Girl in Trouble – Rhoda Baxter

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This morning, the Romaniacs are honoured to be taking part in the blog splash for a very talented author who also delivers a hugely entertaining and informative RNA conference session, especially if you put her in the same room with Jane Lovering and add a onesie or two.

In Rhoda Baxter’s new book, Girl in Trouble, both Olivia and Walter undergo changes that they feel are bad, but end up being positive. I’m taking this theme for my post, because it’s a subject close to my heart.

In my later working life, I spent many happy years as a primary teacher, throwing myself into messy art, drama and especially interactive writing lessons designed to make everyone believe they were already a real life writer. It was great. The kids enjoyed it, the school did well and there was always cake in the staff room.

Then we hit a bad patch and I had to turn to being part of the management team. To cut a very long story short, Ofsted didn’t like our style. Drama disappeared, as did art, and writing became a painful activity all about clauses and comma splices and suchlike. I left the job in summer 2016. It was a massive wrench.

The blessing in disguise part came after months of feeling like a deserter when I finally began to accept what early retirement meant. Although I really missed the kids, there was:

  • Time to write, day or night (that’d make a good t-shirt slogan)
  • Time to sleep, ditto.
  • No silly rules, except the one about not eating the last ginger snap without due warning. Oh, and sometimes being expected to help with cleaning things and gardening. I didn’t see that one coming.
  • A challenging job with the RNA’s RoNA organisation that made my brain buzz again, and the chance to make some new friends and read even more fabulous books.

I shelved the story I’d written over the last months – it was meant to be all cool and psychological but it was pretty bitter and depressing in places. I wrote a frothy one just for fun. And then I had a light bulb moment about the book I really wanted to write – 59, Memory Lane. That was the one that got an agent interested – and bingo!

So the sad time at school was a blessing in disguise, and this next chapter is turning out to be a whole lot of fun. I hope you thoroughly enjoy Rhoda’s book, and that all your blessings are GIGANTIC ones.

Celia x

Girl In Trouble blurb:

Grown up tomboy Olivia doesn’t need a man to complete her. Judging by her absent father, men aren’t that reliable anyway. She’s got a successful career, good friends and can evict spiders from the bath herself, so she doesn’t need to settle down, thanks.

Walter’s ex is moving his daughter to America and Walter feels like he’s losing his family. When his friend-with-benefits, Olivia, discovers she’s pregnant by her douchebag ex, Walter sees the perfect chance to be part of a family with a woman he loves. But how can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?

Girl In Trouble is the third book in the award nominated Smart Girls series by Rhoda Baxter. If you like charming heroes, alpha heroines and sparkling dialogue, you’ll love this series. Ideal for fans of Sarah Morgan, Lindsey Kelk or Meg Cabot’s Boy books. Buy now and meet your new favourite heroine today.

Buy link (should go to your preferred bookstore): books2read.com/u/4Doy6r

[The book is on sale for 99p on the 9th and 10th of October, after which it’ll climb up to 2.99. If you buy in the first week, you get some early bird bonuses – a short story collection and a recipe booklet containing recipes for the snacks mentioned in the Girl Having A Ball.]

 

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Life Cycle of a Writer: Seven things I found out in That Big London

This usually Midlands-based Romaniac was out and about recently – seven days in the big city with RNA meetings and the summer party thrown in. Pretty exciting for a person who normally lives mainly in the thick of charity shops and card emporiums, you might say. But not only was it fun – the week away was a timely means of stepping out of my comfort zone and getting ready for the next writing chapter. A kick start was needed, in a very big way. Here are seven things I noticed, visiting the hub:

  • The RNA Summer Party is still a brilliant place to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and the committee meetings and AGM  are NOT ONE BIT SCARY AT ALL. The welcome is warm, the Joan Hessayon Award is always a lovely tribute from a caring husband to a lady who believed strongly  in the NWS and the short listed books are of a very high quality. Choosing a winner must be hellish. Dr Hessayon buys fizz too, every year. Congratulations to Kate Field – a worthy winner – The Magic of Ramblings is fab.

