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Interview with Alice Nuttall, author of ‘Spider Circus’

Interview with Alice Nuttall, author of 'Spider Circus'

spider-circusAlice Nuttall is a PhD student at the university where I work, and it was a colleague of mine who pointed me in the direction of her debut novel, Spider Circus. I am really glad that I was because I found her book gripping and thrilling from the beginning – you can read my review here. After chatting about her book over email and Twitter, I’m really excited that Alice has agreed to do an interview with me about it, her writing, and her influences.

TS: First off Alice, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we (always a good place I find). You’re at a party and you have to describe your book to a stranger. What would you tell them?

AN: Spider Circus started as a long series of ‘what ifs’. What if a circus didn’t just travel between towns, but between different worlds? What if a girl who’d lived an ordinary, boring life in an ordinary, boring village ran away and joined that circus? What kinds of things would she see? What dangers would she face? Spider Circus grew out of those thoughts, as well as some ideas that I’d already been working on. Out of all those different thoughts, I got the story of Lizzie, a girl who joins a circus that turns out to be even more magical than she’d expected.

TS: I loved the idea of *jumping* between different world’s and the circus that also moved between them. For me it reminded me so much of Diana Wynne Jones at her creative best. How do you feel about that comparison?

AN: I’m a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones’ work, so being compared to her is a real compliment -her novels, especially the Chrestomanci series, have been such an inspiration to me.. In fact, I was a little worried that my work might be a little *too* like hers – I only read Homeward Bounders for the first time after I’d completed an early draft of Spider Circus, and I was scared people were going to think I was plagiarising! However, I realised that there are so many stories which explore the idea of parallel worlds (His Dark Materials, the Narnia books, the TV series Sliders, to name but a few) – I just had to make sure that my dimensionals’ journeys took them to different places than their predecessors.

TS: I really know what you mean about not wanting to be thought of as plagiarising. I’m writing a book that use Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer as a base and is inspired by Jones’ Fire & Hemlock but it is a different story. You’ve said that all your stories will be set in the same multi-verse – I like that! Did you want to elaborate on that? I assume the stories might be completely separate but with links…

AN: Basically, I want the best of both worlds – to be able to tell very different stories, but with a few subtle connections between them that people might pick up on. One of the less subtle connections is the village of Middlewick, where Lizzie lives; it’s also the location of my short stories, Free Gifts and Daisy’s Demons. I’ve got a few more stories that I’m planning to set there, and am currently working on another that reveals why strange things tend to happen in that particular village.

Characters are another connection; there are so many characters that I want to write about in greater depth. The sequel to Spider Circus will focus on Damien, and the third novel in the series will be about someone who’s currently a very minor character (although Lizzie’s still going to have a major role – she worked her way into the heart of this story, and she isn’t going anywhere any time soon!) I also really want to write a Doctor Scott story, I have a feeling it’d be a lot of fun.

TS: This all sounds like a lot of fun! And yes, I approve of having lots of inter-vaguely-conncted stories. Which brings me on to my next question… Just where do you get your ideas from, and how long do they sit in your head for brewing? What’s your weirdest idea for a story?

AN: I’m not always sure where I get my ideas from. Most of them just seem to filter in from the world around me – things I do, people I speak to, books I read, they’re all potential sources. Sometimes I get an idea and write the story immediately, in near-finished form -this happened with Free Gifts and Daisy’s Demons. Most of the time, though, the ideas sort of have to percolate in my head. I’ve had various ideas for the Shadows series kicking around since I was fourteen years old, and all that time of writing and rewriting hasn’t just helped me improve my style; it’s helped me sort out which of the ideas are worth hanging onto, which need changing, and which really, really needed to go.

As for the weirdest idea I’ve had… I’m kicking around the idea for a short story about a secret cloning project in Oxford, because I’ve noticed that so many of my friends from out of town seem to have Oxford doppelgangers. But I need to do a bit more scientific research before I can write that one.

TS: Interesting! I wonder what it is about Oxford as a place that makes so many writers create these alternate versions of it…? Lots of writers also create playlists for their novels now. Firstly, do you do this, and if so what might we find on the playlist for Spider Circus? Also, how does music inspire/effect your writing in general?

