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Wednesday, 25 February 2015


Hello and happy Thursday (only one day until the weekend, hurrah!) my muffins. Today I have many delights to share, so buckle yourself in and ready the smelling salts.

First of all, I've just had permission from the lovely folk at Candlewick Press to share the cover art for the US hardback of DARKNESS HIDDEN, which will be coming out over there in November of this year. So here it is:

And here again next to THE NAME OF THE BLADE for comparison:

The NAME OF THE BLADE logo-thingie at the top there is pretty darn cool, right? I've never had a logo of my very own before!

A lot of thought went into this, right down to the blood-red colour (you can probably guess why that is) and the background pattern, which is meant to evoke the pattern of eyes on the Shikome's deadly wings. As with the first cover, it's startlingly different not only from the UK covers but also any other cover art I've ever had, and it will have all kinds of awesome effects in the flesh, including metallic silver foil for the title (drooling slightly at the thought of that, not gonna lie).

What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments!

Along with permission to share the art I also received something that might be even more exciting for US Dear Readers - a package of Advanced Readers Copies of DARKNESS HIDDEN and free reign to do whatever I want with them! Considering that, as I mentioned above, the book's not out in the US for over eight months I thought that definitely called for a giveaway. And it's been a while since I gave away my own books, so why not make it a big giveaway? A veritable #Zolahpalooza of a giveaway? No reason at all, I tell you!

*Mwaha ha ha ha ha ha!*

Here's what I'm going to do. I've got three bumper prize packs to offer up to Dear Readers. Two of these are specifically for US Dear Readers - but one is international and can go anywhere, which means you can still enter no matter where you are. If you little anglerfish at the bottom of the Marianna Trench were feeling left out, or you snow leopards up there on the highest peak of the Himalayas were worriedly chewing your claws, worry no longer - all are welcome! Enter the giveaway and I will make sure that the prize packs end up going to the correct places.

The two US packs will contain US hardbacks of THE NAME OF THE BLADE and the US ARCS of DARKNESS HIDDEN. These will, of course, be signed - and dedicated, if you want. You'll also get signed bookplates and other mysterious goodies. The international prize pack will have UK paperbacks of both books, also signed and dedicated if you want, as well as the bookplates and swag.

When posting about the giveaway on Twitter or Facebook, please do use the hashtag #Zolahpalooza - mostly because it amuses me - but also for all the other reasons that hashtags are good. Because this is such a big giveaway it seems a shame not to let as many people as possible enter for the chance to win, so I'll be leaving this open for two weeks and will announce the lucky three on Thursday the 12th of March.

All this could be yours!

Good luck, my preciousnesses (esessesess?).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday. Today is a flying visit to announce the winner of last week's giveaway of the signed first edition of CAPTIVE by A.J. Grainger (aka Wonder Editor). I'll do that below.

But fear not! That's not all I have in store for you this week! I'm going to be back on Thursday with another fabulous giveaway and a cover art reveal. What giveaway? What cover art? Well, you'll just have to come back and find out on Thursday, won't you? So impatient!

OK, here we go - drumroll please!







a Rafflecopter giveaway

Yes that's right: KENDRA!

I'm so pleased! I have your email address, Kendra, and I'll email you shortly so that you can tell me where you'd like me to post your prize. I really hope you enjoy the book.

Sorry to the people who didn't win. But don't be too downhearted because, remember, I'm giving away more stuff - actually, kind of a boatload of stuff - on Thursday and you can be in with a chance of winning some of that instead.

Have a great week between now and then my duckies. Read you later!

Monday, 16 February 2015


Hello, Dear Readers! How are you this fine Tuesday? Apologies for saying, 'Hiatus over!' and then promptly disappearing for two weeks. My wonky immune system is to blame - first a head cold and inner ear infection that caused horrific vertigo, and then a stomach flu thingie. I promise, I do eat plenty of vegetables and take a multivitamin daily. I'm just one of nature's less well evolved creatures, it seems.

Onto more pleasant business! Today, a review and giveaway of CAPTIVE by A.J. Grainger. 

