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Monday Mumbling: Weekend Wagon Woes

It’s been one of those weekends here at Festung Flatcap.

Let me recap for a minute. I got rid of my car in September last year. Expedient since it fell apart and ended up less roadworthy than Her Indoors’ shopping trolley. We decided to manage with buses. Over the course of the next few months the bus company made many changes ‘after consultation with passengers’.

I would love to meet the gormless tits who voted for fewer buses and extortionate fares.

This being the case, I invested in new wheels in April this year. I never buy new cars. If I want to know how badly I’m being ripped off, I just check my gas and electricity bills. So the car I bought was about 11 years old. It was in fairly good nick, had a full MOT on it, and it was worth what I paid for it.

It’s also the same make and model as my last shed (a Ford Ka if you’re interested) and that car fell apart after the snow and ice of two vicious winters got to it. With that in mind I decided to get ahead of the game, and have the new one undersealed and prepped before the bad weather turns up. I also had a suspicion that the car hadn’t been serviced. Therefore it went to Dave, the lad who does my work, on Friday. He brought it back yesterday having undersealed it and given it good going over.

Hadn’t been serviced? Dave showed me the fuel filter. It had been in place since the car came off the production line in 2002. It was so badly rusted it could have been mistaken for a World War Two grenade. The rattling noise which the previous owner assured me was the spare wheel cage moving about under the back end, turned out to be the tappets tuning up for a full rendition of The Radetsky March. The spark plugs had been in the block so long, they were practically welded into place and the back brakes were sticking on because the handbrake release mechanism didn’t work properly. As a result, I’d been riding round with the brakes partly on, and they needed replacing. Finally, when Dave drained the oil, there was only half a litre in the sump, which accounted for the oil pressure warning light flashing at me now and then.

I had my excuses ready. I dipped the oil when I first got it and according to the dipstick, it was full, but as Dave pointed out, I park with the car facing downhill. And the rattling tappets? I never heard them because I’m stone deaf, and even though Her Indoors heard them, she would know a tappet from a tap washer.

The result of all this is open wallet surgery, but at least we’re on top of the job now, and I have my cars serviced annually, so my glorious, Technicolor dream shed will run for at least another year and Dave can bugger off to Tenerife safe in the knowledge that he’s just picked up his spending money.

I got the car back on Sunday. At the same time, my left elbow flared. Tennis elbow, and before you start, I’ve already done all the Andy Murray jokes. It is extremely painful. Her Indoors has been quite cheerful about it, but that’s par for the course, innit? As long as it hurts me, she’s cool.

So after spending all this money getting the car into shape, I can’t drive the flicking thing. Let Her Indoors drive? Not possible, I’m afraid. She doesn’t so much drive as aim.

And I’m back to using overpriced, come-when-you-will buses.

I regret, I’m still unable to permit comments on this blog. This is down to spammers who are too lazy or too crooked to target their dubious services properly and instead choose to irritate the hell out of those of us who do.

Whatever Happened to STAC #12?


It’s a question I’m often asked, and as usual the answer is about as complex as one of Joe’s cases.

Of those of you who read Death in Distribution, you’re aware of the ending and you’re biting your fingernail down to your elbows wondering what happens next. For those you who haven’t read Death in Distribution, may I suggest you get a move on before the release of A Family Killing.

Not that the release is imminent. I’m unwilling to speculate on a publication date. Right now, I’m unwilling to speculate on a completion date, but it is progressing. It should have been with editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam, last month, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons, many of them down to poor health. In addition, I had the release of the first Spookies Mystery, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor. The subsequent success of Spookies meant that much of my effort has been concentrated on raising the visibility and publicity for that title, and the STAC Mysteries have taken a back seat.

Aside from a painful bout of tennis elbow (I knew I should have stuck to dominoes) which is plaguing me right now, all of that is behind me. The plot problems have been sorted, and I’m on with it again, and it should be with you very soon… this side of the next millennium, for sure.

Just keep you quiet, here’s a sample from the text of A Family Killing. Bear in mind, this is an early draft and there is work to do on it, yet.

