The Covenant and the low heat of technology: Bookish words by Thorne Moore #MondayBlogs

Interesting post here from Thorne Moore, whose new novel, The Covenant, is coming out in August, and is set in West Wales in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Set a novel in that period in a city, in London or Manchester, and it wouldn’t be difficult to paint a period that everyone with any knowledge of history would recognise.

My characters would be flag-waving for the Empire and possibly their sons would be out there, carrying our trade and accompanying our adventurers around the world, whether the indigenous people wanted us or not. They might be soldiers embroiled in Afghanistan (plus ça change) or crushing rebellions in China and fighting wars in South Africa and the trenches of Europe. They could be participating in administrations that were starving millions in India, or they could be at home working in the clamour of industry, in cotton mills or ironworks, in banks and shops.

Motorised vehicles were appearing and my characters would travelling around on bicycles or in omnibuses. They would be totally at home with the railways that could carry them to every corner of the land. If they were very daring and very rich, they might even be taking to the air. They would have gas lighting in their houses or, if grand enough, might be installing electricity (although my mother, living in Cardiff in the 1920s and early 30s, still had gas lights in the living rooms and candles upstairs). Their world would have been quite recognisable to the reader, industrialised, confident, profiteering and surging forward.

But a novel set in rural West Wales is going to lack most of those markers that would help a reader place it in time. It’s an area that, until recently, has existed in an alternative time zone out of kilter with the rest of the world. It wasn’t surging anywhere. Even when I moved to the area in the early 1980s, I felt I was slipping into somewhere still marooned in the 1950s, if not earlier. Researching for my first novel, A Time For Silence, set in the 1930s and 40s, I read newspaper articles on the introduction of electricity in the 1950s – and that was just in the towns. Official reports had noted the poor housing, hygiene and malnutrition prevalent in rural Wales at the start of the twentieth century and it was still being blamed for the high level of TB in 1939. A diet of potatoes and tea was not uncommon.

In the 1980s we were told about an old lady, in living memory, who used to live a few doors away in what must have been a traditional long house, with cows occupying one half of the building. Each morning the cows would come in, through her front door and hall,  politely tilting their heads so their horns wouldn’t disturb the pictures on the walls, as they made their way into the milking parlour. 

The gentry of the area would not have been troubled by primitive housing or malnutrition and they probably had homes in London as well as their country estates. They would have been au fait with everything fashionable, modern and advanced, but ordinary people, who had never moved far beyond their own parishes, were still living in a world only a very small shuffle removed from the world of their ancestors one or two hundred years before.

West Wales was not totally isolated in world terms. Ships were sailing to America from ports like Cardigan, Newquay and Aberystwyth in the 19th century, but inland the area lagged behind. Railways had been threading through the country, expanding horizons spectacularly since 1825, but branches only extended into North Pembrokeshire towards the end of the century – to Cardigan in 1886, and Fishguard in 1906.

the Cardi Bach

Motor cars began to appear in the 1890s – the first one was driven on British roads in 1895. By 1900, when Prince Bertie acquired one, there were still only a few hundred in Britain. Very few would have made their way to West Wales, especially to isolated villages where roads were still mud tracks.

In the big world, agriculture was becoming ever more mechanised, with mowers, reapers and binders, seed drills, steam engines and, finally in the 20th century, tractors. But these were not for the small-scale farmers with a few acres.


In The Covenant, a relatively wealthy farmer acquires a tractor in the course of the Great War, but the Owens, with their 24 acres, 1 rood and 8 perches, continue to rely on sickles and scythes. Partly poverty and partly an obstinate but pious determination to labour as Adam had done.

By 1919, the wealthy farmer has the luxury of a Ford Model T, but the Owens are still using a horse and trap or taking a daring ride on the charabanc from the nearest market town.

Newspapers were in circulation and, like every other community in Britain, from the largest city to the smallest hamlet, my characters feel the impact of the Great War, the shared patriotism and the private grief. But it is their little patch of land that really matters to them, not the fate of the Empire. It’s their minister’s decision to become a missionary that really opens up their horizons and that’s a matter of the next world, not this one.

The Covenant

published by Honno Press August 20th 2020

available for pre-order now

www.thornemoore.co.uk

A time for Celebration for Readers: Goldstone Books Shop Reopens! #Goldstonebooks #MondayBlogs

Book lovers in West Wales celebrate! This week, bookshops are beginning the careful process of re-opening as part of a phased exit from the coronavirus lockdown.

