Saturday, May 31, 2008

The difficulties of multi-tasking

I am super-excited and also super-apprehensive about reading the book next week. I decided not to start it over the weekend as LOML and I haven't had a proper holiday together in ages, and we made a pact not to do any work. On Tuesday, however, I am going to go back to my cafe, sit with a pen and read through the whole thing.

I have been working on and off on the young adult novel I started a while back - the characters and images are very clear in my head, and I am enjoying it. I'm not sure, however, whether I'm going to be able to continue it while I'm editing and revising my Zimbabwe novel. When I'm really focused on a project, it takes over my whole life, and introducing anything else into the mix makes me feel guilty (because I'm not spending all my time on the major project) and overwhelmed. I don't want to abandon this book though. Perhaps I'll save it for Nanowrimo and finish it then.

In other and completely irrelevant news, I am still in love with my new shoes, and I pretty much haven't taken them off. Except for sleeping, of course. And when I went to bed last night I tucked the shoes up in their box and sat it at my bedside so I could see them in the morning. I used to do this with new toys when I was small ... I think clothes and shoes have become my grown-up toy equivalents.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm lucky enough to live in a very beautiful city.

I took these on my walk into town today. On my way, a couple of out-of-towners asked me for directions. This always makes me happy. It confirms that I do belong here, that I'm not an outsider anymore.

When I was reading in the cafe, I noticed this:

He got in through the glass doors. I'm not sure how he plans to get out. But we gave him some crumbs to tide him over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's real!

LOML printed out my book at work!

I am so excited to see it in the flesh. As it were. It's actually 260 A4 pages long, but he printed it double-sided to save trees.

Next job is to read it. I'm not going to read it with a red pen first time round - instead, I'm going to try and read it like I would read any other book. Hopefully this will highlight any story and structure problems.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What do you eat in a week?

I just spotted a link on the ever-wonderful Design for Mankind to this amazing photo essay, What the World Eats. It examines what different families from around the world eat and how much they spend on food.

Definitely makes you think. Always a good thing.

Cats have the right idea

Book worries

Here are some of the things I'm thinking and feeling at the moment - mostly in the form of questions.

I feel impatient for the book to be completely, completely finished - edited and proofed and everything, with a publisher and a release date, so that it can get out there into the world and I can say what I want to say.

I am worried about my next projects. I wrote this book with so much of my heart and so much urgency - I feel like it really needed to be written. I don't want to write books without that sort of passion. Will I be able to find another project that I can give the same kind of intensity to? And am I going to be able to write about anything other than Zimbabwe? Do I want to?

How will people react to the book? I am so worried that it won't be as ... important, for want of a better word, as I want it to be. I worry about writing as a white Zimbabwean, and being misunderstood. It is so much harder to be a black Zimbabwean, and their suffering is so many million times what the white suffering is - I know that. But my perspective is a white one, necessarily.

How is my family going to react? They appear in the book in various forms, as amalgams with other people or as transformed or tweaked versions of themselves. Am I going to stir up yet more trouble, particularly with my dad (who I was estranged from for a long time)?

Do I know enough about my subject? Have I learned enough about the history and the politics to stand up under hard questioning?

And, of course, what will be the Zimbabwean government's reaction to this? Will it put any of my friends or family who are still there in any sort of danger? Will I ever be able to go back? Do I want to?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Xenophobia in South Africa

I'm sure you've heard in the news that Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa to escape Mugabe's regime have been being beaten and killed. It is not just Zimbabweans who are affected, however - it's people from many African nations living in South Africa.

