Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Download School Ties for FREE this weekend


My second romantic novella, School Ties, can be downloaded for free on Amazon this weekend – just in time for Mother’s Day in the UK. Here are the opening paragraphs. I’d love to know what you think, and look out for the sequel, Lessons in Love.

Will Hughes slammed his pen down in frustration. It was ten fifteen on a rainy September night and he’d been marking Hamlet essays for more than an hour. And what a bloody shambles they were too. Admittedly he was teaching the bottom set, but he was stunned by the quality of the teenagers’ work. Some could barely string a sentence together, let alone use an apostrophe properly. Only one had produced work that showed any understanding of Shakespeare’s most famous play. 

Trying hard to stay awake, he took a gulp of cold instant coffee. He was less than halfway through the pile of scripts and at this rate he’d be hard-pressed to finish them by midnight. Worse still, he’d promised to take the first XV rugby squad on a training run at dawn.

For the umpteenth time, Will wondered why he had returned to teaching. He’d left his last school a year ago to join an up-and-coming Shoreditch advertising agency. Yet now he’d had another change of heart and given up his skinny lattes and generous expense account to return to the chalkface.

Not that Downthorpe Hall was a tough place to work. It wasn’t. Compared to the early years of Will’s career, when he’d been a young English teacher at a tough inner-city comprehensive, Downthorpe was the cushiest number imaginable. A private school dating back two hundred years, it was housed in an elegant Cotswold mansion, complete with castellated turrets, a winding two-mile drive and acres of playing fields. It had once been an all-boys school, but had gone co-ed twenty years ago. The decision was deplored by the old guard but had succeeded in giving the school’s academic results a much-needed shot in the arm.

Will stretched his arms out wide to keep himself awake, then stopped. He could have sworn he heard a loud whirring noise outside the window. It sounded like a helicopter. But that was impossible. Not at this time of night. And not so close to the school...

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday book review - A Sea Change by Veronica Henry


I’m a huge fan of Quick Reads, the “bite-size” books that aim to get more people reading. Around one in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and many never pick up a book. That’s where Quick Reads come in. Launched in 2006, Quick Reads  commissioned a host of big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. The initiative has proved so successful that over the last seven years 4.5 million books have been distributed and three million library loans clocked up.

New authors are added every year, with the latest starry batch of names including Andy McNab, Kathy Lette, Minette Walters and Veronica Henry. The novels cost a bargain £1 each and have turned loads of previously reluctant readers into “book addicts.”
I’ve read several Quick Reads over the years and when I spotted A Sea Change by Veronica Henry in Foyle’s at St Pancras the other day I snapped it up to read on the Eurostar.
The story was perfect for my train journey. It’s only 90 pages long but has all the charm and insight of Henry’s longer novels. Set in the fictional seaside village of Everdene, it’s the tale of ice-cream seller Jenna, who turns up for work one hot summer’s day to find that she’s been sacked. With a flaky family, no money to pay her rent and no work on the horizon, she takes drastic action – action that catches the attention of a young copper sitting on the beach.
Henry’s story is thought provoking, easy to read and as light as the summer breeze. The perfect Quick Read in fact.
A Sea Change by Veronica Henry (Orion, £1)

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Taking Sides, my third novel - out as an ebook TODAY


Taking Sides, my third novel, is published as an ebook for the first time today. It’s got a snappy new cover and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that readers will enjoy it.

The star of the book is Juliette Ward, a young mother who has grown tired of city life. Her newspaper job is driving her crazy, her hours are horrendous and she barely gets to see her young son during the week. Added to which, her house has been burgled three times and her car’s been vandalised by a bunch of thugs. 

So Juliette takes a deep breath, chucks in her job and persuades her husband to uproot to the wilds of the Lake District. Except just as they’re about to move, he’s offered the job of his dreams – hosting a new London breakfast show.

I got the idea for the book from the ever-increasing number of couples forced to live apart from their partners during the week – not because they want to but because they can’t get jobs in the same place.