A.J. Grainger may write psychological YA thrillers by night, but by day she has another job: that of Wonder Editor, well known to readers of this blog as the editor who has improved my work immeasurably and who gets a thank you in the acknowledgements of all my books. I've talked here and here about our editing process. It's safe to say that without Wonder Editor's kind yet firm guidance Shadows on the Moon would be twice as long and half as good, FrostFire wouldn't even exist, and The Name of the Blade trilogy would be another beast entirely (with lots more cheesy jokes and swearing, and rather less emotional resonance).

So obviously when I noticed that Wonder Editor's Twitter profile had changed overnight to mention that she had a book of her own coming out, I threw a mini-tantrum and DM'ed her to demand WHY I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THIS?!? Well, and also to congratulate her and all that. Through various emailings I managed to get my hands on an ARC of the book last year, and I cracked it with an almost perfect balance of apprehension and anticipation.

Luckily for me (because whoa that could have been awkward) I loved the book.

CAPTIVE is the story of Robyn Knollys-Green. She's the sixteen year old daughter of the Prime Minister, and reluctant occupant of the Fish Bowl of public opinion, being one of the most famous young women in Britain. Robyn adores her father, and at the beginning of the book is still coping with the trauma of having seen him shot in an attempted assassination - carried out by the AFC, an animal rights group - in Paris when the two of them were on a trip together. But she's also struggling to cope with having seen hints on that same trip that he's not as perfect as she's always believed him to be, that maybe he has some dark secrets of his own, and doesn't always put her and their family first in his list of priorities.

Both these story threads come together when the car transporting Robyn, her much younger sister Addy, and their mother is ambushed and Robyn is kidnapped by the AFC, who intend to use her to expose what they say is her father's corruption, and also to demand the release of the man who was imprisoned for the assassination attempt.

The book unfolds Robyn's past - her complex relationship with her father's political career, the cryptic conversations she's overheard, the full events of the assassination attempt - in a series of flashbacks as Robyn fights for her life as a captive of the AFC. One of her captors, Talon, is close to her in age and from the beginning shows her some measure of kindness and understanding, arguing that even though they need her, she shouldn't be hurt or punished just because of who her father is. Another, Feather, is clearly torn between contrasting impulses, at times almost kind or business-like and at others frighteningly manic and violent towards Robyn. The final kidnapper, Scar, is the worst of all, showing a sick interest in Robyn that understandably terrifies her.

At first Robyn is sure that her father will do anything to get her back, even if that means releasing 'Marble', the man who is supposed to have shot him and who turns out to be Feather's brother. But as time passes and his official appearances on TV make it clear that he's sticking to a 'Britain does not negotiate with terrorists' stance, her faith in him begins to fade. At the same time, she is growing closer to Talon, who seems to be her only hope for escape or at least survival. Feather grows more desperate and cruel, Scar is all for killing Robyn outright - and Talon is telling her that her father is indirectly responsible for the deaths of his own younger brother and father.

While the set-up for CAPTIVE initially seems to be that of a straightforward thriller narrative - and the book certainly has some thrilling, action-based writing to offer - the story actually turns out to be much more than that, offering a nuanced, thought-provoking look into the psychology of the kidnapper/victim relationship, into idealism and political corruption, and the end of childhood and an unconditional belief in our parents.

Robyn is a very well rounded heroine, both courageous and realistically damaged by the events that she's lived through - but she's also an unreliable narrator, deeply influenced in her perceptions by her emotions. Her twisted yet strangely tender relationship with Talon adds something deeply bittersweet to the novel because even though she is convinced her feelings for him are real, we, as readers, are left extremely uneasy as to the true source of her investment in his well-being. Even he seems to be uneasy about it, although it doesn't stop him reaching out her to her in the end.

CAPTIVE is a beautifully written, emotionally involving and ultimately rather unsettling book, which I think will linger in my memory for a very long time to come.

If that sounds like your bag and you'd like to get your hands on it right now you're in luck - because I have a SIGNED COPY, sent to me by Wonder Editor's own fair hands, to give away to a Dear Reader!

This giveaway is open internationally and will run for one week, starting today. I'll draw the winning reader and announce their name on the blog next Tuesday.

