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Editing is Hard

“Editing is hard.”

One of my editing clients said this to me the other day – yes even after I’m done tearing apart their manuscripts clients do still speak to me.

My internal voice said “No sh** Sherlock,” but externally I smiled and nodded and agreed.  But it made me realised that this is news to some people.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that writing is easy, that you just scribble a few lines and that’s it, you can self-publish and everything will be great, best seller, right.  Wrong.

You can write a novel in 30 days (see NaNoWriMo), I’ve done it.  Normally I can write a novel in two months – well that is 60 days of work, not always every day for sixty days on a trot because I have a life and two jobs.  But if I had sixty days on full-time writing, I could do it in 60 days, hell full time I would write it in 30 days.  But it wouldn’t by any means be publication ready.

That’s where editing comes in.

Writing is the quick part, editing takes forever, and sometimes it feels like it’ll never end.

Let me give you the example of my last completed novel, Shades of Aether.  This is my first steampunk novel, and I wrote it in about 60 (non-consecutive) evenings.  Then I reread it – the first self-edit.  With that, I picked up any obvious inconsistencies, made any changes I thought necessary, in this case, I upped the level of steampunk in the text. Then I booked it in for an edit.  My editor couldn’t do it immediately, so I have time for another read through to find a few more typos, tweaks, and corrections.  Then it went off to my editor.

Let me underline that – it went off to an editor. At no point did I think that could ever get a book complete for publication on my own.

So it went off to edit, that’s another four weeks gone – though I think in this case it was five weeks.  Then it came back with loads of questions that I hadn’t even thought about, so I had to do some major edits after that to ensure that I answered all those questions for the reader.  Having the facts in my head are no use if I can’t get them onto the page.

So that was another couple of months of rethinking and rewriting, editing and tweaking. And it wasn’t easy.  Some of the questions and queries that had been raised really stretched me, forced me to re-imagine my ending completely.

Then – guess what – more editing.  Yes, I sent it off for another professional edit, because to a certain extent I had a new book.  That one is due back to me any day now, but even then, I’ll still have to edit it, then reread it.  So there’s another couple of months gone by.

Once that is done, then there is the last stage – proofreading.  More time, more money, because proofreading, like editing, cannot really be done by the writer.

Writing the full novel is only the beginning.  Once it’s done all the hard work really starts, that is editing.  So don’t underestimate how much time and effort editing takes, but it’s well worth it.  Editing is the only way that you will ever get a publication ready book.

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Rules and When to Break Them

rules

Rules, rules, rules.

At a conference, I once heard Joanne Harris say that the reason she wrote Chocolat was to break every rule she had been given by an author who had critiqued (and torn apart) another of her novels.  I love that story.

We all know that there are always rules to every aspect of life and writing is no exception.  But here’s the thing about rules – there are exceptions, so I thought I’d highlight a few of those exceptions.

Rule:  Never use ‘Emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’.

(Stephen King)

What this rule is actually saying is keep it simple.  I have an editor who screeches about some of the vocabulary I use.  He hates words like ascend, he writes comments on why it should be ‘went up’, similarly with descend, he doesn’t even like entered or exited.  Now, maybe I wouldn’t use emolument (because I had to go look up what it meant anyway) but as for ascend and descend, entered or exited, they have there a place in the English language so they have a place on the appropriate prose.

When to break the Rule:  When it’s appropriate to what you are writing.

I write crime, mostly contemporary, but I have recently written a steampunk crime novel set in the 1870s.  These are very different styles.  No one in the twenty-teens would descend – that lot go down stairs.  My Victorians though – they descend from the upper floors.  Then there’s conversation.  Like Stephen King says in another of his rules – Talk whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character. The vocabulary picked for the character tells the reader who that person is.  So if you want an upper-crust, over-educated egotist, they might not so much leave a tip as talk about extending emolument. Yes as a reader I already despise that character, but then that is the point of the description and the vocabulary choice.  Remember Mark Twain’s rule: Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Rules: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue

(Elmore Leonard)

The more that I edit, the more I agree with this rule.  It also goes back to the previous rule: keep it simple – I say.  Also remember that you don’t have to use speech tags on every line of speech.  But yet, I can’t always agree with Mr Leonard on this one.

