Interview with Author Harriet Springbett

Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!

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1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?

I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit in. A recent storm had uprooted a nearby sumac tree and I found myself wishing I could stroke its branches back into shape to rebalance it: we hug trees to make ourselves feel better, but who ever makes trees feel better? I started to wonder what it would be like if someone could communicate with trees and help them in this way. As Rainbow was under my pen, she became the one to be blessed / cursed with this gift.

2) Did the plot come first, or the characters?

Definitely the main character. I’d already written a short story about Rainbow, and a member of Lumineuse, my writers’ group, said she was such a vivid character that she could almost see her beside me. The plot grew organically from Rainbow, her gift and her problems. This was a deliberate approach on my part, because the previous novel I’d written was plot-led and I’d found the writing experience too restrictive.

3) The story is told in both past and present tense – why did you choose this approach, and how difficult was it to pull off?

The tenses are intrinsically linked to the characters of the two protagonists: Mary wants to forget her past so the present tense represents her best, whereas Rainbow is like a tree, with roots into her past. It wasn’t a question of ‘pulling it off’, because it was natural rather than being a storytelling device. I was warned that publishers wouldn’t like the tense-mixing, but I believed it was too essential to change. In fact, my publisher (Impress Books) never questioned the tenses.

4) Are any of the characters based on people in real life?

No! Part of the fun of writing stories is creating characters. I’m a detail hoarder, and I jot down lots of rubbish that amuses or interests me, which may then produce a character (or not). For example, the other day I was running with a friend who’d bought a new pair of trainers. I noticed that the underside of her trainers happened to match the colour of her T-shirt, and found myself thinking about the kind of person who would do this deliberately.

5) Did you have to do much research into trees, or did you already have some knowledge in that area?

I love trees. I grew up on a Dorset farm that had 10 acres of woodland and a stream, and we were always playing in them, making tree houses or fixing rope ladders and swings to them. We had our own trees in the way other children have pets. Tree Magic doesn’t have technical details about trees, so I only needed an everyday knowledge, which my childhood and a tree guide provided. However, I did research details for the habitats and characteristics of certain trees, such as the symbolic silver maple.

6) This is your debut YA novel, can you tell us what is coming next?

I have already finished another YA novel called Red Lies, White Lies. It’s a thriller with a 17-year-old protagonist, set in France, and has no magic realism. A beta reader said she couldn’t put it down – but I really should make time to seriously hunt for an agent. I love the writing part of being an author, but I’m not very good at sending out my work. I must confess that I have begun to write another YA novel when I should really be trying to find a home for Red Lies, White Lies.

7) Do you read a lot of YA yourself? If so, what are your favourite YA books?

I didn’t intend Tree Magic to be a YA novel because I hadn’t read much YA fiction. When it was placed runner-up in a competition, the judge told me that with a little rewriting I could target the YA market. An agent who rejected it mentioned YA too – so I researched the YA market and rewrote it for younger readers. I only really started reading YA a short time ago – and I’m seriously seduced by what I’ve read. There’s a refreshing liberty in YA writing. I loved The Sun is Also a Star for its ‘science versus intuition’ approach (a little like in Tree Magic). I was shocked and impressed by Orangeboy. I adored the protagonist in Wing Jones and thought A Monster Calls was beautifully written. I could go on, but I’d better stop there.

8) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far? What have been the highs and lows?

The lows were the rejections. I originally sent Tree Magic to about 10 agents, was rejected by all of them and concluded that the story was rubbish. I left it in a drawer for years before learning that this rejection rate was normal, and that small publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Long live small publishers! The highs were firstly getting my manuscript accepted by Impress Books (though I worried for ages that they’d change their minds) and then the whole editing process with them. They are wonderful. The weirdest moment was when I read the blurb my editor wrote. My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds like an exciting book’ and my second was ‘it’s your book, you idiot.’

9) What advice would you give to new writers just about to start the journey into publication?

