On editing a novel (plus some guff about Art Attack)

Do you remember Art Attack? If you do, you might recall that there was a segment in each episode where Scouse da Vinci Neil Buchanan created a giant picture out of some random material – a unicorn out of paperclips, for example, or a robot out of lentils.

Imagine him getting to work on a giant school bus made of school uniforms. He scatters some trousers around to make the wheels, nods to himself and starts on the bus’s door. He prances around, tossing school ties here and red sweaters there, occasionally grinning at the camera while the bus in his mind takes shape at his feet. Then he steps back and opens his arms, and the camera pans out from above to reveal not a bus, but a hideous leering clown face that causes the kids at home to pee their pants and run to their mums.

How did this happen? I’ll tell you how. Neil forgot to get into his cherry picker crane every now and then. He just kept at it on the ground, lost in an enthusiastic flurry of school clothes, and neglected to take an occasional look from above to make sure his bus looked like a bus.


When writing a book, the equivalent of getting into this cherry picker is editing. It’s wise to look at your work from a distance to make sure not only that it works, but that it works as well as it can. And it’s even wiser to have someone else in the cherry picker with you – someone more detached to look at the woods while you’re hopelessly lost in the trees. That’s what Kirsty Fox (Big Cheese at Bees Make Honey) and I are doing now for The Dust on the Moth (which, in case you missed it, recently got funded through a Kickstarter campaign). At this very moment, Kirsty is reading the manuscript for the umpteenth time to check that its bizarre little story holds together and gives the reader the ultimate Dust on the Moth experience.

That’s right. While you lounge comfortably on your sofa and read this, Kirsty’s hunched over a tattered manuscript and scouring it with her tired, beady eye. She hasn’t slept in days. She consumes nothing but bread and water; preparing anything else would cost precious editing time. She’s stranded high up on the cherry picker, checking the novel’s themes, its story arc, its character development, its internal logic and its self-contained worlds. Once satisfied she’ll lower the cherry picker to get a little closer. Would Mr Malarkey really say this to Anna? That gibbon wasn’t in the grotto before, was it? Did Cardinal Bilibin always have those long pink fingernails? Shouldn’t the pace be picked up for this chase scene in the desert?

Once Kirsty’s done, she’ll be sending me another pile of grumbles to be addressed, and I’ll get to work once again, chipping away here and there at near-imperceptible imperfections. This pile of grumbles gets smaller each time, so we’re getting there.


Editing The Dust on the Moth has been interesting. It’s the first time I’ve been edited by someone else. There was a time when I naively didn’t see the point in having an editor. Why let someone dilute your work? Why not keep your vision pure? What I forgot to consider back then is that writers – well, most writers – write not for themselves, but for others. And that’s why you need a savvy set of eyes to give you an outsider’s perspective and ensure your school bus isn’t in fact a scary clown.

Your editor doesn’t just need to be savvy, of course. If a book is to remain true to itself, the relationship between writer and editor needs to be an enthusiastic and sympathetic one. Fortunately for all of us, Kirsty is very passionate about The Dust on the Moth – she’s publishing the damn thing – and it’s been clear since we first discussed the novel that she “gets” it. It also helps that she’s a very talented writer herself. Which all means that I trust her and value her editing suggestions. Sometimes there’s a little negotiation, but 95% of the time we see eye to eye.

Editing the novel has been good for me as a writer too. I’ve learned a lot and have become more audience-aware and critical of my writing. I now know about the pitfalls of “info dumps”, dialogue tags and a plethora of other no-nos. There are “rules” for how a novel should best be presented to the reader, most of which make sense to me (every bit of the novel must serve a purpose, for example), but some which I take with a pinch of salt. If every writer followed every rule, books would start to get a bit samey. In fact, since learning about editing, I’ve already started to spot certain patterns in contemporary novels. At times there’s almost a sense of going through the motions.

This won’t be happening to The Dust on the Moth. We’re going to be careful and sensitive. We’re going to make it as polished as we can, without compromising any of its uniqueness or spirit. And when we’re done we’ll be another step closer to making The Dust on the Moth a beautiful reality.

It’s going to be sweeeeet. Look out for it from November 2015.


The results are in: The Dust on the Moth has been funded!