Go to United for Africa to find out more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Musings on why my jeans are suddenly tighter

To use the Oprah-generation term, I'm having 'body issues' at the moment. I've become very conscious of my weight and shape in general. For some reason, I don't think I've paid much attention to my body shape before - I've always worn what I loved and haven't worried too much about it. In the last year or so, though, I've become aware that I have a body shape described as 'stocky' (my mum, 'square' (my sister), 'healthy' (my friends) or even 'on the bigger side of average'. My mum is very thin and elegantly-shaped, with delicate facial features and a small nose. she looks a lot like Julie Andrews. I inherited my Dad's shape - he was a well-built, sturdy man with bigger features. I have his mouth (wide, with full lips and a long upper lip with a very pronounced fulcrum - something Mugabe has too, actually); his big nose; his green eyes; his thicker eyebrows. I have always wanted to be small, slender and delicate. Waif-like. Fat chance, pardon the pun. It's not that I'm unhappy with my shape, exactly, it's just that (weirdly?) I have never paid much attention to it before, and all those words like sturdy and stocky don't sound terribly feminine. And I've put on a bit of weight recently, after closeting myself indoors for a week finishing off the book and then eating a ton of junk food over the 48 Hours weekend. I think I just need to accept how I look.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just a peek?

I am ITCHING to read over my book ... but I'm only allowed to do that after my break, so I can have the full benefit of fresh eyes. Looking now would defeat the whole purpose of taking a holiday.

That doesn't mean my finger won't keep hovering over the 'Open' button, though ...


A review of our short film from the 48Hours forums, written by Spooceman:

Team: Lounge Pig Productions
Eligible: Yes
Genre: Musical
Title: The window cleaner

A classic boy meets girl musical, well edited interwoven plot cutting between two rather contrasting characters who change themselves in order to please each other.

The clean freak perfectionist trait comes out here again, which I personally find the most used and less thought about way of using the charater [sic], but in saying that, works well with this story, more so than others.

Some good singing on the female actors part and some nice camera work.

Favorite line: "Coasters don't matter when you're in love"

Overall Score: 3/5

Final contender: could well be.

In a side-note, when I was small I used to think [sic] meant "This incorrect spelling makes me sic!" But it doesn't.

Thanks, Spooceman!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sucker for punishment?

It's official, I can't take a break from writing. I'm working on a young adult novel on my break, an idea that has been buzzing in my head for a while ... hence the appearance of the second word-count-o-meter in the side bar. I'm just going to do a bit of work on it while I'm on my holiday from the book.

We're about to go and see our 48 Hours film on the big screen at Readings Cinema ... I can't wait! Well, I can. Obviously. But metaphorically, I can't wait.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

48 Hours is over!

Phew ... well, no time for writing over the weekend! We rolled up to Yellow Cross on Friday night to pick up our genre and required elements for the film. The elements were:
Object: Brush
Line of dialogue: "Wait a minute!"
Character: Kerry Post - a perfectionist
As we stood there waiting for our genre, I said to LOML, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if we got Musical?"
And, sure enough, that's what we got.

Friday night was spent sitting with the team in our living room drinking coffee and hashing out a storyline and script. The script was finished just after midnight, and we arranged to meet at 7 the next morning.

After breakfast, we started shooting. Our musical director composed the music to the lyrics I had written (there hadn't been any planning beforehand - he just wrote the music off the cuff. Pretty amazing) and the actors started rehearsing.

After shooting all the scenes for Act I, we had lunch.

Then back to work.

We spent a lot of time organising our sets.
The restaurant:

The dirty bathroom:

The messy living room:

We shot all our night scenes in the messy set, stopped for dinner, then shot our night scenes at the restaurant.

Most of us managed to get some sleep that night, but the director (LOML) and composer worked through the night editing and scoring the footage. The following morning, we were up bright and early again to shoot the final scenes in the park.

LOML, the musical director and I went to base camp. The rest of the day was taken up with editing the film ready for submission before 7pm.

Tension ran high, but we managed to finish the film and transfer it to DV tape by 6:30pm. By 6:40pm we were in Yellow Cross, the film safely handed in, enjoying a celebratory beer.

