The Book of Lismore: the Past is a Lost Book

Cas and Sam are back, having recovered from their adventures in The Calgary Chessman. Cas is settling into her home on the Isle of Mull. She’s starting to feel more comfortable as a lonely divorcee in the middle of nowhere, and she has friends now. Best friend Bernie is a comfort, even though the roof leaks and Cas can’t find a job. Her budding relationship with Ewan crashed before it had half begun, but she’s determined not to let their friendship suffer. And archaeologist Niall seems as married to his job as ever.

Sam, meanwhile, is preparing for his first year at university. He’s working as a intern at Niall’s dig on the beautiful island of Lismore (Gaelic Lios Mòr, the Great Garden) between Mull and the mainland. Sam’s grand sexuality reveal (in The Calgary Chessman) rocked the boat less than Cas might have expected, but don’t worry. There’s plenty more trouble where that came from.

The Lismore dig is looking for evidence of monastic settlement. Unlike the Isle of Iona (settled by Columba, arguably the most famous of all the Celtic monks) Lismore was founded by the less well-known Moluag. But physical evidence for his monastery’s location is hard to find, and the team is working hard.

Niall brings Cas to visit, and takes her to a second location, down on the south coast of the island, where he is thinking of opening a new site. There they make a gruesome discovery which will change the story of the island forever.

In the meantime, Sam has finally plucked up the courage to tell his homophobic dad that he’s gay. That goes about as well as you might expect, and at one point Cas and Niall are fearful for Sam’s safety. It’s up to Sam to deal with his father, though – he’s an adult now, as he’s fond of pointing out. How he does so will set the tone for his parental relationships for years to come.

The acclaimed Calgary Chessman trilogy:

The Calgary Chessman

The Book of Lismore

The Ashentilly Letters (forthcoming in 2021)

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living on a Scottish island. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (NZ Listener 1996). Her first collection, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, won the Britwriters Prize for Poetry in 2012. She is fascinated by the interface between human mind and the physical world, and her poems often have a scientific or mythological theme.

Her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air, and The Calgary Chessman trilogy of archaeological romances are published with Ocelot Press. Her short story collection, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is available from Crooked Cat Publishing.

You can follow her in any of these places:

Goodreads where she welcomes questions.

Facebook and her friendly group



The Unremembered Places: a haunted world, where traces of human presence evoke lives of hardship and resilience.

Patrick Baker’s ‘The Unremembered Places: Exploring Scotland’s Wild Histories’ takes us straight, from word one, into the dark, dank recesses of the planet, places used and touched by humankind that yet retain their own wild untameable quality. His vivid, evocative descriptions summon a haunted world, where success and failure alike evoke the same poignant reaction.

Whether traversing the chill sucking morass of high country moor, crossing a cold sea by kayak, or exploring the drowned devastation of Slate Islands quarries, ‘The Unremembered Places’ is a thoroughly tactile book, summoning up the uncomfortable reality of surviving in places where the natural world sets the limits, and its human denizens can do little more than simply endure.

This book pulls no punches. Wherever people were required to enter into the wilderness, harsh realities had to be faced. From the sad graves in Scotland’s most isolated cemetery (and the grinding misery of itinerant labour) to the phenomenal physical and emotional resilience required to travel Scotland’s drove roads, the reader is immediately confronted with images of hardship that sear themselves into the memory.

I’m trying to avoid the word ‘gritty’, but I can’t. The grit in these tales gets into the subconscious and later, out for a long walk (or ‘tramp’ as I grew up calling it) with the book safely tucked away at home, chill wind or the smell of damp causes an abrasive image or snatch of words to arise in the mind, and provokes a visceral response.

If you enjoyed Robert MacFarlane’s ‘Underland’, or if you’ve ever been fascinated by some trace of human presence found tumbled and lost in a place otherwise utterly wild, you’ll love ‘The Unremembered Places’. But make sure you prepare a warm jersey and a flask of hot tea before you start.