Well who’d have thunk it… We actually did it! Bees Make Honey‘s Kickstarter campaign met its target! It even became a Kickstarter Staff Pick and Featured Publishing Project on the way. And now we have the funding to make this preposterous a dream a preposterous reality. Power to the people.


Not that I’m going to pretend it was a walk in the park. A whole month of boring your friends and begging for money wasn’t exactly a bag of fun. And then there was the nail-devouring finale! Crikey. Being involved in a Kickstarter campaign is one of the most harrowing, agonising and exciting things I’ve ever done. I nearly threw up on several occasions towards the end, I swear.


But it paid off, and now – thanks to the support of our wonderful pledgers – we have the funding to produce The Dust on the Moth and its accompanying soundtrack. Over the next few months we’ll be putting the story through two more rounds of editing, preparing more photos and illustrations, and then squeezing the lot into an exquisite hardback cover. On top of that we’ll be finishing the soundtrack, printing posters and further refining our awkward silences (one of our quirkier pledger rewards). We’re going to polish and polish until the whole thing dazzles with strange brilliance. We owe our pledgers that much.

The book is scheduled for publication in November. If you like beautifully ornamented literary fiction that gives two fingers to genre, have a gander and maybe even treat yourself. That way, as the nights grow long and the frost begins to settle, you’ll be deeply absorbed in a feast for the eyes, ears and fingertips (and even the nose, if you’re showing that quirkier symptom of the digital age).

If you’re interested in finding out a little bit more about the project, here are some very kind words from Mary Corcoran on the significance of The Dust on the Moth and our supporters’ part in it.



Update on The Dust on the Moth Kickstarter campaign

Hi all,

In case you’re curious, here’s a quick update on Bees Make Honey’s Kickstarter campaign to publish The Dust on the Moth as a “multi-dimensional hardback”.

Actually, it’s not so much an update as a shameless copy-and-paste from an interview Kirsty Fox and I did for Nottingham’s Left Lion. I know – it’s lazy and I should try harder. But we all need to recycle wherever we can. Plus things are busy-busy-busy, time is short and time is money and money makes the world go round et cetera et cetera.

So here it is. Please have a look at the campaign page, share it with your chums and – if you like the look of this very unusual book – treat yourself and chip in! Only seven days to go and me oh my, doesn’t time fly.

The original interview is available here. Gratitude goes to Robin Lewis of Left Lion for doing the interview, and sincere thanks to everyone who’s helped out so far. Feel the love.

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Why choose to crowdfund a book in this way?

Kirsty: I’ve been wanting to try out crowdfunding for a while. Part of what I do with Bees Make Honey is advise people on things like funding options and it’s much easier to advise someone if you have cold hard experience to go on. I choose book publishing because it’s one of my passions and because publishing is big upfront costs with uncertain return.

I learned this the hard way with the first book I published – I still have a hundred odd copies with no loving home to go to. The appeal of this is working out demand before you supply. If we’re successful Darren’s book will be in people’s hands being read and loved, not sat in my attic gathering poetic dust.

Darren: And there’ll be a lot to love – it’s going to be quite a lavish book. The decision to produce a hardback with colour artwork was partly guided by the desire to produce something physical and beautiful for people to own and treasure. In some ways it’s a reaction to the pervasiveness of digital content – which is great in many ways, but right now there’s a growing, almost fetishistic appreciation of more tangible objects. You only have to look towards the return of vinyl to see this.

But producing physical colour hardbacks isn’t cheap. Hence crowdfunding seemed to be the way to go. We’re hoping that people will be interested in being part of and investing in the production of something special.

Why this book?

Darren: The Dust on the Moth seems to fit in so well with Bee’s Make Honey’s mission. The novel actually had a tricky time in finding a home. Several literary agents and indie publishers really liked it but felt unable to handle the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into a specific genre. But this happened to be exactly what Bees Make Honey were looking for: fiction that defies categorisation and gives two fingers to pigeonholes. So they had a gander and took it on, and now we’ve ended up with this hugely ambitious campaign.