To enter, you need to tweet about this giveaway and comment on this blog - use the Rafflecopter form below to make sure both your entries are counted. This is my first attempt at using Rafflecopter, btw, so if anything is hinky please do let me know!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Hello, hello, hello, and welcome back my lovelies! The hiatus is over. I hope everyone had a happy Christmas and Merry New Year, whatever your version of those things would ideally be. I mostly tried to relax and not stress out over all the things that TV and films and adverts try to tell you that you ought to stress out about, and I mostly succeeded, so: win.

Before I launch into today's post - which has nothing to do with the noble line of budget ballpoint pens, I promise! - I have a couple of bits of business. Firstly, I highly recommend this post by the wise and venerable Terri Windling about perfectionism and how it's not nearly as good a thing as people would have you believe. She says:
"...we're responsible for being the artist we are...not the one that someone else (or our own Inner Critic) thinks we ought to be instead."
Which happened to be just exactly what I needed to be reminded in that moment. So thank you, Terri!

The other bit of business is a lovely announcement - I'm going to be doing a panel event at the London Book Fair this year. It'll be my first ever appearance at the LBF and it's set to be FABULOUS because not only is delightful chum Liz de Jager, author of The Blackheart Legacy going to be on the panel with me, but the panel itself is coolness x3. It's title is The Dark Arts: Writing Fantasy and Horror for Young Adults, and the other panelists will be Josh Winning, and Sally Green! The panel will be on Tuesday the 14th of April at 16:00. I can hardly believe I'll get to be a part of it, and although I know that the LBF is a bit different than the YALC event at the WFCC last year, if any Dear Readers would like to come along, I'll be delighted to see you.

Now onto today's topic: when BIC just won't do the trick.

When I say BIC, I am of course referring to that well known axiom for writers: Butt In Chair. It's the idea that no matter what happens - whether you feel a bit stuffy-headed or generally uninspired or you'd really rather read the new Cassandra Clare book or spend the day arguing with that one infuriating Makorra shipper on Tumblr - when your chosen writing time comes around, you sit your rear end down and pick up the pen or open the laptop and do the thing.

Even if you sit there for the entire hour or the entire day typing the same paragraph over and over again, the theory goes, you still keep your butt sat in that chair. Because a) if you make sitting down in readiness to write a habit, your brain will soon get the idea and train you to be receptive and productive during this time, since it will realise that you're not going to give up do something more interesting no matter how it tries to distract you and b) true, elusive inspiration is far more likely to visit the writer who is already scribbling their brains out than the one who is trying to beat their high score on Candy Crush.

All of this is true, and I myself have many times advised people to adhere to BIC if they're having trouble feeling inspired. One of the first lessons that published writers learn, when the reality of deadlines sinks in, is that you can still produce decent, perhaps even excellent work, when you actually don't much feel like writing at all. And that quite often, if you force yourself through your first feelings of tiredness or sadness or just-can't-be-bothered-ness, you find yourself cheerfully plugging away without much difficulty after all.

BIC is an antidote to the much abused idea of writer's block, which is often interpreted by the less experienced writers among us to mean that if you don't feel fired up with the effervescent joy of inspiration it's totally fine to marathon Breaking Bad on Netflix until you DO. Which, no. Books don't get written that way. However, I'm not in the camp who believes that writer's block is a mythical invention of pretentious layabouts who just want an excuse to make themselves interesting without actually doing any work. I've written a defense of writer's block - or what I call writing roadblocks - here, but I make it clear that the main way to fix it is to keep writing anyway.

However, last week I had a slightly different experience, which I'd like to talk about now.

I'd been pootling away happily on BaBBook since the end of Christmas and had just written a scene which I thought was pretty darn good. I finished work for the day, counted up my words - word count for the day AND the week exceeded, hurray! - and saved everything to my flashdrive with a sense of satisfaction and no inkling that anything was rotten in the state of Denmark at all.

And then the next day I sat down to write the next scene, which immediately followed on from the one I'd completed the day before... and I choked.

(Not literally)

Despite BIC, despite picking up my pen and opening my notebook and telling myself 'Just scribble for half an hour and see what comes out', despite knowing exactly what I wanted to write, and even having been excited and enthusiastic about writing it, a tiny voice in the back of my head was basically chanting Shan't won't nope you can't make me NYER.

