Anne Nicholls and myself are pleased to be the Birmingham Science Fiction Group's guest speakers at its monthly meeting on 10th September.
Because of Covid, the Brum Group's meeting are currently held virtually, via Zoom. Non-members can attend, however. Details here.
Here's the group's official announcement:
Anne and Stan Nicholls are BSFG members and both known for their work in speculative genres.
Anne Nicholls began writing as Anne Gay. She changed the name after marrying author Stan Nicholls. Her first published SF work was the story Wishbone, which appeared in the Gollancz/Sunday Times Anthology of SF Competition Stories.
As a psychotherapist Anne has well over 150 radio and TV appearances and dozens of features in the British and American press, Anne has also found time to write two self-help books. She has had two exhibitions of her paintings and poetry on the subject of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and continues to enjoy writing.
Stan Nicholls is the author of more than thirty books, most of them in the fantasy and science fiction genres, for both adult and young readers. Titles include Strange Invaders, Fade to Black, The Nightshade Chronicles trilogy and Wordsmiths of Wonder: Fifty Interviews With Writers of the Fantastic. He adapted David Gemmell’s Legend and Wolf in Shadow into graphic novel form, novelised TV series Dark Skies, and wrote authorised biographies of, among others, Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame and Coronation Street’s Willam Roache.
He is best known for the internationally acclaimed Orcs: First Blood series. Stan was awarded the Le'Fantastique Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to Literature at the Trolls & Legendes Festival in Mons, Belgium.
Zoom Meeting 10th September at 7.45 pm for an 8pm meeting commencement.
Birmingham Science Fiction Group (birminghamsfgroup.org.uk)
The Brum Group is the oldest science fiction group in the UK, and Novacon, which grew from it, is the oldest regional convention; both celebrate their fiftieth anniversary this year. The guests of honour at Novacon 50 are artist Chris (Fangorn) Baker, and authors Emma Newman, Claire North and Christopher Priest. Everything you need to know about the convention is here.
Another reminder. As announced in last month's update, we've added a Conventions section to this site's Photo Gallery, where all the Photographs of the Month, going back to January 2019, can also be viewed. In coming months I hope to build on the Conventions department, as well as creating sections on Specialist SF Booksellers, The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy and possibly Fan Art, for artwork readers have based on my books. There will also be a miscellaneous section, tentatively entitled Festivals, a sort of catch-all covering literary and fantasy festivals, workshops and other events.
As a taster for the latter here's a photo of a signing session I undertook at theTrolls & Légendes festival in Mons, Belgium, in April 2007:
This is the time of year when many of us would normally be hoping to travel a little further than our living rooms. Alas, Covid and lockdowns have made that just a dream for the time being. So here's something a bit more far-flung than the local supermarket – a street scene from Macau, taken during our visit there in September 2017.
As I mentioned in previous updates, I've been working on expanding the contents of the Photo Gallery. Now I'm happy to report that a section on Conventions has been added. It's far from complete, but I'll be building on it in the coming months. I'll also be creating additional sections.
The raft of recently launched dyslexic friendly titles from BOTH Publishing, including my contribution, Anchor Point, are prominently featured in the July/August issue of Booktime. Published by the Booksellers Association, Booktime magazine is free to customers of independent bookshops.
As enthusiast, archivist and all-round comics expert David Hathaway-Price reminds me, People In Glass Houses was the title of a review column I wrote for legendary UK fanzine Fantasy Advertiser. The column, which I blush to remember was pretentiously sub-titled A Review Of Some Diverse Curios (well, I was very young and full of myself) first appeared in issue 32, published in the far-off days of July 1970. Fantasy Advertiser was begun by comics dealer Frank Dobson, a pivotal figure in British comics fandom, but by the time I wrote the column it was co-edited by the equally influential Paul McCartney & Dez Skinn.
I have to confess that People In Glass Houses, like so much else I've written over the years, had rather slipped to the back of my mind. So my memory got a jolt when David produced repros of some of the columns (my copies of Fantasy Advertiser have been in storage and basically inaccessible for decades). Here are a couple. The artwork for the heading on the column, incidentally, was by my old friend David Griffiths.