And Goldstone Books of Carmarthen, West Wales is one of them

It’s been a long and challenging time for bookshops, who have been forced to come up with imaginative new ways to sell their books and keep loyal customers happy customers during this time

But, as long as they meet guidelines to protect staff and shoppers, they can now open their doors. And, in preparation, Goldstone Books have been working on plans to enable social distancing measures – from reduced opening hours to limits on how many customers can enter at once, amongst other safety measures.

In times of crisis, we have to think of new ways to look out for each other, and the book community is no exception. If you’re looking to stock up on reading material, then look no further than this popular bookshop with friendly staff.

“You can’t beat a good book and a warm cuppa”.

I interviewed one of the staff at Goldstone to ask them how things have been during these difficult months

How did you adapt your services in lockdown?

The shop closed but the online business continued including selling new stock usually only available from the shop.

Did you need to find different ways to connect with prospective customers?

We maintained online and social media presence and offered online book clubs

Have you found that your usual customers have stayed with you?

Yes, we have very loyal customers

How difficult was it  to change your live events into online events and in what way have you  adapted?

Book clubs on line as zoom events. But we made the decision not to try to duplicate this with readings and other events for now.

Please tell us how people can buy books from you?

The shop is now open!

Message from Goldstons:

Thank you to our lovely customers who have supported us this week as we reopened. It has been wonderful to connect with you again and we look forward to seeing you in the future. “

Find Goldstone Bookshop, Carmarthen

https://www.facebook.com/Goldstonebooks/

Why Honno? Just Asking the Question. @Honno #authors

Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.

Why Honno was a question I wanted to ask each of the following Honno authors when I started the interviews with them over the last few months.

I mean, I knew why I liked being published by Honno:

Judith Barrow

Honno  is my kind of publisher; small, independent, and led by strong women who know what kind of  books they want to publish and don’t accept anything but the best that an author can produce. So the editing is hard, but fair, and leads to many discussions – and a few compromises on both sides.
Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So, often, when I’ve appeared at events, people are surprised to hear my broad Northern English accent. The supposition is false; Honno’s aim as an inspiring, feminist, Welsh press is to provide opportunities for women writers. The only proviso is that they are either Welsh, are living in Wales or have a connection to the country – which actually covers a great many writers. I love their strapline -. “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” So it always gives me a thrill when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by them.

I’ve had experience of having an agent, of being asked to conform to the commercial market; to fit in. And it wasn’t for me. As a creative writing tutor, I’ve spent the last couple of decades encouraging students to “write in their own voices”. So when the agent told me I needed to conform if I wanted to be published by one of the big publishing companies, I knew it wasn’t for me. This, after she’d placed me with a commercial editor who, not only wanted me to write in a different way, but also wanted me to write in a different genre.”The talent and skill as a writer is there but you need to be open to change.”, was the advice.

I took it; I changed from being a client with an agent ( who had, after all, accepted me on the strength of my first book) to seeking other outlets for my work.

I was lucky, I found Honno.

But, enough about me.

But, enough about me.

Honno’s mission is to publish Welsh women writers – for the purposes of submission to Honno this means that you must be a woman born in Wales or resident in Wales at the time of submission. Honno also publishes titles of exceptional interest to women within Wales from writers who may not meet the first two criteria i.e. that they are female and that they are of Welsh birth or residence.

I started each of the interviews with the statement:”My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We’ve met up in real life on many occasions…”

That being said, the question all the Honno authors were glad to answer was:What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?”

To learn more about the authors and their books, please click on their names

In order of appearance their replies:

Thorne Moore:

It’s a small press, which means it’s personal. Maybe famous sportsmen or ex-cabinet ministers can be lauded (promoted) to the skies by big publishers, but most of their less famous authors tend to be lost in a very impersonal ocean, with very little one-to-one attention. They are names on a spreadsheet. With Honno, you know the team and they know you. You feel far more valued, even if the big bucks aren’t there.

And there’s the fact that Honno is a Women’s Press, run by women, publishing women (as well as being Welsh, of course). It’s not an anti-man thing, but I grew up in the era of the rising tide of women’s lib, when women didn’t just sit around arguing their case but took really positive actions to prove themselves, such as setting up publishing companies like Virago. Unlike others, Honno is still going strong and flying the flag.”.

Carol Lovekin

The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.