STAIRS                      INDIA

  • Sometimes, if you’re patient, surprising things happen. Tower Bridge opened for us (I’m assuming that was the reason) and I saw Stephen Fry in the very flesh (Yes, the real live Stephen Fry) just being his normal lovely self in Waterstones. I’d like to say I rushed up and wowed him with my witty banter but actually it wasn’t quite like that. Anyway, nobody fell over or burped or anything.

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  • I CAN wear big shoes. It’s just…not for long.

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  • Visiting places you’ve mostly seen on a Monopoly board is never going to get boring.

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  • Maps are amazing – tube plans, guide books about Hidden London, street signs. I love them all. You have to have them the right way up though. Just saying.

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  • A foxy new note book and pen is often all you need to spark off a brand new book. Or two in this case. #worryingbrainoverload

DFLY

 

  • Going home is sad, but coming back is even more fun. In fact,  I’ll be in the big city very soon. So all good. Just hope Stephen gets the memo.

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So, what does London mean to you?

 

 

Behind the Lie: Amanda James and her fabulous new release.

The kettle’s on, the best china’s out, and I’m welcoming Amanda James to Romaniac HQ this morning. We’ve got a batch of scones fresh from the oven, and I’m sure Mandy, having travelled all the way from that there Cornwall, will tell us the proper way to eat them. Cream first or jam?

By eck’, Celia, I’m knackered! It takes longer to get up here than it does to fly to Lanzarote! Imagine that? Are you imagining it? You look kind of puzzled…is my hair a mess? No. Good. Sorry I do tend to ramble on a bit as you know. My goodness those scones look lovely. And the Cornish way to eat them is jam first…I must admit I like them cream first though. I expect that I will be banished to Devon now for admitting such a thing.

Blimey, let’s hope not. You’d miss all those pasties and stuff. Right, that’s the most important business of the day sorted, now for our writerly chat. Mandy, I’ve heard that you’ve been enjoying interviewing some of your latest characters from your new novel ‘Behind the Lie, to really get under their skin. Have you got any more of these up your sleeve that you could share with us?

As luck would have it, I have prepared a little piece for you. I thought I’d let you ‘see’ it rather than just tell you about it – so here’s a chat I had with Simon, the main character’s husband. Hopefully readers will be able to get to know him a little better before they read the book. If they do. Don’t want to assume…

Oh here he is at last. Fashionably late as always. I watch a tall dark-haired man weave through the crowd at the bar and then he turns his head in my direction. His grey eyes sweep my face as he makes for my table. I notice a few other eyes notice him as he walks, female eyes of course. Simon always gets noticed with his assured, confident manner, sharp suits and intelligent gaze. He undoes the middle button of his charcoal jacket and sits opposite, a wide smile lighting up his face. I smile too and lean back in my chair, but Simon laughs showing his flawless white teeth and takes my hand, kisses the back of it.

‘Darling, you always try to avoid my kisses. How are things?’ he asks.

‘Things are good, Simon. I was wondering if we could have a little chat so people can get to know you better?’

‘Of course! You know that talking about myself is one of my favourite things.’ He winks and strokes the stubble on his chin. There is a pause as he watches a pretty waitress sashay past. Then he turns his charm offensive back to me. ‘I’ve ordered champagne, sweetie, hope that’s okay?’

‘That’s lovely. Shall we make a start though while we’re waiting?’ A flash of irritation shows behind his eyes. I can tell that he expects me to be more impressed about the champagne. Simon always expects adoration and subservience. That’s half his trouble. ‘So are you happy with my portrayal of you in the story?’

He leans back mirroring me. ‘Yes and no. I think you might have been a little hard on me in some respects but you have managed to get over my good points. Good looks.’ I get the annoying wink again. ‘Intelligence, ambition and determination to succeed. You have shown my caring side too from time to time.’

The champagne arrives and he raises his glass. I copy him and say, ‘Okay, so where was I hard on you? Wasn’t I just telling it like it is?’ I sip my drink and watch him shift in his seat – a sure sign that he’s on the defensive.

