2009 Abstracts
  1. Ros Barber (University of Sussex & Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK) Writing Marlowe as Writing Shakespeare: The Marlowe Papers
  2. Sean Burn (Newcastle University, UK) bastilles englan
  3. Daniel J. Connell (Brunel University, UK) Why did I do what I did -- and does it really matter if I’m “dead”? An exploration into the issues and pressures involved in undertaking a Creative Writing PhD
  4. Angela France (University of Gloucestershire, UK) Poetry from the Trenches
  5. David Harmer and Noel Williams (Sheffield Hallam University, UK) Can we assess writing for children?
  6. Barbara Henderson (Newcastle University, UK) The Child in the PhD
  7. Sonia Hendy-Isaac (University of Gloucestershire, UK), Academic Aesthete
  8. Keith Jebb (University of Bedfordshire, UK) Indecent Proposals: Underdetermination and the ‘Practice’ of Research
  9. Miriam Johnson (University of Edinburgh, UK) The Draw of the UK PhD in Creative Writing
  10. Michael Johnstone (University of Gloucestershire, UK) The Interdisciplinary Potential of the Creative Writing PhD
  11. Anthony Levings (Gylphi Publishing, UK) On the Road to Publication
  12. Michelene Maylor (Mount Royal College, Canada) The Playful Paradox: Using relaxation and guided meditation techniques to replicate creative flow in the classroom
  13. Kayleigh J. Moore (University of Gloucestershire, UK), Taught Transgressions
  14. Radhika Nagrath (HNB Garhwal University, India) PhD and its judicious use in creative writing
  15. Heather Richardson (Open University, UK) a) Rejections, rethinks and rewrites – from MA project to publishable novel
  16. Nigel Robinson (University of Bedfordshire, UK) The PhD/CW paradox: ludus or jocus?
  17. Gavin Stewart (University of Bedfordshire, UK) Nailing Jelly to a Wall: Lessons to be learned from the Institutional Status of Digital Literature
  18. Mark Sullivan (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK) Why has there been such a rise in the number of post-graduate writing schools in the past 25 years? Do they serve a useful purpose? What is that purpose?
  19. J.T. Welsch (Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester) On the Potential for ‘Research-Based’ Creative Writing in the Humanities
  20. Loree Westron (University of Chichester) The Paradox of Historical Fiction: Finding Truth Where None Exists

The abstracts for the 2008 conference are available here

Ros Barber

Writing Marlowe as Writing Shakespeare: The Marlowe Papers

What is involved in writing an imagined life of Marlowe as if he wrote the works of Shakespeare? For the last three years I have been writing the fictional autobiography of Christopher Marlowe, following the idea that in order to escape potentially fatal charges of atheism, he faked his own death, fled to the continent, and continued to write under the name William Shakespeare. This verse novel, consisting of some 50,000 words of iambic pentameter in the first person, is nearing completion. In this presentation I will read extracts from the work and describe some of the processes by which the story was created from literary and historical sources; through the re-interpretation of both the poems and plays in the Shakespeare canon, and the documented statements of Marlowe’s contemporaries. In addition to a first airing of a new creative work, this presentation addresses the extent to which a Creative Writing PhD can be profoundly useful as a means to conduct serious research in a subject area that is academically ‘taboo’.

Sean Burn

bastilles englan

I propose presenting bastilles englan already presented in newcastle and leeds and due for performances at bangor university and the czech republic this summer. the title derives from john clare - now accepted as a radical and 'survivor poet' - writing of the asylum he was then in 'i think it is about two years since i was first sent up in this hell and french bastille of english liberty'. this work is an exploration of escaping asylums and journeyings towards fragile freedoms. it also challenges psychiatry, one of the 'cannon' of narratives conducted over us. i am interested in these cannons and adopt a 'bandwidth' approach as more appropriate to current times, language being owned by all. vispo (visual poetry) form the backdrop to bastilles englan while a soundscape processed from recordings of medication blister-packs, tamper-proof lids etc is overlaid by a collage of recorded spoken-whispered-cajoled-texts in three different voices each undertaking their own journey and defying a hierarchical approach. simultaneously i perform meditative movements within this installation, audience as witness to my cumulative acts which symbolically trace john clares escape from his asylum and walk home. dsm iv (the diagnostic and statistical manual) is eventually held on high, one page gripped, forcing the book to tear. this page is halved and halved again - each fragment offered to an audience member, i chew the final scrap. painted leaves are then revealed in john clares 'by himself'. finally destination arrived at, i sing in unison with with a traditional folk-song, before lying down, clares 'my life' as my pillow. as soundscape ends i offer apples from the installation and invite the audience to read closely the vispo.