A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.”

Alison Layland

It feels like being part of a close-knit family. The small but dedicated and talented Honno team are accessible and supportive at all stages of the process, and it’s been lovely to become friends with so many of the other Honno authors. We’re a wonderful community, and although we’re scattered all over Wales and beyond, it’s particularly lovely when we get to meet up in person.

Wendy White

When I was writing ‘Not Thomas’ I knew exactly where I wanted to send it when I’d finished, and that was to Honno. I’d long admired their work and I loved the fact that they’re a female-only press and have a committee of women who decide what to publish. Added to that was my huge respect for Caroline Oakley, a Honno editor who had worked closely in a previous role for a number of years with (the aforementioned) Ian Rankin. I was absolutely delighted when I heard from Caroline that Honno were going to publish ‘Not Thomas’ and my whole experience of being part of the Honno family has been fantastic. All the staff and other authors are extremely supportive and go out of their way to make everyone welcome. I’m constantly recommending Honno to my female friends who are writers. It may be a small indie press but it commands huge respect and publishes wonderful books.”

Jan Newton

“I love the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.”

Jane Fraser

I think with Honno, my forthcoming novel has found the perfect home with the UK’s longest-standing independent press that champions Welsh women and Welsh writing. I am proud that I now find myself among a list of authors I so admire.

Alys Einion

First, the fact that I am published by a women’s press is a major achievement. I grew into my own identity reading books by Honno and other women’s presses, and I felt that there must be something really special about authors who are published by smaller presses who can’t afford to take a gamble in the way in a bigger publishing house could. I am in awe of my fellow Honno authors, and I really do feel honoured to be in their company. It is so great to have a good relationship with my editor, and the community of Honno authors is so supportive and helpful. It is a huge plus to not have to have an agent to get your work read. I could paper my wall with rejection slips and after a while it just wears you down. Then there’s that personal experience of being nurtured by an editor who really knows her stuff and is invested in making sure your work is the best it can be.  

I think with Honno, the authors are all excellent, and that kind of sets a standard. It makes me strive to be better, to be worthy of the association. And it’s a feminist press, so what’s not to like?

Juliet Greenwood

I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable. Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author.”

Hilary Shepherd

Text Box:

The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.”

Jo Verity

The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.”

Jacqueline Jacques

My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.

Stevie Davies

“Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.

Submitting your work

Honno is always interested in receiving unsolicited manuscripts  but currently does not intend to publish  poetry, works for children, novellas or short story collections by a single author. Honno does publish full length works of fiction and non-fiction for adults (manuscripts of between 60,000 and 120,000 words).

Honno is open to all genres of fiction and is particularly interested in increasing the number of literary fiction, crime/thriller, commercial women’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy titles it publishes. Honno is also building a list of non-fiction works to include biography (untold tales of remarkable Welsh women, places and industries), memoir, nature and travel writing. For a good idea of the types of work Honno is interested in study the Books pages on this site and the Editor’s blog posts.

However, whatever kind of work you are submitting, please ensure that you meet Honno’s criteria (see ‘Submission guidelines’ below) BEFORE doing so.

Honno is keen to publish work that shows all sides of life in Wales, but will consider stories not set within Wales. Honno is a feminist publisher and that influences the kinds of work selected for publication.

During the Coronavirus crisis we are happy to take submissions by email. Please attach your covering letter and submission and email it to post@honno.co.uk with ‘submission – your name ‘ as the subject line

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/b/judith-barrow/

Honoured to be included in a Post Written by Thorne Moore (Alongside Jane Austen No Less!!)

Thorny matters

Home, Hearth and Murder – domestic drama

Back in 1816, Jane Austen (yes, I always try to bring her into anything if I can) commiserated with her nephew when he reported that he had lost 2 whole chapters of his own tentative novel. She hadn’t stolen them, she promised. “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Being Jane Austen, she was, of course, being ironic, suggesting that her own writing was on such a slight and insignificant scale. Sir Walter Scott recognised that her work was fair more powerful than a little bit of ivory would allow. “The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”

And yet critics have dared to complain that Austen’s novels are too limited, confined to “three or four families in a country village,” when all around her, the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the French Terror, the Napoleonic wars were playing out. She knew well enough what great dramas were happening out there. A cousin’s husband was guillotined, an aunt was hauled off to prison, two brothers were serving in the navy, and yet she chose to concentrate on a small group of people interacting on a tiny stage as if the outside world didn’t exist. But what Jane Austen appreciated was that there is just as much emotional and psychological drama to be found in closed families as on wide battlefields.