After an attack on his father, Toby Ballantyne is with Joe at the hospital. When Joe suggests that Katya may have tried to blackmail the old man, Toby says it’s not possible and Joe wants to know why.


Toby sighed and ran tired hands over his face. “Do you remember your grandfather?”

“Barely,” Joe said, while privately wondering where the young Ballantyne was going. “I was only a kid when he died. He was a Yorkshire miner. Dirty words thirty years ago. All I really remember is this big man who always spoke his mind. He was afraid of nothing and no one. I suppose there’s a lot of him in me.” Joe laughed at the memories springing into his head.

“A different man to my grandfather,” Toby said. “Or maybe not that much different. He wasn’t a miner, of course, but a wealthy businessman. High church. Pious as hell. I swear if he hadn’t been who he was, he would have become a preacher. I was in my early teens when he passed away, and there’s only one memory which sticks in my mind. I got caught out throwing stones at the old summer house. Smashed a couple of windows. I tried to lie my way out of it by blaming Serena, but granddad knew. Before he gave me a good hiding, he warned me, ‘never tell lies. If you’ve done wrong, and you’re caught out, own up’.”

“Sound advice,” Joe said. “The world would be a much better place if everyone lived by that code.”

Toby nodded. “Dad thought so, too. And that’s why Katya, if she learned of anything, would have failed to get a penny out of him. You can’t blackmail him, you see. Sure, he likes to control the release of news. You know that after what happened over Easter. Most large corporations and wealthy people are the same. They control the news as far as they can. It helps to mitigate the outcry. Be that as it may, if Katya brought out any dirty linen, he would have refused to pay her, and admitted it himself.”

“Even if it was criminal?”

“Where dad is concerned, it would never be criminal. If she found something earlier in the family, and that was criminal, well… even then, dad would have broken the news, not her. He is impossible to blackmail. So if she tried and failed, maybe that was why she attacked him.”

Joe shook his head. “Doesn’t quite hang together, does it?”

Why doesn’t it hang together? If it wasn’t Katya, who was it? All will be revealed in A Family Killing, STAC Mystery #12, coming soon to a Kindle near you.

Wednesday Writing: To Pay Or Not To pay

This post was originally aired on a blog in 2011, but it’s as valid now as it was then, when my old mate Trevor Belshaw complained about a publisher. Trevor had submitted a piece to them, waited the obligatory month or three for a reply and when it came he was informed that the company was in a position to offer only assisted publishing and he would have to stump up a couple of hundred pounds for editing and preparation.

I checked out the company’s website and discovered they made no mention of this. In fact, they said exactly the opposite. They claimed to be a traditional publisher, not vanity or subsidy, and they offered contracts to authors on whose work they were willing to take a chance.

I’d argue with the word ‘publisher’. They were more of a design set-up.

In principle there is nothing wrong with any company offering this kind of service, but they should be up front about it. Of course, it could have been an oversight. It could be that they had changed their stance and forgotten to update the site. But that hardly qualified them as a professional outfit.

Looking deeper into the site I found other things that troubled me. Their editing service started at £50, but that figure was dependant on word count. May I ask how anyone can offer a professional editing service when they don’t know the difference between dependant (a noun indicating a person who relies upon something or someone) and dependent (an adjective indicating a conditional clause). Another oversight? I’d have to think seriously about allowing this kind of company anywhere near my manuscript.

In 30 years or more of placing work in long and short form, I have never yet paid to have anything published. Editing and other services cost me on my self-published work, naturally, but my editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam, is a professional: she misses nothing. Maureen also edits all my published work BEFORE it goes to the publisher, and of course, that work doesn’t come free, but it’s my choice. When it comes to the production of the book, Crooked Cat charge nothing. Neither do they bill me for cover design, formatting, ISBNs, or any of the 101 other bits and pieces which go to putting a book together.

Writers beware. When someone asks you to get your cheque book out, make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Monday Mumbling: Cussin. Do We Have To?