When to break the Rule:  When it gets boring.

There is nothing more irritating to a reader than constantly reading the same word, and after a while, that is true of ‘said’ too.  So if someone shouts, say they shouted.  If they whisper, use the word whispered.  But make sure they do so sparingly and correctly.

Rule: Work on one thing at a time until finished.

(Henry Miller)

If you can stick to this rule, good on you.  I can’t and I’m not going to beat myself up over that.

When to break this rule:  When it works for you.

Love this rule as an idea, but let’s get real here it’s not always possible. So let’s bring a little reality to the world and let me give you a clue how this works for me.  Right now I am writing a User Manual, my second steampunk crime novel, and a contemporary thriller.  Now the manual – that’s part of the day job, so I do it in working hours.  While I’m in the office, because I’m also doing other things, if I have to wait for a long calculation or upload, I have my notebook by my side to write the steampunk because I write that out first in long hand, I find it helps with the Victoriana tone. But when I get home at night, if I’m not editing, I write my contemporary crime because I’m doing that on the computer only.  Three things, all writing, and all happening at the same time.

Rule:  The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season

(Stephen King again)

Wow!  To be honest, there’s a huge part of me that utterly agrees with this one.  Generally, I do complete a book in that time frame, so why is it in my list of rules to break?  Because this is a list of WHEN to break the rules.

When to break the rule:  When life gets in the way.

I know that that sounds like a cop-out, and frankly it is, but here’s why.  Unlike Stephen King, I haven’t yet been able to give up the day job, so I can’t write solidly for three months.  If I could this would be easy.  The book that got me my agent was written entirely during NaNoWriMo.  But I know a lot of writers and a lot of us are unnecessarily harsh on ourselves, so you have to be real about the rules you follow.  I started a novel in November I still haven’t finished.  Why haven’t I finished it?  Because I’ve was diverted on to a different novel by some solid agent-y advice, and I have taken some time out to (a) edit my first steampunk crime novel and (b) do a paid editing job.

Admittedly I haven’t finished the other novel either, but I’m 37k words in and trying for 1000 words a day, but even that goal goes by the wayside when I get home from the day-jobbery exhausted.  So the real point of this is to give writers a reason to give themselves a break – don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t meet this time frame.  Equally – don’t take this as a reason to slouch either.  If it’s taken ten years to write the first draft, that’s not a good sign.

So, go on, be a rebel, break some rules but get the writing job done anyway.

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What a Difference a Week Makes

where-i-work-151001

Well, it’s Jan 3rd and I’m already on the back foot.

I try to blog at the start of the month, but despite having the week between Christmas and New Year off, I didn’t have time to write a blog.  I thought about writing it, but didn’t get around to actually doing it.  However, I did do a lot of other stuff.

Obviously, a lot of the “stuff” I did was Christmas, family and New Years.  Had a great time – thanks for asking – hope you did too.  But I also got a lot of writing work done too.

In the seven days from Boxing day to New Year’s Day bank holiday, I managed to write over 12k words of my latest contemporary thriller.  This may not sound like much to some of you (may sound like masses to others, what would I know), but for me this was a surprising rush.  You see Elaine has been giving me grief all through November and most of December.  Let me explain…

Elaine is my main character and she has to basically carry this book.  She’s an everyman (and no that’s not sexist, it’s just a description), and she has to go through some fairly big changes from the first chapter of this book and I’m now 22 chapters in.  But despite writing and pushing, I couldn’t get her to go where I needed her to go.  This was mostly because I didn’t really know how she was going to go there, or who she was going to have to deal with when she got there.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I knew what he was, I knew what he looked like, I knew what he’d be like, I knew how he would react.  In fact, the only thing I didn’t know, was his name.  But I hadn’t even got to him, and Elaine was still reluctant to go anywhere.

I think in the end what it was, was that like a lot of mothers, she just first had to go see her daughter, and like a lot of those lot of mothers – it took longer than this outsider expected.  But then, there were an awful lot of issues that needed to be resolved between the two of them. Once I’d sorted that things really started to flow.