AN: I don’t make specific playlists, but there are various songs/bands I listen to when I’m writing. For action scenes, I listen to lots of melodramatic orchestral metal, like Nightwish. For serious/emotionally angsty scenes, I often listen to Dresden Dolls or various songs from musicals (my current favourite is “Let It Go” from Frozen). I have a pretty strange taste in music, my MP3 has everything from Disney songs and TV themes to metal and classical.

TS: Eclecticism is good in my book. An insight into the *real* Alice now. What little nugget would you like to reveal about yourself that your readers might not know. What makes Alice really tick?

AN: Ooh, that’s a tricky one… I’m a bit of an introvert (which is SHOCKING in a writer, I know), but, just to be contrary, my favourite hobby – other than writing – is going out and lindy-dancing with loads of people until the small hours of the morning. I’m very fond of debating things (not in the public, competitive sense, but in the “this is a really important social justice issue!” sense). And I like sitting in corners and loathe sitting with my back to a crowded room, which is probably a bit weird.

TS: I thought all a writer’s writing was the inner-extrovert of the introvert? And why would you want to sit with your back to a crowded room? Getting near the end now, and you’ve mentioned on Twitter previously that you and your uncle have been trolling each other for your entire life and that it his fault that I got kicked out of a wedding when you were two. What’s the story behind that?

AN: Hah, this is the story of my earliest memory. My uncle has always been a massive joker, and he particularly likes convincing people of silly things (for example, he once convinced my grandma that there were serious plans to lay the Millennium Eye down flat so people could use it as a roundabout). When I was two and about to go to this wedding, he told me that at weddings, people always shouted “SPEECH!” – but he didn’t tell me at what time (which I think was deliberate).

So, the wedding was underway, the bride had walked down the aisle, the vicar was about to start talking -and suddenly, two-year-old me starts yelling “SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEEEEEEEECH!” at the top of her voice. My grandma had to carry me out of the church because I simply would not stop.

TS: Great story! I hope you got your own back on your uncle… *grins* Not only content with writing your novels you’re also studying for a PhD aren’t you. How does the one effect the other?

AN: I study children’s literature and postcolonial literature – it both does and doesn’t affect my writing. I’m really interested in the representations of non-white characters in children’s literature, and read a lot of work by authors like Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Malorie Blackman, bell hooks and others. That said, though, I didn’t sit down and think “I’m going to write a fantasy story with a black heroine!” – Lizzie just appeared in my head as she is in the book. I very rarely make decisions about my characters, they’re too strong-willed for that.

TS: I love it when characters tell *Me* what the story is! This has been a really interesting interview, and I hope you’ve enjoyed answering the questions as much as I have asking them. What one last thing would you say to someone who was thinking of reading Spider Circus (and they should)?

AN: Ooh, that’s a tough one…my stories are so much part of me that I always feel like anyone who reads them has had a brief wander around inside my head. So, I hope they find it an interesting and worthwhile journey!

Spider Circus by Alice Nuttall

After an argument with her mother, Lizzie McCoy runs away and joins a circus – but instead of travelling to different towns, she soon finds that this particular circus moves between worlds. In her new role as wiredancer, Lizzie sees magic, dragons and predatory horses, and finds that the Ringmaster Jack is running more than just a show…


Alice Nuttall is a tea-swilling, lindy-hopping, perpetual student who lives in an attic in Oxford. She has been writing since she could hold a pen, and currently divides her time between working on her novel, finishing her thesis, and unjamming photocopiers.

Author Interview with Kevin Domenic

Following the launch of The End Of All Worlds in May this year Kevin Domenic of the Searching for Heroes book website was kind enough to interview me about my story, and, umm… me. That was back in June, and here’s the interview I gave:

The End Of All WorldsToday, we sit down with T E Shepherd, author of The End of All Worlds. A storyteller since the day he wrote his first word, Shepherd has written a tale about the bleak possibilities our planet might face in the not-so-distant future.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I was born in 1973 and grew up in Lowestoft, Suffolk before moving to Cheshire to study a degree in Creative Arts. Having worked as an electronic production editor for science and academic publishers in Oxford, I now work as a Web and Digital Media Officer for a top modern university. I live in Oxfordshire with my wife Emma and our seven cats, four chickens and two bunnies and I’m different. I’m not your usual person. Lots of people can say that about themselves but with me it’s true. Just ask my wife! I only discovered how different in the last ten years when I discovered that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. In subtle, subconscious ways I think this does affect my writing. For someone who is, on occasion, somewhat clueless and inept in social situations, I have been praised on my dialogue. As a person I also have difficulty reading visual cues and body-language and consequently my editors often tell me I’m ‘telling’ too much when I should be ‘showing’. Show not tell they say and I have to really work hard to achieve that!

the interview continues

The Interview Circuit

To celebrate one month in print, I have been interviewed by Kevin Domenic for the Searching For Heroes website. So if you want to find out a bit more about me, my life, my influences of course my debut novel, The End Of All Worlds then have a read.

Author Interview – T E Shepherd

Today, we sit down with T E Shepherd, author of The End of All Worlds. A storyteller since the day he wrote his first word, Shepherd has written a tale about the bleak possibilities our planet might face in the not-so-distant future.

( read the full interview )

Book homepage: http://www.words.shepline.com/books/end-of-all-worlds/
On facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheEndOfAllWorlds
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0083XG35W 

The End of All Worlds
Amazon.com | Amazon UK

Interviewed by marbledwhite

1. How has marriage changed you?
I’m not sure that marriage has changed me. Meeting Emma definitely has. I am so much more confident about myself than I used to be and can convey myself and my thoughts with way more self-assurance. It did take time to adjust to the new situation though. I remember, life before Emma, meaning that I could do what I wanted to when I wanted to, which basically meant that I could write for as long as I wanted whenever I wanted. When I first met Emma, I didn’t have that freedom and my writing time was squeezed into smaller pockets of the day. I guess you could say that marriage enabled me to get the balance right. Probably coincidence, but it was on my holiday that I started writing my current novel, and I found a kind of equilibrium between time with Emma and time to write.

2. Apart from writing, is there any other career you would really like to have had a stab at?
I’m not sure if I would still want to have a go at this job, but if I looking back (and I’m loved my A-Levels and my degree), if I had the opportunity to go back and choose my education again, I think I would have liked to have pursued geography. I would have continued my writing and photography anyway and I think I would have liked to try something more environmental – a National Trust (or similar) warden. I think I would like to have a go at archaeology – in that I would like to help out at a Dig – but I think its probably too late for me turn that into a career.

3. What are your top 5 priorities in life?
Umm, to be happy and to help in my own small way to make those who are nearest and dearest to me happy. Beyond that, I really don’t know… I want to share my stories with the world in the hope that someone, unknown to myself, might, possibly enjoy reading them. I said that last one second, but these are not really in any particular order. I really do think the world can be a better place and so I want to do my bit. I want to strive to eat more regionally and seasonally, and make less of an impact on our precious and fragile planet. I’m not the kind of person who could make some big statement and have people listen but if I could play my part. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t travel far and see things away from our own doorstep, but we should make those decisions carefully. I don’t think that’s five things, but I think you get the general idea.

4. Do you think you’ve changed at all as you’ve got older or do you think you’re essentially the same person now as when you were, say, 20?
Definitely. I was thought when I was younger that one day I would meet someone to marry and share my life with, but I couldn’t have done any of that back then. I really do think that in this the internet has saved me. In a weird way, I guess I have to thank the pathetic little shit who bullied me at work 10 years ago. Without that I might not have investigated the possibility that I had aspergers and without that then Helen B. wouldn’t have worked out what the elephant in the corner of the room was and arranged for Human Resources to sort out my coaching with Bill, and my decision to put more of my personality out there within the confines of LiveJournal – a place where I have been able to write publicly, privately (I never have), to friends, or an ever more tightly locked selection of friends. I don’t think I had an ‘in person’ friend who, at the time, I could talk to about entering the world of online dating, but within LiveJournal, marbledwhite, rachel2205, mosskat55, nicotje and snugglebunnyjm amongst others really helped to hone my profile, and thus I met emej on match.com. Social Media too, have played their part. With Facebook I have rekindled friendships that in retrospect I should have had at school but due to who I was then and what I didn’t know, I didn’t. With Twitter I have manage to network with complete strangers in a way that, even now, if you placed me in a crowded room or at a cocktail party I would just slink into the corner and drink my orange juice too quickly… And I have got little bits of work that way, too. When people go on about the dangers of social media, and lack of privacy, I want to shout back at them about the good that social media does (and that you only lose privacy if you aren’t savvy enough to keep stuff back, or lock stuff down).

