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Posts Tagged ‘Writer’s Block’

Today, I’m thrilled to continue with the 2nd part of my interview with my literary agent Helen Mangham of Jacaranda Literary Agency. I had earlier interviewed my other agent Andrea Pasion-Flores on what started her on the path of a literary agent in Asia.

One of Three at Jacaranda Literary Agency

One of Three at Jacaranda Literary Agency

I met Helen over tea organized by my friend David Seow, a fellow author, who is represented by Jacaranda. I had a few more conversations with Helen and signed on with Jacaranda a few months later. Helen started out at prominent UK literary agency Curtis Brown and went on to work at several leading publishing companies in the U.K. including that of a book publicist, implementing campaigns for high profile books.

  1. The concept of full service literary agencies in South East Asia is as rare as being an author in Singapore. Tell us why you decided to become a literary agent?

I always knew I wanted to work in publishing in some way or other. Early on, I was lucky enough to get a job at Curtis Brown Literary Agency in London, probably one of the leading literary agencies in the UK. I loved it! It was my kind of place, working with like-minded people and meeting authors.

One of my responsibilities was to go through the notorious ‘slush pile’ – literally a big cupboard stuffed full of manila envelopes bursting with manuscripts – (this was pre- computers and so no pdfs or word documents). Opening every one was exciting – I had no idea what to expect! These days digital communication makes everything much easier, but fundamentally the business has not changed that much. It’s still about finding great writing and bringing it to a wider audience.

Being an agent is not just a book business, it’s a people business. It’s about getting to know your author and getting to know publishers and finding a good match. I like books and I like people and so it’s the perfect job for me!

2. Tell us one key strength of Jacaranda has.

We’re a small agency covering a broad geographical area. We don’t have a glitzy office or lots of backroom staff, but we are very hands on. So I think what you get with Jacaranda is a very personal service. We work very closely with our authors and at least two of us always read the work so that we can pool our ideas. So being small is actually one of our key strengths!

3. What do you hope to achieve for Jacaranda and your authors?

I hope Jacaranda will become recognised as one of the ‘go to’ agencies working out of South East Asia. We want to build up a solid reputation among both authors and publishers for representing great work out of this dynamic region. That way we hope to attract the best writers and be able to work on their behalf with the best publishers.

4. Which is your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Difficult question as there are so many to choose from! Black Beauty, Heidi, The Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Tom’s Midnight Garden, the Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley, the Beatrix Potter books and the haunting When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson were all read and re-read. I was drawn to books with pathos but ultimately a happy ending!

Children's book about lonely girl from India who finds secret garden

The Secret Garden

But I think my all time favourite would have to be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett which is a truly magical book. It’s about Mary, a lonely and unwanted child, who is brought back from India as an orphan to live at her Great Uncle’s bleak house on the Yorkshire Moors. After India, Yorkshire seems a cold and depressing place until one day Mary finds the key to a secret garden which changes her life. This was a book to get lost in, I’ve read it many times and read it to my own children.

5. What advice would you give to children’s authors making submissions to you?

Have a very clear idea of your market and look at other books for the same age group. Send me a covering letter telling me about yourself and about your writing and what you think makes it original. Include a sample of your manuscript with a brief synopsis – if it’s a short picture book you can include the whole manuscript, if it’s a chapter book, then the first three chapters and tell me the final word count. The text should be double spaced and a good font size. Finally, please be patient because my reading pile is big!

Highchair conversation on books and Asia

Highchair conversation on books and Asia

Mummum: Helen, thanks for taking a break off your reading pile to take part in this Conversation with me. I shall sit tight and wait for you to come back on my manuscript! 🙂

 

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This year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2014 was the biggest that the festival has seen in its entire 10-year run. The Book Council tallied a total of 1,826 delegates from 25 countries, and a mix of speakers coming from 17 different countries, some as far as the Middle East and East Asia. Joining the roster of countries represented in AFCC this year are delegates from Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

For me, this year’s AFCC was a bit of everything.

