Posts Tagged Writing

6 things (you might not have considered) that will hold you back as a writer

1. You’re actually interested in the writing (you know, style, elegance of expression) — not just getting noticed for your hackneyed, no-intelligence, punctuation-doesn’t-matter story.

2. You hate Amazon: a company run by a psychopath with dodgy working practices being indulged by sycophantic governments as it moves towards a virtual monopoly position (my novel’s on Smashwords).

3. You hate Facebook: a data-mining company run by a psychopath (I’m not on Facebook).

4. You hate posts about how to promote yourself on social media (I deleted my Twitter account).

5. You find self-promotion rather unseemly, a bit undignified really (while recognizing you have to tell people it’s there — the novel, that is — if you want them to read it).

6. You think best-sellers are mostly shit (Dan Brown, James Patterson, E.L. James, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, to name a few), reflecting the poor taste of the “average” reader.

7 (bonus point). You recognize, at bottom, that this world isn’t really for you.

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Turnings taken without a map.

I think we’re alone now. Good. Because this is going to be a long and meandering — even maundering — post. I’m tired. And the motivation to write has left me. It would be fair to say I don’t see the point, and truly regret the labour I put into the novel I “promote” on this site. I think it spiritually exhausted me. Writing might even have been a wrong turning for me, an out of character hard shoulder, something I forced  myself to do, a kind of phony raison d’etre, a pseudo meIST religion. Work was the vulgar, secular world of having to make a living; art, in the form of writing, my spiritual calling. Utter, self-regarding nonsense, I now realise. I suppose it’s not uncommon to wish I’d been given better advice when I was younger, made to see how easy it is to delude and bullshit yourself, though I tend to the view that drowning in one’s own bullshit is a widespread human affliction.

I’ve deactivated my Twitter account (I’ve never been on the odious Facebook). It, Twitter, has pleading, shrieking “notice me”, “approve of me” aspects marinaded in desperation and unloveliness. Part of that world of recommends, upticks, upvotes, likes, etc. Here’s something like the ultimate expression of the latter coming to a community near you sometime soon: Sesame Credit

A world of endless connections has been created, of checking phones for updates of one sort or another. I’m not alone, cries the world; I’m connected (even if, for the most part, it’s only digitally). Twittering something every so often seems rather pointless to me, and I’ve always found self-promotion rather embarrassing, though I know that’s the world we live in now.

I voted for Brexit. I’m convinced that the Brexit vote is one of the most significant political events of recent years, even (perhaps especially) if the establishment don’t allow it to happen. They, the establishment, have been forced into the open. They have a near-total contempt for the lives of ordinary people, are themselves entirely insulated from, and indifferent to, the world of having to make a living. For them, it’s about power games and shaping the country and world to their will and vision. The British were noticing when the EU did their bullying number on Greece. So was the rest of Europe.

Immigration is not something gentle, generous, and benign, as people like the Greens would have you believe. It’s a sharp, weaponised means of undermining working conditions, communities, and cultures. Want a pay rise? Too bad. We’ve got ten migrants who’ll do your job cheaper than you, and who care not a jot about you. It’s surely worth noting that these migrants (seeking the iconic “better life”) either come from an inappropriately expanded EU (the Western powers wanted to get to the borders of Russia post-haste) or trouble-spots that weren’t troubled until we stuck our oar in. It isn’t hard for powerful countries, like Britain and the US, to create conflict elsewhere, and then open their doors to the refugees fleeing the trouble that wouldn’t have happened if they’d left well alone.

The game is up now, or at least it’s in the open. The EU is, always was, a hard-nosed economic union that was allowed to happen because of an unholy alliance between money-driven technocrats and the fluffy-headed well-meaning types who believed it was principally intended as a way of stopping war and bringing peoples together. A younger me counted himself among the latter — though, of course, the early (earlier) iterations of the EU could reasonably be regarded as a club of equals: that is, there wasn’t so much of a disparity of living standards between the countries involved. Opening the EU to the Eastern European countries (done, as I say, to undermine Russia after the fall of communism) was a tempting sparkling beacon of consumerist light to those who imagined freedom was the ability to buy lots of things. Of course it wasn’t done for political freedom; it was done for Coca Cola and Levis and Micky D’s.

