Belle de Jour's Blog

July 3, 2014

Telling Your Story: 
a memoir masterclass with Belle de Jour
 
Have you ever thought your life would make an amazing story? 

From critically acclaimed non-fiction like Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory to celebrity tell-alls and confessional diarists, memoirs are hugely popular with the press and public.
 
But memoirs are not only for or about the rich and famous. Many beloved memoirs are stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – examining personal triumphs, bouts with illness, relationships, work, and much more. The page is the canvas, and your life experience is the palette.
 
Perhaps you are planning a personal memoir or other autobiographical work such as blogging, journalling, or feature columns, and want tips for turning events into stories. Or maybe you are already writing personal non-fiction and want to know how to take it to the next level. Interested in writing fiction based on and incorporating your own unique experiences? This workshop is also for you. NaNoWriMo participants are especially welcome.
 
About the course

This lively one-day workshop combines practical advice with hands-on activities designed to stretch your boundaries. The event will entertain and challenge writers at all levels - from those who are taking their first steps, to experienced old hands.

Whether aiming for literary heights or mainstream readerships, there are tools every effective memoirist has in their toolbox. You'll learn the craft of knowing what to share and what to leave out. You'll learn how to hone your unique voice, the most important part of any memoir. Most importantly you will go away understanding the challenges of the genre, with the skills to infuse life into your words.

    •    Finding your story: what to share and what not to
    •    Building a narrative arc from the chaos
    •    How to look at your life from the outside
    •    Create a bond with readers: finding your unique voice
    •    The shape of your book: creating narrative excitement
    •    Overcoming obstacles from writer's block to your inner critic
    •    Challenges and opportunities for modern memoirists


I had been toying with making the leap from academic writing into the popular market for a long time but had absolutely no idea how to do it. Brooke was the perfect mentor, offering guidance on how to write manuscript proposals and thoughtful critiques on early drafts. She struck a perfect balance, giving equal doses of patience, support and frank appraisal. With her help, I landed a literary agent immediately and have just delivered my third manuscript.

- Debra Komar, author of The Ballad of Jacob Peck and The Lynching of Peter Wheeler

Course details

Glasgow

Date: Saturday 25 October 2014
Times: 10am-5pm. Check-in begins 30 minutes before the start time.
Location: Mitchell Library, North St, Glasgow G3 7DN
Price: £99

London

Date: Sunday 26 October 2014
Times: 10am-5pm. Check-in begins 30 minutes before the start time.
Location: TBA (will be in Tottenham Court Road area)
Price: £99

Optional manuscript clinic

Bring your 50 double-spaced pages of a long work in progress (fiction or nonfiction), or equivalent shorter pieces, for a followup with Brooke after the course has ended. You'll receive directed feedback and advice via email and Skype, designed to help kickstart your creative flow.

Brooke motivated me to get my arse in gear to come up with a better book proposal and sample chapter. She gave really helpful and encouraging feedback and great insider advice on getting published. With her help I'm now much more confident in my project and am determined to get it out there.

- Justin Hancock, BISH Training

Places are limited - register now!

Glasgow: Saturday, 25 October


Event Registration Online for Memoir Masterclass with Belle de Jour powered by EventbriteLondon: Sunday, 26 October


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Published on July 03, 2014 11:07 • 38 views
Telling Your Story: 
a memoir masterclass with Belle de Jour
 
Have you ever thought your life would make an amazing story? 

From critically acclaimed non-fiction like Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory to celebrity tell-alls and confessional diarists, memoirs are hugely popular with the press and public.
 
But memoirs are not only for or about the rich and famous. Many beloved memoirs are stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – examining personal triumphs, bouts with illness, relationships, work, and much more. The page is the canvas, and your life experience is the palette.
 
Perhaps you are planning a personal memoir or other autobiographical work such as blogging, journalling, or feature columns, and want tips for turning events into stories. Or maybe you are already writing personal non-fiction and want to know how to take it to the next level. Interested in writing fiction based on and incorporating your own unique experiences? This workshop is also for you. NaNoWriMo participants are especially welcome.
 
