Weekend Away at EDS Conference

eds wknThis weekend I shall be at the national charity Ehlers Danlos UK‘s, residential conference in Birmingham.

It’s going to be a busy and full weekend but one I’m looking forward to. There is a full timetable of exceptional speakers who are specialists in their field which is one of the reasons I’m going. It is pretty full on though, so I expect to be paying for it next week.

This is the line up for Saturday and Sunday and gives you some idea of what someone living with EDS could potentially have to deal with.

Saturday

Time Speaker Topic
7.00-8.00 Breakfast and registration
8.30am Dr Clair Francomano Chiari and cranial instability
9.15am Q&A
9.30am Dr Brad Tinkle Keynote Speaker – EDS Myths and Facts on EDS
10.15am Q&A
10.30am Break
10.45am Dr Hanna KazKaz Management Tips with EDS
11.15am Q&A
11.30am Dr Khullar The bladder and EDS
12.15 Q&A
12.30pm Lunch
1.30pm Dr Jane Simmonds What is Working? Physiotherapy and EDS – Lessons Learned from Case Studies and Research.
1.45pm Q&A
2pm Dr Netali Levi Psychological features with EDS and how best to cope
2.15pm Q&A
2.30pm Break
2.45pm Dr Alan Hakim Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
3.15pm Q&A
3.30pm Break
3.45pm Professor Aziz Gastrointestinal features of EDS
4.30pm Q&A
5pm End of sessions
7pm Zebra Ball, Auction and Entertainment

 

Sunday

Time Speaker Topic
7.00-9.00 Breakfast and registration
9am Dr Brad Tinkle Keynote Speaker – Your Child and EDS
9.45am Q&A
10am Break
10.15am Professor Rodney Grahame EDS 2014
10.45am Q&A
11am Dr Jessica Eccles Autism and ADHD and EDS
11.30am Q&A
11.45am Break
12pm Dr Suranjith Mast Cell / Histamine Disorders and EDS
12.45 Q&A
1pm Lunch
2pm Professor Mathias PoTS and EDS
2.30pm Q&A
2.45pm Dr Will Wallis Cardiac Features of Hypermobility EDS
3pm Break
3.15pm Q&A Speech and Swallowing in EDS
4pm Break
4.15pm Angela Hunter  EDS – its often not so easy to Swallow – inc TMJ
4.45pm Q&A
5pm Workshops
5.45pm End of conference

I also get to meet people who live with the disorder day in day out and understand. They won’t look at me funny if I say I need to go and lie down for an hour! There is a ball on the Saturday evening which I’ve bought a new dress for and I hope to wear, but if it’s anything like Harrogate, I won’t even make it out of my room! I just hope the hotel has a decent Wifi! I hope to be able to tell you a little about it next week. Because I am away, there may not be a post on Monday unless I am able to schedule one in while I’m there.

Have a great weekend whatever you’re doing!

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Alfie!

It’s been a while since I blogged about Alfie. I think he was still a small puppy when I talked about him on the blog and showed photographs of him so I thought I’d share some up to date photo’s of the dog he’s turning into. In fact, I think it’s highly possibly I have more photo’s of him now than I do of the kids! He is so adorable and cute. But don’t be fooled by his cute face. Alfie is one intelligent dog and in being so is one mischievous little animal. He likes to pull things off radiators if you’re trying to dry them. You know the Andrex puppy that looks so cute when it’s rolling around in toilet paper? yep, that’s Alfie too. Don’t leave your cup of tea on the floor or he’ll stick his extra long tongue straight into it and start lapping it up. So that cup is then done and in the dishwasher and another is out. We’re trying to train him the command ‘Leave’ but it’s slow going.

Take him off his lead when we’re out and his behaviour changes again. He is wonderful. His recall is beautiful. That is unless he finds a dead bird and thinks you’re going to take it off him! Yuk! Dogs!

So here was Alfie as you last saw him:

Sitting

This is the grown up version. But not so grown up because he is still a puppy. He’s not yet one until the end of November. My baby!

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Can You Learn To Write Fiction?

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Rattigon Freedigitalphotos.net

Are you a natural-born storyteller, writer and novelist or can you be taught the craft? Being able to sit around a campfire and spin a yarn doesn’t make you able to write a complete novel does it? What about plot? Pacing? Character development? Story arc? Inciting incident? denouement?

