Writer and Author

Tag: Blogging (Page 2 of 5)

An Honourable Mention

I was absolutely chuffed a couple of weeks ago to be asked by Chapters Bookstore here in Dublin to do a Q&A for their blog.  They have a regular post in which writers answer 5 questions.  My answers went up today.

I was honoured to be asked.  Ask anyone in Dublin who loves to read and they will tell you that Chapters is the best book shop in town.  That’s not to say there aren’t other great ones but Chapters is the largest independent book shop in town and is always a treasure trove of both new and second hand finds.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know and I am now going to go and try and shrink my head a little!

A Cuckoo In the Nest

Common Cuckoo
Image via Wikipedia

Writing a book is hard work.  When it goes from being a hobby, something you can take as long as you like over because the only deadlines you have are your own easily breakable ones, to something that might just might have a future, things change.

I’ve written most of my life.  When I was a child I wrote stories about my toys.  As an adult I became a journalist so that I could earn my living through words.  I’ve written books because I had a story to tell and a dream to follow and I’ve written one as a seemingly impossible feat as publication loomed mere weeks after my story was over.  Each stage has been different and each stage has taught me new things about writing.

Over the last couple of years that learning curve has been particularly steep as the words became more than something I did and became part of how I paid my rent.  I’ve learnt that I can hit a deadline with a book just as I can with an article.  I’ve learnt that when the whistle sounds writers block is a luxury there just isn’t time for.

I’ve also learnt that several of the things I had indulged in when I only dreamed of being a writer are actually necessary to getting the whole ball rolling.  I’ve read interviews with authors over the years who talk about their obsessions with a certain kind of ink or a certain kind of paper and thought, nice work if you can get it.  Those of us who hack away for a living can’t afford the luxury of being picky.  Any pen and any paper will do as long as the moment isn’t missed.

Now I realise that some touchstones, some rituals are actually part and parcel of the job in hand.  Writing a book isn’t like writing an article.  There’s a lot more of it for a start.  You have to sustain the pace and the concentration to get to the end.  That’s a lot of concentration.

When I obsess about working at my desk or drinking the same kind of tea or coffee for the duration of the project in hand it’s not because I’m being pretentious, it’s because it’s one less thing to worry about.

For the past six weeks all the order, all the usual, comfortable things were displaced and I learnt another thing about writing.  Writing, at least to deadline, makes you antisocial.  House guests should be accepted with caution.  House guests who intend to stay for six weeks and who expect life to revolve around them should be avoided at all costs.

I freely admit that I’m territorial.  Who doesn’t care about their home?  I grew up as an only child and like my space.  Writing hasn’t caused this territoriality but it has definitely exacerbated it.  But hold on a minute.  When it’s my space anyway, why should I worry about getting cranky when it’s invaded?  When I have a big task ahead and am at a stage where I’m a step closer to the goals I’ve had for as long as I can remember, why shouldn’t I resent someone who disregards that, who should know better.

The common cuckoo, cuculus canorus, has a rather unattractive trait.  It’s a bad mother, a dirty stop out who doesn’t see the point of raising the offspring once the egg has been laid. So it finds someone else to do the job for them.  The poor unsuspecting foster mother raises the cuckoo chick as her own, unaware that her own chicks have been booted out of the nest leaving a hungry, demanding monster in their place.  That’s what the last six weeks have been like.  Paying court to someone who took advantage of hospitality and patience while my own chicks, the book, the husband (I make no apologies other than this one for that order – there’s no deadlines with the husband!) have been pushed very firmly out of the nest.

It should have been a no brainer but this was one writing lesson I obviously still needed to learn.  For that matter it was also a life lesson that had passed me by.  It’s not a mistake that will be repeated.

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A Question of Immunity

I’ve not been in court for the past week or so.  Instead I’ve been working on The Novel.  At the moment I’m reading through a hard copy of the manuscript and editing in preparation for a full rewrite.  In practice this means my days involve not moving from whatever spot I park myself in the morning with occasion burst of movement to get food, water or any other basic need.

My days are counted in pages and chapters and my grasp on reality is, for the moment, slightly less than firm.

This morning I was on my way into town for groceries when I bumped into a colleague from the courts.  It feels like I’ve been away for months, even though it’s only been a week or so.