5. If you were given £5,000 to spend on yourself (i.e. not to be used to pay bills or for everyday things), what would you buy?
I talked in Rachel’s interview the other day of my honeymoon in 2009 to Eilean Shona. I loved it, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it wasn’t the honeymoon that we had planned originally. Our original plan, and one that did get all the way through to the booking stage, was a safari through Namibia, staying in some fantastic places and seeing things that neither Emma nor I have ever seen before. But then I became unemployed for three months, and the recession really started to bite, and we couldn’t afford to go and do it justice. So if I was given £5000 then I would take us both on that trip – the same one with bespoke travel company, Audley Travel. If there was any left over after that? Maybe a new lens for my camera to take with us on the trip, and a new laptop for Emma (as she is currently without a properly functioning one of her own).

If you want to be interviewed, comment below, and I’ll ask you 5 questions, which you then post in your journal, whilst also asking people if they want to be interviewed.

Nine Years Later

About nine years ago rachel2205 interviewed me in five questions. After being reminded of this last weekend, she asked me five more…

1. If you could save just ONE object (i.e. not a living thing, assume they are safe!) from a fire in your house, what would it be?

This is a painful question for me considering what happened to my parent’s house eleven years ago. It’s horrible. Completely earth-destroyingly horrible and I don’t want to think about it. I think I am going to have to treat this like they do on Desert Island Discs when it comes to the luxury question and treat all my photographs (digital and physical) with negatives as one object and say that. Even when you lose everything else, photographs can help bring back the memories. But its still a horrible, impossible, question that I don’t like to think about. Think of your most prized belonging, then turn around and see another. Go upstairs and see another. A lot of stuff is replaceable, but so much is irreplaceable and to ask someone to choose just one. And so to the follow up…

2. Would you like to acquire any pets that aren’t cats?

I think, at the right time, in the right circumstances, we would both quite like a dog. But its impossible at the moment. It wouldn’t be fair on the seven cats, and whilst you can go out and leave cats, you need to be able to come home at lunchtime to walk a dog.

3. What’s your favourite part of Oxford?

It would be too obvious to say Jericho, but it is lovely and has a good feel to it. I love Little Clarendon Street, first thing in the morning, on a cold, clear, autumn morning. Or Brasenose Lane – don’t ask me why? Then there’s the university parks on a warm, sunny, Spring day, or the way you turn off the London Road in Headington and are suddenly in Old Headington with a distinctly rural, country feel.

4. What was your favourite holiday?

All these favourites. I find it very hard to pick favourites in anything. Maybe this is is because I find it hard to make decisions. The National Trust holiday to Bransdale Mill in the North York Moors is a perrenial favourite, as is my holiday to Estonia in 2003. I think that might have been part of a turning point in me. I made the most friends, I had the confidence to buy and wear my amber necklace. But my favourite? I think it has to be my honeymoon in 2006. Okay, so it wasn’t the Nambian safari we had planned, but it was perfect. Perfect weather, no rain to speak of, and our little red cottage on the private island of Eilean Shona.

5. What are you most excited about for 2012?

I’m looking forward to having a year when I don’t have to reapply for my own job. I’m also looking forward to the year that I self-ePublish my novel, The End Of All Worlds. I’m also very much looking forward to our holiday this summer to Iceland. My fourth trip to the country, but the first time that I will go full circle around the country, and I’m looking forward to sharing that all with Emma.

If you want to be interviewed, comment below, and I’ll ask you 5 questions, which you then post in your journal, whilst also asking people if they want to be interviewed. Do you see?

New Beginnings

I have just been been offered and accepted for a new permanent job. From 5th October I shall be a Web Designer for Oxford Brookes University. It’s a proper job with a modest pay rise, good holidays, sickness, a final salary pension (!!) and interest.