The showing of our heat is tomorrow night at Readings Cinema - can't wait! We're not allowed to show it before then. Most of our team hasn't seen the completed film either, so it will be an exciting night.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No rest for the wicked ... wickedly talented, that is! (Just kidding)

Oh, and tonight is the start of the 48 Hours Film Festival. 6pm, to be exact, is when LOML and I will go and pick up our genre and random elements from Yellow Cross bar in town ... then the cast and crew (most of them) is getting together this evening to brainstorm ideas. After they leave, it'll be my job to sit down and write a script until the wee hours. So this blog, temporarily, is no longer tracking the progress of a novelist, but the 48-hour-long progress of a screenwriter, second unit director and production assistant. Although there will still be coffee involved. I'll try and keep you posted!

The end at last, and coffee machine karma

I don't think it has really sunk in yet that I have finished the first draft, although I think once I've printed it out to read and I can see all the pages in front of me, that will change. I still need to do a read-through for anything glaring before I give it to my advisor, but I'm going to wait for a week or so and take a complete break.

Writer Timothy Hallinan's website has been invaluable to me in the last couple of weeks as I struggle to finish up. Now I'm living through this part of the process, as detailed in the section Finishing Up:

"There it is, your book. A nice, thick stack of pages, filled with the creations of your imagination. A whole world brought out of nothing and made real in the form of a ten-mile sentence. You should be genuinely, deeply, proud of yourself.

And then you should put it away.

Put it in a box. Stick the box in a drawer, where you can't see it. Put it on the shelf you use for stuff you only need twice a year. Leave it there, and take a vacation. Learn to draw, go camping, get pierced, research the knotted-string writing of the Incas. Go to coffee-houses and write descriptions of the faces you see. Jot down the things people say and work them into scenes, just for practice. Look at someone at the next table and invent a history for her. Write three pages every morning, as Julia Cameron suggests in The Vein of Gold, about anything and everything. Or use those pages to focus on your childhood, the shapes of hands, how to describe a smell. Come up with all the possible synonyms for “said” and put them on a list of words you don't want to use.

Make notes for your next project.

In your drawer or on that shelf, your manuscript is quietly cooling. Fat is congealing and rising to the surface. Dead dialog is beginning to smell bad. Imaginary blanks are appearing to indicate missing chunks of story. The great idea you forgot to write is gathering its strength so it can spring out at you when you open the box.

After a few weeks, open the box.

We write in heat, but there comes a time when we need to read coldly. This is it. Read with a pencil in your hand, preferably a red one. Be merciless. Circle or underline everything that doesn't work. If you know how to make it work, put a note in the margin, then and there. If whole scenes or sequences are flat, draw a line down the page next to the type. If you realize you left something out, note it in the margin, where you should have put it in the first place." - Timothy Hallinan

The main problems I faced these last few weeks were:
1) Fatigue. Was just plain sick of the whole thing, and wanted a break.
2) Resistance to finishing for a few reasons: fear of how I would feel once the first draft was done (purposeless, flat, empty? I didn't know, and none of those are true so far); fear of taking a break (I feel guilty when I'm not working, especially since I'm not in a paying job at the moment); fear of people's reactions to it once it was finished ("Oh no! This means it's actually going out into the world sometime! What if people don't like it?"); fear of my family's reaction ("Is this character meant to be me?" "No ..." "Are you kidding?"); doubt that I could effectively write about the subject ("who am I to try and write about this awful thing that so many people suffered through? What if I fail?"); and a whole host of other things.
3) Trying to do justice to such a painful and complex time. I really wanted to treat the time and place I was writing about with respect, and make them as powerful as they needed to be. The final chapters were set in an emotionally difficult situation, and I wanted to make sure I was sensitive to it.
4) Wrapping up all the storylines and loose ends effectively - a bit like juggling chainsaws.
5)Keeping it authentic and letting the book end the way it should end without falling into the 'short road home' trap.