How many times has someone said to you that they could write a novel if they had the time? Yes of course it takes a huge amount of time, but do they understand what a lot of that time involves? It’s not just writing the words of the novel down on the page. Do they really understand the depth and crisscrossing of wires that occurs in a writers brain for that story to emerge. And then they need external help to get it into better shape with an editor.

So you’re really serious about this writing lark, you’ve decided you have the ability to carve some time out of your day on a daily basis and you want to write that novel. What do you do, start writing or look for classes? Can you be taught to be novelist or is it a gift?

There are so many classes about for creative writing. University level courses and below. There are thousands of books on the subject all with the aim of helping you hone your craft. But is it a craft you can hone or is it a gift? Are the courses pandering to a heavy demand because now everyone wants to be a novelist?

This is a serious question and I’m asking for your thoughts. I’ve finished one novel and I’m part way through the second, yet I’ve just signed up for a free six-week course, Start Writing Fiction, with Future Learn by the Open University. Yes I’ve already started, but I could glean just a snippet of information that could be really useful and it’s only six weeks long so I thought I’d sign up and see what I could learn. Maybe I will learn an awful lot. Maybe I will have to adjust everything I already thought I knew. Maybe just one nugget of gold will make it all worthwhile.

What are your thoughts on creative writing courses?

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Recently Read – Irene by Pierre Lemaitre

Irene by Pierre Lemaitre 

Genre: Crime fiction.

IreneFor Commandant Verhoeven life is beautiful: he is happily married, expecting his first child with the lovely Irène.

But his blissful existence is punctured by a murder of unprecedented savagery. Worse still, the press seem to have it in for him – his every move is headline news. When he discovers that the killer has killed before – that each murder is a homage to a classic crime novel – the fourth estate are quick to coin a nickname… The Novelist…

With both men in the public eye, the case develops into a personal duel, each hell-bent on outsmarting the other. There can only be one winner – whoever has the least to lose…

My Thoughts:

Last year I read Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, blogged, or rather raved about it Here and then listed it as one of my top five reads of 2013.

As it turned out, Alex was the second novel in the Commandant Verhoeven series, but the first to be translated to English from the first language of French. The debut novel Irene, Commandant Verhoeven’s first outing was released in the UK after Alex had received rave reviews. Because I loved Alex so much and I loved the writing style and twists of Lemaitre, I snatched Irene up when I saw it in my local library.

Now I wish I hadn’t been so fast about it.

I will start this review by disclosing that I have only read half of this novel, but of a 400 page novel, I think reading roughly 200 pages gives me enough of a feel for the book to give my view. I won’t be finishing it. I just don’t want to pick it back up.

The novel starts with some pretty horrific murders and when I say horrific, I mean horrific. Every detail is described and it’s grim and violent in the extreme. In a way that we discussed about violence being gratuitous in the blog post Here. Two women are dismembered as well as having other rather violent things done to them. It’s not a brief description either. Lemaitre seems to drag it out as though this is what crime fans love about the genre. And I guess some do. But it’s sickening. I skim read several pages just to get past the description of the scene.

As it turns out, the murderer is simply following descriptions to the letter from past crime novels, so there are novels out there that are already this sickening!

Commandant Verhoeven is only 4 foot 11 inches and this is played on A LOT. I am only 5 foot tall so there’s only one inch between us. I admit that for a male, there is a massive difference for him with his colleagues, but there were comments about his height in relation to everyday items around him and how difficult it was for him. For instance sitting on chairs. His feet were dangling and not able to touch the floor. Well unless he’s not proportioned properly, all he’d have to do was sit on the edge of the chair and it’s better. I think in this respect, with it being the debut, Lemaitre wanted to firmly show he had a detective with a difference and it was overplayed a little. So much so, it sounded as though he had fully genetic dwarfism instead of him just being ridiculously short for a bloke. It wasn’t played on so much in Alex. (I’m sorry I can’t help but compare it to Alex.)

I also know due to the fact that I’ve read Alex, one of the major plotlines that will occur in Irene, and I just didn’t want to read any more gore and nastiness. After all, only halfway through, I’m sure the murderer was going to kill again as well.

If you’re going to start this series, I do recommend you start with Alex and go from there or start with Irene and know that it’s a decent enough debut (Remember his writing style is good) and the series gets much much better, but I don’t recommend going backwards if you’ve read Alex.

Disappointed.

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Should Books Be Age Certified?

