the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Blog Tour: F J Morris, This Is (Not About) David Bowie

I was delighted to meet F J Morris in Bristol where she shared one of her fabulous stories with an attentive audience. I’d seen Freya’s name on many competition announcements for winners and attached to stories in quality journals, so it was a real treat to attend the reading. She is a great supporter of flash fiction and assisted the organisers of the first flash fiction festival in 2017. Now, I’m thrilled she has agreed to join me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, to celebrate the launch of her debut collection of flash fiction. With the intriguing title This Is (Not About) David Bowie, the imaginatively presented collection contains thought-provoking stories that gave me the chance to take another look at modern life, and rethink a thing or two. Shrinking Giants was one of my favourite pieces, full of poignancy yet with an ending that gives hope.

 

Thank you for joining me, Freya and congratulations on your new publication. Here are the questions I’ve posed which I think will be of interest to readers and writers.

Do you write with your audience in mind? Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is one that is living. I was going to say a human being, but to be honest, I’m not even that fussed what they identify as. I grew up in an old mining town on the outskirts of Bristol where my mum grew up. People didn’t really read. And so I’ve been asking myself a lot of big questions about fiction and why we should bother. Why should people read?

There are a lot of studies out that that explain how art helps us to understand ourselves and humanity better. Artists deal in feelings better than any other discipline. In the days we live in, it’s so important that we recognise the importance of feelings and how they influence us. Society doesn’t encourage us to be okay with them. They’re considered second-rate. But they have such a big influence on us. I read a study once that a judge’s decisions became more harsh depending on the time of day and his eating patterns (ie – if he’s hangry then you’ve no hope in hell). So it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how aware you are, your feelings are more in control of you than you know.

We are not machines. We are not products. So I think it’s vital that we value artists, and that artists recognise their own worth, their own power. What people are consuming right now is influencing them in ways they don’t even realise. And we need to write, sing, dance, paint our way out of it. We need a new story to tell ourselves. Stories that have peace, hope, joy, magic. Stories that make you glad to be alive. Stories that bring us together. But ultimately, we need more people reading, and that’s a challenge I’m interested in taking on. So I guess they’re the ones I want to reach out to.

What do you hope readers will take away from your collection? 

That anything is possible. That we are the writers of our own story. That we can be who we really are. A few people have read my collection and told me which stories were their favourites, and what I love the most is that they all chose different ones. I really wanted to cover a range of people, a spectrum of identities, ages, genders, backgrounds – that felt true to Bowie, and what he stood for. I wanted the collection to reflect his essence. Bowie in himself is a powerful idea. He reached out to everyone who didn’t fit in, and it turns out, that’s a hell of a lot of people. Like many, he gave me permission to be as outrageous as I wanted. He allowed me to take risks. To be true to myself. I hope people reading my collection will feel that too.

Can you describe the process of putting together a flash collection?

The initial idea only came when someone asked me to write a collection. I had wanted to put one together for a while. But every theme or idea I had to string a bunch of stories together ran out of juice. It was like being in a labyrinth, thinking you’re on the right track, only to find myself at another dead end.

Then Bowie died. It was like watching an explosion. A supernova. A massive star had collapsed at the end of its life, and it sent out these ripples, this burst of energy. His impact on people spilled out. David Bowie was more than a person. He was a feeling. He was an idea. So that’s when lightning struck, and I saw my way through the labyrinth.

But that was just the beginning. There were a whole host of obstacles and riddles to work through after the first draft. The journey to publication was not straight or easy, but the extra time helped me to develop it more. There were a lot of stories that fell short of what I wanted so I ditched them. And then I put the rest together into a larger narrative structured by David Bowie quotes. I wanted people to feel like there was a bigger picture, a journey to go on, but that element came later.

Do you have a favourite flash and what was the inspiration for writing it?

Slush puppies (there’s a reading of it here): it’s about hidden love between two school girls. I wrote it in a Bristolian accent, so I have to read it in one. And it has a sort of musical quality to it. I wanted to write it in such a way that when you read it, you could feel the build-up and overflowing passion.

My stories are a bit like Frankenstein’s monster – some of the story was inspired by something that happened to friends when I was growing up, some of it is my imagination, and a fair bit has been harvested from different poems I wrote when I was in love. This one does it all. It takes me back in so many ways. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and so is love.

Congratulations on your new appointment as Assistant Editor for fiction at Bare Fiction. What does this role involve?