David Hathaway-Price edits and publishes the splendid journal Fanscene, which chronicles the history of UK comics fandom. The forthcoming eighth issue - sadly, the last - will be devoted to Fantasy Advertiser, andI've been invited to contribute a piece about my involvement with the magazine.
I'll post about this again nearer publication. No cover of issue 8 of Fanscene is available yet, so here's how number 1 looked, which contained my article on the history of London's specialist sf and comics shops:
Novacon, the UK's longest running regional science fiction convention, which should have mounted its fiftieth event in 2020 but for the pandemic, has announced a change of venue. Barring a resurgence of Covid, we'll be there on 12th-14th November. Here, in the committee's own words, is the announcement about the new venue:
“Over the last few months, the Mercure hotel in Nottingham has been hosting a Nightingale Court as a way to generate income. The contract with the Justice Department was to run until June, but now it has been extended until the end of the year and the hotel is not in a position to refuse. So, regrettably, we will not be able to hold Novacon 50 here for what would have been our 12th year!
“The good news is that we have found a new venue, which is the Palace Hotel in Buxton, Derbyshire on the edge of the Peak District. Located opposite the train station, it is an imposing Victorian listed building which has been nicely refurbished. All the function rooms, the bars and toilets are on the ground floor and there is plenty of lounge area. The whole thing is light and airy with high ceilings and some impressive decor. And a conservatory. And the longest continuous wrought-iron bannister in Britain, or was it Europe? And possibly a ghost.”
I was sad to hear that Welsh author and poet Bryn Fortey passed away on 21st July at the age of 83. Bryn's short stories, mainly in the horror/supernatural genre, gained many accolades when he began appearing in a number of prestigious anthologies in the 1960s.
He suffered a terrible tragedy in 2007 when his son, Jim, was murdered by a mentally ill individual. Not long after, his wife, Maddalena, also passed away. After a prolonged period in which his literary output was low and fairly sporadic, he re-entered the field with the publication of two collections – Merry-Go-Round and Other Words (2014) and Compromising The Truth (2018), both from Alchemy Press.
Bryn was an accomplished wordsmith and a funny, thoroughly decent man. He'll be missed.
With Bryn at the second March Haresliterary gathering, Birmingham, 2019.
Photograph by Peter Coleborn
American author, journalist, pagan and Mensa member Patricia Kennealy-Morrison died on 23rd July following several years of illness. She wrote a series of sf/fantasy crossover novels under the overall titles The Keltiad, Tales of Aeron and Tales of Arthur, as well as crime series The Rennie Stride Mysteries. As one of the first female rock journalists, and editor of Jazz & Pop magazine, she was a pioneer feminist. But she was most famous as the bride of late rock star Jim Morrison, following a Celtic handfasting ceremony in 1970. The exact nature of her relationship with Morrison remained a controversial topic for the remainder of her days. She appeared in Oliver Stone's biopic of Morrison, The Doors, but heavily criticised the film on its release and fell out with the director. She wrote Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison as a response to the movie.
I interviewed Patricia in the early 90s, and subsequently met her again at a launch event. During the interview I wanted to concentrate on her fantasy novels, but many of her answers somehow ended up referencing Morrison, a testament to his continuing importance in her life. I think that was the only interview I conducted that ended with being hugged by the interviewee! She struck me as vulnerable, underneath it all, and it was difficult not to like her.
An extended version of that interview appeared in Wordsmiths of Wonder, and it's sobering to realise that eighteen of the exceptional writers therein are no longer with us.
My wife, Anne Nicholls, had intended to exhibit some of her art at several conventions during the last 18 months or so, but of course Covid put paid to that. Hopefully things will improve in coming months and she can show her art at November's Novacon. Fingers crossed. Here's one piece by way of a taster. David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker from TV series Star Trek: Discovery.
Sunsets are always a good opportunity for a powerful photograph, and this one fits the bill. I should stress that this picture hasn't been enhanced in any way - I never doctor photos except to occasionally crop them. What you see here, which was probably the result of unusual climatic conditions, not least excessive heat, was how it was.
Remember that you can view all the Photographs of the Month, back to January 2019, in the Photo Gallery.
And a reminder that I regularly post photos on my Facebook page.
