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June 2017

The Book that Inspired Pink Floyd and Walt Disney
20th June 2017

The Book that Inspired Pink Floyd and Walt Disney


We're celebrating the opening this month at the London Palladium of The Wind in the Willows: the Musical by Julian Fellowes with a selection of things you might not know about the bok and its author, Kenneth Grahame. The book joins the selection of best-loved classics in the Macmillan Collector’s library




Wind in the Willows cover
  • In 1909 US President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Grahame to tell him that he had “read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends”.
  • The Wind in the Willows began as bedtime stories and letters addressed to Grahame’s troubled son, a sickly boy known as “Mouse” who possibly inspired the wilful character of Mr Toad and who eventually committed suicide, aged 20, while at Oxford.
  • Kenneth worked at the Bank of England from 1879. He eventually retired in 1908 with the position of Secretary. It is believed that a shooting incident ended his career at the bank, when a bank director shot at Kenneth three times and missed.
  • Ratty is actually a vole.
  • Badgers have featured in lots of other British literature over the years, such as Brian Jacques' Redwall series; "Tommy Brock" in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Tod; "Bill Badger" in Mary Tourtel's Rupert Bear; and "Trufflehunter" in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Grahame and his siblings were raised by their Granny Ingles in an idyllic rambling house near the Thames at Cookham Dean in Berkshire, which would later provide inspiration for his writing. It was at Cookham Dean that Kenneth’s uncle, David Ingles, took him boating.
  • The book was rejected by several publishers. Methuen agreed to publish it but without paying Grahame any advance. And when it first appeared in October 1908, it was not well received. 'Grown-up readers will find it monstrous and elusive. Children will hope, in vain, for more fun,' wrote a critic.
  • In 1967 Pink Floyd released their first album. It was titled after Chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."
  • "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" is a dark ride at Disneyland Park. Originally planned to be a roller coaster it was removed due to Walt Disney only wanting rides for all ages. It is one of the few remaining attractions that was operational on the park's opening day in 1955 (although the current version of the ride opened in 1983). The ride's story is based on Disney's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  • The Wind in the Willows was dramatized by A.A. Milne (the author of The House at Pooh Corner 1928) as "Toad of Toad Hall" (1930) and became a frequently performed Christmas play.





The Miracle of Creativity's Springs, Coils and Gears
19th June 2017 - Deon Meyer


The Miracle of Creativity's Springs, Coils and Gears



Deon Meyer lives near Cape Town in South Africa. Originally written in Afrikaans, his books have been translated into twenty-eight languages.Thirteen Hours was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger and won the Boeke Prize in South Africa - the first time in the prize's 16 year history that a South African book has won. His novels have also won literary prizes in France, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, and the film rights to seven of his novels have been optioned or sold. Deon has also written two television series, and several screenplays for movies. In 2013 he directed one of his original scripts for the feature film The Last Tango. His new book, Fever, an epic standalone thriller, explores human relationships and resourcefulness and is also a poignant meditation on the love that rises from catastrophe: the love of a parent for a child, a child for his hero, a people for their country and the love of life.     @MeyerDeon

Author photo © Guido Schwarz





Fever coverMy grandfather had a big silver pocket watch.

As I child, I would hold it to my ear, and listen to the tick-tick, and die of curiosity about what was happening inside. I would beg him to open it up and take it apart, so that we could solve the wonderful mystery that kept it working, as long as he kept it wound up.

His answer was always the same: If we take it apart, we might not be able to put it together again. And what good would that do? It is better, he said, to not know, and have a working watch.

Which pretty much sums up how I think and feel about the writing process. I honestly don’t know how it works. I’ve thought about it, I’ve speculated, I’ve tried to explain it, but it remains a mystery for the most part, a miracle of creativity’s springs and coils and gears that have kept on ticking so far, constantly wound up by life.

Just for the record: I am in good company. John Banville said, “Writing is a mysterious process that I don’t pretend to understand.”

However, there is one major difference between grandpa’s pocket watch, and writing a novel. The one just keeps on ticking effortlessly day after day, the other can be extremely taxing, frustrating, drive-you-up-the-wall difficult, and break your heart when you have to delete those last fifty useless pages, and start over again.