1) I attended several friends’ book launches

One Big Story, AFCC’s publication which was edited by the multi-hats Dr Myra Garces-Bacsal who is Lecturer, Founder of Gathering Books and AFCC Festival Director.  I had the privilege of contributing an essay “Survival & Success as a Singapore Author”. As you can imagine, it was pretty much about the Survival part!

AFCC Publication Book Launch - writing children's books Asia

Myra’s AFCC Publication Book Launch (with contributors)

 

The Chronicles of Meng Meng and An An – Ariel and Her Honesty Pig (written by my writing buddy Pauline Loh & illustrated by Patrick Yee)

Princess Petunia’s Dragon (by Emma Nicholson)

The Wee Adventures of Shabu Shabu Book 2 (by Kristy Thornton)

 

I missed four friends’ launches because it coincided with my sessions:

A Day with the Duchess (by David Seow)

Paw Prints and the Itchy Spots (by Sarah Mounsey)

Fun at the Opera (by Auntie Susanna Goho Quek)

Not in the Stars (by Pauline Loh)

2) I attended a variety of programmes, from talks to panel discussions, workshops and a full day master class on social media. More on those in later posts.

AFCC 2014

With Linn, Evelyn, Marjorie and Rosemarie

3) Meals, meals and meals

This year, I remember being around food a lot as I caught up with friends old and new:

– Singapore Night, where Linn Shekinah gave a presentation of all Singapore children’s titles published in 2013- which was a record year of over 60 titles. Wow!

Asian Festival of Children's Content

Makan & Mingle at AFCC 2014

– Children’s Literature Lecture evening, delivered by guest speaker Fatima Sharafeddine, award-winning author of over 90 books and twice-nominee for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

– Breakfast and dinner with SCBWI Singapore friends and overseas speakers

SCBWI WA friends Cristy Burne and Frane Lessac

SCBWI WA friends Cristy Burne and Frane Lessac

– Closing Night, also known as the SCBWI evening

SCBWI Singapore members at AFCC

SCBWI Singapore members at AFCC

 

And on the final night, my literary agent Helen Mangham organized a lovely dinner at her place for Jacaranda Literary Agency’s authors and a few friends, which marked a nice finish to the festival.

Jacaranda post-AFCC party (Emma, Simon and Kenneth)

Jacaranda post-AFCC party (Emma, Simon and Kenneth)

Jacaranda's post AFCC party

Jacaranda’s post AFCC party (with Pauline & Helen)

 

So, how did AFCC 2014 go overall? The beaming face of AFCC Founder Mr Ramachandran says it all!

AFCC Founder Ramachandran

AFCC Founder Ramachandran

I didn’t get round to taking any of my photos this year so many thanks to Myra, Marjorie, David and AFCC for the photos I plucked off your Facebook pages and blogs!

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I am delighted to kick off the 2nd season of my Conversations on the High Chair blog series with my lovely literary agent Andrea Pasion-Flores who has a passion for selling Asia. I had the opportunity to meet up with Andrea at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) where she gave an impressive presentation on “Children’s Books for an expanding Asian market”.

Jacaranda literary agent Andrea Pasion-Floresat Asian Festival of Children's Content

With literary agent Andrea Pasion-Flores

I first met Andrea five years back at the first AFCC when she was then Executive Director of the Philippines’ National Book Development Board. She bought Prince Bear & Pauper Bear for her daughter which they both loved. So, it’s providence that she is now marketing rights for my Prince Bear & Pauper Bear Toy Series and in time, my new manuscripts, together with my other Jacaranda agent Helen Mangham. Andrea is a copyright lawyer by profession and also sits on the AFCC Board of Advisers.

1. The concept of full service literary agencies in South East Asia is as rare as being an author in Singapore. Tell us why you decided to become a literary agent.

Andrea: Like many of you, I was a voracious reader when I was a child. But the books in the school I attended when I was growing up only had books by Western writers – North American, UK, Irish and parts of Europe (translations into English of the French and Russian writers). So I grew up knowing the Western canon, whilst knowing none of mine.