Location, location, location: the art of landscape painting with words

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One of the first things you hear, as a writer, is ‘write what you know’. This is at best ambiguous advice, as the great joy of writing comes from exercising the imagination, from learning and writing about things you don’t know. And wouldn’t it be tedious, frankly, to only write about your actual experiences? I’d never be able to write a murder mystery, for instance, due to a lack of personal research that I have no intention of remedying.

However, I find real life experience very useful when it comes to creating scenes. The better I know a place in reality—the better I remember not only how it looks, but how it sounds (is there traffic noise? Or just the wind shushing through the dunes?), how it smells (brine? earth? smoke?), how it feels (the coarse rasp of sand, the smooth slick of oil)—the better I can bring it to life for my readers.

One such place for me is the Isle of Mull, in western Scotland. I’ve lived on the island for twenty years, and my first four novels are at least partly set here. In Walking on Wild Air I describe an unnamed island: its white-sand beaches, green fields and heather-clad hills, its views of distant mountains, and its small towns and single-track roads. All my descriptions, from the opening ferocity of a thunderstorm to the peaceful dance of hilltop grasses in a gentle breeze, come direct from my own experience.

The Calgary Chessman is the first in a trilogy of archaeological romances with a contemporary setting, and it opens with a walk along the sands of beautiful Calgary Bay in spring.

The wind was too cold. I was a fool to have come out without my coat: my calendar said it was spring, but no-one had told the wind off the sea. Sand stung my legs as I plodded down the beach, meandering just above the high tide line. Sparse grasses bound the sand around their roots, but much of the fine, white powder was loose, and the sea breeze blew it around my feet…

…I pushed my hands into my pockets and pulled my cardigan more tightly around myself, but the chill air crept in anyway.

Is it working? Do you feel the chill? Later we visit the bay again, busy with visitors on a summer’s day, and Cas Longmore, our heroine, walks around the headland to gaze out over the sea towards the other islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

I climbed steadily for a few minutes and then, as I turned the headland, the hubbub died away and the still clearness of summer air enveloped me. A slight sea breeze sprang up and I tucked my hair behind my ears, although it blew straight out again. I stopped and gazed northwest across the vast, blue ocean, feeling the heat of the sun strike square between my shoulder blades, as palpable as a physical blow.

Calgary Bay is beautiful in any weather, be it a gale off the sea so strong it dents the eyeballs, or a bitter winter trudge in full wet-weather gear, hunching your head between your shoulders against the icy strike of a hailstorm, though it’s at its loveliest on a calm, warm day, when the white sand and turquoise sea are as inviting as any tropical resort. But watch out:

Sam charged into the sea and straight back out again, hardly more than damp above the knee. “It’s freezing,” he shouted. “I thought it was supposed to be summer.”

…”It’s always cold,” I reminded him. “You’ve been here before.”

His face was rueful. “I never remember,” he muttered. “It looks so shiny and blue, and the sun’s so hot, and I always think it’s going to be warm.”

I’ve seen the Bay in all its weathers and I hope I’ll pay many more visits to add to my memory stock. It’s a very different story when I describe the other touchstone location in The Calgary Chessman: hidden Huna Bay in northern South Island, New Zealand. ‘Huna’ is a Maori word meaning ‘secret’, and the hidden secret of the book is that the location is as hidden from me as it is from you. I grew up in New Zealand, and had two notable missed opportunities to visit the glories of Abel Tasman National Park, both trips cancelled at the last minute after a great deal of forward planning. To my disappointment, I’ve never made it back. But Cas Longmore’s grandparents run their family farm on the edge of the National Park, and Huna Bay is the sanctuary Cas’s mind goes back to in times of danger or loneliness.

Here I’m using the full power of my imagination, buoyed up by the descriptions of friends or other writers, and many photos and paintings that I’ve seen over the years. This is the polar opposite of ‘write what you know’. One day I hope to go there, and to walk the Abel Tasman track or kayak the shoreline, to see how accurate I’ve been. Here Cas is dreaming of her favourite place in the world.