Let me admit, the suffering is self-inflicted, because of the way I write: I always know how I want to start a novel, and I always have at least one vague but workable ending in mind. Deliberately vague though, because by far the best parts of the writing process are finding the right ending (when you get there), and discovering what lies between the intended beginning, and the to-be-determined ending.

It is exactly as E.L. Doctorow described it: “Writing is like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” In which the headlights illuminate the next few chapters, but you can’t see beyond that right now.

It is that process of discovery of the bulk of the book between the start and the finish which determines if it will be a tough grind, or not.

The strange thing about writing Fever was that it happened to be the most fun I’ve ever had in working on a novel – almost eighteen months of just about pure joy, and intense enjoyment.

I don’t know exactly why this book was such a pleasure to write. Perhaps because I had to wait so long? My wonderful agent Isobel Dixon said “Wait,” when I told her about my need to write the book four years ago. “You can write it, but not now,” she said. “You still need to establish yourself as a crime author in several countries first.”

So, I wrote two crime novels during that period, with Fever simmering in the back of my head. Which allowed me to collect more ideas, and contemplate more possibilities than any book before it.

Perhaps it was the freedom of writing something outside the conventions and structure of crime fiction, the freedom to paint on a larger, more adventurous canvas, that was so much fun?

There was also the fact that the research was so different, and utterly fascinating.

It is my honest belief that writing is, in one sense at least, the process of making creative choices, and then living with the consequences those choices have on the story, and the characters. And that the biggest benefit of research is that it multiplies those creative choices, it gives you more options on where you could go on this car trip through the foggy night.

In researching Fever, I had to think about where in Southern Africa I would take my nine-year-old son if we wanted to survive the world after the apocalypse. Not the sort of thing you get to contemplate when you write crime fiction. I also got to talk to some really smart and interesting people, about fascinating matters. Like the legendary South African ecologist, Dave Pepler, who taught me about the ‘texture’ human beings need to survive.

Or the long conversations I had with my friend since childhood, the South African champion aerobatics pilot Clifford Lotter, who relished to opportunity to explain to me exactly what could go wrong if a Cessna single-engine plane had to fly on petrol that was going bad.

Maybe it was just luck – the combination of characters such as the deadly Domingo, the troubled Nico, his optimistic dreamer of a father, and brave and determined Sophia who all conspired to make the book feel like a holiday. I honestly don’t know.

And I don’t think I need to, at all. It is better to not know, and have a working watch story.



Top Tips for Writing a Killer Proposal
16th June 2017 - Sophie Lambert

How to Write a Killer Proposal




Portobello Prize logoSubmissions open today, 16th June, for the inaugural Portobello Prize for narrative non-fiction. The prize is open to any British or British-based writer who is unpublished in book form and has been set up by publisher Portobello Books, which has championed writers who have shone a spotlight on unexplored issues, unvisited places and under-reported stories.


This year's judging panel comprises Ben Rawlence (author of City of Thorns); Sharmaine Lovegrove (film & TV scout and literary editor); Sophie Lambert (Literary Agent, C+W); Marion Rankine (book-buyer at Foyles) and Laura Barber (Publishing Director, Portobello Books).

The winner will receive a competitive book deal, representation by C+W and publication by Portobello Books, backed by a dynamic marketing and publicity campaign, with promotional support from Foyles.

Exclusively for Foyles, judge Sophie Lambert of C+W agency, offers some tips on how to write that all-important killer proposal.

Find out more about the prize here as well as how to enter and watch an introductory prize trailer below Sophie's tips.




 Sophie LambertHow to Write a Killer Proposal

Writing a dazzling nonfiction proposal that will attract publishers is an art. As an agent I spend a lot of timing honing nonfiction proposals with authors. Here are ten top tips that all budding authors should bear in mind when putting together a killer proposal. 


1. There are three key questions that a prospective publisher will ask themselves when initially looking at a proposal: what's new here; why are you the right person to write this; and why is now the right time to publish a book on the subject. You need to be able to convince a publishing team, so keep these questions in mind at all times.


