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Saboteur Awards 2013 | ‘Still’ runner-up ‘Best Mixed Anthology’

Negative Press London celebrated success last Wednesday at the Saboteur Awards ceremony at the Book Club in Shoreditch, where Still came runner-up in the category Best Mixed Anthology. Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up and thanks to Sabotage Reviews for organising this fun literary event, with some wonderful performances.

Great to meet Robin and Ashley from Unthank and Claire Trévien from Sabotage Reviews. For full results, see Saboteur Awards 2013 results

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Q&A | Nina Killham

‘Still’ writer Nina Killham at the <em>Still</em>launch

Nina Killham at the ‘Still’ book launch

NINA KILLHAM currently lives in Melbourne. She is the author of three novels: How to Cook a TartMounting Desire and Believe Me. She also writes short stories and screenplays. For Still she contributed ‘My Wife the Hyena’, which has been selected for inclusion in the annual anthology The Best British Short Stories 2013 (Salt), which is published next week. She’s currently writing a historical novel set in Singapore just before the Japanese invasion.

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

Writing for me has been a way of processing my life. I’ve had a lot of change in my life. My father was a diplomat and so we moved every three years. I was always the new kid on the block, always the outsider, looking in, taking notes. I was writing in my mind long before I was putting it on paper. And once I began I couldn’t stop. The downside is that sometimes I become a spectator in my life rather than a participant. It’s something I’m trying to change.

How do you fit time in to write?
My children are growing up and I thought it would get easier to find the time to write. In fact it’s sometimes harder. Yes, they are out of the house longer going to school but I probably worry about them more. I wrote my first novel around my daughter’s naps. And it showed. My daughter wasn’t a big sleeper so my first draft was a series of little snippets written in about twenty minutes. I’ve recently taken to writing in my bed. Since we moved to Melbourne from north London, I have the most beautiful view outside my window: beautiful spring green Honey Locust trees waving in the wind. So I prop myself up with my laptop and stare out and eventually get some work done.

Is life in the sunshine affecting your approach to writing?
Life in the sunshine. Ah, can’t tell you how lovely it is. I had forgotten sunshine! The people are sunnier as well. Not sure how it will affect my writing. But I am getting it done and for that I’m very grateful. Of course the flat whites are probably a huge help.

Does the short story format offer the opportunity to do something different and let your hair down so to speak?
What let my hair down was that I was not trying to please an editor, an agent, or a perceived ‘buyer’ of my fiction. I’d been writing novels to a varying degree of success. When I approached my fourth, my third had just come out and sank without a trace. I suddenly became very panicky about ever getting published again. So I started looking to see what worked; what was sold, what was marketable. I drove myself and others mad. So when you asked for submissions I delighted to write what I wanted. I felt free and the entire experience has been the utmost pleasure.

Do you have a secret/unpublished collection of short fiction?
I do have a collection! You astute man! The stories circle around a north London primary school. Surprise, surprise. One day, perhaps, after they’ve matured a bit in my cellar, I will sort them out.

Story or novel?
There is nothing more satisfying to read than a good short story. That intense concentration rewarded with a pungent ending thought. I tend, though, to read more novels as they are something to sink into, to completely immerse myself in another world. I also think novels, though more time consuming and horribly muddy and murky at times, are easier to write. Bigger canvas. You get to splash more paint about. Mistakes get lost in the length. Short stories, to be effective, require more control, a sharper focus.

‘The Mayor's Parlour’, ‘Still, Roelof Bakker

‘The Mayor’s Parlour’ from ‘Still’. ©2013 Roelof Bakker

Where did the inspiration for ‘My Wife the Hyena’ come from?
The title came first. In fact I’d wanted to write a story called ‘My Wife the Hyena’ for a while because I’ve long noticed the similarities between society’s perception of hyenas and women. A bit too pushy, a bit too gamey and earthy, possessed of a mean streak, with wicked, raucous laughter… When I saw your photograph I immediately saw how it could work. What I found evocative about your photos was the idea that even though there was no one in the rooms you felt a presence. It was as if someone had just stepped away. The photo I picked with the desk and the coat rack seemed so lonely. It spoke to me of a long, dutiful, rigid and utterly lonely life. Who knows what another viewer would have made of it. That was what was brilliant about Still. So many takes on one body of work.