Thirty years back, I did a lot of work in and around the Lancashire cotton mills. There was this bloke in one mill, and when it came up to tea or lunch breaks, he would say, “Time to get a f***ing sandwich and a cup of f***ing tea.” To this day I’ve never worked out why he needed the expletives. The canteen tea was a bit ropey, but I’ve had worse, and he brought his sandwiches from home, so why they became “f***ing sandwiches, I don’t know.

I was reminded of this after STAC Mystery #7, The Chocolate Egg Murders, picked up a 5* customer review last week. Mrs J Gore, the lady in question, enjoyed not only this tale, but all the STACs, and she said:

It’s also great to read a story where the writer doesn’t need to include thef word to try to make his point.

The STAC Mysteries are modelled on the traditional British whodunit, and the golden rule is, no sex, no violence, no strong language, and the word “f**k” cannot be found anywhere in them. The same goes for the Spookies Mysteries.

As a team, Crooked Cat and I go further. In one title, I had Joe cracking a gag, the essence of which was that someone missed the ‘o’ out of the word ‘count’. Laurence at Crooked Cat still felt it was too strong, and during the editing stage, I removed it and replaced it with a different gag.

If you’re looking for the halo over my head, don’t. I come from an industrial background, and I’m no stranger to hearing and using such terminology. I often say that the three languages I’m most fluent in are English, rubbish and bad. And when I lose my cool, I don’t really care who hears me. I had a sign in the window at home aimed at salespeople, bible bashers and politicians. It simply said, “If you don’t like being told to fuck off, don’t knock.” The missus made me take it down, not because she disagreed with the sentiments, but because she was worried what the neighbours may think. My response was the neighbours can f—”.

Her Indoors told me to shut up.

I use the word in fiction, too. The Handshaker contains the word or one of its variations 34 times, Voices, 15 times. Both works are over 100,000 words, so it’s not like you’ll stumble across it every other page, but it’s there. I only know this because I’ve just done a universal search and replace on the original manuscripts. I don’t routinely stop to count how many times I’m using such language. I’ve never bothered to check on how often Flatcap uses the word, either, but he’s a grouchy old bugger, so it’s probably frequent.

Mrs Gore does raise a valid point, however. Is the use of such language in fiction really necessary? My position is a qualified yes.

It’s so commonplace there days that its shock value has diminished to almost nothing, so if the writer is trying to reflect real life, then its use in dialogue is acceptable. If the writer is trying to stress a level of vehemence, then it’s use in dialogue is acceptable.

But when it comes to the STAC and Spookies Mysteries, I’ll carry on finding other methods for letting Joe and Co to get their hair off.

I regret, I’m unable to accept comments on this blog. The lazy spammers, those people who cannot be bothered to target their marketing efforts properly, take up so much of my time eliminating those that get past Askimet, that it’s simply not worth it.

How Do You Write Books So Quickly?

Catriona King announced on Facebook yesterday that she’s almost completed the first edits on book #9 of her DCI Craig series. She’s then going to take a holiday before starting on books #10. Congratulations, Catriona.

People are asking, “How do you do it?” I don’t ask. Why? Because I write at that kind of speed myself. Writing the first draft of my novels, long or short, takes about month. If you’re doubtful about this, two years ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel in ONE WEEK. Independently verified, I turned out 60,000 words in seven days.

And do you know what the big secret is? There is no secret. Instead it’s all about man hours.

Ask yourself, how fast do you type? I can manage about 30-35 words per minute. Simple arithmetic will tell you that I can write 1,000 words in about half an hour. Let’s be generous and say that anyone can write one thousand words in one hour. Believe me, that’s quite slow.

The bog-standard novel is 100,000 words. Based on our calculations, that comes to 100 hours. I’m retired. I don’t do anything other than write. If I want to write a book in a month, I need only put in 25 hours a week, or five hours a day, which will allow me two days off.

Does writing a book so quickly seem so difficult now?

Naturally many people have full time jobs. They can’t give 25 hours a week to a novel. Suppose you can only give 10 hours?

You’ll still write it in 10 weeks.

You need one or two other things, as well. First, you need to know where the book is going. Not all the intricacies, the ins and outs of every scene, but certainly a good overview. Does that mean planning? That’s up to the individual. I find planning restrictive, so I don’t bother, but I still know where I’m going with the tale.

