TIH 476: John Niven on Kill Your Friends, The Trip, and The F*ck-it List

TIH 476 John Niven on Kill Your Friends, The Trip, and The F*ck-it List

In this podcast, John Niven talks about Kill Your Friends, The Trip, The F*ck-it List, and much more.

About John Niven

John Niven is a Scottish author and screenwriter. His books include Kill Your Friends, The Amateurs, and The Second Coming.

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They’re Watching by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella

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Michael David Wilson 0:07

Welcome to This Is Horror Podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson. And every episode I chat we're masters of horror, about writing, and life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is John Niven, the author of books such as kill your friends, the amateurs and the bucket list, and a screenwriter of a number of films including one of my favorites in recent years the trip. Now John is an author whose fiction is not easy to classify, because he never neatly fits into the genre or literary writer box. But what he is is a writer with an acerbic wit, a master of satire, and an equal to the likes of people such as Chuck Palahniuk, Martin Amis, and Bret Easton Ellis when it comes to delivering social commentary. Now we had a fascinating conversation, in which we discussed his beginnings and ANR his forthcoming releases, and a multitude of other topics. But before we get to that conversation, it is time for a quick advert break.

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Michael David Wilson 3:09

Okay, well with that said, let us not delay. It is John Niven on dare says horror. John, welcome to This Is Horror.

John Niven 3:22

Thank you. Nice. Thank you for having me,

Michael David Wilson 3:26

is an absolute pleasure. You are one of my favorite writers. So I am honored to get you on the show. And I mean, to begin with, I wanted to know what early life lessons you learned growing up and they don't necessarily have to pertain to writing but anything that you learn in your formative years.

John Niven 3:50

Oh, gosh, life is quite grand, isn't it? I don't. I don't know that these things become apparent to your older life lessons. That's such a big question. What life lessons did I live when I was young? When my father died, I suppose I was relatively young, I was only 26. And then, like a lot of people who lose a parent relatively young, it's a bit of a bit of a starting gun going off for you, sort of telling you that life is short ish, and that you should crack on and try and try and do the things you want to do. And I'd kind of when I look back now, I think to a degree without getting graduates you're either born the rater or you're not you're born with the instincts baked in, and I had kinda think wouldn't it be right since I was very young. And I had sort of put off fully engaging with our thing because it seemed inevitable inevitable that you will feel. And I think that a few years after my dad died, I got a bit more serious about that. I think it was sort of taunting theoretische but the team were really committed to, to doing it properly. And I think it was maybe something to do with the lesson to take away from my father with a movie 68 When he died. So, as you can see, I've always sort of say to you, you better crack on and try and do this. That was the one of the bigger life lessons, I guess, of my 20s. But, but I'm, I guess you're asking my formative years. Each Other No. No, it's pretty stupid up until my 50s.

Michael David Wilson 5:45

Right, right. Yeah, I think a lot of us were, I think that's, you know, you kind of learn your lessons through doing dumb shit and making a load of mistakes. And hopefully, as you get older, you make a few less mistakes, or they're less severe or No, doesn't always pan out that way.

John Niven 6:04

No, I'm still fully capable of being very stupid today. But I think, you know, you're, when I was working in music industry, when I was in my 20s, it was a pretty hedonistic time. Then when I started writing as quite, quite clearly on that, I couldn't do it with a hangover. Right? I think because you're, you're trying to let the dream a whole world into being, you know, you're trying to create something out of nothing. And that requires quite a big level of self confidence and self belief. And the kind of hangovers you start getting, once you get into your 30s sort of prohibit that gives you sort of crippled with self loathing and doubt in that's not a suddenly phone, I couldn't rate from that kind of place. So by necessity of trying to become a writer, what I thought was quite late in life, you know, my early 30s, it felt like had left it quite late, I sort of just began living a lot more sensible than I had been in my late 20s. So you know, and they will look back at that period at the time was terrible, because I had sort of been my bridges and left the music industry. So I'm combined no two, but 2002. Three, has sort of been my bridge to the music business. And they was by no means certain that I had succeeded. And writing you know, the great British novel, which I finally thought I'd, you know, I do within a couple of years before I ran out of money. And it sort of took five years in the end. And I was living very hand to mouth and off the challenge of family and friends for a little while, until thankfully, king of all came good. But look back in something shut off thinking going and might not have become good. But that period now in the rearview mirror, I think of quite fine look. So what's very hard, you know? And as anybody who's trying to write that first novel, does, you're working very hard with absolutely no guarantee that, you know, there's always a voice inside. You. See, no one's going to care about this. What are you doing wasting time writing this bloody book that no one's going to publish? And even for doing nobody's going to care about? You have to sort of you know, it's quite a it's a full time job quiet and quiet kid. quietening. That voice though?

Michael David Wilson 8:36

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, it's interesting that you always wanted to be a writer. And of course, you studied English Literature at the University of Glasgow, you read in the likes of Martin Amos from a young age. So I'm just wondering, How did you land a job in a&r in the music business? Because it almost seems like a sideways move from someone who was always interested in literature and writing was

John Niven 9:08

a kind of diversion. Yes, but I've always loved music, too. And so I made my first couple attempts at writing when I was an undergraduate, I have short, short stories on the lake as many an undergraduate before and after me as a but I'd always been in bands since I was a teenager, and I love music and playing guitar. And the band I was in, got a sort of indie record deal, and we were on tour. As best you know, the sort of late 80s I'm talking about. And I took a couple of years at a university where I moved to London and we're, you know, we're trying to we could go with the band. And then it became apparent that wasn't going to happen. Head were really, really poor. Remembering at the London Marathon, they think 1989 And between four of us we didn't have an have money to buy one a scream room, I think voice is a pretty hard relief right here. And I wound up going back to finish my degree. And then after a graduate, because it's two years out, by the time I graduated, I guess I was 2324. And I, I had been broke for as long as I could remember, you know, kill was, you know, a student, then it was an indie band, and there was a student again. And so, when you got to the early 90s, when I was graduating, I was kinda desperate to earn some money. And I was both lazy and greedy. But I got a fast in the future. So I got interviews at the milk chrome with merchant banks and places like that. I remember having interviews with Credit Suisse and Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, and people like that. And then, of course, these are huge salaries, you got to start with these polices. However, it became apparent you had to be in work at like 6am. And you'd be there at nine o'clock at night. And I remember thinking,