Don’t be put off by rejections. You must keep searching for a home, but make sure you get readers and other writers to critique your story first. Writers’ groups are invaluable for this. Also, I wish I’d written more short stories before launching into a novel because the experimentation, feedback and rewriting loop takes less time than with novels. Short stories help you to find your voice.

10) What have you learned so far about promoting your book?

I didn’t realise that book promotion and publicity would be so time-consuming. Getting started can be scary, so it’s wonderful if you have a publicist to guide you. If you’re not careful, it will eat into your writing time, so you have to sum up your courage and push yourself to be proactive while still remembering that the writing is what’s most important.

11) Describe an average writing day for you

I exchanged my full time job for part time work in order to have writing time, so this motivates me to sit down every morning and write until lunchtime. Most evenings I run or cycle – this is my problem-solving time, when I run through scenes in my head and visualise characters’ reactions. Of course, my friends don’t believe me when I say I’m working as I run! I don’t write at weekends, because I want to live fully, spend time with my family, do sport, see friends etc. Inspiration comes from interacting with real life, from watching and listening to what’s going on in the world, so it’s important not to shut yourself away all the time. It also means I look forward to getting back to my computer on Monday mornings.

12) Finally, tell us three interesting facts about yourself

This is the most difficult question. OK: when I was 22 I did a Raleigh International expedition in Chile and then hitchhiked 5000km from the south to the north. My ideal holiday is an itinerant trip with a bike, a tent and good company. And I’m (distantly) related to Thomas Hardy.

More about Harriet Springbett…

Harriet Springbett lives in France with her French partner and teenage daughters. She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.

Her debut YA novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in ebook format in January 2017. The paperback is due out on 1st March. Harriet writes every morning and blogs on writing and cultural events at Harriet Springbett’s Playground of Words and Thoughts. Several of her short stories (Quark Soup, Shingle & Sand, Ami Entends-tu?, Big Bones…) have been placed and shortlisted in competitions or published in magazines such as The French Literary Review.

Links;

Tree Magic page at Impress Books: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress/tree-magic/ Tree Magic on Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tree-Magic-Harriet-Springbett/dp/1911293001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485160742&sr=8-1&keywords=9781911293002 My Blog: https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/HarriSpringbett/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarriSpringbett

 

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My 16 Best Books of 2016

In order to compile my list of the best books I’ve read in 2016, I sat back and thought about the books that have had the biggest impact on me. I quickly wrote down all the ones that came to mind, and so here they all are. I have also included how I came across each book, ie was it recommended to me, was I sent it and so on. I thought this might be useful! I have read so many books this year, and it is simply impossible to list them all, so I have tried to pick books here that are the sort of thing I generally look for when reading.I have not listed them in order of preference, they are simply listed in the order they came to mind. However, there is one book that stood out above all the others for me personally, one book that I can safely say is the best book I have read in 2016 and this is listed as Number One. Enjoy.