Yay, yay, and thrice yay!!

Edited to add: Not that today can be any more crazy but apparently a Newsnight crew are pitching up later at my parents house to interview my Dad. Tune in tonight for more…

The Unspoken Elephant

So, finally, the day for the long-awaited interview for a Web Designer job at Oxford Brookes has come. I applied for this job at the back-end of July, whilst still on on jobsworth seekers allowance, but it wasn’t for another month before I heard I had the interview for another month away. Kind of understandably, I forgot quite alot about it, but this week I dusted down the application notes and got myself ready. That said, for some reason, this morning I was really nervous.

In the end, it seemed to go really well, and I was pretty articulate most of the time. I don’t know whether this was as a result of me, in response to the HR request for ‘any special arrangements we need to make’ I provided them with a Bill-provided declaration of my aspergers:

As regards my interview I would like to notify you that I have received coaching for Aspergers Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome has a slight influence on the way I behave, and interviews are naturally a little stressful, so these notes may be helpful to us all:-

– I may need a little extra time to process questions, so moments of silence may be helpful to me, although that does not mean I am not understanding -l just taking a little more time to arrive a response.

– Multiple questions, or confusing comments may be a little difficult for me to untangle – one thing at a time helps me no end.

– I may sometimes seem as though I go off at a tangent – it makes sense to me at the time and the most helpful thing an interviewer can do is to bring me back by re-stating the question

– I am a little bit likely to miss social cues, so if the atmosphere feels uncomfortable to you, or if I seem to be unsure of what is expected, just tell me what you expect me to do. This can feel a little odd, but I will grateful!

Nothing was said about this, and I didn’t feel that I needed to reiterate it, as I actually got the feeling that the message had, probably, got through from HR (it should have done), but I do wonder whether me knowing that they know something subconciously made me perform better? I don’t know. There are five other candidates who have been shortlisted, so we shall see what we shall see. Hopefully it won’t be too long.

Back on the interview trail

Finally! I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to get another one, but yes, yes I have. I have an interview. Weirdly though, I felt sure it wasn’t to be in this case as the closing date was a month ago, so I’d kind of given up on that one, but the interview isn’t for another month, so they can’t be desperate. It’s for a Web Designer job at Brookes. Fingers crossed … umm, for a month’s time…

Back to the old stomping ground (almost)

I’ve just had an interview for rolling 2 month contract scarilly close to my old Cowley stomping ground – like spitting distance close. For the first time ever I was actually a few minutes late for the interview. I had been told that they were on the Oxford Business Park South and to an address that was on the south side. How come then, that they were based on the north side of the estate, and indeed next door to the monolith box of Blackwell?

The interview itself went okay, although I wasn’t really sure if the interview, coming from a related department, actually new enough about the job I would be doing to judge properly if I had the skills and competencies that I would need. Also, why has it come to this, that they you even have to have an interview for a two month rolling contract of a temp job?

The Waiting Game

I’m not a big fan of telephone interviews at the best of times. I’m even less a fan of late telephone interviews. Today’s was scheduled for 2.30pm and I was sitting, waiting with both the landline and the mobile waiting. By 2.45pm I was emailing the HR person (thought it best to keep the line free), and then at 3 o’clock I phoned. Apparently they did call but it just rang out. Weird?!! Must have dialled a wrong number.

At 3.30pm the guy did call me and I had to leap straight into interview mode, but when they call it an ‘informal’ chat, just what does that mean?

I think I did okay but as always these things are impossible to judge. I suspect though, that they might be looking for someone who is less the designer and more the hardcore developer and/or IT nerd – all together more geeky than me.

Another Nice Day For It…

For the third time in two years, my first day of unemployment has had the sting taken out of it by gorgeously beautiful and warm weather. That said I started the day positively, with an interview &#z2013; or be it an interview for a temporary job – at Nominet which is in the luxuriously landscaped Oxford Science Park.

It seems like an intesting job, helping to create their new intranet site, and the the interview went surprisingly well so I’m really feeling quite positive about things… 🙂

Speed or Cost … or Quality…

My days at work this week are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (or the days that Eddie doesn’t work). That said, I was technically ‘in work’ as in ‘in the building’ for some of today anyhow for I had an interview, in Oxford Journals, for a Production Editor job. Not that in OUP there is much ‘editing’ that takes place in the PE job description – its more a project management/administrational kind of role.