Michael David Wilson 11:03

so yeah, I was quite

John Niven 11:05

lazy. But yeah, I was also greedy, and wanted to make lots of money. So the music industry is somewhere that welcomes lazy greedy people with open arms. So it seemed like a&r was somewhere we could roll into the office at lunchtime. And but if you're successful, you can make a lot of money. So I just grabbed your god, this is getting really specific, but my cousin, Kevin, like then just one song, I literally had a cousin called Kevin Wright, he, he ran a record shop in Glasgow, the early 90s. And it was at the height of the sort of British dance music boom, where, um, you know, there were lots hundreds of 1000s of kids going clubbing every weekend and buying records and wanting to be DJs. And we will electoral nd dance, they will could put a 12 inch single and sell at 10 15,000 copies easily in these sorts of numbers that would put you in the top 10 today. And Kevin wants to set up a record label as well as the shop. And he said, Well, you've been the band user record, do you know how that stuff works? Don't you create manufacturing records and distribution? And I didn't at all, obviously, when I was in the band, I kind of thought was Keith Richards and I didn't have to get involved with that stuff. But I wanted a job so late to Kevin and said, Yeah, I kind of heard a lot. And so the next thing I knew we'd sort of set up this little indie label in Glasgow and maintain 91 to this. And we did very well with a run of releasing some really good singles that did quite well. And you went to conventions, and you know, conferences, and I started to meet people from major labels. And then within a couple of years, some that London Records are from a job. They're an a&r, as you've been at 94 at this point. And so moved to London, again, for the second time, for the first time being with the band a few years previously, and moved down again. You know, just to sort of what we know called Britpop was beginning to explode. You know, it was 94 it with all the rise of ISIS and partly from all that malarkey. And so suddenly, the kind of background I came from, of nd guitar music had gone from being, you know, quiet backwater to moving into the mainstream. So it was quite exciting in that way. There's a lot of connections in that world. So you know, what, to cut a long story short, what wound up happening was I sort of stumbled pretty much at university. And within a couple of years into a major label, you know, job where you were ludicrously well paid any big expense account and company car and travel, you know, yeah, it was pretty seductive lifestyle. So, bubbling away all the time, I have made a couple of other attempts during this period. To write an oval again, I think 1989 At the end of the band before resuming the degree, I got about 100 pages into a novel, which looking back now it was very violent, sort of American Psycho tape novel, which I would have been writing actually, at the same time as British novelist was writing American cycle would have been 18. A. But I just didn't have the self discipline. At that age. When I guess I was 2122. I didn't have the self discipline that you need to finish a project. I wouldn't have that until I was older. In my early 30s, to be honest, I remember read a quote of Debbie Hargreaves and make the book making tracks the rise of Blondie, where she said she had a lot of the same creative impulses, and her late teens and early 20s as the ones that eventually made us successful, but she didn't have the sort of self discipline to have, you know, fealty, and it was certainly similar for me. I had a lot of the same I could probably have done the similar a ton of Ray's in terms of prose, and my early 20s as dead as I could to 10 years later when I started writing seriously, but I just didn't have the self discipline to shut the door behind you for, you know, five or six hours every day that it takes to get a novel written. And so I've never finished anything, you know, which is a common problem. When you talk to people who want to be writers, you need to somehow get to the finish line, and then go back to page one. And, you know, my least favorite part of the whole process is rereading the first draft, you know, write my own phone, I know that I'm sure the summary of his first draft you could probably take to the printers. But my first drafts are always such a mess. And it's just a case. The second drafts were the real work takes place, you know. But yeah, it took me until I was a middle probably 30 to 33. Till I was able to do that.

Michael David Wilson 15:57

So then what is the first book that you finished music from big pink or the order in which they were published? Was that not necessarily the order in which they were written?

John Niven 16:09

Or? That's a good question. No, it was the first one I finished properly, I sort of made a stab at the novel that would become kill your friends or music from big pink, but I just couldn't get it to work. I was writing the book. At that time, the version of kill your friends I was writing. For a set for a start it was called underequipped which is a music industry term for a bands debts, you know that outstanding balance. And they are rather grandly imagined that revealed obliquely, to the Catholic character so and the book was written in the third person, and it was just a bit sanctimonious. It was a bit of a candied tape story about, you know, a young, decent, innocent lads who get into the music business and becomes corrupted. And it really Stein get these chests all preachy and sanctimonious. And so I put it to one side, when I had the idea for music from big pink. And because it was a novella, it was only going to be about 35 40,000 wants seem more manageable. And then I thought of you all this time, of course, like anyone at that stage of the career was trying to get an agent. And once I had a publisher from back pain, and it was an indie publisher in America, continuing books, and they were, you know, a tiny advance, I think it was like three $4,000. But I kind of thought, Well, you never know, maybe if it comes out, and it gets some good reviews, that might help me get an agent, which was, in fact, what happened. We got a fantastic review in the New York Times. And then I got my first agent off the back of that. And she said to me, so what are you working on next? I said, Well, this book, kept your friends, but it's not really working. I sort of went back to the drawing board. And the thing I did that made a seismic difference when attempting the novel, The second time, was an essay to rate it in the first person. And the first person from the point of view of the character who is the antagonist in the original draft that can rather than from the point of view of somebody who's decent becomes corrupted, or wrote it from the first person point of view of the corrupted guy, the guy who is in the belly of the beast, and you absolutely loved it there and was completely unapologetic about all the terrible things they thought and said that and as soon as I made that decision, the book just started to fly was just at a whole other gear. And I wrote that guess music from big pink came out in 2005. So for the rest of 2005 to 2006 I was working on carrier friends, and then delivered it to me range and maybe summer of 2000 section we went back and forth and a few edits and rewrites and then yeah, we got our typical for from well, or Foster was torn down, of course by I think 1819 publishers. And it was getting pretty desperate. So I was just about to turn 40 And I sort of promised my government that you know, if I don't have a publishing deal overnight, from I've not made it if you will, by 40 I'll go off and do teacher training or something, you know. Yeah, prospect which was failing me but if anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not really cut out for it. I've seen that. So, anyway, I think it was just after my 40th birthday that we got the deal with Random House where you made them and then came out the following year and lo and behold, did very well. So here we are nearly 20 years on so it's still ending up, crush that but yeah, it was a A period I look back on quite fondly, no, but it didn't feel that way at the time. Yeah. And funnily enough, I've just finished about a CFA, I'm almost finished writing a memoir that I've been working on for the last three years, which is about my brother, and I. And as part of doing that, I found myself digging out some old days. And I don't know, if you're aware, there's a, there's an old saying that only virgins in general should keep diaries. Either people who have done nothing at all with the latest, you know, have all the woods a table in their hand, on their hand, or people who have done lots of stuff, and I've watched to recap should do that. But I found that my dailies for the period, sort of, I was just talking about 2002 through the through Tibbett, 2007. Eight. And what you might see on the failure years, I've been quite extensive IVs for all those years, because as soon as my career takes off, and you start to get busy, you don't have time, once either. Yeah. But back then, when I had nothing else going on, I kept quiet. I followed it. And it's all just, there's so much anxiety in those pages about money about the future about the stuff I'm working on, is it going to work out and you can always go back 20 years and then hold my own hand and say, come down over here. It's not that you're, you're doing better than you think, you know. At the time, it was pretty scary.

