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ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 20:52 #179157 Reply To Post
Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion publish authors such as Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling.
ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 20:56 #179158 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Review of Buttermilk Alley

As usual, most of my comments, thoughts and changes are in the attached document. I can see why this has been voted up on YWO - there's a really solid idea and structure here, and a lot of the prose is very good indeed.

That said, there's a significant level of work that needs to be done. I've flagged up a lot of issues in the prose in the first few pages, which need some careful thought - not all of them are completely black and white, but there's enough confusion here to suggest that a serious re-edit needs to be done by the author.

That said, the later sections are much clearer, and there are some lovely turns of phrase here and there. Occasionally there's a certain tendency to show off the author's research - too much detail, or a tendency to divert into a historical description - but, of course, in this sort of book the details are important. I would urge the author to consider scaling back some of the historical detail, or even better seeding it more widely and subtly throughout the book.

The structure is interesting. I have my doubts about the address of the reader as 'you' in the framing structure, but would need to see more to make a real judgement. On the other hand, the dual narratives of Esther and Sara work very well in the main, especially the conflicting viewpoints. I would caution the author against making both narrators quite so difficult - neither comes out of this sample particularly well, although I again I understand that there's a lot more to come and that the character growth is important.

There's a real problem with tense - parts of this sample bounce back and forth between past and present without much care.

But beyond that, as I said, there's a lot of good stuff here, and I congratulate the author on their work.

Best,
Marcus
Editor, Orion

Attachments
ywo Buttermilk Alley MG version.doc (73Kb) - 210 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 20:56 #179159 Reply To Post
Editor Review of SEWING THE SHADOWS

Dear Alison Baillie

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I really enjoyed reading these early pages of your crime novel SEWING THE SHADOWS TOGETHER, and thought your writing had an ease and confidence to it. I thought that these opening chapters were well written and engaging, but I did think they needed more intrigue and tension to really hook the reader. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.


Structure:

Structure is the backbone of any novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel may become compromised. From what I have read, it seems like your story will be linear in terms of the chronology, with your two main characters, Sarah and Tom, circling the heart of the mystery as they get closer and closer to uncovering it. Their romance offers a sub-plot and a diversion from the main storyline, but I think you need to be careful that it doesn’t overshadow the crime element of your narrative. As these opening pages did feel very weighted towards their chemistry, rather than the mystery of Shona’s murder.


Plot:

The opening was vividly described, and you place the reader firmly alongside your character, so they are right there in the scene with them. But I felt that you didn’t fully capitalise on the potential of this first scene. It could be much more tense and mysterious, so the reader is unsure what is going on, except for something ominous. You really need to set the tone of the book with this opening scene, and it felt a little too brief and even rushed. The following scene, showing Sarah in bed having a nightmare, felt a little prosaic and predictable. You need to hook the reader from the get-go with an opening that is dramatic and intriguing. Even if you are revealing the same details, it is all about the execution of a scene. And I think this is something you need to work on when you come to rewriting.

I did feel that there was little too much set-up and exposition. For example, as mentioned above, showing Sarah having a nightmare, and then showing Tom walking along the street, informing the reader that he is on his way to a school reunion. It would be much more involving to begin the scene at the school reunion, dropping the reader right into the middle of the action. The reader doesn’t need to know everything before each scene. They will read with more intent if you don’t reveal everything straight away, as they have to work to make sense of a scene, and almost play detective. The biggest piece of advice to remember when writing (particularly a crime or mystery novel) is that less is definitely more. Don’t overload a scene with unnecessary background detail and trying to contextualise everything. Just drop the reader straight into the unfolding drama alongside your characters, and don’t hold their hand and lead them through the narrative in such an obvious way.

This isn’t explained in your synopsis, but I wondered how the new DNA evidence is discovered? And how is it still accurate/not tampered with so many decades later? It’s absolutely crucial that the science behind this is accurate, as your entire story hinges on it.