Kirsty: I like Darren’s writing because he’s not afraid to take risks and have fun. There’s a rawness which traditionally published books tend to lack because they’re edited differently and are too self-conscious of their market. It’s like when you get a really good piece of music that’s overproduced. The Dust on the Moth takes an idea and runs away with it in ways that are both incredibly silly yet also still profound. It makes you laugh while also potentially giving you an existential crisis. I think that might be my favourite kind of art when it’s done well. Also, as a person to work with, Darren is very self-motivated. When I first met him, he was putting out illustrated short stories as Panspermia Press with illustrations from his friend Chris Baldwin. He was already collaborating and experimenting in order to get his work out there.

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The Kickstarter is over halfway done: how are things going with it?

Darren: We had an amazing start in which we got over a grand in just two days. But things have slowed down and we still have a way to go before meeting our £5000 target; failure to meet the target means we get none of the money pledged at all.  This doesn’t seem to bode well, but actually represents a pretty common course for Kickstarter campaigns. A lot of campaigns get a depressing dip in the middle and then shoot up at the end to meet their target. So we’re hoping to start seeing that soon, especially with people’s impending paydays and the growing jeopardy factor. It’s playing out a little like an indie underdog story – I think that’s one of the things people like about crowdfunding projects like this.

Kirsty: It’s just like The Mighty Ducks. Except we can’t express our frustration with hockey sticks.

Darren: Beyond the financial side of things, the response from people has been fantastic. It’s humbling and wonderful to discover how supportive your friends and family are, and alongside this you get the backing and enthusiasm of total strangers, which is particularly rewarding.

What’s involved in the day to day running of a Kickstarter? Is it just a case of launching one and then keeping your fingers crossed?

Kirsty: Absolutely not. Anyone who uses that technique is likely to fail hard. You can’t expect the world to magically find your campaign amidst hundreds of others. There are people who browse Kickstarter looking for interesting things, but they’re not likely to see your campaign unless you’ve got off to a good start. You have to be on social media every day, trying to shout about it without repeating yourself too much and pissing people off! It’s hard work and tough on the ego too. It’s a huge benefit to do it as part of a team of four because you can keep each other’s spirits up, but I still feel the most responsible.

Darren: I mostly do what I’m told. This means distributing flyers, regularly promoting the campaign on Twitter (look out for #KICKSTARTMOTH) and guilt-tripping my friends and family into having a look, spreading the word and maybe even chipping in. At the more strategic level I get together with the Bees Make Honey team to discuss tactics and leave biscuit crumbs on Kirsty’s sofa. Recent tactics include a free prize draw for all pledgers and two new reward options: Bees Make Honey lucky dip bags crammed with goodies and personalised short stories on the subject of the pledger’s choice.

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Tell me about The Dust on the Moth. It seems to be a lot more than just a book.

Kirsty: We’re very aware of the decline in print publishing and the reasons why that is happening. We were also keen to do something collaborative and experimental because we’re the kind of people who lay awake at night with too many fantastic ideas buzzing around. The Dust on the Moth lends itself to experiment, so it just felt right to elaborate on the worlds Darren had created by giving the book extra dimensions. So we have illustrations by Dan and photographs by Phil, and they’re ‘world-building’ rather than taking things literally. They pick up on abstractions and less tangible aspects. There’s also a ‘soundtrack’ written by Dan in collaboration with Graham Langley of Savoy Grand.

We are also interested in digital experimentation and we’d love to make The ‘Moth into an even more multi-media project with moving image and an interesting platform – something much more than a bog standard e-book. But there are currently not enough hours in the day, nor money in the bank for this. So for this episode we’re mainly expressing our love of the printed book.

Darren: You could even say it’s more than a book at the narrative level. It’s two books in a way: two very different stories that become progressively tangled as you go along. Overall, I really hope the campaign is successful so that readers and art fans will have the opportunity to discover a unique book that goes way beyond the sum of its parts.

Kirsty: Many thanks to everyone who has contributed so far. If you like the sound of the project please help us out towards getting it funded. Even just sharing it and helping get the word out is much appreciated! Follow the hashtag #KickStartMoth.

Kirsty Fox is a social entrepreneur, writer and creative producer with Bees Make Honey Creative Community. Darren Simpson is the author of The Dust on the Moth. The Dust on the Moth is a collaborative project with an illustrator, Dan Layton and a photographer, Phil Formby. 