How did you find working with a visual artist?
I loved working with a visual artist. I can spend hours looking at paintings and photography. In fact I always ask for art books for my birthday. So when you sent me the photographs it felt like something I do on my time off anyway and it really sparked my imagination. I’m also a Sunday painter and wish I was better. So I was just thrilled to be working with you.

Do you use visuals as inspiration for your writing?
I don’t usually. Perhaps I should. My first three novels were contemporary satires so I didn’t think to look at pictures. Currently I’m writing a historical novel and I am looking at photographs of the time. They inspire me in the sense I am trying very hard to impart my visual fascination with the era into words.

How do you approach a new writing project?
It differs. My first novel was fun because I didn’t know better. I just wrote what I thought was amusing and luckily I found an agent and editor who agreed. The second and third I had to approach more professionally, with a little more of an eye to what I thought might be of interest to readers. With my latest book, the historical novel, I have been fairly calculated, trying to come up with something my agent would approve of. And yet at the same time I have had to make sure it’s something that resonates with me, that truly fascinates me. Otherwise it will fall flat.

What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a historical novel set in Singapore right before the Japanese invasion. I find the Peranaken culture – which is a mixture of Chinese and Malay – fascinating. The book is a bit of an octopus at the moment as all the characters are coming alive and saying what they think. Which is brilliant. But I always find the length of novels cumbersome. It’s like being in a dark wood and I can’t see the path in front or behind. I lose my way in my own novel.

Favourite writers?
I love Evelyn Waugh. Handful of Dust would have to be my favourite book. I reread it regularly and laugh deliciously at his viciousness. The way the book ends is sheer brilliance. Graham Greene is another favourite. The Quiet American in particular. I’m coming to the age, unfortunately, where I forget everything I read almost as soon as I close the book. But I loved Life of Pi and oldies but goodies like Love in the Time of Cholera. Now that I’m in Australia I’m immersing myself in its literature. I recently read a gorgeous book called Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany. Just beautiful.

Advice to budding writers?
Advice to a budding writer? Had you asked me that ten years ago I would have said just write, write, write, and eventually you will learn your craft and you will get an agent who will get you a publisher. But now, I don’t know. I feel like so much has changed in the publishing world that it’s barely recognizable. And yes, I suppose, in the end, my advice would be the same. The write, write, write, part anyway. After that I’d probably add, learn your social media to make contacts. Mainly I’d say, be bold. Be you.

‘Still’, Negative Press London

‘Still’, Negative Press London

Any thoughts on the future of publishing?
Off the top of my head I think more small boutique online publishers will crop up. They will offer both ebooks and print but they will have zoomy websites and striking social media skills. They will create followers who will buy their books in the way people will buy branded clothes or music. Their customers will trust these publishers to pick books that they will like and be interested in. They will then create forums for the readers/customers to connect. Because as the world gets more connected and more overwhelming with choice, people will rely on book publishing brands to keep the noise at bay. A perfect example of this are the books published by Peirene Press. A wide eclectic stable of writers under one brief: short European literature. You want one of these, you go to Meike Ziervogel (publisher Peirene Press). She’s collecting the best. My two cents anyway…



The Best British Short Stories 2013

The Best British Short Stories 2013



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‘Still’ | Shortlisted for Saboteur Indy Lit Award

Still is shortlisted in the Saboteur Indy Lit Awards for Best Mixed Anthology. Congratulations to all the talented Still writers and many thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of the book.

Readers are invited to vote for the book, details at Saboteur Shortlist

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‘Still’ | A collage and slideshow of photographs from the anthology

Actor and fervent reader William Rycroft, posted a concise review of Still on his blog on 3 January 2013, alongside some other books he recommended as essential reading (including Nicholas Royle’s First Novel).