Daniel J. Connell

Why did I do what I did — and does it really matter if I’m “dead”? An exploration into the issues and pressures involved in undertaking a Creative Writing PhD

Creative Writing PhD candidates face countless dilemmas. For example, when Nietzsche said, “The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak,” we may be inclined to agree with him. But the programme of Creative Writing at PhD level does not allow for that, because we must engage in a scholarly review of our topic, analysing our own work as if it were someone else’s. Of course, if it were someone else’s the task would be easier, considering the application of reader-text theory leads to what Barthes called “…the death of the author.” This causes an issue if the person applying the criticism is the author themselves. Analysing your own methodology can seem self-involved and facetious – “The author never wrote at the weekends, on account of his having to work in a clothes shop to make ends meet.” But then denying your own presence as author – in an anti-humanist sense – can appear contrived: “The author may be trying to allude to Jungian archetypes in this section, although the influence of psychoanalysis on the novel is largely unclear.”

So the candidate remains tempted by Nietzsche’s assertion, even though the programme forbids it. What to do? This paper asserts that the Creative Writing PhD thesis should be split into three sections: Product (the novel), Process (Methodology) and Result (Criticism). At present there is a lack of direction as to how much should be a discussion of process and how much should be reader-text theory. Aren’t students disadvantaged by this lack of clarity? Can we not find a better balance between the subjective (product and process) and the objective (criticism)? This paper will suggest a way to achieve that, looking at the need for an academic, reflective and creative element within a Creative Writing programme.

Angela France

Poetry from the Trenches

The French trenches of WWI were truly terrible: mud, cold, vermin, gas and shelling made simply surviving them a feat of endurance. The human impulse to be heard even in the most extreme of circumstances led to a great deal of poetry being written and distributed on mimeographed Trench Newspapers. These were not great poets, or even known poets, but ordinary soldiers who were using poetry as a way to find a voice in the horror that was the Western Front.

This presentation will examine the difficulties and privileges of working with material that carries such emotional and historical weight. In translating poetry, there are always decisions to make about form, language and rhyme; accuracy of word choice is constantly weighed against sound, rhythm and the original poet’s intent. The decisions I had to make as a writer, in translating a group of these poems for an MA module, were influenced by the knowledge of the appalling conditions under which they were written, and by the understanding that many of the young men would not have lived long after writing them.

The presentation will include readings of some of the poems in the source language and in translation.

David Harmer and Noel Williams

Can we assess writing for children?

Writing for children is not writing for a literary audience, and much of it does not fit the genre categories of adult fiction either. So does it make sense to assess the work of children’s writers in an academic context, such as an MA in Creative Writing? Or does the context necessarily drive students in the wrong direction?

In this paper we examine such questions, considering the competing demands that different sets of criteria set up in assessing writing for children. We are particularly interested in the possible impacts such assessment of their writing has on students and their work. But we’re also interested in what those criteria actually are and, indeed, what they should be. Available sets of criteria emerge from key characteristics of structure and content, from academic judgment, from literary and critical perspectives, from audience desire and acceptance, from social, educational and perhaps moral preoccupations, from marketability and editorial policy, and from that uncertain sponsor, creativity.

In exploring these sets of criteria, we ask: which should be primary and so which should influence tuition and marking schemes? Crucial to students learning the craft of creative writing for children, in whatever form, are the key issues of who is judging them and, therefore, what counts as success, and what as failure.

Barbara Henderson

The Child in the PhD

This paper aims to examine how the Creative Writing PhD can particularly affect and inform writing for children. It will argue that children’s writing – particularly my chosen area of historical fiction – is a genre which brings with it not only the comfort of a long tradition, but also weighty responsibilities. Added to these considerations is the challenge of producing something original and innovative! Venturing into these literary waters without the lifebelt of the research now seems, to me, very risky. I would like to offer my experiences of how the PhD research and discipline have both enhanced and, yes, occasionally hampered the creative flow with regard to writing for readers in the 8 – 12 age group.