About the course

This lively one-day workshop combines practical advice with hands-on activities designed to stretch your boundaries. The event will entertain and challenge writers at all levels - from those who are taking their first steps, to experienced old hands.

Whether aiming for literary heights or mainstream readerships, there are tools every effective memoirist has in their toolbox. You'll learn the craft of knowing what to share and what to leave out. You'll learn how to hone your unique voice, the most important part of any memoir. Most importantly you will go away understanding the challenges of the genre, with the skills to infuse life into your words.

    •    Finding your story: what to share and what not to
    •    Building a narrative arc from the chaos
    •    How to look at your life from the outside
    •    Create a bond with readers: finding your unique voice
    •    The shape of your book: creating narrative excitement
    •    Overcoming obstacles from writer's block to your inner critic
    •    Challenges and opportunities for modern memoirists

I had been toying with making the leap from academic writing into the popular market for a long time but had absolutely no idea how to do it. Brooke was the perfect mentor, offering guidance on how to write manuscript proposals and thoughtful critiques on early drafts. She struck a perfect balance, giving equal doses of patience, support and frank appraisal. With her help, I landed a literary agent immediately and have just delivered my third manuscript.

- Debra Komar, author of The Ballad of Jacob Peck and The Lynching of Peter Wheeler

Course details

Dates: Saturday 25 October 2014
Times: 10am-5pm. Check-in begins 30 minutes before the start time.
Location: Mitchell Library, North St, Glasgow G3 7DN
Price: £179 (includes light refreshments)

Brooke motivated me to get my arse in gear to come up with a better book proposal and sample chapter. She gave really helpful and encouraging feedback and great insider advice on getting published. With her help I'm now much more confident in my project and am determined to get it out there.

- Justin Hancock, BISH Training

Optional manuscript clinic

Bring your 50 double-spaced pages of a long work in progress (fiction or nonfiction), or equivalent shorter pieces, for a followup with Brooke after the course has ended. You'll receive directed feedback and advice via email and Skype, designed to help kickstart your creative flow.


Places are limited - register now!
Event Registration Online for Memoir Masterclass with Belle de Jour powered by Eventbrite
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Published on July 03, 2014 11:07 • 51 views

March 27, 2014

A few months ago I was invited to speak at the Oxford Union. The title is a little misleading - I actually spoke mainly about decriminalisation of consenting sex work and drug use, among other issues, but you get the picture...



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Published on March 27, 2014 11:14 • 36 views

February 27, 2014

Last month, I was invited to speak at TEDx East End. The theme was 'Society Beyond Borders,' so I opted to talk about the history of anonymity, and why it is so important to preserve it for marginalised activists and writers.

Very often when you see the word 'anonymous' these days, it's followed almost immediately by the word 'troll'. But the rich history of anonymity and pseudonymity is far more than that, and has been a refuge for artists and others almost since the beginning of recorded history. In this talk I explore some of the leading lights of anonymity, and why they chose not to use their real names.


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Published on February 27, 2014 02:14 • 46 views

February 23, 2014


Today I engaged in what can only be called a heated email exchange with another sex work activist. In said exchange I was told in no uncertain terms to "stand aside" and clear the way, that I should have been "called out" for my behaviour ages ago, with rather threatening overtones to "don't let me catch you" getting in the way of progress. It's not the first time such things have been said to or about me recently, but this confirms something I've been chewing over for a while now.

I try to be a straighforward person. I do not seek membership of clubs that don't want me (which is my main beef with identifying as a feminist) and do not like getting involved with drama-laced situations. There's enough drama in my life right now that I have no control over. Battling the antis is one thing. Battling the people on the same side, I have no stomach for.

Especially not when it's a cause i believe in, one where the message is so much more important than the personalities.

Also, and a probably more important point, I feel current sex workers should have a bigger place at the table than I do. My experience of sex work in London was a long time ago now - almost 10 years. Back then indies weren't as numerous and visible. New Zealand hadn't happened. A lot has changed. I can just about keep up with the broad brushstrokes with regards to the human rights and political issues, but really should not be the prominent voice when it comes to what people doing the work, right now, need in order to stay safe and have access to human rights.

