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writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

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Grab a bargain!

You can now pre-order a kindle or paperback copy of This Much Huxley Knows from AmazonUK, AmazonUS, Barnes and Noble or if you want to grab a bargain, order it through the Book Depository with a 10% discount and free postage worldwide.

Lovely reviews continue to be posted on Goodreads about This Much Huxley Knows. Do pop over and take a read – I’m really chuffed with the response to this novel. This Much Huxley Knows will be released on 8 July and I’m planning some social media activity to celebrate the launch.

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to write across genres and I recently had word that a poem I’d written during a workshop offered by Tolu Agbelusi will feature in the first Quay Words anthology to be published by Literature Works.

Onwards and upwards!

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International Women’s Day 2021

To celebrate IWD this year, I joined a Zoom workshop titled Writing Menopause: culture, sex and identity delivered by Apala Chowdry and Maggie Winters. Following an exchange on Twitter, I offered to write a blog post about the experience of joining this workshop.

There were about eight women of a certain age (including myself) as participants. The warm up activity involved using the chat facility to write about our experience of menopause. This involved identifying a word starting with letters from A-Z to share our experience. When this task was complete, we were unmuted and read out our words simultaneously. This created a wonderful chorus of voices and launched us into the next task.

The focus of the first few writing exercises involved considering water as a metaphor for change.

A 5th century Roman mosaic of Thalassa in the Hatay Archaeological Museum

We watched a video of wild swimming and drew upon our own experience of swimming in the sea to write for twenty minutes about the sea as a person. We did this by thinking about the physical characteristics of a personified body of water and also the communication skills of this character.

In this free writing task, I recorded the following:

You wear a robe of silken cloth. The material shimmers as the sun catches threads of silver. You are languorous today, not your normal state of being. I remember last time we met, you were full of yourself. Sucking your teeth and blowing bubbles to make everyone laugh. You were the centre attention, just where you like to be. Yet today, I think you may be trying to lull me. Do you sense my mood? Pensive. I was prepared for an argument. I have practised saying the truths you never want to hear. The words roll off my tongue like the sea jewels you collect. You turn away, showing me your deaf ear. I know you too well to let you get away with this. I shall have my say. And when I’m drained of talk, you lap at my feet for once, a faithful dog. 

The next exercise involved building on this introduction in a further twenty minute of free writing. The final part of this section of the workshop provided an opportunity to develop a character emerging from the water who meets with another person. We were asked to think about the tension in this encounter. What happens to a character’s sense of self as a result? I took a character from my work in progress to experiment in this section.

The final thirty minutes of the workshop involved thinking about our own life stories. I found this section incredibly worthwhile and would recommend anyone trying out these tasks. It is remarkable how a set of writing instructions were able to provide me with a tangible sense of when I am in life, and what’s left to achieve. If you’d like to give this a go, here’s what to do:

Spend fifteen minutes writing the story of your life in five sentences. Label the sentences, 1 – 5. The writing might include different stages of life, ie from childhood to being an adult, but not necessarily.

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Limitations and opportunities during the pandemic

Last month I received the news that the Mani Lit Fest 2020 is cancelled. I had been excited about travelling to Greece in October to deliver a couple of workshops and some readings. Although the decision is totally understandable, it did come as a disappointment. But not any more. I understand the festival will be running in 2021 so that’s definitely something to look forward to.

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Church in Chori where Bruce Chatwin’s ashes are buried

The Mani is a beautiful part of Greece and you can read about an earlier visit to writer Carol McGrath‘s house near the delightful seaside town of Stoupa here. Living through a pandemic has many limiting factors and prospects for overseas travel or indeed any sort of travel takes considerable planning. It seems that Coronvirus has the capacity to clip wings but it opens other opportunities. I’ve loved having more regular Zoom calls with friends in Australia, for example.

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(unusually) ahead of the technology game

Now everyone is using video technology to keep in touch during lockdown, I’m proud to say I’ve been using this throughout my VSO placement in Uganda to continue writing collaboratively with friends at 3-She. Our comedy writing trio began in March 2017 when Sarah Scally, Maria Pruden and I attended a comedy sketch writing workshop. Our sketch Killer Ladybugs was then selected for a scripted reading scratch night at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis.

