Tag Archives: writing

The Delicate Art of Book Promotion…A new audio interview!

Just a quick little blog today… mentioning an interview I did yesterday with Jim Goddard from The Goddard Report. This is a podcast that’s distributed online at talkdigitalnetwork.com and also on youtube.

Our chat on September 2 was combined with an interview Jim did with Mary Cummings, from my publisher, Diversion Books.

Please give it a listen. Mary talks about what makes Diversion different from the traditional publishers. And I talk about… well… my books. And me. 🙂

The interview on youtube…Click here

The interview on talkdigitalnetwork.com…Click here

Thank you!


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The Delicate Art of Book Promotion

I’ve just spent the better part of five days getting ready for a book release.

Real-Book-07-cillarose-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-coldplay-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-POM-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-skywatcher-coming soon-small

Actually, as you can see, it’s four books, and they’re being re-released. One of them, my debut novel, a tongue-incheek spy story called Skywatcher, has been out of print since 1989.

The others are The Cilla Rose AffairSkywatcher’s sequel, same characters, new adventure – Mission: Impossible meets The Man from UNCLE; Cold Play – a standalone thriller set on a cruise ship in Alaska; and Persistence of Memory, the first in my Memory Books series about accidental time traveller Charlie Duran and her companion Shaun Deeley.

Persistence of Memory, as you may know, was published by Fable Press in 2013. Unfortunately Fable went out of business earlier this year, but the good news is, Diversion Books in New York agreed to republish it, along with my three other backlist titles, and the next book in the Memory Books series, In Loving Memory, which is set in 1940 London.

So, on Tuesday July 7, all four of my novels are being released by Diversion as ebooks, with brand new covers, and then in about a month’s time, the paperbacks will follow.

One of the terms of my contract is that I’ll make a “reasonable attempt” to help promote my books – or words to that effect. I know Diversion’s going to do a great job at their end… but if I learned anything from Cold Play and Persistence of Memory, it’s how to tackle the business of self-promotion.

So, over the past five days, I have done many fine things.

I’ve sent press releases to a lot of media outlets announcing the rebirth of my books. I’ve focused on the areas where I have lived and where I currently live. Plus I included Toronto because that’s what you do in Canada. You always include Toronto.

Here is where people who live in small towns have a distinct advantage. You get much more attention when you’re a local author in a community of 32,000 than you do when you’re a local author in a metropolitan area of 2 million. Still, all of the city editors at all of the newspapers in Greater Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg and Toronto have now heard from me. My press release may be sitting at the bottom of their slush pile, but at least I can say I tried.

I’ve also approached bloggers I know who do cover reveals. I’ve sent out so many requests my eyes have gone buggy. I’ve had one positive response so far, and I love this woman to death. She remembered me from last time, when I was promoting Persistence of Memory. She’s agreed to do a cover reveal for these four books, and a review of In Loving Memory when it’s published.

The upside of approaching bloggers to ask for a cover reveal or a future book review is that they can reach a lot of new readers. The downside is that most of the time, unless you’re the author of a bestselling genre book, your request is likely to be ignored.

C’est la vie.

They’re all going to hear from me again later this year, when In Loving Memory‘s published.

Another thing I’ve done is approach bookstores. When Skywatcher was first published in 1989, I toured all the bookstores to see if it was there – it was! – and I surreptitiously made sure the cover was facing out on the bookshelf before I slipped stealthily away, to visit the next outlet.

Many years have passed and many things have changed in the book publishing world since then. We have a lot fewer bookstores, and those independents that are thriving where I live deal mostly in used books. My other three books counted exclusively on online sales, because they were all Print-on-Demand paperbacks or ebooks.

Diversion’s releases will be different, because the paperbacks will have a distributor – Ingram – which means bookstores will be able to order copies, and I can pitch Sell Sheets to them.

Again, a long and daunting task, identifying who to approach, what they stock, asking them… and then waiting. But I’m falling all over myself because the bookstore at the University of British Columbia, where I work, has agreed to order copies in August, when they’re available.

I’ve joined chat groups and mailing lists. I’ve contributed to discussions. I’ve updated all my social networking sites, and I’ve tried to figure out ways to keep my books in peoples’ minds without annoying them so much they unfriend me, unfollow me, unlike me, or -1 me.