The platform I have, whether deserved or not, exists. I have been trying to pass on what work I can in terms of media visibility for some time but my list of trusted contacts is too small. There need to be more voices representing the diversity of current sex workers out there, not fewer.

Obviously I will always be an ex-sex worker, but increasingly feel my own contribution is better left to writing and other projects, to getting on with living my life. With moving on. It will always be there, but it's long past time some other people became the public "face" of this and fought those battles.

Back circa when I wrote The Sex Myth I thought getting the facts out there was the best use of my voice, now I'm not so sure I'm the right person for doing things that way. I am and have always been a writer first, and activist a distant second.

And watching what goes on, well, it's not pretty what happens when people cling on beyond all reason. Older activists insulated by their increasing removal from the situations they used to have an authentic connection to becoming more and more fossilised in their static opinions while the world moves on. Clinging on to their columns or what have you, fighting old battles to death, above the line trolling. Does it achieve much? There a whole lot of "how not to" out there, I don't want to be a part of that.

I don't care if your politics agree with mine except on one point: that you support sex workers' rights. If we are not already in contact, and you think the sort of offers I get would be a good platform for your voice, please get in touch. I will do my best to guide anything that comes my way to you folks. Ideally if there is enough interest I would like to put details on a page here, with who people are, what they are comfortable being contacted about, best way to get in touch etc. Think of it like The Whore's Room, perhaps.

Naturally there are probably places in this where I've said something that offends someone, so I apologise for that now. My intention is true and I do not wish to undermine anyone else's efforts.

I'm on twitter, @bmagnanti. Hit me up and I'll do what I can.

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Published on February 23, 2014 10:59 • 30 views

February 11, 2014

The scandal of counsellors in 'crisis clinics' that claim to offer 'abortion support' claiming that terminations can cause breast cancer and women to become child sexual abusers was exposed this week by an undercover Telegraph Wonder Women investigation.  The vast majority of such 'clinics' in the UK (scare quotes because the counsellors are neither medical nor mental health professionals) are run by CareConfidential, an offshoot company originally founded by Christian Action Research and Education (CARE).

What are CARE's other big interests? Well, they are also the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade. This APPG aims to promote the so-called Swedish Model, beloved of both the far right and radical feminists. It's been revealed over and over again how far left second wavers are beholden to anti-homosexuality, anti-trans, anti-sex work and anti-abortion interests, yet many people refuse to acknowledge the truth even when feminists say it themselves.

They were also deeply involved in supporting Section 28, the law which served to effectively silence any mention of homosexuality in schools and other public institutions until 2003.

Let me spell it out so no one is surprised when it happens: the well-funded far right of US moral campaigners is perfectly happy to use, and then ruthlessly discard, the UK's blinkered far left to achieve their aims. See you in the mines when it all goes down, sisters.

It's times like these I think Pee Wee Herman says it best…
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Published on February 11, 2014 06:14 • 36 views

January 22, 2014

Some of you may have been following the ongoing bill, introduced at Stormont, which would import the controversial and potentially very harmful 'Swedish model' of sex work legislation to Northern Ireland.

Escort Laura Lee, who sometimes works in Belfast, was recently invited to give evidence to the Justice Committee presenting evidence opposing the bill. To say she was treated with gobsmacking disrespect is, frankly, an understatement. You can read her reflections on it here.

Stunned by the hearing - which was webcast live as it occurred - I wrote to the NI Justice Minister David Ford, urging him to do something about the bullying the committee, in particular Paul Givan, subjected Laura to.

In addition it is worth noting that the actions of the committee have also put Laura at considerable personal risk of vigilante action from anti-sex work protestors, who are well known for their penchant for threatening and silencing sex workers who dare criticise them.

As I have yet to hear anything back, or receive confirmation of receipt of communication, I am publishing the full text of my letter here.

Dear Mr Ford,

I watched with interest the proceedings of the Justice Committee on 09 January regarding the Human Trafficking Bill. In particular I was interested to see the evidence given by Laura Lee, a sex work activist whom I have worked with in Scotland when similar laws have been mooted. Suffice it to say with such laws being considered all over the UK and Ireland the proceedings at Stormont will have been of great interest to many, not only in Belfast.