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Flyer from the event in 2017

We continued our comedy writing journey at Sweet in Brighton, where Killer Ladybugs was staged as part of Cast Iron X, the tenth collection of short plays from Cast Iron Theatre. You can read about the experience here.

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Screenshot from WritersDuet of Killer Ladybugs

As we worked on new material, travelling across Dorset to meet up became very time consuming so we started using WritersDuet. This professional screenwriting software enabled us to draft our comedies collaboratively while discussing content during WhatsApp video calls.

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Impro on WhatsApp!

We’re still collaborating in this way and we are hoping to have a new sketch show ready for rehearsal whenever lockdown restrictions are lifted.

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Bidibidi Refugee Settlement

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it to Bidibidi refugee settlement earlier this week. I was a pillion passenger on this off-road motorbike.

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Mine is the black, white and red helmet and I was very glad to wear it. The road from Yumbe is unsealed and the red dirt is so rutted that in places it felt as if we were driving over corrugated iron. I was surprised I didn’t crack any of my teeth from the juddering! Other times, we skirted around massive holes and rode up and down hills. My arms ached from holding tightly to the passenger handgrips and my thighs aren’t used to being stretched over a seat for what turned out to be an hour long journey to Zone 3. There are other hazards on the road, too. Whenever overtaken by a car or truck, dust swirls  into a plume of red and visibility is significantly reduced. I didn’t realise cattle were such a liability – they always have right of way.

We arrived at village 16, where a temporary structure has been erected for the VSO Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) centre that caters for children from three to six years. It only requires flooring to be ready for the new school year which starts at the beginning of February.

This morning I was working with my colleague Zachary to prepare training materials that will enable parents and caregivers to create displays and learning resources for the centre.

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The village was almost completely deserted but for this woman cooking beans on a fire. She laughed when I asked to take her photograph, but I loved her colourful clothes.

It turned out that most of the residents were at a workshop offered by an NGO at a nearby primary school. The organisation was promoting the use of briquettes to prevent conflict over firewood which is an ongoing issue at the settlement. Refugee women feel vulnerable while collecting firewood and accuse men of the host community of  gender-based violence. The Aringa men claim they have been misunderstood as there is no shared language between the refugees and the host community.  But they also need firewood to make charcoal and refugees collect it for cooking purposes. Firewood is a resource that is becoming more scare due to the 230,000 refugees that now live amongst the host community in the 250 square kilometre area that until the arrival of refugees was regarded as ‘hunting ground’. However, since 2016 when refugees first came, each family are given a plot of land with the expectation they will build a house and grow vegetables. The land around the villages in Zone 3 has such rocky soil it would seem impossible to grow anything and therefore refugees are dependent on food aid.

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We next went to village 15, where with the help of a megaphone, one of the community leaders alerted parents and children to our presence. The group comprised many children with disabilities, from hearing and sight loss, to speech and mobility issues. My colleagues are so concerned about the number of children with disabilities who are not receiving education or healthcare, we have developed a new enrolment form for 2020, which includes the Washington Group of Questions. By posing these questions to parents, it is hoped we can develop a database to share with health professionals so that children can receive the aids they need to enable access to education.

While I was with the parents and children, I decided to do share a story and used a rainbow string to help in the telling. String games are international and parents within the group were able to make the complicated figures that I struggle to produce.

The following day, Zachary and I visited village 11 where the temporary structure requires tarpaulin walls as well as a floor. Until the centre is ready, the four to six-year-olds meet in a church building while the three-year-olds play and learn under the shelter of a tree. The staff at the centre are keen to get back to work. I was so impressed with their team work, their ability to galvanise parental support and their commitment to the children in their care. Such a fantastic group of caregivers from both host and refugee communities, that I had to take a photo.

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I’m now approaching my first weekend in Yumbe. My colleagues are with their families in Arua and Kampala so I am alone. But I have activities to plan and writing to do, so I won’t mind too much.

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After a week in Kampala

It’s my final morning at Sjarlot’s house where I’ve been living on and off for a month. Last night she invited some fellow volunteers for a farewell party and we sat on the veranda eating samosas and drinking beer. It was a fun time and they gave me a children’s school bag to pack the last of my belongings as a going away present.