Characterisation:

While your writing style is very engaging, I did feel that the characters were a little underdrawn. You don’t really get a sense of who they are in these opening chapters, other than the fact that they’re both still damaged from what happened to Shona, and consequently rather withdrawn and wary. But what makes them unique as characters? I didn’t really get a sense of their individual voices. In short, they felt quite forgettable. While plot is the main motivator in a mystery/crime book, your characters need to be strong enough to carry the weight of the story. You need to work on getting under their skins and exploring who they really are, so the reader is connected to them and emotionally invested in their story, so they feel compelled to read on.


Setting:

Setting is of course only the backdrop to a story, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping build atmosphere and even influence the novel’s tone. You ably depict the setting in these early pages, transporting the reader to Edinburgh. But with such an iconic setting such as Edinburgh, that a lot of readers will have visited and maybe even know fairly well, it’s crucial that you don’t describe the obvious, but instead try to conjure up a different side to Edinburgh that a reader wouldn’t be familiar with.


Tone:

Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone is off-pitch, it won’t ring true with your reader, and so will compromise their engagement with your story. And I felt this was an area that needed focus when you come to rewriting. As I mentioned above, the early pages of a novel are crucial in setting the tone for the rest of the story. I felt the tone could be much darker in these opening chapters, with a greater sense of intrigue and tension. While the tone will vary as the story progresses, you still need to have that dark undercurrent running through, that will help propel the narrative forwards.


Genre/Market:

You categorise this as crime, mystery and romance. I would be careful using ‘romance’ as a category here, as it is more of a subplot, rather than a sub-genre. As I’m sure you’re aware, the crime/mystery area of the market is incredibly competitive and also very saturated, so a new book really needs to be something fresh and brilliantly told if it is to shine out from a very crowded arena. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to read voraciously, particularly in the area in which you wish to write. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a good reader. Read analytically, assessing what you think works and doesn’t work in a novel, and how a writer achieves key elements like pace, intrigue and tone. This in turn will help hone your own writing skills, as you’ll acquire an instinctive sense of what does and doesn’t work in your own storytelling.


Line notes:

‘lived in the next stair’ – is ‘stair’ a Scottish term? Does it mean the house next door? Perhaps be clearer for readers who won’t know what this means.

‘He was different’ – try to show this through your writing, not tell the reader this. It’s important not to report too much in your storytelling. Show don’t tell.


Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but there is still a lot of room for development. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to sharpen your writing skills.

I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.


Best wishes

Natalie Braine
Editor
ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 20:58 #179160 Reply To Post


Professional mini critique for Post Apocalyptic North Korea: A Love Story by Bill Scott

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I found your short story unusual and interesting, but thought it could benefit from quite a lot of revision. What you have to have clear in your mind before you begin writing is this: who is your audience and what kind of story (even if it is a short story) are you trying to write?

The humour feels laboured and very forced in places. Comedy needs to come organically from your story and from the characters, not feel shoehorned in. Remember that less is often more. Subtle humour can often be much more effective. And I felt your style was a little too obvious and slapstick. Your main character dives off into nonsensical tangents, so your narrative feels unfocused and meandering, and you leave the reader floundering in a surreal (and not quite believable) world, rather than taking them firmly by the hand and confidently leading them through the story.

Expanding on my note on knowing your audience, I wasn’t sure who you were writing for. Phrases like ‘claw-grasper-thingies’, ‘ant junk’ and ‘whoa, whoa, get that hand, leg, stick thing off my business’ can at times make this feel like it is aimed at a much younger audience.

Lastly, a minor point, but the title sounds too much like a working title. Perhaps have something a little more creative, rather than something so bluntly ironic?



Professional mini critique for Richard Zimmerman and the Midlife Leap by Jo Carlowe


Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your comedy novel but felt these early chapters could benefit from revision and development.