In my moments of resurfacing into the real world I’ve been watching the ongoing controversy of the judges’ pay cuts.  For any non Irish readers let me explain.  The Irish economy is rather bolloxed at the moment as you may have heard.  We’ve gone from being the poster child of economic boom to an illustration of how not to do things.  We have crashed and burned quite spectacularly since the new year.

The government desperately needs to save money to try and keep some kind of check on a spiralling deficit.  Consequently they are trying to persuade all public sector workers to agree to pay cuts and stop being such a strain on the national purse strings.

Now it would be easy to imagine that the Irish economy is almost entirely propped up by public sector workers who have job security the rest of us can only dream of, the strongest unions in the country and a bench marking process that was supposed to protect them from being worse paid than the private sector but has in many areas led to them being paid a lot more.  But this isn’t a post about public sector workers or rather it is about one particular kind of public sector workers.

Judges do not have to take a pay cut.  It’s in the constitution that they can’t be forced to.  So the government have asked them to make a voluntary cut…a move which has so far proved a not particularly popular option.

I can see why people are so upset about the failure of 129 out of the countries 148 judges to volunteer for the cut.  In a climate where there’s more bad news every day then the reluctance of a group who individually earn between €170,000 and €290,000 a year to make a gesture of solidarity is going to stick in most gullets.

But I can also see why they have constitutional protection in the first place.  Judges need to be impartial and should not be in a position where they are tempted to make political decisions based on financial, or other, pressure.  Justice should be impartial and it’s right that there should be some form of constitutional  protection for that.  The pay protection is there for the same reason as the protection from prosecution…because judges should not be vulnerable to any form of pressure when they are trying a case.

Now before everyone jumps on me I know that judges are human beings like the rest of us and are still public servants.  It might be easy to forget that when you see them sailing through the corridors of the Four Courts preceded by their tipstaff carrying an impressive staff to announce their presence.

I know a lot of people would like to see an end to that kind of pomp and circumstance but for the moment that’s the way things are and that’s an argument for another day.  It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out.  I’ll be watching with interest.

Close Encounters of an Urban Kind?

I was expecting to be writing tonight about the first day of the trial of Thomas Barrett but it’s been put off to a later date so I’m left with a quandary about what to write.

I doubt if anyone out there would be interested in my quest to find the cat a suitable comb to get rid of the prodigious amounts of hair she’s leaving anywhere within a two mile radius at the moment (although I must admit I did tweet about that this afternoon – I’m not usually that inane honestly).

Normally when I check in on my blog the first thing I do is check my stats.  I’m endlessly fascinated by what brings people here and if and why they come back.  Surprisingly not everyone seems to be a true crime buff since that’s my main topic of conversation here.  The search results that have brought people to this blog can be bizarre at the best of times but are often illuminating.

Today for example they gave me an idea about what to write about.  I’d forgotten about the strange lights over Dublin one last night week…until I saw that several people had arrived looking for information into just that.

Now I can’t offer any information.  They were strange lights all right.  Both myself and the husband saw them and watched them for several minutes until they very suddenly disappeared.  At 12.50 a.m on June 12th I sent the first tweet below.

I didn’t get any replies (well it was rather late) so I don’t know if anyone else saw them but I’m guessing from the search terms people used to find this blog we weren’t the only ones who did after all.  If anyone out there knows where the lights were some kind of weather balloon, military test, over-zealous night club lighting or anything with a rational explanation, please let me know.

Maybe there’s a reason, maybe it’s just one of those totally random things that occasionally happen in Dublin.  If you know what they were, or if I find out anything more, I’ll update this post and put everyone’s minds at rest that there is no alien invasion…unless…

A Web 2.0 Election

If you’ve worked as a journalist and ever covered an election count with all the boredom and rushes of excitement and pandemonium it’s hard not to get the politics bug.  Yesterday’s elections in Ireland have today provided some of the most interesting counts in years and then there’s the added ghoulish fascination with watching the Government parties take heavy hits.

I’m not working today, it’s been a while since I’ve been on the general news beat and so in line to get sent to a count centre but these days the Net provides so many ways to follow proceedings that you can have the information pretty much as soon as it’s felt on the count centre floor.  It’s at times like these that the immediacy of the social web and the speed and ease that information can now be transmitted and received really come into their own.

