How I get back to what I know

31 Mar

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I’ve found myself back at the sewing machine, where I belong! I’m pretty sure I haven’t used my sewing machine since I finished working on The Sewing Manual last summer…that’s a pretty shocking confession for a stitcher! Life’s been busy, really busy!

I’ve been working at so many different craft projects- papercraft, floristry, sugarcraft & baking, pyrography- this wedding book has really taken me on a journey! In many cases right out if my comfort zone…

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And, others I’ve risked my life…well, my fingertips!

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Sitting back at the sewing machine; having sketched a design, drafted and cut a pattern, feels familiar and comforting. Just the kind of confidence boost a gal at the bottom of a huge mountain of work needs!

Easter weekend has been a fantastic break from the what’s been a hectic schedule. I’m lucky enough to love my day job- it’s creative, challenging, exciting and rewarding- but, boy is it nice have four solid days at home! Ok, I’m a homebody and, actually, I’m pretty proud of that! With the dining room turned into a photo studio and seeming every room adorned with the millions of wedding projects- lots of stages of projects- I’ve been feeling pretty hemmed in. Working at home is a fine balance, one that jut lately has been slipping. Just because the amount and pace of the work has amped up in the run up to deadline, doesn’t mean that the rest of life stops! Sadly, work has been taking priority over pretty much everything else. Not only is that exhausting, it’s pretty heavy going. It’s hard to always say no to invitations because you have to work. It’s horrible to not be able to jump in the car and drive to see family. Writing a book sure has some lonely aspects!

The shoot that was scheduled for the Easter weekend was postponed, anyone on a deadline will appreciate just how stressful that is, but thankfully I have friends that can pull out the stops at the last minute to whip up some mojitos & killer board games to refuel my spirits- and more importantly, take my mind off the terrifying schedule that lays ahead of me.

Let’s hope that this little impromptu interlude to the schedule has given me the buzz of energy that I’ll need to finish this project!

How I don’t know which way is up

24 Mar

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When you can’t work out if you’re sprinting to the finish line, or running in circles like a rabid dog chasing your tail, it’s time to step back and gain some perspective.

Work life for me is operating at both extremes of a very frustrating spectrum- insanely busy and grinding to a halt. It’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel, jump about the next flight to darkest Peru and never return.

But, what you actually need do is take some space and time, knowing that sooner or later you’ve got to man up!

I’ve reached that stage in working on this book where is all I can think of, every waking moment. When I’m not working on some part of it, I’m freaking out about what I could or should be working on. This time round I know that this is just a thing. it’s just a natural stage in the process of working in a book. It’s pretty standard…approved synopsis, drafting ideas & sketching makes, writing copy, making projects, photographing projects, proofing copy, freaking out, referencing images, freaking out, final proof read, freaking out, compiling manuscript & images, freaking out, submitting manuscript & images, freaking out, realising the book is finished, relaxing. Really, that’s just the process. So, knowing that feeling of being overwhelmed, not knowing which way is up, means that actually it’s just the beginning of the end. And, I mean that in the most positive sense! It’s impossible not to get hugely attached to a projects that takes so much to put together, and all the different feeling are simply mind blowing at times.

As there has been very little leaving the house, seeing friends relaxing, the little pleasures in life are becoming the big pleasures. Small personal indulgences that make it easier to keep on, keeping on! I’ve been sneaking some R’n’R where I can get it, usually with some quality kindle time.

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I deliberately set a reasonable (read: low) challenge this year, I thought with writing a book, I’d get very little time to read…look like I was wrong, seems I need to change up my challenge!

How I can’t wait!

20 Mar

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Our little furry beastie at two weeks old! He’s opened up his little peepers, stretching out his little legs and trying to work out the walking thing. Mostly though he sleeping, and eating, growing bigger by the day!

I can’t wait to bring him home!

How the time flies

15 Mar

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We’ve been married for six months already – how did that happen so fast!

I can’t quite believe where the time has gone, but I have to say it has flown by, which means that we have been having fun! The last six months have been amazing, so much has happened and we have made so many new happy memories together.

I guess everyone gets married for different reasons; for love, for stability, for the legal aspect, for romance, for the future, to start a family, to demonstrate commitment – the list is endless, and personal to each couple. For us getting married was about being a team, owning a home together had already showed our commitment to each other and created security. We have long operated like a team, sharing responsibilities, helping each other chase down dreams, supporting each other; so getting married would just reinforce that, would emphasise that bond. But, essentially nothing would really change, I mean how could it? We are already committed, we already support each other, we already understand what is important to us as individuals, so really being married is just the icing on the cake, right? Turns out, a lot changed.

