Can Everton Jones find out how his father stole Emperor Bokassa’s diamonds and, more importantly, where he hid them; before the world and his brother get there first?
Click on the picture link in the sidebar to read an extract of my first novel, which was published by Paradise Press in August 2012.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What does a traditional publisher actually sell to an author?

Sunday morning saw a short interview on the BBC morning news with Mark Edwards, co-author of Kindle’s best-selling Killing Cupid. He’d just got a big publishing deal with Harper Collins and I have been wondering just exactly what they’ve bought or rather, and much more to the point, what he’s bought from them?

See the interview made much of the present practice of making authors promote their own books. As a result, the same authors, having become more secure in their ability to get their own sales, are progressively cutting out the publisher and self-publishing. Certainly it is widely voiced that traditional publishers have very small budgets for publicising the books they sell.

Mark put his book on the Kindle store as an e-book (priced, incidentally, at a very competitive 70p). He promoted his book agressively using social marketing on twitter facebook and via his blog. He became a best-seller and Harper Collins have snapped him up. They have paid him an advance, and they get the rights to his book.


But he’s still going to promote the book. He’s going to be giving HC a sizeable slice of the royalties. So now, whenever HC sell a copy of his book, he is paying them. And the more books they sell, the more he pays them. Now that’s what I don’t get.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

putting special characters into my post

Getting special characters to display correctly in a blogger / blogspot blog:

I had the devil's own job getting angle brackets into my e-book reference page, because of the blogspot software getting in the way by being helpful! Just found out what's going on.

To get an "&", for example, I need to type "&amp;" in Edit HTML view. And to get "<" I have to type "&lt;". Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't. On closer inspection of the html code, I found out that the editing software had "helpfully" substituted the "&amp;" for my "&" yielding "&amp;lt;" in the html code, which rendered as "&lt;" when the post loaded. The solution? search the document in Edit HTML view for "&amp;" and (in firefox) select the hilight all option in the search pane at the bottom left of the window. Then scroll through the text and modify the code manually.

Incidentally, I've had to nest the "&amp;" trick to get this post to render as I intended! Blimey! There is a link to reference lists of all the special character codes in html on my page on building an ebook.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Book Launch

Details of two book launches at Gay's the Word later this week:

- 'Art and Homosexuality - A History of Ideas'

Talk and slideshow - Come on up and see our etchings!

Event Date: Thursday, June 16th · 7:00 p.m.

Author/ speaker: Christopher Reed

Book: Art and Homosexuality - A History of Ideas

Venue: Gay's The Word Bookshop, 66 Marchmont Street London WC1N 1AB [Russell Square tube]

0207 278 7654 / sales@gaystheword.co.uk

Event Details: Free. Booking NOT required. Doors 6.55 p.m. - Complimentary refreshments.

Monday, 23 May 2011

An Object Lesson

Some random thoughts on returning from Gay's the Word and the launch of John McCullough and Sophie Meyers books.

It's always a treat to see poetry performed live, it comes to life somehow. The reading today put me in mind of Essex Hemphill and Linda King performing at the Oxford Lesbian and Gay Centre; a memorable evening which seems like many lives ago now.

I turned up early to the bookshop and, much to my surprise, it was locked. They were still setting-up inside. If I'd thought about it, I should have checked their opening hours! Only a few people were hanging around outside, and I feared it was going to be poorly-attended. Come seven o'clock and a vast crowd turned up right on time. It was rammed!

Book Reading at the Gay Authors' Workshop, Sunday 22nd May

Read another extract of my book at the Gay Authors' Workshop in London. Much kudos for having my book loaded on an e-reader. (see the panel to the left for the gory details.) Actually, the reason for getting it into an e-book format is that I make more money from an e-sale than for a physical book. How strange is that? I'm just happy that the effort I've put in to get my book into ".epub" format has paid off. Looking forward to the book launch later today. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Book Launch

Salt Publishing and Gay's the Word are launching The Frost Fairs by John Mc Cullough and The Private Parts of Girls by Sophie Mayer. Two collections of poems. It's at "Gay's the Word" bookshop, 66 Marchmont St., London (nearest tube: Russell Square) on Monday 23rd May at 7pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome, no booking is required. Wine available.

Friday, 13 May 2011

How to build an e-book part 2

Once I looked at my e-pub book using some downloaded e-book readers, I discovered that my lovely fonts had mostly been substituted with Times New Roman. That’s not at all what I wanted. So I set about finding out how to embed fonts. That seemed a simple matter in Sigil of control-clicking on the fonts folder and adding an existing resource. I had to make the fonts visible to the finder and then copy them to the desktop, but it was fairly painless. The font files duly appeared. When I ran the validation routine (clicking the green tick icon), I was told the fonts were in the manifest, but not discoverable (i.e. not used in the document). Upon further investigation, and I mean a LOT of further investigation, I found a blog with the fix I needed. Apparently, I need an “at-rule”. They provided an example and, with a little tinkering to get the path to the fonts right, I tried putting this at the top of my .css style-sheet, and it works in Adobe Digital Editions, Nook and Sony e-reader:

Now, when I view the book in nook’s e-reader, I get exactly what I wanted. Or nearly. It seems the chapter headings are being left-aligned, and the small caps doesn’t work. There’s a rather messy work-around for both.


But to explain why, I need to talk about the table of contents. The e-pub format has usually two tables of contents. One, at the front of the book, which is part of the text. I haven’t yet decided if there’s any point in doing this. And another, which is “metadata”, a file you can’t edit which is created by the program and is used by the particular e-book reader your customer has to navigate through your book. The way this works is device-dependent and you can’t alter the formatting, so don’t even think about trying!


The text within “heading 1” tags (<h1> and </h1>), is used to build the table of contents. I tried making this invisible using a class I called “.hidden”, and put it at the end of each chapter, but when viewed by an actual e-book reader, I was directed to the end of the chapter when I used the built-in table of contents. So the heading had to go at the top of the chapter.


Incidentally, not including a heading means you can’t include the particular section in the table of contents. No problem, I decided to make each prelims page a separate chapter, but to omit a heading from it, so the reader just scrolls or clicks through the prelims before getting to chapter one, or else uses the contents to skip them.