It was only when I was doing my MA in Creative Writing years ago, before I went to law school, that I started reading Philippine writers. And. They. Blew. Me. Away.

Here at last, I thought, were the writers who spoke to me, whose realities were similar to my own. And they weren’t dead—as most students nowadays think writers are if they were reading them in print. How lucky I was that these writers were actually my teachers!

Over lunch or coffee with my writer-teachers, who are now more like friends, we would talk about why Philippine books were not available in the rest of the world, or why they’re not even as widely distributed in local bookstores as ubiquitously as books from the West. There would be lots of answers, but there was one statement an otherwise fantastic writer said that really struck me. He said, “We’re too exotic. We are beyond their imaginations.” And that got me to thinking: What was wrong with the imaginations of the people in the West? Why couldn’t they imagine my reality, when I could very well imagine theirs?

In a previous government job where I met a lot of people, a lot of them from the West, I realized, there was nothing wrong with the imaginations of people from the West, and some of them even came from companies who sold the books I so willingly consumed.

There are probably many reasons why I wasn’t reading more of the Philippines and the rest of Asia, but one reason was so obvious I should’ve realized it sooner. For the longest time, no one was selling the Philippines, and there were certainly very few agents selling Asia. Thus, my new job.

2. Tell us a bit about Jacaranda’s philosophy.

Andrea: I’d like to think we want to be the literary agency that people think of when they want fantastic Asian stories, if they want the best of writing from this region or about this region or from writers who might have a connection to this region. We’re also looking for great stories from anywhere, of course. But I’d like to think this might be our speciality.

3. What do you hope to achieve for Jacaranda and your authors?

Andrea: As a writer, I know I want them to come out with the best books they can possibly write. I would like them to develop the kind of status where they can write anything, and it gets easier and easier to be published because they’ve developed a solid track record. I also want them to find their writing voice, to be understood for their individual poetics, this is the “why they write” question. I think when a writer gets there, it makes for serious writing that lives beyond the passing moment. Those are the kind of writers I want in my list, actually.

4. Which is your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Andrea: If there’s only one, I must say it’s The Velveteen Rabbit. There’s pain involved to get to real-izations, which might not have been something I understood fully when I first read it as a child (maybe just instinctively), but I certainly experienced the hard knocks that lead to a better understanding of things (of course I still experience these, as we all do)–as adults. It’s the same in literature–whether adult or children’s literature–conflict is what elevates story to art. Without it, there’s no story.

The Little Prince might come in as a close second, but I’m thinking it’s because I just read a review of it in the New Yorker, which looked at it in a different light. Haha.

5. What types of manuscripts are you looking for?

Andrea: I think I’m more literary. It’s from doing an MA in Creative Writing. It’s tough to shake that. I’m looking for story (with fantastic development of the elements of fiction (plot, character, etc), and that’s whether it’s adult fic. or children’s lit. or the genres. I feel it’s really the same.) Give me a good story, whatever it is.

I’m also looking for depth, use of language, voice. When I see these, I get excited and tend to talk about the stories a lot with people I meet.

All these are obviously vague answers because everyone you will talk to really mean they are waiting to be blown away by the stories you ask them to read. And, reading through a lot of stuff, I must be blown away by the first sentence–because that’s what editors are looking for as well. 🙂

Of course, there’s nothing like a good, solid, unapologetic, non-literary commercial, airport read now and then. I hope not to be a book snob because I’ve read everything. I’ve actually written chick lit aside from literary stuff, too. I also read all kinds of things for different reasons. So, whatever it is, just hit me with your best shot.

Mum-mum: Andrea, thanks for taking time to do this interview and sharing more about your passion for selling Asian.  This is definitely an exciting time to be selling and writing Asian and I certainly hope we can collectively give Asia a stronger voice on the physical and e-bookshelves!

You can read more about Jacaranda Literary Agency at Daily Write’s interview with Jayapriya Vasudevan, Founder of Jacaranda Literary Agency.