Michael David Wilson 21:28

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

John Niven 21:30

I guess I guess. I feel you know, it really but that time, it really wasn't last row the days you know, I sort of thought, what am I going to do if this doesn't work out? Well, funnily enough of that. I was. I talk about this in the memoir. Because Afghanistan via the mid naughties a bit 2005 Maybe just before big pink came out. I was. I was you're really despairing about what am I going to do? When I was a kid, my father had been in that EF and the Second World War, he really worked to be a pilot, but couldn't be because he was colorblind. So he wound up being a mechanic on aircraft. And he actually applied to the tail end, Charlie, the real gunner on heavy bombers, you know, who'd like one in 10 survival rate or something, they'd often just have to get hosed out of the cockpit, after I made sure Smith or whatever had snuck up in them. So he, he was desperate to fly my dad. So when I was a kid, I really wanted to pilot a pilot, up until we discovered, well, this all went out the window when I discovered punk rock, and it was about 13. But up until that age, I thought it was going to be a pilot, nerdy F. And so fast forward sort of 20 odd years, and I'm sitting despairing one day about what we're doing in the future, because I have a son by then who I couldn't really help or at the time, and I thought I know what I was, I was just on the internet and early days of Internet, and I found the RAF website. And I just clicked an officer's that said, you know, do to get into officer training. You need a university degree or equivalent. I thought, right, I've got that. And I said, the upper age limit is 39. I think at the time, I was something like 5067. So normal, yeah, they'll get in there. And so I wound up one day getting the train into Tottenham Court Road. And I found myself in the RAF recruiting office, filling in a form for Office. And then, I had this sort of out of body experience where I saw looked down at myself, and thought what the fuck you just sort of ran out of here? Yeah, but yeah, it was a kind of wake up moment where I thought Ray, okay, if we're not going to join them here, so we really need to make this rating thing work. So we got to give it absolutely everything. You know, Annie. I think I was walking at that point for lemonade in the morning that's on lane and they just rained just trying to get better. Thankfully, we got on the air. We're not We're not I'm not speaking to you from an RAF base somewhere.

Michael David Wilson 24:09

Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, you were talking before about originally, just not being able to finish things and I think that is an incredibly kind of common complaint from people starting out as right as but it sounds like in terms of what the impetus was, it was just absolute fear and desperation. It was, you know, not going into teacher training. And stuff like that.

John Niven 24:36

Was a lot of a mother with the Spanish in there to anyone who has a teacher is still a little but I yeah, there's a lot of fear and desperation flying about that time. For sure. But a lot of times when you meet people who are who want to be right as a starting out, I often tell them about the pediments. So if you picture the pyramid, at the very top of it, there's a tiny door that's occupied by jaw rolling and Stephen King down people with that, who's 10s of millions of books. Below that there's another very small strata occupied by writers who make a very good living, you know, I think the stats are something like 10% of published writers account for 70% of the income. So some of that was sales probably in that band. Below that, you've got another chunk, and this is still quite a small band of people who make a modest living from writing, you know, maybe equivalency, where teaching earns, the more that you get people who make some money from writing. But the killer have to do level job. Really. Below that. There's quite a big band of people who have written novels that remain unpublished. Below that there's people who are writing things. This is a pretty big band, though, who are writing things that will never finish. And below that, people who are who talk about writing a novel, so when you meet people you meet most of you, yeah, I'm gonna, if I'm thinking of writing a book, I might write a book and they toss it off as if it's really, you know, might get some milk or paper. Yeah, always looking with amazement at the end, then there's sometimes just one Acacia to post. Yeah, I'm gonna write a book and good luck with that. And he said, John, will you ready? No. Do you work out in advance? What's going to happen? Well, yeah, to completely every moment of it. But yeah, I have a bit of a roadmap, you can see, okay, well, it reminds me the bet in The Simpsons really go to ECI and scratch your world. And then one of the robots takes the top of its head off, you can see all these wires and machinery and marches to oversee Homer. That's why your robot didn't work. But your robots got a chance of working, actually absent wiring. So if you were talking about writing a book, you're probably not going to do it. The next stage up the parliament is people who are writing stuff and never get it finished, which I was in for a good few years. And then you get if you can just finish what you're writing, this is what I tell people, if you just finish something, you're going to jump into the next strata of the pediment, where it's getting much and you get much nearer to the top than you think just because you've finished something. And then, you know, with luck in the wind behind, you never know, you may get it published. And then you know, you're at least buying a ticket to the lottery at that point, right? Yeah, they're good. But just finishing something moves you from the you know, and the bottom strata that pyramid, there are hundreds of millions of people who talk about writing a book and ever do it. And then there's 10s of millions who try to write something, never finish it. If you can just get yourself up into the narrower band of people actually finish something. That's quite an achievement. Garbage. If you've at least at least you're Gabi