At first blinded by the sun striking molten silver off the sea, I could see nothing but the shocking turquoise of the water. Ahead, the warm sand edged away into a sparkling sea. The sun stood high in the vault of the sky and bathed me in its beneficent glow.

I turned a full circle, taking in the crescent of beach backed by a small cliff, itself topped with a green tapestry of leaf, fern, and creeper; a verdant brocade spilling over the cliff and weaving itself over every surface. At the foot of the cliff a tiny creek emerged from a green pool, filled by the constant curtain of drops trickling down the cliff face.

If you’re thinking about taking up the pen (or keyboard) of the serious writer, or if you already write and are looking for ways to extend and improve your work (and we are all, always, doing that) it can be both pleasurable and useful to sit down, close your eyes, and imagine a single location in detail. Get all those senses working: really feel yourself to be there. Then, while it’s still fresh in your mind, write it down. It may never end up in a book, but I guarantee it’ll sharpen your sense of the place you’re trying to describe.

I wrote my first description of Huna Bay as part of a mental health exercise, where I developed an imaginary safe place to which I could retreat in my mind if real life became too difficult or threatening. It remains my sanctuary, just as it is for Cas, and I hope its magic never fades.

The Calgary Chessman is available in e-book and paperback, and if you decide to read it I’d be delighted to hear what you think of it. I hope its locations are evocative, and that one day, when all the present troubles and restrictions are over, you have the opportunity to visit it in person, and not just via my imagination.

You’re all invited to my Facebook event 8am-midnight BST on Sunday 26 July 2020. Drop in any time to join the conversation, with music, competitions, and book-related chat.

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You can follow me at my Facebook page and friendly group, on Twitter, or my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, and I’m always happy to answer questions on Goodreads.

Author pic by Sam Jones at Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull

The themes of ‘Walking on Wild Air’

I’m going to talk about the themes of Walking on Wild Air. However, I’m going to try and do it in a way that doesn’t spoil the story, for those of you who haven’t read it yet. So please excuse me if I waffle a bit.

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Walking on Wild Air is a love story with a twist: a Scottish island paranormal romance with an unexpected ending. The plot sees Sushila Mackenzie grieving her dead father, still carrying physical and emotional injuries received during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami ten years before. She arrives at her father’s old house, at the base of a great hill on a remote Scottish island, and takes refuge there, too distressed to come to any decision about her future.

The island is very beautiful, a calm sanctuary away from the cares of the world. Sushila pushes herself to climb the hill, reliving memories of childhood adventures with her father. She thinks, too, about her mother and grandmother, and her life growing up in their vibrant, colourful, multi-ethnic Sri Lankan community.

On the hill she meets local inhabitant Dougie MacLean, a shepherd who lives alone following the death of his wife. He is kind and cheerful, and Sushila is immediately attracted. But Dougie hides a great and dreadful secret. Learning it will stretch Sushila to her limits. Falling in love with her puts him at terrible risk.

Love and grief are at the heart of life. We are born in anguish, and learn to feel joy. We love and lose, and every loss brings further pain. But without the love we would be empty, and life would be meaningless. Sushila believes she cannot cope with any more pain. For a while, loving Dougie brings her healing: a peace and joy she thought she’d never experience again. But it cannot last. There is a price to pay, and one of them must have the courage to face it.

Dougie’s own grief began long, long before. We get a glimpse of how very old he is through a series of brief stories, ranging across 10, 000 years of Scottish history. The truth implies an extended existence of almost unimaginable loneliness.

The boundless depth of his empathy holds a healing power for Sushila and she rapidly comes to depend on him, to the exclusion of all other relationships. She is willing to set aside her growing friendships with a group of women friends, and all semblance of a normal life, to join Dougie in his strange second life. But slowly they come to realise that their paths are too different.

The themes of Walking on Wild Air are about love, and loss. About family, and a kinship that holds strong down the ages. But the principal theme of the book can be described with a single word: Sacrifice.