I wanted to have my chapter headings use just the title “The View from the Bushes” for example, but felt the reader would like the in-built table of contents to list it as “1: The View from the Bushes”. Luckily this is do-able by adding the following to the <h1> tag:

The table of contents uses whatever value you assign to the “title” attribute.


The nook e-book reader is forcing my chapter heading to left align, so I went back to using a paragraph <p> tag for the chapter heading with the old “.chapterHeading” class to format it and then an <h1> tag repeating the chapter heading which I hid with by adding a “visibility=“hidden” ” attribute to the h1 style. In this case I don’t need to set a title attribute. NB, the id attribute is for some reason being added by sigil, and I can’t stop this happening. I suppose it’s something to do with creating the table of contents. This is how the code looks and it sucessfully restores the centred text when rendered by the nook e-reader and also stops it being defaulted to bold:

Setting the font-variant attribute to small-caps has variable results. It seems not to be well implemented. Even within Sigil, as I vary the point size it switches from small caps to regular unpredictably. In some e-boook readers it doesn’t ever render in small-caps at any point size. One solution would be to use all capitals in the first place and to use a class which displays it at (say) 80% . But this doesn’t really work if there is a sign within the text, like “Stevens and Williams Solicitors” in chapter three. So I defined a class called “.signs”, with a font-size attribute of 80%. Within the text, I used a <span> tag to identify the lower case letters of the sign and applied the “.signs” class to it. The text within the tag was in upper case. I didn’t apply the span to the initial capitals of the text. This is how the class looks in the style sheet:

And this is how the span looks in code view. It’s clumsy, but it works:

It’s a lot of work, and fiddly to do, but at least it gets the output to render correctly. Thankfully there are few instances of signs requiring this format in my book.


I’ve been reviewing this, and have made a few further refinements. I've added a stand-alone page with instructions on how to create an e-book from scratch, using my format, aimed at beginners. I can e-mail anyone a copy of the .css file I’m using. This will make using my format as easy as control-clicking on the styles folder and importing it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

How to build an e-book part 1

I’m feeling rather smug about having made progress on building an e-book. Firstly, it seems the publishers want .xhtml files, preferably conforming to an industry-standard .epub format. (Amazon, of course, want something
different, “mobipocket”, but I believe there are converters.

Their site says here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2GF0UFHIYG9VQ that they accept submissions in .epub, so that’s wha
t Im aiming for. They do say they will accept file in Word .doc format, but much of the formatting won’t convert and the word files will need drastically re-formatting. I think .epub would be safer.)

So I found a programme, Sigil, which is basic and can be downloaded free from here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list and runs on Mac OS X, linux and PC platforms.

It’s really simple to use. I just copied and pasted my first chapter into the new untitled window which opened up on launch.

The Word file looks like this:

Yet it rendered in Sigil like this:


As I hope can readily be seen, the font is obviously Arial, NOT Franklin Gothic Medium, as I intended and the paragraphs are all unindented and the spacing has changed. Also the chapter number and title are left justified. I’m not fussing too much about the left justification of the text, as apparently Kindle users can change the justification, so where’s the point of trying to fix that? If they are used to messing with the justification, even if I could force it to be fully justified, they would probably not like it.


On further investigation, I found there is a “code view” option, which I switched to, and got this:

Which isn’t really as scary as it looks. Forget the “header” section at the top for now, it’s what’s inside the “body” which counts, i.e. whatever comes between the <body> and </body> tags.


All there is in the "body" is a sequence of paragraphs, each one between the<p> and </p> tags. And there’s the problem. Kindle say their system defaults to paragraphs which indent. Fine, except the first paragraph after a change on point of view or scene break shouldn’t be indented. And it’s a bit disconcerting that Sigil seems to display the paragraphs without any of them being indented.

Quite apart from being inelegant, tabs, nonbreaking spaces etc. don’t work to indent in an .html document and would take an age to edit in. So I set about forcing the paragraphs to indent and space the way I want them to.


Web pages use a system called “cascading style sheets” (css) to format the paragraphs (and any other elements on the page). The format closest to the <p> tag is the most important and takes precedence over the formats Kindle will supply. So if I can set the format within my document, it ought to look right on a kindle.

Adding this to the header forces each block of text enclosed within the <p> and </p> tags to be indented by 15 points, will use first franklin gothic medium (if installed) then verdana and then arial in a last resort and removes the default “margin” from around the paragraphs and closes them up:


Switching to “book view”, the result is much nearer what I intended:



But how to “unindent” the paragraphs after a scene break and insert a blank line where the break occurs? The answer is very easy: insert a manual line break within a paragraph. The text continues on a new line, but unindented. If I insert two manual line breaks then I get the blank line I wanted.

Switch to code view and add the tags:



Switching back to “book view” this is how it now looks:


To make the next paragraphs unindented, you’ll need to remove the closing </p> tag and the opening <p> tag to run the paragraphs into one. Replace them with two <br /> tags like this (in code view):


(Actually, thinking about it, you could just repeat the <p><br /><br /> trick I used on the first paragraph, and make life much easier for yourself!) Either way, when you go back to book view, it should look like this:




Which is pretty much how it should look. To use css styling to get the headings and chapter numbers right I used a different approach. I don’t want to use the built-in heading 1 etc. tags, because they will need a lot of format information specifying. Instead, I’m going to use a “class”. (note that “class” styles begin with “.”) To specify the class information, I just need one extra line in the css part of the header. If I enter the following in the header:



This defines the chapter number as being in small caps and centred. The chapter heading is also centred but 200% as big as the paragraph style. All other styling is the same as for the paragraphs. By specifying the font sizes as relative, if a kindle user increases the point size, the ratio between my body text and headings doesn’t change, maintaining my design.


To apply these styles to a paragraph, simply add 'class="chapterNumber" to the first <p> tag, as shown here:





Which looks like this in “book view”:




OK, so it’s not quite what I started out with, but I can tidy it up, add a font family to the chapter heading and get the relative sizes right. The beauty of doing it this way is that it’s relatively simple and doesn’t involve a lot of typing to get the formatting the way I want it.