I’m a big fan of Twitter.  I’ve tweeted updates of trials I’ve followed in the past and have long been fascinated by the possibilities of the service as way of getting news.  Twitter has hit the headlines in the past when news of major events has spread like wildfire through the community, beating conventional news outlets.  The Mumbai attacks and the Hudson River plane crash were two cases in point and both garnered the site international press attention.

Today, watching the steady stream of chatter from Irish twitterers around the country, was like a virtual equivalent of covering a count.  You’re hearing the chatter, the gossip and the early tallys as well as the comments and the jokes.  Quite a different experience to watching the coverage on TV or listening to the radio.  Of course it helps that Irish twitters are a  media savvy lot and are passionate about what’s going on today.  This election was always going to get people interested with Government approval ratings plummeting and job losses hitting record highs every month.

I watch a lot of media types and bloggers so a fair few were down in the count centres which added to the atmosphere but this really was a day when Twitter came into it’s own.  These days Twitter is often my first port of call when I want to see how a story is developing, maybe it’s because it’s like having access to a wire service at home, but also because I know I can shout out a question and chances are someone will come back with the answer quicker than I could find it through more conventional means.  A day like today is absolutely ideal to see these strengths in action.

All over the country people were tweeting from count centres, giving updates often before they were available through the conventional media.

  1. Christine Bohan
    christinebohan Joe Higgins just elected to Fingal with a surplus of over one thousand #le09
  2. Simon McGarr
    Tupp_Ed RDS awash with Labour, triumphant. Other parties circumspect. #le09
  3. Suzy Byrne
    suzybie Fine Gael to move motion of no confidence in government next week #le09
  4. Emily Tully
    EmilyTully Pat the Cope Gallagher: “Its been a bad day for FF – we expected that” #le09

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This is the first time I’ve monitored a story like this entirely online.  I’ve been streaming Newstalk 106’s coverage which was excellent, and available after RTE radio had switched their attention to sport.  They had live coverage from the RDS count centre (the main centre in Dublin) with reports from around the country at regular intervals.  For a station with far smaller resources than RTE they really mobilised well and provided great coverage.

Irishelection.com also provided excellent coverage from the count centres with a live blog of election results which again rivalled the coverage provided by RTE.  It’s great to see online news services providing such great coverage of something like this – it opens up so many possibilities.

In previous elections the only constant coverage would have been RTE television, which is always excellent but it’s only one view.  Being able to follow so many different viewpoints gives a far rounder idea of what’s going on and if you’re slightly obsessive like me, it makes for a fascinating afternoon.

This election has been the first one that can truly be said to have been fought online.  During the campaign candidate after candidate took a leaf out of Obama’s book and fought the fight through Twitter and Facebook.  The list of Irish politicians on Twitter exploded with names like Joe Higgins, Ivana Bacik, Proinsias De Rossa and Eoin Ryan all seeking to woo the twitterverse.  Many of them also courted the Facebook generation with hastily elected pages once the fight had begun.

It seems fitting that their success or demise should be so comprehensively examined in the same places they sought to kiss virtual babies and press virtual flesh.  Certainly from now on the way elections are covered will never be the same.  The traditional Irish media might have been wary of  new fangled social networking in the past but it has finally come of age in Ireland.  This election, new media arguably beat old media when it came to rapidly getting news out there.  Irish election coverage was all the better for it.

Democracy in Action?

Today’s the day of the local and European elections, in Dublin there are two by elections as well.  It’s a day that Fianna Fail probably have reason to be very worried about…public opinion, according to the numerous polls that have appeared in the papers over the run of the campaigning, is decidedly against them.

Now at this point I should probably come clean.  I’m not a fan of Fianna Fail.  Anyone who’s read this blog on a fairly regular basis could probably have guessed that but in the interests of full disclosure there it is.  I would most definitely not be sorry to see them hurting come Monday morning even if our esteemed Taoiseach seems to be in deep denial about what a convincing arse whipping in these elections would mean to the credibility of his leadership.  But this post isn’t about party bashing.