Juliette, for instance, loves the thought of swapping the big city for life in the country. But she hates the idea of swapping her stable marriage for a long-distance relationship. She decides to give it a go, but the question is – can she ever make it work?

Taking Sides by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus Entice, £3.99)

Friday, 1 March 2013

Friday book review - With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan

What a treat to curl up on the sofa on a chilly winter’s night and read Patricia Scanlan’s latest novel.

With a clutch of bestsellers to her name (including Love and Marriage and City Girl), Scanlan is renowned for writing heart-warming novels about family, friendship and love.

Her new book, With All My Love is no exception. I read it in one delicious go, with tears streaming down my face by the time I got to the last chapter.

Once again, Scanlan focuses on a family – a family torn apart by a festering tangle of secrets and lies.

The book opens as Briony McAllister sits in a sunny park on the Costa del Sol, watching her young daughter playing with her dolls. Briony’s mother, Valerie Harris, has recently bought a house in Spain and Briony and her daughter have flown out from Dublin to help her settle in.

But when Briony takes an old photograph album out of her bag and starts to leaf through it, a letter she has never seen before falls out. The letter is addressed to her and as Briony reads it she realises that her mother has been lying to her for more than twenty years. Her mother had always maintained that Briony’s beloved grandmother cut off contact when she was little and didn’t want to see her – but it was an out and out lie.

As the lives of the three women unfold, Scanlan observes the conflict from each point of view. None of the women are without blame, but Scanlan cleverly makes the reader sympathetic towards each of them in turn. One moment I felt sorry for Tessa, Briony’s abandoned grandmother, the next I felt infuriated by her antagonism towards Valerie. For instance, when Valerie falls in love with Tessa’s youngest and favourite son, Tessa does everything she can to put a stop to the relationship. She makes snide remarks about Valerie’s clothes, warns her not to distract her son from his studies and acidly refers to her as “Miss Clinging Vine.”

Best of all, Scanlan keeps readers guessing about the women’s secrets right till the very end. There was no way on earth I could cast the book aside and stop reading. I had my suspicions, but I had to find out why Valerie had taken such drastic action and deprived Tessa of her precious relationship with her granddaughter.

PS. Watch out too, for Scanlan’s brilliant evocation of life in the late 70s and 80s, when Valerie first meets Tessa’s son. Glittery boob tubes, Queen singing We Will Rock You, Charlie perfume – Scanlan has remembered it all.

With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

Interview with Alison Morton - author of Inceptio


One of the very best things about Twitter is meeting other writers. Alison Morton and I got chatting about writing, blogging and France a few months back and with the her debut novel, Inceptio, out today I jumped at the chance to interview her for House With No Name.

Inceptio is your debut novel. Can you tell me a little about the road to publication?

Alison: I’ve played with words most of my life - storyteller, playwright (aged seven), article writer, local magazine editor and translator. I started novel writing in 2009 after seeing a particularly dire film. "I could do better than this," I whispered in the dark to my other half. "So why don’t you?" Three months later, I had completed the draft of Inceptio, the first Roma Nova alternate history thriller.

I knew the draft was both woolly and rough. I needed to learn novel-crafting skills and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme in 2010. Two RNA conferences, an Arvon Foundation course in commercial fiction and the Festival of Writing at York spurred me on me on. I met some knowledgeable, generous and fun people along the way, one of whom ended up mentoring me. My history MA had taught me how to research and my six years in the Territorial Army trained me to do “guns and mud.” Perfect preparation for Inceptio.

I made the classic mistake of submitting too soon. Several rewrites later I had some full submission requests, including from a US agent. Replies like “If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on” and “Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list” were a little depressing. I was (am!) passionate about my stories so, happy that my writing was at a reasonable standard, I decided to self publish with bought-in publishing services. Using high quality professional backing (editing, advice, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing etc), I think it’s a fantastic way for new writers to enter the market.

Why did you choose to write a thriller and what is it about?

Alison: Inceptio started as a romantic novel with some action bits, but the thriller proportion grew until I realised I loved writing tension, danger, death, cliff-hangers and conspiracy more than romance. But the central romantic relationship is still key in this and the next two books.