My advisor and I had a conversation comparing writing a novel to giving birth to a child. I said, "Except the novel won't grow up and bring unsuitable boyfriends home."
"Or get acne," he said.
"Unless it's metaphorical acne."
"Like adverbs suddenly popping up in the text."
Well, now it's time to print my baby out (I don't think there's any way to make that a workable analogy without making it sound a little gross). LOML is going to do it for me at his work next week because our poor little printer can't take the strain.

In other news - I broke the coffee machine! I am sad. Just the lid hinge, but still. Only yesterday I was giving it a hug and saying, "I'm so glad I haven't broken you yet," and then SNAP. I hope it doesn't affect it too much. I would be heartbroken without my coffee machine. It has taught me a valuable lesson about tempting Fate, however - I am no longer going to say, "My God, I can't believe I've kept the goldfish alive this long."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Celebrate good times, come on!


The first draft is complete!


I am so, so tired. Have been all week, it's very strange. I just have to blink and I fall asleep instantly.

Am almost finished with Chapter Thirty-five.

Need ... coffee ... or my lifeless body will be found slumped over my keyboard.


Total word count: 125,000
Today's word count: 1,000
Chapter progress: I have finished Chapter Thirty-four!!! I am so excited that I am using multiple exclamation marks!!! This is such a milestone. It's the third-to-last chapter, and it has been the most difficult to write because it is the most graphically violent, sad and horrifying chapter in the book. And it is done, hurrah, hurrah. This means that there are only two more chapters to finish off, and both are half-written. I can definitely see myself finishing today, all ready for a read-through tomorrow.
What's playing: New Wave stuff today for some reason ... The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Blondie, The Pretenders. Yesterday afternoon I was listening to Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, which seems altogether more appropriate for background to finishing a book on Zimbabwe. But no, I'm finishing it to the dulcet tones of Debbie Harry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Update and some more sad news

I've ticked off one to five from the list below ... still have a lot of work to do. Therefore, it is time to make another pot of coffee!

Total word count: 123,500
Cups of coffee: two, so far
What's playing: David Bowie and John McLaughlin

I have just read the story of Mr and Mrs Rogers from Chegutu, Zimbabwe, who were attacked by so-called War Veterans on 6 May, and seen the horrific pictures of their injuries. None of this is making it onto the news here in New Zealand. Here is their story, and those images. Please read it, and be aware of what is happening behind the country's blanket of censorship.

Take a deep breath ... and here we go

As far as I can see, this is what I need to get done in the next three days to complete the book by the weekend:

1) Tidy up the end of Chapter Twenty-seven - have just spotted a bit where I wrote 'rhubarb rhubarb' instead of actual text, which is my signal to myself that I left something out. It's a good way of doing it - all I have to do to eliminate the 'rhubarbs' is do a quick Edit-Find.
2) Make what I call the 'Cephas Redux' scene in Chapter Twenty-eight less random.
3) Tidy up the Farai and Oliver scenes in Chapter Twenty-eight.
4) Insert some magic and folklore into Chapter Thirty.
5) Write a scene with Oliver for Chapter Thirty-two.
6) Expand Chapter Thirty-three.
7) Chapter Thirty-four is only half-written. So I'd better write it.
8) Same with Chapter Thirty-five. Also, I have to decide whether this needs to be two chapters or just one.
9) Tidy up Chapter Thirty-six, also known as the epilogue ...
10) Format anything I haven't formatted.
11) Do a read-through for sense, typos, any glaring errors and so on ... not too intensive, though, because I'm going to have a complete break from the book and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
12) And I just remembered I have an incomplete chapter right at the beginning of the book that I added in recently - I need to decide whether to keep it or not, and if I do keep it, I need to finish it.

And then I will be done! I will have a first draft that is complete and which I am relatively happy with, ready for my advisor to read in its entirety at the end of May. And I will be able to have a break (hurrah) and start the revision process fresh in a couple of weeks. I am so looking forward to having a break. I need one. At the moment when I stare at the page all I see is "This is crap, this is crap, this is crap," which is a clear sign that I need a holiday from it. And coffee.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ridiculously sentimental

LOML sold my old computer printer on Trade-me the other day. It had a $1 reserve and it sold for ... yes, $1.