While the premise is original and has much potential for drama and intrigue, I felt the execution didn’t capitalise on it. The humour seems like it’s been misfired, to such an extent that the plot loses credibility, and the characters (particularly your protagonist) feel almost like caricatures, rather than three-dimensional characters. Comedy has to evolve naturally from your story and character interactions. It should never feel forced, otherwise its impact is lost. Remember that less is more. Humour is sometimes more effective when it is subtler and more satirical, than if it is handled too heavy-handed.

From reading your synopsis, I like the idea of the facebook memorial site, and think this has a lot of comic potential. But again, avoid the obvious in how you mine the comedy from this. Don’t get too farcical. Rein it in. Often just the tone of what a character is saying, or what they are implying but what they don’t say, can be just as amusing as what they do say.


Professional mini critique for Friends of St Francis by Alan D Harris

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading your short story. You conjure up a definite sense of time and place, transporting the reader and immersing them in this fictional world, placing them right alongside your characters.

Betty and Hedley are great creations, and you really get a sense of their close relationship. There is both a feeling of coming of age and nostalgia that a lot of readers will be able to relate to. It’s a simple story, but well told and with an effective ending.


Professional mini critique for Bitter Honey by Nora Dennis

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your crime thriller novel. You write in a very conversational, almost confessional tone, with your protagonist, Gwyneth, directly addressing the reader. While it gives the narrative an intimacy, and aligns them to a certain degree to Gwyneth, I did feel that the chattiness of her narration felt a little at odds with what a commercial crime thriller should be.

I did think your opening could be stronger. Rather than drop the reader right into the middle of the drama alongside your protagonist, you have Gwyneth filling the reader in on background and context. These details can come later, and be woven more seamlessly through the narrative. Your focus has to be on creating a more dramatic opener that hooks the reader, and really immerses them in the story. One of the biggest pieces of advice to remember as a writer is to show, not tell. Don’t feed the reader background information. Show them the story, don’t tell them it. In fact, it’s important to hold back some plot points to keep a sense of suspense, and maintain reader intrigue and engagement.

Natalie Braine
Editor













ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 20:59 #179161 Reply To Post



Random House Editor Reviews


Erasing Ramona/Peggy Rothschild


Congratulations on being the top rated story this month! On reading your chapters, I could easily see why they've done so well with readers – they were gripping and well-written, quickly drawing me into the mysteries that began to unfold as I read. I particularly admired some of your descriptive writing, which was imaginative and engaging and really helped to bring the story to life on the page.

Plot

You start incredibly strongly with our confused narrator and then the vivid scene of the murders but I thought the closing revelation, that Miranda's mother had waited 4 days to let her know about her father's death, was equally impactful which was testament to the power of your characterisation.

There are plenty of mysteries raised in the first four chapters and I can imagine that readers would be eager to find out what exactly had gone on, and how Miranda's story linked to the murders in the opening chapter. You want your readers to get involved in the story you are telling and they will do that partly by piecing together any clues you give them, so don't worry about needing to explain the entire backstory of Miranda's estrangement straight away – it's more intriguing and more engaging if information slips out gradually or isn't parcelled up too neatly for us. Think about ways we can find out plot details without Miranda having to 'tell' the reader; can they slip out through conversations with other characters or be sparked off by something she sees around her? All of this is what elevates a good book to a great book.

I have to confess that I was pleased to see that the memory loss in your opening chapter was the natural, entirely plausible consequence of drink and drugs, rather than anything related to amnesia as this has been used so many times now that it's become a little bit hackneyed as a plot device. I would even suggest adding a line fairly on that makes it clear that her confusion and loss of memory must be stemming from the drugs and hangover and not from any kind of accident or illness as I'd first thought.

On a purely technical note, would the body in the swimming pool still be floating in the morning? I realise we don't know exactly when the murders happened but judging by the fact flies have already arrived on the bodies in the house, I'd have thought it would have sunk when the water filled its lungs and soaked its clothes.

Quality of writing

I was impressed with how well you took advantage of the different senses in your opening paragraph; so many writers concentrate on just what they can see or hear, so it was so lovely to see you using the sense of taste as well. I loved those short, sharp sentences and the carefully chosen use of questions, which, when combined, really contributed to a feeling of mounting panic in the narrator.