The truck is loaded with furnishings for the house in Yumbe but I will spend tonight in Arua and then travel the final leg on Monday. The road to Yumbe is reportedly very poor, and I’m told the journey will be more like a ride on a waltzer. Already the driver, Dennis, has called round to say we’ll be leaving later than expected at half past ten. This delay has heightened my sense of excitement and nerves. It’s only thirty minutes and so I use this time wisely in composing this post.

Last week was a busy time in Kampala. I joined three days of planning meetings where I was able to pin down the activities I’ll be delivering at the Bidibidi refugee settlement. There will be some awareness raising talks about strategies parents can use in addressing the wellbeing needs of their children. To follow, I’ll deliver some workshops to build parents’ skills and confidence in supporting their children. I’m also responsible be developing safe space clubs for targeted children to share any worries or concerns. Further areas for development will involve working in partnership with other NGOs and local government in developing guidance material. That’s enough to keep me busy!

On Thursday and Friday, VSO Uganda organised communication training. I was awarded a VSO T-shirt my for my contribution to the sessions which involved a role play and a presentation of the communication plan developed by education teams across Uganda. Here is a photo of Gloria and I in our finery.

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Now I must pack my bits and bobs ready for leaving. Wish me luck for when I get to Bidibidi!

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Off again …

I’ve been advised that following publication, there are six months to promote a debut novel to maximum effect. So, I’ve been getting out and about with The String Games by offering input at Dorset literary festivals, including the BridLitFest where I shared a platform with Maria Donovan and Rosanna Ley.

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(I’m also at the forthcoming inaugural Blandford Literary Festival at the end of November.)

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I’ve given talks with Dorset Libraries (love a public library) in Dorchester, Poole, Wareham and Creekmoor. An author event in Wellington Library was a good excuse to spend a weekend in Shropshire and meet up with an old friend. There have been talks for ladies’ groups, workshops with writers, public readings and even performances (one in Loughborough and the other at Scratch & Spit in Bridport). The String Games won an award for its cover design and is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize (voting for the winners commences in March 2020). Phew! I hope I’ve used my six months wisely.

As this period comes to an end, I’ve decided to refocus and use my experience of working with children and families to volunteer with VSO  at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. I’m heading off at the beginning of December for four months to support enrolment of girls and children with disabilities in Early Childhood Care and Education as these groups are currently under represented. Uganda has a progressive policy in supporting refugees fleeing the civil war in South Sudan. Families are given a plot of land on which to build a house and grow produce. There is access to health services, adults can work and children are offered places in schools. After several years of working with refugee families in London, I’m excited to have this opportunity. But it doesn’t mean a hiatus in blogging and writing. On the contrary, I hope this experience will generate new and important work.

Indeed, writing plans for later in 2020 are already taking shape. I’ll be at the Stockholm Writers Festival sharing my experiences as a debut novelist in May. This is a wonderful event for new and emerging writers in a great city.  And I’ll be delivering a talk and a workshop at the Mani Lit Fest in October where reading and writing are celebrated at a town near to the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor. My children’s picture book Pan-de-mo-nium is currently with illustrator Fiona Zeichmeister and will be released next year.  The contemporary novel I’ve been working This Much Huxley Knows is nearing completion.

Watch out for post from Uganda in the coming months. David is incredibly supportive and is 100% behind me. I’m very lucky to be married to him!

 

 

 

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Round up​ of the summer so far …

As I am a ridiculously target driven writer, I thought I’d share with you some of the writing milestones from June and July 2019.

Sturminster Newton Literary Festival, 15 June

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In this the inaugural year of the festival, I was delighted to have a place on the author trail which involved running a stall in Joshua’s Coffee Shop so that I could chat to customers about my publications. I felt honoured to be part of the trail as Gillian Cross one of my favourite children’s authors had a stall elsewhere in the town. (The only problem was I didn’t get a chance to say hello to her!)

Later in the afternoon, I offered a workshop titled ‘a sense of place in writing’ at the library. I was delighted to work with many talented writers and receive feedback from the workshop in the form of this tweet:

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London Launch of The String Games, 22 June 

This took place at Housmans Radical Bookshop and I was so pleased to welcome friends, family, fellow Victorina Press authors and readers to this unique venue. I was delighted that every copy of The String Games sold.