The presentation will show how my research into children’s historical time-slip fiction highlighted the many pitfalls encountered by even established authors. I was forced to examine my own motives for using the genre. I argued that it was a field of fiction capable of originality and innovation. I then began to realise that some conventions are almost impossible to avoid.

As part of the presentation, I would offer a short reading from the first draft of my children’s book, The Serpent House. Throughout the project to date, I have kept notes on how the research affected or altered both the form and content of the novel. I hope this will offer some insight into how the PhD has helped me produce a work of greater substance than it would otherwise have been – and without taking the fun out of writing for children!

Sonia Hendy-Isaac

The Academic Aesthete

The key motivation of this paper is to explore the place of the PhD in Creative Writing within the broader context of the academy and will pose the following questions;

• Do the limitations of the academic criteria stifle the creativity of the student?
• Should the critical exegesis of the PhD exist in its own right as an academic paper – or can it only be read in conjunction with the creative work itself; and which of these options would best serve the progression of Creative Writing as an academic discipline?
• What effect does critical theory have on the creative process itself?
• Does the quest to meet the PhD criteria aid a route to publication or hinder the aesthetic value of the work?
• In light of NAWE’s publication of MA/PhD standards for Creative Writing, will the discipline be viewed with the same esteem as other more established disciplines, and how will this affect those currently studying towards this award.
• Is the aesthetic value of the work hampered by the pedagogical pursuit – or does this create a greater tension between the aesthetic and the theoretical?

The intention of this paper is to amalgamate current research into these lines of enquiry with my own experience as both an MA graduate, and a current PhD student. How do you write as an academic aesthete?

Keith Jebb

Indecent Proposals: Underdetermination and the ‘Practice’ of Research

The increasing currency of the terms ‘practice led research’ and ‘practice as research’ indicates an opening-up of academia to the wide areas of creativity. The number of creative-writers working in Universities as AHRC fellows can be interpreted as a significant step forward in the struggle to make the creative arts an inherent part of the UK’s research community. But what is actually happening here?

When funding proposals are adjudicated by non-practioners of the arts involved, when it is the standard of the proposal, not the standing of the artist, which is the key determinant of who gets funding, what kind of creativity do we actually get? Is the Art of the Thesis Question, the Thesis Question of the Art?

Academia itself feeds on works of art that are radically over-determined, where the avenues of interpretation and technical discussion cross and weave without predication. And yet within academia we seem to be fostering art which is clearly and singly predicated, underdetermined: a research-led practice. And nowhere does this seem to me more true than in Creative Writing.

Miriam Johnson

The Draw of the UK PhD in Creative Writing

The main aims of my presentation are:
• To discuss the international differences in the Creative PhD process.
o Testing
o Costs
o Time
o Application process
o Distance learning
o Teaching responsibilities
• To broach the subject of whether or not it is better to have a PhD from a foreign university, and whether this matters more in the field of CW than in other areas of study.

After college, I suddenly found myself with an English degree from a reputable university, wanting to get my MA in creative writing and unable to get into any further study programs in the United States due to “less than stellar” mathematic scores on the Graduate Records Exam (GRE). So, I applied to universities abroad and relocated from the deep South USA to the UK’s Midlands. During my last 3 years in the UK, I tried to go back to the United States to pursue my PhD, but still found myself up against barriers that had more to do with red tape and test scores and less to do with my ability as a writer. Thus, I remained here to pursue my PhD in Poetry Writing at the University of Edinburgh.

In this paper I will be talking about the influx of American students to the UK’s PhD in Creative Writing programs and the varied reasons behind that decision. I will then talk about the validity of the UK PhD verses the American PhD in Creative Writing and whether or not this matters in the long run of employment and publication.