One thing I do like about sigil, it tidies up my html and formatting everytime I switch between code and book view. It can even spot and correct minor typos in the code. But I do think it is best to write the html yourself. Sigil can do some formatting for you, but it generates the code automatically, and this can be difficult to untangle when there is a real problem.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Wrong Kind of Plastic Bag

I just made the fast Euston train yesterday, only to have it stand at the platform whilst they waited for a signal to change. Apparently a plastic bag had blown into the points at Wembley, and they wouldn't change. They had to send a guy out to walk down the line to the points and try to get it out. The Croydon train was blocking us in in the other direction and we were well and truly stuck. In the end, they re-routed the next one and, half an hour later I was finally underway.

At Euston, as the trains connect, I had only a few minutes to get on my connection to Stafford. So I didn't have time to get anything to drink. But exactly the same thing happened. By now several of their staff were in the wrong place, and we had to wait on a packed train until a steward was finally available. And it was too risky to get out and make a dash for a bottle of coke, in case the train left whilst I was away. Bummer, it left 20 mins. late. And that was the last train I could use my super off-peak ticket on.

Two and a half hours later, and nearly at Stafford, the train stopped. The driver got out and made a call from a phone by the side of the track. He got back in and we carried on. The Steward we'd had to wait for made an announcement: "The driver had been informed that children had been seen playing on the railway and he was going to have to take it more slowly than usual." And so we crawled our way the last few miles.

One of the more bizzare reasons for disruption to train services, I think you'll agree.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

(c)anal street LOL

Just found this online. The heart of the "Gay Village" in Manchester revolves around Canal Street. Someone seems to have made a rather amusing deletion on this road sign!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

News on Print on Demand Quotes

The situation about print on demand is clarifying. Berforts just got back to me about repeat orders. They say they won’t be charging set-up on a repeat order, as I expected. But their quote was not itemised. They said the price would be the same less £15. I can’t believe set-up is charged at only £15. Lightning Source and Orbital Print came in around the £60 mark.

I must admit this is deeply disappointing. Recommending a printer to Paradise Press is a tricky job. There are two scenarios we will face, initial launch and re-order. The numbers vary quite significantly for each and both are important. I am working on an initial order of 100 books and then a re-order of 10 books as a likely model.

Running the numbers on the four businesses I’ve identified, this is what re-order comes in at:

Berforts: £9.20 each for 10 copies, £3.49 each for 100 copies and £3.15 each for 200 copies. Delivery included. (Based on the unit cost from my previous post and subtracting £15 set-up)

Orbital Print: £4.99 each for 10 copies, £4.86 each for 100 copies and £4.75 each for 200 copies. Delivery not included. (Based on the unit cost from my previous post and subtracting £58.08 set-up)

Print on Demand Worldwide: £5.69 each for 10 copies, £3.34 each for 100 copies and £3.12 each for 200 copies. Delivery free if ordered online. (I used their online quotation widget)

Lightning Source: £4.04 each for 10 copies, £3.45 each for 100 copies and £3.45 each for 200 copies. Delivery not included in the quote. (re-calculated using their original quote and subtracting £63 set-up)

Interestingly, Print on Demand Worldwide comes in cheapest for a re-order of 200 copies, but that’s not likely to happen. Lightning Source is cheapest for 10 copies and will, in fact, print a single copy, however as they print them off four up, this needs to be investigated. Print on Demand Worldwide and Berforts don’t offer enough of a reduction on re-order and Orbital Print have a unit cost which is just too high. Lightning Source are the clear winners, although delivery wasn’t included in the quote. They also have an annoying £1.25 order processing charge, which is not an insignificant consideration on very small orders.

That’s deeply annoying, because Lightning Source are by far the most annoying company to deal with. But it looks like we’re just going to have to grasp the nettle.

I’ll get back to Berforts to query the £15 set-up and ask for an itemised quote, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

OMG

Anyone who ever said "texic" was a harmless addiction of empty-headed teenagers was wrong. One of those children seemingly incapable of texting in proper English has evidently grown up and opened this shop in Harrow. I may as well say it myself, like OMG it's like uuuhhhh seriously like OMG I mean (makes meaningless hand gesture). And people actually talk this way as well. It comes to a sorry state of affairs when today's children are reduced to mime to express themselves when there is one of the world's most subtle of languages at their disposal. Bah humbug!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Alternative Vote Hoop-la


There's a lot of news coverage in the UK around the upcoming referendum on the "Alternative Vote". The Tories are strongly against it, because they judge it will disadvantage them. The Liberal Democrats (in the same governing coalition) are of course strongly in favour, as are the Labour Party, perhaps because they wanted to persuade the Lib Dems to go into coalition with them, perhaps because they think it will favour them.

In essence, it's a no-brainer. Say you're in a constituency out in the countryside, where Labour are always going to come a poor third. But you're a socialist at heart. Do you vote for the Lib Dems and hold your nose, or waste a vote? With the Alternative Vote, you could put Labour first and the Lib Dems second. Your voice is heard and your vote is given to the Lib Dems as the second best, after the Labour candidate is eliminated. (Swap all that over if you're a Tory in a Labour safe seat.)

A lot of the agenda focuses on the need to retain the link between an MP and his or her constituency. Well, I'm all for that. But what we really need is proper proportional representation. Duh, how difficult is that to organise? Even if they keep "first past the post" or move to "alternative vote", it's still non-proportional. Whatever the system within a constituency, surely the obvious solution is to give each elected MP in the Commons a vote worth the total popular first preference vote for their party in the election, divided by the number of their MP's returned. Essentially a "card vote" familiar to followers of Labour Party conferences. The link between constituency and MP is retained, but the overall vote in the commons available for each party reflects the total vote cast for them in the election. Parties not winning a single seat don't get to participate. If they get just one MP then she or he gets a disproportionate number of votes in the Commons, but not bigger than the popular vote cast for their party, which is only fair (isn't it?). That's one of the other arguments against AV btw, that it would let in smaller parties.

Obviously we don't want to end up going down the Belgian route, where they returned such an evenly split parliament this time around that they've been unable to form a government. (Four main parties all split into Flemish and French speaking factions, so eight equally sized parties and less motivation for the Flemish/French parties to cohere recently.) Interesting to note in this regard that I spotted a graffito on a wall next to the Police Station on rue St. Léonard when I was last in Liège saying "Soyons Ingouvernable". (Someone helpfully added the necessary final "s"--not really visible in the pic. Given the use of the subjunctive "soyons" (let us be), the failure to add the plural agreement at the end is surprising.) Haha, there isn't any Govenment in the first place! (maybe this is better as a new post)

And, whilst we're re-writing the electoral system, why not hold elections in constituencies on a rolling basis, re-calculating the votes per MP after each one? Then we'd not have to have the nonsense of a general election every four or five years and we'd get a regular performance check on a government every so many weeks. Given the high turn-out in by-elections and the resources directed to them, the percentage of the electorate voting might even go up?