Toddler reading Asian menu

Reading Asian Offerings

 

 

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Tibby The Tiger Bunny, my picture book about identity, placed Finalist at the 2014 Crystal Kite Awards for the Asia/India/Middle East region in a competition organised by the largest society for children’s content creators – the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

THANK YOU to SCBWI Singapore friends who voted for illustrator Jade Fang and myself!

Children's picture book about helping others to find their identity and strengths

Helping others in their self-discovery and identity

I am also thrilled that Tibby gets to soar higher in his upcoming Book 2, which Epigram Books has slated for its year end release, which it announced at the Epigram Sales Conference last Friday at the Arts House Singapore, along with many exciting new books.

In Tibby & Duckie, Duckie is a duck who cannot swim. She feels left out because she wants to join the other ducks in water games. I was asked in earlier drafts if this is Duckie’s story since it is about her trying to swim.  It is  Tibby’s story as much as it is Duckie’s because Tibby struggles alongside Duckie till they discover where Duckie’s strength lies. Tibby & Duckie is about identity, self-esteem and a journey of discovery.

As Singaporeans, with our constant need to excel in everything, this is also a picture book for our children that there is no need to be good at everything. If you really can’t swim, find something else you are good at. Who knows? You may just fly and that may well be better than swimming. 🙂

Tibby & Duckie will be out before year end!

 

 

 

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I was thrilled to be part of the Festival Commitee for the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content, now in its 5th year.

This year’s Festival opened with an inspiring keynote speech from bestselling UK novelist Sally Gardner whose books have been translated into 22 languages.

Sally Gardner's novels for middle grade and up

Sally Gardener’s Novels

Sally Gardner learnt to read at 14 years old and went to 12 schools in all because she was branded “unteachable” because of her dyslexia. Although she dreamed of being an author, she never dared share that openly. When her husband left her one day, with debt to clear, she packed up all her exercise books into a flimsy bag and finally headed to see a publisher. She decided that if all her books fell out, she wasn’t meant to write. As she got off the bus at Soho, just as her books started falling out of her bag, a lady came running towards her and said, “I know you are thinking that you wouldn’t be a writer if your exercise books fell out.” The story in those exercise books were eventually picked up by a publisher with only 1 line changed and it started her journey as an author.

With that opening dose of inspiration, I soaked in 5 days of tips on writing, educating, blogging, book launches and dialogues on children’s content which I will blog about in upcoming posts.

Meantime, I am still unpacking my “loot” from AFCC which includes 4 autographed copies of Sally Gardener’s books! One is for the girls of my “book procurement agent” Hwee.

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I’ve been tagged twice to go on a writing blog tour – by David Seow in Singapore and Cristy Burne in Australia! No passport needed for this tour as I won’t be clearing customs and checkpoints. Instead, I’m just clearing 4 questions from my study chair in my pajamas.

I was supposed to join David’s tour yesterday and Cristy’s tour next Monday. However, with the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2014 coming up this Saturday all through Wednesday, I’ve unable to keep to either of their tour dates and have rescheduled my tour to today!

A little about my two taggers:

David Seow

David Seow is a prolific author over 30 picture books. We first met at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content on an incredibly successful panel session, and were then placed on the same panel again that year, this time at the Singapore Writer’s Festival, together with renowned author David Almond (of Skellig fame). David got me to join SCBWI Singapore and we now also have the same literary agent, whom he introduced to me. Here’s where I joined David’s tour.

takeshitademons_blog-cover-4

Cristy Burne is the award-winning author of the Takeshita Demons series. We met at the Rottnest Retreat in Australia last year when I went as the Singapore Representative (under an exchange between SCBWI WA and the Singapore Book Council) to present on my works and the publishing scene in Singapore. Cristy and I had several lovely conversations together and I’m thrilled that she will be here as a speaker for the coming AFCC. Cristy, see you for breakfast next week! Meantime, here’s where I hopped onto Cristy’s tour.