Michael Johnstone

The Interdisciplinary Potential of the Creative Writing PhD

This paper explores the possibilities of Creative Writing theses, asking to what extent their format creates new opportunities for interdisciplinary research. While literary fiction has long been used to pioneer novel ideas, the recent emergence of Creative Writing as a discipline in the academy creates a space for a hybrid writing more concerned with advancing knowledge than responding to the commercial pressures of the market. With reference to experimental uses of Creative Writing in a number of disciplines, and discussion of the author’s current thesis, this paper argues that Creative Writing allows researchers to construct hypothetical scenarios and engage in thought experiments that transcend the possibilities of traditional academic writing. The paper concludes that while clearly not a replacement for established forms of research, the Creative Writing PhD can offer an innovative analytical approach, potentially producing research that complements and assists traditional scholarship in a range of disciplines.

Anthony Levings

On the Road to Publication

The importance of creative writing to the study of literature within universities is now undeniable. And in terms of publishing it is creating two obvious changes: one for publishers of creative works, and the other for academic publishers. Literary agents and publishers of fiction are receiving more and more proposals from people who have been professionally taught the art of writing. While academic publishers are witnessing the burgeoning of proposals focused on the teaching of creative writing. The two fields may very well seem diverse, but in fact the road to publication for the academic and the creative writer are broadly similar. Not only will this be discussed in the paper, but also how the Internet has changed, and continues to change, publishing: through, for example, self-publication in electronic and print-on-demand (e.g. Lulu.com) form, “open access” journals and magazines, and also writer forums, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of Web 2.0 technologies. For, despite all of this change there are some rules of publishing, particularly production and marketing values, which can still be applied to ensure that work has value added to it by being published, and not removed.

Alongside a discussion of the rules of publishing that can be applied to the electronic world, the paper will in addition discuss the notion held by some that there is no longer any value in work, academic in particular, that is not distributed freely. Before finally providing some explanation about how the book industry operates and the questions you should ask of a publisher: e.g. How many of copies of my book will you be printing? What price will you be charging? How will it be marketed?

Michelene Maylor

The Playful Paradox: Using relaxation and guided meditation techniques to replicate creative flow in the classroom

Artists and athletes claim creative flow is a necessary ingredient in winning or creating great works of art. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he/she is doing characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.” He calls this flow “The optimal state of intrinsic motivation”. Many beginning writing students are aware of flow as an experience but uncertain as to how to create it on demand. Relaxation techniques and guided meditation can be brought to the creative writing classroom to create “flow”. This in turn increases student awareness of literary techniques such as imagery and pacing. I will discuss how to use these meditative techniques in the classroom. This type of relaxation allows the mind to venture into the creative wellspring. The Chinese proverb states: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Guided meditation is a creative skill that allows students to access and understand creative “flow” in and beyond the classroom, and to incorporate permanently the techniques into their creative writing and other genres. Example guided workshops and practices will be part of the presentation.

Kayleigh J. Moore

Taught Transgressions

This paper will examine the use of transgressive texts and writing exercises within the Socratic workshop model of the Creative Writing degree course. Broadly speaking, the workshop serves three purposes: to generate ideas on how the piece may be developed; to open a dialogue of free, critical exchange about a piece so that the writer may see if their intentions were achieved and if the piece is working; and to teach writers to read with a critical eye so that they are able to self-edit and redraft alone.

From these three points, I shall explore the merit of using transgressive literature and writing in a workshop program. Literary transgression is that which exceeds boundaries, including moral and social, in subject and style. However, transgressive writing is not so far flung from the usual ‘canon’ of Creative writing: writers have the urge to see and experience that which they can only explore in imagination; transgressive writing encourages writers to imagine that which they should not. By challenging students topically in this way, they become better writers.

Transgressive writing writers to examine the world and the social and moral values that structure it. Finally, the moral rewards of exploring in imagination a defective moral perspective are great: the understanding gained is moral understanding, and a richer moral understanding of the world is itself morally valuable’, which can only enhance blossoming writers.

Referenced will be the first wholly transgressive prose module at the University of Gloucestershire, undertaken last year. The paper will explore the difficulties in approaching and creatively experiencing the forbidden and the unspoken as well as the rewards of such conscious risk-taking. Ultimately, the presentation will highlight that this genre is ideal for creating original and memorable prose in new and developing writers.

Radhika Nagrath

PhD and its judicious use in creative writing

Over the past few years creative writing has transformed itself from the essence of being passionate about making one’s thoughts and words immortalized to an art of getting into a lucrative business. This is the reason of expansion of creative writing programs like MA and PhD offered by most of the universities.