So, six months on, if you were to ask me, does being married change anything? I would have to answer yes and no, it changes everything and nothing all at once, and I couldn’t be happier! In the day-to-day, being married is amazingly different, as a woman that embraces the tradition of taking a husbands name (which to my mind isn’t about ownership, loss of self or connected to any of the negative spins that some might attach to this), I feel as though there is a tangible sign that we are linked, that we have declared our connection to each other – much in the same way wearing the wedding band that was slipped on our ring fingers in front of our nearest and dearest last summer. Of course, I still love referring to him as my husband – I can’t imagine this ever getting old. Yet, we are the same people, I still love to chatter about the day ahead as soon as I wake up, while he likes to slowly and sleepily enter the day. I still love to read books like they are going out of style, while he can’t let any BMX frame on sale on eBay go unchecked. I still have cold feet whatever the weather outside, he still likes to have late night snacks on penny sweets. We are the exact same people that we were six months, one year, three years ago, yet somehow it has all changed. Our little team of him & me has gained strength, like together we can do anything – now, waking up everyday feeling like that it is no wonder that we are feeling on top of the world!

Some might mark this talking in riddles about our marriage down as the Honeymoon Period. Sure there will be ups and downs, but weren’t there rough patches and problems to solve before we were married? Perhaps we will grow out of this blissful new feeling of the honeymoon period over time, and our marriage will evolve into something different and new, but for now, I’m just enjoying ever second of it! I still feel like the luckiest girl alive!

Weddings have been a hot topic for me these last few months, I’m sure not many brides follow up their own wedding with the planning of another wedding…or series of weddings. Unless they are a wedding planner, or a wedding vendor or something wedding industry based. But, this is where I have found myself, reviewing all the aspects of creating a wedding, designing and making all the lovely little touches that make a wedding so special for my new book (to be published by Haynes, 2014). Not only were we lucky enough to find the best wedding photographer this side of the moon, I’m even more lucky that she is getting involved with the wedding book with me – I feel so fortunate that her exceptional attention to detail and ability to capture all the special moments and handmade items at our wedding are soon going to be available for all to see in this new book! What’s more, I prepared a few words for Kerrie about our wedding and experience with her for her blog, reading back over this, six months down the line, makes my heart well up with happiness all over again!

I’ve been suffering with flu for the last couple of weeks, so life has been a haze of work and feeling sickly. But this weekend, work is on hold, the germs are finally getting kicked into touch and I’ll be enjoying celebrating our first half-year of married life with my wonderful husband!

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How I get back in the studio

3 Mar

This weekend was a weekend of photoshoots!

It’s come around so quickly that I’m back in the studio (our dining room, all blacked out) to work on the shots for the book!

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I feel as though it was only days ago that we were in the same position, sitting around in the dark, taking shots, checking images. Yet, here we are again, doing the whole thing over – only with slightly different items. As I don’t have a purpose-built studio to use, I have to make sure that we are working as efficiently as possible. This doesn’t just mean me waking up with a bright Can-Do attitude (which is harder than you might think after a week of 5:30am wake ups, 9 hours in the office & followed by a couple of hours of work in the evenings- not to mention getting through the regular house chores!) I learnt a huge amount from the shoots from the last book and have been getting ready for this book with all these fresh in my mind.
Firstly that there is nothing more important than preparation. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but if you don’t have the work prepared and ready to go, it’s worth nothing.
Keep the systems clean – everyone has different work systems, as the person that will be editing and referencing all the images, I have to ensure that all shoot lists, running schedule, storage and back up are best suited to my work practices and systems – it makes it a lot less painful in the long run!
Finally, and most importantly I need to trust my instincts – I have worked for years running photoshoots, so this time round I’m being sure that I have all that self-confidence at the ready!

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It might sound like a really fun way to be spending a weekend, but that’s not the whole story. Photography sessions are as exhausting as they are exciting. So much preparation goes in to each item before it lands on the table ready to shoot. For speed and efficiency (well,with over 140 projects to demonstrate, each with a 4 captures, plus a few with 8 and some single technique shots too) each item is worked Blue Peter style, effectively each stage is part made ready to show. Being anything other than fully prepared is insanity! A third of the many projects for the books were all prepped and ready to shoot. It’s amazing to see a chunk of work physically move from the To Do pile over to the Done pile- that’s really satisfying! Although, I must confess the downside of being this organised, is the feeling that we aren’t making progress at the speed that I had hoped for. I guess I’m going to have to amp it up for the coming shoots!
So, despite what you may believe, photoshoots are a real killer. There is nothing glamorous about it, at all. Well, there may be if you’re a supermodel and you’re shooting beachwear in the Bahamas. But, let me tell you right now, shooting table top, ‘how to’ step shots for a practical manual is really hard work!