Then, of course, there was him.  He was fine once I decided what to call him.  That was one moment when keeping a database of my characters was really useful in ensuring that I don’t double name, I had to check it just to be sure, because once I had his name it felt so familiar that it was like déjà vu.

Now they are properly on different teams the book is working well, can’t wait for the time when these two characters have to start actually working together.  Really looking forward to that.

That wasn’t all the writing I did either.

I also hand wrote (yes in a book with a pen) about 1000 words of my second steampunk novel – then I realised I didn’t like it and started all over again with a different point of view character and it works better though I haven’t had chance to catch up to where I was yet.  That has a lot to do with the fact that the new POV required that I start the scene several minutes earlier than I had and that takes up word count – that and now Elaine is cooperating I’m concentrating on her.

I’m also working on an editing commission so that’s me keeping busy.

Unfortunately, I never got the cover design last year, but this year I have found a new artist so I hope to have my collection out in the next few weeks.

Well, life and editing calls…

 

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Getting an Agent – some more ideas

Getting an Agent isn’t easy, but a lot of traditional publishers still use Agents to screen writers (yes I do mean that as two words) so they don’t have to wade through the worst of the submissions.  It took me years to find an agent, but I finally got one.  If you keep trying you can make it HAPPEN.  Here’s some more ideas of how:  (First ideas were here)

Honest

You have to be honest, not only with the agent you are submitting to but also with yourself.  Make an honest assessment of your own skill level.  You will need help with this, independent help.  Asking your friends and family will probably result in willing encouragement – the most encouragement I ever got from family was a sister who reviewed a book with the quote “I really wanted not to like this book but…”  To be fair after that it did get complimentary, so I can’t complain. The best avenues for feedback I’ve had have been my local writers circle (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) and my editors Tony at Jefferson Franklin Editing and Sam at Bowler Fern Ltd (different editors for different types of books).  Yes, I have to pay them but they will tell me with I’m producing rubbish (I’ve ditched a whole series of novels because Tony said the main character didn’t work).  If you’ve got talent, you can make it, and remember I am telling you to be honest, honesty does not necessarily include that paranoid voice in the back of your head that constantly tells you you’re not good enough – surely I can’t be the only one with that?

You also have to be honest when you approach the agent.  You will have to produce a covering letter that says a bit about you and your intentions, don’t tell them that you’re going to write four books a year unless you actually can.  Most people are lucky to be able to one done a year, two for some.  Also be honest about what you are doing now.  If they are the only agent you are approaching, tell them why, and if not, say that you’re doing simultaneous submissions.  Some won’t mind, others might, that’s a risk you’ll have to take.

 

Audience

Know your audience is one of those phrases that often comes up about writing.  This time what I’m talking about is know the agent you’re approaching.  Get personal – within reason.  Make sure you know their name at least, “Dear Sir or Madam” does not cut it.  Know what that agent is looking for, appeal to that.  If you’ve met them, reference the meeting – possibly relate what they said to what you’re doing.  For example, if the agent mentioned that they were looking for a working class hero, say something like, “Joe Bloggs is just the working class hero you mentioned looking for”; again be concise.  Be clear about why you want to work with that agent.  If you know who the audience is for your book, don’t forget to mention that, it will help the agent figure out if you are an author for them.

 

Professional

Remember that you are approaching a professional, so you need to be professional in your approach because if you are to have a relationship with an agent, it has to be a professional one.  Don’t waste their time.  Prepare your covering letter and synopsis with all the same care and attention that you prepared your manuscript.  Make sure it makes sense, that it’s concise and intriguing and it doesn’t contain any spelling or grammar mistakes.