I’ve followed all of the instructions from all of the bestselling authors who’ve written books about how to promote books   [Lesson One: Write a book about how to promote your book, then sell copies of it to writers who are desperate to find out how to promote their books]

I have a huge spreadsheet filled with links and ideas and instructions to myself: “On July 7 update this listing with your ISBN numbers as soon as books appear on Amazon”.

And I have a huge list of things I need to do on or after July 7… and which I need to repeat again in August, when the paperbacks are out… and again later this year when In Loving Memory comes out.

If there’s one thing I know about Book Promotion, it’s that it’s not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process. And those writers who are doing it full-time have all the advantages there. Currently, I work full time, and that’s not going to stop until October 1, 2019… which isn’t too far away, really, in the grand scheme of things. That’s the day I retire, and officially become a full-time writer, albeit one who is a senior citizen, but just hitting her stride. By then I hope to have written at least three more books in the Memory Books series.

For now, I’ve accomplished these past five days by taking time off work, using up the very generous vacation time I’ve been allotted. There will be another bout of time off / promotional work at the end of July.

I’ve exhausted myself, and still I keep thinking, is there anything I’ve missed? Is there anything else I can do? Where else can I look for opportunities?

But all I can really do now is sit back and wait. And hope my little books capture some attention. And reach a few more people… and sell a few more copies.

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My Name is Winona… [revisited]

Today I’ve decided to republish my very first blog.

It seems timely, since my first four novels will be republished in about a month’s time by Diversion Books in New York.

My very first blog was written in 2009, and it’s interesting to go back and see what my thoughts were, and how I felt about things…and where I ended up going from there!

When you get to the bottom and I mention “Cold Fingers” – that was the working title of my cruise shop novel, set in Alaska, until a very helpful friend suggested it would work much much better if the title was changed to “Cold Play.”

And so it was 🙂

And here is the blog!


My name is Winona and I’m a writer.

Queue the assembled, in unison: “Hi, Winona!”

If it sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous intro, there’s a reason. Writing is an addiction. If I don’t write, I get miserable. I get depressed. I start to imagine conspiracies. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get frustrated.

Enough of that. My name is Winona, and I’m a writer, and I’ve been writing since I was about five.

I didn’t have a written language when I was five, though, so I opted for the caveman process, and drew pictures on walls. Mostly of little boy fairies. I’m not sure why my idea of fairies was male, as opposed to the more commonly held childhood belief that they were beautiful females with gossamer wings and floaty frocks… but male they were, and usually naked. Which was interesting, because I’d never actually seen a naked boy, and all I knew was that there was “something” different Down There. I had no idea what it looked like. Possibly a sausage.

So our basement wall (behind the portable blackboard that my mother had set up) was covered with cavorting naked boy fairies, with sausages in front, and wings to the rear. I can’t really remember what adventures they got up to. Perhaps they existed only to frighten my mother, who read a lot of books about child-rearing, and who no doubt thought that her first-born daughter had some sort of repressed phallic-envy disorder.

Sometime before I actually started going to school full-time (as opposed to Kindergarten, in the mornings), I graduated to paper and crayon, and I began to develop a real story sense.  I drew a series of individual panels, each telling the fascinating tale of princesses (or other noble characters) who lived in idle luxury, surrounded by jewels and velvet, the riches of the land, smiling faces, perfect hair… only to be cast out, fortunes ruined, hair matted, clothing ragged, smiles reduced to scowls, the jewels and the velvet snatched away, luxury lost.

My school was probably the worst in the city, a Roman Catholic institution in a low-income neighbourhood filled with immigrants (as we were). The nuns were well-intentioned but suffered from their own inadequacies and fears. Creative thinking was not encouraged. I wanted to colour poppies blue and pink on Remembrance Day, but they were to be Red, and I didn’t get any gold stars for arguing with them about it. I wanted to use my thumb and first finger in the scissors as they taught us to cut things out, but that was Wrong.