2. There are two distinct sections to a nonfiction proposal. The first is effectively your pitch document. This is where you need to make as convincing an argument for the book as possible. This should be made up of a summary of the intended book (more about which below), a proposed chapter breakdown, a written description of who you are (again, more about which below) and any further practical details that are relevant to a prospective publisher considering the proposal – intended length, any required travel, proposed delivery date and market comparisons. The second section is a sample. This should be one chapter and it should be in the tone that you intend to write the book. This part of the proposal should convey the scope, breadth and writing style. This is where you get to show off your skill as a writer and a storyteller. 


3. The summary of the book should offer up the essence of the project as a whole. This should be in a straightforward sort of style and shouldn't wander off on too many tangents. This is your chance to argue the case for the book. Don't be opaque, you need to convince your audience here - sell the idea. There's no prescriptive length but it does need to lure the reader.


4. When writing about yourself I think it's best to do so in the first person. I want to know why you are the ideal author for this project, so include any relevant experience or expertise. Include references or links to articles or interviews that may be of significance. An author who has an existing platform within a specific area is appealing but not essential, sometimes it's passion that drives a project and if that's the case I need to feel convinced by that passion. 


5. There are of course degrees of flexibility when it comes to the specifics of a book, but most nonfiction books fall somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words. Any more than this and it's a pretty meaty book with a higher cost price to justify. The proposal itself, however, will be considerably shorter and will likely be somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 words. 


6. If a publisher is interested in a book proposal they will want to know how long an author intends to take writing the book. Ordinarily a publisher will want the book delivered within 12-18 months from the date of a contract having been signed, but sometimes will grant 24 months depending on the research and travel required. You need to have a relatively clear plan so that you can map out how you'd envisage that period and a prospective publisher can factor in timings when they come to offer for the book.


7. It's impossible to know if someone else is working on a similar project if - like yours – it’s an as yet unsold proposal, however it's vital to be aware of the competition. Look at trade press announcements (for example in the trade magazine, The Bookseller), in bookshops and online as much as possible to see whether there is any mention of another book that might overlap. Make sure yours is distinctive.


8. One of the most common reasons for a publisher turning down a book proposal is that it simply doesn't have the legs to be a full length book. Sure, it's an interesting idea and perhaps it would make a fascinating 5,000 - 10,000 word magazine or newspaper feature, but does the subject have what's needed to form a full length book? 


9. As with any good novel, you need to engage your reader using human stories - whatever sort of nonfiction book you are writing, human stories are what will resonate most widely and what will underpin your narrative and underline your thesis.


10. Make sure you have an arresting opening - you've got to entice your reader (and editor) so offer up a glimpse of what's to come, set the tone and whet our appetite.





Make ‘em Laugh – The Importance of Humour in YA LGBTQ Novels
14th June 2017 - Simon James Green

Pride 2017

Make ‘em Laugh – The Importance of Humour in YA LGBTQ Novels



Simon James GreenSimon James Green studied law at Cambridge but the lure of writing and directing was too strong and he became an author and screenwriter. He has worked on many West End shows, including The Rocky Horror Show, Rent and West Side Story and also directed Hollyoaks for Lime Pictures / C4. He has co-written several screenplays (with Sarah Counsell), including Rules of Love, a feature-length musical rom-com for the BBC, which has since sold around the world. His debut novel, Noah Can’t Even was selected for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition in 2016. Below, exclusively for Foyles in Pride month, Simon explains why it was important to him to write a funny YA LGBTQ novel, especially one dealing with the theme of coming-out.






Noah Can't EvenI don’t think there’s a better way to build instant rapport with another person than by making them laugh. Having written that, I immediately see that I should have opened this post with a joke, and now you’re worried that I’m going to write a distinctly unfunny blog post about why I think being funny is important. Well, I don’t want to disappoint, so here’s a list of funny things: pants, bananas, someone stepping on a rake and it hitting them in the face, my love life. Had your fill? OK, let’s move on.