You continued to use all of the senses throughout your writing, which led to some very effective imagery. The revelation that the buzz of her hangover was actually the hum of flies on the corpses was a startling moment that really brought home the horror of the situation in a way that a much more gory, descriptive passage would never have done. There were some very imaginative and very effective descriptions throughout – I loved the way our original narrator 'pinballed down halls' after discovering the blood bath downstairs or the towering trunks of the trees looking like 'huge bars' to the teenage Miranda. Not only do they give us a wonderful visual sense they also tell us much about how the characters were thinking and acting, which is what good writing is all about.

Although it's generally of a very good standard, I think your work could still benefit from a further read-through to catch any slight typos and tighten it up here and there. Perhaps it's an Americanism but 'stabbing deaths' sounded clumsy to me; I'd have thought 'News about the stabbings of OJ's ex' or 'murder of OJ's ex' would work better and you're missing an 'it' from the sentence 'The odds of Mrs Stegman making across four lanes of traffic to Berta's house were worse than bad', for example. It's so easy to miss tiny things like this, so it might be worth printing your work out as it can be easier to proofread than on screen or asking someone to look through it for you. Try and keep your writing as lean and tight as you can, and don't be afraid to be ruthless when editing. It's better to have one brilliant sentence than three good ones.

Characterisation

I am not sure yet whether your unnamed narrator of Chapter 1 and Miranda are the same person, although as they both refer to a man named 'Billy' and we know that Miranda has suffered a trauma that causes nightmares years later, I am presuming they could well be. We don't have a huge amount of information about either woman at this stage, although you do give us a sense of Miranda as a determined woman. We know she is keeping secrets from her partner, although I didn't have the sense at this stage that she was particularly invested in the relationship although whether that's because she doesn't want to let anyone too close to her, we don't yet know.

At this stage in the book, her mother comes across as something of a stereotype – the well-groomed, ice cold society woman always quick to criticise her daughter, so I'm hoping we see more of what made her into this kind of person in later chapters. I was slightly surprised that Miranda's mother opened the door to her herself when she first went back a year after she was originally thrown out of her home. I'd have thought that a house of that size might have meant that the family employed staff who would have opened the door first?

Conclusion:

These are very strong opening chapters and I hope you continue to work on them, and that my suggestions are helpful. The crime/mystery genre is a very popular one so if you are thinking about submitting your work to an agent, you really want to give your opening chapters the best possible chance so I would thoroughly recommend a very detailed proofread before you do, as well as thinking about some of the wider issues I've raised such as the characterisation of Miranda's mother. Good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 01 May 2014, 21:00 #179162 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Reviews


The Con-quest of Father Brennan/Norman Morrow


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month!

This was a lively, amusing read and Father Brennan makes for an engaging central character with his drinking and gambling and casual disregard for actual religion. I have to confess that I wasn't entirely convinced he'd take Liam into his secret back room straight away, having only just met him, but I can imagine that the fishing proved to be too strong a enticement.

One thing that struck me on reading was whether you'd ever considered writing the whole story in Father Brennan's voice? It's so striking when we read the extracts, that it seems a shame to keep switching between that and a slightly more formal tone, particularly when the more formal narrative is still told from the perspective of Father Brennan so is his point of voice we are reading. Perhaps you might consider attempting to re-write it purely in Father Brennan's voice and seeing what that throws up? Even if it's not something that you think works overall, it may well prompt some interesting ideas for your future writing. Good luck!


The Unfortunate Archibald Marble/Elizabeth Waight


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! I think the charming, gently comic title of your book really sets the tone for what follows in your gleefully archaic story. Although this isn't an area I specialise in, I really enjoyed what I read – your story was so teeming with life and energy it was practically bouncing off the page, and there were some lovely descriptions including Stanley's voice hiding behind his tonsils or the questions buzzing around in his head like 'wasps inside a jam jar.'