The mainstream media (MSM) has lost its monopoly on the narrative. There are other narratives now, closer to the truth (and social media has played a big part in this). This is a catastrophe for the MSM, since they/it become irrelevant the moment people stop buying their view of the world.

Their narrative, incidentally: we’re the good guys, as is the US; globalisation is a GOOD thing; Russia is bad; there’s always a threat for which we, the State, have to protect you; freedom must be curtailed for the sake of protecting you from terrorism and protecting the children from bad people (no, NOT advertisers and Big Pharma — they’re good guys, too). Now, they’re on about false and fake news, suggesting in true Orwellian style that only they, the MSM, are telling you the truth. Only their view of the world is the right one. Dissent from that, and you’re a loon seduced by fake news and conspiracy theories.

Brexit happened despite the MSM being railed against it; so did Donald Trump. Supporters of both were vilified as ignorant and ill-informed before and after the vote, meaning they weren’t buying the doo-doo pouring out of the MSM. Another interpretation would be to say they — the people — used the tools available to them to kick the establishment, which is rightly perceived as serving only its own interests and that of other elites. We’ve seen now how much the elites really like democracy. Their fondness for it ends when it threatens to make a significant difference. Matteo Renzi resigned in Italy as a result of losing a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have given him and his office more power. It’s been a tumultuous year politically. I’m hoping for more across Europe in the New Year.

Me? I’ve lived more than half a century, and work as a Test Analyst. I live with my partner in the South East of England. I’d like to move. North(wards). I don’t own my home, but still hope I might. I think at one time I wanted to be a writer. A fairer world would have been nice, too. One where there was a right to a home and food and the other necessities of a decent life, and where the difference between the top and the bottom of a society was linked, so that the prosperity and misfortune were always — at least relatively — shared. Orwell, and others, had the same idea. It’s amazing how radical an idea it sounds now.

In some parts of the world, from your penthouse view, you can watch children climb over toxic dumps, looking for something they can sell to eat. But that’s okay, that difference between rich and poor — that’s freedom. And if the casino goes against the house elite, then you’ll hear about the need for austerity because we have to bail them out. They can’t fail, or we pay the price.

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Parenthetically speaking.

Consider this.

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?

The above sentence is from my novel. What we’re interested in here is the use of parenthesis or brackets, which I’m told I over-use, and which (I’m told) adds difficulty for the reader.

So – consider the following:

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent – or prudent – to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent, or prudent, to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent or prudent to tell her he was dead?

The question is: can and does the “average” reader mark the difference, appreciate the distinction? Or does the appearance of an “unfamiliar” punctuation mark (the brackets) simply act as a distraction, a stumbling block, a jagged impediment?

Consider, too, the following:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and (outside the private domain) invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a (the) DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed (quite correctly) that I had craved a quiet (or quieter) life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

Here it is again with the parenthesis replaced with dashes:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and – outside the private domain – invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a – the – DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed – quite correctly – that I had craved a quiet – or quieter – life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

To me, there is something of the theatrical aside to the parenthetic content, a change of tone, an extra thought – some of which might survive with the use of dashes, though it is distinctly weakened. With merely commas or no punctuation at all, this (the tone change, the extra thought) is entirely lost, and the meaning (not so subtly) changed.

Here it is again with the dashes stripped out and not replaced:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and outside the private domain invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a, the, DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed quite correctly that I had craved a quiet or quieter life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

It seems to me a lot of tone and voice is lost in the above if one compares it with its parenthetic counterpart.