The Dust On The Moth on Kickstarter
Bees Make Honey website

The Kickstarter campaign for The Dust on the Moth is Go Go Go!

Pretty slick video, if I say so myself. I’m biased, mind. Did you spot the Lionel Richie mug that says “Hello, is it tea you’re looking for?” Pure gold.

So, following my last post, I’m very excited to announce that the Kickstarter page for my book project with Bees Make Honey is live:


Yep, you heard. It’s LIVE!

I won’t waste your time by blabbering on about the project. It’s all in the video above, and if a picture paints a thousand words, this video paints eight thousand and twenty-three (I did the maths).

And talking of a thousand, we’ve not had a bad start. We raised over a grand in just two days – that’s 20% of our target. But we still have a long way to go, and if we don’t meet the five thousand pound target by 1 May, we get none of the money pledged and can’t produce this multi-dimensional slab of beautiful strangeness called The Dust on the Moth.

That’s why I’m getting onto my knees, kissing the tips of your toes and asking that you have a look at the page, share it, get involved, spread the word and – if you like the look of the book – maybe even treat yourself to one of the many delectable rewards on offer. The success of this audacious campaign depends as much on exposure as on offering a lovely piece of audio-literary-visual oddness. The success of this campaign depends on you.

Thanks for having a gander, and feel free to get in touch.

No Buts – A Literary Oddity Finds a Home

(or: How Bees Make Honey Pimped My Novel)


Once upon a time I wrote a story. Well, two stories. Or maybe three…

Anyway, however many, they started doing interesting things. Even though they were very different, I kept spotting common themes, images and motifs. The stories started merging together, and quite naively, I left them to it. I didn’t think about implications, target audiences, markets, genres. I just thought I’d see what happened. I ended up with a novel called The Dust on the Moth.

I remember the first time a literary agent showed an interest in The Dust on the Moth. She gushed a little in her emails, and then invited me to meet her in London. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was pumped. I booked a train ticket without hesitation. On the day I ironed a shirt and put on my lucky boxers. I was ready for destiny. And then, over an overpriced cup of Earl Grey, the agent – who was lovely, by the way – told me that she really liked the book but found it a little intimidating, and wasn’t really sure what she could do with it. I nodded politely and smiled with clenched teeth.

Fair dos, I thought. That’s just one agent. Plenty more fish in the sea. But other agents who requested the manuscript did the same: ‘It’s a great book…but perhaps a little too offbeat for the market.’ ‘Very strong imagery…but it’s a tricky book to categorise.’ ‘A refreshing concept…but it seems to fall between genres.’ And so on.

So I couldn’t help wondering: what’s the point? I’d tried to write something not only entertaining but also ambitious and original. I’d given three years to it. So why bother? What should I have done instead? Should I have watered myself down? Should I have been more generic? Would I have been better off writing about a young wizard who uncovers a Catholic conspiracy while getting gimpy with a sexy vampire millionaire?

It was disillusioning. I became jaded and bitter. I started shouting at kids in the street, kicking old ladies’ cankles, pushing prams down stairs. Eventually I found the strength to move on and write other things, but the bitterness of The Dust on the Moth lingered like the aftertaste of vomit in my mouth.

illustrations trio

And then came a minor miracle in the form of Kirsty Fox – miscreant megamind behind Bees Make Honey and one-woman creative industries empowerment machine. She chanced uponThe Dust on the Moth through Panspermia Press, and wanted to make it the next project for Bees Make Honey’s publishing arm. I met her at the Gladstone in Carrington. ‘But it’s too offbeat,’ I stammered. ‘Genres… Pigeonholes…’ Kirsty didn’t care. She saw all of the agents’ ‘buts’ as strengths. She wanted to publish it because it was different and because she liked it. Simple as. That’s how Kirsty works. The girl’s got balls. Figuratively speaking.

It was refreshing. It restored a lot of faith. My eyes had been opened to the integrity, passion and freedom of the DIY publishing scene. I was overjoyed. I started being nice to kids, helping old ladies cross the road, visiting injured babies in hospital. I was shitting rainbows.

