Friday, September 16, 2011

A Date With Kate - New Voices Thoughts

NEW VOICES – is there any other topic?

So the big contest has launched.  Mills and Boon New Voices 2011  began on September 13th. The web site is live, the entries can be  uploaded. People are already obsessing about their entries, worrying about the  number of roses they have, the number of comments.  Over on the  New Voices Facebook page,  already some entrants are worrying themselves sick, thinking that their entry just isn’t as good as, anything like, doesn’t have a cute meet, doesn’t have a punishing kiss. They only have 3000 words – is this too few? Or they have 3500 words – is this too many?  What if they’ve entered for the Passion category and they perhaps should have entered the Romance . . . What if the title is all wrong . . .  perhaps it should have been . . . .

OK – now breathe!   Calm down -  take a step back.   All around me I see people obsessing, worrying -  about quite the wrong things.
If you’ve already uploaded your entry – you’ve done it. You can’t do anything about it now. I know how you’re feeling. I feel that way every single time I send in a manuscript. I put the whole book on one Word document, I  spellcheck it, read it through – I press SEND  - and then I panic. Please  dear Editor, I want to say, please can I have it back . . .  I did once say that  - and her response straight back at me was ‘No, I won’t send it back. You’ve done your bit  - now let me do mine.’

But-  but – I need to edit, to tweak, to change . . .’ Perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t’, she said  – ‘But I tell you this – you’re not the best person to see those things that do need tweaking.’  And she was right (this editor almost always was, darn her – even when she asked me for a prologue to  Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride and I didn’t want to write one. Now it’s one piece of writing I’m really proud of.)

So if you’ve already uploaded your entry  now is not the time to go back and tweak it and then feel that what you have up there is terrible. It’s not the time to try and change it according to every passing comment or criticism. You’ll end up with a chapter written by committee and that won’t please anyone because it’s trying too hard to please everyone. So what can you do?

Well, the best thing is to remember that this isn’t a contest for just a first chapter. I saw a lot of entries like that last year.  Clever chapters, dramatic chapters, funny chapters – chapters that were interesting writing exercises and little more. The authors had spent a lot of time working on this tiny part of a novel, polishing and tweaking it -  but they didn’t see that the real problem was it had nowhere to go.  It was just that – a writing exercise – and not the beginning of a story. Not the start of an emotional journey of two people who will meet, deal with conflicts between them – and fall in love.

So if your first chapter is up there – congratulations on your courage and determination  and hard work in getting this far. Now  take a step back – several steps  - and think  about where you go from here. Well, not you, but your characters. If this is the start of their journey, then where will they head next – and after that? And why? Because that is what ‘real writers’  - us published novelists  - have to do. We can’t just stop at Chapter One – we have to turn it into a full story, create a book out of that initial idea. Develop it, build the conflict, deal with characters.  We have to write the emotional journey.

And whether you  come in the Top 20 or Top 5 – or nowhere – that’s the way forward, whatever the result.

Or what about those of you who haven’t  entered yet – but have a brand sparkling new chapter just waiting for you to press that ‘send’ button. I know the temptation  will be to hang on just another day – another couple of days – to tweak this paragraph, change that bit . . .

One day you’re going to have to send it – or you won’t have an entry at all. And be careful of you’ll edit and tweak and iron out all the life from it.  I know only too well the days when you look at your WIP and you edit the first paragraph . . .
The tall dark handsome man . . . .
 The  A tall dark handsome man . . .
A tall  big dark handsome man . . .
The big dark, handsome devastating man

And that’s before you start worrying about formatting, and font size and paragraph lengths, and . . .

No really – honestly – just breathe

Let’s look at what the hudgng criteria for this contest says:

During the First Chapter Judging Phase, the Judges will select the First Chapter Submissions of twenty (20) entrants (each, a “Finalist”) from among all eligible Submissions, based on the following judging criteria (the “Judging Criteria”):
• Voice (33%);
 • Content (33%); and
 • Writing Skills (34%)
The Judges may also take into account the length of the Submission, if they feel that the entrant will not be able to meet the combined word limit of 10,000 words.