Photograph: Rebecca Bradley

Photograph: Rebecca Bradley

You walk into a bookshop and it’s split into lovely sections for you to browse. To make it easier to find what you’re looking for. If you’re a writer and you are approaching agents they will want to know what genre it fits into. This, so it can be “shelved” easily in that very bookshop. And if your book can’t easily fit into the headers the bookshop has created? Well you’re in trouble when looking for an agent because it makes their job more difficult when trying to sell it.

So we drill down into the header of children’s and wander over to this section in our bookshop and it’s split down yet again. This time into age of reader levels. The highest age bracket header in the children’s section is 9-14 (UK, Waterstones). You then have to go and browse the YA section. As a parent with a boy who is fast approaching 11 years of age, we have recently slipped into browsing the YA shelves because he has read all that interests him in the children’s section. I now have to be a bit cautious about what I’m buying with him.

So you get my point with the above description of bookshops, agents and the need to pigeonhole books into categories and age groups?

Give my son another couple of years or so and I’m sure his feet might be finding the urge to wander further afield in the bookshop. This would take him into the adult sections. He reads fantasy and science fiction type books. What would be waiting for him in these books?

Earlier this month I did a post on the level of violence in crime fiction books and at what stage people thought it became gratuitous rather than necessary to the story. And that our acceptance of such levels has changed in recent decades. There was a lot of conversation around this post and it continues to be something that I think about. Especially when the most recent book I have read had really graphic depictions of the mutilations inflicted on murdered women found by police officers. I wasn’t sure I could read on and ended up skim reading it when I realised it was dragging on longer than was necessary.

Now I get to my point. As a young reader yourself, I’m sure you were reading adult fiction before you were – an adult! As was I. But as I’ve said before. My staple diet was Agatha Christie. A much gentler read on the stomach. Horror fans maybe didn’t have such a gentler ride and they will come at me with that if they read this post, so I will acknowledge this now. But should children be reading such things at an age when their minds aren’t ready for it?

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By ChristianBier and originally BBFC (BBFC Categories) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Films and even video games have age certificates. And as I’ve shown, books in shops are shelved according to age for children, so it’s a small start. Though I admit again, that this is probably more to do with reading level that appropriateness. So I’m asking, should books have a small age certificate on them quietly sitting in one corner or on the spine? It at least gives a reading older child an indication that it’s really not the best book to be picking up off mum or dad’s bookshelf.

I’ve heard authors arguing against this for the very reason that they themselves picked up books to read when they were young and books should be available to all. Etc etc. I’ve also heard crime authors say they are definitely not allowing their children or grandchildren to read their books until they are a lot older. I know I’ve told my youngest he’s not reading mine. So if we absolutely will protect our own children this way, why won’t we do the same for other children who may live with parents who don’t vet the books or don’t even read?

Would it be so bad for books to be a little sensible when they are now so graphic, and have an age appropriateness rating on? What are your thoughts on this? I know it’s a subject that has people screaming censorship, but I don’t believe that’s what it is. I think it’s a little common sense in an ever increasingly violent immune world.

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What’s Your First Draft Like? – Steve Cavanagh

Steve CavanaghToday I’m pleased to welcome crime writer Steve Cavanagh into the First Draft hot seat.

Steve is a practicing lawyer from Belfast (someday he might get the hang of it). His debut novel, The Defence, will be published by Orion Books on 26th March 2015.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

The first stage for me is to kick the idea around in my head for a while. That initial idea has to be pulled apart, and while I’m doing that I normally have two or three other ideas and somehow and amalgam of those thoughts solidify into a single idea for a book. Then I just get started. No outline, no safety net. I figure out where the story starts and I get stuck in. For my first book, The Defence, two ideas really hit me at once and they formed the back bone of the book. I’m a lawyer during the day (I turn into a human at night) and in 2011 it occurred to me, while I was in the middle of cross examining a witness, that I had just conned the witness into admitting he’d lied under oath. I started thinking about it and realised that lawyers and con-artists actually share a lot of skills. It wasn’t until later that year that I realised this was probably an interesting thing to explore in a character. So I thought about the worst possible scenario for a lawyer who has to try a case. I normally think in the ‘what if’ kind of way. Out of the blue, it just hit me, while I was sitting on the sofa in my living room – what if a lawyer stood up in court to start a trial with a bomb strapped to his back and his client is holding the detonator? That’s a bad situation. As soon as I had that idea I immediately started thinking about how I could make that scenario worse, much worse.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I think you have to be disciplined about writing or it just won’t happen. With my day job, I don’t get a lot of time to write, and I ‘ve got two young kids and a wife who I love spending time with, so I normally start writing around ten or eleven at night and try to do as much as I can. And I try to write every day, but sometimes work or the kids or life just gets in the way. Before I start writing, I brew the strongest coffee I can tolerate, ingest as much as I can to jolt me awake and get going.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Oh, straight to the laptop every time. I can pretty much touch type, so it’s actually faster for me to type than write long hand. Plus my handwriting is awful.