The first tranche of dyslexic-friendly titles from BOTH Publishing, including my fantasy Anchor Point, were published on 12th June, with a launch event at the Clevedon Literature Festival. Here's BOTH Publishing founder Alistair Sims, of Books on the Hill, taking delivery of the titles:
There's more about the BOTH project in this BBC news item.
The titles are perfectly accessible to general readers; it's the format and production of these editions that makes them suitable for readers with dyslexia - greater spacing between sentences and paragraphs, cream paper and a friendly font.
Anchor Point is available in paperback and e-book formats, as well as a signed hardback edition limited to fifty copies.
The book is here on Amazon UK.
I recently came across this sweatshirt, produced at the time the Legend graphic novel was published. It wasn't from the publisher - Dave Gemmell had a few made himself, by way of an experiment. (There were a couple of t-shirt versions too.) I recall us trying these on, looking at each other and saying “No, I don't think so”. Mine's been boxed for decades.
Congratulations to The Birmingham Science Fiction Group, the oldest sf group in the UK, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in June. Quite an achievement! Here's the cover of their souvenir book, with artwork by David A. Hardy:
I was genuinely astonished to find myself in this list of the top ten speakers at the Brum Group in the last fifty years. That's “top” in the sense of the number of appearances, you understand. I obviously rate highly in the rent-a-gob stakes.
Encountering the ruins of a manor house.
You can see all the Photographs of the Month, from January 2019 to present, in thePhoto Gallery.
Back in the September 2020 update (which you'll find in the News Archive) I reproduced an article I wrote outlining my experiences working as Dennis Wheatley's research assistant on ambitious 70s book series The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult. I've just dug up several pieces of promotional material related to the series and thought this one - aimed at the book trade - might be of particular interest. Printed on vellum (or something like it) Wheatley's “letter” was made to look like a scroll, tied with a red ribbon. It also bears a faux wax seal. As it's been rolled up for decades, I had a job flattening it out without causing damage. Consequently, it's a bit springy, and doesn't make for the clearest photo.
I also unearthed these thumbnails of the covers of the 45 titles in the series:
This ancient oak stands at the heart of Moseley Bog in the West Midlands.
JRR Tolkien lived nearby as a child, and the bog is said to have inspired both the Shire, home of the hobbits, and the Old Forest featured in The Lord of the Rings. Sarehole Mill, a short distance away, also appears in the saga. There are timber walkways in the bog these days and it's wise to keep to them!
By the time you read this it's probably too late to donate, if you haven't already, to this crowd-funded new line of original speculative fiction titles designed to be equally accessible to dyslexic and general readers. (Thanks to all who did.) The good news is that the response has been outstanding, with double the target amount raised, which means that not only the six titles above will be published, in June, (including my contribution, Anchor Point) but additional works are now being commissioned from leading fantasy, sf and horror authors, along with titles from other genres.
Full details of the project, with info about all the titles and authors, can be found here.
There's been a lot of media interest in this initiative, including, among others, BBC News, BBC Radio Bristol(at around 11.20am in this recording), leading trade magazine The Bookseller, Book Social, FACES of Clevedon, and in this piece on Just Giving featuring an enterprising 9 year-old girl called Belle who joined the campaign in honour of her dyslexic parents. There's also a good interview with BOTH Publishing founder Alistair Sims here.
Some maintain that Spring holds more attractions than Summer. It's certainly an uplifting season, with the demise of greyness and the arrival of colour, which is more welcome than ever as we emerge blinking from our prolonged lockdown. I took this photo in the grounds of Winterbourne House, an Edwardian manor bequeathed to the University of Birmingham, and now used as a learning centre for horticultural students.
For months now I've been posting updates about a project I'm proud to be associated with – a new line of speculative fiction titles, from BOTH Press, designed to be accessible to people with dyslexia as well as general readers. Due to the pandemic lockdown the launch of the first six titles has had to be postponed several times, but publication is now set for this June, and BOTH Press is preparing a crowd-funding programme.
You can follow the progress of the kickstarter here.