VOICE – I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again  - and again – and again . . . Tell the story your way. Don’t  go looking at how someone else has done it – or worry that you can’t write like  X Y or Z. I know – I’ve been there.  And I know I don’t write like Michelle Reid, or Liz Fielding or Kelly Hunter or Marion Lennox – nothing like any of them. But I write like ME.   Like Kate Walker. So remember – The editors are not looking for a new Lynne Graham (I don’t write like her either) or Donna Alward (another I don’t write like)  They are looking for  New Voices. That’s New VOICES. Yours I hope. But not pale copies of anyone else.

CONTENT – this one is tricky. There  are very few – probably NO new and original plots in the whole of fiction writing, never mind in the world of romance writing. So you probably can’t be blindingly original and different here – but you can be authentic – true to yourself – use that personal voice, the personal slant on the story that comes from deep inside you and let that  give your story the  voice that will make it sound fresh.

WRITING SKILLS – and this is where I, with  all the workshops and courses I do. With all the pages of instruction and advice in the 12 Point Guide that I’ve written, the writing exercises  at the end of each chapter, I have to admit that I can’t teach you this bit. Oh I can teach you grammar spelling (you have checked those spellings haven’t you? And the grammar?) I can discuss technique and say things like ‘rule of thumb – 60% dialogue to 40% narrative’ – but I can’t teach you TALENT. If you have talent, it will shine through -  even if your submission is a bit rough round the edges or needs tweaking. But editorial tweaking is a very different thing from fussing, nervous, daren’t-let-it-go tweaking.

Congratulations to all of you who’ve already entered – and good luck. Good luck too to all of those who are going to enter – you all deserve medals for bravery. It was bad enough when I first sent in my very first submission to HMB all those umpty-ump   years ago.  I was terrified at the thought of a real life editor reading it – never mind taking the plunge to let everyome out there in internet land read and comment.

Oh yes – comments. I know there’s space for comments and that some writers want feedback, but I won’t be posting any. I  don’t think that’s fair. If I can’t comment on everyone’s – and I can’t – then I won’t comment on anyone’s.  And besides, in the end, no matter how many peple love your chapter – or not – it’s the editors/judges opinion that matters.

Writing this I’m remembering how last year at this time I quoted Yeats’s poem:

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I wish each and every one of you who has had the courage to spread out your dreams in front of everyone the best of luck and I’ll hope that for as many of you as possible your dreams will come true.
And as for comments – I hope you’ll all remember that those chapters are other people’s dreams – so don’t trample in and ruin them  - Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Good luck to everyone.

Oh - and
This post is part of a big Blog Tour that I’m doing to celebrate the publication of The Return of The Stranger  . So to mark this occasion, I’m launching a great big Blog Tour all over the internet for
the next few weeks. There are 27 different visits between now and the end of the tour, 27 different places where I’ll be visiting and posting about different topics.
These posts will also introduce you to lots of interesting blogs all over the internet. Some you’ll have seen before – The Pink Heart Society, obviously, Tote Bags ‘N’ Blogs, We Write Romance, I heart Presents – others will be new to you. And I hope to have some sort of a give away of a book or so at each stop along the way.

The you can ‘stalk’ me along my journey and end up with 4 signed books as a special prize just

in time for Christmas. You can find the full blog itinerary over on the great Author Page that Nas Dean from Romance Book Paradise who has been helping me with this has set up for me. There’s the list of all the blogs I’ll be visiting – and there may be a few more yet along the way! I hope you’ll join me as I travel all over the blog universe!



And today I’m giving away a book that I hope will help someone along the way towards being the New Voice that M&B are looking for. Maybe not in this contest - after all this isn't your only chance at getting your work before and editor. Today my giveaway is a signed copy of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance -  so   if you post a comment, telling me   why you want  to win. If you've entered the New Voices Contest - or if you have a submission already on a editor's desk .. .  Just tell me about how you're doing with your writing and I'll get Sid the Cat - or Chrlie his apprentice - to pick out a name as a winner.