How important is research to you?

Research is very important to me for three reasons. Firstly, my novels are set in New York City. I’ve never been to New York. Matter of fact, I’ve never been to the US. I read mainly US crime fiction and thrillers, and I grew up watching US TV shows and movies, so I feel like I know the city. I certainly know it enough not to have to stop during the first draft and research part of the city, I can get through it with my own knowledge but for subsequent drafts I will look at looks and the internet to make sure my descriptions are accurate. The second main avenue of my research is law based. The US trial process is very similar to our own, but I do research real cases, real statutes, and I consult textbooks to make sure that I know the legal procedure. Very little of that will get into the book, but I like to have the knowledge behind the writing. Again, I know enough for the first draft, but I will do research in subsequent drafts. Lastly, I do like to feature expert witnesses in the novels so I do a lot of research in those fields. For The Defence, I researched Forensic Document Examination and Graphology. And for the second book I’m knee deep in scientific papers on gunshot residue. Again, I rely on my own knowledge for the first draft, then check and research for the subsequent drafts.

How do you go about researching?

There is so much you can get from the internet if you know where to look. Most of my legal research is case law and statute based, which I get from the net, but I do have textbooks on criminal procedure which I refer to from time to time.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I don’t really store anything, certainly not ideas. I read in Stephen King’s On Writing, that he doesn’t write down his ideas because he figures that the good ideas stick around in your head anyway. For research stuff, if I’ve read it, it’s stored. I’ve learned, over time, to assimilate a lot of information very quickly, so I don’t tend to store web pages or documents. It’s nice to have the textbooks to hand if I need to check something quickly.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

Well, because I don’t outline, I have to be confident that the story I’m going to tell will sustain a whole novel. What I’ve tended to do is spend a lot of time getting the first few chapters right. Once I’m confident I have a solid base, I’m good to plough on until the end without looking back and editing.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Coffee and quiet. That’s all I need.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

The outside world frequently interrupts my writing, mostly my job. If I have a trial coming up, in the week leading up to the hearing and for the length of the trial (which can sometimes be a couple of weeks) I can’t write at all. Because I have to know that case, inside out, I’ll constantly be thinking about the case. I don’t really have a choice as sometimes my work involves trials with twenty plus witnesses and thousands of pages of documents so I have to devote my mind to that, alone.

What does your work space look like?

I write in my kitchen, in the chair that faces away from the window. Here’s a pic. I don’t have a study, although I’d like one, but I can’t seem to write anywhere else but this one space. Here’s a pic.

steve desk

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

When I was writing The Defence, it took me a few weeks to get the beginning the way I wanted it. So I tend to edit at the beginning, making sure that I’ve got the reader hooked in solidly and then I can write the rest of the book without looking back at all.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I do tend to look at word counts but I don’t set myself a daily target. Sometimes I can bash out a couple of thousand words in a night, other times it’s a couple of hundred. Basically I keep going until I begin to get drowsy. Then I quit. On occasion I can go for three or four hours, other times it’s maybe an hour. Depends on the strength of the coffee.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

I’ve finished the first draft of the second book in the Eddie Flynn series, The Plea. It’s in good shape, and my first book was pretty much the same. It’s mainly tidying up and cementing plot holes. I’ve been lucky so far in that I’ve not had to radically change anything in a book while editing. The first draft of The Defence took around five months. The first draft of the book I’m working on now took seven months.

Steve first draftIn what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I read the first draft on paper and I attack it with a sharpie as I go. If I had a gun to my head I don’t think I would be capable of transferring my manuscript onto an ereader. I also think it’s important to make the book look different to the eye while editing. So I write with the pages zoomed 150%, and I read on paper because the different format helps to cut out some of the blindness that infects you while you’re reading.