I was confused and upset. I hadn't slammed into a mental block like that for a long time. Normally these days 'writer's block' for me is either about a failure in planning or knowledge (fixed by a quick list of my priorities for the next section scribbled on a Post It, or a flip through my notes, reference books or, occasionally, the internet) or about some external thing, like being tired or not feeling well. In either case, now that I'm not being poisoned by my boiler I can push through it because, underneath all that, I really do WANT to write. I want to get on with things and see how the story and the characters will develop next. But not that day. That day I felt like my fingers were physically refusing to move and it was a bit frightening, honestly.

After staring at my lovely blank page for about an hour and giving myself a slight headache, I took a break. The break ended up consuming my whole day as I procrastinated like an actual, literal, professional procrastinator. I mean, it's not that I haven't previously reached Olympic levels of procrastination. It's just that this time I couldn't understand WHY. Normally I can at least diagnose myself enough to know it's because the next scene is going to be traumatic or really tricky, or just because my depression is telling me I'm rubbish and I'm afraid to prove it. But it didn't seem to be any of that. When a second day passed in much the same way and I started to get a sinking feeling of dread.

What on earth was going on?

And then, during a chat with a member of my writing group, I had a thought. The thought related to the line edit of Frail Mortal Heart which I had completed and returned to my editor shortly after New Year. Normally by the line edit stage I've read and revised the manuscript so many times that I'm convinced the whole thing is unrepentant dreck, but because of the long period in the middle of this year when I couldn't look at my computer or do much work at all (due to CO poisoning, as we now know) I was coming to this one with much fresher eyes, and I found to my surprise and delight that I really rather enjoyed reading it again.

The best part was about three quarters of the way through when two very important threads of the story suddenly melded and produced an emotional BOOM in a way that I hadn't planned out at all. I had no idea I was even aiming at that effect. I didn't know it was coming and it really hit home. The perpetrator was my subconscious - the place where true inspiration lurks, and which can sometimes make that sudden instinctive leap, transforming great craft into actual art - working away behind the scenes, nudging me to tweak and edit, take a word out here, add a line there, and eventually create a scene which brought tears to my eyes.

So I thought about my block on BaBBook and I thought: hey, maybe my subconscious is at it again, nudging me - a bit more forcefully this time - and trying to tell me something. But what? Could it really be as simple as, Just Don't Write That Next Scene? But if it was, why? And what *was* I supposed to write next?

Almost immediately, the frustrated, constipated, Shan't Won't Nope You Can't Make Me NYER feeling dissipated. My cunning back brain, satisfied that I wasn't trying to bludgeon it to silence with BIC, suddenly began to cooperate, opening up doors to some floaty little scraps of ideas that I hadn't even noticed before because I thought I knew what I was supposed to be doing.

I pondered this while I cooked an elaborate pasta dish with homemade cheese sauce (the secret is to add Worcestor Sauce, mustard, and a dash of nutmeg by the way) took the dog for a long, slow walk, and eventually popped into my writing group to discuss it while listening to calming folk music.
What if... what if rather than writing the next chronological scene right now, I saved it for later in the book? Yes, showing it NOW, in its technically correct place in the story, would be thrilling and exciting, a great piece of action before a more quiet section. But that was all it would be. The reader would certainly know that the heroine wasn't going to die at this point so there'd be tension but not real fear. In fact, this scene, which had previously seemed inevitable and almost unavoidable, would be more like... well, predictable. Maybe even a little... unnecessary?

But if I held it back, maybe teased the reader with fragments and fleeting flashes of what had happened, and jumped the narrative and the heroine forward in time... then I could keep that whole piece of action for later in the story. Then it would no longer seem predictable. Then it would not only offer the reader thrilling action but also truly great emotional impact. It would serve as something much greater than a set piece - it would be a characterisation bombshell, turning the status quo of the story on its head. It would be *beautiful*.

And what's more, if I worked it that way, many other tiny issues which I hadn't quite figured out how to tackle yet would suddenly click into place, functioning together like a well oiled watch to add to rising tension and the reader's investment. I wouldn't even have to DO anything. It just... worked that way.

My subconscious was a bloody genius.