It starts in New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice - being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded 16 centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it... 

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Alison: Bash the story out. If you pause too long beautifying individual scenes at this stage, you risk losing the narrative flow. You’re first and foremost a storyteller; the story is the most important thing.

Put it away for at least six weeks, then do the first self-edit, checking the plot structure, deleting the dreadful parts and working on the sloppy bits. Then back into the drawer and start the next project.

Out of the drawer comes the first novel a few months later and this time you scrutinise each sentence word by word, forcing each one to justify its existence. Then you have something to work with.

What is your own favourite novel?

Alison: Currently, it’s Restless by William Boyd – spies, two strong women leads, Second World War, love, betrayal on personal and political levels, Cold War, class, alienation, irreverance and beautiful prose. Perfect!

Inceptio by Alison Morton (SilverWood Books, £9.99)

Alison’s blog: www.alison-morton.com
Twitter: @alison_morton

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Moving On, my second novel - out as an ebook TODAY


Moving On, my second novel, is published as an ebook today – and I’m over the moon. It’s the novel I’m most proud of so I’m hoping that new readers will enjoy it.

When the book was first published it had a lurid pink jacket with daisies scattered across the front but now publishers Piatkus Entice have given it a gorgeous mauve cover (I must say I rather covet the heroine’s green and black spotty shirt) and it looks far more stylish.

Like my first novel, Moving On is set in the world of newspapers. But this time round the main characters are two sisters, Kate and Laura Hollingberry. Their father, HH, is a mega-successful newspaper tycoon, but they know next to nothing about their mother, Clare, who walked out in mysterious circumstances when they were little.

The two girls are close but they’re poles apart in character. Laura is happy to get an undemanding job until she finds Mr Right, while Kate is fiercely ambitious and wants more out of life. Determined not to rely on her father's money or influence, Kate takes a job on the Bowland Bugle, a struggling weekly newspaper in the wilds of Lancashire. It's her first job and her first bid for independence. Anything can happen – and it certainly does.

Kate arrives in the north of England as a naive, inexperienced reporter (hmmm, shades of autobiography there), but is forced to grow up fast. Especially when she’s faced with a distraught couple whose teenage daughter has gone missing, a boss who seems hell-bent on tripping her up at every opportunity and a love affair that doesn't go according to plan. Meanwhile, back in London, Laura is facing her own heartbreak and the future of the family business is looking uncertain...

Moving On by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus, £3.99)

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Book Review - The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes


Reviewing a book by an author you’ve met in real life can be tricky. But actually, when the author is as talented as Jojo Moyes it’s not difficult at all.

Over the past year Jojo has become one of our most successful novelists. Me Before You, her tear-jerking story of a hotshot city financier who becomes wheelchair-bound after an accident, was one of the top five paperbacks of 2012 and has sold more than 500,000 copies in the UK so far. Her ninth novel, it’s now a New York Times bestseller and this week MGM acquired the film rights. Me Before You is an amazing book and if you haven’t yet read it, go and download it NOW.

As I wrote in my House With No Name review last year Jojo is one of those writers who surprises her readers with every novel. While lots of novelists play it safe and stick to familiar themes and subjects, she always chooses something different. To date she’s written about everything from brides crossing the world to meet their husbands after the Second World War (The Ship of Brides) to a businessman planning a controversial development in a sleepy Australian town (Silver Bay).

And her latest, The Girl You Left Behind, is different again. It’s the story of two women, unrelated and separated by 100 years, who are united in their determination to fight tooth and nail for what they love most. One is French artist’s wife Sophie Lefèvre, who is forced to make a terrible decision in the hope of being reunited with her beloved husband during the First World War. The other is young widow Liv Halston, who a century later finds that her future is inextricably linked with Sophie’s past.