So we got to work on polishing the story. Kirsty lent me her editor’s eye and I learned a lot about dialogue tags and thinking even more carefully about readers. As the story started to refine itself, Kirsty began to feel that it deserved better. She shone the Bees Make Honey signal into night sky and Dan Layton and Phil Formby came abseiling in through the windows. It was amazing to watch how, in their hands, The Dust on the Moth slowly evolved from run-of-the-mill ebook to lush multimedia objet d’art, complete with illustrations and photography. And with time, even that wasn’t enough; online and musical elements started to take shape. Exciting times.

photo trio

And then, another ‘but’. How were we going to fund such a lavish product? The answer was crowdfunding through Kickstarter. We felt optimistic that we were offering something unique that people interested in literary fiction/art/photography/curios would be interested in backing for a piece of the action. So we ploughed on. It was just like the A Team, except with less flame throwers and more cans of Red Stripe. It wasn’t long before The Dust on the Moth had taken on a life of its own. It’s no longer just a story. It’s no longer just mine. It’s a genuine collaboration – a one-of-a-kind, living, breathing, beautiful monster.

I’m chuffed that The Dust on the Moth has found a home with Kirsty and the lads – not only because it resonates so well with Bees Make Honey’s spirit, but also because I’ve had the opportunity to work with a nifty team of nerds I could almost call my friends. Almost.

Right. Enough about me and Bees Make Honey. You can find details of the Kickstarter campaign here. Have a gander. Get involved.

Over to you.

Why short stories are like buses

Well well well. It seems that within a period of about a week I’ve had three short stories published. Typical. You wait around for ages and suddenly three come at once.

So who’s been misguided enough to publish my ramblings?

The first culprits are the classy folk at the Stockholm Review of Literature, who published “The Sweet and the Sour” – originally a Panspermia Press tale – in their third issue, alongside Christopher Baldwin‘s accompanying artwork. Nice.

Second in line are Inkapture, who kindly took a liking to “Take the Next Exit for Love” – also a Panspermia Press original – and published it in their October 2014 issue. Also nice.

And third in line are Flash Fiction Magazine, who generously published “The Running Bath” – incidentally one of the first short stories I wrote “seriously”, although it isn’t a very serious story. Nice too.

I’d like to put it on record that I thank the editors of the aforementioned publications for being barmy enough to publish my guff. Cheers!

On eyelids in envelopes

Something quite peculiar has happened. After a considerably long period of getting “we like it, but” from editors, I’ve suddenly had three short stories accepted in about as many days. They’ll be published soon, apparently. Look out for details in a future post.

What on earth happened? It’s too much of a coincidence. Surely this is some sort of hoax. Surely the rug’s about to be pulled from under my smug little feet.

Or perhaps it’s hard times for editors. Is there a literary drought? Are editors peering into the dregs, scraping the bottoms of their barrels and finding my stories?

Maybe I’m being hard on myself. I feel that I should just accept this for what it is. It’s not a huge deal, in the grand scheme of things. It’s a tiny bit of recognition – a glimmer of validation. It’s a small but valuable lesson in the worth of persistence, of trying and trying so that you can keep improving and be there to catch a bit of luck when it comes along.

But more importantly, it’s evidence that posting small parts of your body to editors can do wonders.

I even sent my eyelids. I don’t sleep so well these days, but it’s worth it.

Easy Reading for Difficult Devils

What do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

The bad news? World War III is imminent. So grab some canned spaghetti, a bottle of Lucozade and a shovel. Now go to the garden and dig a hole. How far? As far as you can go. But before you start, make sure you peg a rope to the edge of the hole. That way you can climb back up when you’ve dug so far that the world is a speck of light above your head. Once you’ve climbed back up, call out for your loved ones. Tell them you want to show them something incredible. Take them to the edge of your hole and tell them to look down. Then shove them. Shove them with all of your love. They’ll fall and their legs will break. This will hurt, but it will prevent them from climbing back up – it will save their lives. Shout down that they should cover their heads, then throw in your tinned spaghetti and Lucozade. Sever the rope and jump down after your food supplies. When shock has numbed the agony of your broken legs, tell your loved ones how much they mean to you and how blessed you feel to have had them in your life. Then hold them in your arms and wait. And pray that it won’t rain.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news? One of my short stories has been published in Easy Reading for Difficult Devils, a dark fiction anthology edited by Zachary T. Owen. It’s called “The Adoring Dentist”, and is about a dentist who does horrendous things in the name of love. Don’t we all.