Actually, it’s not just me who thinks funny is important. In the Kids and Family Reading Report that Scholastic carried out in 2015, a huge 63% of kids and young people between 6-17 years wanted to read books that made them laugh. It turned out 55% of parents also wanted the same thing for their child. I get it. The books I loved growing up, generally speaking, were the funny ones. I loved The Liar by Stephen Fry and I devoured Sue Townsend’s work – especially Adrian Mole. Laughing is good for us. I’m pretty sure there’s a scientific study somewhere that says that. Something about endorphins, I don’t know. The point is, whether it’s a book, TV show, film, or hilarious YouTube video, it’s fun to laugh. It’s nice to laugh. It’s a great way to kick back and relax, to get away from a world that, quite often, can feel sad and worrisome.


When I was writing Noah Can’t Even, making it funny was my main priority. Awkwardness-based hilarity tends to be my default position anyway (in life, as much as writing style, alas), so it came fairly naturally, and I knew that a great way of getting readers to connect quickly and strongly with Noah, was to make him hilarious (albeit, unintentionally so). But researching the market, I was struck by the fact that, in YA at least, it didn’t feel like there were anywhere near enough funny books. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly some, and some excellent ones at that, but not enough – and certainly not enough if that’s what 63% of teens out there wanted.


“But, wait!” I hear someone at the back with a hessian tote bag cry, “Growing up is miserable. Books must reflect that!” Well, yes, it often is. And whether you’re reading this having been through it, or whether you’re currently living it, we can probably all agree that our teenage years are often a delightful blend of humiliation, despair and drinking Martini and lemonade at a party because you thought it was a really cool drink but the older boys laughed at you and then you got drunk and everyone surrounded you in a circle, clapping and cheering, whilst you danced and gyrated in the middle, like you were some sort of performing monkey. I mean, it happened to us all, right? Hideous times. But I also remember laughing a lot as a teen. I even had a completely hilarious (and, I now see, totally egotistical) ‘comment’ column in the school newspaper, where I’d make witty and frequently offensive observations about school life. The young people I work with on a regular basis are also, frankly, hysterical. I mentor a 14 year-old boy through a children’s charity and let me tell you, he is hilarious. Best sense of humour ever. I steal all his best lines and pass them off as my own. It’s OK, I buy him ice cream and stuff, so he’s happy with the arrangement. So, yes, growing up can be hard. But it can also be brilliant and wondrous and disgustingly-snorting-snot-out-of-your-nose funny. So actually, I think it’s the perfect representation of the teen experience.


Noah Can’t Even explores LGBT themes, with Noah’s best mate, Harry, coming out as gay early in the book, and Noah himself questioning his sexuality after a rather long and unexpected kiss with Harry at a party. How many really funny YA LGBT books could I find? Not that many. How many really funny British YA LGBT books? Even fewer. There’s no doubt that LGBT kids often have a rough time of it – check out the Stonewall report if you’re in any doubt, it’s horrifying. But, with Noah Can’t Even, I really wanted to tell a coming out story that was full of humour, laughs and ultimate life-affirming positivity, because coming-out can be all those things too. That’s not in any way to diminish the very real struggles that LGBT teens face, it’s simply to say, ‘Things can sometimes be hurtful, scary and difficult, yes. But it’s not always like that, it gets better, and you’re not alone. And you deserve to be as happy as anyone else. You deserve to have a good time too. You deserve to laugh.’


There’s also a special trick you can do with funny books, which I love. You can break down those barriers, get your reader to connect with your characters, take them on that hilarious, fun, enjoyable ride… and then you blindside them with something sweet, or tender, or raw, just when they least expect it. And that’s where, if you’re lucky, you get to change hearts and minds. I think a lot of funny books gets dismissed as not being about anything important – as if the fact they make people laugh and actually enjoy reading them means they couldn’t possibly have anything of value to say about the world or our experience of it. But that’s just not true. The best funny books not only do just that, they do it in an incredibly effective way, delivering their message subtly, but with great power, letting the message emerge out of being funny and sad by turns, just like real life is.


Laughter should be encouraged. If we can learn to laugh at life when we’re young, I think it’s a good foundation for the future. Laughter takes the sting out of life’s harsher moments. It soothes. They say it’s the best medicine. I’d go further – it’s like oxygen, and you need it in your life regardless.

Twitter: @simonjamesgreen




#FoylesFave: Trans Like Me
13th June 2017 - Jay Moran



#FoylesFave: Trans Like Me

Jay from our Birmingham branch talks about his very personal journey. 