(Small note - I might be a bit late with picking the winner as I'll be awauy from hokme for part of the day -  on Saturday I'm speaking at the Bronte Festival of Women's Writing  - talking about writing The Return of The Stranger and how  I used Wuthering Heights as the inspiration, the launch pad for this  particular story.  But I'll pick the winners as soon as I'm home.)
And I’ll see you at the next stage of my Blog Tour  - or on my personal blog.

Kate's book, The Return of the Stranger is available now in the shops and on the Mills & Boon site where it was the #1 bestseller  for the whole of August. It's out as an ebook and in print on eHarlequin and published in Presents EXTRA on October 4th.

Oh - and she's thrilled to be able to confirm that her next one after that has now had her chosen title The Devil and Miss Jones confirmed. The Devil and Miss  Jones will be out in March 2012 in Modern Romance.
You can read all her most up to date news on her web site and her blog


UPDATE -
And the winner is -
I got Charlie on the job of picking a winner and he came up with Michelle Fayard!
Michelle please email me kate AT kate-walker.com with your postal address and I'll get the book in the mail to you

48 comments:

  1. I think winning your book will motivate me to do more writing.

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  2. Hi Kate, love this post - brilliant timing for me as a New Voices entrant. I kept tweaking my chapter and in the end thought I'd lose the 'me' bit if I carried on, and I was quite relieved in a way when I made that decision. I also have a submission in with M&B at present, but having really worked on this chapter and taking on board the advice from authors such as yourself I now realise that my NV submission is much better than the standard sub (which deserves to come back with a R). So I know I can improve, and your book might help me to get that little bit further, and closer to publication.

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  3. What a great post Kate. Such wise words as always. I've got your fantastic 12 Point Guide and it's a MUST for anyone considering writing romance. Caroline x p.s off to cyber stalk you now!

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  4. Hello Chey - well, I certainly hope that that is the case and that anyone getting my book will find it motivates you to wrote more! Hmm - perhaps I could see if it works for me! ;o)

    Oh - I'd forgotten that this blogger doesn't like me - so this is

    Kate

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  5. Hello again Susie - it can be hard to decide when to stop 'tweaking' but you do need to watch that you don't edit your voice out of your sdubmission. How great to know that you feel you have prgressed from your first submission - I hope you continue to grow as a writer. Good luck!

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  6. Hi Caroline - good to see you. Are you entering New Voices this time around? If you are then good luck! I'm glad you find the 12 Point Guide so helpful.

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  7. For all aspiring writers KATE WALKER'S 12 POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE should be the go to book!

    I have a copy of the 3rd Edition and it's a tremendous writer's tool to have. It's separate Chapters are so much help. There's a chapter on :

    Focus
    Sensuality
    Passion
    Characterisation and Heroines
    Plotting
    The Intense Black Moment
    Emotion
    Conflict
    Dialogue and the
    A Beleivable Happy Ending among some others.

    Whoever wins this would be so lucky!

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  8. Lovely post Kate such stunning advice for writers !
    Desere

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  9. Encouraging and refreshing advice for aspiring writers Kate!

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  10. I love the 'hudgng' criteria! A perfect example of a brilliant post not needing to be perfect.

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  11. Hi Kate ~ As a non writer I am finding your posts extremely interesting. I love to read debut stories as I usually find that they have a fresh feel to them. The authors I grow to love carry that fresh feeling through to their following books. I've been reading romance for over 50 years so I have read a lot of debut books. Good luck to all the new voices. Kudos to all of you who enter.

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  12. Thanks for the post Kate, your insider knowlege is priceless for us 'wannabes' and I have already submitted my entry to NV and had most of those doubts and thoughts you speak of. However, I am trying my hardest not to keep searching for the elusive roses. I believe in the story I have come up with and whilst it may not be the most original, I am sure if I keep plugging away, learning more techniques and taking inspiration from people like yourself then this tale will someday be told. Thanks for supporting all of us.

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  13. If your writer's guide is anything like this post, I needed it yesterday when I hacked my manuscript to pieces and likely set myself back two days. I am not looking forward to the back-pedalling tonight, or the heightened anxiety I will endure come time to hit that submit button. Thanks for all you do. It helps.

