• Winter 2019 Update

    It’s cold and frosty in these parts, so a good time to stay indoors and update on what’s been going on since the summer. It’s not been that eventful, but I have been very busy with writing and illustrating, so a productive time all in all.

    The fourth book in The Naughtiest Unicorn series (The Naughtiest Unicorn at Christmas) should be on the shelves of a bookshop near you right now. It’s filled with snowy, tinsel-themed antics – including the search for the perfect Christmas tree and the traditional school play, The Legend of the Snow Unicorn. As ever, I drew the pictures for Pip Bird’s story (life’s a lot easier for illustrators when everything is covered in snow!). Find out more about this fun series for younger readers here.

    Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of writing a new book at this very moment. I’m really excited about it! Whilst I’m not allowed to divulge too many secrets, it’s part of a new series that takes place in Dundoodle, the setting for The Chocolate Factory Ghost, but involves a new set of characters – effectively it’s a spin-off of The Dundoodle Mysteries.

    Archie McBudge and his friends may well feature in the books, but I’m using the stories to explore the different aspects of the magic that infuses the town of Dundoodle. It turns out that the Wyrdie Tree is not the only source of enchantment around. The first book in the series won’t be out until 2021, but I’ll keep this blog updated with as much detail as I’m permitted.

    Speaking of Dundoodle, here’s the colourful cover of The Revenge of the Invisible Giant, the last of The Dundoodle Mysteries, brilliantly created by Claire Powell (I expect there’ll be an official social media reveal at some point but I’m too impatient for that!).

    The book is in shops next April and I can’t wait to see what people think. The story involves the quest for a mysterious object that takes Archie, Fliss and Billy to parts of the magical world rarely seen, where they encounter many fantastical creatures of the Wyrd.

    Druids, giants, warlocks, selkies and mermaids all feature — it’s a bonanza of information for Billy and his wyrdiological research and a lot of fun for me to write!

    You can find out more at my web page for the book here.

    The Polish version of The Chocolate Factory Ghost (Duch z fabryki krówek) came out in August and appears to have gone down well, judging from the reviews. I’ve been making a list of the different versions of Archie’s name taken from the foreign editions I’ve seen so far:

    English: Archie McBudge
    Danish: Archie McBudge
    Dutch: Arthur McBell
    German: Archie McEllen
    Polish: Archie McKarmelek
    Persian: Archie Maccabee

    Who would have thought Archibald was such an international name?

    Finally, The Chocolate Factory Ghost has been nominated for a number of awards and I’m pleased to add another to the list: it’s among the twenty books up for The Fantastic Books Awards, run by Lancashire Library Service. It’s lovely to have this kind of recognition and have my fingers crossed for the announcement in the Spring.

    I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

  • Summer 2019 Update

    The year is whizzing by in a rather startling way and I’m very behind with my blog. I could blame my disorganisation or I could blame this guy, who happens to be my namesake:

    This is Dave the Unicorn who, along with his BFF Mira, is the star of The Naughtiest Unicorn, a series of books written by Pip Bird that I’m currently illustrating. Dave and Mira meet at Unicorn School and have a bunch of silly adventures, mostly involving glitter, doughnuts and trouble!

    There’s an interview with Mira and Dave here! Dave spends most of his time scowling, eating and farting. I’ve no idea why I was given this illustration job…

    There are SEVEN books in the series, and they’re all out in the next year or so – that means lots of drawings of unicorns and rainbows which is keeping me very busy indeed! The first and second books are out already and the third appears in shops in September – you can’t miss them as they’ve all got very shiny covers. Perfect early reads for unicorn fans aged 6 and upwards.

    But what’s happening in Dundoodle?

    Meanwhile, The Dentist of Darkness had been out in the world for a few of months and appears to be going down well. I did some launch events at a few schools in north London, that coincided with World Book Day, that were exhausting but a lot of fun.

    The story centres around Unquiet Night which happens to be very soon (the first Tuesday of the school holidays, as every Dundoodledonian knows)! It’s the night when tree-spooks, bog-people and other wyrdi-folk appear and dance their wyrdi-dance through the darkness of the forest.