Occasionally it did feel like there was just so much going on it was hard to take in every peculiar element of the house as well as the mystery of what is sniggering at Stanley. I do appreciate that you want to convey how overwhelmed Stanley and his family were by what they found, but remember to give your young readers a bit of breathing space every now and then to digest what they've read.

I also wondered whether having the prologue gives the reader an advantage over Stanley, in that we can guess the intruders killed poor Archibald even before he finds the diary, and perhaps it might make for a better read if we only knew as much as our young hero?

One very small point, in Archibald's diary, 'bare such sadness' should be 'bear such sadness.'

Aisling at sunset/Martin X

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! This was a fascinating, unsettling story that deliberately left many elements to the reader to piece together from the scant clues given. Even the ending was ambiguous – I initially assumed that he was raising his gun to fire at Aisling now she knew too much about him, but could he also have been raising it to fire at himself and commit suicide? I am not sure whether it was intended – and I'm sure it was – but I found Aisling to be quite an indistinct character; was she wilfully naïve or did she know all too well what was really in those bags?

I thought that the brief snapshot we have of Lucas's childhood was perhaps a little clichéd in its casually violent nature and I wonder whether we actually needed it or whether it might be better to have our narrator as even more of a mystery man? We can see the seeds of brutality were sown very early, but I am not sure whether that does add anything to our understanding of the character or our appreciation of the story. In a story such as this, where very little does happen, I think you want it to be as stripped back as much as is possible, so it's a lean, tight, almost muscular read in the style of writers such as Cormac McCarthy or Elmore Leonard. If you don't want to lose it, you could think of ways in which you cut it right back – as an experiment, see how much you can tell the reader in the fewest number of words.

Good luck!



Alison, Editor, Random House

otter
 01 May 2014, 22:04 #179166 Reply To Post
Re: Conquest of Father Brennan

Thank you Alison for the mini critique.

Using just his voice is tempting, something I have considered doing but decided against - possibly the wrong decision. His character has enaged with readers - revealing a little of him at a time, balancing light comedy with some farce and yet maintaining an underlayer of more serious themes.

Food for thought. Thanks.
prothschild
 02 May 2014, 01:56 #179171 Reply To Post
Please convey my sincere thanks to Alison for her detailed feedback on my pages. As for the typos, I've begun to suspect that each time I go in to edit out an error, I leave a fresh one in its place.

Thanks again -- the critique is most appreciated.

- Peggy

Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 1 May 2014 20:59



Random House Editor Reviews


Erasing Ramona/Peggy Rothschild


Congratulations on being the top rated story this month! On reading your chapters, I could easily see why they've done so well with readers – they were gripping and well-written, quickly drawing me into the mysteries that began to unfold as I read. I particularly admired some of your descriptive writing, which was imaginative and engaging and really helped to bring the story to life on the page.

Plot

You start incredibly strongly with our confused narrator and then the vivid scene of the murders but I thought the closing revelation, that Miranda's mother had waited 4 days to let her know about her father's death, was equally impactful which was testament to the power of your characterisation.

There are plenty of mysteries raised in the first four chapters and I can imagine that readers would be eager to find out what exactly had gone on, and how Miranda's story linked to the murders in the opening chapter. You want your readers to get involved in the story you are telling and they will do that partly by piecing together any clues you give them, so don't worry about needing to explain the entire backstory of Miranda's estrangement straight away – it's more intriguing and more engaging if information slips out gradually or isn't parcelled up too neatly for us. Think about ways we can find out plot details without Miranda having to 'tell' the reader; can they slip out through conversations with other characters or be sparked off by something she sees around her? All of this is what elevates a good book to a great book.

I have to confess that I was pleased to see that the memory loss in your opening chapter was the natural, entirely plausible consequence of drink and drugs, rather than anything related to amnesia as this has been used so many times now that it's become a little bit hackneyed as a plot device. I would even suggest adding a line fairly on that makes it clear that her confusion and loss of memory must be stemming from the drugs and hangover and not from any kind of accident or illness as I'd first thought.