You need tunnel vision. When knocking out that first draft, I don’t stop to correct errors. I just keep on typing. Every chapter is a separate file, and at most I run a spellcheck when the chapter is finished. The rest can come at the editing stage.

Forget the flowery adjectives and adverbs. Most of those should be eliminated anyway, but if you want them in, do it during the editing. Forget the synonyms, unless they come naturally as you’re working. They can be slotted in when you’re editing.

Suppose you’re working away and you come to a dead end? You don’t know what happens next. No problem. Move on to another part of the book where you do know what happens next. We read books in a linear fashion, but we don’t have to write them like that.

Many writers will advise you, “Once it’s done, put it away for a couple of months, then come back to it.” I say that’s up to you, if our enthusiasm is still there, go back to page one and start working your way through it again. For me, I only leave a WIP when I’m thoroughly bored with it.

And that brings me to another ingredient you will need. Enthusiasm.

My hard drive is chocabloc with tales I’ve started, got XX,000 words in and abandoned because I ran out of patience and/or ideas. You need zeal, and to her credit, Catriona is as passionate now as she was with book #1.

And I say, well done, Catriona. I’m sure books #9 and #10 will be every bit as exciting as #1 and #2

Wednesday Writing guest Post: Targeting a Novel by Lorraine Mace

I’ve known today’s guest, Lorraine Mace, for a good number of years, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her advice helped with one or two of my early projects.

Lorraine is incredibly busy in the writing world (see links at the bottom of the post). She also write novels as both herself and Frances di Plino. How does she find the time? I’ll leave it to lorraine to tell you more.


When writing a guest post on the topic of writing output, it’s probably not a good idea to do it for the blog of someone like David, whose prodigious productivity leaves mine in the shade! However, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Although I am involved full time in various aspects of writing (it’s how I earn my living) my creative writing time is limited. I spend more hours mentoring other authors through several drafts of their novels than I do writing my own. I run a private critique service and also critique short stories for one of the top writing magazines in the UK. I am a columnist for another. I run three international writing competitions. To promote the books I have already had published, I also run two blogs.

So, as you can see, there is very little time left over for new creative writing.

If you add to the above the fact that I am a novelist under two names, Lorraine Mace and Frances di Plino, you’ll realise that I have to be very disciplined with my time.

Under my real name, I am the author of a trilogy for children, the first of which, Vlad the Inhaler, was published earlier this year. The second in the trilogy has already been accepted for publication in 2015, but I still have to write the third and final book.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00016]

As Frances di Plino, I write crime and the fourth in the Detective Inspector Paolo Storey series is due out in October. However, I now need to get started on the next in the series for publication next year!

So, how have I managed to find the time to write, edit, rewrite, edit again, rewrite and so on, four crime novels and three children’s novels (two of Vlad, plus the first in a new series, which is with my agent) while keeping my head above water with my various day jobs?

I’m glad you asked, because this post will explain how you, too, can fit writing around your busy lives without needing to lock yourself away from family for hours at a time.

I set myself daily targets of 500 words, which means the absolute longest it would take me to write an 85,000-word crime novel would be slightly less than six months. That’s all – think about it, if you wrote a measly 500 words a day for six months you, too, would have a complete novel to your name.

Even if you wanted to have weekends off, you could run up 85,000 words Monday to Friday in 35 weeks.

All writers can put down 500 words as long as they have a clear idea of what it is they have to write each day, which means, if you follow my plan, you need to have a scene by scene structure to follow. Actually, even if you can knock out 10,000 words a day, it’s still a good idea to have a structure to follow!

On the text of the novel document, before I shut down after writing the 500 words, I make notes about what to write the next day. Just a few lines, not even proper sentences, but it means I can pick up where I left off without having to read over what I’ve written the day before. For example: Paolo talks to Barbara about stab wounds – Sean knocked down by Michael – Paolo brings team up to date

Obviously, there are days when I have time to write more than 500 words, but I look on such occasions as a bonus. The next day I still stick to my 500 word target.