Anything which is more democratic, or which will keep instinctively homophobic parties out of power is top in my book. I vote on Gay Rights first, education second, humanitarian policy and intercultural awareness third. The economy comes in a poor fourth.

As a sideline, if this rips open the governing coalition, so much the better. The Lib Dems signed up to the coalition for a referendum on AV, if it doesn't happen, they're going to get mightily pissed off. If they then shaft the multi-millionaire Tory cabinet forcing austerity on the rest of us and re-align with Labour, I'd be only too happy!

Friday, 29 April 2011

First shot over the e-book bows

With the sourcing arrangements for physical books progressing nicely, and platform building underway, I turned my attention today to trying to get my head around what e-books are all about. It seems there's a big spat between Macmillan and Amazon, and another between Amazon and Apple. So the big names are fighting over something. And I am seeing more and more people with Kindles, so there is a market out there, and the big names think it's worth fighting over. How in the name of Bajeezus does it all work?

I guess most customers will go straight to Amazon. And probably buy directly from their store. If they do that, then the file they download is copy-protected (i.e. has "Digital Rights Management"--or "DRM") and can be read on all of the main platforms, kindle, iphone, android, tablet etc. They have a simple system, through their German website: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin to publish the book. All you need to do is send them a word file, it seems. They do the conversion into their format, although I was a bit unclear what happens about cover artwork. Kindle is in Black and White, so that would mean a potential re-design at least if the design looks naff in B&W. Unfortunately, it is not impossible to remove the DRM protection, but is sufficiently complicated a procedure that I am not too worried about piracy. What was concerning me was the kind of discount they would be wanting.

And I had a nice surprise! Here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B they have a price list. The terms and conditions will need careful scrutiny before anything could go ahead. But, if the e-book is from the UK or a number of other countries, they list it at the standard cover price. The author gets a 70% royalty, which is a 30% discount. Paradise Press currently has a standard 35% discount to book shops, so that is actually marginally better than we could do if we placed the title in a shop, and none of the attendant difficulties of returns and capital invested. And there are some costs and tax issues hidden away in there, which might make some difference on the numbers, which will need careful study.

There is some chatter, well more of a shouting match really, on the web about e-books being too expensive, and I can see why. If the e-book is listed at the cover price, one of the reasons for getting the expensive Kindle in the first place goes away. No need to print the book, so it should be cheaper? Little does the poor reader know of the mechanics of the publishing industry! Even so, I would have thought with no need to print a physical copy, we could be saving the £3.90 or so unit cost of a book (based on the quotes for my book). So, let's say my cover price was £10? Then I'd be looking at £7.50 from the bookshop less costs of around £1.50 to get it into the hands of their customer. I'd be making something like £2.90 per book on a retail bookshop sale. Direct sales are better, say with a 10% discount for website sales, that's £9 less the £1.50 and not forgetting the cost of the book, I get £3.40.

And also, just think about those numbers for a mass-market publication, where the publisher is having thousands printed off on offset litho for a fraction of anything Paradise Press could match. Then the physical delivery of a printed book comes down more to postage and packing and the terms of the various contracts between bookshops, distributors, agents and authors about who gets what?

What about e-book sales? On a £10 cover price, I'd be getting £7. Fuck, that's twice as much. Or if it could be agreed to discount the price by 50% as an ebook, selling at £5, I'd still be getting £3.50, which is up with the other physical printing and selling options. With those numbers in mind, I can't understand why Amazon is insisting on e-books being sold at the same price as physical books. Or have I got that wrong?

I still don't like paying a discount to Amazon for distribution, when all they are doing is juggling files, something which most internet providers will do for a pittance, if not free. Since when did I pay hotmail to send an email, for example? How is sending what is essentially a .pdf of my book any different? It's a few clicks of a mouse's tail!

There must be applications to convert my file into kindle format (I just found Kindle's own software to build an e-book and preview how it will look on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000234621) But that probably won't include DRM, so that needs further research if we want to do it independently. So the file could be sold on our website at only £3.50 and still make the same margin. (well, there isn't any really, it's just pure profit.) But the bulk of sales would probably be generated through the kindle store, I rather suspect. It looks like the discount is not negotiable. And then there are contractual terms to consider, they want their money, at the end of the day!

Anyhow, watch this space, feeling better about ebooks now.

Tying the Knot

There's been much fun had by Outrage in the run up to today's wedding. Delivering a huge wedding card pointing out that some men want to be able to marry other men as well. Well now, here's a thorny issue and no mistake. On the face of it, why not? We all call entering into a civil partnership "getting married" and the legal ramifications are exactly the same. But it does seem to be hitting a line of stern resistance in the ranks of the straight right wing, or Christian bigots, as they are sometimes called. It goes something like this, "marriage is all about making babies, and only a man and a woman can do that." So what about same-sex couples bringing up either an adopted child, or using fertility services, such as sperm donation (if necessary by borrowing a teaspoon) or surrogacy, or simply two oppositely gendered same-sex couples coming to an arrangement. Nowadays there are multiple ways of skinning this particular cat. And what of women who have been married to a man and have children (and men in the equivalent position), who then stop denying their sexuality and run off with a boy/girl and end up with custody of the children from the earlier marriage. And where does the trans-agenda go with any of this? Boy oh boy those responses to their opposition, which is just plain old fashioned biggotry dressed to look good, get the right wing going.

So it's all good grist to the progressive mill, but that's not what caught my eye. Two tweets got my interest. One about one of the founders of facebook being about to marry his male partner, and another about facebook having made it possible to list "in a civil partnership" as a relationship status. Is this pure co-incidence? I wonder what the gentleman will be doing in the listing on his own homepage? In fact, is it already possible for two male facebook users to marry? And if so why offer the civil partnership option? Should Peter Tattchell be outside these guys' house asking them to make it possible for gays to marry on facebook as well?