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The People’s Book Prize, June 2019

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BIG NEWS for the summer. The String Games has been longlisted in this unique literary competition where the public decides the nation’s next bestsellers and writers of tomorrow. Find out here about The String Games and cast your vote to enable me to reach the next stage. All you have to do is scroll down to add your details, tick a box about receiving the newsletter and submit. Thank you to all those who have already voted.

Scratch & Spit, Lyric Theatre, Bridport, 24 June

Here I am strutting my stuff during a ten-minute performance slot. What am I going on about? The analogy between writing and running!

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Loughborough Poetry Event, 28 June

Alongside Rachel Lewis (who also had a poetry pamphlet published by Wordsmith_HQ), I was billed as a headline act at the launch of the Purple Breakfast Review Issue 8. It was great to spend an evening with so many accomplished poets and to read from adversaries/comrades.

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Shaftesbury Fringe, Saturday 6 July

As part of 3-She, I co-write comedy sketches with Maria Pruden and Sarah Scally. This summer we took a group of gifted West Dorset actors to the Shaftesbury Fringe to perform our comedy sketch show Big Heads & Others. What a lot of fun we had! The next show will be staged at Dorchester Arts Centre at 8pm on 18 September 2019.

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Meet the Author talk, Dorchester Library, Saturday 20 July

I had a fabulous audience for this 90-minute talk about the inspiration behind my poetry, short fiction and The String Games. They asked probing questions and we enjoyed a lively discussion. I’ve now been asked to offer further talks at Dorset libraries, so watch this space!

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Friday Freebie with Patsy Collins, Friday 26 July

This is an online event where I share information about my debut novel and there’s a chance to win a free signed copy of The String Games by leaving a comment on Patsy’s blog – you’ve got until midnight BST on 31 July to do this. Why not pop over for a read? Just click here.

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What’s next?

This week I received an email from my publisher Victorina Press who want me to start working with illustrator Fiona Zechmeister on the children’s picture book I’ve drafted which has the working title Peta the Panda. This is an exciting new project and I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

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A new way to plan your fictional stories

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A sunny morning in Stockholm

I came away from the Stockholm Writers Festival in May with some fabulous new approaches to writing fiction that I’d like to share with you. The techniques I describe are suitable for use in flash fiction, short stories and longer work. This post draws from separate workshop sessions I attended which were delivered by Jessie Lourey and Cassie Gonzales:

  • Jessie focused on using life experiences to fuel fictional writing. She recommends mining your life story to identify powerful emotions that can be invested into your characters. We’ve all experienced fear, power, joy etc and it’s by connecting with the emotions and writing them into your character’s story arc that it’s possible to create very effective fiction.
  • Cassie Gonsalez shared her approach to creating layered stories by using dialogue which is more than just expository. By thinking about the said, the unsaid and the unsayable, it’s possible to develop narratives that suggest a bigger story than simply the words on the page.

Applying the learning:

Years ago, I had coffee with a woman who told me a story about being terrified of storms. To prevent this fear being passed to her children, whenever there was a storm, she opened the curtains and gathered her children to admire the thunder and lightening while all the time she stood rigid and blinked back fear. I decided to use this as an idea for a story but because I’m not afraid of storms, I drew upon Jessie’s advice to identify an occasion when I was truly petrified and I remembered the time muggers set upon me. With these emotions captured, I then turned to Cassie’s advice.

Cassie shared a visual she had developed to analyse how dialogue works in fiction between two characters with a focus on the said, the unsaid and the unsayable. The idea here is to complete the model by identifying the emotions underneath the interactions between two characters in considering their wants, needs, loves and fears. (I added the word ‘theme’ to the grid where Cassie has used the term ‘third thing’.)

 

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Character 1  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character 2  

 

 

 

 

 

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Rather than share the stories we analysed in the workshop, I’ll present how I used Cassie’s model as a planning grid to support the writing of a flash fiction piece, Chink, which has been published by Cabinet of Heed, issue 22.

 

Theme: empowerment

wants needs loves fears
Kate

 

courage

 

to be free

 

independence

 

being alone

 

Robert

 

possession of his wife to be in control power being alone
theme unsaid unsayable

 

The grid is a little difficult to explain without reading the story, so I suggest you read the two in conjunction to see if what I’ve mapped out fits with your understanding of the story.