Despite the several days delay while I worked all this out, I'm now back on target with my wordcount and, more importantly, having whizzbang fun writing the current section of the story with a twist that I had never envisaged at the planning stage. And what does all this come down to? That sometimes when you get blocked, it's for a reason. It could be for the reasons I mentioned before - gaps in planning or knowledge or because of external factors - but sometimes it's just that you need a couple of days to work out a different way, an unexpected way, a better way, for the story to play out.

Yes, I could probably, with great effort, have BICed my way through this crisis. I could have forced myself to put words down on the page. But those words wouldn't have been the right words. They'd have been perfectly fine words, no doubt, and it's not like the entire story would have failed if I hadn't come up with this nifty alternate way of working this section. But it would have been less than it could have been. Less interesting, less fun, just less good.

So although you do need to give yourself permission to suck sometimes, and you do need to remember that you can't fix a blank page, and first drafts aren't meant to be perfect... there are times when you also need to listen to the little voice blowing raspberries in your back brain and admit that your first, unthinking ideas on how to execute something might not be the only or the best way. And then let your subconscious have its say. Something to think about.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Hello, and Happy Holiday Season, my honeybunches! I hope everyone's fully prepared to either celebtrate or else hunker down and comfortably ignore all the winter festivities, whichever is your preference. Today's the last blog post you'll be getting from me for the next couple of weeks, as I'm taking a little bit of time off for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I would share some new cover art.

This is for the anthology I've mentioned a few times before; produced by Candlewick Press and due out in hardcover in the US in March 2015, it's entitled THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY and is full of short stories on the theme of secrets and secret selves. I was told that my UK publisher Walker Books would be releasing this anthology here in Britain at some point, too, but I don't know any details about that yet, sadly. I'll update you when I do! In the meantime, I'll probably look at getting hold of some copies of this so I can do a giveaway for British and European Dear Readers in March.

My story - my first ever published short story, in fact - is called 'Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind' and is set in the universe of Shadows on the Moon, casting light on the young Akira's famous (and scandalous) dance at the Shadow Ball that changed her life forever. I'm really proud of this piece of work. I hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Now, without any further delay, here's the cover:

I don't technically have permission to post this here, but it's already up on Goodreads and Amazon, so... whatevs. What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments :) Read you later, lovelies!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Hello, hello, hello, my muffins! Happy Wednesday to all. Today I've got a link to my post on the Authors Allsorts in which I dish the juicy details about my stationery habit. But before I get there, I need to tell a story, talk about something I found out last week, and do a little Public Service Announcement.

So, I've mentioned in previous posts that I've had a lot of health problems this year. In April I began to get terrible headaches that made my eyes feel as if they were liquifying in my head. I could barely look at a computer screen without the light from the screen causing me agony, I felt tired all the time no matter how much sleep I got, my asthma started to act up, I often found it very difficult to concentrate, and I also suffered a lot with feeling randomly nauseous.

Now, the thing is that I've had headaches and migraines all my life, and I also have IBS, which can make you feel sick fairly often. And people's asthma can get worse or better over the years. So these things seemed, to me, like a simple (if unwelcome) worsening of problems I already had. My main concern was that feeling this way was having a huge impact on my work and I focussed on that because if I lost my ability to write, I knew I really would be up a creek without a paddle.

Concerned friends and family offered theories. The tiredness might be a new manifestation of my depression, after everything I'd been through in 2013. The change in frequency and intensity of my headaches might be a natural effect of getting older. I should probably go and get an asthma check to see if I needed a different kind of spray. If I felt sick all the time, perhaps I should try keeping a food diary again, like I had for several months when I first learned I had IBS. I didn't know if any or all of this was true, or would help, but after feeling awful for months I did know that I needed to seek assistance because it wasn't getting better on its own.

I went to the doctor and was given medication to help with the headaches, as well as a new asthma regimen. I went to the optician and got new glasses. I developed new coping strategies, such as overloading on caffeine in the mornings, wearing dark-tinted sunglasses whenever I worked on my computer, and resigning myself to getting to bed quite early and getting up much later than before (even though previously I'd never needed much sleep, and had always been the kind of person who had to get up early to feel well) so that I got nine hours or more sleep a night. I faithfully took my asthma sprays twice a day.