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As we don’t have the luxury of a ‘proper’ studio, we have to make the dining room light-tight, windows all taped up and doors closed off! Then there’s the lighting kit to set up. Test shots to ensure that all the settings are bang on. We deliberately want to shoot the shots with a first person viewpoint- so when readers are making each item, the image in the book is what they will see in the project in front if them- make it easy for folks, right?! This means a whole lot of body contorting to get close enough to the table top, and posing the hands just so, frozen in time to capture the way in which each step is worked. Then there’s the final moving and adjusting of the reflectors- usually propped on my lap, held in place with my chin- to get the lighting just right! It’s only when you get up from the table that you realise that you’ve been contorted in such a way that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to stand up straight again,  but luckily, it’s nothing a long soak in a hot bath won’t cure!

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Aside from the inconvenience (mainly to my long suffering husband, who is often trapped in a corner of the house while we take pictures!) working from home is a challenge in itself. As so many freelancers will testify, your home changes from the place you to relax in at the end of a long day, it becomes that place where you have to cut yourself off from all other distractions (your Kindle, your cosy bed, the laundry, the ironing) all the things that are vying for your attention when you reach a tricky place in your work. As your home turns into your workstation, your work hours start to blur, you feel as though you are slacking off when you are at home but aren’t actively working, you feel as though you are obliged to sneak in that extra hour of work when really your body is telling you to go to sleep. One of the hardest things for me is the blurring of work hours, the elongate and extend. Long hours and hard work is not something that scares me away, it is more that the pace of the work slows, dragging out each day Perhaps working in a more formal studio environment would give a more structured frame work, add the pressure of deadlines that encourage us to work efficiently and effectively towards each goal on the road to the deadline.

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With the deadline looming, this will be my life for the foreseeable future. I predict a lot of trying to keep my head down and keep my spirits up for the next few weeks!

How we fall in love at first sight

23 Feb

Hello Little Furry Beasts!

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Our pup at only 2 days old!

To those that know me, it’s no surprise that I want a dog. Some days I never shut up about it! Well, it’s about to get so entirely dog-centric around here!
Today we met our baby puppy for the first time. We fell so in love with him the second we saw him! Soppy, I know!

The focus for so long has been work,work, work. I’m proud of all tht we are achieving- but I have to admit, it’s pretty exhausting.
They don’t tell you that when your chasing down your dreams you have very little time to actually get enough sleep to dream up new dreams to chase! Well, our dream of having a dog is going to change all of that!

I’m looking forward to having a crazy and daft puppy to wrangle, I’m going to adore snuggling up with a cute little fury friend and, most of all, I can’t wait for the long walks and fresh air!

We are so lucky that we are getting a puppy from a couple of lovely friends, and we know how happy and healthy their dogs, Fishfinger & Marmite are- what better start in life could you wish for, for you own little pup? What’s more, we got to witness the beautiful mum, Fishfinger, being ring bearer at their wedding last summer- now that’s a seriously cool gene pool to be tapping in to!

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Here’s our little man- 5 days old- with his brother (r) and sister (l) and sweet mama Fishfinger!

I’ve already picked out a lead, and a waxed dog coat for next winter, even bought him his very first chew toy. The only thing we haven’t decided on is what his name shall be! Hopefully we can (book work & photography sessions willing) be able to pop over and see him again soon, hopefully, when he’s grown into his face a little more, we’ll know what to call him!

How to write: what’s the big deal

12 Feb

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In the wake of the publication of my first book The Sewing Manualand writing my second I have been asked the same question over and over again – how do you write a book?

The first 100 times I was asked this I didn’t really have an answer, I just mumbled my way through with things like..”erm, I just sit at the computer for a few hours every evening after work…and…erm…just…you know type words…and…well…write the book!” Now, for someone that works with words – by day and by night – that is a pretty poor explanation of writing a book isn’t.

So I thought that it was about time that I gave this some thought, whether it is helpful to those that are looking to put pen to paper or maybe just to that I have something all queued up ready for the next time I get asked this inevitable question.

