ll have to think fast. And when he sees what he’s facing, he suspects even that may not be enough.
This blast of a book can be read in one nail-biting session.
You can buy Harvest Festival from Amazon UK & Amazon US



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Sunday, 18 November 2018

What Does A Writer Do On A Sunday?

What does a writer do on a Sunday? Well, today it wasn't writing.

I'm aware of lots of local movements encouraging people to take ownership of their local area - planting things, clearing litter, sweeping paths and so on. We may already pay for some of those things with our Council Tax, but in my past experience I could spend weeks trying to persuade my Council back in Wales (Ceredigion) to clear up some litter, or I could do it myself in five minutes with a lot less stress and wasted time. So I tend to favour direct action, and have joined in with community litter picks and often done my own.

I recently moved to Scotland and have talked about the community effort that goes into making our local train station/railway station so lovely. I had noticed that one of my nearby road signs and all of the pedestrian crossings had patches of algae on, sometimes obscuring part of the display and reminding me of the spreading red weed in War of the Worlds. So I took out a bucket of soapy water and sponge cleaned them, then washed them down with plain clean water. It looks a lot nicer now.

Before

It looks like pea soup, or someone sneezed



I doubt if anyone wanted to touch that


These looked like remains of civilisation after an apocalypse


During





After


All the sparkles


Yellow again, rather than green


Peace and love, my fellow beings.

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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Canadians Love Lost Solace


Many thanks to my Canadian fans. Today I woke up to find Lost Solace at #9 on the Kobo Canadian store horror category. You guys must love your sci-fi action horror! I raise a glass to you.

Lost Solace at #9 - just above a book by one of my writing heroes, Stephen King

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