Michael David Wilson 28:06

right. Yeah. Yeah. And it's so interesting, the amount of people, you know, who you'll meet, and you're saying, I'm a writer, and they're like, oh, yeah, yeah, I think, well, I'll write a book one day, and you know, if you introduced yourself as an electrician, they wouldn't say, Oh, I think I might do a little bit of that on day. Or like, Beethoven did people say to him, I might knock off a little symphony and in a weekend Yeah,

John Niven 28:37

well, I guess is because writing has a dual capability, isn't it we can all rate to some extent, whether or later for the band man, or a note for the way everybody can rate. So people kind of, you know, when you if you review a symphony, you don't rate a symphony in response, you rate a pro is review. So pro is that many people feel they have a sort of competency, and you know, and you read a lot of criticism of novelists, you know, written by people who clearly wish they could write novels themselves, you know, yeah, some of the some things you would have received a really bad review. For something I've done often think is a fair bet that that person has four or five unpublished novels and a bunch of unproduced screenplays in the in the desk drawer. You know, don't get me wrong, I think good credit when it's done well and written well as an art form and itself. But in a lot of the time, think Martin the mysid the nvm betterness never come to the ball dressed as envying betterness they come dressed as Hey, main dudes, artists artistic outrage, or, you know, whatever the review is dressed up as

Michael David Wilson 29:55

right. Yeah. Yeah. And sounds like The turning point in terms of kill your friends was right in gear from the perspective of Stephen stale Fox. And I mean, like a lot of antagonists. I mean, like like John self like Patrick Bateman is just something deliciously infective in terms of just how much of an asshole you know, Steven Scaleform says, and he's just so many great one liners. And I'm wondering, did Steven still fight was kind of just come to you as as was? Or was this something that

John Niven 30:43

there were two or three, as with real people on their own and a really good enough for electric character, you need to take bits from a few different people and put them together sort of Frankenstein. So his head and some color came from one guy I used to work with his sort of cynicism. And a sharp tongue came from another one, a guy who was actually a Western Los Angeles last week. content in the bar. Yeah, he was out there. And we were still friends. You know, I'm 30 years later. And he knows that the character was partly based on them. I think he quite likes it secretly. So we are catching up. But yeah, we had the sort of rule that anything that I'd had sort of behind closed doors, and music business, no matter how outrageous or vicious, you know, and misgender executives tend to see really outrageous vicious things about the artists they work with. Especially if it's not going well. That had a rule that if I'd heard that in a private moment, then the character could see or think. And so that gave a pretty wide remit to some of the things stick with. So Fox was allowed to stay in thank we funnily enough, I don't know if you get the novel published today, concerning the sort of levels of sexism, homophobia, misogyny, and racism, you know, I don't know that you'd have an easy time getting a bit without published No, then it was the case, what, 15 years ago. So that seems to get we're quite fortunate for timing, I'm sure, yeah. But once once you sort of allowed the guy and the character to talk and an unfettered way. Like I said, the end of the book just kind of started to rate yourself. It just flew. And then as I said, when it was published, you know, to some acclaim and success, I think, because I was just turning 40. I thought, right, I've got my foot in the door, I can't let up. So I think you know, what you will, and the sort of 12 years or so that followed that published 10 novels. I can think that's quite common. You think you'll get your foot in the door, and somebody's giving you a chance that you're not going to? You're not going to let it slave you know? I mean, that to me, my I mean, you get the cream guys are in rank and publishes a book a year pretty much always astonishes me I'm not, you know, then on the other hand of that, you've got the literary dudes look to your Donna tarts, who published a novel every 10 years, or five years, maybe. I always think, like Stephen King said, he always thinks what are you doing? With your time? What do you ask everyone, you're going to get 1000 watts or so and and that means you've got to, you know, even if the lottery right, you're producing awful every couple of years, so which tends to be my aim, or it's like every other year, I'll publish a novel. So yeah, to be you don't work as hard as the genre, guys. But I probably work a bit harder than the inverted commas literary novelists. Right. Right. It's the part once every five years. Yeah. But then, of course, as you become older become other the other demands. And the time, you know, whether it's doing things like this or whether it's journalism, mobile and my own case, screenwriting. Yeah. Probably part of my brain.

Michael David Wilson 34:09

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you said it might be difficult to get kill your friends published today. And I wonder so when you revisited that world for killer Mo, were there kind of concerns or did you have to kind of rein anything back? I mean, certainly, as a reader, it didn't seem like particularly with Narnia. It's like maybe it doubled down rather than rain in anything.

John Niven 34:40

No, I don't think we did. But again, that came out in the middle of 2018 and came out before the whole metoo thing really kicked off. I think even five years ago, we weren't quite where we are now. You know? You know, maybe when I say get I mean, I wouldn't, you know, I, I've been fairly, I want to be cautious. He's like, Oh, you cancel on, you can't do that, because I've pretty much been able to rate whatever like I think maybe with today's you're looking for a deal with younger editors, it might be, you know, a different kettle of fish. I've made the same editor at Random House for 15 years. And we both have a similar view. But nor can you make a fair point, look, helemaal was pretty much just as unrestrained as the original book, you know. And I've vague plans for thump volume, to be a written around 2028. Which is, which is what that five, six years away is entrance into politics. But because of that, in the original book, he was 27. And then the sequel, was it 20 years after it. So he was 47. Next, as the seventh. So we'll see, we'll see. I do like, you know, there's a lot of novelists over the years, whether it's for broth or do an update, give us that device of coming back to the same character, every 10 years or so. And use them as a sort of lens through which to have a look at the times you're living in at that point. So, you know, that was the other thing when I was writing this sort of rate and kill them all. It was at the height of sort of Trump mania and Bray, yeah. Increasing thinking, Oh, my God, it literally as even still foxes time, though, the whole notion of populism is really close to, or ANR, you know, as long as your concept would fly with millions of morons, whether it was a political concept or a novelty record, and that was all good. And his book, you know, obviously helped you achieve money in power and success. It was, who cares? So yeah, it felt very opposite to bring Steven back at that point. So who knows who it will be come 2028 might not be even be here. All put in late push the buttons, and we'll be you know, written about in the ruins for half a piece of raw sheep. You know, let's just show might be pretty far from work and sales.