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living on a Scottish island. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition. Her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air, is published by Ocelot Press, and her trilogy of archaeological romances, beginning with The Calgary Chessman, will also come out with Ocelot during 2020. Her short story collection, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is available from Crooked Cat Publishing.

You can follow her in any of these places:

Goodreads where she welcomes questions.

Facebook and her friendly group



Walking on Wild Air: genius loci and the spirit of place

Walking on Wild Air , Scottish island ghost story/romance, re-published in Kindle e-book/KU and paperback 28 June 2020

Ocelot Press

Genius Loci is a Latin term for the deity that rules over a particular place or location. The Oxford Reference dictionary says “every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived”. We humans are fond of personifying inanimate objects and places, and it’s an important part of many mythologies.

Whenever I visit somewhere new I’m keen to find out the local name for it, preferably in the native tongue of the place, which can often give a sense of meaning or history. For instance the Isle of Mull (where Walking on Wild Air is set) derives from a Norse word meaning a high flat plateau viewed from the sea. Seamarks like this were useful to the Norse, who went everywhere on the Sea Roads and could navigate by way of familiar landmarks. ‘Vik’, meaning harbour, and ‘Tarbert’, meaning…

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Fairy Stories, W B Yeats, and the Twisted World

In 1974 I was given a copy of Charles Causley’s Puffin Book of Magic Verse. On the cusp of childhood and adolescence (aged 12) I was already a veteran of Hobbits and Narnians, and had been making up tales and rhymes for as long as I could remember. My mum used to say I wouldn’t know the truth if I fell over it in the street, although come to think of it that *might* not be a compliment.

There are some great classics in this book, including an excerpt from the longest poem I know by heart, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, and Causley had a real influence on my writing, not least in his careful assertion (in reference to the magical nature of these poems) that ‘spells don’t work once you’ve written them down’. Understanding this enabled me to write some heart-wrenching poetry after my partner died in 2016, reaching out to him, knowing he could not reply. We’d have ventured across the bourne, torn space and time apart, and destroyed the universe to get back to each other if we could. It’s just as well that wasn’t possible.

Also in the book was William Butler Yeats’ The Stolen Child, and it became one of my favourites. Raised on Andrew Lang and the Brothers Grimm, I thought of changelings as an evil perpetuated on grieving parents. But this poem presents an alternative—the child led into the faerie world as an escape from the grim misery of reality. And right now, with the world torn apart by pandemic illness, blatant and unrepentant racism, and the gender debate convulsed with prejudice and spite, it feels especially tempting to think about escaping into an alternative existence.

Yeats was born on 13 June 1865, 155 years ago, and he was no stranger to the misery of reality. I have no doubt he wrote poetry (felt compelled to write) as an escape from real life, but he knew it is so much more than that. It’s a way of facing reality and coming to terms with it. In The Stolen Child, Yeats paints a picture of a wondrous realm of sweet cherries, rushing waters, dancing and feasting. Who wouldn’t want to foot it with the fae “till the moon has taken flight”? The faeries are stealing the child, but they persuade him with delights and it all sounds wonderful. But in the final verse Yeats brings us home again.

“Away with us he’s going,

The solemn-eyed:

He’ll hear no more the lowing

Of the calves on the warm hillside

Or the kettle on the hob

Sing peace into his breast

Or see the brown mice bob

Round and round the oatmeal-chest.”

Here are the warm, homely pleasures the child will be losing. Wild frolics in the great outdoors are all very well, but he will lose the quiet security of home and the place where he really belongs. And suddenly that tempting vat of cherries has lost its savour.

In 1988 The Waterboys released Fisherman’s Blues, which included their version of The Stolen Child, very sympathetically done, with the verse spoken calmly over a quietly evocative soundtrack.

Telling stories is how we make sense of the world. And poets like Yeats speak to us just as strongly today as in the nineteenth century. Even in a pretty rhyme about fairies, so easily overlooked. My own writing is full of mythical references, and links to the writers and poets I love, perhaps no more so than in my book of short stories, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, which, along with longer stories, includes a number of Twitter-sized myths and fairy tales.