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  1. The Improbable Wonders Of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory is an absolutely beautiful book and very unique. It had me smiling from start to finish, contains fabulously flawed and addictive characters and provides a great big splash of the hope and positivity we all so desperately need right now. I’ve actually lost track of the amount of awards this book has won, so I’ve added a link here . I’ve also got to mention that Robin provided me with a wonderful interview you can read here and she is a thoroughly lovely person!
  2. No Dogs Or Indians by Lisa Hare is  a book I read purely by accident. I’m one of the reviewers for Underground Book Reviews, where authors pick reviewers based on their reading preferences. I was sent this book by accident, as it was not on my list, but was advised to read it anyway as it’s been nominated as one of the books of the year. It sounded interesting so I dived right in and came out with tears running down my face. One of the best books I’ve read in ages, and again, very unique, beautiful in its themes and messages, and one that will stay with me for a very long time. Get it!!
  3. A Necessary Act by Tony Wirt is a book I did choose to read for Underground Book Reviews, and I nominated it for a top pick and book of the year, it was that good. The plot revolves around a really interesting question; if you were utterly convinced a fellow schoolmate was well on the way to becoming a serial killer, would you do anything to stop him? The book puts its teen characters in this predicament and ends with a twist I never saw coming. Tense, horrific, unputdownable!
  4. The Many by Wyl Menmuir is probably one of the most controversial books on my list. By that I mean, it has the most mixed reviews I’ve ever come across! From glowing five stars to downright grumpy one stars, it seems this is a love it or hate it or plain just don’t get it kind of book! I first heard about it on my Facebook timeline as it had been longlisted for the Booker prize which was quite an achievement for a debut novel signed to a small press. I then came across the author in a magazine I receive for being a NAWE member (National Association of Writers In Education) I was so inspired by his article about independent writing spaces in school I contacted Wyl and thanks to his advice, I will hopefully be diving into my first school project next year with my business Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. But anyway, back to the book! Haunting, surreal, dark and claustrophobic are just some of the words that spring to mind. Eerily silent and with an ending that quite literally punched me in the gut. If you are looking for something unique to read, something that has divided opinion quite wildly, then this is the book!
  5. L-2011 by Mark Gillespie is written by a fellow indie author I’ve followed for a while. I loved the idea of this speculative fiction novel; what if the London riots in 2011 had not ended? What if the riots had gone on and on? In this gritty coming of age drama, Mark introduces us to some memorable and believable characters in this book which is the first in the series. The second book Mr Apocalypse is not now and is on my to-read list as I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
  6. The Unwind dystology by Neal Shusterman will go down as the most disturbing series I have read this year. If you are at all into The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Maze Runner books, then you simply have to dive into this YA series, as it is so much better! It’s taken me all year to read the four books, partly because I have so many other things to read, and partly because they get under my skin too badly and I just need a break between reading them! This series takes us to a not too distant future after a civil war in America led to a new law being written where parents can retrospectively abort their children between the ages of 13 and 18. They are not technically killed though. Every single part of them is harvested (while they are fully conscious) to be donated to people who need them. Quite horrifically, troublesome teens body parts have become a very valuable commodity. The most genius part of book one is how the author makes you wait until nearly the end of the book to show you what actually happens during unwinding. All the way through you are thinking about it and trying not to think about it, and the tension becomes unbearable. Just finished book four today and I’m really excited to hear they’re being made into films. But read them first, please!
  7. Daydreams and Devils by the brilliant Robert Cowan is a book I selected to read for Underground Book Reviews. I was attracted by the storyline of gangsters and bands and was not let down in the slightest. It was another of my top picks of the year for UBR and I currently have another of Robert’s books on my to read list. This book ticked every box for me; great characters, believable dialogue, fast paced, edgy, coming of age and with an awesome musical soundtrack. I was one happy reader from start to finish and Robert is a terrific reader I am very happy I discovered in 2016
  8. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando is a book I noted down when it came up on a best YA books list. I bought it for my daughter and we both really enjoyed it. The plot revolves around six five year olds who went missing eleven years ago. Out of the blue five of them have now returned. What I liked about this mystery novel was how each chapter was from a different characters viewpoint but in the third person. Each chapter had a very different voice and was written differently, even set out and formatted differently to the others. Very spooky with plenty of twists and turns, I think anyone would enjoy this!
  9. Far Cry From The Turquoise Room by the amazing (and still my favourite indie author) Kate Rigby is a great example of Kate’s work, which is often edgy, gritty and retro. I love her style and her characters who you just want to take home. In this story a young Asian girl feels shunned by her charismatic father after the death of her sister and ends up running away. Kate covers so many hard hitting subjects in this book, and always in a tender, humorous and realistic manner. I’m working my way through her books and always relish getting my hands on the next one!