We didn’t get much story-telling practice in those straight rows of desks. We did prescribed schoolwork, and we did it in silence. We were told that daydreaming was sinful, that non-Catholics were doomed, and that our lives should be dedicated to having pure minds and even purer souls, lest we miss out on the Day of Judgement when God would selectively cull everyone who had displeased him, and carry on into Eternity surrounded by a kind of mindless clique of Yes Men and Yes Women who were fond of kissing his feet, splashing themselves with Holy Water, and endlessly confessing their sins, perceived and real, then performing a prescribed penance, usually on their knees in front of a benevolent-looking statue.

I suppose I’ve included all of these details in order to explain why I continued to be a writer. I think I was probably born that way, though I can’t find anyone else in my family – on either side – who has written fiction or screenplays. I’ve got a first cousin who was a film director in England until she went back to university to get her Masters Degree, focusing on human rights. I’ve got some other first cousins who have written nonfiction articles, and their mother, my aunt, wrote nonfiction books. I’ve got a great uncle who was a West End actor in London in the 1940s  (his stage name was Felix Knupfer, though his real name was Felix Knopfmacher). Creative people all… but not writers of fiction.

I continued to be a writer, because I had no choice.

And so, in Grade 8, I wrote my first novel. It was about a young man named Lawrence Jenkins-Hennesey who was kidnapped and transported in the hold of a cargo ship to England, where he became involved in subterfuge and adventure. I had taught myself to type by that point, and I would take my chapters to school and hand them out to everyone at recess. I had five or six chapters on the go at once, with kids lining up for the next installment. It was an eye-opening experience, because these same kids had, several years earlier, bullied me to the point where I would make up an illness, rather than have to face going to school to deal with them.

I learned what it was like to have fans. I learned what it was like to feel important. I learned about acknowledgement. And it was lovely.

I wrote five or six more novels before I finally got one published. One was autobiographical, based on my years at that hateful school, including the bullies who were the descendants of the city’s founding fathers, the important families in the church; the nuns who had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the suffering of Jesus Christ before he was crucified (one of them was very fond of detailing in excrutiating detail what would be involved in a scourging); the principal with the stomach ulcer who administered The Strap to me – not because I hadn’t done my math homework, but because I’d lied about it when asked in the first instance whether it was completed or not; my fantasies about burning down the Cathedral next door to the school; my adventures in the Convent next door to the Cathedral, where I went for piano lessons and where it was rumoured the nuns kept young women captive, their heads shaved, their clothing removed, in attic cells….

My third novel was called My Teacher The Swinger and it was written about my Grade 10 history teacher, who I fell in love with at the age of 14. He wasn’t, alas, impressed.

My fourth novel was called Underground, and it was a masterpiece. My high school (unlike my elementary school) was progressive and non-denominational (I refused to go to the Convent school to complete my education). Our Grade 12 teacher told us to do whatever we wanted for our Lit class final project, so I wrote Underground, about two teenaged boys and a teenaged girl who decide to walk from Morden to Golders Green, along London’s Northern Line tunnel (17 miles), overnight when the electricity was switched off.

Roundabout Tooting Broadway, one of the boys (named Lucifer in the first instance but later re-named Christopher in rewrites) decides to kill the other boy – something about jealousy over the girl – and you know what happens in the end, because the only thing that can happen in a story about the London Underground is that someone is trapped when the electricity is switched back on and invariably gets run over by a train.

I enjoyed writing that. And I got a 100% grade for it.  Acknowledgement.

In the years following high school I got a few more works of fiction out. One concerned a young man with Multiple Personality Disorder – goes to England as the pianist accompanying a high school choir, wakes up a year later with no memory of what’s gone on, discovers he’s been travelling the world as someone else and getting into Rather a Lot of Trouble…

At university, working on my BA in Lit., I worked for a Canadian writer named Ken Mitchell. Ken taught me a number of things, not the least of which was humility, which is an admirable trait, but it’s a bugger if you’re trying to pitch your works in an environment which requires supreme confidence!

Ken also taught me about dialogue, and about active verbs – never use a passive verb when an active one is begging to be used instead – and about structure… characters… storylines… I actually owe Ken a lot.