But… perhaps all this sounds rather too precious, and one should simply go with reader feedback. In this word-processing, digital age, these things are easily changed. It would take very little in the way of effort to swap out the parenthesis for dashes and/or commas, and I could later argue that brackets – as a punctuation – are just too visible for the “average” reader, too much of a surprise. They’re not used to seeing it, I would say regretfully, and don’t quite understand why it’s there, nor how they should read it. Nuance, I would add snarkily, must be sacrificed on the altar of marketability.

I worry about this, of course. I fear the ability to read generally has been (is being) degraded, that poetry and its cousin, style, are now regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Will I, then, be searching and replacing my brackets? No (actually), I think not. There are so many other reasons for the novel to fail (in terms of the market), its subject matter for a start. The “average” reader is not going to be clamouring for my book anyway, parenthesis or not. And there’s surely something to be said for authorial integrity, for an artistic rather than a mercantile decision.

You can be sure, though, I’ll have it in mind for my next novel (partially built and in abeyance), which will be written third-person (the “average” reader is more used to this) and unburdened with “eccentric” punctuation.

I’ll end on this:

While I was sleeping in Italy, I heard news from overseas – England to be precise – that affected me emotionally and made me want to write a poem in protest.

Or:

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

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Punctuation – what a pisser!

It’s another one of those tiresome, technical things that get in the way of the great story you want to write. Punctuation – yawn or what? Boring boring boring! And, anyway, haven’t you read books which have hardly any punctuation and no speech marks. Yes, you have. Problem is, they’re written by writers who REALLY know how to do punctuation – so much so that they can SUBVERT it for effect. I know, it’s not fair. A bit like those people who get praise for unmade beds and piles of bricks.

Consider this: “hi sharon how’s it going”

What’s wrong with the above? It’s clear that someone is addressing another someone, presumably (but not certainly) a female, and asking her how she is. You’re doubtless more used to seeing something like the following:

“Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?”

I would write it as follows:

“Hi, Sharon – how’s it going?” Just a personal preference. I think the full stop a bit much, but a comma not enough.

Once upon a time, this would have been okay: “Hi, Sharon; how’s it going?” And, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable now, and does the job, but it might alarm the modern reader.

So, let’s take “Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?” and say something about it.

Do we really need the comma between Hi and the name?

“Hi Sharon. How’s it going?”

I hope that looks odd to you. It should. People’s names, when they’re being addressed, are usually enclosed in commas. That’s the convention, and it’s a convention that makes sense.

“Morning, Mike. Did you have a good evening?” Mike as opposed to Morning Mike, the popular AM radio entertainer.

If you doubt me on this, and you REALLY shouldn’t, go and check any book on your bookshelf (or ereader). “Good evening, Mr Bond. Your reputation precedes you.”

You’re not going to find it without the comma. If you don’t know this – or GET this – then just do it.

“Morning, Mary.” “Hi, Jon.” Hello, Tom.” “Greetings, Sue.”

Argue the merits if you wish, but that is how it’s done.

“Hi Mary.” People will point out the MISSING comma to you, especially if you do it more than once. I usually let the first instance pass – happily assuming it’s a typo – until I hit the next one… and the next. Then I point it out, not because I want to spoil your day, or sneakily suggest that your work isn’t compelling enough to distract me from dull stuff like punctuation, but because I want to help, and you ASKED for my advice.

Yes, I DO understand – it IS disheartening giving ten pages of white-heat creativity to someone, only to have them go on about commas and quotation marks and proof-reading. That’s what editors are for, right? That’s what THEY do.

Okay, then. Next time, ask me what I think of the STORY. Read it to me. Better still, make a recording. If you give me the text, I’ll assume you want to know about missing commas and misplaced apostrophes. Because, really, I think you do. I think you just get angry with yourself because you wish you could do all this boring punctuation stuff.

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Writing Services.

Have you written a novel? Well done! Pat yourself on the back. That’s a BIG achievement. You’ve every reason to be proud. But maybe, just MAYBE, you need a little help! I’m Doctor John, your manuscript doctor.