    Everyone in the town will be baking Gingerbread Dragons, amongst other goodies, to celebrate in the Unquiet Night festival held in Dundoodle’s main square. And they’ll have their own dance around the streets, as so brilliantly illustrated by Claire Powell:

    You can make your own Gingerbread Dragons with the recipe from my DoD activity pack, available to download from here. As well as the recipe, there are puzzles and story-making ideas – ideal for keeping bored minds busy during the school holidays. If you need more things to do the CFG activity pack is here. I’m going to expand on the activities section of my website, to include more creative writing advice, so keep an eye on that if you know any budding writers.

    I’ve also had to do some travelling and events back in May, thanks to the award nominations that The Chocolate Factory Ghost has received. I didn’t win anything (apart from the runner-up sparkly glass thing that’s the size of an egg from the Leeds Book Awards!) but it was great to meet all the children from the local schools who’d participated and sign all their books. I got more reviews than anyone else on the Leeds Book Awards website (not all of them good, mind you – young reviewers have very firm ideas about what they like!) and it was wonderful to know that my story had got into the hands of so many enthusiastic readers. Here’s a couple of photos taken at the ceremony:

    Then in Surrey, I went on some school visits for the Surrey Children’s Book Awards, as well as popping into the wonderful brand new library at Horley:

    Finally, the third Dundoodle Mystery is on the long road to publication – the text was signed off back in April and the illustrations are underway. And I can reveal its title: The Revenge of the Invisible Giant! Ta-daaa! Here’s the official blurb:

    When a batch of his experimental sweets goes wrong at the McBudge Confectionery Company, Archie needs a distraction. And when he hears about a book of magical wisdom lost in a tunnel beneath the mountains, Archie is determined to find it. It’s DEFINITELY so he can be the best magical guardian of Dundoodle that he can be and DEFINITELY NOT so he can turn tree branches into flying surfboards. Only trouble is, the key to open the tunnel was broken into four pieces hundreds of years ago and hidden.

    Archie, Fliss and Billy set out to find the pieces of the key, but why was the tunnel sealed off in the first place? And what is the deep, sinister, MOUNTAINOUS voice Archie keeps hearing on the wind?

    This is a fast-paced, action-packed story that I’ve stuffed with magic and fun, and has a huge cast of mermaids, selkies, warlocks, golems, gods, druids and, of course, giants. It’s not out until next April but it’s already available for pre-order now from the usual places, but please do use your local bookshop if you have one. All the info on ROTIG can be found here, which I’ll keep updated as best as I can.

    I’ll finish with the bittersweet news that this will be the last of the Dundoodle Mysteries books, but…. it’s not the last of the tales of Dundoodle! I’m not allowed to say more just yet – something tantalising for the future…

  • Out and About

    A busy afternoon for me yesterday, but away from the desk for a change. Firstly, a trip to community arts radio station Resonance FM as a guest of the superb Down The Rabbit Hole show, devoted to children’s books. Sita Brahmachari and I reviewed three very different books, along with our warm and welcoming hosts, journalist Imogen Russell Williams, literary agent Louise Lamont and publisher Melissa Cox – there was lots to talk about and the half-hour flew past. You can listen in to the chat here:

    All previous episodes of DTRH are available on Mixcloud or via iTunes. The books we reviewed were:

    Thank you for having me, DTRH!

    Karl Newson

    Then straight from the studio to Waterstones Covent Garden for the launch of my book buddy Karl Newson‘s new picture book, illustrated by Chiaki Okada. For All the Stars Across the Sky is a beautiful book, perfect for bedtimes. The artwork is stunning, and Karl knows just how to strike the right note with his text. It was so nice to see a launch so well-attended, and it was great to catch up with various other book chums too.

    Chloe Douglass, Steven Wood, Samantha Meredith, Tim Budgen, Jamie Littler & Laura Ellen Anderson

  • Summer Update

    Along with half the planet, I’m officially melting here at O’Connell HQ – even typing seems to be a huge effort! However, here are some bits of recent news…

    • I had some library posters made after receiving a number of requests. If your school or public library would like one then let me know. They’re size A3 and there’s a space for a message/autograph too.

    • In the Autumn, Archie Budge transmogrifies into Arthur McBell in the Dutch version of The Chocolate Factory Ghost (The Secret of the Sweet Factory) – here’s the cover! I’m guessing McBell rhymes with karamel, as there’s no Dutch version of fudge! It’s been translated by Sandra Hessels who also translated Monster & Chips, so I know it’s in safe hands.