On a purely technical note, would the body in the swimming pool still be floating in the morning? I realise we don't know exactly when the murders happened but judging by the fact flies have already arrived on the bodies in the house, I'd have thought it would have sunk when the water filled its lungs and soaked its clothes.

Quality of writing

I was impressed with how well you took advantage of the different senses in your opening paragraph; so many writers concentrate on just what they can see or hear, so it was so lovely to see you using the sense of taste as well. I loved those short, sharp sentences and the carefully chosen use of questions, which, when combined, really contributed to a feeling of mounting panic in the narrator.

You continued to use all of the senses throughout your writing, which led to some very effective imagery. The revelation that the buzz of her hangover was actually the hum of flies on the corpses was a startling moment that really brought home the horror of the situation in a way that a much more gory, descriptive passage would never have done. There were some very imaginative and very effective descriptions throughout – I loved the way our original narrator 'pinballed down halls' after discovering the blood bath downstairs or the towering trunks of the trees looking like 'huge bars' to the teenage Miranda. Not only do they give us a wonderful visual sense they also tell us much about how the characters were thinking and acting, which is what good writing is all about.

Although it's generally of a very good standard, I think your work could still benefit from a further read-through to catch any slight typos and tighten it up here and there. Perhaps it's an Americanism but 'stabbing deaths' sounded clumsy to me; I'd have thought 'News about the stabbings of OJ's ex' or 'murder of OJ's ex' would work better and you're missing an 'it' from the sentence 'The odds of Mrs Stegman making across four lanes of traffic to Berta's house were worse than bad', for example. It's so easy to miss tiny things like this, so it might be worth printing your work out as it can be easier to proofread than on screen or asking someone to look through it for you. Try and keep your writing as lean and tight as you can, and don't be afraid to be ruthless when editing. It's better to have one brilliant sentence than three good ones.

Characterisation

I am not sure yet whether your unnamed narrator of Chapter 1 and Miranda are the same person, although as they both refer to a man named 'Billy' and we know that Miranda has suffered a trauma that causes nightmares years later, I am presuming they could well be. We don't have a huge amount of information about either woman at this stage, although you do give us a sense of Miranda as a determined woman. We know she is keeping secrets from her partner, although I didn't have the sense at this stage that she was particularly invested in the relationship although whether that's because she doesn't want to let anyone too close to her, we don't yet know.

At this stage in the book, her mother comes across as something of a stereotype – the well-groomed, ice cold society woman always quick to criticise her daughter, so I'm hoping we see more of what made her into this kind of person in later chapters. I was slightly surprised that Miranda's mother opened the door to her herself when she first went back a year after she was originally thrown out of her home. I'd have thought that a house of that size might have meant that the family employed staff who would have opened the door first?

Conclusion:

These are very strong opening chapters and I hope you continue to work on them, and that my suggestions are helpful. The crime/mystery genre is a very popular one so if you are thinking about submitting your work to an agent, you really want to give your opening chapters the best possible chance so I would thoroughly recommend a very detailed proofread before you do, as well as thinking about some of the wider issues I've raised such as the characterisation of Miranda's mother. Good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House



tankie2
 02 May 2014, 10:31 #179175 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 1 May 2014 20:58




Professional mini critique for Richard Zimmerman and the Midlife Leap by Jo Carlowe




Please convey my thanks to Natalie Braine for her mini critique of Richard Zimmerman and the Midlife Leap - my task now will be to make some revisions to make my characters more real and the humour more subtle. Her professional view is very helpful. She has pinpointed an area that I already had some concerns about.















svelton
 02 May 2014, 12:34 #179176 Reply To Post
Ted,

Please pass on my thanks to Marcus for his incredibly thorough and helpful critique of Buttermilk Alley. It's a real privilege to have access to feedback like this as I continue to write (and re-write) my book!

Sonia
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