The even better news: it’s free. You can download it gratis from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Smashwords (or from all three, if you’re a collector). It’s probably best to do so before you get started on your hole. Be quick – there isn’t much time.

See you on the other side.


Jesus sandals and William S. Burroughs

You know, on hindsight my last post was a bit goody goody two shoes. In fact, you could say it was patronising. Or even downright arrogant. I mean, who the hell do I think I am, strutting in on my Jesus sandals and waving around my righteous goody-goody stick? It’s enough to turn your stomach.

In a half-arsed attempt to make some sort of amends, here’s something a little more subversive, courtesy of William S. Burroughs. It’s one of my favourite pieces of his writing (and I have many), and it never fails to make me grin.

So here’s Lee – who’s pretty much Burroughs: a expatriate barely off heroin, struggling with loneliness and homosexuality, among other things. He’s developed a bit of a liking for a young heterosexual by the name of Allerton.

Lee walked directly into the bar and ordered a drink. He drank it and ordered a second one before looking around the room to see if Allerton was there. Allerton was alone at a table, tipped back in a chair with one leg crossed over the other, holding a bottle of beer on his knee. He nodded to Lee. Lee tried to achieve a greeting at once friendly and casual, designed to show interest without pushing their short acquaintance. The result was ghastly.

As Lee stood aside to bow in his dignified old-world greeting, there emerged instead a leer of naked lust, wrenched in the pain and hate of his deprived body and, in simultaneous double exposure, a sweet child’s smile of liking and trust, shockingly out of time and out of place, mutilated and hopeless.

Allerton was appalled. “Perhaps he has some sort of tic,” he thought. He decided to remove himself from contact with Lee before the man did something even more distasteful. The effect was like a broken connection. Allerton was not cold or hostile; Lee simply wasn’t there so far as he was concerned. Lee looked at him helplessly for a moment, then turned back to the bar, defeated and shaken.

Brilliant. I love it. It’s so grotesque, funny and sad, all at once. He really hits the sweet spot. And – like the rest of Queer – it doesn’t have that acidic, warped, satirical, insectoid sci-fi element more associated with his later stuff; it’s very frank and painful, undisguised.

Just thought I’d share that with you. A little less waving around of the goody-goody stick.

The Crow Road (to hell?)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Bit harsh, innit? Chill out, Bernie.

But I sort of see where he’s coming from.

I intended to post this at the start of the New Year. So much for that. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans  – a quote from another saint, of sorts.

As it happens, this post is about good intentions. Hence it seemed appropriate for a New Year’s post. I was reading Iain Banks’ The Crow Road over the festive period, and a passage from it struck me as really capturing a good way to try to look at things.

Here’s some context, for those of you who haven’t read the novel. The protagonist, Prentice McHoan, is thinking of his father, Kenneth McHoan (who’s fate is in some ways a joy to read – I’ll say no more):

Telling us straight or through his stories, my father taught us that there was, generally, a fire at the core of things, and that change was the only constant, and that we – like everybody else – were both the most important people in the universe, and utterly without significance, depending, and that individuals mattered before their institutions, and that people were people, much the same everywhere, and when they appeared to do things that were stupid or evil, often you hadn’t been told the full story, but that sometimes people did behave badly, usually because some idea had taken hold of them and given them an excuse to regard other people as expendable (or bad), and that was part of who we were too, as a species, and it wasn’t always possible to know that you were right and they were wrong, but the important thing was to keep trying to find out, and always to face the truth. Because truth mattered.

I’m not particularly an Iain Banks fan. I do like what I’ve read, and he’s undoubtedly a great writer, but somehow I never I enjoy his novels as much as I feel I should. I can’t put my finger on why. He’s one of those, I guess.

But those two sentences (yep, two) struck a chord. It seemed like good timing; they suggested a nice way of looking at the world to keep in mind for 2014. And I thought I’d share them with you, in case you’d like to keep them in mind too, for what’s left of 2014 and perhaps beyond.

And yes: I’ve just filled a blog post mostly with other people’s writing. Laziness? I think that these days they call it “curation”.