    That’s all! I’m thinking of having August away from the internet as best I can – I expect I won’t be able to resist popping up on Instagram and Twitter occasionally, and my next newsletter comes out at the end of the month too, but otherwise I’m going to focus on some writing and brushing up my illustration skills. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

  • The House of Chocolate

    Last Saturday, Claire Powell and I went to Bournville, home of Cadbury’s chocolate factory, for a rather fabulous event held at Selly Manor. This Tudor manor house (it actually dates back to at least 1327, but has had alterations since) was transported in the early 20th Century to Bournville from nearby Bournbrook. George Cadbury wanted it to be one of the centrepieces of Bournville village, and in doing so saved it from destruction.

    Bournville is an amazing place, a model village built by Cadburys for their workers. It’s very picturesque, with plenty of the Cadbury trademark purple in evidence, and well worth a visit if you’re visiting Cadbury World nearby.

    For our event, organised by Sarah Mullen of the Busy Parents Network (who also organise the Bournville BookFest), Selly Manor had been transformed into Honeystone Hall! (You can see the sign over the door way below.) It was just part of a day of chocolate-themed events taking place in the Hall and its gardens.

    There were chocolatey cake stalls, a demonstration from a Cadbury chocolatier, a poetry workshop and a treasure hunt trail based on The Chocolate Factory Ghost. Along with our own drawing and story-making session in the adjacent hall, the Minworth Greaves.

    The chocolatier in action. He showed how to temper chocolate to make it shiny and smooth for use in cooking. The smell in the hall was amazing!

    Birmingham Poet Laureate (and boxer) Matt Windle turned the children into ‘chocolate rappers’ with his poetry workshop. Over lunch he talked about his work in schools and prisons, connecting people with poetry. It was very inspiring to listen to him. Also he divulged the secret to his sculptured moustache: a handy Pritt stick!

    Claire led the children in a monster-making session, before I did some interactive story-telling with volunteers from the audience. There was lots of imagination at work.

    It was such a beautiful setting for an event, and everyone made us feel very welcome. Thanks so much to Sarah and all the volunteers at the Manor for their hard work, as well as our Bloomsbury publicist Emily Moran who looked after us – a really special day.

    All these lovely photos were taken by Dan Cottle. You can find him on Instagram here.

  • Genesis of a Villain

    Book 2 of the Dundoodle Mysteries has an important role for the villainous Mrs Puddingham-Pye. I thought I’d write about her for my newsletter, The Dundoodle News, as not only is she a favourite of mine (I love a villain!) but she also has a bit of a history. (If you want to read more of this kind of thing before everyone else, as well as other exclusive stuff, you can sign up for the News here.)

    Back in 2014, I worked on a picture book with the brilliant Sarah McIntyre, called JAMPIRES, published by David Fickling Books. Sarah had an idea for these cute, little characters that were like vampires. But instead of blood, they loved to eat jam and other sweet things! It took us ages to come up with a story that worked for them, and the book went through many, many revisions before we found a story everyone liked (Psst! Available to purchase here!).

    In one early version, I came up with  a character called Mrs Puddingham-Pye – I can’t remember if she was meant to be a goodie or a baddie (she was probably both at one point or another). Georgie and Portia were a pair of nasty pets cats originally, rather than nasty twins. I imagined Mrs P-P to look like a deranged Jackie Onassis. Sarah even created this lovely painted study of her, based on one of my sketches.

    Mrs P-P didn’t last very long in Jampires, but I liked the character and the pun of her name, so stored her away for future use. There were a number of occasions when I thought I might use her, but the projects I was working on didn’t feel right. Eventually, as I wrote the first draft of The CFG, and needed an antagonist, I knew this was her chance! Several characters in The CFG have food-related names, so it was the perfect fit.

    When I’m creating characters, I often draw them to get a feel for their personality. Here’s my design, complete with malevolent handbag, which I recycled as a character for the Inktober daily drawing challenge (a whodunnit) in 2016. It just shows it’s always worth hanging on to ideas you like – you can find a use for them somewhere eventually!

    Of course, Claire Powell has created her own fabulous version of Mrs P-P for The CFG, and I was really pleased that she picked up on the deranged Jackie O vibe, without any interference from me!