As this was the first justice committee hearing in Britain to invite a current sex worker to testify about the proposed legislation, one might have expected a lot better. But instead the committee were inappropriately hostile, insufficiently objective, and forewent listening to Laura's testimony in favour of mean-spirited point scoring and blatant attempts to break and shame a witness whom they had invited.

Rather than ask for her opinions, the members belittled and insulted Laura at every turn. They behaved like childish bullies, while she maintained dignity throughout in the face of aggressive and hostile behaviour.

If this had been the case with the other experts invited to give evidence, it would not be excusable, but at least understandable. However it is clear the committee have treated only Laura this way, in spite of her decades of experience both as a sex worker and as an activist with in-depth expertise of how sex work operates in various countries including Northern Ireland.

This was an opportunity wasted by the Justice Committee. As a British citizen I am appalled by the actions of the members, in particular Mr Paul Givan. I was embarrassed for the members as they brazenly stated that they did not require more evidence, and cringed as they put their bigotry and ignorance on full display.

This was not "behind closed doors". This was broadcast worldwide, and the world saw what a mockery of justice is going on in Stormont. I would encourage you in the strongest possible terms to reject such poor treatment of invited witnesses, to reprimand the committee for failing to do their duty to government, and to reinvite Laura Lee for a level-headed, reasonable, and above all non-abusive chat about the evidence which she sought to present in the chambers, but was prevented from doing by politicians who seemingly care more about their personal agenda than for serving justice in the United Kingdom.

I hope that these concerns will be addressed fully, with an apology extended to Ms Lee for the disrespectful way she was treated by the Justice Committee members.

Faithfully Yours,

Dr Brooke Magnanti

Patron, SCOT-PEP
Columnist, Daily Telegraph
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Published on January 22, 2014 03:04 • 43 views
Some of you may have been following the ongoing bill, introduced at Stormont, which would import the controversial and potentially very harmful 'Swedish model' of sex work legislation to Northern Ireland.

Escort Laura Lee, who sometimes works in Belfast, was recently invited to give evidence to the Justice Committee presenting evidence opposing the bill. To say she was treated with gobsmacking disrespect is, frankly, an understatement. You can read her reflections on it here.

Stunned by the hearing - which was webcast live as it occurred - I wrote to the NI Justice Minister David Ford, urging him to do something about the bullying the committee, in particular Paul Givan, subjected Laura to.

In addition it is worth noting that the actions of the committee have also put Laura at considerable personal risk of vigilante action from anti-sex work protestors, who are well known for their penchant for threatening and silencing sex workers who dare criticise them.

As I have yet to hear anything back, or receive confirmation of receipt of communication, I am publishing the full text of my letter here.

Dear Mr Ford,

I watched with interest the proceedings of the Justice Committee on 09 January regarding the Human Trafficking Bill. In particular I was interested to see the evidence given by Laura Lee, a sex work activist whom I have worked with in Scotland when similar laws have been mooted. Suffice it to say with such laws being considered all over the UK and Ireland the proceedings at Stormont will have been of great interest to many, not only in Belfast.

As this was the first justice committee hearing in Britain to invite a current sex worker to testify about the proposed legislation, one might have expected a lot better. But instead the committee were inappropriately hostile, insufficiently objective, and forewent listening to Laura's testimony in favour of mean-spirited point scoring and blatant attempts to break and shame a witness whom they had invited.

Rather than ask for her opinions, the members belittled and insulted Laura at every turn. They behaved like childish bullies, while she maintained dignity throughout in the face of aggressive and hostile behaviour.

If this had been the case with the other experts invited to give evidence, it would not be excusable, but at least understandable. However it is clear the committee have treated only Laura this way, in spite of her decades of experience both as a sex worker and as an activist with in-depth expertise of how sex work operates in various countries including Northern Ireland.