I write about crime. My genre has been defined as Domestic Noir and it always focuses on the dark dynamics at work within a family, a neighbourhood, a close circle of friends. Does that mean it lacks the drama of a crime novel set, say, among Columbian drug barons, or the Mafia, or human traffickers or crooked financiers in the city? It probably lacks the extreme gore of a hard-boiled thriller. I work on the assumption that lashing out wildly and causing a loved one’s death with a misplaced blow is just as tragic and dramatic as a gruesome plot involving a victim’s head being chewed off by a bear.

Domestic drama might lack the fast pace of mainstream crime fiction too. It tends to be a matter of a slow burn, rising gradually to a rolling boil, scalding oil and an all-consuming blaze. That’s what I like, because it is what goes on in families – and with isolating lock-down, even more so. You don’t have to look to the scheming world of international crime or the grimy nastiness of the underworld to discover every facet of human emotion – thundering passion, consuming rage, seething jealousy, love, hope, disappointment, despair, joy, triumph, resentment, remorse. They are all there, simmering behind lace curtains.

Judith Barrow’s latest book, The Memory, proves the point exactly. Following the story of Irene from young girl greeting the birth of her beloved Downs Syndrome sister to aging carer of a mother with dementia, it is an exquisite study of how family ties and stresses stir up every possible joy and anguish from deep protective love to long-nursed hatred, with sheer bloody exhaustion nudging inexorably towards a fatal brink.

Read it and tell me a domestic drama can’t shake the reader as much as a shoot-out in bank vaults or torture in a cellar.

The Memory by Judith Barrow

www.thornemoore.co.uk

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Thorne Moore #TuesdayBookBlog

 My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with my friend, Thorne Moore.

Hi Thorne, glad you are with us today.

It’s good to be here, Judith.

Let’s start by you telling us a little about yourself, please.

I was born in Luton, but my mother came from Cardiff and I went to Aberystwyth University, so it was a bit like reclaiming my Welsh heritage when I moved to Wales in 1983 to run a restaurant with my sister. I live now in north Pembrokeshire, in an old farm cottage on the site of a mediaeval mansion, overlooking forests and valleys and very nearly in sight of the sea. I am just retiring from 40 years of making miniature furniture for collectors, and I write, garden, write, cook, write, walk… oh, and write.

When did you start writing?

I was certainly writing seriously when I was at school, because I remember sitting on a radiator during a wet break (prefect’s privilege), telling a friend I was writing a book – and I was enormously relieved that she didn’t laugh. In a way, I began very young, though not by putting the words down on paper. I was a daydreamer. Every Sunday we went for a drive around Bedfordshire and I would sit in the back, daydreaming long elaborate stories. I was always slightly irritated if my brother or sister wanted to talk to me. By the time I was at university, I knew that writing was the only thing I wanted to do.

What genre do you write in and why?

I began with fantasy, moved into Science Fiction and now drift between contemporary domestic noir and historical mysteries. But really there isn’t much difference in my mind between the genres. All my books of any genre have two underlying themes. How do people react, psychologically, when they are confronted by a traumatic situation that shakes them out of their comfort zones? And what are the consequences of an event? Not just the immediate consequence but consequences in the far future. Someone once said history is just one damned thing after another. In reality, it’s one damned thing leading to another, a never-ending stream. Situations are never just resolved and put to bed. They leave footprints out to the horizon.

How important is location in your novels?

Extremely important. In fact, when my books are set in a particular house, like the cottage of Cwmderwen in A Time For Silence and The Covenant, or Llysygarn, the mansion in Shadows and Long Shadows, they are almost the main character in the books. But the general location is also very important. It gives me an excuse to breathe in and breathe out the spirit of a place. Some of my books are set in north Pembrokeshire, where I live, which is a very isolated and enclosed area, utterly rural, all wooded valleys and high open hills – and, of course, the sea – and I couldn’t imagine those books being set anywhere else.

In contrast, others of my books (Motherlove and The Unravelling) have an urban setting, the fictional town of Lyford which is based very closely on my birth town of Luton. Even though it’s a wide web of Victorian terraces and suburban semis, I find myself automatically focussing the most emotional moments on the green places, which are always imbued with a certain mystery of their own, whether it’s Portland Park (closely modelled on Wardown Park in Luton) or an old farm lane, still clinging on in the midst of post-war expansion.