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The beginnings
The concept of a book starts with a synopsis. This begins life as nothing more than a shopping list of ideas, key elements that need to be covered and points of interest. Working through and revising the ideas for the content is a laborious process, you don’t want to forget anything but you don’t want to give some ares too much weight. Gradually, after working through each individual element the ideas begin to come together into an order. The structure of the contents starts to take shape, I had to ask myself, “what makes a really good sewing book?” and more importantly, “what do other folks – including my publisher – think makes a really good sewing book?” Asking these questions over and over while I worked back through the synopsis deciding what elements were crucial, what elements were surplus to requirements. Until, finally I had the outlines of a sewing book that I wanted, not only to write, but that I would be rather interested in reading myself! This was the point that I began liaising closely with the publisher, working through their concepts and ideas, deciding what was deliverable and ways to present the elements that, on the surface, appeared impossible. Finally, after much toing and frowing a completed contents synopsis for the book is completed and approved. Now, the fun can really begin.

Words on paper
Essentially a book is a collection of words on paper. A lot of words on paper and this was the first place that I needed to start. I worked with the fabulous http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php from the very beginning of my project. I am not the first person to say that I don’t think I would have been able to complete the project without it. Application aside (although the design of it encourages you to work clear and orderly fashion – or at the very least organise your not so clear and orderly writing in to a clear and orderly system) I began working through the synopsis, breaking it down in to chapters, sections and subsections. Instantly I was no longer staring down the barrel of a 70K + word count, but simply a list, albeit a long one, of individual writing projects.

They say that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start…well, that might be the case, but I found that writing isn’t always as linear as you might expect. To my mind the entire book had to be written, so for the first draft, who was to say that dipping in and out at different sections, adding thoughts and ideas here and there was a bad idea? It certainly worked for me. Before I knew it, I had the entire first draft written and complete.

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Adding flesh to the bones
Of course, if one draft was all it took, then I for one would have written thousand of books by now. The second revision was a much slower, and more exhausting process. Working back through each element of the content, comparing it with the synopsis, ensuring all bases were covered that nothing was missed off.

Getting Technical
Aside from the necessary writing and editing skills involved, this book also required a huge amount of technical sewing knowledge. Preparing stacks and stacks of samples, breaking down each individual technique until every element is clear and precise. A lot of people don’t realise, but in order to keep the photography sessions running an quickly and efficiently as possible, I made up a number of examples of each sample, each completed to a stage further than the last. Phew, I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

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Studio session
We had to transform our home into a studio- no mean feat in a Victorian terrace house! It takes a lot of management to ensure that the shoots run as efficiently as possible, that similar shots are worked together to avoid time consuming lighting and set changes. Not to mention, the fear of missing something off!
Each sample had to be photographed and checked against the technical information, ensuring that it was not only technically accurate from a sewing perspective, but also that it was of a sound photographic quality. Each image had to the. Be edited, cropped and given its own unique reference number, ready to be sent to the publishers in a clear format.

Editing & submitting
The final stage, right when you think you don’t have the energy to go in, is the most important stage in the whole process. Getting the entire package together to submit to the publisher.
The text had to be checked for spelling and grammatical errors, then again for technical errors, then a final time just for luck! All the images (over 750) needed to be referenced and checked and double checked.
You get the gist, everything that can be checked needs to be checked! Before its sent off to the publisher ready to be designed.
(Just when you think all the checking is done, you’ll receive a huge bundle of designed page proofs ready to check…but, I’ll save that for another time!)

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Staying power
The toughest challenge by far was keeping motivated! I worked on The Sewing Book around my day job, meaning that for a number of months, evenings and weekends were spent either at the computer typing and reading copy, or at the sewing machine creating samples. More than a few times I had to remind myself that all the hard work would soon pay off! It took tremendous commitment to set the alarm for 6am (after working a full week in the office, and getting a couple of hours of book work in each evening). There were days when I wanted to just pull the covers back over my head and sleep for a week, somehow I didn’t, and to this day I still don’t know how I managed that!

Support network
Through out the process I set lots of small goals, targets to work towards to make the whole project seem less daunting. It’s like tricking yourself, but, it works! I know that many writers (both fiction and non-fiction) say the support they receive from family, friends and co-workers during the time they spend working on their book is the key to success. I found that support came in so many different forms – family members happy to spend hours chatting through ideas, to friends that were happy to drop everything to squeeze in some sample sewing for photography sessions, and a husband that never tires of delivering tea to my work desk!

By book, The Sewing Manual The Complete Step-By-Step Guide To Sewing is published by Haynes Publishing and available at Haynes £21.99

How my book goes on sale!