When he told me it had been sold, I saw a sort of montage in my head of all the good times the printer and I had had together. All the university assignments I printed out. All the pages of writing. All the times I packed it carefully into a box when I was moving house. I actually got a bit tearful.

I get very attached to inanimate objects.

Finishing the job

I wrote the first 100,000 words of the novel in just under three months.

The final chapters have taken six weeks. And counting.

The moral - finishing a book is hard. For really good advice on finishing a novel, Timothy Hallinan's website is invaluable. I've been referring to it regularly. But for some not-so-eloquently-expressed advice on finishing a novel, there's always me.

I have so many half-finished novels sitting in drawers and on my computer. I wish I had finished them all. Going back to an old unfinished novel rarely works. In the time away from it, you've changed. The book you would have written then is gone. You have to push through any resistance you feel and just get to the end of whatever you're writing, even if you think it's rubbish, because you learn so much from finishing a book. Even if it never sees the light of day. Even if it is actually terrible. It's worth finishing just for the lessons you'll learn. Of the books I have written, I have only completely finished four (hopefully five by the end of the week!), and each of them taught me something that acted as a stepping stone to the next (and better) one.

I am so close to the end of the book now. So ... very ... close. I can't wait. I really want to get it finished before the weekend, because I want to give all my attention to 48 Hours.


I'm really conflicted about this particular subplot that I'm trying to wrap up. I'm not sure if I should just leave it where it was, let it disappear out of the book. I have followed it through for a while, but it feels kind of forced and dead. Should I carry on to the bitter end and evaluate it then, or give up on it and just concentrate on the rest of the book?

I'm really not sure.

Good advice!

From Neil Gaiman's blog:

"The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do.

So you write it. Then you put it aside. Not for months, but perhaps for a week or so. Even a few days. Do other things. Then set aside some uninterrupted time to read, and pull it out, and pretend you have never read it before -- clear it out of your head, and sit and read it. (I'd suggest you do this on a print-out, so you can scribble on it as you go. )

When you get to the end you should have a much better idea of what it was about than you did when you started. (I knew The Graveyard Book would be about a boy who lived in a graveyard when I started it. I didn't know that it would be about how we make our families, though: that's a theme that made itself apparent while the book was being written.)

And then, on the second and subsequent drafts, you do four things. 1) You fix the things that didn't work as best you can (if you don't like the climactic Rock City scene in American Gods, trust me, the first draft was so much worse). 2) You reinforce the themes, whether they were there from the beginning or whether they grew like Topsy on the way. You take out the stuff that undercuts those themes. 3) You worry about the title. 4) At some point in the revision process you will probably need to remind yourself that you could keep polishing it infinitely, that perfection is not an attribute of humankind, and really, shouldn't you get on with the next thing now?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Here we go ... after a fairly stressful and busy three days, I have four empty days stretching ahead of me, just waiting to be filled up with writing. I feel good about being able to finish the final chapters this week (she says for the hundredth time), and I'm going into hibernation to achieve it. I need to get a good amount of work done before 48 Hours this weekend. As you can imagine, it's going to be pretty crazy. So Tuesday to Friday this week are going to be all about me, the computer and some coffee getting together and trying to finish this thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rather hilarious

I have learned a new word today. Photobombing: the fine art of ruining someone else's photograph, as illustrated on List Of The Day: Photobombers Of The Day.

We are all photobombers at one time or another, I think.

48 hours

I have just got back from the cafe. It was especially busy today, because the sun is shining, so I huddled in the corner trying to look inconspicuous and ordered lots of coffee out of guilt. I really don't want to be That Person who takes up a table for hours and orders one thing. Sadly, I think I am.

I think I have solved a couple of problems with the ending. I have a new chapter all planned out that I think will patch a hole. Am getting there.

