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My verdict on last night’s adaptation of The ABC Murders

imageThe country is divided. I’m not referring to Brexit, or even to whether brussel sprouts have a place on the Christmas lunch plate. This current division within the nation relates to how us keen crime fans received Sarah Phelps’ new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, part of the Hercule Poirot series, which aired at 9pm last night on BBC1 (the second part follows this evening at the same time).

Phelps has taken on Agatha Christie’s classics before, and the results have also divided audiences. But I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed her previous adaptations, even when the original story has been changed, such as it was in 2017’s Ordeal by Innocence, as the essential feel of the novel has always been retained. But by taking on the complex and much loved Hercule Poirot, has Phelps pushed her interpretation one step too far?

Upon last night’s viewing, I’m going to say yes.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the episode and will certainly be watching part two, but for me, something essential was missing. The production (created by the marvellous, Mammoth Screen) was cinematic; the Art Deco backdrop was contrasted with the squalor and political division that pervaded 1930s Britain, including the flourishing of neo-nazi groups, mirroring the rise of fascism in Germany during the period.

John Malkovich was unsurprisingly understated and powerful in his performance. His Poirot was melancholy and tortured, exhibiting none of the ridiculous quirks that David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh instilled in their character. And in this stark absence of the ridiculous lay the flaw in this particular production for me.

Sarah Phelps had plumbed new depths of darkness for her take on Poirot. His discovery of the body of Mrs Ascher in the Victorian parlour of her tobacconist shop in Andover, throat slit and gore on show, had the feel of a recreation of one of Jack the Ripper’s grisly crimes. Add to that, the landlady pimping out her young daughter to her unsavoury male tenants and you have a very squalid story indeed.

Yet to me, the beauty of Christie’s crime novels lie in the fact that they hint at the very depths of human depravity whilst never playing it out for us in a tableau of gore. This is the reason why I was able to read the books at the age of eleven and I’m happy for my daughter to read them now. They are still murder mysteries and terrible deeds are done, but it is the motives of the human protagonists which Christie explores, rather than the grisly aftermath of crime.

There is a reason why Agatha Christie remains the best-selling author of all time. Her books are clever page-turners and classic mysteries, but they are also imbued with humour and an awareness of the eccentricities and absurdities of human nature. No character displays this Christie trademark more than Hercule Poirot. Like Miss Marple, people tend to overlook him because of his peculiar appearance. Christie explores the preconceptions we have of people given to us by their outward characteristics. The greatest genius of Christie was that she showed us how appearances could belie a sharp intellect. She warned us to beware dismissing a person simply because of our preconceptions of them. This is why her murderers are so often the ones we least expect!

Sadly, this subtle message was missing from Phelps’ adaptation. What remains is an excellent period crime drama, dark in the vein of a Luther or a Silent Witness; taking itself incredibly seriously and making us in awe of its stellar cast. But what is lost for me are the flashes of humour. I liked the fact that David Suchet was prepared to play out the ludicrous aspects of Poirot’s character to the full and cared little for how he was perceived. Hercule’s fastidiousness and pursuit of correctness mattered more to him than the opinions of others. That is his strength.

There are good reasons why Christie’s novels are classics. The subtlety of her characterisation is one of them. This subtlety is lost in this current production, which is dark and strangely masculine, when Poirot was anything but! The series will still be enjoyable to watch, but it lacks that element of Christie magic – the universality of her stories. She did not set out to divide readers but to unite them by highlighting that our deepest flaws and weaknesses are part of a shared human nature. There was far more in Christie’s world that united than divided us.



What publishing with KDP has done for me.

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It’s five years this month since I published my first novel, Aoife’s Chariot. We almost immediately went on holiday to France that August, and I recall spending that break on tenterhooks, waiting for those first crucial reviews to filter through.

The book did very well and I was spurred on to pen the sequel over the following months. Thinking back to that time, it never occurred to me not to choose the Amazon Direct Publishing option to bring my books to market, and the Createspace service for the paperbacks. I suppose because I had some knowledge of the value of online business models, this approach seemed like a no-brainer.

Since 2013, I have published twenty titles; encompassing two crime series and a couple of standalone novels. My books have sold in their hundreds of thousands all over the world. The KDP experience has allowed me to make a good living from being a novelist, something that I’m aware is by no means a given. And I haven’t needed to inflate my prices in order to achieve this success. In fact, quite the opposite.

