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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 82, working on new novel

Fears that Colombia's Nobel prizewinning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had put down his pen forever were allayed Thrusday when a close friend confirmed that the 82-year-old master of magical realism was working on a new novel.

Garcia Marquez's next book will be a love story, though his friend and fellow writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza said the author was struggling to come up with a version that he was happy with.

"He has four versions of it," Apuleyo said. "He told me that he was now trying to get the best from each of them."

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Apuleyo, who co-wrote a book of conversations with Garcia Marquez called The Smell of the Guava Tree in 1982, said the Nobel prizewinner had become hugely self-critical and demanding of himself.

Two years ago, Garcia Marquez said: "I've stopped writing ... 2005 was the first year in my life that I didn't write a line."

He admitted, though, that his problem was one of enthusiasm rather than inspiration. "With all the practice I've got, I'd have no problems writing a new novel," he explained. "But people notice if you haven't put your heart into it."

Apuleyo said Garcia Marquez described his year without writing as "a sabbatical," during which he had devoted his time to reading.

Rumours that the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude was close to finishing a new novel began circulating earlier this year.

The Carmen Balcells literary agency, which represents him, said yesterday the author had not yet set a publication date for any new novel. "There is nothing, for the moment," a spokeswoman said.

Garcia Marquez's last novel, Memories of my Melancholy Whores, was published in 2004. He is also said to be preparing a second volume of memoirs to follow Living to Tell the Tale, published in 2002.

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