This was an opportunity wasted by the Justice Committee. As a British citizen I am appalled by the actions of the members, in particular Mr Paul Givan. I was embarrassed for the members as they brazenly stated that they did not require more evidence, and cringed as they put their bigotry and ignorance on full display.

This was not "behind closed doors". This was broadcast worldwide, and the world saw what a mockery of justice is going on in Stormont. I would encourage you in the strongest possible terms to reject such poor treatment of invited witnesses, to reprimand the committee for failing to do their duty to government, and to reinvite Laura Lee for a level-headed, reasonable, and above all non-abusive chat about the evidence which she sought to present in the chambers, but was prevented from doing by politicians who seemingly care more about their personal agenda than for serving justice in the United Kingdom.

I hope that these concerns will be addressed fully, with an apology extended to Ms Lee for the disrespectful way she was treated by the Justice Committee members.

Faithfully Yours,

Dr Brooke Magnanti

Patron, SCOT-PEP
Columnist, Daily Telegraph
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Published on January 22, 2014 03:04 • 52 views

January 12, 2014

(reposted from 2010) 

A couple of years ago I started experimenting with making our own wine. Following the recipes in CJJ Berry's First Steps In Winemaking, we produced some passable elderflower wine, and rice and raisin. There was also a batch of apricot wine which got stuck in fermentation, had to be restarted with new yeast, and came out tasting rather sticky. Needless to say we disposed of most of it by gifting to unsuspecting neighbours. As hobbies go, winemaking was okay, but hardly taking over the spare room.

By the way, if you ever are considering homebrewing as a hobby, I can't recommend Berry's book enough. Not only is it about as comprehensive as a beginner will need, it also contains some charming photos of the man himself, NHS speccies and all, updating his logbook, wandering an English vineyard with a ladyfriend, and doing the washing up. (Home brewing involves rather a lot of washing up.) Plus his recipe for Ruby Delight - "very popular with the ladies!" - demonstrates that with sufficient booze-making skill, any man can produce in an empty cupboard the kind of leg-opener that would put the collective women of Newcastle out for the count. This man is a hero.

But winemaking is slow. The ferments take forever to get going. The aging takes an age. And then you are left with something that tastes, frankly, underwhelming. So, what we needed was something that combined the ease of, say, prison hooch with the flavour of, say, scrumpy with a shot of overproof rum dropped into it.

That thing, my friends, is mead.


What's mead? I mean, apart from Viking rocket fuel. Mead is honey wine. It ferments faster and easier than the homebrew wines were doing, because (here comes the science bit) honey is a mix of monosaccharides fructose and glucose, whereas a lot of homebrew wine relies heavily on additions of the disaccharide sucrose, aka table sugar. Mead is genius because the yeast digesting the honey sugars to produce ethanol get a head start, and your brew goes from jars of bee spit to bottled liquid gold in about 3 weeks.

Tl;dr... honey makes great booze because it is so ready to get busy with yeast.

I wonder if the last people who lived here (the family who built the house) were into homebrew too. Because that cupboard, where the immersion boiler sits? Is perfectly outfitted with shelves, and there's even (you can see in the pic if you look closely) a little radiator under them. Honestly! Who needs a radiator in the closet? People who like to keep their fermenting honey wine toasty warm, that's who!

We've come a long way since our first effort using Ralpharama's interpretation of Joe's Ancient Orange. We've maxed it, relaxed it, and put a tiger in its tank... In other words, we have stripped any- and everything out of the process that does not contribute directly to tasty, tasty ABV. Like, isinglass. Also yeast nutrient... mead doesn't seem to need it, probably because of the simple sugars. And we don't add campden because the Darling Husband has bad reactions to it.

But it is easy. And kind of bombproof. It tastes good, way better than any commercial mead I've tried. It's cheap to make at about a pound a litre (even though the Morrison's in Fort William did put up the price of their own-brand honey by 50%, something we think we might be accidentally responsible for. Sorry Lochaber!). It's more than palatable, especially if you like dry to medium-dry cider in the West Country style. Mix it with lemonade for a shandy; mix it with lager for an absolutely skull-cracking turbo shandy. You can get really far down the mead wormhole and start going on about this or that honey and this or that yeast, but in the end, it makes tasty plonk and we approve.