Cheers! At the moment its: reading, reading, reading. Then deciding with the editor and team, which stories we think should be published. Robert does a wonderful job running the magazine, and his aspirations are amazing, so I can’t wait to help him achieve them. Plans and aspirations are a foot – so watch this space!

Do you have any favourite writing resources you would like to share with readers of The Writer is a Lonely Hunter?

Oh there are lots! When I read Orwell’s ‘Why I write’ in my twenties that basically became my mantra. I try to avoid writing to show off skills or knowledge. I remember a time when I was eight and I learnt this new word and was so excited to use it. But when I finally did, and nobody understood it, I realised how pointless it was. I felt the embarrassment of those around me, and how they withdrew. You lose people when you make them feel stupid – they disengage. So reading Orwell, made me consciously think about what sort of writer I wanted to be.

I’m always telling people to use the ‘Hemingway editor’ website. I’m going to use it on this interview. It helps me to be an editor to myself and to clean up my sentences. Then there’s Grammarly and Scrivener for the tools that make life easier.

What are your future plans?

To write. I know how that sounds. But it’s a constant fight with myself. I started to write a new novel called Burning down the house a few months ago, but with all the fiddling about, I’ve lost track of spending time on it. I want to write scripts, and make this app, and do another collection… So that’s my problem. Too many things, too many ideas, not enough writing.

What in insightful interview! Thank you, Freya. This is (not about) David Bowie is published by Retreat West Books and is currently on pre-order with Amazon. If anyone is in Bristol on 27 September at 7pm and would like to attend the book launch of This is (not about) David Bowie, your invitation is here.

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One-to-one with the Dorset Growth Hub

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I’ve just had a one-to-one session with digital specialist David Allison from the Dorset Growth Hub. We met at the Duchess of Cornwall in Poundbury to discuss ways to enhance my use of social media for marketing purposes. As a result, I have now taken advantage of the additional facilities on this WordPress blog including use of the poll below. When you have a minute, can you give me some feedback?

If you’re based in Dorset and need help to gain skills and confidence to market your  work as a writer, it’s worth getting in touch with the Dorset Growth Hub, to see how they can help you.

 

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Writing Inspiration – The South West

When Nicole Fitton and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Nicole to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter where she answers our shared questions (mine appear after).  First, let me introduce Nicole.

Nicole Fitton lives and writes in the heart of Devon. She writes both thrillers and short stories, many of which have been short and longlisted. This year her flash fiction piece ‘Yellow‘ was featured as part of  National Flash Fiction Day on the Flash Flood Journal Blog.

Nicole Fitton

  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!

Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.

I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgo whilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.

Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!

WestWard Ho!

  1. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?

Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year round.It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.

Nicole’s Blog : www.nicolefittonauthor.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/nicolefittonauthor/

Twitter:@MisoMiss

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misomiss/

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Gail Aldwin

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  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.

Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

Chapel Porth in winter

My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off.  I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.

Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset.  Along the shaded riverside walk I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!

  1. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?

Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.

Dorset Writers Network:            http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

Facebook:                                https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Twitter:                                     @gailaldwin

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Sandford Y Festival Book Event

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I was invited by Carol McGrath (you can find out about Carol and her first novel The Handfasted Wife here), to do a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival. This took place on Saturday 7 July at The Lamb Inn in the pretty Devon village of Sandford. This award-winning gastro pub has a delightful function room where I shared my stories. Other activities included a meet the writers event where Carol McGrath, Jenny Barden and Jennifer Ash offered input on life as historical novelists. The day was rounded off with a balloon debate where the three novelists dressed up as their characters in a thoroughly entertaining finale.

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Very many thanks to Susie Williams for organising this event.

Sandford Y Festival

 

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Dublin and the Mercy Institute

I’m just back from a few days in Dublin. My Australian friend arranged for us to stay at Mercy International. This is a house on the corner of Baggott Street not far from St Stephen’s Green. The accommodation is generous and comfortable and the history of the house fascinating. The founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley, committed to support the poor when she inherited the estate of a distant relative. She bought the land and built a house in a prominent position in Dublin so that the wealthy were able to see the plight of orphans and the destitute women with whom she worked. While her intention was to operate as Catholic social workers, pressure to become a religious community saw McAuley and two other women formally prepare for life as women religious taking vows one year later. As a result, the Sisters of Mercy was founded on 12 December 1831 and formally confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI on 6 June 1841.

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We enjoyed bed and breakfast accommodation at Mercy International and joined a tour of the house one morning. This included visiting the room where up to two hundred children were taught and the bedroom where Catherine McAuley died. The determination of the Sisters of Mercy to work for the benefit of the poor and to promote the education of girls and women is quite remarkable. Many of the schools established  continue to promote the values of Catherine McAuley.