 

Patient

This is, for most, the most difficult part of getting an agent.  It takes time to send each submission and each submission takes time to get a response to.  I’ve had refusals take anything from two weeks to six months, and plenty that have never even bothered to respond.  I do now have an agent, and that was a long process.  It took about four or five months from submission to signing the agency contract.  I have no idea how that measures up to other people’s time frames.  I’ve spoken to a number of writers who have been through this experience and it’s a general consensus that you have to wait at least a month before chasing a response.  Then if you really want to contact the agency again, do so, but if you do, for everybody’s sake, BE POLITE.  Ask nicely if they received your submission and if they can tell you of any progress.  Don’t go in on the attack, you could have the next big thing as far as the industry is concerned, but if you’re rude to the receptionist, you are not going to get that agent.   Also remember that if you do get an agent, you still have to get a publishing deal, that could take a couple of years and when you get a publishing deal you’re looking at about 18 months before the book hits the shelves, so patience is the watch word in this job.

 

Expenditure

As the literary markets get harder and harder to make money from, the more agents are looking for publication-ready manuscripts and that means you need to edit your story.  You will, of course, need to edit your novel yourself from the first draft forward, but I’d strongly recommend that you also get a professional edit (and not just because I’m an editor).  Yes, this is expensive, but try to think of it more as an investment.  It amazes me what errors/gaps/issues an editor can spot in my scripts, amazes me what I find in other people’s scripts.  Spotting a problem is halfway to solving it, and most editors will give advice on how to make things better and that is invaluable.

Of course, the biggest expenditure is in the effort you have to put in.  Writing a book takes time, sweat and tears, so does going the traditional publishing route.  Don’t think that means I’m suggesting self-publishing – I’m not, but there again, there are stories of people who have self-published and got agents that way, but it is few and far between, on or two in thousands upon thousands, so don’t pin all your hopes on that possibility. There again, if you are self-publishing – spend money on a good editor it is important.

 

Numbers

Words may be our stock in trade, but there is a big argument that getting an agent is a numbers game.  Each agent is just one person, one person’s opinion.  If the first doesn’t like your manuscript, try the next.  If the thirtieth doesn’t like it, try the thirty-first.  Think of each rejection as one step closer to acceptance.  Though if you have to go much past forty agents I would suggest that the issue is the book not the agents, but on the other had Kathryn Stockett was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found someone willing to represent The Help.  Also, remember that things change over time.  It’s possible that this year no agent will touch a story about a prince in waiting[1], but maybe next year they’ll bite your hand off for it.  You can’t follow the trends in publishing because by the time your book is ready, the trend will have changed.  Set your own trend.

 

So there you have it, go out and make getting an agent HAPPEN for you.

 

[1]  You can steal this idea if you want, but John Christopher wrote it 1970.

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No, No, NaNo, No

 

Well, we’re halfway through the month and if you are NaNoWriMo-ing then you should be around 25k into your work.  Where am I?  About eleven thousand words.

I have pretty much given up on NaNo this year, not because I’m not writing, quite the opposite in fact. So do I feel like I’m failing?  Actually, yeah a little bit, but there’s absolutely no reason for me to feel that way, it’s not like I’m not working.

The reason I’m not NaNo-ing is that I’m working through my collection of short stories “Last Cut Case Book” as I need to get that finalised asap; I’m editing on my steampunk novel which I’ve had back from my editor and now want to polish, and I am still working on the novel I had finally settled on for NaNo, just not concentrating on that alone and therefore not writing it as fast as NaNo requires.

I know I’m not the only one who has given up, I’ve seen similar posts on Facebook and Twitter, and in blogs. Not just this year either.  This is the fourth year I’ve started Nano, but it’s the first year that I haven’t been a winner.  So why do people not complete the challenge?

I’ve heard some people complain that it’s one of the shorter months, which I honestly don’t get.  It’s not February  there are still 30 days, plenty of time if you devote yourself, one more day won’t make that much difference.

I’ve heard that a number of my American friends say it’s difficult because they are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas – that I get, but then it was all started in America so I’m sure that was taken into consideration.

My own issues are that it’s my birthday this month, right at the end admittedly and I don’t have to do much for that.  But this year I’m also off to Iceland Noir and that’s basically a week away from home and I don’t even know if I can take my laptop yet.  However, at a minimum, I will be taking my tab, so I can write on that.

Anyway, my point in writing this is to say that, just because we might not be NaNoWriMo winners, that doesn’t make any of us losers.