‘The anthology is incredibly diverse, featuring some writers I had heard of and read before like Richard Beard, Nicholas Royle and Evie Wyld. Others were completely new to me and that of course is the joy of an anthology. The pictures are wonderful and each reader is sure to find new voices they will want to keep an eye on.’

It was nice for the photographs (by Roelof Bakker) to get a mention, so Negative Press London are happy to present a collage and slideshow (just click on one of the photographs to activate) of some of the photographs from the book. Enjoy:)





All photographs ©2012 Roelof Bakker


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Story | ‘Waiting To Go On’ by Gill Blow

The second posting of short-listed stories from the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition is ‘Waiting To Go On’ by Gill Blow – a writer from Lincolnshire. The story is her first attempt at writing flash fiction.

For the competition, writers were invited to contribute a new story (maximum 500 words) inspired by the photograph, ‘The Stage (Piano)’ – which was not included in literary art book/anthology Still.

Waiting To Go On

The Stage (Piano) by Roelof BakkerThere are different ways of waiting. There’s waiting on a platform for a train, or in a queue at Costas’, and at a level crossing when you pull on the handbrake and reach for a mint and chew it. There’s waiting for a reply to your e-mail or letter, or a birthday card from someone who was once special…who perhaps still is. There’s waiting for an operation, lying stiff and helpless in a white gown that lets in cold air to your back and exposes your bum, and you have no choice but to enter the world of letting it happen and allow strangers to have the power over what happens to you next. You wait for this intrusion, to be anaesthetised and thus forfeit all control. You wait to wake up afterwards. You wait for it all to be over.

Like standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, taking in breaths that feed no air into your lungs, your body throbbing as your pulse pounds, you stare at the piano standing solid behind the thick golden folds of curtain. Solitary and immaculate, its black mahogany burnished, its ivory keys gleaming, its raised lid lifted high proudly exposing its highly strung insides. It waits.

A strip of light from the auditorium penetrates the curtains and plays over the steel pedals, that your feet will, in a few moments, compress and release, shifting the shafts of light and dark tone created by your fingers; one hand following the other, moving in remorseless memory of sound that is soft, lingering, sorrowful, jubilant.

A murmuring accompanies the light beam which filters thinly through the opening, it invades the stage space, its sound increases. Greetings are heard, the clunk of seats, a shout of laughter, a cough. You imagine lines of people filing down each gangway unzipping their jackets, stowing their handbags, settling in seats. You hear the babble of their voices, like rooks cawing and calling in a rookery, like the sound of the sea falling on sand. Their waiting is like a granite rock bearing down on your shoulders.

A silence descends and you hear nothing, become no-one. Into this void arrives a limbo into which you float; you disconnect yourself, become adrift in the wings, are translucent, invisible. You absorb the certain knowledge that you will not perform, you will refuse to play. You care not that the concert will be postponed and the ticket holders will demand their money back, or that your reputation will be in shreds, shredded with the sheet music of Beethoven and shoved into black bin bags. You care not that your career will be ended, and the piano will remain mute, and you will both go your separate ways; like used-to-be lovers whose enchantment became tarnished, it lost its appeal, until, in the end, it vanished.

Split Seconds by Gill BlowGILL BLOW lives at Knaith near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. She previously worked with families and professionals in community development work and adult learning. She studied writing through The Open University and also Sheffield Hallam University, where she was awarded an MA Writing (Distinction) and received the AM Heath Prize for her short story collection. One of her stories has been broadcast by the BBC and others have been published in literary magazines and newspapers. Her monologue ‘Still Alive With Clive’ was performed at the Lincolnshire Festival of New Drama. She was recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Mslexia Short Story competition. Split Seconds, a collection of short stories was self-published in 2012.