So, if you want to write a novel, but have a demanding job or a busy family life, or both, try setting aside time for 500 words. You’ll be thrilled as the word count grows week by week.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must leave you. I have my daily target to meet.

Paolo three

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions, covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.

Writing Critique Service

Frances di Plino

Monday Mumbling: Forgotten Ambitions

The World Cup finished last night, and as Gary Lineker once said, “The Germans won.”

In case you think that’s an anti-German sentiment (from me, not Mr Lineker) forget it. I’m English, I support England, but I’m also a realist. We’re crap and Germany were the best organised, most disciplined team in the tournament. Congratulations to them.

But it did remind me of one of my long cherished ambitions: to become a footballer.

As ambitions go, it didn’t stay with me long. Without my glasses the world is a perpetual fog, and you can imagine what kind of footballer I’d make. I couldn’t see from one end of a snooker table to the other, never mind a football field.

Oddly enough, there was a post from good friend Seumas Gallacher this morning on his five-minute career as a fisherman, and that, too reminded me of long-forgotten, glorious plans, some of which lasted a good deal less than Seumas’s angling work. Ideas like…

Me: I wanna be a pop star.

Teacher: Can you play an instrument?

Me: No, sir.

Teacher: Can you sing?

Me: No, sir.

Teacher: Can you dance?

Me: No, sir.

Teacher: Try lorry driving instead.

Dreams of glory shattered… and I was only 15 years old.

Never Mind Everyone Else, What Are You Doing?

Lacking a guest post, you’re gonna have to put up with me for this Wednesday, and I’m in rant mode. My irritation is not directed at publishers, politicians or TV, but at other writers. Which other writers? Well, quite a lot of ’em, TBH.

I see some complaining that suchabody can barely write his own name, so what’s he doing writing a novel? Or, if whatsherface hadn’t appeared on Strictly Come Celebrity Ice Dancing she wouldn’t have got that book published.

When I was a teenager, I had this crackpot idea that I would become a pop star. Everyone was doing it in the sixties, so why shouldn’t I? The mere fact that I couldn’t sing and couldn’t play a musical instrument was irrelevant. Come hell or high water, I would be a pop sensation.

Leaving aside the idiocy of youth, just suppose I had managed it, where would I be today? A has-been pop idol writing novels, perhaps? And would I be shy about using my former glory to publicise those novels? I would not. I’d insist upon it. Wouldn’t you? Of course you would.

And similarly, if you had a string of hit novels behind you, would you be shy about having your name in larger print than the title of your next book? You would not.

Get used to it. No amount of screaming that some of these people couldn’t write a Christmas card, never mind a book, or that they’re using their name to generate income, will change the situation. If you were in their position, what would you do?

If you’re serious about putting yourself and your work out there, stop whining about celebrities using unfair advantage, or long-standing successes using their leverage. Instead, start thinking about what you can do with your masterpiece.

I work with a small publisher, Crooked Cat Books, who have a number of authors on their books, all of whom approach the marketing of their work in a different way. Some can be found signing copies in local bookshops, others engage with specific book sites like Authorsden, there are others using Facebook and Twitter. Like me they’re concerned with their own works and generally raising the profile of Crooked Cat.

And I’ve never heard one of them complain, “It’s not fair. Stephen King and JK Rowling sell way more books than me. Just because they’re famous.”

Monday Mumbling: There’s Retro and There’s Yuk


Last night the missus was glued to the TV screen for an hour and a bit watching A Hard Day’s Night.

The Beatles first foray into movies and it was excellent… in 1964. Last night it was cringeworthy. It demonstrated that they were fine, revolutionary musicians and composers in their day, but they were not actors.

There was a clutch of these films during the mid-sixties. HDN was followed by Help in which the acting had improved marginally, the appalling Ferry Cross the Mersey, and the slightly better Catch Us If You Can. The latter starred the Dave Clark Five and Clark had been a stuntman, which made him slightly more comfortable in front of the cameras.

Naturally, these movies were not designed a Cannes FF fodder. They were more like marketing efforts, aimed at the already astronomical sales of the musicians.