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but LOML and I are leading a team for 48HOURS: Furious Filmmaking. It starts next Friday night (16 May) and ends on Sunday night (18 May, if my calculations are correct). On the Friday night you are given a genre and some random elements, like a line of dialogue or a prop, that have to be incorporated into the film. Everything has to be done in 48 hours - the writing, the scoring, the editing, everything. Which means lots of coffee and takeaways and no sleep. I am the writer and production assistant (and I think the continuity person as well), LOML is the director, and we have roped in friends to help with everything else. It should be a great weekend, if exhausting. Interesting to see the depths of crankiness we will descend to as well.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Death and taxes

Oh my goodness, I need to do my taxes soon. I can see the envelope staring at me from the table. I hate doing taxes, especially now that I'm doing freelance work.

Another productive morning at the cafe ... making a pot of tea and a frittata last two hours, trying to convince the waiter that yes, he can take away my empty cup and I won't be angry (strange boy) and writing. About another thousand words today, and a couple of powerful scenes. I took an unexpected turn with one of my characters this morning after a conversation with my advisor yesterday.
"So," he said, tapping the paper with his glasses, "What's going to happen to Oliver?"
"I'm not sure," I said, "Although I'm going to resolve it somehow."
"He needs to die, doesn't he?"
"Die? Well, no, I hadn't planned to kill him off."
And for the rest of that day I still didn't plan to kill him off. Then, when I started typing this morning I realised that actually he does need to die. So I wrote that scene this morning, and was very sad, because I like him, but his death makes a point that I need to make.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


How do you deal with people or events that intimidate you?

My usual tactic is to a) do my homework and b) put on an act. That is, try and prepare for the stressful event as much as I can, and then step out of myself and become someone else while my real self is observing from a safe distance.

I would love to be able to meet these people and events head-on, by being myself instead of detaching. Anyone have any good tips for this rather vague scenario ...?

Family day

Am home from a morning spent with my mother. She's flying out to England on the weekend to stay with my grandparents and great-grandmother, so it's my last chance to spend time with her for the next six weeks. Also went and picked my sister up from the airport, where she has just flown in from Sydney, so it has been a family-filled day.

This is my sister and me at my wedding - just before the picture was taken, my sister said, "We should do something Zimbabwean for the photo!"
"Do something Zimbabwean? Like what?"
"Um ... play the drums?"
And then we cracked up, and the photographer clicked the shutter.

Anyway, I'm home now and planning to get stuck in to some work before I go out again this evening.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Psalm 46

An appropriate one for Zimbabwe at the moment, I think.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Far, a long long way to run

Back to more pleasant things. You may have noticed the word-count-ometer has dropped again ... this is because I got rid of a chapter that wasn't really working. And then carried on writing. Which somehow brought me back to 120,000 words, much in the way that tea a drink with jam and bread brings us back to doe (doh!).

Today was freezing cold and rainy, and I had a hangover. I sat in the cafe eating french fries and drinking coffee and writing while the wind whipped the trees up into a frenzy outside. These last chapters are harder and more laborious than I imagined, and I need to give them the time and energy they deserve. And I need to not begrudge them that. So, on we trudge! Things are going well, they're just going more slowly than I would like.

Cry the beloved country ...

This is the amount of Zimbabwe dollars this boy needs to buy a banana (photo from Sokwanele - Zvakwana).

This image of a man who was tied to a barn door and set alight by Mugabe's thugs was also taken by Sokwanele - Zvakwana ('Enough is Enough' in English). Go to Sokwanele's photostream and look at the photos of torture victims there - the result of Mugabe's reprisal attacks under the codename Operation Mavhoterapapi ('Where you put your "X"'). They're not pleasant to see, but the world needs to see them. Too much violence has been allowed to slip under the radar, and brave people like this need to be recognised for bringing it to the attention of the world.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” - Desmond Tutu

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Wiesel
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