After university, I had to find a job, and I decided very early on that it would not be a job that involved writing. I believed then – as I still believe now – that if you earn a living writing for other people, you exponentially reduce the creative brain time left for yourself,  with the result that you will either spend your entire working life promising to write That First Novel… or you will become frustrated beyond measure, because you have ideas, and no outlet, because you owe your soul to The Company.

So I worked… and I continued to write… though not at the same rate, because the better part of my day was taken up planning peoples’ holidays. Which is, in fact, a very creative activity.

But that’s another blog 🙂

Five or six years after becoming a travel agent, I went back to university, this time to get my Masters in Creative Writing. It was the most glorious time of my life – I was with fellow writers, I was doing it full-time, I was wallowing in creativity… and I was getting that all important Acknowledgement again.

My thesis was a historical novel, set in 1882 Saskatchewan, the first year in the life of the little town of Pile of Bones, which would eventually become the city where I grew up, Regina. It was an epic – two women meet on a train going west. One is a well-bred Londoner who has married the rogue son of a rich man. Rogue son has been sent to Saskatchewan to cool his heels. Wife is now joining him, with no idea about the fate awaiting her – a sod hut on the bald prairie, husband a cruel philanderer, an unwanted pregnancy, a near-death experience in a blizzard…. the other woman is the wife of a shopkeeper from Winnipeg, joining her husband and sons in Pile of Bones – husband has set up shop in a tent, sons are on the verge of puberty… one runs away with a young girl and ends up in a house of ill-repute…

I re-read parts of this charming story recently and was astounded at just how dreadful my writing was. The storylines were fabulous. The execution of said storylines… not so wonderful.

I was disappointed when this novel didn’t get published – but a couple of years later, my next effort, Skywatcher, did break through for me… and after that, The Cilla Rose Affair. Both are about the same characters – spies. Skywatcher takes place in Vancouver… Cilla Rose takes place back in London…and has a lot to do with the Underground…

A few years ago I went back to school again, in order to learn how to write screenplays. I’ve now written or co-written six or seven… three optioned… two others on the permanent verge of being produced – the saga of trying to interest actors, agents and producers in my scripts is worth at least another three blogs 🙂

But now, I’ve decided to go back to my novelists’ roots… and my next effort will be long fiction, written in tandem with a new screenplay.

“Cold Fingers”.

Two musicians. Four hands. Fifteen fingers.

I’ll leave the rest to you to imagine, until it’s finished.

My name is Winona, and I’m a writer.

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A Voyage Aboard the Queen Mary

I’m a pack rat and I never throw anything away, so somewhere in a box in my flat I know there’s a passenger list. It’s from the RMS Queen Mary and it’s dated sometime in January 1962. It looks exactly like this:


Except my copy has some pencil sketches on the inside cover because when I was sitting on an Underground train with my mum, I was bored, so I started drawing pictures of the passengers on the only available paper I had with me. I hasten to add I was seven years old at the time, and would never in a million years have defaced such a historical article if I’d had an inkling what a passenger list from the Queen Mary would have meant some 50 years later.

Last time I told you about our voyage from Montreal to Southampton aboard Holland America’s Ryndam. This blog’s about the return journey, from Southampton to New York. My mum and my sister and I sailed both ways without my dad, who was a travel agent. He didn’t much like England, and I think at that particular time he had a fam trip booked to Bermuda instead. So we spent Christmas in London without him. But we were scheduled to meet up with him in New York and then fly home with him to Saskatchewan.

I remember having an amazing time in New York, accompanying dad on a sightseeing tour while mum stayed at the hotel with my sister. But I balked at climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the Statue of Liberty. So my dad left me at the pedestal with instructions not to move or talk to strangers, and took off on his own to visit the lady’s head. My mum was highly unimpressed when we got back to the hotel and I told her all about my adventure with dad. He could never, ever, have got away with something like that today! Nor would he have attempted it, to be honest. But this was 1962, and the world was a much more innocent place back then.

Back to the Queen Mary. My memories aren’t as vivid as those of the Ryndam, which is a shame. I remember sailing out of Southampton, and my mum being particularly sad at leaving the country where she was born and spent her first 30 years. Years later I found out why. It was because she knew her dad was quite ill with cancer, and that this was the last time she would see him before he died.