Michael David Wilson 37:34

Yeah, yeah. Well, I certainly hope that this side book will turn out. I mean, yeah, I only got to wait five or six years now. So yeah, really anticipated. But, yeah. The trajectory, I mean, him going into politics, if it makes sense. And, you know, particularly with the rise of the celebrity in inverted commas joining the political conversation. So yeah, intrigued to see your cell phones there as

John Niven 38:10

well. He'd be in his 50s at that point. And he's sort of rich beyond rich beyond God. So he, you know, No, he doesn't need to make any more money is like, although he's probably still very interested in that. And what better way than politics, you know, really late with doing all sorts of easy arms deals, and God knows what. So, yeah, we'll see. We'll see if that book ever happens to cat or No, I haven't fully committed to it. But it might be fun,

Michael David Wilson 38:36

huh? Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, is interesting, of course, you talk about in killer mode. This was the time of Trump and Brexit. And I mean, almost a parallel in terms of exploring Trumpism but in the future is, I think your latest book today, the fuck-it list, but that kind of has a different take on it. And that's more futuristic. And I would say, Frank Brill is certainly more restrained with his thoughts and commentary on the world. Compared to Stephen, stale, folks. But, you know, apart from Kennedy Ma, is there anyone who's been you know, more kind of upfront than still phones.

John Niven 39:22

Hindi Monica and Yang, but straight white male. Well, that was 10 years ago, um, Kennedy's pretty forthright, Frank Burrell that you mentioned in the fuck-it list. The he was Frank's more of an everyman was correct. Yeah. But quite extreme, larger than life characters with Frank it was important for that book to work, that he'd be the kind of guy who could have ended that vote for Trump, you know, the kind of moderate green guy who is like, not seduced, but just kind of thought, well, we know this may be worth a try. Yeah, it'd be, you know, a fresh line of thinking a new way of doing things, you know, maybe the Pope has no idea what the repercussions are going to be. And of course, the repercussions for Frank in the fuck-it list as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which leads to his daughter. And of course, that then became reality. You know, I wrote that novel in 2019. And overall weird things happen the last year or so then. So, it was sort of frighteningly prescient in that sense. So I was making some bold swings in that book of stuff that didn't necessarily I thought Nashua nuts enough will ever try and overturn that. And yet, lo and behold, theory were shocking reminder of just how conservative some of America as you know, how reactionary that would be. Forget the fuck-it list. It would be the handmaidens tale, if they were given the leeway. So yeah, that book, I guess that novels are slightly normally for me in that was the only book I've written that was kind of very of its moment that was kind of inspired by events that were unfolding around us, as as I wrote, you know, because I had kind of been a long tail tape, Trump watcher of Africa started with the fucker blocked me on Twitter. I'm going back note in November 2012. The night that Obama when he second term, Trump had been gloating, only on Twitter that Obama was going to lose. And then he lost ancient Obama won his second term. And Trump tweeted something like bah humbug back to the drawing board. And replace your sin make you sound like a really shit Scooby Doo villain. And then Trump blocked me. And for that quit my head has been blocked by Donald Trump.

Michael David Wilson 42:09

Yeah, yeah. For such for such a kind of minor thing as well, you know, considering this is like, yeah.

John Niven 42:19

And then of course, couple of years later, here though, GC is running. And there has been quite a lot of time in LA. So I would say to my sort of, you know, in LA, most of my friends out there are fairly off the left liberals. And so it's always going to happen with Trump. They always laugh and go to you know, you just see he's not actually got it right, in any serious way. He's just trying to get publicity. And then the next thing he's properly running, then I went well, we could he went. And it was like Dobby with Zack Qs is never going to get through the primaries. He's got no to in the next thing. He's one that is the candidate you'd say or anyone the election, and they will go Don't be so crazy. Get No chance. So at that point, I was thinking well, you've been wrong every step of the way so far. I might just get them the bookies and set some cash on the winning stock a fair bet on Trump to win fairly long odds at the team. And I was Emily says My wife was making the I was bringing Charlotte back here and then one thing that got a lot of bricks and stick a few more coins in Trump because we hate the guy more than life, but we did some consolation Fe that one which and also a student that thing of like a lot of you know sports guys do. You're betting on the team that you wanted to lose, you know, you're trying to win. And then when Charlotte went to put one of the bets on bookmakers back here, she said that the girl behind the counter said "Oh yeah, you bet on Trump you like him, do you?" And I know like him but you know, the guy went along like him. Yeah, he speaks his mind in it. And at that point, I went right double it whatever we're betting double it, you know, and the bookies and the High Wycombe thinks that we got was what half a middle Americans think. And

sure enough, we weren't we weren't quite a bit of money. And what I did at that point, we started slightly getting away from rating

what I did at that point was we immediately took a portion of the winnings and I said put it on a bid for impeachment, which we won as well. Because he's just a crane machine he cannot help but GRAEME So the minute he gets in office he will eventually be impeached was on that says guarantee when we won that bid for instance, when How did you deal with that and that wasn't the long shot. haven't won in the election for quite a long shot at the time, but I'm having getting him once in awhile. That was a no brainer that was that was that that was gonna happen.

Michael David Wilson 44:55


John Niven 44:56

So anyway, let's talk We're not talking about having to place bets in the fucking again, which will be flavors out. At some point soon we'll be seeing that the bucket list was quite an anomaly in that I guess I was just so I felt like I'd been stewing in Trump for about four or five years. At the point when I started writing that book, you know, I just wanted to exercise that exercise that deep in the way. So without any spoilers for your audience, you know, in the in the climax of that book, I certainly got to work out some range.

Michael David Wilson 45:31

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the the premise of the bucket list is such a simple and yet such a brilliantly executed concept. And I mean, my understanding is, like a number of great ideas that the inspiration came from a conversation that you had we want to your mates.