    (This post originally appeared in my newsletter, The Dundoodle News.)

  • Barry Mk.2

    A lovely reader letter arrived the other day that really made me chuckle: Zachary wrote that he and his brother Solly had named one of their kittens Barry after the monster cat from Monster & Chips, much to the amusement of everyone!

    Solly also drew a picture of all the Monster & Chips characters (plus Barry Mk.2).

    Brilliant! Thank you so much, chaps!

  • Quick Post

    There’s a very short interview with me here on Words for Life. They even put me in quotes on their Twitter feed. I’ve never been in quotes before.

  • Tom’s Book Club 2

    I’ve had to keep this a secret for so long so it’s a relief that the news is finally out: on Monday the new books for Tom Fletcher’s WHSmith Book Club were announced, and The Chocolate Factory Ghost was amongst them! I’m really thrilled and honoured that one of my books has been associated with such a high profile initiative – it’s very exciting!

    Illustrator Claire Powell and I travelled to Wilmington Academy near Dartford which was hosting a launch event. We met Tom and all the other authors (above) whose books had been picked (all very pleased and excitable). We each had to do a presentation on our book to an audience of about 400 children: here’s Tom taking a selfie of all of us looking very relieved after the talks! (Photos by our lovely publicist, Lizz Skelly)

    Then we went to the school’s lovely library to film some promotional material. Here’s me chatting to Tom about the book just before Claire did some choc-related drawing!

    You’ll be able to watch all the videos over on Tom’s Youtube channel over the next couple of months. Tom worked extremely hard all day – he even appeared on ITV London News the next evening, promoting the Club. The CFG was very visible on screen – even getting its own close-up!

    The Book Club picks get their own display stand in WHSmiths, where they can be bought as a bundle. There’s information about all the books on the WHSmiths site, including Tom’s thoughts on them. I noticed there are some teaching resources for The CFG there too, which I’ve not seen before.

    Thanks so much to Tom and the WHSmiths team for having us and for all their hard work!

  • Choccy bits

    The Chocolate Factory Ghost didn’t have an official launch party, but illustrator Claire Powell and I did have some drinks and a social meet-up for some friends last night to mark the occasion. Here’s a couple of pics that my friend and Jampires co-author Sarah McIntyre took:

    The second photo is of Claire and I with our with brilliant designer Andrea Kearney (left) and amazing editor Lucy Mackay-Sim (2nd left). Lucy told us that The CFG is already going to be reprinted which is great news!

    By the way, Sarah has a fab new picture out called the The New Neighbours which sees the return of her characters from The DFC comic, Vern & Lettuce. It’s a beautiful book – Sarah’s artwork has never been better – with a great message about prejudice – find out all about it here.

    And this morning, Claire spotted The CFG in WHSmiths children’s chart! It’s so exciting to see our book nestled amongst the celebrities and big name books. Fingers crossed it does well.

  • Q&A with Claire Powell

    I met illustrator Claire Powell for the first time yesterday – we had a lovely chat over tea and cake in the café at Foyles. I was so pleased to finally be able to tell her in person how much I loved the illustrations for The Chocolate Factory Ghost!

    She’s kindly answered some questions for a mini-interview. There are some sneak peeks of her work below, and you can see more in the online preview of the book.

    Where are you from?

    I’m a Northerner! Originally from a town called West Kirby on The Wirral, which is a peninsula sandwiched between Liverpool and Wales.

    It’s a beautiful place with long coastal walks and spectacular views. It’s extremely peaceful and has a much slower pace of life – when I’m stuck on the tube in rush hour I often wish I was there instead!

    My parents and school friends still live there and I visit regularly. My dad has been a printer all his life, though he’s now retired, and I worked for him when I was a teen in his factory. I loved it.

    The smell of the ink, the sound of the machinery – sometimes when I buy a new book it has that ‘factory’ smell and it will remind me of that time. It’s no surprise that I’ve ended up in a print based job.