Y Gwanwyn (Spring)

The girl made of flowers

lay down with the fair-haired boy,

and naught but trouble

came of it,

as you might expect.


I left the sea

for the love of a man;

the joy I have had

is a handful of sand.

Let me lie on the shore

till the sea eats my bones;

though I yearn for the deeps

I can never go home.


Shall the storyteller’s daughter

be found by the river?

No, for she’s awa’

seeking mischief

wi’ the blue-eyed boys.

Treacle and Other Twisted Stories, free for kindle on 13/14 June 2020.

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook, and on my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, and I welcome questions from readers on Goodreads.

The Plaidie Piper of Pennyshian (audio)

The Plaidie Piper of Pennyshian, a new story inspired by a traditional folk tale. Written and recorded for the Isle of Mull community podcast project during Covid19 lockdown in April 2020. In two parts.

“All right,” said the eldest woman. “We will pay your price.” So the piper picked up his pipes, kilted up his old, brown, ragged plaid, and began to play.


The Blanket of Stars (audio)

22/4/20. World Book Night (though we are all stuck at home). This blog has been long in abeyance after a terrible year that’s taken me a good while to recover from. Now we are all in our annus horribilis, many in lock-down as the virus bestrides the world. I’ve been writing and recording children’s stories for our local island podcast, as part of my contribution to keeping my local community sane during the crisis. Here’s the first one I recorded – you’ve seen this story before. The recorded audio is free to listen to, and to share, via Soundcloud. I hope you enjoy it.

The Squirrel with the Marvellous Tail, or the importance of minor characters.

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Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

So, you’ve got a strong protagonist or two, a decent antagonist (that Groke, eh? Or maybe the weather itself), some plot and character development (Tooticky: did she support Moomintroll? Or challenge him? Or perhaps a bit of both). The setting is good (plenty of snow, not too many pine needles in the tummy) and the story is rolling along. So why add any more characters?

One reason is to challenge and develop the protagonist. If you think Tooticky was tough on Moomintroll, just wait until Little My comes along. She provides him with a whole new perspective.

Another is to keep our interest. We may feel we’ve heard enough about the protagonist. Give us a lively secondary character and it revitalises our interest in the story. Ski-ing, horn-playing Hemulen anyone? This type of character can draw another dimension out of our protagonist. Who hasn’t had unexpected guests descend upon one and eat everything in the larder except for the strawberry jam?

And then there are minor characters who steal our hearts. Little My does, certainly. She’s a character and a half. Tooticky is very lovable – as Tove Jansson would have been the first to confirm. But for me Moominland Midwinter is hijacked by a character who only appears briefly and then almost immediately (look away now) dies*.

I just love The Squirrel with the Marvellous Tail. There’s not much to him: some whiskers, a bit of scraggly brown fur, sharp eyes, and the most wonderful self-confidence you can possibly imagine. Even the terrifying Lady of the Cold is of no concern to him: he is living in the moment, and in that moment he will live forever. And he does have the most Marvellous tail.

Moomintroll goes through a terrible time, and comes through it stronger and smarter and a little bit more open to change, and that is the arc of the story. But the star turn is a wee beastie who surely, in summer, would have a bow in his tail.

*But NB keep reading. It might not be what you think.

On the Shoulders of Giants: in memory of Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

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I read my first Le Guin in late childhood, when I was in my first flush of Sci Fi discovery, moving on from fairy tales and fantasy to stuff that had more meat to it. She has been my favourite living author ever since. Until today.

She stands head and shoulders above all others in my personal pantheon, so what is it that I value so much about her? What is so special?

For a start, as a female writer, I owe her an immense debt. Growing up I didn’t consciously gravitate to male writers. I read whatever I could find that looked good to read, and in the arena of science and Sci Fi the writers were virtually all men. But at age 14 or so, back in the mid 70s, I was astonished to discover that some of my favourite writers were in fact female. Women who’d had to disguise their sex under initials or gender-neutral names in order to get published at all. And as for the hubris of daring to write science-based fiction? Andre Norton, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, L Taylor Hansen, and most of all U K Le Guin: I salute you. You changed the world. According to Wikipedia, six women have been named Grand Master of science fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Andre Norton was named in 1984, and Le Guin, at last, in 2003.