John Niven 45:52

Yeah, that's true. Yeah. I'm afraid. I'll grow those as he's listening. And I was one of those guys who's hilariously funny, because he's completely out his mind. And yet he thinks he's completely seeing the normal. And we're all we're getting to the age again, we're just going into 50s, late 40s, then me, my friends, and you know, the age where you hear my friends getting cancer diagnoses and things like that. And we're talking about us in the pub when they say, you know, what you do if you get that diagnosis, join, and we'll go and swim with the dolphins, you know, claim Tibet and claim them, let's name it. No, no, no, you've got a list of the five or six people that have really fucked you over your life. And you've come up with a doorway, a short gallery in ding dong. In a second, and they know, they fucking know why you're there. And then you blow them away, and just hang on Facebook accounts, and you're gonna go on a killing spree what this was so funny, but this was a long time ago, this was maybe least five years before I wrote the novel. But what happens sometimes is that you get a tiny idea. Nabokov said that the imposter interval is just a fake throb. So I've found that throb of this ideas, idea, man is cancer diagnosis and goes on a killing spree. And you have one idea alone is really quite enough for the North, we need two or three that sort of wrap themselves around each other. And I was also I'd been looking for a way to write about Trump's America. And suddenly, the idea of a sort of road trip novel, where this character who has been diagnosed with cancer is going to go and kill some people. And it's traveling across a future dystopian Trump, America seems very appealing. So you know, it was a, the things that become normal is it tends to be a stray thought that becomes a recurring thought that eventually becomes the only thought possible. So announcing that it's time to read the book. So yeah, I'll forever be very grateful to Alan for that idea. And the I think, I think if I sent him a copy the galleys, and he knows it was, you know, but you know, I've heard other people complaining that and, again, that you've stolen the ideas and well, you know, you bet right at first, don't be don't be, don't be seen any great ideas that are in write us because we're just going to steal them. Yeah. And as any, as any lawyer will tell you, you can't copyright an idea or great expression. See you in court, man. So.

Michael David Wilson 48:31

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, you know, that there's an argument anyway, that there is no such thing really as originality, it's all in the execution. So we can have like, 10 or so of us come up with the idea we do our take on it. And really, it's how we wrote it. That's where it's gonna come in, whether it is or isn't good.

John Niven 48:54

Yeah, you do here, especially with screenwriting to be that you hit people planning or that movie that universal? I mean, I had a meeting there three years ago, and they just did a version of my idea, they stole it. And you know, what they probably didn't, there's probably loads of people at any one time having similar ideas, you know, and if you've only got one or two ideas, then you're not going to get very far anyway, you know, all the really good screenwriters. I know, the chum ideas. So, you know, you don't like you know, unlike a novel where you can sit in the chair for a year, a year and a half, maybe with a screenplay, you know, you can once you have the idea clear, sort of decent outline, accurate your screenplay in two weeks to three weeks, you know, if you're, you know, it's not the mammoth investment of your time that ring in Ovilus, you know, as 100 220 pages quite a lot of blank space and dialogue and dictation. So, you know, you're better off just going and writing it than you know what at all, I've sold a few high value specs on my team because I've always run the rate. Just to be clear, for your listeners, a spec is a script that you write speculatively that you're not hired by you to do. So, a lot of the work I do for a studio is you're hired to re re an existing project, think is quite well. But with a spirit add, a lot of writers like to pitch it, or they'll spend the whole day going around LA and having five or six pitch meetings, where you're going, and in a sort of 45 minute chat, you'll basically outline the idea verbally, to the producers of the studio. But I just find that so tedious. I also hate writing outlines and treatments, because it's like, you came to write in a sales document. Document, I'd almost rather just go off and write the thing, you know.

Michael David Wilson 50:52

Yeah. Yeah. So that's

John Niven 50:54

kind of what I like. That's what I'll like, do when I get some time between projects, I might, I might knock out a spec script. But you know, you manage your agents and managers don't let you do that they feel that you should be paid before you start work.

Michael David Wilson 51:08

Right? Yeah.

John Niven 51:12

I like writing, like Katherine went to meetings. If you live in LA, and you get into the circuit, I know, I've seen I haven't lived there full time. But I'll be there for three or four months at a stretch. Until with, you know, three or four meetings a day and a half hour tiller, and the Canon between the matcha. Tea gone. And what have you done? You've drafted their own legal into a bunch of meetings? I'd rather just be in the study writing. Yeah, quite a lot done in those seven levels. Yes, driving meetings. Yeah. And again, it's known again, it's unavoidable, you're going to have a plus that's that as part of the screenwriting thing that's quite nice. It does get you at the house. And you know, you meet off the other quarry, or you meet the producers or the director of the studio, when you're writing a novel, it's quite, it's quite a lonely gig, you know, just one, which I quite liked. I think that's the thing that we're talking about a little bit, when I began to realize in my early 30s, I could do this, then there's a certain part of a writer that's most fully alive when they're on their own. So that that's quite a specific characteristic, unique to someone who's going to spend a lot of time in a room on their own, you have to like be in there. And you know, that sense, which when I was younger, I always felt that was something better to do. Right? I mean, a part of that is just a byproduct of being young, you know, when you're in your 20s, if you're in your pajamas on the sofa, eight o'clock on a Saturday night, you feel that the world's biggest loser, but the time you're in your 40s, and your pajamas are calling us out, and in a way you've won the lottery. You're very happy, but that's it. Yeah. Yeah. You know, younger?

Michael David Wilson 53:04

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, as we've been talking a little bit about your screen writing, I mean, I absolutely loved the trip. And of course, yeah, of course, it's gonna bring to mind the likes of funny games. There's also something struck you're a leader? Yeah, it's kind of akin to a Tarantino movie, but it's just so fucking bonkers. And there are so many plot twists. And it's like, well, this happened earlier. Oh, by the way, this happened before that, and fuck me this happened before that. So, I mean, how did this project come about? How did you get involved in writing the trip?