But perhaps even more notable than the financial benefits, what publishing with KDP has allowed me to do, is to write at a pace that is natural to me. Without a doubt, if I had applied to a big publisher, I would not have written the number of books I have. Due to the time it takes for a traditional publisher to review and suggest edits, let alone produce the final printable product, it takes an average of 9-12 months to get a draft to market. By those timings, I would have only published a quarter of the books that I have.

This would be a case of quality over quantity, I suspect you may suggest. I strongly disagree. My editors do an exceptional job, but they work only for me. I’m not one manuscript amongst dozens waiting for scrutiny. The design process is now largely digital and takes hours rather than months to perfect. There is no need in this day and age for the production process to take so long. Only KDP (and perhaps the new breed of digital publishers) appear to have utilised new tech to bring books to the market more speedily.

I love the moment when a book is released to the world. This end-goal is what motivates me to push on with a novel, even when the writing process can feel like hard-work. If I felt that end point was so far protracted, there is no doubt I would lose my creative mojo to a certain extent.

For me, the ideas for a new book push themselves forward in my mind and the process of plot to page can be a fast, almost compulsive one. For this reason, the efficiency and autonomy that KDP provides has been perfect for my style of novel-writing. I think that readers appreciate the speed with which the next instalment of their favourite series are delivered too.

For this fifth anniversary of my writing and publishing journey, it’s worth remembering what lies at the heart of the process; the generous readers who have shown me so much support and taken a chance on a new author, and the KDP service that has given me the opportunity to do the job I love and make a success of it.

The conservative streak of the psychological thriller

imageI’m not having a pop at psychological thrillers. I’ve written one myself and it remains one of my favourite genres. But as such, I’ve noticed a certain moral streak that runs through many of their narratives.

Last night I re-watched the 1990 film based on Scott Turow’s legal thriller, Presumed Innocent. It’s years since I first watched it, or read the book, which can arguably be described as a classic of the genre. So revisiting the story, I was struck by its parallel with modern psychological and crime novels in it’s central theme.

All great fiction has a moral message, the better stuff is just more subtle about it’s preoccupations. It occurred to me last night, that the moral message of many psychological thrillers is essentially a conservative one. We live in a modern society, where divorce is no longer shunned by polite society. Many children now grow up in  extended family units, with parents and step parents playing equal roles.

But in the psychological thriller genre, deciding to leave your family, or worse, setting out on an extra-marital affaIr, will inevitably result in cataclysmic consequences for both the perpetrator and their family. Call to mind the eighties film, Fatal Attraction, and you will get the general idea.

I suppose the subject matter is inevitable, given that psychological thrillers are often grounded in the domestic setting. Yet, it surprises me that in the last thirty years, when our society has evolved in so many ways, the suspense novel remains resolutely unchanged in its message. The family unit must be preserved, and preferably the first marriage, or chaos and violence will ensue.

Despite the shifts in modern lifestyles, I believe this essentially conservative warning still appeals. It must do, because the genre is more popular than ever. I can understand the allure of the message, we feel a sense of schadenfreude if we ourselves are safe in our own family unit, and are warned of the terrible danger which would befall us in succumbing to temptation. The readership are often women, perhaps reassured by the tales of disaster which exist outside of the ‘safe’, domestic sphere. If their husband were to stray, punishment would be harsh and complete, to him and his lover.

In saying this, a new strand of the psychological thriller has taken the morality of the domestic novel in a different direction. Recent releases, such as BA Paris’s Behind Closed Doors, have taken the issue of domestic abuse as their central theme. In these circumstances, a family unit can be broken, without the usual dire consequences.

Yet, the moral message remains a stark one. You can leave your spouse – but only if physical or emotional abuse is involved. If you’ve simply grown apart, or become attracted to someone else,  if you leave, you must pay a terrible price.

I’m sure that not every book in the genre follows this pattern, mine does not. But I’ve read enough in the last couple of years to indicate this moral message is as strong as it was thirty, or even a hundred years ago. Modern detective novels, particularly those that focus on police procedure, tend to reflect social change more effectively.