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  14. Wonderful advice, Kate. I'm not able to enter NV this year as I have a contract with another publisher. Last year, the feedback I received on my entry was precious. I still haven't finished that particular novel, but it's waiting. Perhaps if I win your 12 Point Guide (hint, hint), I can figure out why it's stalled on me.

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  15. Thank you for such timely post! I'm not panicked yet, not tweaking the same opening line again and again yet. But the temptation to doubt and question is strong. I know there will be many wonderful entries. All I can do is write a chapter that I love and then spread it on the ground at your feet.

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  16. Many thanks fir your comments, especially the one about breathing. I'm very guilty of over-thinking, I know, so it's very timely.

    pageturner345@gmail.com

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  17. Dashing in before I head for Haworth - such a great set of comments I'm in a bit of a rush but . .

    Thanks so much for your lovely compliments Nas - I was so happy you found the 12 Point Guide so helpful

    Kate

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  18. Desere - thank you! I'm blushing at that 'stunning'

    Kate

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  19. Rishal - thank you too. I hope this advice does help

    Kate

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  20. Oh Ros - now I'm blushing! I wrote this with the beginning of a migraine and missed that typos - thank you for being so kind about it.

    Kate

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  21. Kaelee, as a reader you must know so much about romance writing - but from a very different side of things. I sometimes wish I could share all your memories of the books you've read. Thank you for commenting

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  22. Hi Michelle - I know it must be almost impossible not to keep going back and clicking and looking for roses - but each of those is only one person's opinion. And the editors' opinion always is the one that counts. I remember those first submissions so so well - and it doesn't get that much easier!

    Kate

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  23. romanticnomdeplume - does it help to know we all go through times like that? That we all - even the multi-published authors have times when we're attacked by Crows of Doubt and feel everyting we've done is terrible? I'd love to think that my advice has helped you - it's never easy to submit, but if you never do that then you'll never have a chance of acceptance! (And believe me - you should see my first ever attempt at a romance - ouch!)

    Kate

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  24. Hi Lorraine
    With each submission we learn something more - and if you get any comments/criticism/advice from the editors than it's like gold. Good luck with your next attempt - maybe that story that stalled wasn't developed deeply enough - get to know your characters really really well and see if they will take you forward

    Kate

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  25. Hello Julia - it's hard to let go isn't it? Like sending your baby out into the world. And you aer so right - all you can do is write the best chapter you can and put it mout there, under people's feet - and hope they love it too.

    Kate

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  26. pageturner - I'm glad my comments helpd - good luck with your submission, try not to think and edit all the life out of it - and yes - breathe . .
    Kate

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  27. Fiona - thank you - coming from a fellow writer that it wonderful praise

    Kate

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  28. Dear Kate

    I love this post. It is motivating and too the point. You remind of my English Teacher who had a no nonsense attitude when she explained what she expected from essays that we had to hand in:)

    I would love to win a copy of the book as I am completely clueless when it comes to handing in manuscripts. I always end up developing hives from stress! I can never let my writing sit and not peak and tweak and this rate I shall submit nothing!

    I have the passion and the talent, I just need the instruction and the know how:)

    Thanks:)

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  29. Great advice, as always, Kate. I was doing the New Voices last year and, have to admit, it was the most terrifying experience of my writing life! lol. Good luck to all those entrants this year :)

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  30. Hi! Kate! What a wonderful post!

    I did the exact same mistakes you had mentioned about languishing over every comma, every word of the first paragraph (tall, dark and handsome example suits me perfectly). There were also times, like Nano 2009 when I wrote - without thinking.

    The major mistakes I did was, I didn't focus on the conflict. Of course, loads of external machinations by the writer (aka me) brought the H/h together, but without their conflict in place, they just did things..because I pulled the strings and made them do. I am still learning, trying to understand better with each MS! And I am a person who has to sit on the bicycle to try to ride it (fall, get up again every single time) before I feel confident enough to do it.... but then, it is important that I first know how to climb / sit on it to start pedalling :)

    I really think that your book 12-point guide is a fantastic tool for aspiring writers! Definitely count me in for the giveaway !

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  31. Kate, although this entire post resonated with me, the part that really hit home was: "You’ll end up with a chapter written by committee, and that won’t please anyone because it’s trying too hard to please everyone."