Chink

A navy sky extinguishes the day. Sitting on the balcony, Kate reflects upon her laziness. No excursions to the volcano for Kate, just a sunbed, a pile of paperbacks and the company of Robert. Still wearing his shorts, Robert stretches his legs then scratches a mosquito bite on his knee. Kate is cool in her strappy dress. She reaches for the tumbler, drains the contents then crunches a sliver of ice.

‘One more before we go down for dinner?’ he asks.

 But he’s not even dressed. Hasn’t yet had a shower.

‘No thank you,’ she says. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Good.’ He sits back in his chair.

What now? She waits. Irritation makes her skin prick.

‘Are you going to have steak again tonight?’ she asks.

‘Think I’ll ask for it blue this time.’

Yes, so raw it’s almost mooing.

From behind the mountains comes a rumble. Although Kate knows these steamy days can lead to storms, she hopes she’s wrong. Holding her breath, she clutches the armrests and counts. A flash comes before she’s reached number eight. She’s rigid in the chair but Robert gets up for a better look.

‘It’s coming this way.’ His voice is gleeful and he cocks his head. Doesn’t he know it’s ridiculous to swagger in flip-flops?

‘I’ll get inside.’ Kate reaches for her bag but when she turns, Robert is blocking the doorway.

‘Surely by now you can face it.’

She hesitates. Does he know what she’s thinking? What she’s planning? Of course not! Robert means the lightening.

‘Let me pass,’ she says.

‘No.’ He grabs her shoulders and manoeuvres her for a better view. Kate closes her eyes, resists his pinching grip.

‘There’s no point in struggling,’ he says. ‘You can’t be scared all your life.’

Kate breathes through her mouth, takes comfort from the steady pumping of her heart, listens to the gushes from her lungs. The crack and the searing light skewer her to the spot but she controls the trembling.

‘See, it’s not so difficult, is it?’

When the thunder comes again, she’s ready. This time with eyes wide open she waits for the crack and watches the chink of light brighten the gloom. A path to her future is illuminated. She can do it. She really can.

It is by using Cassie’s grid that I was able to indentify the theme of the story as empowerment. Rather than the storm diminishing Kate, by facing it, she is able to also face an independent future. It is ironic that Robert assists her in this journey by forcing her to watch the storm.

I hope this post is of use to you in your writing. If you’d care to comment, I’d love to hear what you think. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet voted for The String Games in The People’s Book Prize, please pop over to the website. All you have to do is scroll down to add your details, tick the newsletter box then press submit. It’ll only take two minutes to complete but I will be forever grateful!

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The String Games is released today!

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The journey to the release of my debut novel The String Games has included many pitfalls and high points. Today, I celebrate the support I have received along the way.

Thank you to my fellow students at the University of South Wales who offered support and advice through workshop sessions. Also to my supervisors who gave feedback and guidance which enabled me to submit The String Games alongside an academic thesis to receive the award of PhD.

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I’m grateful to Carol McGrath, Sue Stephenson and Denise Barnes for the wonderful feedback during memorable writing retreats in Port Isaac and other locations overseas.

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Dorset is a wonderful place to live and write. I’ve gained so much from supportive groups including Wimborne Writing led by Sarah Barr, the Vivo Gang, the RNA Dorset chapter and the Dorset Writers Network. Also thank you to the organisers of open mic nights including Apothecary.

For giving The String Games a good home, I’d like to thank all the lovely people who work for Victorina Press and also my fellow Victorina authors who celebrate diversity in publishing.

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A special mention for the authors who endorsed my novel Jacquelyn Mitchard, Nina Kilham, Elizabeth Reeder, and Sara Gethin.

Where would any author be without readers? The continued support of the Cerne Abbas Readers is much appreciated along with the amazing work of many wonderful book bloggers including Anne Williams and Jessie Cahalin.

I’ve loved being part of online communities including the Women Writers Network and thank everyone there.

I’ve grown in confidence and experience due to publication of my earlier work. Thanks to  Gill James at Chapeltown Books for publishing Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction, and to Sophie-Louise Hyde at Wordsmith_HQ for publishing adversaries/comrades a poetry pamphlet.

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Lastly I must thank my supportive family who understand my need to write when I could be spending time with them.

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The String Games is released today and can be purchased online from Foyles, Waterstones and Victorina Press.

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