I’ve been giving out on Twitter over the past few weeks about the constant knocks on the door from the various party candidates.  I know it’s an essential part of electioneering but once you’ve met them all once it wears a bit thin.  I’ve got particularly aerated about the failure of certain Fianna Fail reps to grasp that they are not going to convince me to vote for them under any circumstances.

But today is voting day.  The leaflets have been posted, the hands have been shaken and now it’s all done bar the counting.  I know that there’s still the matter of getting the voters out but one thing I like about going to vote is that once you near that voting station the desperate babble has to ease because the buggers aren’t allowed within 50 metres of the polling station.  It’s the first bit of quite we get after weeks of political chit chat on the doorstep and in my book, can’t come soon enough.

But obviously there are those who disagree with our need for a little peace and quiet to place our votes.  As the husband and I neared the voting station on Cowper St in the Dublin Central constituency this morning we were greeted by a barrage of Fianna Failers.  Tom Stafford and his minions had stationed themselves well within the safe zone, hidden round the corner so the garda standing outside the voting station wouldn’t call shenanigans.

Democracy in action

They slapped backs and pumped hands and leered over little old ladies in a forced amiability that seriously smacked of desperation.  Passers by noticed them encroaching on the polling station and muttered about Fianna Fail being a “dirty word” in these parts.  Another, clocking the distance asked “is this an example of Fianna Fail using the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of democracy?”

Stafford insisted that he wasn’t illegally campaigning but merely talking to friends.  Well he had a point.  I often chat to my mates clutching bundles of hundreds of Fianna Fail election leaflets…

It was just another sign that, whatever their leader thinks, the rank and file of Fianna Fail are worried and rightfully so (I hope…)  We shall all just have to wait until the votes are counted to see what the country has decided.

Rambling About Not Very Much At All

I’ve been sitting here for some time trying to decide what to blog about today.  The courts, as I’ve mentioned before, are on a two week break, so I’m focused on other things.  The problem is that these other things are rather removed from the day job so when I drift back into reality I’m left with not a lot to write about.

I had always meant this to be a blog about writing, but now I’m actually getting down to writing I’m beginning to see a distinct problem with that.

Writing fiction isn’t like following a story.  I’m not necessarily going to have daily updates of proceedings to share.  Or rather, if I did it wouldn’t mean anything much to anyone but me because I’m talking about characters and situations that no one else knows about for the moment.  It’s not a question of writing up snapshots of what’s going on at the end of every day.  The day to day process of editing just doesn’t really translate to daily updates.

So when I sit here my mind drifts in all kinds of directions – and I wouldn’t lumber the net with my distracted musings!  When I’m not in court I’m as likely to ramble on about the state of my (very small) back yard or the vagueries of baking than the latest murder.  When I’m writing intensively then even the garden and the kitchen get ignored so there’s not much left to write about or I get obsessed with something that feeds into what I’m writing in some way.  Last summer when I was writing Devil it was the fabrication methods of various toxins (purely theoretical I hasten to add!), this summer it’ll be the finer points of grammar (I should think).

Anyway, bear with me – it will all make sense eventually. I hope.

Journalism Movies and Bus Shakeups

Weekends are a time to leave work alone if at all possible.  When you spend all day in court listening to the gruesome details of murder after murder switching off is even more important.  If you dwelt on everything you hear on a daily basis you simply wouldn’t sleep at night. And by “you” in this context I do, of course, mean “I”.  So while today might be off the point tomorrow it will be back to normal service and further coverage of the Ronald McManus trial for the murder of Melissa Mahon.

In the quest of a break myself and the husband headed to the cinema this morning.  I love early showings – a throwback to the days I used to get into press screenings while working for a local radio station in college.  This week we went to see State of Play with Russel Crowe and Helen Mirren.  I’m a big fan of the original BBC series written by Paul Abbot and was initially highly dubious of a Holywood remake.  If you haven’t seen the series I’d still highly recommend it but I’m pleased to say that the movie actually does live up to the hyoe it’s receiving and is a damn fine thriller.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that centre around aheroic hack.  I’ve a reasonably comprehensive collection of these journalism movies from 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire to Good Night and Good Luck via Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously and of course All the Presidents Men.  State of Player is a worthy addition to the genre.