Alistair Sims, creator and editor of the series, and himself dyslexic, explains what motivated the project:
“The idea that when you become an adult there are no dyslexic accessible printed books to read is frankly ridiculous. BOTH Press, which aims to fill this gap, is a project from Book on the Hill, which is a dyslexic friendly independent bookshop set in Clevedon, North Somerset. We are passionate about helping people who have dyslexia, or have any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. We aim to make exciting, quality fiction accessible to those not currently provided for by today’s traditional mass book market. We are working with talented and award winning authors to achieve this. With your help through the Kickstarter, we aim to publish and print 8 titles of dyslexic friendly books for adults. Our long term goal is to continue publishing good quality adult fiction to produce a wide range of books for people who have challenges when reading. Our initial target is 6 titles, with another two following immediately with your help via the stretch goals.”
You can watch a video that outlines the aims of the project, and shows how dyslexic-friendly books are formatted, here.
Here's the publisher's blurb for Anchor Point:
“The village of Catterby is beholden to no lord or lady. No one believes Lord Salex Nacandro, a warlord and sorcerer, who’s homeland was far to the north, would be a threat. They are wrong. Young Kye Beven, a reluctant member of the elite band that protects the village, lacks confidence. Everyone except Dyan Varike, the best archer in the band, believes he should never have been selected. When Catterby is menaced by Eskail Gudreen, the Emissary of Nacandro, Kye reaches for his bow and steps up to the mark.”
There are rewards for contributing to the kickstarter. In my case, for those who pledge £250 or more:
I'll read your short story, or three chapters/up to 5000 words of your novel, and give detailed feedback.
You will receive a signed, numbered, limited edition of Anchor Point, of which there will be just 50 copies printed.
You'll have an acknowledgement/credit in all 6 titles.
You'll be awarded copies of all 6 titles in epub/PDF/mobi formats.
You'll receive a handsome personalised thank you from the BOTH Press team.
Spring is here, light takes on a special quality, and hopefully - just hopefully - we're starting to see an end to our enforced captivity.
You can see all Photographs of the Month, going back to January 2019, in the Photo Gallery.
You might like to know that for the time being the Kindle editions of three of my books are being offered for just £3.99 each:
Shake Me To Wake Me: The Best of Stan Nicholls. (224 pages.) Includes a story specially written for this collection. View here.
Orcs. Omnibus edition of the first trilogy, Orcs: Bad Blood, along with a short story. Running to 700+ pages! View here.
Orcs: Tales of Maras-Dantia. (208 pages.) A collection of prequel stories set in the Orcs universe. Bonus extras include an alternate opening chapter to Orcs second trilogy novel Weapons of Magical Destruction and an interview with me conducted by David Gemmell. View here.
Hopefully. Like everything else at the moment publication is dependent on how the pandemic's going.
Anchor Point is one of a batch of fantasy stories to be produced in a format that’s particularly accessible for people with dyslexia - with specially chosen fonts, etc - while being equally comprehensible to general readers. The other six titles in what’s hoped will be a continuing series are -
The Breath by Joel Cornah
Ultrasound Shadow by Thana Niveau
The Clockwork Eyeball by Steven Poore
At Midnight I Will Steal Your Soul by John Llewellyn Probert
Sherlock Homes and the Four Kings of Sweden by Steven Savile
The House on the Old Cliffs by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Learn more about these titles, from BOTH Publishing, here.
I make no apology for again drawing attention to this anthology, in which both my wife Anne Nicholls and myself are proud to have stories.
All proceeds from the sale of Stories of Hope and Wonder are donated to support National Health Service staff and other healthcare workers, and over three thousand pounds has already been raised.
53 stories, 253,000 words of fiction, featuring some of the finest writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, literary fiction and more.
Available for £5.99 as an e-book here.
Well, London's Docklands in 2014 actually, where this recently surfaced photo was taken. Me and the TARDIS at Loncon 2, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention:
We're starting to see longer days, bluer skies and a light that's more benign. This was taken locally.
A reminder that we now have a Photo Gallery here on the website where you can view all previous Photographs of the Month. And soon, much more.
Cloudaloud is a new online resource that’s been described as Spotify for kids and young adults.
In the site creators’ own words:
“A new way to listen!
“For just £3.99 a month, you'll have access to hundreds of magical adventure stories, thrilling classics, fantastic nonfiction, and more!
“Start a series, cosy up to a classic, or try out new titles until you find one that fits. If you're new to audiobooks, Cloudaloud is the perfect place to get stuck in. If you're already an audiobook lover, enjoy unlimited streaming.