I'm watching this one with interest!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

I fail to get myself blown up


This morning, I headed for the airport. I regretted leaving so early, as I had an enormous wait, but at least I got on the plane with plenty of time and am now heading for Liverpool street on the Stanstead Express which thankfully runs until 1h30. But the big surprise was when I was asked by a guy at security where I'd come from. When I said "Marrakech" he asked me if I knew anything about the bomb. Bomb? what bloody bomb? Apparently whilst I was waiting patiently at the airport, someone blew up an upmarket tourist café at Jemâa al Fnaa killing 45 people. I didn't hear any loud bang, or get any whiff that anything untoward had happened. This explains the girl on the plane telling her friend she'd just had two messages on her phone from distressed relatives. I suppose they think she's in pieces all over the square. Actually, come to think of it, I suppose I'd better let my near and dear ones know I'm alright as well. I've had a Moroccan SIM card in my phone all this time. They might just be a tad concerned. (Picture from the independent, btw)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The End of Days

It's barely credible that I'll be back in the UK in two days' time. The clouds have gone and it's a baking hot day, well over 30° and bright blue sky everywhere. God I'm gong to miss this town, what with it's donkey carts, crazy boys zooming about on scooters hugging the driver to stop themselves falling off, uneven cobbled streets, two stroke oil fumes, ridiculous motor tricycle vans, hand carts, roadside cafés, scrawny cats shagging each other on street corners, £2 a packet fags and I didn't have to paint the town pink, someone's already done that for me!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

I can't believe it, the Duchess of Cornwall has a twitter account! (@DuchessCornwall) For some reason @dfa73 re-tweeted her: "one particularly likes the Union Jack tea towels hanging from the bunting" What a shame, surely she knows it's the union flag? I assume this is a reference to craziness relating to the upcoming royal wedding. BAH. Because of the Ryanair schedule I will be back in the UK on the day of the wedding. Fuck! Thank God I don't have a TV. And the impromptu bank holiday makes it a difficult day to return to ...Bugger Fuck Shit Piss Wank.

Print on Demand quotes

I've had the last quote it looks like I'm going to get from the print-on-demand companies I visited at the London Book Fair. For reference I asked about a perfect bound 312 page trade paperback "B" size (129mm x198mm) on 80gsm white paper with laminated cover (all companies can do matte or gloss laminations). These are the quotations, in the order I received them!

Lightning Source: Initial set-up: £21 for cover, £21 for book, £21 for proof copy (all required for initial order) which comes to £63. Cover and Binding: 70p, each page: 1p. Delivery: delivery costs + £1.25 handling fee. Discounts: 50 - 99 units: 5%, 100 - 249 units: 10% 250 - 499 units: 20% 500+ units 25% discount. Minimum order quantity: 1 unit. That comes to a unit cost of £3.82. If the various charges are included on a first order, this is what it comes to per book for 10, 100 and 200 copies: 10 copies: £10.24 each, 100 copies: £4.08 each, 200 copies: £3.76. That does not take the cost of delivery into account.

Berforts: quotation was not itemised. 10 copies: £10.70 each, 100 copies: £3.64 each, 200 copies £3.22 each. This does include delivery costs.

Orbital Print: Set-up £30 + 9p per page comes in at £58.08. Cover: 75p gloss laminated, 85p matte laminated, Binding: 50p, each page: 1.2p. 2.5% discount per 100 copies ordered and minimum order of £30. Delivery charges were indicated but, as the weight of the book was not supplied, the information could not be used. That comes to a unit cost of £4.94 for the glossy laminate. Adding the set-up charges but not allowing for delivery, the discount reduces the bill for a first order to the following: 10 copies: £10.80 each, 100 copies: £5.45 each, 200 copies: £5.04 each.

Print on Demand Worldwide have not supplied a quote, but have an online quote generator, which I used. 10 copies: £9.69 each, 100 copies: £3.74 each, 200 copies: £3.32 each. The website says the delivery is free if I order online. I asked for the price without delivery charges. The website suggested that set-up is chargeable on each order. When I asked for a repeat order price, the only difference was that I was not charged for a proof, which made an almost minimal difference to the price.

And that's about it. When I went to Print on Demand Worldwide's website, I mis-typed the link and was redirected to another, rival, company, which I'd never even heard of. They must have registered the domain I mis-entered and are sneakily redirecting those who make the same mistake as me to their site. Cunning! Except that I sent them a quotation request out of curiosity, and they have as yet to get back to me. So why go to all that trouble?

Print on Demand Worldwide's website says they will deliver free if I order online. That makes a big difference. Berfort's prices were inclusive of delivery. Lightning Source quoted without delivery, and then there's that £1.25 extra on top. This makes Print on Demand Worldwide the cheapest on a first order, then Beauforts, then Lightning Source even before the delivery costs are added. (Lightning Source are slightly cheaper than Beauforts for 10 copies, and that suggests Beauforts have either higher set-up fees or lower unit costs or more aggressive discounting or combination thereof, although their quote was not itemised.)

Orbital have similar set-up to Lightning but significantly higher unit prices and much less aggressive discounts.

If it is between the other three, it all comes down to set-up. Including set-up, Print on Demand Worldwide is cheapest. But when I tried to find out how much it would be for a repeat order, they only subtracted the proof copy from the bill. That looks like they charge set-up every time. If so, that knocks them out of the running from the start.

Beauforts are next on price for an initial order including set-up, but were not clear about whether they will charge for set-up on repeat orders. This needs to be clarified with both Print on Demand Worldwide and Beauforts, before I can decide where to go. I can't believe they really do charge set-up on repeat orders, it's barely credible.

Unit costs were not available from all the companies. But assuming similar set-up charges, the running order is still Print on Demand first, then Beauforts, then Lightning, then Orbital.

All could be different if Lightning Source's 20% discount for 250+ copies is taken into account. But, given the state of the gay book marketplace, I'm not sure how easy it will be to get 250 copies onto the shelves of the remaining three bookshops? I think Paradise Press's business model has to be for 100 copies initial order and then 10 copies re-order. Although for a parcel of only 10 books, the weight does come into play quite considerably. The weight bands for parcels and letters are quite wide, so maybe for re-order it should be the weight of books, not the number we decide to order, to reduce the delivery cost per book? If pricing is based on 10 book re-order numbers, then titles will always be in stock. If a book is a runaway success, unit costs drop and margins go up. Hooray!