Trans Like MeWhen I first came out as transgender I didn't know of any books like this, that echoed fragments of my own story and informed me of the journey to come. The first book related to trans issues that I read was Trans: A Memoir by the brilliant Juliet Jacques. But for the most part, it was Jacques' own personal story, and didn't really cover every aspect of trans experience navigating the world today as well as in previous years. This is where Lester comes in. Discussing the media, personal experiences, representation as well as a plethora of other topics, Lester presents the trans community in an open, straightforward manner that is welcoming to every reader, whether they identify as trans or are reading to inform themselves.


I cannot stress the importance of a book like this enough to provide hope in a society where the media is so influential and available to people of all ages, and the internet is rarely a forgiving/tolerant place. It's overwhelming sometimes no matter how thick our skin may be. Trans Like Me is a firm reminder to me that this experience I'm going through is shared; that my frustrations, my hurt, my isolation is felt by others. Of course everyone's circumstances are different i.e. class, race, our specific identities, and every single one of them is valid. No matter how we identify, we are valid, we matter, and we have every right to be. This is vital for everyone to know, to counter the predominant message that we do not.



Andrew Latimer on the Challenges of Editing an American Literary Legend
8th June 2017 - Andrew Latimer

Editing Gordon Lish



Andrew LatiCover of White Plainsmer (below left) from Little Island Press reflects on the challenge of editing the American literary legend.




The actual business of editing, like the preparation of meat, is rarely sexy. Anyone who has ever pushed their nose into an author’s archive, or picked up a volume of literary correspondence will know that ninety-nine per cent of the time the editorial process amounts to barely a handful of routine corrections and some (largely arbitrary) deletions. At its raunchiest, editing can escalate into a passive-aggressive cockfight for literary dominance – a battle of administrative egos – for the proverbial last word. But very occasionally – and such instances are thankfully very rare – the editorial context behind a writer’s work is significant enough to attach itself to, and become a part of, the very work itself.


Ezra Pound’s extensive surgery on drafts of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot is one such example. There, Pound’s red pen helped to birth one of the founding texts of Anglo-American Modernism, a text that changed the shape of modern poetry forever. Another, perhaps less peaceable, example is Gordon Lish’s now (in)famous editing of the iconic stories of Raymond Carver.





Looking aManuscript of Carver's Edited Textt the typescript of one of Carver’s stories in particular, we see the extent of the editorial intrusion. Of the twenty-three lines that make up one page of a story entitled ‘Dummy’ (published as ‘The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off’), there isn’t a single line of copy that hasn’t been obscured by one of Lish’s thick, black deletions. Carver’s original intro – ‘My father was very nervous and disagreeable for a long time after Dummy’s death’ – is jettisoned. In its place, Lish composes the idiosyncratic, rhythmically iconic ‘I’ll tell you what did my father in. The first thing was Dummy, that Dummy died.’


Since D.T. Marx published his 1998 exposé piece on the Lish–Carver relationship (‘The Carver Chronicles’) in the New York Times, critics have hotly debated the merits of Lish’s intensive line editing of Carver. But whether you agree that Lish improved the original stories or not is now, thankfully, academic; the fact is that Gordon Lish – through rewriting, sculpting and cutting Carver, often against the author’s wishes – radically reshaped the role of the modern literary editor. Lish’s own take on this editorial approach is unambiguous: ‘Had I not revised Carver, would he be paid the attention given him? Baloney!’


So it was with a degree of trepidation that I approached the task of editing Gordon Lish. I set up independent publisher Little Island Press to publish adventurous fiction. Little had I expected this kind of challenge.


He first came to me through a mysterious email exchange: ‘Would you want to see a collection of pieces from the hands of Gordon Lish?’ Thereafter followed descriptions of various ailments: macular degeneration, arthritis, technophobia. Now 83 years old – Lish regularly threatens me with his own death – and working onto an outdated electric typewriter sans spell-checker, it was perhaps unsurprising that the famous editor’s spelling was often cavalier. (I have worked with octogenarian authors before and have noticed that although their minds may be at their sharpest, it is their hands that betray them.)