“Audiobooks are an incredible resource for kids - perfect for the school run, great for reluctant readers, ideal for auditory learners. They're fun for the family to enjoy together or for kids to listen to independently.
“We're adding new audiobooks and categories all the time, from some of the UK's best large and independent publishers. We also have exclusive content you can't find anywhere else!
“Cloudaloud started as a children's audiobook streaming app. Its creators wanted children to have access to stories at the touch of a button, and for them to be able to find new audiobooks easily and independently. Our app invites children of all ages to discover new stories and listen to personal favourites.
“And we're committed to giving children who've grown up listening to audiobooks something to grow into! Teen and YA audio (13+) has a new interface designed to appeal to young adults, and to use relevant Teen/YA categories. We'll continue working to build this catalogue so that families have a place for all their kids to access great stories with one account.”
Why am I telling you about this? Well, apart from thinking it’s a good idea, I’m pleased to announce that several of my YA stories will be on offer. I’m a little premature with the news as the stories are currently being prepared, but they should be on the site in coming weeks. I’ll keep you up to speed on this. For more details, the Cloudaloud website is here.
One of them was from the 21st June 1980 signing by legendary comicbook artist Will Eisner. Now another photo from that day has emerged:
The photo appeared in this August 1980 issue of The Spirit magazine in a feature about Eisner’s trip to England:
The Spirit was, of course, Eisner’s most popular and iconic character.
Two recent pieces of genre art by my wife, Anne Nicholls, that I thought might be of interest. “Dragon with a particularly interesting book” and Wesley Snipes as Blade:
2020 was bad enough in terms of writers we lost. 2021 hasn’t started well either. I’m very sad to note the passing of another outstanding author and exceptional human being - Storm Constantine, who died on 14th January following a prolonged illness.
I knew Storm for a long time. My wife, Anne, knew her even longer, and they were members of the same writing group back in the eighties. I interviewed Storm several times in the nineties, and was a guest-of-honour with her at Fantasycon in 2000. She handled the text layout for my short story collection Shake Me To Wake Me. Storm will be sorely missed, both by the genre writing community and all who knew her. The Guardian ran an obituary here.
A sad thought. I realised, with Storm’s departure, that no fewer than seventeen of the exceptional authors interviewed herein are no longer with us -
The moon’s notoriously hard to photograph well, or at least it has been for me. But I was quite pleased with this recently taken shot.
On the subject of photographs, I’m very pleased to announce that a Photo Gallery has now been added to this site’s menu.
I hope in time to have several different categories within that section, and I’ve made a start by archiving all my Photographs of the Month to date.
“THE WAY WE SPEND OUR TIME DEFINES WHO WE ARE”
The above quote, attributed to one Jonathan Estrin, seems appropriate because of a personal landmark at this time, although I almost overlooked it. I just recalled that as 1980 slipped into 1981 I’d decided to take the plunge and try to be a full-time writer. Prior to that I’d already made a living in the world of books, first in a book exporting company that incorporated the London office of Washington’s Library of Congress, then as co-owner/manager of a bookshop (Bookends) and subsequently as manager of specialist retailers Dark They Were and Golden Eyed and Forbidden Planet. I was writing in whatever spare time I could find while holding down those jobs, and occasionally selling what I wrote, but I’d reached a crossroads. Bookselling had taught me a lot about the trade and how publishing worked, and I had the privilege of meeting and learning from the experiences of a number of authors. If I was serious about my ambition to be a “proper” writer, however, I needed to single-mindedly devote myself to achieving it.
One thing I had learned was that making a career as a writer wasn’t easy. I wanted to write books but knew that breaking in didn’t happen overnight, so I determined to take whatever work I could get that involved writing. I became a freelance journalist, writing not only for specialist genre publications but any outlet I could get into - newspapers, women’s magazines, music magazines, general interest titles. I wrote book and film reviews. I wrote for the house journals of multinational companies and charities’ newsletters. I wrote advertising copy and marketing flyers, and contributed to an internal magazine for London’s bus drivers. I scripted and conducted interviews for promotional videos. I even wrote text for the back of corn flakes and washing powder boxes (somebody has to write that stuff). Anything that involved working with words, in fact, and that paid, however modestly. The contacts I made while a bookseller, and as a journalist, led to supplementing my writing income with work as a slush pile reader (first reader) for various publishers and agents, and as a proof reader and sometime line editor. Eventually I was fortunate enough to be taken on by agents and cracked authorship, with well over thirty books published.