Other pleasures of Dublin included seeing a raucous production of Ulysses one evening and then another watching Roddy Doyles’ The Snapper. We made a visit to the Dublin Writers’ Centre and went to the beach where there was a sliver of sea at Sandymount. Walks beside the Liffey were very pleasurable where the breezes cooled off the summer heat.

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And the good weather continues now I’m back in Dorset. What a summer!

 

 

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Writing Residency in the café at the Bridport Arts Centre

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Thank you to everyone who visited me during the creative writing residency at BAC on Wednesday 20 June 2018. It is an absolute privilege to have other writers share their work with me. There was a range of genres presented: women’s fiction, YA, autobiography, non fiction, flash fiction and poetry. I am delighted that the writers  found my feedback useful and I hope they will stay in touch. Many kindly bought copies of Paisley Shirt. I suggested they made the purchase through The Bookshop as it’s always good to support an independent book sellers. At the end of the session, I popped into The Bookshop to see Antonia Squire (owner of the shop since 2015) to find that Paisley Shirt was the best-selling title of the day!

Paisley Shirt is available with free delivery from The Book Depository and is stocked in Gullivers Wimborne, The Bookshop Bridport, Serendip Lyme Regis, The Swanage Bookshop and branches of Watersones.

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On feeling a little teary…

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An absolutely stunning review for Paisley Shirt appears on Being Anne an award-winning  book blogging site by Anne Williams. Quite overwhelmed by her praise:

Every single story is perfectly crafted, not of uniform length, but each one marked by the perfection of its writing and its insights into people’s lives, exquisitely captured.

She also offers an interview where her insightful questions led me to reflect upon my writing journey. Do pop over and have a read by clicking here.

 

 

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Meeting Joanne Nicholson

I first learnt about Joanne through the book blogger Jessie Cahalin (we both appear on her site Books in My Handbag). Intrigued by her writing life, I contacted Joanne through Twitter. It occurred to me that due to our different locations, it might be interesting to write a shared blog post where we both answer the same questions from the context of Joanne being a writer in Australia and me being a writer in England. But first, let me introduce you to Joanne.

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Joanne Nicholson is an Australian author who juggles parenting four kids with trying to exercise, socialise, manage sporting teams, complete mundane chores and write. She loves boating, reading, pilates, listening and playing music, playing basketball and spending quality time with family and friends. She has published two women’s fiction novels, Intuition and In Another Life; a YA novel Music Score and short stories, Horrorscopes and Spirits.

 

 

 

I wonder how much we’ll have in common. Here are the questions and answers.

What is your writing community like in your hometown?

Joanne: I live about an hour north of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Locally I belong to a supportive writers’ group where we critique a member’s work each month, as well as pass along writing tips and tidbits we have picked up. It is great to have this group camaraderie as writing can be such a solitary pursuit. I also belong to the Australian Society of Authors and get involved with their functions. I regularly attend other author events to hear about their writing journey. This weekend I am attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival to see Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz,  talk about penning this great book.

Gail: There is a thriving writing community in Dorset. As Chair of the Dorset Writers Network I work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. Our aim is to support writers at all stages of their writing journey. We hold workshops for writers to improve their skills and confidence. We also promote writing events across the county. In my hometown of Dorchester, the are two regular writing groups and splendid venues in which to hold workshops such as the newly opened Shire Hall. We are also lucky to have the annual Dorchester Literary Festival  which brings a range of professional writers to the town.  The Thomas Hardy Society celebrates the literary heritage Dorchester (also known as Casterbridge in Hardy’s writing).

Do you use your local environment or other places you have lived as a setting in your writing?

Joanne: When I began writing, I wanted to be vague about the setting of my story so as it was more global, but I felt people couldn’t really place it. Since then I have always used locations with which I am familiar. Most of my stories are set in the suburbs of Sydney and ‘In Another Life’ also features Bathurst, a large country town west of Sydney. Being an Aussie, the beach also seems to crop up as a location too as it is so intrinsic to my life.

Gail: I would love to write a novel about the years I lived in Papua New Guinea during my twenties but when I’ve mentioned this to agents and editors, they never seem positive. My friend has encouraged me to write a memoire but I’m worried about using the voice of a white narrator while talking about post-colonial issues. I have set a few stories in Dorset but I grew up in London and lived in urban areas for many years, so something of that environment is embedded in my writing.