Honestly, even after all this I still didn't feel that much better, but I was able to get back to writing as I adjusted to feeling, basically, below par all the time, and to working around the constant pain in my head and eyes and the weird nauseated dizziness. I resigned myself.

I had no way of knowing what was really going on.

Last week I woke up to discover that a) the house was freezing cold because my boiler had broken down and b) that I didn't have a headache for the first time in... weeks. The boiler wasn't a surprise, really; it's broken down pretty much annually every year since it was installed. But I was a bit shocked to wake up feeling rested and not in pain. Anyway, I called up the repair people and they came out.

Happily for me, the person who came was a very experienced head engineer. Rather than doing a reset or a quick fix the way that the last several repairmen had, he took the boiler apart and noticed not one, not two, not three, but SIX problems (two small cracks/leaks and two blockages caused by these leaks, plus a load of water in the bottom of the boiler and a load of corrosion). Basically, my boiler had been teetering on the edge of breaking down for a long, long time and needed to be almost completely rebuilt.

It took the engineer FIVE DAYS - Tuesday to Friday, with another full day on Monday and the help of another engineer - to get the boiler rebuilt and my central heating and water working the way they should. Despite only having heat and hot water intermittently, and despite the large man making scary banging noises in the loft, I was surprised to find that I felt better last week than I had in months and months. I wondered if maybe it was the cold, and if perhaps I should try keeping the thermostat turned off from now on. Wearing leggings under my trousers, fingerless gloves, a hat and a fluffy shawl over my cardigan would be a small price to pay.

It wasn't until Friday that the engineer said something that really caught my attention. He told me that my boiler had likely been pumping out dangerous - in fact, fatal - levels of carbon monoxide, and that it was a very good thing the machine wasn't located in the kitchen, as boilers often are. Because the machine is located in the loft, the dangerous gases would mostly have been vented through the roof. However, my loft is incredibly drafty, and even quite a mild wind would probably blow some of those gases back into the house. With a bit of concern, he asked me: 'You don't go up there often, do you?'

The answer to that is no. But. But. In my bedroom there is an airing cupboard. The cupboard used to be hooked up to the old water heater tank and as a result, it has no ceiling - it opens directly up into the loft space. The engineer had a look, and then he spotted the fact that my bedroom window was open, even though my heating was off. He asked why. I explained to him that I always sleep with it open these days because I'd found that if I closed it, I ended up with an even worse headache than normal; I'd assumed because the room got too stuffy at night.

The engineer told me, very gently, that he didn't think it was because the room was getting too stuffy at night.

He reeled off a list of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, fatigue, and inability to concentrate. Everything I had been suffering with since spring this year. He told me that I need to make a doctor's appointment, like... now.

Most likely version of events: small amounts of carbon monoxide were venting into my room through the airing cupboard, particularly at night because I generally have my bath or shower in the evening, meaning that's when the boiler is most heavily used. The amounts of the gas would vary depending on how much I was using the boiler generally - more if the weather was cold and the radiators automatically came on - and in which direction and how strongly the wind was blowing on the roof.

The fact that I kept my window open at night... well, it might not have actually saved my life, but it probably prevented me from getting a lot sicker than I already had been. And the fact that all the faults with the boiler that caused the carbon monoxide to reach such dangerous levels had also caused it to break down before we hit really cold weather, and I turned the heat up and began leaving it on during the night? That probably DID save my life.

So this is my Zolah-Land public service announcement. If you are having these symptoms and they persist, as mine did, for weeks or months at a time, and you find that you feel strangely better when you are away from home but that you get worse again when you return? For heaven's sake, get your heater or boiler or whatever checked. Please.

And get a carbon monoxide alarm and put it NEAR WHERE THE BOILER IS (I had one, but it was shoved on a shelf on my landing, in completely the wrong place to be useful). Although I obviously wasn't lucky to have a dangerously malfunctioning boiler that was pumping out high levels of poisonous gas, I was lucky that it was in the loft, that I mostly already slept with my window open, and that the boiler went wrong during summer months when I barely used my heating. You may not be that lucky. So just be careful.

And with that, we move onto happier things: STATIONERY. Check out my collection and weep, losers!

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