I was lucky also in starting out just before the advent of the Internet, when there were many more opportunities to find work in paying print markets. I’m very aware of how much harder that is for anyone looking for opportunities now, with ample exposure available online but little in the way of remuneration. Apart from the exceptionally talented and well-starred, life for the majority of professional writers is always famine or feast, and I’m no exception. I would have found it much more difficult getting through the lean times without the support of my family and close friends.
Do I have any regrets? Only that I didn’t go for a writing career earlier than I did. As to the future ... who knows? I’ll keep writing, because that’s what I do. I’ve several projects on the go (more about those in future updates) and like all writers I’ll carry on as long as people want to publish and read my work. So I guess the way I’ve spent the last four decades - and boy, have they shot past - really does define me.
I recently came across this, the first page of a 1970s article about Forbidden Planet’s original shop in Denmark Street when I was the manager there. I’m pretty sure that the figure putting up a display in the background is my Assistant Manager and head of the comics department Paul Hudson. Frustratingly, I have no record of where the article appeared. Nice photo of the shop though.
The text wrongly states that it was my first graphic novel. It was actually my third.
As I was putting this update together the sad news came in, via Michael Moorcock, that artist, author, bookseller and publisher David Britton passed away on 29th December. I knew Dave Britton from the late 1960s, although I hadn’t seen him for the last couple of decades as he sank into an increasingly reclusive life. He was always a controversialist, and his notorious series of novels/comics beginning with Lord Horror earned him a prison sentence under the Obscene Publications Act.
In partnership with author Michael Butterworth he created Savoy Books, and Savoy’s projects included releasing several albums by singer PJ Proby - he of split trousers infamy - bringing him back into the recording studio after many years in abeyance.
Here’s what Dave had to say about his jail experience:
“[Lord Horror] was so unique and radical, I expected to go to prison for it. I always thought that if you wrote a truly dangerous book something dangerous would happen to you. Which is one reason there are so few really dangerous books around. Publishers play at promoting dangerous books, whether they're Serpent's Tail or Penguin. All you get is a book vetted by committee, never anything radically imaginative or offensive that will take your fucking head off. Ironically, I think it would do other authors a power of good if they had to account for their books by going to prison - there are far too many bad books being published!”
Details of David Britton’s unique, eccentric and adventurous life and work are here.
I would have liked to publish a photo of him, but he was famously camera shy and would only allow this one of him as a child to be used:
At least, I assume it’s him. You never knew with Dave.
But I can reproduce a couple of pieces of artwork he produced for the fanzines I edited/co-edited, Gothique and Stardock:
2020 was lousy in many ways, not least in the toll it took on genre authors. In addition to Dave Britton, the last part of the year alone saw us lose science fiction Grandmaster Ben Bova and prolific horror novelist Guy N. Smith. RIP.
In last month’s update I mentioned that the UK’s longest-running regional convention, Novacon, which had to postpone its fiftieth anniversary in 2020 until 2021, was revamping its website and adding specially written pieces by past Guests of Honour.
More are due to be added.
Putting together our long-wanted library took the whole of 2020 (plus the tail-end of 2019) and has been one of the sanity preservers during the interminable Covid lockdown. We’ve now got to the point where we’re hanging artwork:
The two latest pieces are over on the right. The angel, an original, is by Chris (Fangorn) Baker. The illustration below, the cover artwork for my book The Diamond Isle (the US edition of my UK title Quicksilver Twilight) is a limited, signed print by Jon Sullivan. We still have a little wall space left, and I’ll let you know what we fill it with.
Winter has arrived. I took this one not far from home.
If you’re interested, I regularly post photos on my Facebook page.
Previous news updates going back to 2008 can be found in the News Archive.
And note that the menu on the top left of this page will take you to my:
Biography, Bibliography (Orcs Series, Quicksilver Trilogy, Nightshade Chronicles Trilogy,Other Titles), Gothique & Stardock Section and Contact tab.
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