…and so to the second interview of the week

So what does an Asset Management Coordinator do? In fairness I did have ‘some’ clue having done my research and had a chat with Ros for some ‘insider info’ on Pearson. Don’t you just love it though, when you don’t get the full picture from agencies? Interview at 3 o’clock? I thought that I’d be done and dusted by four! Oh no, no siree, the questions lasted for about an hour but then I had an hour long test to complete. The job does seem interesting though – kind of like picture research and librarianship rolled into one.

One Interview…

It always is the case, these days, that the more Em and I have the best of weekends, and the longer that we are together, then the harder it is the day after. Today has been a struggle. And then this afternoon I had to put those thoughts out of my mind and get into gear for an interview – an interview at a small web design agency based in an old Summertown slaughterhouse.

It was very informal, conducted on sofas downstairs, and they seemed very friendly and unfazed by the categorisation of myself as a web designer who can develop rather than a web developer who can design. My prepared example of my favourite bit of code seemed to go down well. Afterwards they showed me upstairs to see the offices – so small that they even have a resident puppy to make a fuss of. It would definitely be a change from the large corporate environments that I have been used to but one that I would be interested in experienced. All in all, I left feeling quite positive about how it went.

Just have to wait till later next week to find out, I guess…

Life is what happens to you…

1. Today I’ve been driving Hopcroft Holt’s shiny red Citroen C1 today, which is a ‘boy’s car’ if ever there was one – it’s a bit like a drink’s can really! My car seems to have an oil leak, so I’m currently hoping and praying and touching wood with crossed fingers that its something really easy and cheap to fix. Ggrrr to cars.

2. Yesterday I discovered that I had been shortlisted for interview for the (curiously entitled) Asset Management Coordinator position (?!!) at Pearson

3. My current boss is a really nice guy. However, boy does he yaffle. Now I realise that people in glass houses, really shouldn’t throw stones about things like yaffling, but there is also the old adage that what one finds irritating about other people is something that one is also guilty of. Anyhow, I’m not entirely sure how my boss does it, but he makes the most revolting noise when eating apples. I’ve had to whack my music on full blast to cover it.

4. Eeep! It now seems that I have not one but two interviews next week. A small web design agency in Oxford, at the interesting address of the Old Slaughterhouse want to interview me. I’m not sure if I’m exactly what they are looking for, but I’ve answered their supplementary application questions honestly, and they still want to interview me, so here goes.

5. Crap! Apparently my oil leak is going to mean a new head gasket at some horrible expense, and they can’t do it until after Easter now. Double crap!

Of interviews, house visits, and valuations

1. Another day, another interview. Just four days since I was there this afternoon I was back down to Milton Park, Abingdon Didcot for another interview. Went well, possibly not as well as the last Thursday’s one. We shall see.

2. A blustery day, but beautiful. Following my interview, I stopped off at the supermarket to do a quick shop, and then at the John Lewis-esque garden centre outside of Bicester for a few bedding plants and some instant colour in the garden. Then I had a house viewing to see at old Langford Village. Three bedrooms, gas-central heating, south-facing gardens – on paper it ticked all the right boxes but somehow, just didn’t feel right.

3. The man from Quadrant arrived and took me through the value of the house. He latched onto my interest in books, and enthused over his collection, and his mum’s collection of Folio Society collection. In the end I got my figure, which was about what I was expecting, and that the plus points to my house are the garden and orientation, the wood floor, and the situation. Onwards to my next two valuations…

On the tenth day of Christmas

Oh, bugger, that was quick. I attended an interview this morning for a Web Designer/Developer position at a company in Summertown, Oxford. I thought it looked quite interesting – working on creating some kind social networking site for businesses wanting to actually do something practical about climate change (not just your carbon neutral rubbish). Clearly they were looking for someone with more programming skills – and they were fast in making the decision. I was out of there by 10ish and I know already that its not for me.

Still, at least I’ve got to work at a time that means that with the extra time I put in on Wednesday and Thursday, I won’t have to stay late tonight to make up my money. 🙂