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How Not To Piss Off An Editor – Part 2

editingHere is another in my infrequent series (here’s the first one if you want to see it) of how you can help yourself when it comes to not annoying your editor.  These tips are not any magic wand, but if you do follow this advice you are much more likely to form a good connection with your editor.

Read

Read your own work.  Now I’m the first to admit that this has problems because you will end up reading what you think is there rather than what actually is there, but this is hugely important.  Especially when it comes to dialogue.  If you want to know does your dialogue flow – read it aloud, say it yourself.  If you can’t stand the sound of your own voice, then either get someone else to read it to you or get a PDF reader that can.  I use Adobe (the free download – I can’t afford the full version), it has a built in reader.  It’s monotonous tone to listen to, and you have to figure out the tricks to get it to work properly (no curly apostrophes or speech marks) but it sure makes your own mistakes jump out at you.

Spellcheck

Run a spellcheck.  I received a manuscript with five spelling mistakes in four lines a few weeks ago.  It wasn’t a great piece of writing to begin with, but when I get words like dam spelt damn, I realise that the author hasn’t just failed to check their own work, they’ve failed to show any respect for the reader – or the editor and don’t forget in this case they were paying for my services.  But here is the thing that spell check won’t always tell you – you might spell the word right, but it could be the wrong word, homophones are a nightmare for this.  Also, for example, I often see a lot of confusion over there and their or where and were.  These are irritating typos, everyone does them as they type, but they can be found.  If the grammar check on the word processing package you use isn’t up to much, try Grammarly.  I find that this particular grammar-nazi can be a bit of a pain when it comes to colloquialisms and modern usage, but it picks up the little things that the author’s eye will miss.

Consistency – Names

In the last part of this, I rattled on about formatting consistency.  If you follow this blog you’ll also have seen me talking about names.  One of the things I mention there is to not be afraid of changing names.  In my latest WIP, I had to change the names of five different characters – one character got changed twice.  The reason for that was that all the names were starting with either the same letter or containing the same sounds.  So you see I do understand why an author would change a character’s name which is one possibility for why sometimes as an editor I get an odd name jumping out and sitting there wondering who on earth this character is only to realised that it’s a Rose by some other name that didn’t smell so sweet.  The worst I ever had was one scene containing one boy and one girl and seven names.  Ugh!

As I say, no magic wand, but avoid what pitfalls you can then the editor can concentrate on the import parts of helping make the work better.

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It’s Criminal

I’ve just come back from Crimefest 2016 and I thought I’d share some of what happened.

Had the weirdest experience of my life, but to explain why this is weird I have to give you some context.  I’ve been an editor for a while now and I actually managed to achieve some repeat customers.  One of these is Tana Collins, I’ve edited two of her police procedurals so far but as she lives in Scotland and I live in Wales, it’s all a very at-a-distance kind of thing.

But on Thursday (the first day of Crimefest), I’m sitting near the back of one of the panel rooms, busy typing on my tab, writing out the first paragraphs of the first scene of my third Locked series novel.  Then I hear this querulous voice saying “Gail?”  Look up and there on the row in front is Tana Collins.  This wasn’t so weird, as I’d learned through Facebook that she would be attending so was fully expecting to see her.  The oddity was what happened next. Tana said meeting me was one of the highlights of the weekend that she was really looking forward to.  The girl really needs to raise her standards if I’m a highlight.  But there again why shouldn’t I be?

Thing was, I had been looking forward to meeting her too.  It’s one of the oddities of being an editor, that you get to know a writer’s work, but you don’t always get to know the writer.  However, in this case, Tana and I have become friends and I hope that knowing one another will help the working relationship too.  I’m looking forward to her next Carruthers novel and don’t worry, I will be telling you more as her books come out.

I started with this as it happened on day one.  Through the rest of the days, I attended many of the panels, and a number of things come across quite strongly.  Here are the headlines to save boring you:

  1. Research – do lots
  2. Strong female characters
  3. Most protagonists have specialised backgrounds
  4. Sense of place, especially an international sense of place.