The psychological thriller seems slower to change its central message. Whether, as readers, we still require these moral tales to help maintain the family unit is the subject of a whole other debate.

Reasons to be positive about 2018!

imageAs we approach the end of another year, it is inevitably a time for reflection. 2017 has proved a challenge for many. Whatever your political views, we are undoubtedly going through a period of uncertainty.

But over the last few days, I have been reminded of the reasons why we should be positive. For many years, I have compiled a Christmas quiz for family and friends. I hadn’t managed to do it for several seasons as my young children were demanding of my time and my duties had expanded to include the pressie wrapping and the food!

But this year, an unexpected fall of snow postponed our visiting plans and I found myself compiling the quiz to keep a pair of disappointed children happy. What I noticed, when planning the game, were certain notable differences from how it used to be. It was much more tricky to find obscure questions and images than it would have been five or ten years ago.

It abruptly occurred to me that this was because of the growth of instant news and the ubiquitous nature of social media. Personalities have become immediately recognisable, as their images populate our timelines on a daily basis. This includes political figures like Emmanuel Macron or David Davis, as well as Meghan Markle and Ariana Grande.

My signature quiz, once considered rather challenging, didn’t seem so difficult any longer. The realisation of this fact, I found heartening. When I looked back through the year, I viewed events with a more positive slant. We are undoubtedly better informed as a nation than we used to be.

Whatever the political climate, this is a good thing. It isn’t as easy to make false statements and get away with it. Facts are instantly checked and corrections go viral. This development makes it far harder for those with vested interest to block progress with misinformation. We can also influence the course of foreign policy by petitioning parliament in individual cases, such as raising the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran and forcing Boris Johnson to meet with her husband and actively negotiate for her release. This would not have happened without social media pressurising the foreign secretary to act.

The new digital age has been of great benefit to me as a writer too. It is now possible to become a bestselling author without being represented by one of the great monoliths of the publishing world. This is good news for everyone. There is greater competition in pricing as a result and a wider range of voices heard.

So, there is plenty to feel positive about as we embark upon a new year. I know that developments in digital technology have their limitations, but the up sides are really exciting. We are all more knowledgable and more literate as a result of social media. It is a leveller, not a development that benefits only the elite. This can only be a good thing, as we enter the uncertain future.

Happy New Year!


Five years on

imageFive years ago, during a holiday to the Isle of Arran in Scotland, a series of events changed the course of my professional life.

We have holidayed in Arran since I was a child. My Dad was born in the main village of Brodick and his family have lived on Arran since the 16th Century. He eventually moved to the south east of England for work, but ensured that we never forgot about our roots in the Western Isles.

I don’t know what was different about the summer of 2012. The buzz of the London Olympic Games hadn’t really reached the remote farmhouse on the western coast of the island where I was staying with my husband, children and parents that August. The weather was good, I recall, which may have had a part to play, as it’s by no means a given in this part of the world.

But it was evident not long after we disembarked from the ferry, that this trip would be special. I began to feel the irrepressible  urge to run through stories and dialogue in my head. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my notebooks with me, as I would have these days. So the words went unrecorded.

Then, on a fresh, sunny day, my Dad and I set off on one of our favourite walks; up the hill from the tiny settlement of Thunderguy, to the beautiful, crystal clear waters of Coire Fhionn Lochan. A loch nestled idyllically amongst the peaks with its own white gravel beach. A magical place, where my sister and I used to swim as children and a popular walk on the island.

This particular ascent was an unusual one. About halfway to the Lochan, we spotted a lady’s handbag amongst the rocks and scree. We assumed that a fellow walker must have put it down when resting and forgotten to pick it up again. I placed it in a more obvious position on a tall boulder, but left it on the hillside. Not knowing whether the owner had been heading up or down.

As we approached the ridge which marked the end of our walk, it became apparent who the owner of the bag was. A woman was descending the narrow path fast ahead of us.  She asked shakily if we’d seen her handbag. We replied that we had and tried to explain its general location before she continued down the hill in something of a panic.

Dad and I continued to the Lochan, where we sat on a rock on the beach and ate our packed lunch. The view was so glorious, we forgot about the lady and her lost bag. Until we stood up to begin our trek back down the hill, when we became aware of a kerfuffle at the brow of the ridge. A pair of walkers were becoming concerned about their friend, exchanging worried words. The lady we passed still hadn’t returned since going back to search for her bag. We told them we would keep an eye out for her on the way down.