‘Not really. Holly was always your favourite. I mean look how many words you give to her compared to me. You let her ramble on and on about how she feels and what she’s doing. I only get a few short chapters…hardly fair is it?’ Simon’s grey eyes become steel chips.

‘But then the main story is Holly’s, isn’t it? She’s convinced that your son is alive and we all want to find out if she’s right.’ I set the glass on the table annoyed that he’s managed to get me on the defensive now.

‘That’s the thing, Mandy.’ Simon leans forward, folds his arms on the table. I don’t like the way he draws me into those expressive eyes of his. It’s as if I’m a moth to his flame. ‘You never really allowed for my feelings. I lost a son too but my anguish and heartache was just brushed off in a few little throw away lines. Of course I am a successful private consultant and a very wealthy man, but success isn’t everything to me. I have a heart too. It was a shame that you neglected to let me prove that.’

There are lots of responses to this, but I fear I might give too much of the story away of I allow any to leave my lips. I look at my watch. ‘Well I’m sorry you feel that way, Simon. I tried to be honest…and I really must go now, thanks for the champagne.’

His neutral expression darkens in anger. ‘But we only just started…’ Simon stops his words and pours himself another glass. ‘No matter, I’m sure that there will be others willing to share this bottle with me. And thanks for creating me. Without you, I would just be a jumble of words waiting for structure.’ He tries a sunny smile but I can see a few clouds in it.

‘You’re welcome Simon.’ I stand and shrug on my coat. ‘And once I create a character they can never be destroyed. They will always live on in the readers’ head, whether they like it or not.’

Simon’s smile is cloudless now. ‘They will indeed. And I can’t see anyone not liking me, can you?’

‘You never know. There’s no accounting for taste, eh?’ I briefly touch his shoulder and hurry past. I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader to decide…

Wow! You were lucky to get out of that little chat unscathed, I reckon! But, still on the subject of book characters, I was wondering which ones from your childhood (or later) inspired you, and do you see yourself or your own creations in any of them?

I loved George (Georgina) from the Famous Five books. She hated being a girl, but I think she just hated what it meant to be a girl back in those days. As a kid in the 1960s I could identify with that. I wanted to be strong and confident like her. I believed girls were just as good as boys and should be able to do what they did. Do I see her in myself or my creations? Yes, I do like a strong female character. Myself – yes. I am a feminist and do my utmost to get those ideas of gender equality across in day-to-day interaction with, let’s say, perhaps less enlightened people? 

Is it difficult to leave your characters at the end of a story? What is it about some of your own book characters that makes you want to want to bring them back in sequels?

It’s always hard to leave my characters as I have really got to know them well over a three to six-month period. It’s like saying goodbye to old friends. I have written only one sequel and that was Cross-Stitch. A Stitch in Time was very popular and people more or less demanded a sequel! I had left it open, so it was fairly easy to do. I might write the third and final one too. I have one chapter written…

Now some quick-fire questions. You’re at a great party with a brimming glass of bubbly in your hand. Would you rather chat to:

Gandalf or Legolas? Gandalf

Bilbo or Frodo? Bilbo

Maid Marion or Robin Hood? Maid Marion

King Arthur or Guinevere? King Arthur

Aslan or Lucy? Aslan

Worzel Gummage or Stig of the Dump? Stig! I loved that book.

The Cat in the Hat or Noddy? The Cat in the Hat

Well, you must be exhausted after all this socialising. Before you go, Mandy, could you tell us which book you’ve got your nose in at the moment and also what you’ve enjoyed reading lately?

I am totally exhausted and might need reviving with bubbly and more scones. Er…lemme think… Oh yes, I am reading Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney. It’s about a woman in a coma and very intriguing. And the one that I enjoyed lately was the brilliant and twisty The Silent Girls by Ann Troup.

And finally, what are you working on right now?

I have a few ideas on the go, all set here in Cornwall. I do have a quirky one called The Calico Cat that is hard to place in a set genre. Thank you for reading it by the way J I do adore it, mainly because I would love to be like the main character, Lottie. I might self-publish that later. I have never self-pubbed so it’s an exciting thought.