Here’s what I was thinking:

  1. I’m not sure I do that much research. Don’t get me wrong, I do check my facts. Especially when I’m editing – so don’t go giving a sports fan the wrong tattoo (Tana!) as I will check.  But I don’t spend hours agonising over research for my own books. So clearly this is an area where I need to up my game.
  2. I do have strong female characters, but I’ve never sold a book led by one. No one at this point is allowed to point out that I’ve never actually sold a book period, okay? But I’ve written a load of female leads, yet it was a male lead that got me an agent.
  3. Most of my lead characters don’t have specialist backgrounds. Yes a couple or more of them are police officers, which is specialist, but also necessary when writing police procedurals, but I really try to make my characters like the person you’re going to sit next to in a pub, ordinary if you like, or not. Most of my characters are bumbling around trying to make sense of things, beige people in colourful situations.
  4. A sense of place. The book that got me the agent is very carefully constructed to never reveal where it is.  On the other hand, the vast majority of it takes place in a prison, so there is a sense of place, just not a named location. Similarly, book two is out in the civilian world, but I never give a town name and I’ve made up the street names.  Besides, again, most of the action takes place in a single room – while cutting in the police scenes on the street outside. There again I tend to set my stuff domestically, i.e. in areas of the UK that I know.  This is definitely something I am going to have to work on.

Which all left me rather deflated. This is, in a way, another thing I find at these conventions.  I start out excited and then it goes downhill.  It seems every panel members is (a) younger than me [not at all true, but it feels like it] and (b) had a great career before becoming a published author.  I have a job I don’t like and the slog to publication is like wading through the Bog of Despair.  I’m also starting to either love or despise autocorrect. I wrote this paragraph on my tab and the last line came up as Bognor of Despair which I find oddly amusing – sorry Bognor I’ve never actually been to Bognor so have no idea if that’s fitting or not. (And before anyone tells me I’ve got it wrong, I just Googled it so I know it was actually the Swamp of Sadness, but I thought the autocorrect was worth sharing.)

Also, I note that for a lot of people these festivals are a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  That’s something else I appear to be deficient at.  I talk to people when I’m at these things but I don’t find it easy and I don’t generally come away with lasting friendships.  Tana, please note that you are excluded from this category as we knew one another way before Crimefest.

However, anyone who reads my blogs will know that I suffer depression. I might also have mentioned that I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy to help with this. One of the tools I’ve learnt is to recognise the trigger points and head-them-off-at-the-pass so to speak.

So I looked back on the above and I re-evaluated.

The result is, why shouldn’t Tana meeting me be a highlight for the weekend?  Okay I’m not a famous author, but I am someone she’s worked with and someone who’s spent time getting to know and care about the people in her head – the ones she put on paper at least.  I was looking forward to meeting her too, so it’s great to know that she was looking forward to meeting me.  This is a GOOD THING, I tell myself and try not to go scurrying for cover as good things make me nervous, always looking for the scorpion sting.

I’ve also realised that I need to seriously up my game writing wise, and that’s what I plan to do, but that’s going to be the subject of my next blog.  The rest of this is going to be about weird things that happened at the Gala dinner.

I sat where I was told to and with no one I knew (except hubby of course) and as you do, got talking to them.  The gentleman to my right had a very strong Australian accent, but as I got talking to him, I found out that he was originally from Kent, same as me, just a few miles apart actually.

Then we got talking to another lady, not giving names as I haven’t that person’s permission.  And this is where it got really weird – she’d already heard of me – yep, you guessed it – through Tana.  That’s never happened to me before.  But my husband told me after that as soon as he saw her, he thought he’s seen her somewhere else.  Turns out that that is altogether possible – during the conversation we discovered that she works in Swansea, as do we.

Then, just to prove that I really am a Duchess of Geekdom, the guy across the table, (again no names in the absence of permission) and I start peeling back the onion layers of my geekiness and talked about Dr Who, science fiction of all types and ages.  Anyone else old enough to remember “Come Home Mrs Noah”?  No?  Just the two of us then. There was talk of superhero movies, comic books and other oddball TV.

In other words, we had a really good time.  Thank you all who helped make this my favourite Crimefest so far, and proving that I don’t have to leave festivals downhearted. And I hope to stay in touch with several of you through the coming months/years.

 

 

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