We did see the lady again. She had struggled to find the bag, it not being as easy to retrace your steps on the rocky hillside as we had imagined, despite the well trodden path. In the event, the lady was fine and ultimately re-united with her property, but a fledgling seed had been sown in my mind.

A story was beginning to crystallise. I didn’t know what form it would take, but several ideas had interested me; the issue of the lost bag – what if there was something very valuable or perhaps incriminating inside? And then the idea that even a supposedly familiar landscape can become quite alien in certain circumstances. I was sure that I wished to explore these concepts further.

Upon our return to Essex, I geared up the laptop and began to write. Within a few weeks I had penned the prologue to my first novel, Aoife’s Chariot. By the following July, the book was finished.

In the five years that have followed that summer, I have written  a further sixteen books and given up my teaching job to pursue my writing career full-time. Why that particular holiday was special; triggering a compulsion to write and tell stories, I really cannot say. Perhaps it was simply the right time.

Arran has always been an important place for me. It is an island where you can feel quite free from the concerns of everyday life. The location probably allowed my creative tendencies to flourish. I can’t be certain. But that particular fortnight in the summer of 2012 undoubtedly changed the course of my life for good.


The books I wrote in 2016

As a review of the year, this seemed the most obvious place to start. It’s nearly Christmas Day and time for reflection upon the year passed. It was a significant one for the world in general and in that context, not a great one.

But our own personal experiences tend to take precedence in our memories. For me, 2016 was a decent year. It was a challenge –  with our daughter sitting SATs exams and going up to secondary school, but these events bookended a gloriously hot summer; where our visits to the nearby east coast were reminiscent of the sweltering heat of the Mediterranean.

In terms of writing, it has also been a good one. I’ve not replicated the prolific production of 2014/15, but I feel that the four books I published this year have been amongst my best. I wrote a standalone psychological thriller in the Spring which I have wanted to do since the start of my writing career. I suppose to prove I could produce a novel outside of the serial format.

Yet, my DCI Dani Bevan series continued, with Hold Hands in the Dark and Dark Remedies being released at the start and end of the year respectively, which saw Dani dealt a series of tough blows in her personal life.

Imogen and Hugh Croft were not left out this year either. I produced an anthology of short stories in March which was inspired by the short stories of Agatha Christie. I wanted each tale to be an intricate puzzle in itself, where the reader could pit their wits against Imogen to solve the clues. As always, the Imogen and Hugh instalments have a hint of the golden age of crime to them, although solidly set in the modern age.

A completely new departure for me this year was the conversion of the first two Dani Bevan novels into Audiobook format. It was the first time I had worked with a third party and the experience was a revelation to me. David Monteath provided the voice over to the text of these books and captured the atmosphere perfectly, bringing the stories and characters to life. I hope this will be the start of a long new chapter for the Dani Bevan series.

I have the next book plotted and part of the research done. This will be the project that starts 2017, which I hope will be a creative and prosperous one for us all!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Leaving books on the underground? Nice sentiment, bad idea.

imageWe have commemorated a number of significant and poignant events over the past few weeks, but one anniversary has slipped past un-recorded by the media. On the 18th November 1987, a horrific fire broke out in King’s Cross Underground station, London. Tragically, 31 people were killed and dozens seriously injured. The event led to several crucial changes in the law relating to tube travel.

The fire itself had begun on a wooden escalator leading out of the station and up to the ticket barriers and concourse above. Although smoking had been banned on the London Underground since 1984, it was believed that many commuters still lit up on the escalators in preparation  for leaving the station. A discarded butt from one of these cigarettes was thought to have ignited the layers of litter which had built up underneath the escalator, along with the wooden structure itself. The ensuing inferno engulfed the lower levels of the station and was excaberbated by the jets of air created by trains exiting the platforms to escape the blaze.

It was a terrible event and one that those of us around to have heard the details have never forgotten. My Dad commuted on the underground during those years as I was to do a decade later. The King’s Cross fire was one of those tragic events that bring forward progressive safety-legislation. Wooden escalators were banned from stations and anti-smoking rules more rigorously enforced. It also became entirely socially unacceptable to litter on the tube. During my years travelling the Central Line to work, in the decades that followed, the tube felt a much cleaner, safer and more modern place to be.