Thanks for dropping in, Mandy. I’ve packed the rest of the scones for your journey back. Try not to get crumbs on the train seats, okay? See you soon, and good luck with the new book!

Thank you, Celia! I have loved being here and why not come down for a visit? xxx

Well, I don’t mind if I do. #rushesofftopack

Author bio – Amanda James has written since she was a child, but never imagined that her words would be published. Then in 2010, after many twists and turns, the dream of becoming a writer came true.

Amanda has written many short stories and has six novels currently published. Her time travelling debut – A Stitch in Time was published in April of 2013 and has met with great success.

Amanda lives in Cornwall and is inspired every day by the beautiful coastline near her home. Three of her novels are set there, Somewhere Beyond the Sea, Summer in Tintagel and Behind the Lie – April 2017 pub – HQUK ( HarperCollins)

Amanda can usually be found playing on the beach with her family, or walking the cliff paths planning her next book.

Author links – Amanda’s blog – http://mandykjameswrites.blogspot.com/

Twitter – @akjames61

Facebook mandy.james.33

Book Blurb Holly West has turned her life around. She’s found a successful and loving husband in Simon and is expecting twins. She is definitely a woman who has taken back control of her future.

Until she gives birth, only for one twin to survive. Holly can’t let it go.

Holly’s world is in a tailspin and suddenly she can’t trust herself or anyone else. No one believes her, not her husband or her best friend. Because she thinks she knows the truth…her son is still alive and she won’t stop until she finds him.

Buy Links – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Behind-Lie-Amanda-James-ebook/dp/B06XKCP4L6/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Summer in Tintagel (Urbane Publications July 2016)
Cross Stitch (Choc Lit December 2014)
Somewhere Beyond the Sea ( Choc Lit April 2014)
Dancing in the Rain (Choc Lit March 2014)
A Stitch in Time (Choc Lit) – http://www.choc-lit.com/
Righteous Exposure (Crooked Cat) – http://www.crookedcatbooks.com/

Life Cycle of a Writer: Uncharted Waters – The RoNAs

This weeks LCOAW is all about me saying a blooming big ‘EEEEEK’!

Today I have been mostly looking at these:

Ready for the suitcase

This is my very first ticket for the RoNAs, and it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure. Over the coming year I’m going to be right in there with the organising people, sorting out the readers etc. for these prestigious awards and making sure everything runs as smoothly as it has for Nicola Cornick. She’s bravely handing over the baton and it’s very exciting but also a tad terrifying, as her organisational skills are second to none.

So on Monday I’ll be at The Gladstone Library on Whitehall Place, clutching my ticket and trying to take everything in, wondering if Prue Leith will be approachable (am loving the recent newspaper report about her late-blooming romance and marriage) and if the opening of the envelopes will be less fraught then at some other recent events…

This is a big challenge for me – but what about you? Is there anything coming up in your life that’s making you say ‘eeeek’? The Romaniacs would love to know what it is, so that we can cheer you on and send virtual cake.

Which reminds me, I wonder if Prue would like a chocolate sponge? There’s just about room in my case if I leave out the gin and the control knickers.

Hope to see you there, I’ll be the one dressed as a book title (The Red Tent).

Celia

Life Cycle of a Writer – Random Inspirations

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There’s got to be something awe-inspiring about looking out on a view like this, especially if you’ve been feeling less than sparkling, but when we left for our much needed adventure by train to Switzerland, inspiration was the last thing on my mind. Chocolate, yes. Mountains of sticky cake, yes and yes. Wine…oh yes.

Deep gloom had set in over the last few months. I’d had quite a few family worries. The novel that I’d finished in 2016 was lacking something. I hadn’t got the oomph to decide what was missing and although I’d written a new children’s book for NaNoWriMo, it had taken a lot of editing and courage-plucking to send it out to agents (it’s still out there). My confidence was, and is, at a very low ebb.