John Niven 53:54

Is Tommy, we're caller who directed that? We hear the love the script I wrote a few years back, ran him, which kind of has we work together at that point? Yeah, with a movie that almost began shooting about two years earlier. And then finance get posted last minute. But Tommy and I got to know each other and you know, really liked each other's work. And then told me patch me to look when it was the beginning of lockdown. The first serious lockdown, I guess, has been back in 2019. Or 20 22,020. April of 2020 told me said look, I've got an idea about a couple who go in for the weekend. And you realize you're trying to kill each other. It's not a romantic weekend. And that was all we had at that point. And so we sort of split Boulder, as I say back and forth on the phone for a bit. And then we decided to just start writing. So what we do was I'd write five or six pages a day and then email it to Tom and he wrote five or six and you know, he was no at that point. I was back here. So you had Get his pitches in the morning. And then I'd remain he get them when he woke up. And we just did that. And we had a draft and like six weeks, five or six weeks. So that was a first draft by that me. We did some rewriting, and then sent it out in sort of June. And we got a few offers right away to make it. So see the trap. As I was saying a minute ago, that was a spec script, really. But a couple of offers from America, there was a particular scene, which if you've seen the movie, I'm sure you can imagine the scene I'm talking about, that they're worried taken out, or vastly diluted. And we will no, no, we need that's in so told me it won't up saying, look, I think if we can keep the budget to five, 6 million, I can probably get this made Norwex Tommy's quite a bit. You know, Tommy's always about Danny Brown, Danny Boyle of Norway. If and keep the budget low enough pressure and get the money in Norway to make exactly the move you want to make. And then it'll be better a better movie. And we'll probably sell the remake rate. And that's exactly what happened. We went off and we shot the film in Norway in September, we started shooting September 20. So for anyone who knows the business that's astonishingly fast, to go from a foster draft in April to shooting the film in September was crazy. And we wrapped the movie wrapped the night Joe Biden and won the election actually in November 20. Oh, no. Watch that happening in Norway. So yeah, and then post production into this spring, early summer of 21. Two that came out that summer. You know, it did really well for Netflix. So we're can't we're writing a kind of sequel at the moment. Not a direct sequel. But another sort of darkly comic thriller set and Huawei is Netflix Europe are producing and which I'll be where we'll be shooting auto next year. So we just finished the first day. So I'm flying to Oslo and Monday for meeting the we just deliver the first draft and Netflix. So it's a bit bigger budget. Obviously there's going to be more voices in the mix. He said definitely nothing missing. But all of it told me it's great, cuz he's a writer, director, and it's really fast working with Tomiko.

Michael David Wilson 57:25

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I first became aware of him with Dead Snow but he's blowing up at the moment with violent night. There's a lot of buzz Yeah. And on. Well,

John Niven 57:37

I did a little dialogue polish on that movie for Tom. wasn't my idea wasn't my original screenplay. But I just did a lot of polish in the dialogue for a short. And yeah. Open we opened $20 million. Last week was made 20 million. So that's fantastic stuff. Yeah. And we've got a very expensive World War Two movie that told me and I have written, which I won't get into the details of No. There's a talented, rich rewriting of history element to it. But it's a lot of fun. It's like a 60 $70 million film. So we're both right now just fingers crossed, hoping that the violent nature continues to do well, I think then some they may greenlight the world war two movie, which, I guess for 2020 24 Yeah, so we'll see. The wheels turn slowly, Michael.

Michael David Wilson 58:32

Yeah, yeah, they certainly do.

John Niven 58:36

What should you wish I know, obviously, when I was younger, I was a bit more like the Philistines at film studios. What do they know? But again, it no you know, especially at the top end of the game, you have your green light in the film that's gonna cost 70 $100 million. You're basically you're bringing this entire 100 million dollar business and TFA overnight. That is going to stand on the opening weekend of one product. Yes, that would give me pause for thought before a green light. Yeah, because you get two or three of them wrong in the bone. She's going to be looking for a new job. Yeah. We shall see we shall see you but we made them we made violently with was with him at seven North who have got another project and development with her to the John Wick that nobody that military in and they're very good at was sort of action movies and price point, you know? Yeah. I'm hoping that the World War Two and meat come off in the next year.

Michael David Wilson 59:38

Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of exciting things going on. And I mean, I wonder these days in terms of your writing, I mean, how much do you divide in your time between writing, like the books and then writing the screenplays? What does that look like for you?

John Niven 59:57

What I tried to do, I try very hard. I'd like to keep the mornings free for a price, whatever book, I mean working from 9am Till lunchtime, and then the afternoons, whatever screenplay work I've got going on, because I've got three or four movies and TV things I'm working on at the moment. So it's creeping into the whole day at the moment about the screenwriting. So I've just finished this memoir. So I've got a new novel, I want to start in the new year, in January. So from here, we're trying to extract about the first sort of at least two or three hours of every day for the novel. If you compartmentalize your time and get to do this materials on that, you can get quite a lot done in a two hour. Like more straight as you know, if you give me the whole morning to get my favorite ones, it will take the whole morning but I can get done two and a half hours. orcust Two hours, you know, yeah. Only two hours really concentrated work, or they can do quite a lot. I don't

Michael David Wilson 1:01:04

know I know exactly what you're talking about. It's like if I give myself too much time, then I kind of seem to piss that time away. But if I've got an hour or I've got to it's like right now it's fucking right in time.

John Niven 1:01:18

Task expands to fill time allotted, as they say,

Michael David Wilson 1:01:22

yeah, yeah, it will. It will grow to

John Niven 1:01:25

the occupies Which to me, should you give it to be concentrated?

Michael David Wilson 1:01:32

Yeah. Yeah. And in terms of the new novel, is there anything you can tell us about it?

John Niven 1:01:41

In brief, it's called the father's. That's about two starcrossed men, if you will, who won them fairly sort of a set in Glasgow. And one of them's a very sort of low, close, big beat ape, if you will. And the other guys far more middle class, reunified, gentrified, and they meet outside, the maternity wards will have both just had a kid. And these are two guys who would never normally meet in real life. But the sort of paths become intertwined. With a tragic, comic hilarious, and of devastating results. Without giving too much plot away, that's all I'll say. Just know. But it's a sort of, you know, it's to, to in from very different sides of the tracks become embroiled in each other's lives. sort of idea. So I'm really looking for, you know, I call it staggered, maybe 10,000 words, then. And then this, meanwhile, just kept dragging on. So I had to add shelving for that. So I'm really looking forward to getting back into it and hopefully get it finished by next summer. Yeah, is the plan.

Michael David Wilson 1:02:53

I'm certainly very intrigued. And, I mean, it occurs as we're talking and of course, I've thought about this before, but I mean, your work is incredibly difficult to put into any genre classification, or indeed to classify at all I mean, because it's not quite horror, it's not quite crime. It's not quite thriller. There's like a little bit of everything. social commentary, satire. Has that been problematic for you?