Now, onto the tour itinerary:

My 4-picture book collection for the Ministry of Social & Family Development

My 4-picture book collection for the Ministry of Social & Family Development

1. What am I working on?

I’m currently working on a 12-week Just Write for Middle Grade online home-study course with the lovely Emma Walton Hamilton. She’s a multiple New York Times bestselling author, editor, writing coach and faculty member of the Stony Brook Southhampton in Creative Writing and Literature, amongst other accomplishments. Did I also mention that she is the daughter of Hollywood actress Julie Andrews? I’m now onto week 8 and hope to be able to start working on a middle grade draft I have left languishing for eons that will benefit from all the plotting and templates I’m getting from this course.

FMV-FrontCover

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I find it hard to compare with others so I would say the difference is really that every author has his or her own voice. For me, my picture books inevitably revolve around the human condition and universal themes of love, grace, second chances and personal journeys. I guess I subconsciously write these from my over-decade long experience of struggling with a rare voice disorder Spasmodic Dysphonia and finding my voice again in writing children’s books. Finding My Voice – a true story of setbacks, new beginnings and toy characters – will provide the long answer to the differing point of my writing!

 

Setting up the stage for the staging of Prince Bear & Pauper Bear

Setting up the staging for Prince Bear & Pauper Bear

 

3. Why do I write what I do?

Through God’s providential journey in my life. 15 years ago, I woke up, a few weeks after marriage and when my career was at the point of taking off, to find that my voice had broken down like a bad overseas phone line which never got better for the next 10 years. After I left my job to find myself, I waded into a Book Council Publishing Initiative in 2007, wrote my very first children’s book manuscript and won a grant to publish my debut picture book. I had written Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, a story about a poor bear whose toymaker had forgotten to sew him a mouth and could not speak. I found my voice again (literally and metaphorically) after I subconsciously wrote that personal story. And so I write, and will continue to speak through my writing, for as long as God’s favour rests upon my writing.

Tibby Cover (final)

4. How does my writing process work?

Before I became a mum some 3 years back, I used to wait around for inspiration to hit me on the head, and usually my head missed. Now that I’m full-time mum to Caleb, I only have pockets of time and am more deliberate in grabbing hold of Inspiration to get my writing ideas out. I now have an online picture book critique group (whom I met on Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge) who have spurred me to write and revise with good momentum. I also have a middle grade critique group with writing buddies Pauline Loh and Catherine Carvell which started last year, stopped and will soon start again!

Now, onto my 3 tagged writers:

myrabacsal_highresDr Myra Garces-Bacsal is a Teacher Educator and Coordinator of the Masters and Bachelor’s Program in High Ability Studies and Gifted Education at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Myra is also founder of Gathering Books (www.gatheringbooks.org), a vibrant and esteemed website on children’s literature and young adult fiction, a multiple times CYBILS judge and soon launching her second book One Big Story, a compilation of interviews and essays by leading kidlit contributors, which I have the privilege of being a contributor.  I got to know Myra through our joint involvement in AFCC when we were both on the same Festival Committee last year.

 

 

 

29144e0cc2f7ca740db7c725c48b06c1Writing children’s books is far from easy but it’s not rocket science. And then I connected with my 2nd tagged writer Kirsten through Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays meme and discovered that she came from rocket science over to writing children’s books! Kirsten W. Larson is freelance children’s science writer and author. Her work appears in Boys’ Quest, ASK, ODYSSEY and AppleSeeds. Kirsten spent six years working for NASA and frequently writes about space for kids. She currently is at work on four science books for children in grades two through six. She blogs at Creating Curious Kids.