Where do you like to write?

Joanne: I would love to say I’m one of those arty authors who writes and sips coffees in a cafe, mostly so I could post cool coffee pics to Instagram, but realistically I can’t concentrate to write with a lot of surrounding noise. I don’t even listen to music when I write, although for all my other waking hours I have music playing in the background. Sadly, I have to admit I sit alone in my office to write. Well, to be truthful I’m not completely on my own – I have my cavoodle dog Tilly who is my constant companion.

Gail: I have a tiny space at the end of a desk I share with my husband. The room is upstairs and overlooks the water meadows so it’s easy to get distracted by the view. Last week, I queued up to be the first through the door at the newly opened Shire Hall in Dorchester and was awarded free coffee for a year. As the building is at the end of my street, I anticipate going there to write for a change of scene.

Who or what inspires you to keep writing (even when there are setbacks and rejections)?

Joanne: I am very self motivated, but like most (or maybe all) authors, I sometimes get feelings of inadequacy. Writing, like so many creative outlets, is extremely subjective. I belong to a book club and hearing all the differing opinions on the book of the month makes me realise that you can’t please all the people all of the time. I write because I have so many stories buzzing around in my head. It is my creative outlet and if other people also enjoy my stories then I’m satisfied. I self-publish but whenever I have had a rejection for a competition or the like, I always think of all the rejections JK Rowling received for Harry Potter and regard myself as being in highly esteemed company.

Gail: I used to keep a spreadsheet of all the competitions I entered and submissions to anthologies and journals I made. Although I got to know where to send stories with a possibility of success, my ongoing studies have meant I don’t have the admin time to submit consistently these days. Focus on acquiring a creative writing qualification has concentrated my mind and kept me writing. I am looking for a home for my novel at the moment and without a spreadsheet I’ve sent to the same publisher more than once. Not knowing what is out there at any given time means any response is a nice surprise.

What is your writing process?

Joanne: I always start with a good grasp of the plot and main characters when I write the first draft, or ‘vomit of words’ as I call it. Sometimes as I’m writing sub-plots will start to develop that send things in a slightly different direction and I’m flexible enough to let my characters guide me. After I finish the first draft I let it sit for at least a month to get some distance from it. I then do a first edit with fresh eyes. After that stage I usually send it to a group of beta readers for their reactions and feedback. I take on board their comments and edit the areas of concern that I believe have merit. I then get the book edited and finally go through the cover design and production process. The hardest part of the whole equation is the marketing at the end. It is difficult as an indie author to have cut through in such a saturated market.

Gail: I tend to get and idea and muse on it for some time. Then I decide which genre of writing best suits the idea and make a start. I’ve always got several projects on the go. At the moment I’m writing a novel with a six-year-old narrator, I have poems I want to compile into a pamphlet and I am part of two collaborative writing projects – one’s a screenplay and the other is material for a comedy sketch night which will be performed at the Bridport Arts Centre in the autumn.

How do you keep motivated?

Joanne: My motivation has several layers. Firstly, I often find stories literally keep me awake and until I at least jot them down I can’t find peace. They are pesky little critters! Secondly, I have a great group of supportive people around me who believe in me. Thirdly, in the past I have read some books where I think I could have done better job. I figure if those books were worthy of publishing then so are mine! Finally, when I see other authors talk about their writing journeys I come to the conclusion they are merely mortal and if they were able to become a successful author then it isn’t outside the realm of reality that I can too. I’m definitely a glass half full type of a person.

Gail: There are stories that only I can tell. I’m passionate about the messages that come through my writing and am keen to share them with others. One of the recurring threads in my work relates to the capacity of human resilience. I set obstacles for my characters to overcome so that readers can vicariously enjoy their successes.

Thank you for sharing your experiences as a writer in Australia, Joanne. It seems there is much we have in common although you’re based in a city in the southern hemisphere and I’m in a county town on the other side of the world.

Joanne’s books can be purchased in the UK through Amazon: Intuition,  In Another Life, Music Score, Horrorscopes and Spirits .   Paisley Shirt is available from the Book Depository with no delivery charge and dispatch within 3 days in the UK. In Australia it is also listed on Amazon.com.au

 

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5* review of Paisley Shirt

Find out what prolific book blogger Jo makes of Paisley Shirt by popping over to Jaffareadstoo.

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I am delighted with Jo’s review!

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#TenThings

Are you interested in finding out #TenThings about me that you might not otherwise know?

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If so, pop over to the Portobello Book Blog where I reveal some best kept secrets.

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