7 Feb

Ladies & Gentlemen,
I’d like to introduce you to a little something special…

Sewing Manual Cover

Today my Sewing Manual goes on sale -it can be found in a whole heap of books shops, including Amazon

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Sewing is a lot of fun – I know a lot of you guys already know that, but in this book I wanted to share some of the most crucial skills and techniques for any stitcher – including both hand stitching and machine sewing. The book is packed out with lots of illustrated step-by-step guides that will help you master a whole range of different sewing techniques from the basic, through the to more complex and creative!

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I don’t think I have spent as much time sat in front of my sewing machine as I did last summer – Not only did I make up all the samples for the book but in many cases worked up a series of samples for each step, to make the photography run more smoothly. There there was the time spent at the sewing machine demonstrating each and every technique carefully and clearly for the camera. You’d think after that I’d be sick of the sight of my sewing machine, but I’m happy to report that I still love it and am always looking forward to spending some time working on creative projects.
It is currently being put to good work sewing some creative sample for my next book!

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Spending so much time sewing reminded me just how much I love being creative, how important it is for me to have a project to work on – to have something to to with my hands! Sitting still is impossible for me, I always have to be ‘doing something’ sewing, knitting are my go-to crafts during evenings and down-time…not only because I enjoy the process as much as the finished item, but because they are the type of projects that I can work on whilst I am reading, listening to music or an audio book or watching a movie – this is my idea of heaven!

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I put my heart into making this book and I’m so pleased that it is finally going out there into the big wide world!

Find out more about the book in this interview I had with Fiona at The Sewing Directory

How we find riches in all we see

5 Feb

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, never were more true words spoken!

These delightful little brooches, charms and trinkets were swooped up by my eagle-eyed husband, not just because he knows that vintage beauties are just my cup of tea, but also that he thought they would come in handy with the projects for my wedding book. (Handsome & thoughtful, I may be the luckiest wife on the planet!)

I hadn’t realised I had talked quite so much about the content of the book in such detail that he would know exactly what I was looking for to make some of the more unique pieces. But, I guess I have been chattering away about my ideas more than I realised…either that or he can completely read my mind – which is a distinct possibility!

I am also the proud owner of a collection of (more) mismatched fine bone china tea cups, saucers and side plates – again my husband really does know that elegant little treasures  like these are just my cup of tea (sorry, couldn’t help myself!). It really saddens me that this was destined for landfill, I find it hard to believe that no-one would want these lovely little trinkets. I am so lucky to have a husband that can see the value of dusty old relics, that he is happy for our home to be dotted with eclectic items rather than the mass-produced high street options.

We have a shared love for the unique, the handmade and the carefully crafted workmanship of times gone by. To some it is dusty old relics, it us it is beautiful and inspirational. Our careful selection of beautiful items isn’t just being ‘cheap’  – although that is a huge bonus – it breaks our hearts that something that at one time in its like was so tenderly made, cherished and looks destined to end it’s days in landfill. Of course, somethings do need a little bit of love to bring them back to their former glory. I guess for many folks that is the real down side to picking up thrifty goodies – but, it’s amazing what a bit of hot and soapy water can do! Aside form a bit of a clean, my husband – with his ever growing collection of tools and ‘man gadgets’ – has a skill for repairing the unrepairable, customising the uncomfortable and reviving the tired  – I shouldn’t consider his Degree in Model Making as my personal resource for bringing things back to their true beauty…but, I must confess, I sometimes do!

So here’s to to the ugly print in an ornate frame that simply needs a spray of paint, the tarnished silver cutlery that is crying out for a polish, to the chest of drawers that need new handles & hinges – to all the wonderful things that, with a little love, add a touch of individual charm to our lives!

How I get my sparkle on

3 Feb

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This weekend has been all about the book, it’s been great to spend a solid block of time working in projects. Whilst working a couple of hours in the evenings is great to keeping things bubbling away, nothing quite beats having a proper chunk of time to dedicate to work.

Of course, it goes without saying that being able to spend more time in something important is a good thing. But, in reality it’s never as simple as it sounds to shut the world out and get you head down. This is probably the biggest challenge I face while working on this book. I don’t like to be the one that has to always ‘sit this dance out’ because it have work to do. Everyone is incredibly understanding, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of missing out on the fun!

I’m proud to say this weekend had been an adventure in hats, fascinators, tiaras and mini hats, and I must admit, despite having never worked with some of these materials before, I rather fancy myself as a milliner!

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There were a couple of accidents along the way, but I can safely say I’ve walked away with a full compliment of digits and some fabulous step-by-step projects!

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My hands and shoulders, and eyes and brain are throbbing with the dull ache of work, but knowing I’m starting off another week on the right track makes it all worthwhile!

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