 

 

Beth Stilborn HeadshotI first met Beth through Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. We then met again over at Emma Walton Hamilton’s Middle Grade Course and started hopping to each other’s blogs at Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday meme. With so many meets on kidlitosphere, we may as well be touring buddies on this write space! Beth Stilborn is a pre-published writer concentrating on middle grade and adult fiction. Much of her writing has a theatre or music theme. She blogs at By Word of Beth (http://www.bethstilborn.com) and also has a blog about music and theatre for kids under her pen-name, Elizabeth Starborn, called The Starborn Revue (http://www.elizabethstarborn.com). Beth also provides copy editing and proofreading services for writers and others through Flubs 2 Fixes Copy Editing and Proofreading (http://www.flubs2fixes.com). Beth is a member of SCBWI (http://www.scbwi.org), Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge (http://www.juliehedlund.com/12-x-12/), and Emma Walton Hamilton’s Children’s Book Hub (http://www.childrensbookhub.com). With Emma, she co-hosts the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/childrensbookhub/), and is associate editor of the Children’s Book Hub monthly newsletter.

So, tour all these bloggers’ sites and check out what they are doing for the world of children’s books!

 

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With all the recent happenings, this post is long overdue but I really do need to get round to all my thanks giving on the writing front. I’ve made so many write friends these past months, that I really need this dedicated post to give thanks for them all too.

writers block

Calvin & Hobbs

1. Write Partners here

For my writer partner Pauline Loh, whom I got to know by chance through the Armour Publishing writers workshop in 2010. By chance because she didn’t even attend the workshop but had simply shown up at the end and offered to start a writer’s group. Since then, we have journeyed alongside each other through several of our published books. She was both critique partner and editor for my Finding My Voice. I read her manuscript The Locked Up Boy (which became a Scholastic Asian Book Award winner and will launch at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this month). We were alongside each other for her The Robot in my Playground and my Tibby The Tiger Bunny, which are published by Epigram Books.

For my new writing partner, the very talented Catherine Carvell, author of Darcy Moon and the Deep Fried Frogs. I thought our little writing group was over when she and her family returned to Australia last month. Through some twist of circumstances, they are moving back in two months time!

2. Write Partners there

Since January, my 12×12 online picture book critique group has been on fire. Geeky as it sounds, I have never been so excited to write and revise my picture book manuscripts. Thanks to Val, Pia and Kirsten’s support along with a few other 12×12 writers I sometimes swop manuscripts with, and my very first critique meeting with friends of SCBWI Singapore, I wrote, revised and submitted a new manuscript in record time. And my publisher has said yes! Well, more of that after it’s ready to go public.

3. Right Partners here

Last week, I signed with my literary agent Jacaranda Literary Agency, thanks to my friend David Seow’s introduction. It’s been an exciting start as I’ve already started working with both my lovely agents Andrea Pasion-Flores and Helen Mangham on rights opportunities.  Andrea will be in Singapore to speak at the coming Asian Festival of Children’s Content and we’ll be catching up to discuss more.

4. Write Ministry there

I was recently pulled in to help out with Media Associates International, a Christian Publishing Ministry that equips local publishers to produce their own Christian literature. I first met MAI CEO John Maust when he conducted the Armour Publishing workshop back in 2010 when I was about to write Finding My Voice. Little did I expect that I will now be conducting my first webinar for MAI next week. Well, we had our dry run last night. And there will be more things to come.

5. Write Friends everywhere

My writing journey started out alone and sometimes lonely. There were only a handful of children’s writers when I first started out in 2007. Thanks to the amazing work of Mr Ramachandran and his team at the Book Council, the landscape has started changing. SCBWI Singapore was restarted in 2010 by AFCC Festival Director Ken Quek, who is also SCBWI’s Singapore Representative.

But over the past few years, amazing friends have journeyed with me along the way at different times, to support me at my book launches and a smaller group subjected to my droning and angst over my writing drafts. And my dear friends Gail and Jing Siew who loaned me their kids for my earlier book readings and most recently to help out at my latest book launch!

As I come close to half a year of writing, I’ve providentially been given that opportunity to reflect upon that for the purposes of the upcoming AFCC and count my blessings in a write sort of way. More about that when the AFCC publications are launched.

At my almost half-time of this writing year (when I like to take stock and get all reflective), I thank God for all the right support in the write quarters!

Oh yes, and thank God for Tibby The Tiger Bunny hopping away as Finalist of SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award 2013 for the Asia region!

 

 

 

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