Yes, in your enthusiasm for getting your story done and OUT THERE, you’ve neglected the boring but IMPORTANT part – the writing. That’s where I come in. For a modest FEE, I can take your novel and make it into a book ready for an agent or publisher and the world. Remember, it’s all about YOU and your most important creation – your STORY.

It’s tedious, isn’t it? Worrying about boring things like punctuation and grammar and (don’t be silly) style when YOU just want to tell your story. I’m here to help with that. Send me your three less-good pages – and, hey, why not consult your friends to help you decide – and I’ll send them back to you EDITED. Not PROOF READ (that comes as a happy incidental), but EDITED. For FREE. Yes, your three worst (sorry, least-good) pages edited to the high standard agents and publishers demand. And, you know what, where I can detect a style, I’ll bake it right into the EDIT for you.

Once you have your FREE, fully EDITED three pages, do with them as you wish. They’re yours. Read them, learn from them, show them to your friends (the same ones you consulted earlier). They’re my no-obligation GIFT to you. After all, it’s your novel, your story, your work; I just helped a bit here and there with the boring part. Enjoy your writing and your life.

HOWEVER…  if you find yourself thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be REALLY great if all my novel were that well-written?” – well, hey, why not hire me. I’m yours for a one-off, flat fee of £10,000. Imagine. A mere £10,000 to make your novel, your story, your pride and joy, the best it can be. And while, of course, I can’t guarantee an agent or a publisher, I can guarantee you’ll have your special story as special as it can be.

But, hey, no worry, no obligation – read those magic three pages, talk to your friends, and ask yourself, “Is this story, my story, worth £10,000?”

I’m here for YOU! You know where to find me.

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Simply Balls.

[I wrote this short story ten years ago – eek! – following a software upgrade]

“All foreign balls are checked by default,” my supervisor told me, “so will go through Checker.”

“Right,” I said. “So we’re not using Editor anymore – ever – at all?” Editor was the old software.

“We can still look at orders on Editor, but we can’t do anything with them. We’re still checking the addresses on white box deliveries, but you won’t have to worry about them because they’ll be going through Tweaker.” Tweaker, another piece of software – not a person.

“Unless,” I said helpfully, “they need their balls checked?”

“If they need their balls checked, they’ll go through Checker, and you’ll tidy up their addresses in Checker.”

“So how will we know if they need their addresses tidied?”

“We’ll get the CLOs” – customer liaison officers – “to put something in the notes in Admin.” Admin, another piece of software.

“We don’t check the foreign balls,” I said; “or we never have done. So do we just ignore them when they show up in Checker?”

“Yes, we do. The overseas department check the foreign balls. You just carry on checking the balls you used to check in Editor.”

This conversation took place after the roll-out of an essential software upgrade. No-one had considered the impact on us, there being bigger fish to frazzle. Fortunately for me, I had a few days holiday coming up. No doubt everything would be sorted out by the time I returned.

A week later, I had the following conversation with my Balls Checking colleague.

“We’ve now got a list of clients who want their balls checking,” my colleague said, “and we’ve also got a list of clients who just need their addresses tweaked. Unfortunately, we’re seeing clients who should just be going through Tweaker coming into Checker. There are also some other clients in Checker we can’t account for.”

I said, “Does it matter if stuff that should only be going through Tweaker comes through to Checker, so long as they have their addresses tidied, and are subsequently sent out? It’s surely far worse the other way around. If they go through Tweaker when they should be coming through Checker, that means we’re not checking their balls. Would I be right in thinking that something that appears on one list shouldn’t appear on the other? That is, if something appears on the Tweaker list, it shouldn’t appear on the Checker list.”

“Well, no,” my colleague pointed out. “If it has to be checked and tweaked, it’s going to be on both lists.”