There’s no doubt that Me Before You is a hard act to follow but Jojo has managed it with style and panache. The Girl You Left Behind isn’t quite as spellbinding as its predecessor but it’s still utterly compelling and the two stories are skillfully entwined and meticulously researched. At first I found Sophie’s story – her courage, pragmatism and determination to keep her family safe against all odds – far more gripping than Liv’s. But as the novel progressed Liv and the ex-NYPD cop she falls for completely won me over. I can’t wait to see what Jojo writes next.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (Penguin, £7.99)

PS. Jojo Moyes is speaking at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival on Sunday April 21.  You can book tickets here.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Friday book review - The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles


Thousands of writers dream of hitting the big time with their first novel. And that’s exactly what Beth Reekles has done. The surprise is that Beth is a 17-year-old schoolgirl studying for her A levels and hoping to read physics at university.

She began writing at the age of 15, sitting upstairs in her bedroom at the family home in Newport, Wales and uploading a chapter of her work at a time. She quickly got the thumbs-up from her readers. Her very first chapter received a million hits and pretty soon she was being deluged with emails urging her to upload the next instalments faster.

Beth then began writing on Wattpad, the free online novel-sharing platform for amateur writers, and the compliments flooded in. Her first novel, The Kissing Booth, rapidly became the most-viewed, most-commented-on teen fiction title on Wattpad, with 19 million reads and 40,000 comments to date. It won the Wattpad Award for Teen Fiction and last October was snapped up by Random House.

Beth has now signed a three-book deal with Random House and the publisher has already released The Kissing Booth as an ebook (it will be published in book form this summer). The ebook reveals that Beth, whose real name is Reeks, is “an undeniable bookworm and an avid drinker of tea,” while her acknowledgements include “a big thank you” to her GCSE English teacher, Mr Maugham.

So after all that, what is the book actually like? Well, it’s aimed at the YA market, so I’m clearly not the target reader. But the answer is that it’s sweet, romantic and well-written. Not only that, it will appeal to older readers too.

Set in America, it’s the story of Rochelle (also known as Elle or Shelly), a pretty 16-year-old who’s never had a boy friend and has never been kissed. She and her male best friend Lee hit on the idea of organising a kissing booth at their school’s spring carnival, where she ends up kissing Lee’s bad boy older brother Noah, tries to keep her feelings for Noah secret from Lee and finds her whole world turned upside down.

Not surprisingly, Beth’s teenage characters sound real and authentic. They talk like teenagers and act like teenagers – which is more than you can say about some of the teen novels written by older novelists. The book’s gone down a storm with readers in America and the Far East, as well as the UK, and there’s no doubt about it, Beth Reekles is an author to watch.

The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles (RHCP Digital, £2.84)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday Book Review - Crusher by Niall Leonard


Like most novelists, Niall Leonard pays tribute to a whole host of people in his acknowledgements.

But there’s one name that stands out from the crowd. “And above all to my beloved wife Erika,” writes Leonard, “for her boundless love, loyalty, humour, encouragement and inspiration.”

Yes, the Erika in question is EL James, whose Fifty Shades of Grey has sold well over 6 million copies in the UK and has become the country’s bestselling book ever.

Leonard is unlikely to match his wife’s sales any time soon but Crusher, his debut novel, is a gritty, fast-paced thriller for teenagers that gripped me from start to finish.

Funnily enough, it was James herself who encouraged her TV screenwriter husband (his credits include Wire in the Blood and Silent Witness) to write the book in the first place. He decided to take part in the 2011 NaNoWriMo (the annual novel writing challenge) and Crusher was the result.

The novel tells the story of teenager Finn Maguire, who returns home from his dead-end café job one day to find that his stepdad has been bludgeoned to death.

Finn has no idea who might have had a grudge against the impoverished, out-of-work actor. He is even more stunned when it turns out that the police see him as the prime suspect for the murder. As one cop tells him: "Ninety per cent of the time the person who reports finding a dead body is the murderer... You might as well have written a confession in your stepfather's blood."

Determined to prove his innocence and find out who hated his stepdad enough to murder him, Finn resolves to track the killer down. But his quest takes him into the scary heart of the London underworld and exposes dark family secrets from the past.

I’m clearly not the target audience for Crusher but Leonard, unlike many YA writers, is a brilliant at getting inside the head of a troubled teenager. Boys of 14 and up will enjoy it, but I reckon girls and adult readers will too.