  10. Chance by Peter Dudgeon was recommended to me by a friend. It’s about a killer who picks his victims by random chance and 9-year-old Cassie who is able to see into the future when someone is about to be hurt. Being in close proximity to both the killer and some of his potential victims allows Cassie a disturbing glimpse into his warped mind and she soon realises the police are on the wrong track completely. Brilliantly written, tense and gripping, you won’t be able to put it down. There is also a sequel which is on my to-read list, and Peter Dudgeon is another author I’m very glad I discovered this year!
  11. Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski is another book I read after my teenager had her hands on it. She picked it up in the book shop one day and after reading the blurb I couldn’t wait for her to finish so I could start. It’s an eerie YA dystopian set on a mysterious island , where it is daylight for fourteen years followed by nightfall for fourteen years. During the nightfall the islanders pack up and leave the island and do not return until the next daylight. The main characters Marin and Kana are brother and sister and they miss their boat off the island when they go in search of their best friend Line, who is missing. When reunited, the three teens have to face the darkness as it begins to fall, knowing they are trapped on the island for fourteen years, but worse than that, they soon realise they are not alone. Loved this from start to finish! So well written, steadily paced, so much is held back until you need it, which makes you just keep turning the pages.
  12. The Recital by Kyle V. Hiller is another book I chose to read and review for Underground Book Reviews. I was intrigued by the storyline which promised contemporary issues wrapped up in magic realism. The story is told in the first person from the wonderful Edith, a 12 year old girl I quite quickly fell in love with. Edith has a few troubles on her plate. She hasn’t grown in a year, she is in love with a boy who is dating her arch enemy and her family life is about to be shattered. On top of all of that she has just found out she is a witch who needs to learn to control her powers (which, by the way, can have quite horrific results for anyone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time!) As Edith staggers awkwardly from one disaster to the next, an intriging and unique story unfolds, involving magic and spells, as well as coming of age, bullying and sexuality. Put a smile on my face from start to finish and I will definitely be reading more from this author!
  13. Those Who Wander (All That Glitters Book 1) by Shalaena Medford is a fast-paced steampunk YA novel which involves pirates, maps, and a stolen zeppelin. In many ways an action-packed steampunk adventure, but also a coming of age tale, in which main character Song has to let go of the past and construct a new, true version of herself, this book is a journey in many ways. I felt like I was on the journey with her, both the physical and the emotional one. Extremely visual, I could see this making an awesome movie! I was very impressed and will definitely be buying book two when it is released. Anyone who likes steampunk, action, adventure, fantasy or sci-fi will love this! I came across this book as I follow Shalaena on social media.
  14. The Soul Bazaar by Anthony Morgan Clark is a uniquely crafted and captivating collection of dark stories, which will have both a physical and emotional effect on the reader. From the title story The Soul Bazaar, which introduces a chilling trader of souls, who wears only red, to post-apocalyptic disease and violence in After The Disease Part One and Two, this is a rollercoaster ride of horror and uneasy feeling. Wake, the story of a man enduring a life-saving transplant, will stay with me for some time to come. As will Bes, a glimpse into the troubled mind of a dangerous individual and his imaginary friend. The author has the unique ability to make your stomach cramp with the tension he builds, and the language used to convey the horror his characters live through is just perfect. A disturbing and spine chilling read, highly recommended. I came across this book as I follow Anthony on social media.
  15. Spine Chillers: Hair-Raising Tales Book One by Q.L Pearce is a book fans of Goosebumps will really enjoy.  I was sent this book for free in return for an honest review. (Plus, look out for an exclusive interview with Q.L Pearce in the New Year here on my blog!) Each one is guaranteed to offer the reader a dark and bumpy ride into the unknown and leave you with your jaw hanging open. I enjoyed all of these stories but got a particular kick out of Hale Hallow Woods, a tale of ghostly revenge, Seaworthy, a creepy pirate themed adventure, and my firm favourite, The Healer. The twist in The Healer is one I did not see coming and have been unable to stop thinking about ever since. This is a flawless collection of spine chilling tales and I very much look forward to the next instalment.
  16. The Giver by Lois Lowry is a book I had been meaning to read for a very long time. When I finally got around to it, I was not disappointed in the slightest. I was enchanted, disturbed, touched and intrigued. You probably all know the plot, but for those who don’t, 12 year old Jonas lives in a seemingly perfect, pain free world where children are assigned to their parents, just as spouses are perfectly matched and employment is dealt out depending on personality and skills. The system works. no one feels pain and everyone is content. But when Jonas goes up to receive his position he is told he is to become the next Receiver of Memory. His training starts right away with an old man known as the Giver, and Jonas soon discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world. A trail blazer in the genre of dystopian fiction, this book is simply breathtaking. I quickly ordered the entire quartet and read them one after the other. (My daughter is getting them all for Christmas and I really can’t wait for her to read them so we can talk about them lots and lots!)