She didn’t tell me that, though. All I knew was that she was very upset and crying, and because she was upset, I was upset. To the point that when we were sitting down for lunch in the very posh restaurant, I was sick. All over the tablecloth. Much to my acute embarrassment. Because even when you’re seven, you know what embarrassment is, even if you have no explanation for your behaviour, and no idea how to control it.

So that’s my first enduring memory of the Queen Mary.

I remember our stateroom. It had dark wood panelling and two portholes, and I recall dark green as being the predominant colour of the upholstery and bed coverings. Here’s a photo of a First Class cabin on the Queen Mary, converted into the present-day hotel in Long Beach, California. The room has modern curtains, bedding, fixtures, and amenities but the wood panelling and portholes are originals. I recall our cabin looked a lot like this, though I’m not altogether certain if we travelled First Class.


I remember our night-time cabin steward, who you summoned by pushing a button on the wall beside the bed. He was quite elderly, and lovely, and he told us that the best cure he knew for seasickness was ginger ale. At the time we thought it was just an old wives’ tale – or an old mariner’s tale – but now we know that ginger has amazing anti-nausea properties – so much so that the companies which make traditional seasickness OTC medications also now offer pure ginger as a natural and very effective alternative.

I remember the bathroom in our cabin. It was a luxury, as most passenger ships from that era had a sink, but no private toilet and most definitely no private bath or shower. You shared the facilities at the end of a corridor with your fellow passengers. This bathroom had a bath, and the bath was highly unusual in that, in addition to hot and cold fresh water taps, it also had hot and cold salt water taps. Which really did work.

I remember that also making this voyage from Southampton to New York were the Vienna Boys Choir. The Vienna Boys Choir still exists today, but I would say they’re not nearly as famous as they were in 1962, just after Walt Disney made a film about them called Almost Angels. I saw that film, well after our ocean voyage. But even that January, I knew who they were. And they were scheduled to give a performance on board the ship, very late at night. Mum decided we’d have a sleep first, and then get up to watch the concert. Unfortunately we neglected to set an alarm clock – we should have asked our lovely cabin steward for a wakeup call – and we missed it entirely.

I remember that mum was invited to sit at the Captain’s table for dinner one night. I’m sure it was because dad was a travel agent and he’d undoubtedly sent a lot of traffic Cunard’s way. My sister and I ate our dinner early, and then mum set off in her finery, leaving strict instructions for us not to leave the cabin, and to behave.

Please bear in mind that I was all of seven years old, and my sister was three. Please also bear in mind that my sister has always been more adventurous than me. And that she very definitely had mischief on her mind about half an hour after mum closed the cabin door behind her. And that I was a willing participant in my sister’s mischief, which involved slipping out of the cabin clad only in a cotton petticoat and knickers – I couldn’t possibly catch her, she was moving too fast – and I had no idea how she’d managed to open the door. Little sister made her way out onto an open deck, with me in hot pursuit oh…about 10 feet behind her… Once there she ran about with the wind in her hair, and clambered onto the railings – I pulled her down before she could tumble overboard – and was only stopped when a stern-looking officer confronted us both and marched us back to our cabin. We were joined about fifteen minutes later by mum, looking very annoyed, having been informed that her two small daughters were running amok and unattended on deck and could she please return to her stateroom immediately to see to them.

The rest of the voyage was uneventful. Which is probably why I don’t remember much more about it. I’ve always been more excited about going to a destination than coming home from it. I do recall sailing up the Hudson River, and peering over the railings to see immense chunks of ice cracking away from the side of the ship. And I think I spotted the Vienna Boys Choir at the pier, disembarking before us.

There are a few things about the Queen Mary which found their way into my writing. If you’ve read my novel Cold Play, you’ll know that Chris Davey, the hero, ends up in the bow of the cruise ship after rescuing Katey – his love interest – and Rick Redding – a passenger – when she ship catches fire. The space they find themselves in is the old cargo hold. Modern cruise ships don’t have cargo holds, but the old passenger ships did. The Queen Mary did. And, in fact, when I was researching how Chris, Katey and Rick were going to climb up the decks to safety, I consulted the Queen Mary’s original deck plans, and original photos of the insides of her cargo holds.