Crusher by Niall Leonard (Doubleday, £12.99)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Hard Copy is published as an ebook


The world was a different place when my first novel, Hard Copy, was published back in 1998. The internet was in its infancy, my laptop was the size of a sewing machine and when I sent an email I had to follow dial-up instructions running to two sides of A4 paper. Even then I rarely succeeded.

I began writing the book when I enrolled on Manchester University’s MA in novel writing. The course was the first to focus on novels rather than creative writing (as UEA did) and along with future luminaries like Sophie Hannah and Sam Bain I was one of the very first intake.

Once I’d completed my degree I turned the 50,000 words I’d written into a full-length novel. I made photographer Anna Armitage the lead character and changed the name of my cynical hack (who I’m secretly rather fond of) from Sam Rutter to Sam Turner.

Hard Copy was published in hardback and paperback and did reasonably well at the time, but there’s never been an ebook version. Until now, that is. The novel has been given a stylish new cover and published this week by Piatkus Entice.

So what is it about? Well, it’s the story of Anna, a 20-something who’s determined to reach the top as a Fleet Street photographer. But when she teams up with former high-flying reporter Sam Turner they miss the big story and a rival newspaper gets the scoop instead. They’re determined to save their careers though and together they battle against megalomaniac proprietors and ruthless news editors to prove themselves once more.

The Daily Mirror called it “fast and furious,” while the Belfast Telegraph declared that “if you enjoy pace, dialogue and a glimpse of life behind the headlines, you’ll love this.” I just hope new readers agree.

Hard Copy by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus, £3.99)

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012


It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday book review - The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable


If you’re racing to get your Christmas shopping done and need an enchanting story for girls aged ten and up, then The Wolf Princess could be just the ticket.

The first novel from journalist turned author Cathryn Constable, it’s the captivating account of penniless orphan Sophie Smith. Stuck in her drab London boarding school with her two best friends – brainy Marianne and immaculately groomed Delphine - she longs for something exciting to happen.

Then, thanks to a mysterious Russian visitor, the trio suddenly find themselves on a school trip to St Petersburg.  But when they arrive they are swept off by train to a winter palace – where a charismatic princess lavishes them with gifts, takes them skating on a frozen lake and weaves stories about her family’s tragic past. 

With its magical descriptions of ice, snow, diamonds and white wolves who prowl the palace grounds at night, The Wolf Princess is the perfect read for a chilly Christmas afternoon. The cover, as you can see, is glorious too.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House, £6.99)

Friday, 14 December 2012

Giveaway - win a copy of Lauren Child's latest Ruby Redfort story


I’ve been a fan of Lauren Child’s work for years. Her children's books, with their zany patchwork collages, wonky text going in all directions and off-the-wall stories, are utterly entrancing. In fact I reckon I’ve given copies of her fabulous Charlie and Lola books and Clarice Bean stories to just about every child I know - goddaughters, nieces and friends’ children. I even bought a copy of an edition of Pippi Longstocking she illustrated for, er… myself.

Child is incredibly prolific and last year she launched the Ruby Redfort stories for readers aged nine and up. Undercover agent Ruby first appeared in the Clarice Bean books but so many readers asked about Ruby that Child decided to give her her own six-book series. First came Look Into My Eyes and now the second – Take Your Last Breath – is out.

Super-cool detective Ruby is only 13 but she’s a genius at cracking codes and puzzles. This time round she’s on a mission to crack the case of the Twinford pirates, while evading the clutches of a vile sea monster and an evil count. And one thing’s for sure, if anyone can convince children that puzzle-solving and code-cracking are fun, it’s Child.

Now, thanks to HarperCollins, I have got a copy of Take Your Last Breath to give away to a lucky House With No Name reader. All you have to do is leave a comment about who you’d give it to at the end of this post and I’ll announce the winner next week.

This giveaway is open to readers with UK postal addresses only. The closing date is 12 noon on December 18, so get your entries in soon!

Take Your Last Breath (HarperCollins, £12.99).

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