“I don’t see the point of that,” I said. “If it’s on the Checker list, it means it’s ours, whether or not it needs to be tweaked. The Tweaker list is for the tweakers, so that they know what to tweak and send out. If an order is on the Tweaker list and needs to be checked, the tweaker’s just going to assume it’s on their list because it needs its address tidied prior to being sent out. Why would they think or assume that it needed to be checked?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said my colleague. “There’s a list of orders that need to be checked, and a list of orders that need to be tweaked. What we’ve been trying to do is establish what should and shouldn’t be coming through Checker.”

“So what about the list that’s produced for the tweakers?”

“That’s a different list. It’s got nothing to do with these lists.”

I discussed the matter further with my supervisor that afternoon.

“Do the CLOs actually know what they’re doing?” I asked.

“In what way?”

“I thought we’d established that orders they wanted to go through Checker got a full tick in Admin, and white box orders got a half tick to send them through Tweaker.”

“We had. Or we thought we had. Unfortunately, we’ve also got some other stuff coming through, which we can’t account for,” he said. “It may just be a rumour, but I think the fluffy pink balls automatically go through Checker.”

I said, “Please tell me you’re just being idly funsome with me.”

“No, I’m absolutely serious. We’ve had trouble with the fluffy pinks, so any order with a fluffy pink will show up in Checker. We think.”

“Are you telling me that I can’t believe what I’m being told in Admin?” I asked. “I can’t assume that an order that isn’t ticked shouldn’t be coming through to Checker.”

“I’m afraid not,” my supervisor said sympathetically. “Not if there’s a fluffy pink in the box.”

The following took place the following day.

“Do you recognise any of these clients?” My colleague had approached, holding a list and a pen.

I looked at the list attentively. “Yes,” I said at length, which was true. “Those have to be tweaked and checked, and the Palmer order, which is extremely fussy, is done by Ian. Not only do they want the right colour combination of balls; they also want them in the right order. They claim it makes them easier to check their end.”

“Right,” said my colleague. “So these orders have always been checked.”

“Well, not always, but probably as long as they’ve been tweaked. They’ve been checked for a while anyway.”

“I didn’t know that,” my colleague said.

“No? Well, historically, there’s always been a line of demarcation between tweakers and checkers, so that if a brown box order went on check – that is, one that wasn’t tweaked – then it was done by us; but, if it had to be tweaked in some way, then it was done by tweakers. But there are far too many tweak orders now for specialist tweakers, so basically they have to be done dumb. If they need anything more than tweaking – i.e., checking – then we have to do them.”

“Right,” he said. “Well, I’ll add them to the list.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Hopefully, we’ll soon have something definitive to work from.”

An hour later.

“I’ve just found another order coming through Checker I’ve never seen before,” my colleague informed me. “I checked it in Admin, and it’s got a full tick.”

“Who’s the CLO?” I asked.

“Jemima someone-or-other,” he said.

“I think she’s new,” I said. “Might be struggling with the software.”

“So she might not know what she’s doing?” he asked. “Wouldn’t she have got some help from someone?”

“She sits next to Penny, so not much, no. The purblind leading the blind. Is there anything about the order that suggests it needs checking as well as tweaking?”

“Well, no. All the balls are the same colour, and they take the same amount every time.”

“So it probably just needs tweaking.” I smiled. “Unless we’ve employed a colour-blind packer.”

“I’ve emailed her,” he said. “I cc-ed you in.”

I checked my email. He had, indeed. “Have you had a reply?” There was no guarantee I’d be included in on the reply.

“No, she’s off until tomorrow,” said he.

“Oh, well,” said I.

Tomorrow came… all too quickly.

“I’ve just received a reply from Jemima,” my colleague said just before lunch. “Apparently, this order’s an exception. The balls are bigger than standard for their type, and all the same colour: therefore, they go through Checker.”

“How’s that an exception?” I asked. “There must be quite a few orders with balls of the same type.”

And the same colour,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “So you’re telling me that we don’t have any other orders of the same type and colour?”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” – my colleague sounded pained – “but you don’t seem to be taking any of this in. The order constitutes a consignment of balls bigger than standard for their type, and all of the same colour. So, yes, it’s an exception.”