    In ’98 I went to uni in Preston and studied graphic design. It was a very traditional course, weighted heavily toward typography and layouts. I lost count of the hours I spent hand drawing typographic layouts! It was an excellent foundation for the work I do now. I spent a few years as a graphic designer in a Preston agency and, moved to London in 2005 to study an MA in motion graphics. At the time, I wanted to work in TV which is what I did for almost ten years. I worked for an agency called Red Bee and I rebranded TV channels – CBBC, BBCThree, Nickelodeon (India), Dreamworks Animation to name a few. I enjoyed my time there but, as the years went on, I knew I didn’t want to do it forever and I started exploring different avenues. I dabbled in animation before signing up for a picture book course which changed the course of my life!

    Where do you work?

    I work upstairs in my flat in Acton! My commute to work is exactly eleven stairs 🙂

    I’m lucky as my flat has a mezzanine level which I use as my little studio. It has big windows and a fairly decent view over west London. I’m so happy whenever I’m in there, it’s my sanctuary. I’m not very good at working in cafés, though I’m trying to be better, I end up watching people and doing no work! There’s a yoga studio close to my house and I go there several times a week in an attempt to do some exercise.

    What are your influences?

    Goodness, this is always a hard question. With social media, we have exposure to so many great things, it can be overwhelming. I think it’s important to take your influences from a wide range of sources and I often take photos of random things and file them for when I need them. It might be a carpet with interesting colour combinations or a tiled floor with a cool pattern, the other day I screen grabbed a picture of Keira Knightly wearing a fabulous retro dress – that will probably end up somewhere…

    At the moment I’m researching interior spaces and I’m being influenced by Tony Duquette, a fantastically flamboyant interior designer. I’m starting to put more pattern and detail into my work and I spend a lot of time on Pinterest looking at fashion and interior design. I’m always pinning things ‘just in case’.

    Illustration wise, I love the work of David Roberts – his patterns and attention to detail are stunning and, the fact he does it all in watercolour Blows. My. Mind. My favourite illustrator is Arthur Rackham. His work is so exquisite, I could look at it for hours. I especially like his goblins and elves! I recently discovered the work of Melissa Castrillon and I thought her limited colour palettes were beautiful – I always use too many colours so it’s inspiring to see someone create stunning work with a small palette. I also went to the Tove Jansson exhibition recently and it was magical. I didn’t read her books as a child so it was a real eye opener for me. Such a huge volume of work, a real talent – you can’t fail to be inspired and influenced by people of that calibre.

    You’ve worked in animation and graphic design – tell us about some of the projects you worked on.

    Well, I wouldn’t class myself as an animator, though I have dabbled in it. It is a craft I have huge respect for. It’s time-consuming and you need to be an excellent draftsman with a lot of patience. I know this because I made a short film a few years ago and I massively underestimated the task! It took me four years to make, all whilst working full-time. There were times I thought it would never be finished but I was determined not to abandon it. It isn’t perfect and, if I did it again (which is unlikely!) I’d do it differently, but I’m proud I made it.

    The film is based on true events. Set at the turn of the 20th Century it follows George Edalji, a young man who, after a series of disturbing events, is accused of a ruthless crime. He appeals to Britain’s most famous crime writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for help. He embarks on a passionate campaign to clear George’s name and, well… I won’t give the ending away!

    How do those experiences influence your illustration and book work?


    Training as a graphic designer has definitely informed my illustration work. I was taught a very traditional approach, tight grids and layouts, lots of typography, often drawn by hand and the simplicity of ideas was drilled into me – it shouldn’t take more than a short sentence to explain your idea. Those things have stuck with me and I see them appearing in my work now.

    I think I have a natural aptitude for showing character expression but working in TV taught me how to tell a story in a short amount of time. Storyboarding, sequencing, composition – all directly translate into my illustrations, especially children’s books where I’m telling a narrative over a series of page turns. I often think of my characters moving, I imagine how they would walk or react to a certain situation (sometimes I act it out!) and then I try to capture that in a single illustration. Expression is so important to me and I want it to be at the forefront of my work.

    [From Have You Seen My Giraffe? text by Michelle Robinson, Simon & Schuster (July 2017)]

    Even working for my dad, in his factory, has been incredibly handy – I understand the print process which helps a lot when you’re making books and delivering files. I never would have thought, when I was fifteen, that what I was learning would turn out to be so useful.

    I used to feel disappointed that I was arriving at illustration a bit later in life, but now I see how the years of training in design and TV have been great ground work for where I’m at now.