However, I digress. My Monday moan is more to do with TV than sixties music movies. Her Indoors paid the thick end of £800 for our TV set and it sits in the corner doing nothing most of the time. And when you do want it to do something, what do you get?

Having suffered HDN, last night, I turn to today’s TV and it is so bleak it reminds me of every post-apocalyptic book I’ve ever read. Back when HDN first hit the cinema we had only two channels here in Great Britain, but at least they carried entertainment. Now we have hundreds, and I cannot see one single programme worth watching.

Prize of the night must surely go to ITV4 who are showing Alias Smith & Jones. This series ran from 1971-1973 and it was never particularly good then. What the hell possessed the people at ITV to re-run it?

I know. It was cheap.

If that’s the best anyone can offer, it may be time to check on the birth rate to see if it’s going up.

All I can say is, I’ll be exercising my favourite switch tonight. It’s called ‘ON/OFF’ and there are no prizes for guessing which option I’m taking.

Guest Post: Lesley Cookman Getting The Act Together

I’m rather chuffed today. My guest is none other than Lesley Cookman, creator of one of my favourite amateur sleuths, Libby Sarjeant.

A mutual friend – Maureen Vincent-Northam if you must know – recommended Libby to me a few years ago and I became an instant fan (even if I am slow to read them). When Lesley asked if she could put a guest post on my blog, I leapt at the chance.

Here, Lesley talks about the crossover between her career as an actress and as a whodunit writer.

When David announced that he would be taking guest posts on his blog, I actually offered to do one. This is not natural behaviour, as I am probably lazier than he is. However, we share a genre, among other things, and as I am extremely jealous of his ability to write a) quickly and b) more than one series, I felt I had to get in on the act.

midiffWhich was one of the things David suggested I write about – acting, and how it affects my books. There are many of us now in the writing profession who used to be in – loosely – the acting profession. Or were, at least, trained for it. In fact, both my main protagonists are former actors – or actresses, as I still prefer to say, and a lot of the action in the books hovers around the Oast Theatre of which my Libby and her partner, Ben, are directors. As in board, not play directors, although Libby also does that.  I have a strong connection with my local theatre and was, for years, on the management committee. I wrote, directed and performed in pantomimes for it, pantomimes which went on to be published and are now performed all over the country every year, which pays for my holidays! I was even commissioned to write a book on “How To Write A Pantomime”, which is now in its third edition.

Something else which helps with writing novels is the ability to write dialogue. In a script, the spoken word is all you have to demonstrate emotion of any kind. Unless the line very obviously dictates the way it is said, it’s useless. You can give a bracketed stage direction, eg (ironically, angrily) but the actor is not going to turn to the audience and announce that he is saying this angrily. The author must have written it completely unambiguously. Punctuation is key, here. A misplaced comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence, something which can be a good plot point in a crime novel! This ability makes for faster paced, natural sounding novels.

I don’t know how much acting affects the way I see my novels as they unfold – I suspect most writers see the scenes pictorially as they are rolling out in front of them. I know all my locations intimately, and even when it’s a new one, I can see it in my head, which helps in avoiding mishaps. I will never walk through a table because I’ve forgotten I put it there, because I can see it.

Lastly, I suppose there’s the sense of the dramatic. I’ve acted in everything from Ibsen to Ayckbourn, Dickens to Alan Bennett, and I appreciate timing, not just in comedy, but in drama. I’ve been called upon to go mad on stage – twice – which the children found very uncomfortable to watch, I’ve had to do a partial strip (Yes, really. I frightened the horses.) and I’ve appeared as a magician’s assistant, tights and all. You do all that, and you don’t half appreciate drama…

Now, I write books about it and do the occasional guest appearance to keep my hand in. This year I’m mentoring a new pantomime director, after having played his mother in last year’s panto. I’m a nuturing sort of soul, really.

Lesley Cookman is a merry widow living on the Kent Coast with her two cats. Her four grown up children have sadly let her down and all become professional musicians, and one is even a writer. Her Libby Sarjeant series, published by Accent Press, has been in Amazon’s bestseller charts both here and in the US. The thirteenth, Murder In A Different Place is available in print, ebook and audio.

Lesley Cookman
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