In conclusion, Print on Demand Worldwide is cheapest, but if they charge set-up on re-order, they are out. Likewise Beauforts. If Beauforts get back to me and say they will waive set-up on repeat orders, then they are narrowly ahead of Lightning Source. Orbital are just too expensive. and are out of the running.

Rather a technical post, I know, but if you're printing books, you need to have an eye on the numbers!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Seeing Pink!

I seem to be seeing pink at the moment! According to an old French statute which has never been repealled, all the buildings in the new town of Marrakech have to be painted pink. Bizzarre! But that's not the real reason. I've just (nearly) finished making out a listings page (which you can get to by clicking on the directory/listings link in the page list at the top of the right-hand panel of this blog).

I was primarily looking for publications which might be persuaded to review my book and places which could host book readings. In the process, I am becoming more and more enraged with Millivres/Prowler group, the publishers of Gay Times, Pink Paper, you name it. Perhaps it's not them, but the gay marketplace and shallow gay men who are destroying our cultural life, but destroyed is what is has happened to it. Millivers bought up Prowler to form the Millivres/Prowler Group of companies. They also bought up Expectations, a large sex shop. Fine and dandy and good for them, I hear people saying. Yeah, right, but they also bought up Gay Men's Press and then closed it down. Is that a response to market conditions? Sure, the book is taking a beating right now. I learned yesterday that "A Different Light" the last gay bookshop is California is to close. In researching my listings, I can find no trace of "West and Wild", a fantastic Gay bookshop in Edinburgh, so that must also have gone the way of all flesh. "Gay's the Word" in London is hanging on to viability by the tips of it's fingers. Apart from two radical book shops with an LGBT section, "Books from Nowhere" in Liverpool and "Word Power" in Edinburgh, there's only "Clone Zone" and "Prowler" left stocking a handful of LGBT titles hidden away amongst the, admittedly rather eye-catching, smut and sex toys. (Oh, and there's that word "Prowler" again.)

With that off my chest, I began to look at the "Pink Paper" to see how many books it reviewed. They went digital only last year, blaming the recession, but their website is no longer organised around anything which looks like a print edition. Their stated aim to return to a print version looks unlikely to happen anytime soon. I searched their site with "book". It turned up just a handful of reviews, dated at roughly 6 week intervals. There was a cluster around a sponsored feature. On closer investigation, this turned out to be a self-published book from createspace. They surrounded it with reviews of other people's books. Hmmmm how does paying for a featured article work out if that's what happens to it? And then I find a prominent article plugging all of Prowler Press's forthcoming list of, well, smut. Not that I've anything against smut, smut I like, but it's not the only show in town. I would have thought the Pink Paper would have had higher standards. God alone knows what I'm going to find when I look at their other, less (allegedly) high brow titles.

Hand me a pair of boots to throw. I hear it's quite popular over here!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Another Gay Bookstore Closes


Just heard on Twitter that "A Different Light", the last gay bookstore in California is to close down. Will "Gay's the Word" be the last one in the world? I'm composing a list and it is the last one in the UK. Sure, there are places which stock gay books, but it's not the same. A bookstore devoted to exclusively LGBT books is something special. They somehow foster a sense of community. The article blamed online book sales for the closure. "Amazon sells everything, it sells them cheaper, and it doesn't pay sales tax". Well, I don't know about sales tax, but I'm not going to be using Amazon, they want a 60% discount! But I am just as guilty of using online sales as the rest of us. I haven't bought a single book from Gay's the Word, although I have been in to have a look. It's a bit of a hack for me to get to. If bookshops are a thing of the past, what next? Will e-books wipe out books as well? Hand me some boots to throw or a loom or two to smash up!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

How can I find a gay book to read?

Without getting bogged down in what exactly a "gay" book is, it can be difficult to find reading matter with LGBT content. As a gay writer, I want people to be able to find my book, when it gets published next year. Where do people go to find LGBT books? I am going to be blogging on this subject as I research places which might stock my book and magazines and websites which offer reviews of gay literature.

Right off the bat, I might say that the local library is a good starting place. Wolverhampton library service are putting a rainbow sticker on the spine of all books with LGBT content. Good for them! This is a positive step.

It's an issue for a writer when designing a cover... How will a gay reader know the book is going to be of interest to them? A picture of a gorgeous guy on the cover might be there to interest straight women. Then again, straight audiences might enjoy reading gay books. I know my brother enjoyed reading Kenneth William's diaries, and many straight women have said they found the sex scenes in my book very enjoyable. Is that a bit like straight men perving over lesbian porn? (That's only toungue in cheek, btw, please don't flame me with a load of femminist discourse, I'm fully aware of the issues, that was meant to be a joke.) Cultural references are a very subtle and insidious thing... you somehow know when the naked torso of a man on the cover is intended to appeal to men or women. I guess that's why we employ professional jacket designers! LOL.

It is a mammoth task, but I am going to add a page with links to...

gay and lesbian centres,
gay and lesbian publishers,
gay and lesbian bookshops,
LGBT magazines and newspapers which have book reviews, online or otherwise,
LGBT writers groups.

and any other relevant things I can think of.

I will devote a blog entry to each one.

The page link is in the right hand panel of my blog at the top. It's chaotically organised and formatted at the moment, so please bear with me.

If you want to be included, get in touch via email: toussaint_toubabu@live.co.uk

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Breakfast

When I got here, I was told, “In the morning, there is a breakfast buffet, you can help yourself.” Well, I’ve been here before and I know how munchy a Moroccan breakfast can be. That is to say dry and uninteresting, unless you like to smear everything with honey, which I don’t.

I got downstairs the next morning to be faced with a choice of black coffee which tasted like it had been made from instant powder and chicory essence, hot milk and weak Lipton’s tea. There was only one kind of chewy, dry, but, thankfully white, bread on offer. The classic round Moroccan bread.

A black french family emerged from a room off the main courtyard. The father explained to his son, “you can help yourself to whatever you like.” How ironic, there was nothing to choose from. The boy wanted a hot chocolate. Sadly, there was none. I felt sorry for him, his father was so optimistic, but the reality didn’t bear this out.