Author Interview; Rae Stoltenkamp

Welcome to my latest indie author interview, this time with author Rae Stoltenkamp. I first came across Rae when we were both authors on the now defunct indie publishing platform Autharium. I read her excellent  crime thriller  Six Dead Men and will soon be diving into her new venture, the first in a young adult series, Where Rainbows Hide. In this interview Rae talks about her writing and publishing journey so far, tells us about her writing process and offers her advice to writers about to embark on the indie route!

Q1 Tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far;

In 2006 I made the firm decision to leave teaching and write on a more full time basis. When I told my dad of my decision he didn’t blink an eye and supported me without a moment’s hesitation. In 2012 my dad died and my rebellious streak asserted itself in a desire to do something to honour his passing. I had a completed novel (Six Dead Men) which I was editing whilst sending letters and emails to agents and publishers – getting the usual rejection mail as expected. His death prompted me to do SOMETHING more concrete with my novel. Unbelievably, an opportunity arose to publish in e-book format without any expenditure on my part at all (Autharium). At that time e-publishing was a much debated topic and people were convinced it would have no place in the world. I thought, “Well, what the heck – it’s not costing me a penny.” Tons of no risk no gain sayings crossed my mind: Nothing ventured nothing gained If you’re not willing to risk the unusual you’ll have to settle for ordinary For who that dare not undertake, by right he shall no profit take So I forged ahead. I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was doing but the e-book went into the world and I told my friends and family all about it. I made the sum total of £12 in royalties and could not have been prouder.