This paper, “PhD and its judicious use in creative writing” addresses to four sets of issues; (i) From myth to reality: a writer is born not made (ii) Extent of liberty to choose one’s curriculum at doctorate level (iii) Benefits of procuring degree in creative writing (iv) Enhancement of doctoral program per se creative writing.

In contradistinction to other studies this paper portrays that ethos of academia is not alien to creative writing. Creative writing based on academic excellence can bring out some significant works of art. There are scholar poets and poet scholars. The legacy of great writers and their study will help the students to learn the craft of creative writing provided the student knows how to use it.

Taking instances from my own life in creative writing, I wish to submit that doing PhD in a literary subject or an innovative field like creative writing, does not make one a writer overnight. But it surely helps hone the student’s crafty skills of writing and develop the writer’s analytical approach.

Undoubtedly the instinct and urge to create has to come from within. It is commonly accepted that the doctoral qualification might kill the writer’s autonomy and self reflexion and further shift the writer’s paradigm to suit the viva jury representatives but judicious use of the positive aspects of the program assists in enhancing one’s creativity. A researcher is always superior to a writer, well said it is. Tensions that emerge, in the process or practise of a CW programme, are productive in many ways.

MA or PhD should not be taken as a gateway to pedagogical teaching or writing post doctoral thesis only but utilised for developing in-depth approach to writing. Some inclusions and modifications in doctoral thesis writing are also proposed through this paper which can give a true hue to PhD in Creative writing.

Heather Richardson

Rejections, rethinks and rewrites – from MA project to publishable novel

I just didn't love it enough. That's what agents and publishers say when they turn down your novel. It's the literary equivalent of the departing spouse who says, 'It's not you, it's me…' and equally unconvincing. What makes those rejections still more hurtful is that your MA tutor loved your work; your fellow students thought it was fabulous, and even the external examiner found it in his heart to say something positive about your Great Unpublished Novel.

The Creative Writing MA is an opportunity for the aspiring novelist to experiment and explore, but writing that wins the approval of MA markers will not necessarily find favour with publishers. In this paper I will investigate the particular challenges of writing a novel as part of a Creative Writing MA, and how the writer must adjust their approach in order to reshape the work into something publishable. Some points I will touch upon are:

• The limitations of the workshop for the novelist
• The big picture: getting useable feedback on a long work
• The dangers of 'wonderful' writing

I will draw on my own experience of writing Magdeburg, a literary historical novel set in 17th Century Germany, and the changes and compromises I have had to make to transform the work from an academic experiment to a readable, publishable novel.

Nigel Robinson

The PhD/CW paradox: ludus or jocus?

The enduring paradox in the typical construction of a PhD in Creative Writing programme is the insistence upon a diptychal opposition of a practice and a theoretical aspect, the former to endow the programme with some telos, a promise of future utility, and the latter to credentialise it with illusions of rigour. The paradox arises when utility, defined as market value by publishers, collides with rigour, expressed as academic criteria. In other words, the PhD CW programme tends to produce a result that, to placate a viva, is neither publishable outside of academia (honourable exceptions to the contrary) nor read subsequently within it. That, I contend, is a very curious appropriation of three years of labour plus a five-figure cash investment variously made.

I shall illustrate my argument by reading a short section from my novel The Apothecary’s Tales which The Times Literary Agent of the Year Luigi Bonomi extolled as ‘masterful’ but which, being written in part submission for a PhD, has yet to find a publisher. (Kleenexes will be available in the intermission.)

Gavin Stewart

Nailing Jelly to a Wall: Lessons to be learned from the Institutional Status of Digital Literature

In this paper, I would like to invite you to draw on my experiences, both as an academic digital writer and as a one-time project manager of the trAce Online Writing Centre, to peer at the almost-transparent activities of a number of institutions involved in the 'celebration' of digital literature. In doing so, I will draw on the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu about the field of cultural production to serve up an extremely wobbly model that describes the role played by hobbyists, academics, funders and the market in this ongoing party. I also hope to touch on the role played by theory and academic degrees in this festival of the newborn; so that by the end of my presentation I can offer up a small party-bag of ideas about future developments in Creative Writing on campus.