    [From Octopants, text by Suzie Senior, Little Tiger (July 2018)]

    How do you approach illustrating a chapter book like The CFG?

    It was my first chapter book so I was beyond excited. I’d done samples of the characters and one full-page illustration (the greenhouse) so when I was commissioned I already knew how the characters looked.

    Bloomsbury sent me a detailed brief, for the forty interior illustrations and the cover. I enjoyed the process of working to a tight brief. There was heaps of room for me to play with but it made a nice change from working on a picture book where there’s a lot more freedom.

    I started by roughing out all the illustrations, doing research as and when I needed to. I even used a monopoly house to help me draw the school from a top view perspective!

    The roughs were sent for approval and then I started the finals.

    Some illustrations I created as one drawing. Others, the cave and boat drawings for example, I did in layers, drawing the characters and backgrounds on separate bits of paper. I wanted some freedom to experiment with textures so I’d scan everything and then play around in Photoshop.

    I used pencil, charcoal and graphite and I found it so enjoyable to be creating by hand, not on the computer.

    The cover was a little tricky, but they do tend to be the hardest bit. I did quite a few versions until we settled on the final idea. I wanted to colour it all dark and spooky but Bloomsbury wanted it less Gothic so we settled on a fresher, friendlier colour palette which focuses on introducing the characters.

    What else are you working on?

    I’m working on two picture books at the moment – both top secret, of course! They’ll be finished in the summer. Then I’ll be working on CFG part deux and I’m scheduled to do another, top secret, picture book starting in October. I’m hoping I might get September off! Shock, horror! It would be nice to spend some time on my own projects, it’s hard to find time for them at the moment, though I’m not complaining.

    Favourite sweet?

    This is the hardest question…. I’m going with my childhood classic – toffee nut crumble. If you took a Twix, bashed it into pieces and then remoulded it into tiny log shapes you would have toffee nut crumble. It’s delicious. I also like chocolate covered peanuts. Oh, and fudge. And chocolate mice…

    Find Claire online: Website | Instagram | Twitter

    Images © Claire Powell

  • Bloomsbury Fiction Showcase

    Last night, a clutch of slightly apprehensive authors faced the press, librarians, book buyers and bloggers at a comedy club in central London to talk about their new books, and I was privileged to be amongst them, talking about The Chocolate Factory Ghost.

    It was a bit nerve-wracking, as we had a five minute time-limit to talk. It felt like were on the Dragons’ Den TV show, but the Bloomsbury Kids’ Fiction Showcase was thankfully filled with friendly, supportive people.

    My general aim for these kind of events is ‘don’t look like an imbecile’ and I think I did ok. It was nice chatting to everyone afterwards too.

    Here’s a couple more pics from some audience members:

    Me with Katherine Rundell, James Campbell, Mark Powers, Laura James, librarian Georgiana Martincu, A.F. Harrold, Sibéal Pounder and Jo Simmons.

    Thanks to the good folk at Bloomsbury for organising a fun evening.

  • Quick post

    To St. Paul’s cathedral for the very touching memorial service for Paddington creator Michael Bond.

    BBC article here.

    Video from (unfortunately) the vile Daily Mail:

  • Lately…

    I’m so bad at taking photos. All the latest HD tech cannot help when you’re the type of person who always has your finger over the lens. So I’m not much good when it comes to reporting on events. Here’s a couple of recent ones:

    Book buddies Gary Northfield and Alex Milway had a joint party at the fab Tales on Moon Lane children’s bookshop for their latest books, Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians and Pigsticks & Harold Lost in Time, respectively.  These gents are such great writers and put on a hilarious show. If the photos are blurry, it’s because I’m laughing as much as anything else. Baked goods were included (always welcome).

    Rapping @alexmilway at the launch of Pigsticks & Harold bk 4! Congrats, Al! #kidslit #kidsbooks #pigsticks

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    And Laura Ellen Anderson had a magnificent party for her new series Amelia Fang. It was held in the crypt of St Pancras’ Church and everyone was suitably dressed in a Halloweeny style. The first book is already doing marvellously, thanks in part to being selected as Waterstones’ Book of the Month for October. Congrats, Lil!

    Congrats @laura_ellen_anderson on your fab Amelia Fang party! #kidlit #booklaunch

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