The Swiss holiday that had been booked to celebrate ten years of knowing my other half came just at the right time, but even better, the reading material that I’d shoved into my travel bag minutes before we set off turned out to be the biggest inspiration of all. Without giving too much away, Mark Haddon’s intuitive story was the missing link for me, and my novel is now facing a huge rewrite.

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So a change of scene, some clear mountain air, a LOT of wine and a brilliant book have given me my mojo back. See you on the other side…

Celia x

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Life Cycle Of A Writer: NaNoWriMo – Sinking, Swimming or Soaring?

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Erm…I’m not too sure about this. It’s my first time. Be gentle with me, NaNo. I’ve wanted to get to know you better for a long time, but…well…life got in the way before. Can we stop if I don’t like it? Will it hurt?

Those were my ponderings in early October, still buzzing with the prospect of no work commitments this autumn; no planning or marking, no Christmas play to create – just writing, writing writing. Or so I thought…

Within a week, we’d had a sudden death in the family meaning trips up north and lots of sadness and my beloved firstborn was in difficulties health-wise. Add to the mixture a close friend needing lots of help and poorly in laws, and things lurched from tricky to downright worrying. Was it unreasonable to try to carry on and do NaNoWriMo anyway, whatever else was happening?

I decided to plunge in and have a go. If nothing else, starting something brand new would be a distraction, and I’d be bound to get at least some words down on paper. But 50K? Hmmm. Maybe if I launched myself into a children’s book, I could get the whole thing finished by November 30th?

So Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives was born – the tale of a disgraced Guardian Angel forced to come down to earth to complete his missions in cat form.

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To start with, the story seemed to tell itself. I went back into school and worked with my favourite class of nine year olds to get their junior NaNo going and to have feedback straight from the ones who count. The first chapters flooded out.

Then the first trip up to Northumberland knocked the ground from under my feet. I’d become seriously addicted to the little graph that appears on your personal NaNo dashboard, and I was flatlining! There was snow on them there hills, not just in Arthur’s story, my nose and toes were freezing and my brain absolutely refused to cooperate.

But better progress was just around the corner. Back home again, the tide turned in the right direction and although life is still very turbulent to say the least, the words are flowing again. By the end of today, I might be back on track, but even if not, I’m loving the challenge, and it’s very hard to bite your nails when you’re typing. I’m having to miss the RNA meetings and party this time but the writing…let’s hope it carries on, if only for distraction purposes.

Here’s the first chapter if you’re interested. Wish me luck. I’ll see you on the other side…

 

Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives

Chapter One: Getting In

 

Yuck. I hate snow. I pick my way along the track through the woods to the cottage and stop by the door to shake the worst of the slush off my fur. Disgusting stuff. It gets in your paws and sticks to your dangly underneath bits in lumps. And the trouble with being mostly white is that if you get lost in a snow storm, nobody can see you.

To be honest, getting lost in the snow comes a long way down the list of problems of being a cat. Number one’s got to be the D word. Why do dogs have to chase us? Why? Who tells them it’s a good idea?

The flea thing’s not great either.  Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t ask them to come, okay? They just seem to like me. And don’t get me started on catching mice.

Someone’s just opening the door – that’s my first lucky break for years. Have you ever tried ringing a doorbell when you’re on four short legs? Now, watch and learn. This is one of the trickier bits. Here’s what you need to do if you ever need to find yourself a cushy fireside and a kipper.

1) Fluff up the fur

2) Put your head on one side

3) Open your eyes really wide.

4) Miaaaaaaaow in the most pathetic way you can manage.

5) Be ready to roll over on your back at the first sign of them cracking – that one never fails

Right, here goes. The door’s wide open and now someone’s shouting from inside about not letting the cold in. Pah! He should try being me. It’s a GirlKid on the step. They’re usually the easiest of all. Wish me luck.

‘Dad. DAAAAAAAD!’

‘Rosie? Is that you bellowing again? Are you going to shut that door or have I got to come and do it for you?’