    I have a confession; when I was in high school, I secretly wanted to be able to write a romance novel. My mom's kidneys kept threatening to shut down; for months she had to keep still, but she still was in pain. To try to take her mind from her troubles, Dad and I kept a sackful of romance books at her side--historicals, contemporaries, it didn't matter, for they all transported her to another place.

    I wanted to be able to create that same magic in the lives of people who were facing their own challenges--or who just enjoyed relaxing at the end of the day with a good book. It would be an honor to win your 12-point guide to writing romance, as deep down I still wonder if it's possible for a former news journalist to use words to create this kind of magic.

    Congratulations on your newest book, and thank you again for an incredible!

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  32. Hello Kate, thanks for that really useful post. I am not at all nervous about entering, nor are my hopes very high. I think I have a fairly thick skin when it come to rejection - out of thirty short stories, I've had one accepted (It's a ghost story, out in the Hallowe'en edition of Ireland's Own, next month, if anyone's interested). I love writing and so do lots of others, so you've just got to get out there and show your work. Some of the greatest literary giants got rejections at the height of their careers. It would be nice if I do well, but like I say, I'll keep an open mind about it.

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  33. Hi Kate...I love the posts that you have been doing for the New Voices competitions...they have all been so useful for all the up and coming new writers.

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  34. Your welcome Kate I only tell the truth and I am positive when Return of the Stranger hits selves in SA I wont be disappointed I definitely go out and grab it that is if I dont manage to win myself a stunning more valuable than gold authographed copy somewhere on the blog tour !

    Take Care
    Desere

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  35. Great post, Kate! Some very good advice here.

    I have the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance and it's been invaluable both in my own writing career and in my editing business.

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  36. Hello Elaine - sorry to be late answering you as I was away teaching at the weekend. Funnily enough, someone said they wished I had been their English teacher after they'd heard me speak! I'm glad my post motivated you and I wish you luck going forward into your writing

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  37. Hi Xandra - I remember how you entered last time - congratulations on your progress since then. I'm glad that you liked my post

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  38. Hello Ju - nice to see you here as a commentator not my hist this time! I think wehat you say is a common problem with a lot of people - they move their characters around to create situations instead of letting the situations and the confloict come from the characters. So don't blame yourself too much - a lot of people have to learn that way! Good luck with your writing

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  39. Helo Michelle - I'm glad that this post worked for you - specially that line! But I have to say that I think your 'confession' is a great thing really. The thought of wanting to help peope like your Mum is great and actually I love the fact that I sometimes hear from people that my books have helped them through some difficult time - it's always good to kinow that. I don't claim to write great literature but I do hope to write novels that people can read and enjoy and it's wonderful to know when they do. Thank you for sharing with me

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  40. Hello again Maria - Thank you for your comment. I'll share with you that my husband loves to read Ireland's Own when we are in Dublin. Congratulations on your ghost story acceptance - I love ghost stories! And you are so right - some of the really big greats of Eng Lit were rejected - repeatedly - before they succeeded - so everyone should pick themselves up, dust them selves off and start - try anyway! - all over again!

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  41. Hello again Sonali - and thank you - I'm glad that you are enjoying my posts and following me on the blog tour!

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  42. And Serena - how good to see you again - of course, as a past winner of the 12 Point Guide you do know about it - and I'm glad that you find it so useful in your editing as well as your writing career

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  43. OOPS! SO sorry Desere - my computer jumped so that I missed your post in order. PLease forgive me. I'm glad that you want to grab a copy of The Return of the Stranger one way or another - and I hope you love it when you get it

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  44. Thanks for the advice, Kate. I'll be sure to get back into that story soon. :-)

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  45. And the winner is -

    I got Charlie on the job of picking a winner and he came up with Michelle Fayard!

    Michelle please email me kate AT kate-walker.com with your postal address and I'll get the book in the mail to you

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  46. Congratulations Michelle, you'll love the fabulous KATE WALKER'S 12 POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE!

    Hey friends, there are more copies of this book as well as THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER and some backlist books to be won on this tour, so keep commenting!

    Next stop is,

    http://marlena-cassidy.blogspot.com/

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