I do know that the sex-bias of early Sci Fi publishing is disputed, and there were plenty of writers who didn’t hide their sex under gender-neutral names, but it was and remains my perception that it was much more difficult for women writers to be taken seriously, particularly if they were writing ‘hard’ Sci Fi.

She’s been a vociferous and challenging voice up until very recent times, outspoken in her advocacy of books and writers and the universe of words. In 2014 she made a passionate speech about the value of writers to society, at the National Book Awards in New York after accepting the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters .

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.”

One of my favourite Le Guin novels is Rocannon’s World. It begins with a myth, Semley’s Necklace, which tells the story of the lost treasure of the Angyar, and the young woman who enters a dark cave to retrieve it, only to return home a few days later to be greeted by her baby daughter, now a grown woman. It cleverly takes a well known fairytale trophe, and explains it in terms of relativity. In fact, when I later came to study Einstein’s thought experiments and the Theory of Relativity, Semley’s Necklace was the strand on which I strung the precious (and elusive) beads of my understanding.

In Rocannon’s World the hard science of space travel, and of relativistic effects on aging and communication, rub shoulders with a generous and perceptive assessment of humanity and a convincing portrayal of alienness. Le Guin’s own invention of the ansible (enabling instant communication between star systems, although physical travel could take a generation) has spread throughout all the universes of Sci Fi, and we hardly remember a time when it wasn’t taken for granted.

She made magic wonderful again. I have my favourites (I’ll always be a Tolkienophile) but their worlds are distant from ours. We are shut out. Even those worlds (such as Narnia) which connect with ours are open only to a few. But in Earthsea, and the arch-mage Ged who began his life as a goatherd on the isolated island of Gont, we find a world that is open to all of us. The reason Earthsea’s inhabitants seem so accessible, so human, is that its mores and philosophies are taken from the Tao. I didn’t come to study the Tao until quite late in my life, but when I did it felt like coming home to an old friend, its cadences were so familiar.

Le Guin creates a philosophy of story-telling in one of my personal favourites, The Telling which was first published in 2001. Here the human perspective, the Haining Universe in which so many of her books are set, comes up against a peculiar military dictatorship, the prime focus of which seems to be to bar literacy, to destroy books, and to wipe out learning. In travelling this world, human envoy Sutty gradually begins to understand what motivates the people of Aka, and opens a doorway into her own soul. At heart, all Le Guin’s stories are about the individual’s search for meaning, for stories that help us to make sense of our lives, and The Telling shows that in a particularly wonderful way.

In Always Coming Home, Le Guin changed the rules again. Part memoir, part half-lost history – she calls it an archaeology of the future: an imagined California in which everything has changed, but people find ways of living that are meaningful and rewarding no matter how hard the environment. Gentle, elegiac, deceptively simple – a series of moments like beads on a string; you can read the book from cover to cover, or dip into it, or pick only the poems or only the narrative, as you please.

But here too we recognise the scholarship, the scientific basis for her work. See all that stuff in the news at the moment about the effects of plastic microbeads on the oceans? Le Guin predicted it in 1985.

Perhaps her most famous work, The Left Hand of Darkness, is a more difficult beast. I didn’t enjoy it as a teenager. I needed to live life a bit before I was ready for its politics, its difference. I sometimes feel now that Le Guin overdid the gender-bending aspects of her stories, and the peculiarities of Winter and its non-gendered natives is a particularly strong example. But creating a world in which everyone is of the same sex (or no sex, most of the time) and then dropping a lost and as usual confused earthman into the middle of them, enables her to play mindgames with us and she challenges our expectations. I expect I’ll still be reading this book into old age, and it will always have something new to tell me.

RIP Ursula Le Guin. Rest, of course – you’ve earned it. But don’t expect us to stop arguing about your stories. Long may that continue.

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