Heavy footsteps…coming closer. Great, now I’m going to have two of the human creatures staring down at me. The shorter one – the GirlKid – is quite nice to look at, if you like that sort of thing. She’s got curly ginger hair, nearly as good a colour as the bits of me that aren’t white, and she’s smiling. That should help.

‘Look, Dad. There’s a cute little kitten on the step. I think he’s hungry. Can I let him in? It’s so cold out there tonight.’

Kitten? What’s all that about? I’m a fully qualified Guardian Angel, I’ll have you know, GirlKid, and I’m at least three hundred years old, give or take a few months. Is it my fault if I’ve been sent down here as a smallish white cat? No, it isn’t.

‘Let him in? Aren’t four mouths enough for us to feed? I thought you’d have learned your lesson after last time.’

The big one isn’t smiling. He starts to shut the door but she stops him.

‘No! We can’t leave him outside. Look at his little face. He’s so sad.’

I do my best poor little me expression and start to wash my whiskers with a paw. That usually goes down well. I tell you, after three times of being sent down here as a cat instead of a human-looking angel, I’m getting to know all the tricks.

‘Aaaaaw, look at him. Dad, he’s soooo sweet. And anyway…I bet Jake’d like him, wouldn’t he?’

They look at each other and I can tell she’s won the first round.

‘Oh, go on then. At least we can shut the door. Your Gran’s already under two blankets.’

Result! I’m in before they can say kippers, down the hallway and into the living room, and I’m heading for the old lady with the rugs over her knees. She must be the brains around here – fast asleep and snoring, right in front of a roaring log fire.

She wakes up with a jump and closes her mouth just in time to stop her teeth dropping out. I take a big gamble and leap straight up onto her knee. Have I got it right? Is she a cat lover or one of those loopy humans who flap their arms at us and make a big fuss.

The old one reaches out a wrinkly hand and starts stroking me even before I’ve settled down properly. ‘Oh, what a beauty,’ she wheezes, ‘Where did you come from, my fine fellow? You remind me of my Charlie. He was handsome just like you.’

Time for my best move. I roll over on her lap and stretch out, revealing a very fine furry tummy, if I say so myself.  I start to purr deep in my throat to show her I’m a big fan of all this fuss.

The GirlKid’s on her knees next to the old lady’s chair now, looking up at the Dad person.

‘Look, he likes us already. Can we keep him? Please? You know Jake loves cats…well, he used to, anyway…’

As she says this, all three heads turn to look over to the far wall. My eyes swivel to follow them. I don’t want to stop all this attention, but there’s someone else there. It’s a BoyKid with the same curly red hair as the girl version, but he’s nothing like her in any other way. For one thing, he’s not making a sound. For another, he’s sitting in a chair with wheels on it. His face is much paler than hers and he’s all dressed in black, whereas she’s like a walking rainbow.

He’s not looking at me, or at any of the others. It’s as if he’s trying to pretend he’s somewhere else. The fur on the back of my neck stands up, just like it always does when I realise why I’m down here. This BoyKid needs the services of Arthur Angel.

 

 

 

The Life Cycle of a Writer: Cobwebs

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I’m just back from a major spring cleaning of the brain. Sometimes a writing retreat in the wilds of Northumberland is just the thing to blow the cobwebs away and recharge your creative bits and bobs, but this time it was more of an escape from reality that was needed. Or maybe a step into an ideal world? One where phones don’t ring much because the signal’s pants, and the sun shines, and the tide always seems to be out. Where breakfast appears every day as if by magic bursting with calories and yummyness and you get to read whenever you like.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? And so it was, but now real life has kicked in. I’ve just given up the day job but instead of the wide expanse of writing time, swimming, walking, pilates, the odd bit of housework and loads of wine/cake/both, there seems to have been a big dollop of worry lurking in the wings. You can’t predict when the people you love will be taking a nose-dive and needing propping up, can you?

So, on to Plan B. I’m hoping to map out every day to have writing hours in it as well as doling-out-TLC-and-nourishing-soup time. The next chapter is going to be one where every hour counts. And that means ditching the panster tag and being…organised? Well, let’s just see how it goes…

Celia

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