The recipe, approximately, is a strong cup of tea, four jars of honey (or 3 honey, and equivalent golden syrup to make up the 4th), spices or flavourings, yeast, a teaspoon of citric acid, and water to make a gallon. I'll post about mead in more detail as more gallons get made, racked, and bottled. I would love to have a go at making something similar next year with birch sap... we'll see.

As you can see in the photo above, we've been ringing the changes with seasonal additions such as elderflowers, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, bilberries and so on. Elderflower, by the way, tastes amazing. We've had 2 gallons of it bottled already and I wish there was more, but sadly our part of Scotland is not awash with elder. Will probably end up planting our own to guarantee flower and berry supply. And on the right, the sort of greenish looking ones? Those are our first attempts at light ales. Will report on the outcome as and when.
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Published on January 12, 2014 07:28 • 67 views

December 22, 2013

(Reposted from Gyst)

As a small child, I happened to have a chance meeting with Fortnum & Mason's potted stilton. Those of you who grew up posh or British or both may not think of this as a particularly exciting revelation. But for a kid like me living in a tiny bungalow on the west coast of Florida, this was a game-changer. It was like uncovering the treasures of an ancient civilisation. The mists of time have wiped out whether it was ours, a gift, or a neighbour's, but the smell, taste, and texture are indelibly written on my memory. And perhaps, had I never encountered this astounding foodstuff, I still would have become a savoury-food-loving fiend who is to this day utterly addicted to cheese and all who sail in her. But I rather doubt I would have been the same person without it.

And not only is potted cheese as near to spreadable gold as we humans will ever produce, you can also make it at home. And it's easy. As an adult potted cheese has become a staple of my home: perfect for picnics, cherished at Christmas, the perfect homemade gift. For cheese lovers, that is. Because in case you are in any doubt: potted stilton, and variations on the theme, are not for the faint of heart or palate. It's smooth, spreadable, fat-laden salty sin. It's Primula gone to heaven.

It probably goes without saying that I absolutely do judge people based on whether or not they like this.

There are a lot of variations, but the basics go a little like this:

350g strong hard cheese, crumbled or shredded. Vintage cheddar is good here, as is, of course, stilton. You can mix cheeses too. This is also a good way to use up ends of cheese and crusts of cheese. That's right, I save odd bits of cheese. Just call me Norma Major.

125g good butter. The cheese makes the taste, but the butter is the carrier texture, so don't be afraid to splash out on this.

About a tablespoon of ground spices. The choice here is up to you, since there's so much that goes well with cheese: black or white pepper, nutmeg, ground mustard seed, caraway... limitless possibilities. Chopped fresh herbs would probably go down a storm as well, if anyone fancies trying it and reporting back.

A double measure of sherry or spirits. I usually pair brandy with nutmeg, dry sherry with pepper, or whisky with caraway.

1 tablespoon plain white flour stirred into 1/4 pint of cream.


Ideally, you might do this in a warm kitchen. To get the best texture it's better to mash the ingredients together into a smooth paste. That is exactly as tedious as it sounds, though, and takes an age if your kitchen is on the parky side (as mine is). So I soften the butter and cheese on a defrost setting in the microwave, stir in the other ingredients, and - those of a delicate constitution look away now - give it a good whizz with the immersion blender.

If you do go the microwave route, keep an eye on the butter and cheese. They want to be softened but not melted. If the solids and fat separate that's too much. But don't despair! A little extra flour in the cream and a thorough beating should bring it back together with only a small loss in texture.


Pack the cheese mixture into clean, sterilised (but not warm) jars. It's better to use ones with straight sides, otherwise it's hard to get every speck of cheesy goodness out. Try to eliminate air bubbles if there are any by poking in a knife and smoothing the top out.

Melt a couple of tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter (or just butter if you have neither of those). Pour over the top and leave to cool and harden. This will seal the jar.


And that's it. Keep refrigerated. It's ready to eat straight away, which is ideal, because I don't think I'd have the patience to wait for it to age.
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Published on December 22, 2013 13:36 • 59 views

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