As time has gone by, more and more choices have emerged at breakfast. After two days, orange juice was on offer… even brought directly to my table by the long suffering “Khadijah”, whose name is heard every time the haggard old lady in a long black dress who presides over the central courtyard wants something done.

Yesterday we were even offered some kind of sugar coated bread which was really quite nice, but it left my hands covered in oil.

The shower in my room is a bitch. It only trickles water, and it is luke warm at best. Yesterday morning, the always optimistic black guy was telling his son, “now there is hot water…” I tried the shower... Hot water suddenly gushed out, and my spirits rose. But then it got too hot and I turned on the cold tap. Suddenly the pressure decreased again, and I was once more disappointed.

The other day, I was in the main square, and I tried one of the food stalls. The salads on offer were on display, and I could finally choose one I liked the look of. It was called “salade maroccaine”. Basicaly a salsa: tomatoes, onions, green peppers, beetroot, cucumber, coriander and mint, all cut into tiny pieces and with lemon juice and olive oil over them with rock salt and “rass al hanouff”, a moroccan spice mix. Fucking delicious. And only 5 dirhams. Don’t settle for anything less, but watch the price, chic restaurants will charge up to 25 dirhams for the same thing!

I then ordered the fish, which was more expensive and horrible.

But the main discovery was a small shop just around the corner from my hotel. Last night, I ordered the fish. This turned out to be salt fish, deep fried in batter, and a single mild, grilled green chili pepper (and I mean mild!). It was served, however with a salsa, diluted with water, which they called “sauce”, and one of the omnipresent flatbreads. The salsa transformed the meal, and it was a great snack. The price? 13 Dhirams (£1.30) Can’t quibble with that!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

L' Inconnu

I did some research online before I came about gay life in Morocco. It’s certainly true that my gaydar will need retuning here; boys walk around arm in arm and it means nothing. I even saw a boy riding on the back of a scooter kissing the driver affectionately on the neck yesterday. One of the articles I read online suggested trying the cafés in “Guéliz”, it turns out those are some of the places in the new town around Boulevard Mohammed V which I had visited last time, such as the Café de la Poste, which serve alcohol. I haven’t gone back there, and I seem to remember there being some kind of rule as to where you could sit with your expensive thimbleful of beer. The article said the technique was to leave a packet of cigarettes on the table, so a stranger could have a plausible reason to approach you. God knows what you are supposed to do if you don't smoke, wear a pink carnation? Duhh, we're not called "fags" for nothing! It also said if you sat in view of the street you could make eye contact and then the boy would follow you discreetly after you left and “a price could be agreed”. This is not at all what I have in mind but, what can you expect? The meter seem always to be running over here. I had hoped that by, following a number of local gay rights organisations on twitter, some of their followers might notice me and check out my profile. So far nothing has come of it. For some strange reason I cannot fathom, I seem to be gathering quite a following in Taiwan. But none of them are tweeting. Don’t know what to make of it but, hey, if it directs a market towards my book I don’t really care.



Anyhow, when I went to get my internet dongle and SIM card, my first port of call was some of the places off the main square ("Place Jemaa el Fna"--I can never remember the name!). I duly purchased the SIM card for 30 Dirhams and a 20 Dirham top-up, which was still quaintly on a scratch card. The guy in the shop didn’t have any dongles, but directed me to a place three doors up which did, but which was, unfortunately, not yet open. So I sat down in a café opposite and ordered a coffee. I instinctively placed my fag packet on the table next to the coffee and, lo and behold, a boy turned up and began talking to me. He asked for a fag and sat down. The conversation was in English. Bad sign. He offered to show me around. Bad sign, I’d never get rid of him. He was poorly dressed and had several teeth missing. Deal breaker. I finished my coffee and left. Seems what you read online can sometime be uncannily accurate.

The other issue here, I was informed by the article I read, is do you or he have somewhere to go back to? A "local". In principle, I have this hotel room. It has a very discreet entrance off the street and there’s nearly no-one around. So that could work, except for the absence of the safe in the room which had been advertised. I don’t want to go to the loo and find the room empty of both boy and my money and computer when I come back. And then, I begin to understand what it was like in the UK before 1967. Technically, I would be opening myself up to the threat of blackmail. Although the boy would be in more danger, I suppose. And that’s not to say guys aren’t having sex over here. The large number online today on gaydar suggests that at least some guys over here are getting their rocks off.

Last night was my second visit to the tiny restaurant off the road past my hotel. That is, "Rue el Gza", which has become "Rue Laarous" by the time you get to the restaurant. It is a tiny room with about five very low tables and the chairs are equally low but even then your knees scrape the table from below. It isp oorly lit by small candles on each table. The food is prepared in a small kitchen in the same room and the front is open to the street, so you eat with motor scooters and donkey carts passing by. The set menu is 60 dirhams, for which you get a bowl of olives, a salad, a tagine and a dessert. Seems a good deal, only the olives were very strongly marinated and the salad vastly too complicated with almost everything they could think of in it and smothered with some kind of sauce or other. Just like in Holland. By the time I got to the tagine I was already full. It came sizzling hot and my poulet au citron was just that, a chicken breast and two halves of a preserved lemon and some meat juices. It was so fibrous as to be almost inedible. Today I chose a simple salad of tomatoes. What could go wrong? It was smothered with ground up hard boiled egg, topped with grated cheese and mayonnaise. The berber tagine which followed had far too many vegetables in it and only a small amount of, this time, edible chicken at the bottom. It was not seasoned properly and had too much turmeric. And the dessert? A simple plate of orange slices… topped with ground cinnamon. A foul combination. For the second time I left feeling sick.

Today I wanted to find an alternative. Some of the places off Place Jemaa el Fna offered reasonable sounding choices, including liver and kebabs, at lower prices even, but I decided not to bother just yet. But the logic of skipping the revolting salad is inescapable. Making my way back to Guéliz, I gave in and stopped off at Macdonalds. At least I got what I paid for and knew it for what it would be like.