In The Unravelling, I do take my character Karen on a tour of England and Wales in search of old friends, finishing up on the Chilterns, in an area based on Ashridge, where I spent many childhood Sundays. I live in an area of igneous bluestone, forested with oak and ash, but I still nurse a longing for chalk downs and beechwoods

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Jane Austen. It’s her scalpel wit, her elegantly precise language, and her powers of observation of personalities, reactions, impulses and inhibitions, along with economic realities, all played out on settings so minimal they could be chessboards. Her novels are not romances, they are studies of how people reach decisions while navigating between personal desires and public pressures.

Where do you write?

Physically, in my bedroom, with the laptop on my lap in bed, or at my desk. Mentally, while walking up and down my lane after dinner (the joys of having a farm lane to walk along, at this physical distancing time).

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Now you know that’s like asking a mother who is her favourite child. How can I possibly say?  I am inside all of them, feeling with them, even when they’re annoying or slightly insane, or even wicked. Which one would I actually like to spend time with? Possibly Angharad in Long Shadows. Or, if I were cast up on a desert island with one of them, it would have to be Leah, in my new novel, The Covenant, (to be published in August), because she might be rather waspish, but she’d be extremely competent and sort things out.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I am disgraceful in that I usually do very little research because I’m mostly concerned with what’s going on in people’s heads. When writing anything historical, I mostly rely on my past historical studies (school, university and general reading). Occasionally, when I have to be specific about things, I force myself. My latest book, The Covenant, required a fair bit of research to match my story (set between 1883 and 1922) with events in the wide world, or the narrow world of Pembrokeshire. My third novel, The Unravelling, shifts between the present day, 2000 and the mid 1960s. The 1960s, seen through the eyes of a child, didn’t require much research at all: I just dredged up my own childhood memories of home-made frocks and pink custard. But the millennium needed real research. It seems such a short while ago but the world has changed utterly. That part of the book involves searching for long-lost friends. How would it have been done back in a time when we didn’t have broadband or Facebook and mobile phones were still a novelty.

My favourite research was for A Time For Silence because, although it was published in 2012, early versions of it were written quite a few years before, when the internet was an erratic thing of limited use, so I had to get out there on my hind legs and look for information, so, searching for information about Pembrokeshire in the 1930s and 40s, I spent many happy hours pouring over old newspapers in the National Library of Wales – something I make my character Sarah do although, in reality, she could probably have done all her research on-line.   

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.

It’s a small press, which means it’s personal. Maybe famous sportsmen or ex-cabinet ministers can be lauded (promoted) to the skies by big publishers, but most of their less famous authors tend to be lost in a very impersonal ocean, with very little one-to-one attention. They are names on a spreadsheet. With Honno, you know the team and they know you. You feel far more valued, even if the big bucks aren’t there.

And there’s the fact that Honno is a Women’s Press, run by women, publishing women (as well as being Welsh, of course). It’s not an anti-man thing, but I grew up in the era of the rising tide of women’s lib, when women didn’t just sit around arguing their case but took really positive actions to prove themselves, such as setting up publishing companies like Virago. Unlike others, Honno is still going strong and flying the flag.

I’ve heard a whisper that there will be a new book coming out soon? Would like to give us a hint about that?

Well, Its the Prequel to Time for Silence and Honno have given me a publication date of August 18th

Ah, yes, I found this tantalising description of it.

The Owens are tied to this Pembrokeshire land – no-one will part them from it dead or alive.

Leah is tied to home and hearth by debts of love and duty – duty to her father, turned religious zealot after the tragic death of his eldest son, Tom; love for her wastrel younger brother Frank’s two motherless children. One of them will escape, the other will be doomed to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps.

At the close of the 19th century, Cwmderwen’s twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches are hard won, the holding run down over the years by debt and poor harvest. But they are all the Owens have and their rent is always paid on time. With Tom’s death a crack is opened up and into this chink in the fabric of the family step Jacob John and his wayward son Eli, always on the lookout for an opportunity.

Saving her family, good and bad, saving Cwmderwen, will change Leah forever and steal her dreams, perhaps even her life.”

The Covenant is the shocking prequel to the bestselling A Time For Silence:

Honno page for ordering: https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/m/thorne-moore/

email: thornemoore@btinternet.com

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