John Niven 1:03:29

Well, to be perfectly frank, yours, because I think if you're, if you're a genre of still very specific genre, then there's an audience in those festivals, and there's a marketing route for those books. If you're a lottery novelist, you know, if you're selling Rushdie are doing, then there's a whole other thing for that. But when you do, I do, it's difficult sometimes because you don't fit into any strict genre, you're annoying. There's no toddlers have grown to occupy the non genre non literary novelists, you know, so it can be tough, but I don't know how, what how else to do it, you know, what the ideas for books a car as their car and, or in a bit different, you know, called handsy was a bit more traditional thriller. And some that always had been more like suddenly increased curriculum or straight up comedy.

Michael David Wilson 1:04:19

Yeah. And I loved that novel, by the way, and it doesn't get talked about a lot, but

John Niven 1:04:27

we sold the film rights to that for a lot of money, and then the movie just never happened, for whatever reasons, very frustrating, because I always thought of a good movie was made for that book, The novel might find its eventual audience, you know?

Michael David Wilson 1:04:40

Yeah. Yeah.

John Niven 1:04:42

It's just, you know, I've, I've sort of come to terms with it, that it's, you know, it's part of what I do is it's not easily categorized, and c'est la vie, you know, it might cost you a bigger audience, but actually, I wouldn't know how to do it in other ways. When people see you and if you read Ken's book, you can clean up with a lot I literally wouldn't know where to fucking begin OTA Jesus, I can no more fly to the moon.

Michael David Wilson 1:05:09

Yeah, yeah. That's the thing. And well, I mean, I mean, I really do hope that at some point they make a movie out or their sunshine cruise company has

John Niven 1:05:22

given me both powers. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 1:05:25

Yeah. And, I mean, there's just like, clearly a market for it. I mean, and it could appeal for people who like, you know, things like the hangover, but also heard that there was I'm forgetting the name of it. There was this film about like three old men rob a bank. I think it was Michael Caine. Morgan.

John Niven 1:05:52

There's also, you know, the Best Exotic Marigold, all that I felt was a huge gem overlap for that, for that book. Yeah. It's all it is. But who knows? Maybe I'll always put some darker bits in that maybe putting that audience off, you know, so.

Michael David Wilson 1:06:14

Yeah. Well, I mean, those are my favorite parts. I do. I do. Like, yeah, I like what happens with the protagonist, husband, but you know, people wondering what happened.

John Niven 1:06:30

specifically referring to

Michael David Wilson 1:06:32

Yeah, yeah, it was like, you know, pick up the book and find out for yourself. But, you know, they can still make it into a film. I mean, they don't have to go.

John Niven 1:06:45

I wrote the script. And was yeah, we're fairly we ladies around that moment when graphically show.

Michael David Wilson 1:06:54

Yeah. You have to pay extra for that. But it's been great. It's been great talking to

John Niven 1:06:59

you. For fortunate I have to run no. But thank you so much for having me on.

Michael David Wilson 1:07:06

Yeah, yeah. And this has been a tremendous pleasure. And I'd love to get you back on. At some point. I mean, to talk more about your books. There's so many things I'd like to say. I mean, we haven't even spoken about the amateurs, which is a bit of a favorite amongst hardcore Nirvana fans. We haven't spoken down meet,

John Niven 1:07:26

we meet real fans that as always a favorite book. Yeah. And funnily, I have a meeting in Glasgow next week to discuss the we Catholics or to discuss a TV show based on it, which has been sort of rumbling along for a long thing. Nobody's quite pulled the trigger on it yet. I guess it's quite intuitive to the fingers crossed. That might be happening. But not I'd be great to come back on next year when the memoir comes out in September 8, because again, then,

Michael David Wilson 1:07:57

yeah, yeah. Well, thank you again for for chatting with me. Where can our listeners connect with you?

John Niven 1:08:07

On Twitter, I am at Estelle Costanza, as in George Costanza as mother, it's a long story with losing. We'll go into that though. But yeah, at still Costanza on Twitter, as the easiest way to get ahold of it.

Michael David Wilson 1:08:25

All right. We'll jump into that story next time. We get you on. Do you have any final thoughts to leave our listeners with?

John Niven 1:08:35

Good night and may God go with you? All right. Cool, Dave Allen favorite. Yeah, but thank you for having me. I really I really enjoyed talking to you.

Michael David Wilson 1:08:51

Thank you so much for listening to This Is Horror Podcast with John Niven, a wonderful writer and someone I can't wait to get back on the show. Now coming up in the next episode is a conversation with the founder of splatter punk, and a screenwriter of films such as the CRO David J. scow. But if he would like to get that conversation ahead of the crowd, if indeed you would like every episode ahead of the crowd, then become our Patreon. A patreon.com. Forward slash, This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you can submit questions to each and every interviewee. And coming up soon, we will be chatting to the horror and suspense legend Dean Koontz and we will also be chatting to two of my favorite screenwriters, two of my favorite filmmakers, Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead. So if you have a question for Dean Justin or Aaron, then do consider becoming a patron@patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Okay before I wrap up a quick advert break, it

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From the crater of This Is Horror comes a new nightmare for the digital age. The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson, after a teacher receives a weirdly rousing video is life to send to the paranoia and obsession. More videos follow each containing information no stranger could possibly know. But who's sending them and what do they want? The answers may destroy everything and every one he loves. The Girl in the Video is the ring means fatal attraction for iPhone generation, available now in paperback ebook and audio. From the host of This Is Horror Podcast comes a dark thriller of obsession, paranoia and voyeurism. After relocating to a small coastal town, Brian discovers a hole that gazes into his neighbor's bedroom. Every night she dances and he peeps, same song, same time, same wild and mesmerizing dance. But soon Brian suspects he's not the only one watching. She's not the only one being watched. They're Watching is The Wicker Man meets Body Double with a splash of Suspiria They're Watching by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella is available from this is horror.co.uk Amazon and wherever good books are sold.

Michael David Wilson 1:11:33

Now, as always, I would like to end with a quote. And earlier this week, one of my dear friends she had a quote with me from the Persian poet, Hafez and apologies if I'm butchering that pronunciation, but the quote is so beautiful and pure that I wanted to share it with you. So here it is. Ever since happiness heard your name. It has been running through the streets trying to find you. Spectacular. I'll see you in the next episode with splatter punk legend and founder David J. Schow. But until then, I wish you a very Happy New Year. So please, as always, take care yourselves. Be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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