A new fad, encouraged by actress Emma Watson, who admitted to ‘secretly’ leaving books with messages in them on the underground for people to find, has led many fans to leave books on trains in various parts of the world – from China to America. The trend deeply worries me.

Yes, books are special, more than just sheets of paper with ink printed on them. But in material reality, that’s all they are. In fact, more flammable than an empty crisp packet or chocolate wrapper. Yet to discard one of those on an underground train would be completely unacceptable.

I can see Emma Watson’s point, but I think it’s ill-conceived. Please donate your books to charity shops and libraries, or your local school. But to begin to witness dog-eared paperbacks on benches in stations and on the padded seats of trains will only prove to be a symbol to people that it’s now okay to leave your discarded goods behind you when you leave a public place. It isn’t. We’ve moved beyond that stage as we became more socially responsible and aware of the results of our actions.

Yes, I love books. I’m an author and a publisher. But I love progress and the preservation of human life more. Most commuters now read novels and newspapers through their phones and iPads. This is progress. It means less litter on our public transport system and the wider dissemination of literacy to the masseses. Emma Watson’s idea is sweet, but it’s misguided and out of step with the ways that literacy will be promoted in future.

So if you’re tempted to leave your paperback on the train when you’ve finished it, please don’t. The change in attitude towards litter on the underground was not achieved easily. It took a desperately tragic event to shift popular attitudes. Let’s not allow them to shift back again, over at best, an ill-thought out idea and at worst, a cynical publicity stunt.


Meet the Team


The Garansay Press has been in operation for just over three years now. We have just published our sixteenth book. So, I thought it was about time to properly introduce the team.

I am Katherine Pathak (far right of picture). I’m the author and head of media and marketing. I write the books, the blogs and the majority of the tweets. If you are communicating with any branch of The Garansay Press, you are likely to be interacting with me. My academic and work mini biog:

University of York, Institute of Education, University of London. Purchasing Assistant, Good Book Guide. Teaching History in several London schools. Full-time author.

Robert Currie (second left). Bob is the finance director at The Garansay Press. He is also a member of the editorial team. Now retired, he still finds himself book-keeping for several organisations and start-ups. Bob is our Mr ‘details’. Also my dad. Mini biog:

RBS manager and securities consultant (retired) Company Secretary (various)

Rakesh Pathak (centre of picture) Rakesh is one of our editorial team. A busy man in his other roles, his conscientious copy editing is invaluable in getting the best out of the final product. Mini biog:

University of Oxford, Institute of Education, University of London. Head of History. Author of IB textbook.

Susan Currie (left of picture) is our resident crime fan and aficionado of the genre. Sue is our most efficient copy editor and is expert at making sure my prose style remains tight and plot focussed. Mini biog:

Dean College of Nursing, Edinburgh. RBS (retired)

To find out more about The Garansay Press and our publications please follow us on Twitter @GaransayPress and like our Facebook pages:


Bookish frustrations: The Book Snob

image As an author of crime thrillers and psychological mysteries I am no stranger to the book snob. Certainly in the traditional publishing world, there is a great deal of snobbery directed at the relative  value of the crime genre. It is undoubtedly popular, but is it proper literature?

Of course, I would say yes. Some of our most talented writers have produced work in this genre, from Stephen King to Susan Hill. And I really think that snobbery around crime is beginning to diminish, although I believe it still lingers in the genre of romance. In fact, if you are looking for modern takes on human relationships and the human psyche, they can be found in abundance in the very best of these books.

After a debate I had on Twitter last evening, when a Mumsnet thread had unleashed a stream of vitriol against Orchard Books’ Rainbow  Magic series, I was reminded of the dangers that book snobs can pose to the promotion of literacy. The Rainbow Magic series are fairy stories, fairly generic, very girly but highly popular first independent reads for 6-8 year olds. For a couple of years, my daughter devoured them. So imagine my surprise to find perfectly reputable educational sites calling for this series to become ‘land fill’.