“Right,” I said. “So we don’t have any other orders of bigger than standard balls of their type, and all of the same colour? Or did you mean they had to be of that particular type and/or colour?”

My colleague regarded me balefully. He said, “Okay. These are orange balls of type B – though bigger than standard for type – and the consignment has no other balls of either type or colour. This order comes through Checker. If we have a consignment of green balls of type G – though bigger than standard for type – then they too would go through Checker.”

“Hmm. Such consignments probably are quite rare,” I agreed. “Do we know why they come through Checker.”

“No,” my colleague said; “and I don’t really care. There’s not going to be enough of them to worry about. Probably just this one. Anyway, I’ve added it to the list.”

Three hours later, and Checker hardly seemed to be working at all. I approached my supervisor.

“Would I be right in thinking that something has gone slightly askew?” I asked.

My supervisor considered his reply. “I’m not going to be all Soviet and Kremlin with you, John,” he said at length: “the rocket exploded on the launch-pad.”

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The Literary Agent, or Submitting Your Manuscript to the Appropriate Authorities.

The trouble is I have (or had) a fixed idea about the right way to go about this. So first the method, then the (probably flawed) justification.

You have your novel (I’m not going to drone on about it being “polished”, etc; I’ll leave that to the dreary advice sites), and now – being a denizen of that height of civilization, the free market economy – you must “market” it, or, put simply, hawk and whore it to a bunch of agencies and/or small publishers that you hope against hope will be interested in the fruits of your labour. This usually requires producing a synopsis and cover letter and sending it off with the first fifty pages of the novel to an agent of your choosing as per the instructions on their website – so usually by email these days, though some still insist on postal submissions (for fiction anyway).

There are loads of sites offering advice on writing synopses and cover letters. Most of them – the sites – have a jaunty commonsensical tone, really as though they’re preparing children for the REAL world. “So you’ve written your novel, polished it, and made it the best it can be – good! Now the hard work starts.” Oh, ha ha… You’re tuned to Radio Free Smug.

Having once submitted your novel, you’re advised to forget it, or at least not brood overly much upon it. Rejection is routine; it will hurt routinely, and diminish you in small ways. You, sadly, believe in something intensely that the world is happy to ignore. Lots of people are in this situation, and the price of rejection is not always so gentle (sometimes you starve, sometimes you die; here, usually, unread writers just go on doing their living-making thing).

So why is the agency approach a good one? Or why was I convinced it was so? I suppose because I imagined you were submitting (in some sense) to an arbiter of quality, someone who could tell the shit from the sugar. To get an agent is an achievement because it says some other someone believes in your book enough to want the privilege of representing it to the world (a younger me naively imagined this had to do with art rather than money). You’re validated; you can write. Or, at least, someone else – someone in the biz – thinks you can.

Nowadays, of course, there are many routes to get your book out there, most of them bypassing the nod or approval of another person, never mind one that knows anything about writing. Bands do this, of course: they get gigs and build an audience around their music and act. Why shouldn’t writers appeal directly to an audience and build a readership without recourse to the percenters in the middle? Of course, they can and should. And some have done this successfully, though most of them turn out to be dreadful writers. Whenever there’s a story about a writer who’s got a big advance as a result of being successful on the web, I look them up and invariably have the same reaction: Oh, yes, more shite. The vast majority of the big, bad world out there doesn’t know what good writing is (sorry, but it isn’t just what people want to read). I suppose my fear is that it’s all like that now. Despite saying that they’re looking for “unique” and “unusual”, what agents really want is stuff that will sell by the truckload – sod the quality.

Self-publishing has never appealed to me; indeed, it has, for me, something of a whiff of failure about it. This might be a limitation in my way of thinking. After all, I’m blogging here, not submitting this to a magazine or paper for someone’s approval. But, of course (and this has to be recognized and acknowledged), I’m also mostly being ignored.

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