What happens now that first draft is done?

A read through, then an edit on the computer. Then more edits. I suppose I will go through up to eight or nine edits before I show it to anyone. That’s when the panic starts.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find Steve on his website, Twitter and Amazon.

The Defence

 

Steve cover 1The truth has no place in a courtroom. The truth doesn’t matter in a trial.

The only thing that matters is what the prosecution can prove.

Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.

It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter Amy.

Eddie only has 48 hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if Steve defence 2wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible?

Lose this case and he loses everything.

 

 

 

To read any of the previous First Draft Q&A’s you can check the list Here.

To be a part of the First Draft series, just get in touch and let me know.

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October’s Crime Book Club Meeting and November’s Read

Last night the crime book club discussed Crossbones Yard by Kate Rhodes.

It was a busy meeting. The group is growing which is great to see. We even had Margot join us from the airport which I thought was amazing and goes to show the positives of having an online book club in that as long as you have an internet connection, you can join us from absolutely anywhere. So you will notice, if you watch the below video, some background noise. There was a great conversation about the book though.

The book split the group, some loved it and other members felt it had the feeling of having all been done before. The group loved the writing, sense of place and the protagonist and everyone said they would read the next in the series as they felt forgiving of a debut in a series.

You can watch the meeting below.

The next meeting is Wednesday 19th November at 8 p.m. GMT. The book chosen was Dominion by C. J. Sansom.

Dominion1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House.

Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle forever.

Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given by them the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined.

And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men . . .

 

And bookclubers, just so you are aware and leave yourselves enough time to read this, it has about 600 pages depending on the format you are reading on.

 

To keep up to date straight into your email inbox with what we are reading and when the meetings are sign up to the newsletter Here.

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A Bloggy Good News Day

There are two things I want to say in today’s blog post and both of them are good news items. Who doesn’t love a bit of bloggy good news?!

Firstly, remember the Shelfie blog hop I took part in on 24th September? The post Here. And the originating and organising blogger Tara is Here. Where all I had to do was post a photo of myself with my book shelf? Well I won first prize! ($40) Oh yes I did! :) Must be my beautiful smiley face yes?

Shelfie 2

Sorry.

one-lovely-blog-awardThe second thing is that Elsie Elmore nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award. There are lots of rules to these blog awards and I find them really difficult because you have to provide seven facts about yourself for this one and then nominate fifteen other blogs for the award. Doing that terrifies me because I’m scared of missing someone out who I blog and talk regularly with, so I’m going to just thank Elsie for the award and recommend that you go and check out her blog and actually click the follow button because she does have a lovely blog and is a lovely person and worth having in your bloggy life and you can find her Here so what are you waiting for. Go find Elsie!

Thank you to both Tara and Elsie. I love blogging. It is such a lovely place to be.

 

 

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Recently Read – The Drop by Dennis Lehane

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

Genre: Crime

dropThe Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a cover scheme of funelling cash to local gangsters — ‘money drops’ — in the underworld of Boston bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families and foes all work together to make a living — no matter the cost.

 

 

 

My Thoughts:

Bob and cousin Marv work behind the bar that used to belong to cousin Marv but now belongs to the Chechens because they took it. Twenty years ago. Bob and cousin Marv are likable enough characters. Bob keeps to himself and stays out of everyone’s way, until one day he walks home and fishes a half dead dog out of someone’s bin. This starts a friendship with Nadia but puts him in the sights of Eric Deeds, a not very nice or stable individual.

And here you have all the major players of the novel.

Other than the book blurb above, this really is the basis for the book and I can’t say much more without giving plot spoilers away, but Lehane has crafted yet another brilliant story with characters you can sympathise with, yet who surprise you. You can feel the dirt and grime and run down feeling of, the area, and the minds of the people living there. And you understand. The writing is smooth, and instead of being shocking, it feels right and a part of the fabric of the piece. The simplicity of a small group of characters is used to great effect and as the novel progresses you learn a little bit more about them and to what extremes they are willing to go to in the circumstances they find themselves in. I loved this. It will appeal to those who like American crime fiction, character driven stories with an honest but smooth telling.

With thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for my copy.

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5 Crazy Ways Social Media is Changing Your Brain Right Now

I love ASAP Science on YouTube and I thought this short video was particularly relevant to many of us nowadays.

 

Have you ever felt your phone vibrate and it not have been your phone?! Me too.

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