Firstly, I’m uncomfortable with any rallying call for the destruction of books. To me, books are a symbol of freedom of expression and speech. Civilised, open nations, do not censor or destroy books, let alone perfectly harmless and inoffensive ones. The whole notion has unpalatable historical implications. Secondly, I cannot see anything wrong with the Daisy Meadows series. Yes, it’s repetitive, no they won’t be winning any literary prizes, but strangely enough, thousands of children adore the stories and the books have introduced them to a love of reading. Should we really impose our adult constructs of what is proper, worthwhile reading onto our children? Certainly not.

If my son wants to read the instructions to the washing machine I’ll be happy. If he tore his way through the Rainbow Magic series I’d be turning somersaults in the street. When a child develops a love of independent reading, they’ll whip through anything you give them. I know plenty of highly educated, intelligent friends who read all of their Mum/Gran’s Mills and Boon novels as an early reader. I read my Gran’s Georgette Heyers and Jean Plaidy’s. Then we move onto other stuff, it is part and parcel of the great process of becoming a literate adult, every stage has its own joys.

These days, book snobs tend to reside only in the editorial departments of ‘literary’ magazines and on the sofas of the more ‘selective’ book clubs; those who chose their titles by what they think they should be reading rather than what they actually want to.

Let’s not impose this snobbery on our children, because they don’t possess it until we foist it upon them. Kids read what they like, what they enjoy. To take away that freedom is a terrible act. Of course books need to be appropriate for the age range, that goes without saying, but children should be encouraged to read a broad range of books – fiction and non fiction. Just like us adults. Because I read crime and mystery, it doesn’t mean I can’t also read history books or the latest Booker Prize winner. Variety is the spice of life and the key to creating lifelong readers.

Please don’t encourage children to look down their noses at certain types of book, or make them feel inadequate for choosing to read something they enjoy rather than something we feel is more substantial or worthy. You’ll just put them off. Popular doesn’t always mean inferior. The classics are great and have their place, but the language can often be very antiquated and inaccessible to early readers. They’ll get there in their own time. Until then, let’s simply enjoy the wonderful variety of books and quality of authors we’ve got out there, because it’s truly tremendous. And we can only hope that the Book Snob will eventually become a dying breed.


Is it really possible to own a concept?

imageThe news this week that Love Productions have accepted a lucrative offer from Channel 4 and will move The Great British Bake Off away from its home at the BBC has raised a number of questions for us creatives.

Clearly, the production company owns the intellectual property to the format of the show. Yet the announcement that presenters Mel and Sue will not be making the move along with it introduces some thorny issues. How much do the established presenting team bring to the table (pardon the pun) when considering the value of the concept?

We have already been required to make a judgment on this very question in relation to the massively popular car show Top Gear. The format belonged to the BBC, but when Clarkson, May and Hammond left en masse, what worth did the format still have? The latest series without them indicated that viewers remain undecided. I find this an interesting comparison, as there is far more to the concept of Top Gear (in my opinion) than there is to that of the Bake Off.

Can you really own the rights to the concept of a baking competition? Surely not. They’ve been taking place in tents on village greens up and down the country for hundreds of years. There would be nothing stopping the BBC from launching another baking programme along similar lines with the same presenters. As Jeremy Clarkson said after his dismissal from Top Gear last year, he would simply make another car show, there were plenty about.

But is it really as simple as that? The Bake Off is a huge and recognisable brand. From the music to the showstopper finale, the format will be tough to replicate well, even with Mel and Sue on board. If reports are correct, the concept of the technical challenge and the signature dish are worth up to £25m a year for a prospective broadcaster. Their pulling power for audiences and users of social media are perceived as so strong.

But I am fascinated by the idea that a concept can be owned in such a decisive way. As a novelist and indie publisher, I have always understood that ideas cannot be copyrighted. To prove plagiarism in the fiction genre, to steal a plot line or scenario wouldn’t be enough. Another writer would have to have lifted chunks of text word-for-word in order for you to claim a breach of your copyright. Fair or not, this is the way it works in books.

Perhaps in tv terms it is easier to protect your ideas. I don’t know enough about the intellectual property law to be able to say. All I know is that a book without its best characters loses a significant part of its appeal, even if the setting and storyline remain the same. I suspect that the Bake Off that so many of us have adored since its launch in 2010 will suffer a similar fate.

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