The hotel here is quite a labyrinth, and most of the doorways look the same. I sometimes have difficulty finding the exit. All the doorways look the same and some are to guest bedrooms. Yesterday morning was no exception, and imagine my surprise when a gorgeous guy in his early twenties who I’ve never seen here before showed me the way out. On the way he asked about my family, and was able to establish I was by myself. Well that’s very nearly a tick, since that’s one of the key questions to ask when sounding someone out. He asked me if I smoked weed. Hmmm… I could offer to share a spliff on the roof terrace, but then I’m back to the problem of the room. I saw him clearing some dishes from breakfast, so perhaps he works here time-to-time or else is part of the proprietor’s family? If so that could go one of two ways, either making it easier or extremely difficult. Not to mention may capacity to make more noise than is reasonable!

I was eagerly on the look out this morning, but of him there was no sign. Except when I left to make my way into town. I caught sight of a guy wearing what can only be called radioactively white shell suit pants. Actually, to be honest, it was mainly the jogging pants I noticed. As I made my way down the street I was called from behind. It was he, the boy from yesterday, whose white trousers I'd just checked out. He offered to sell me weed and said he’d give me a democratic price. I said no, but then had an idea. I’ve been having trouble loading the credit on my SIM card, as the instructions are all in arabic, and asked for his help. He duly obliged and, when he asked for my phone to put in the code, I took a risk. It was safely handed back to me with the credit loaded. So, tick on trustworthiness up to now anyway. He doesn’t seem to be in employment, unless selling shit to tourists counts? And I suppose it is Sunday, after all?

For reference, the off-licence I am using is on the left-hand side of Boulevard Mohammed V as you go out of town (so the south-west side, just past the Post Office. It’s called “Palais de Restauration” and has a simple black sign and a window with a black grill covering it. (picture to follow)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Progress, of a kind.

Venturing off the street the hotel is on this morning, I find it is very close to the bus station. There is a taxi rank there and I took a cab to the central square. I was able to find the hotel I stayed in last time I visited Marrakech, “Hotel de Foucauld”. But the little café where the old men played a vigorous game of something which looked like “snap” with tarot cards has been turned into a KFC. The modern world continues to stamp on the old in a brutally insidious manner. I was obliged to buy a map to find my way to Avenue Mohammed V which leads to the new town and the supermarket where I bought my beer, but it also seemed not to be there, although I found a sort of off-license instead, which sold me normal sized cans of beer at 25 dirhams. So far that’s the best price I can find. They wrapped them in newspaper and put them in an opaque brown plastic bag, so the general revulsion about alcohol is still there. On the way I was able to find a new SIM card for my phone AND a place which could supply a dongle for my computer, so that, in principle, solved the WIFI problem. But they needed a passport, and so I had to come back later.

A note about taxis in Marrakech. There are two kinds, “petit taxis” and grand taxis”. The difference is that the “petit” taxis are, well “petit” and the “grand” taxis are, well, “grand”. The same goes for the price. A Grand Taxi costs around twice the price. (airport runs always cost 100 dirhams, no matter which you use). Excepting how you present yourself. I went back to the shop for my dongle and they said I would need to download software and could I bring them my computer? So I went back again to the hotel and took my nice new yellow leather bag with my very expensive new and lovely macBook Air inside it. The moment I stepped outside the hotel a boy accosted me in the street and offered to show me the sights. Only I knew he was directing me down a dead-end and the most likely outcome was the loss of my bag. The most obvious marker of his intention… he addressed me in English. I gave him the slip.

The cab ride back to the bus station from the shop had cost me 20 dirhams (less than £2). This time, with the bag, suddenly the guy didn’t speak french too well and seemed not to know where “la grand place” was. (It’s only the most important tourist destination in Marrakech.) So I told him to go to the “Hotel Foucauld”, which is just opposite. He took me to somewhere completely different in the new town and even picked up some other passengers along the way. They were VERY specific about their destination and, when he suggested 50 dirhams, they jumped out of the cab. The price was re-negotiated for 30. The guy drove like a maniac and, when we finally got to the correct place, he said it would cost me 2,000 euro. He was, of course, joking, but I had to get very strict to beat him down to 30. (And, yes, Londoners, you got that right, that’s less than £3, but that’s not the point, it should have been £2 or less (20 dirhams). They can smell money, even though the rest of my cash was safely locked up in my hotel room. Suffice it to say, the same thing happened on my return. Trouble is, if you don’t have the exact money, you have to hand over more than is agreed and just hope you get the correct change, which they often protest they don’t have and add 5 dirhams or more to the bill.

Once back in the hotel I could breathe. Six cans of heineken were waiting for me in a plastic bowl full of icecubes bought from the hypermarket I found opposite the bus station. I tried the roof terrace. Too much sunlight, I couldn’t read the screen. So I went downstairs into the courtyard to have another go. It’s a deal we make btw, between gay rights and smoker’s rights. In Europe gays have basic human rights, but can’t smoke under any roof. Here gays are persecuted like back in the 50’s, but I can smoke anywhere. I’d trade my right to smoke in public against my right to express my sexuality openly any day, but it’s still nice to be able to enjoy a fag without the attendant issues in the EU. That’s why my book is set before the smoking ban in the UK.

So, I continued editing my blog in the courtyard of the hotel. I got so far and the straight couple talking to the proprietor called me over. An extremely interesting and long conversation ensued, fuelled by may bottles of rosé which I hope won’t come my way when I check out. I don’t get the feeling that that will be the case. He is an Armenian Muslim and is here in Marrakech to support someone who has fallen foul of islamic law on a sharia precedent dating back to 1100. At least that is what I think I have understood. His wife is leaving at 5h10 tomorrow and they made a hurried departure so she could get ready, but he may be here for the whole of my stay. Amusingly they were the couple next to me in the little restaurant where I ate last night. She had the couscous. I had the chicken tagine au citron and it was unbelievably tough. She has my card. I can’t imagine what they will make of me when they finally compare notes.

The mosques are just broadcasting the latest call to prayer. I was woken this morning by the first one. I have already mentioned the mice. It seems there are cats in the hotel also. They joined in the call to prayer, yowling at the top of their voices. I don’t know the time, but it must have been very early. Do mice eat cockroaches? If so, I shouldn’t interrupt the food-chain.

Oh, and it seems the people here like to lie about the temperature. According to the internet, to which I now have access, it was “only” 34° yesterday and 31° today. On the street today the indicators vary from 40° to 28°, so they can’t be believed. Suffice it to say, I’ve taken some colour and it felt very hot and humid.

pictures to follow
 
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