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David Hebblethwaite’s story-by-story review of ‘Still’

DAVID HEBBLETHEWAITE is a renowned book blogger from Yorkshire, who reviews both novels and short fiction on his blog Follow the Thread. He also writes reviews for The Huffington PostStrange HorizonsWe Love This Book and Fiction Uncovered. He’s a big supporter of the short story format and since the end of September, he has reviewed every story that appears in Still – in chronological order. We’ve listed a brief excerpt from each individual review below, or you can read the full reviews here.

Foyles, Charing Cross Road, Still in Anthologies

‘Still’ on sale at Foyles

And the ending is a real shock to the system. ‘Midnight Hollow’ – Mark Piggott

But, for those four pages, the author convinces you it’s all true. ‘My Wife, The Hyena’ – Nina Killham

I also love the way Blackman transforms the imagery of dirt trailing down a wall; the ending of ‘Sanctuary’ becomes as much a tableau as one of Bakker’s photographs. ‘Sanctuary’ – Andrew Blackman

Wyld  keeps the atmosphere suitably unsettling, and any hope she offers comes with its own nagging doubt. ‘Corridor’ – Evie Wyld

There’s a neat reversal in this story, and I like Frey’s use of the staircase as an image and venue. ‘The Staircase Treatment’ – Myriam Frey

The choppy rhythms of van Mersbergen’s prose underline the sense of unease, up to a rather chilling end. ‘Pa-Dang’ – Jan van Mersbergen

The titular rose acts a symbol of the family’s hope – something to keep growing in the garden, and not to remove, for fear of angering the landlord. ‘A Rose For Raha’ – Ava Homa

Royle tops it off with a dark twist at the end. ‘The Blind Man’ – Nicholas Royle

It’’s amusing to read, but also leaves one with the nagging thought of just how easily that sort of thing could happen… ‘From the Archive’ – James Miller

Details of ‘real’ life are heightened through their transformation into Hershman’s science-fiction idiom, and the ending is especially poignant. ‘Switchgirls’ – Tania Hershman

Rechner makes good use of sensory detail to convey the stuffy and intense atmosphere of the theatre. ‘The Playwright Sits Next to Her Sister’ – Mary Rechner

Hussein reveals the full possibilities only gradually, and even then keeps the truth ambiguous. ‘The Tree at the Limit’ – Aamer Hussein

Just as Beard’s piece blurs the line between fact and fiction, so it effectively portrays lifts as simultaneously useful and threatening spaces. ‘Life Under Inspection, Do Not Touch’ – Richard Beard

This is a nicely paced story, with an effective sting in its ending. ‘Odd Job’ – Preeta Samarasan

What follows is a snappy, rhythmic jaunt through the cacophony of modern life. ‘Noise’ – James Higgerson

 ‘A Job Worth Doing’ is more a celebration of what has passed. ‘A Job Worth Doing’ – SJ Butler

Rose captures a certain stiff formality in the voice of his protagonist; and the range of details focused on creates an effective sense of diffuseness. ‘Sere’ – David Rose

This piece is both a portrait of the emotional value that books can have to someone; but it’s also a poignant tale of loss… ‘Morayo’ – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

A well-constructed mosaic of events from Justin Hill’s life, with recurring themes of memory and going through doors. ‘Waiting’ – Justin Hill

What gives this story its edge is a clear sense that this is a false hope, and that the protagonist can’t move on in life because she won’t let go of the idea. ‘Ten A Day’ – Jan Woolf

‘Opportunity’ provides an elegant and broad examination of its issues. ‘Opportunity’ – Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende

Its supernatural twist gives this tale a very effective chill. ‘In the Dressing Room Mirror’ – Claire Massey

I like the ambiguity in the ending of this piece, and especially how it illuminates the narrator’s character. ‘The Owl at the Gate’ – Nicholas Hogg

Definitely a story that carries greater force than its length might suggest. ‘Still’ – SL Grey

This absorbing read takes a shocking turn. ‘How to Make a Zombie’ – Deborah Klaassen