The original was one of the best drama series the BBC have produced in the past twenty years with a fantastic cast including John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald.  The movie also has a pretty impressive cast with Russell Crowe as journalist Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor, Ben Affleck (well cast for once) as the beleagured congressman Stephen Colllins and Robin Wright Penn as Collin’s wife.  But the best thing about the movie is it’s not just a cracking thriller, it’s also the kind of film that makes you proud to be a journalist (and god knows, those films are few and far between!)

The film version of State of Play sticks pretty close to the plot of the original but the context is now totally up to date, dealing with media ownership, the threats to traditional media and the rise of the blog.  More than any of this though is the championing of good old fashioned journalism.  I remember watching the original series when and cheering at the television when Bill Nighy as the editor stood up for the story and rallied his troops.  Helen Mirren is equally inspiring at the relevent bit but it was Rachel McAdams as blogger Della Frye who was the best line “With a story as big as this, people should have newsprint on their fingers while they’re reading it.” (or words to that effect)

It’s nice to see journalists portrayed as something other than scurrilous muckrakers and unprincipled hacks.  That attitude is prevalent enough as it is.  It’s nice to feel proud of the job I do.

The second thing I wanted to write about today is a little bit of a rant.  Dublin Bus today introduced changes to their timetables in the first stage of their fleet reduction as a cost cutting measure.  Looking at the list of routes that have been affected one thing stands out.  The changes are extensive and affect a wide range of buses.  Some routes have been done away with entirely.  This would be fine if the cuts were made across the board but that’s not what’s happened here.  Looking at the list of bus routes it’s noticeable that the majority go to the north and the west of the city, areas where a large percentage of the population live in local authority housing and who do not have access to DART urban rail services of the LUAS trams.

One of the most frequent services that frequently trundles into town with empty buses at off peak times of day has not been touched.  The 46A goes through the more affluent parts of town, Donnybrook and Dundrum.  During the afternoon buses frequently go past empty, at a frequency of every five or ten minutes.  It’s one of the most over supplied bus routes in the city but because of it’s route I’d be surprised if Dublin Bus reduce the service.  It’s nothing new of course.  Here in Dublin the poor always pay when the powers that be decide to save a few bucks – the recent decision to cut the Christmas bonus for those on the dole is a case in point.  But I’m not here to bang any particular political drum.  There are others who do that far better than me.  Dublin Bus may yet produce sweeping cuts through the posher bits of town in their second volley in May but I’m just saying what I noticed this morning and throwing it out there.

Hmm, reading back over this post it occurs to me that anyone who has issues with the liberal meeja is probably going to have their worst fears confirmed.  Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  As I said before, tomorrow I’m back in court and this blog will return to it’s normal subject matter.  Happy Sunday!

A Matter of Censorship…

Today I’m jumping on a bandwagon.  I don’t normally comment on matters that fall outside my own little world but this is a story that I just couldn’t let pass unremarked.  I’m not the only person writing about this today and I won’t be the last.

If you’ve missed the saga of the guerrilla artist who managed to hang a two less than flattering portraits of our esteemed leader Brian Cowen in two separate art galleries then you could be forgiven.  The story was just a bit of fun initially in the tradition of any good satirical stunt.  It was a short item at the end of the 9 o’clock news on RTE, the state broadcaster on Monday.  Something along the lines of the kind of “And Finally” stories they used to have on the ITN news just rather less cute.

What’s made things go a bit nuts is the reaction of Brian Cowen’s political party, Fianna Fail.  Now if you’re not familiar with Irish politics Fianna Fail are the party that has been in power for the majority of Ireland’s existence as a republic.  They’ve been in power in one coalition or another right the way through the Celtic Tiger years and are now presiding over the disaster area that is the Irish economy at the moment.

Since one party has been in power throughout the boom and now the bust the finger of blame has been pointed squarely in their direction by various commentators.  Their popularity has plunged in the most recent polls.  In February the Irish Labour Party passed them in the popularity stakes for the first time.  The nation is decidedly pissed off.