I had read elsewhere, in an article by the editor of Lish’s My Romance (1991), that had not the text of that novel already been so meticulously constructed Lish would have rejected any kind of input from his editor: ‘His control-freak obsessiveness redoubled itself when it came to his own work.’ Thankfully my own experience of working with Gordon Lish was quite different, altogether more congenial – but not without its own complexities.


Andrew LatimerPhoto of Gordon LishYes, of course, he was still obsessive. I lost count, and eventually track, of the number of revisions to molecular phrasings, lineation and idiosyncratic spellings. Corrections arriving by post from New York to humble Stroud, some passed via his biographer in Cambridge, others arriving via international periodicals where stories were simultaneously published, quickly piled up. I implemented systems to deal with this flow, which were then disbanded as the mode and measure of the revision changed again. Whole sections, sometimes stories, were rewritten and expanded. Some in a matter of hours. What gradually became apparent was that this was a text still in progress – something being remade as quickly as it could be made. Editing then became a rapid kind of dialogue, like a conversation in a New York coffee house.


In truth, as soon as I had agreed to publish White Plains, this process had begun. Details about my own life – my name, my partner’s name, facts about Little Island Press – were woven into the fabric of the text. I had no idea how – to say nothing of why – he was doing this. Was this invasive? In one of the stories, Lish publishes his real phone number as a reward for making it to the end; in comparison, I was getting off lightly.


As far as his control-freakishness goes – the first thing to note is that Lish’s ‘pieces’ – as he prefers to call them – are effectively improvisations. There are writers, like his long-time friend and confidante Don DeLillo, who are meticulous note-takers and researchers, where the work of fiction is backed-up by a solemn grounding in fact. Not so with Lish. Instead, the act of writing is beholden to an entirely different notion of truth; the elemental facts of a matter are got at by going over and over something – repetition and revision – which in turn produces a kind of fact, or stability, of its own. As improvisations, they are radically ‘open’ to, and in contact with, the happenings of the immediate world around them. They dramatise the processes of production that bring them into existence in a way that is indebted to Joyce and his deliberate inclusion of typographer’s errors into his text. The business of editing, of revising and rewriting, is very much the business, even the content, of Lish’s writing.


Whilst revising a later section of the book, Lish devised the surname Rigamorole (sic) for one of his characters and wanted to rename the entire book to fit. At another point, upon rereading proofs of one story he took a visceral disliking to it and immediately rewrote the entire piece. In both instances, after some gentle persuading, Lish was receptive to editorial suggestion. Even the most competent improvisers occasionally lose the beat. When interviewed on radio for the publication of his first novel Dear Mr Capote, he was asked if his own work required editing. ‘Contrary to my expectations,’ Lish replied, ‘I was just as blind to the failures of the book, the excesses in the book, the insufficiencies in the book as I have observed any writer that has come to me has been about his own book. I don’t think an editor can edit himself, just as we are told no doctor should ever treat himself.’


It would have been more convenient to report that Lish was, in line with the impression given by editing Carver and elsewhere, some kind of artiste tyrant – a writer of stable, hermeneutically sealed scripts untouchable by any editorial hand save his own. Then we could have rolled our eyes and exclaimed, ‘Well, he sounds like a dick!’ Yes, that would have been more convenient. But Gordon Lish is not convenient. He is very, very inconvenient.


He is the Gordon Lish that suppressed Raymond Carver’s authorial integrity in favour of his own.


But he is also the Gordon Lish who has tirelessly, not to mention selflessly, reared an entire generation of incredible American fiction writers.


He is at once iconic and elusive. This is, in part, what has made Lish – as well as his many, many more successful pupils – so enduring a personality.  





Latest Blog
The Book that Inspired Pink Floyd and Walt Disney

We're celebrating the opening this month at the London Palladium of The Wind in the Willows: the Musical with a selection of things you might not know about the bok and its author, Kenneth Grahame.

The Miracle of Creativity's Springs, Coils and Gears

As his epic new standalone thriller is published, Deon Meyer reflects on the creative process.

Top Tips for Writing a Killer Proposal

With submissions now open for the new Portobello Prize for nonfiction, Sophie Lambert from C+W agency provides her top tips for writing a killer proposal.

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