A fine note on which to end the anthology. ‘Winter Moon’ – Xu Xi

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Q&A | Ava Homa

Ava HomaAVA HOMA LIVES IN TORONTO, CANADA. She is a Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian writer. Her collection of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava’s writings have appeared in various journals including the Toronto Quarterly, Windsor Review and the Kurdistan Tribune. She’s finishing work on a her first novel and teaches creative writing and English. For Still she wrote ‘A Rose For Raha’, a story about a Kurdish family trying to find their way in Canada.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Eastern Kurdistan (Iran) and my parents still live there. Being a Kurdish woman, I was stigmatised both for my gender and my ethnicity. Nevertheless, living in a collective culture, I’d received unconditional love from my family and close relatives. Something I really miss here. I entered Canada on a student visa six years ago.

How do you describe yourself: Canadian, Kurdish, Iranian?
I have a hyphenated identity: I am Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian. The truth is that I have been exposed to all these cultures and have picked and chosen the best in each as much as I have been able to. The unconscious part of my brain has done its own selection without my consent.

Your story ‘A Rose For Raha’ is about a Kurdish family now living in the free world in Canada, but still not being able to be free. Is this based on your own experience? If not, where did the inspiration come from?
Writing fiction means feeling for others and writing about them. My family never left Kurdistan, but I have observed that the dictatorship mentality lasts long after the dictator is gone. I have observed that victims of oppression can sometimes turn into victimisers without being aware of it.

Female Artists Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker

Female Artists’ Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker

You selected a photograph with a dried yellow rose. Is the rose significant for you or in Kurdish/Iranian culture?
It was hard to choose between all the inspiring and beautiful photos, but something drew me towards this rose, not because of a significant cultural connotation, rather because of the sense of attractiveness mixed with exhaustion. That’s the sense this photo instilled in me.

Did you enjoy collaborating with an artist?
It was my first experience and a lovely, stimulating one. I look forward to more such collaborations.

How did you get into writing?
It was in me from a very young age. I completed my first manuscript at grade 5: an animal story illustrated by my immature drawing. I followed my instincts to write despite the infinite cultural/economical obstacles. Now, I am hooked on the joy of writing.

Who/what was your greatest influence?
I am constantly inspired by great people. I can mention two examples: Leila Zana, the female Kurdish leader who was imprisoned by the government of Turkey for ten years but never lost her strength and spirituality. She gives me hope as to what extent humans can be resilient.

Bahman Ghobadi, the award-winning Kurdish writer and director of A Time for Drunken Horse, Turtles Can Fly, Half Moon, and most recently Rhino Season. I believe he has served the Kurds in the best possible way. He is passionate, artistic, honest, talented, lovable, inspiring.

Your book of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land, explores the position of women in Iran. Are you active politically to improve women’s lives in Iran? Do you collaborate or work/write with women in Iran?
Iranian women live under horrific laws that openly discriminate against them. For example, based on the law, they cannot leave the country or get a job without their husband’s permission. Yet, they are highly educated, strong, resilient, and ambitious. We work with each other, we support each other, we help each other.

What’s the most important thing you have learnt from life?
No one can help me better than myself.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am editing my completed manuscript: a novel tentatively titled Many Cunning Passages.



Echoes From the Other Land

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‘Still’ competition: winning story ‘Piano’ by AJ Ashworth

Negative Press London is excited to post the winning story of the Still/Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition. To celebrate the publication of Still, writers were invited to write a story up to 500 words, inspired by the photograph ‘The Stage (Piano)’ by Roelof Bakker.

The winning story, ‘Piano’, is written by AJ Ashworth and was selected from over one hundred submitted stories. Judge Evie Wyld said: ‘It was the voice that attracted me and Nicholas Hogg to this one. Her story is strong and understated at the same time.’

‘Piano’ is also on display at Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road until the end of November 2012.


The Stage (Piano) by Roelof Bakker

Photograph by Roelof Bakker

This is not the place she thought she’d return to.

She imagined she’d be with Arthur. Strolling up the promenade as grey, northern skies broke open above them. Or lying beneath him, as he moved over her that first time – the second night of their honeymoon in a B&B in Blackpool.