So really it’s hardly surprising that this sort of thing happens and hanging a couple of pictures is hardly the same as taking to the street with burning torches…is it?  Well, when the gardai turned up at the offices of Today FM radio station demanding to see emails between a researcher and the artist because he could be looking at various criminal charges including criminal damage and incitement to hatred.   Apparently “the powers that be” wanted action taken.

And that’s not all.  Yesterday RTE issued an apology after the 9 o’clock news for any offence they’d caused poor sensitive Mr Cowen. Since then the clip of the original segment has become harder to find on the website and captions have been changed.

The net result of all of this has been that picturegate has gone global.  It’s made the London Times and the New York Times to name but two and the story looks set to run for quite some time especially since a 35-year-old teacher called Conor Casby has voluntarily turned up to talk to gardai.  If it finds it’s way to court I will definitely write about it here.

Irish satire is generally a fairly toothless affair.  During the years of prosperity the sharp jokes about politicians and politics that had always been such a feature of the Dublin sense of humour in particular became noticeably muted.  People didn’t seem to want to rock the boat.  Now that it’s rocking anyway that “fuck you” attitude has returned somewhat.  The problem is that the politicians seem to have lost their sense of humour in the intervening years.  Well, Fianna Fail’s po-faced attitude has made them look like the little tin gods they are.  It was a well aimed pot shot that could have given people a chuckle but if the t-shirts available from Irishelections.net with the full frontal caricature from Allan Cavanagh are anything to go by, Biffo had better get used to seeing himself in the buff!

Brian Cowan nude caricature by Alan Cavanagh

An Abrupt End to a Young Life

Manuela Riedo’s half naked body was found on wasteland running by a railway line in Galway.  Items of clothing were hanging from trees around her and a coat was covering her upper body and face, with a stone holding it in place.

Not far from her body a condom was hanging from some bushes.  In today’s opening speech from the prosecution we heard that DNA from the accused, Gerald Barry was found on the inside of a condom while a mixed profile was found on the outside – belonging to him and the deceased girl.

A local artist, Sam Beardon, described his regular walk into work.  On October 9th he was taking the standard hike through some bushes to reach the path than runs beside the railway line near Lough Atalia.  Pushing his way through the bushes to climb the embankment he noticed a rucksack on the ground.  It hadn’t been there when he’d passed by on his way home the previous evening so he stopped to have a look.  That’s when he saw something pale in the bushes.  He realised quickly it was the body of a woman.  There was no sign of life.

Garda photographs handed to the jury showed a sad collection of human ephemera.  Various items of clothing hung from different trees including a grey pair of jeans similar to the ones her teacher Kimberly Kramer Bertshy remembered seeing her wearing the day before.  A makeup bag was spilled on the ground shedding it’s load of a young woman’s customary mask.

The teacher hung her head and spoke quietly as she remembered the popular girl who had been part of the group of 43 pupils she and her colleague had brought with them from the school near Berne.  This was the third year they had travelled to Ireland.  They were no naive tourists.  Ms Kramer Bertshy had warned her class before they left that the girls shouldn’t walk alone after dark.

Her voice dropped even further when she described the call from gardai on the evening of October 9th 2007.  She was asked, being in loco parentis, to go to the city morgue and identify the body of the 17-year-old, one of the youngest in the group.

She and her colleague, Christien Klingele, described a happy group in Galway for a two week intensive language course but also taking the time to enjoy the Galway nightlife.

The group had met in the King’s Head Pub, one of the best known pubs in Galway town – the story goes that the man who cut off the head of Charles 1 was given a reward of some Galway land by Oliver Cromwell’s parliament after  the English civil war. A bloody provenance but a popular watering hole for young visitors to Galway.

They went there first on Sunday 7th October, the day after they arrived.  The next night they were to meet again but Manuela wasn’t among them.  She never showed up and the following day missed the first full day of classes.

When she was found on the morning of October 9th Manuela’s body was not yet stiff from rigor mortis, the attending doctor concluding she had died only recently.  She was lying on her back, under the coat, one leg bent at the knee.

When you cover murders, or spend any length of time around the courts, you get a feeling for the trials that will stay with you after the verdict.  Even with the journalistic distance there are still some.  We might get used to hearing the most horrific injuries described in calm medical terminology but there are some trials where the human tragedy cuts through the remove.  This will be one.

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