Another thing about Chris Davey: the sea is in his blood. He was conceived on board the Queen Mary, during one of her last voyages. I like to think his parents occupied the same cabin that I did. And that the Vienna Boys Choir were on that crossing too… and that perhaps his conception possibly came about because of a missed wake-up call…

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A few thoughts about self-promotion

I’m not good at self-promotion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite good at talking about myself. I’m happy to tell the world anything anyone could ever want to know about me.

What I’m not very good at is actually asking people to pay attention to what I’m saying.

I’m terrible at this networking business.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid, I was a natural-born self-promoter. I painted pictures and ran around the neighbourhood selling them door to door, house to house. I loved showing off, acting, singing, making up stories. My mum enrolled me in art classes where we made puppets and put on a puppet show. I created a wicked witch and I loved playing her part behind the little stage, improvising the script.

I also took formal piano lessons, taught at a convent by a group of musically-minded nuns. Because we couldn’t afford a piano, I had to practise there every day after school for half an hour. Much to the nuns’ consternation, I used to depart wholly from the pieces they’d taught me and revert to the songs I’d heard on the radio. I usually scored 100% on the ear-training part of my exams, where the examiner would play a piece of music on the piano twice, and then ask me to play it back to him exactly the same way. Easy peasy.

The nuns weren’t all that impressed, however. They had Rules, and in their world, Rules could never be broken. The practise rooms all had little windows in their doors covered with wooden grillwork. I’d occasionally glance up from my pitch-perfect renditions of Beatles’ tunes to see a concerned eye glaring in at me through the window. And, of course, eventually I received a lecture about sticking to the syllabus and an order to stop wasting everyone’s time, including my own, wandering down unauthorized musical trails.

Which leads me back to why I’m not very good at asking people to pay attention to me.

It’s because that natural exuberance that I’d started out with was wholly and methodically drummed out of me in my childhood.

I remember getting a new watch when I was about seven. It was beautiful, silver, and a gift from my uncle. I was invited to a birthday party, and I was so pleased with my new watch, I went around asking everyone if they knew what time it was, and when they said they didn’t, I showed them what was on my wrist and proudly announced the time. I was roundly reproached by the birthday girl’s mother who told me to stop showing off, nobody was interested in me or my new watch, to sit down and be quiet.

I’m sure I was being an annoying little creature and the birthday girl’s mother was quite justified in telling me off. Perhaps other kids would have shrugged it off. Not me. I took it all very personally, and because I was a good little Catholic child, I revealed my sin of showing off and boasting during my next visit to the confessional. For which I was given penance and told never to do it again.

And, of course, I didn’t. The prevailing attitude at my school, which was also Roman Catholic, was that we ought not to do anything that would make us stand out in a crowd. We ought not to daydream, because that was a sin connected to idleness. We ought not to wish for things that we could not possibly obtain. That was somehow connected to one of the Ten Commandments – something about coveting my neighbour’s wife or goods. We ought not to engage in too much creative thinking, as that would lead to us questioning what we were being taught.

And the prevailing attitude among the children at that school was that if you were in any way different, if you happened to stand out, or achieve anything, or if you were smart and had better grades than anyone else, you became the target of bullying.

Which I was, for years. And to counter it, I sought solace in a piece of writing that was on the wall of the Cathedral attached to the school, behind one of the statues. “I am meek and humble of heart.” That phrase became my cloak of invisibility.

So that’s why I have a difficult time asking people to pay attention to me. As a child, the message was reinforced at home, and at school: “Stop showing off, Nona. Don’t brag. It’s not nice. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t misbehave. You won’t be invited anywhere. Nobody will like you.”

Now, in my 60th year, I think I might just be able to go back and discard all those things that I learned as a child. I’m going to give it a damned good try, anyway. I think I’m safely past the point of caring about whether or not I’m going to be invited to someone’s birthday party. And who cares if I brag? I think I’ve got something worth bragging about and I’m going to make damned sure people know about it.

By the way, I’ve written a couple of very fine stories about travelling back in time. Oh, and some other books too.

Watch out, world! Winona is about to start asking you to pay attention to her 🙂


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