Perhaps she might have returned to the births of their three children. To the first glimpse of each old face in her arms. Each a miniature Arthur, right down to the wrinkled brows and thin lips, the pale, translucent skin. All of them with long pianists’ fingers too, just like her own mother, even though none of them ever played or ever showed any interest in wanting to.

If they had, perhaps things would have been different for her. Better.

But no. Her failing mind has brought her here. To the stage of the concert hall. Standing in the wings and hidden by the curtains – those heavy ripples of yellow velvet which she would touch, if she knew she wouldn’t get her hand smacked for it.

Her mother stands just behind her, not touching but close. She can’t see her, facing towards the piano as she is, but can feel her, as if the woman is a tall, thin planet at her shoulder. Pulling on her and dark with gravity. Unaware of how she is able to draw in whoever she wants, whenever she wants them – even those she doesn’t.

There is a burst of noise from the auditorium, sudden as rain on a tin roof. The announcer looks at her his hand out towards the piano. He says her name again and then, ‘Young pianist extraordinaire’, his eyes growing wider each second she fails to move.

Finally, her mother pushes her arm. ‘Go on then,’ she says, the applause dying. ‘And don’t embarrass me.’

And she is out, beneath the hot lights, walking towards the piano. Scraping the seat out and sitting down as a sigh of air escapes from a small hole in the side of the cushion. She notices the overwhelming smell of lacquer and, then, how a tiny yellow thread from a duster has become trapped by a hairline crack in one of the keys.

‘In a grand piano,’ she recalls her mother saying during one of her lessons, ‘it’s gravity that brings the hammer to a rest after it’s hit a string. It helps you play faster.’

But when she tries to lift her hands from her lap to place them in their starting position, nothing happens. It is as if they too are being pulled down by gravity.

‘Nobody should have been left there like a sitting duck,’ her father said, later. Her mother in the mirror fussed with a curl at the back of her ear.

She’d never had another lesson after that – not from her mother, not from anyone. In all honesty, she’d probably never had the right kind of hands.

AJ Ashworth was born and brought up in Lancashire and is a former journalist who now works in publishing. She is the winner of Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize 2011 and her debut collection Somewhere Else, or Even Here was published in 2011 by Salt. This collection of short stories was also shortlisted for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize and nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

A Q&A with AJ about her life as a writer will be posted here soon.

AJ Ashworth blog

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‘Still’ short story competition: A.J. Ashworth announced as winner

A big thank you to everyone for submitting stories to the Still short story competition organised by Negative Press London and Foyles – London’s iconic independent bookseller.

All the entries were read by Roelof Bakker (editor, Still) and Lisa Bywater (local marketing manager, Foyles) who together selected a shortlist of ten stories.

These ten stories were consequently read and judged by contributing Still authors Nicholas Hogg and Evie Wyld. Stories were supplied without the writers’ names.

Nicholas and Evie have selected what they felt was the strongest entry and the winning story is by A.J. Ashworth from Lancashire.

Judge Evie Wyld says: ‘It was the voice that attracted me and Nicholas Hogg to this one. Her story is strong and understated at the same time.’

Roelof Bakker, Still editor says: ‘The ten stories shortlisted were all stupendous and each highly original. I would have happily included all of them in the Still anthology. Congratulations to the shortlisted writers, but also to everyone else for entering – Lisa Bywater and myself greatly enjoyed reading your work.’

A.J. Ashworth will receive a copy of Still, a print of ‘The Stage (Piano)’, a copy of The Hummingbird And the Bear by Nicholas Hogg and After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld and her story will be exhibited as part of the Still exhibition at Foyles on Charing Cross Road from Friday 26 October 2012 in the first floor Café. Her story will also be published on the Foyles and Negative Press London blogs and we look forward to interviewing her for the Negative Press London blog.

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Sarah Ladipo Manyika reading ‘Still’

Writer Sarah Manyika reading Still Negative Press London 2012

Sarah Ladipo Manyika reading Still at home in San Francisco

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