Mark Sullivan

Why has there been such a rise in the number of post-graduate writing schools in the past 25 years? Do they serve a useful purpose? What is that purpose?

It’s the elephant in the seminar room. It’s the argument that can probably never be settled. Can creative writing be taught? And if it can, how might it best be taught or facilitated? I surveyed 45 graduate level Creative writing students to try and find out. Then I asked a number of writer/tutors what they thought. They had a lot of thoughts. And of course, there is, no, one simple conclusion. Writing, texting, Twittering, emailing, speaking, lying – making things up and exaggerating the truth – are things that we all do.
But what happens when we start to think too hard about something we do naturally? Like making up stories, writing poems? Doing ‘the creative writing thing’. Shakespeare didn’t speak his first words iambically; but he didn’t go to writing school either. But, yes, he did study as an actor.
Certainly some students can become discouraged by the process. Listen to Student Q, “My MA has confirmed my belief that academic and creative work do not work well together. In my opinion to call creative writing an academic study is wrong - it's an art and should be encouraged and taught as such. I have also observed how workshops may be discouraging in indelicate hands.” Oh dear. Not happy was Student Q. Luckily Q did have some good things to say about, “contact with other writers, and (how) the mentoring is invaluable.” There’s more about what the students think and what writers & academics including Will Self, Martin Amis, Celia Brayfield & Professor Michael Schmidt in the paper. There’s survey results – the full megillah, but really, it’s all about trying to get an answer to the original question: creative writing – can it be taught?

J.T. Welsch

On the Potential for ‘Research-Based’ Creative Writing in the Humanities

With regards to funding for Creative Writing PhD projects, the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding guidelines state only that ‘Creative output can be produced, or practice undertaken, as an integral part of a research process.’ Without passing judgment on projects which receive funding despite an explicit separation between their creative and critical components, I would like to explore the relatively undefined variety of creative output which does aim to be ‘an integral part of the research process,’ at the postgraduate level and beyond.

It is helpful to regard this current AHRC policy as having roots in the broader notion of ‘practice-based research,’ which, in the UK, stretch back to the Council for National Academic Awards’ changes to research guidelines in the polytechnics prior to their amalgamation into the university system. Perhaps for this very reason, however, the label of ‘practice-based research’ is still most often applied to schemes within programmes that would not typically include creative work – various technical or scientific degrees, for instance – as a way to open up the possibilities for incorporating creative output into a pre-existing research structure.

Here, however, I would like to further consider ways that a revised notion of ‘research-based practice’ might help creative writing bring itself into a more committed dialogue with ongoing research within the humanities. I will be drawing in part on my own experience organizing and participating in interdisciplinary seminars and conferences in which creative work has been presented and productively discussed alongside traditionally formatted critical papers. My paper will also conclude with a particular ‘test subject’ of a short poem of mine written in the specific context of a theory reading group at Manchester and subsequently presented beside postgraduate research in literary studies and visual cultures.

Loree Westron

The Paradox of Historical Fiction: Finding Truth Where None Exists

The best definition I’ve found for ‘history’ is a quote by one of the characters in James Lee Burke’s crime novel, Swan Peak: “History,” he said, “is the story that survives.”

As writers, we are aware of the importance of perspective and strive to find the ‘right’ point of view for our stories. With our ultimate purpose in mind, we must decide if our narrator is god-like and totally objective – keeping strictly to the facts as they occur, or if he/she is biased somehow, damaged even, uneducated, uninformed, unreliable. The narrator we choose affects everything that follows: which events are emphasised, which are skimmed over, which are unseen, and which are seen but deliberately ignored. The narrator has immense power, steering the reader in the direction he or she prefers them to go, encouraging them to draw the conclusions he or she wants them to make. We accept this fiction. We expect it, even, and enjoy it as part of the form. But with history we desire something more. We expect there to be a degree of honesty in the delivery. The ‘story that survives’ may indeed be a full and accurate account of past events from which we can extrapolate truthful information and make sound hypotheses. Or it may be the reverse.

My paper will explore this and other challenges with which writers of historical fiction are faced, and address my concerns about authenticity as I carry out research for my novel and PhD thesis.



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