Q2 When did the writing bug first grip hold of you?
I first got the writing bug around age 12 but started with incredibly soppy poetry that always rhymed. From 13 onwards wrote angst ridden teenage poetry which is so embarrassing I probably shouldn’t even mention the existence of it. Then ventured into short stories around age 14 and started on my first novel called Panthra.
Q3 Tell is a bit about Six Dead Men. Where did the idea for the story come from?
It’s quite sad really. I’d been to a neighbour’s party and met a rather nice guy. We ended up snogging for quite some time. Afterwards he asked for my number and I was certain he’d call but then he didn’t. I just put it down to the way things go sometimes. But a few weeks later my neighbour called me in, sat me down, made me a cup of tea and was generally acting very anxious. He then told me that the lovely man had been killed in a tragic accident. It may have been the shock but I found myself thinking it was probably my kisses which cursed him. And so was born the premise for Six Dead Men.
Q4 How would you describe your genre and your style?
My preferred genre is Magic Realism. I’m intrigued by how much in life can seem totally inexplicable. This genre allows me to explore this and helps me to delve into characters’ minds to look at how they may think or behave or be affected by circumstances and influences. My style is influenced by writers like Toni Morrison and the poet Maya Angelou. I love how these writers use the rhythm, feel and sound of words to get a message across in a dramatic way. I also equally love the element of melodrama you get in work by Austen and the Brontes. My YA books are all Science Fiction as they have a strong eco message which lends itself to this genre. It was also one of my mother’s favourite genres so I have a great soft spot for it. I guess my YA books are mostly a tribute to her.
Q5 You write in adult and YA genres, can you explain to us how this works? Does the character come first, or it is usually the plot?
As I’ve already said, Six Dead Men was born out of a personal experience so the character was built around this. I thought long and hard about the names as I wanted them to be significant. With my WIP; the prequel to Six Dead Men, the character came first. In fact I woke one morning with her words in my mind. Her voice was strong and clear and I had to race to scribble them all down. My YA novels always seem to be story led but I’ve recently found that characters are beginning to demand I tell their story in greater detail. As this is a series of books on the same topic I don’t have to think about the plot so much – it is almost a foregone conclusion. So it seems natural that I can now focus more on characters and what they feel, think and ultimately do.
Q6 Can you tell us about your writing process? What is an average writing day like for you?
I teach at a local charity 3 days a week so only have 2 dedicated writing days a week. I also volunteer one evening a week and tutor in the evenings the rest of the week. So I usually get up around 6:30am. After a coffee I get stuck right in. I have to set the timer on my phone as I often forget to have breakfast. After breakfast I get straight back into it and work until about 2pm. The afternoons are reserved for meetings or any marketing which needs doing. If I have no meetings scheduled I write until about 3 or 4pm then call it quits for the day. I’m currently thinking of moving all my marketing activities to a Saturday as this will free up more writing time as I want to crack on with several projects.
Q7 What are you working on at the moment?
My current WIPs are: 1. The prequel to Six Dead Men 2. A series of short stories based around characters in Six Dead Men and its prequel 3. The sequel to Where Rainbows Hide 4. The sequel to The Lonely Dragon.
Q8 What would you say have been the best and the worst parts of being an indie author?
The best part is writing about things that matter to me and seeing them in print. There is no worst part as it allows me to do something which makes me feel incredibly fulfilled. Sometimes the precariousness of the financial side can cause sleepless nights but when I’m deep into a project and the words are flowing on the page, I get such a sense of rightness that the worry simply falls away.
Q9 What advice would you give to anyone about to embark on the indie publishing route?
Only go down this route if you have great support from friends or family or both. Trying to do it all alone is a very hard road. Be prepared to put the hours in. No-one will be standing over you to make it happen – you’ll have to do that all on your own. Join a body like the Alliance of Independent Authors as they have a wealth of information which is invaluable. And finally – know your product and your audience then market accordingly.
Q10 What are your hopes and dreams for the future with regards to your writing? What would you like to achieve?
My hope is that within 5 years I will be able to earn a living from my writing and give up tutoring in the evenings so I can spend more time with friends and family. I would then wish to publish any writing for children for free.
Q11 Who are your favourite authors and why?
My favourite authors make up a very long list so I’ll just do my top 10: Jane Austen, The Brontes, George Eliot, Toni Morrison, Louis de Bernieres, John Steinbeck, Terry Pratchett, Joanne Harris, Neil Gaiman and Jacqueline Wilson The Brontes, Austen and Eliot because of the element of melodrama they bring to a cracking good story. de Bernieres because he opens up unexpected worlds in my mind. Pratchett and Gaiman because they tackle serious topics but also make me laugh out loud. Morrison, Harris and Steinbeck for their beautiful use of language. Finally, Wilson as she tackles issues so very relevant to children in this day and age and does it with great sensitivity.
Q12 Tell us three interesting facts about yourself
Not sure these are particularly interesting but here goes: 1. I absolutely loath white trainers – don’t know why, just do 2. I don’t like being given cut flowers as a present as they only serve to remind me that they are already dead and only good for the compost heap now. 3. I love watching garden make-over programmes even though I am the worst gardener on the planet and never even go into my own.
Thanks so much Rae!

Rae Stoltenkamp was born in South Africa and came to England in 1987 to visit family. She liked the weather so much she stayed. After a writing holiday in Greece she had an epiphany and realised she should be writing on a more full time basis. It was probably heat stroke since she hadn’t had sun in a while. She then studied writing at City Lit with the poet Caroline Natzler and is now a writer, blogger and former English teacher living in South London.

Currently Rae also works with www.inkhead.co.uk , teaching creative writing courses to children. This has inspired her to work on a children’s book called The Lonely Dragon. She is writing and editing several projects simultaneously, including a series of YA Science Fiction novels and the sequel to The Lonely Dragon.

Rae has a passion for Argentine Tango and when she is not chained to her desk and laptop, can often be seen tripping the light fantastic with her tango friends. She has also recently discovered the delights of Lindy Hop and is laughing her way through this style of dance.

https://www.facebook.com/raestoltenkamp.author

http://raestoltenkamp.blogspot.co.uk/

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