Category: For Readers (page 1 of 5)

Fantasy Anyone?

Recently I joined an eclectic group of writers.  We call ourselves a critique group but there’s not that much critiquing going on.  There is a lot of chat about the industry, marketing, punctuation, especially commas, grammar, and grandchildren.   This is the same group that put together “Dreams and Promises,” to celebrate Canada 150.  We write historical romance, contemporary romance, suspense, fantasy and “whimsy.”  One of our group, LizAnn Carson, has just released a fantasy trilogy called Aura Weavers.  The three books are, The Healer, The Bard, and The Scribe.

As someone who relies on historical fact to provide the framework for my stories, I’m in awe of fantasy writers and their imagination.  The task of creating a whole world with its own rules — is there gravity?  are there cars and roads?  are there schools as we know them? what is the social order? government? history?– is daunting.  Authors are often accused of living in a world of their own, but LizAnn has managed to put borders and rules in her fictional world and has sent it out into the world for others to enjoy.

If you want to give gentle fantasy a try, you can find her stories here.

Now, I’m going back to my own world where cars run on roads, the law of gravity is in effect and history still serves up the best stories.  Right now, I’m celebrating Christmas in the Rockies in the late nineteenth century.  Can I conjure up snow and freezing fingers while the sun shines outside my window, the thermometer reads 23 degrees Celsius and a golden eagle soars over the hayfield next door?

Ah, the power of imagination!

 

 

Voice

I had an object lesson in “voice” over the weekend. For nearly ten years I’ve been friends with a writer from Australia.  We began as partners in an on-line writing course.  When the course ended, we decided to keep in touch, so every Monday we exchange our news, mainly writing, but also family, pets, church, and current events.  This weekend we had a chance to meet in person.  Imagine my surprise when she spoke with an Australian accent.

You see, when I read her words on my computer screen, she sounds just like me.

After the initial shock, I laughed at myself for not “hearing” that accent in her written words. And that got me thinking about “voice.”

Donald Maass defines voice as “a unique way of putting words together, . . . a distinctive way of looking at the world…” Certainly, my friend has a unique way of looking at the world and of putting her thoughts into words, but in our interconnected, on-line world, what used to be regional differences are disappearing.  “Brilliant,” that I first heard as an English or Australian exclamation, in now nearly universal in English speaking countries.  One word she uses that does sound strange to my ear is “uni.”  In Canada we go to university.  In Australia, the kids are off to uni. But one word is hardly enough to convey an accent.

Of course, this discussion of voice is about the author’s voice. Each character in a story should also have a distinctive voice.  Now, if I tried to mimic my friend’s speech in writing, I’d be softening consonants, elongating vowels and moving the accents around on words like Melbourne and dropping whole syllables on others, e.g. barbie for barbeque.

Yet trying to write an accent on paper is fraught with hazards. Jack Bickham, in The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them) has a whole chapter titled, “Don’t Mangle Characters’ Speech.”  Trying to convey a Scottish burr or a Cockney inflection results in unreadable misspellings that are more apt to annoy the reader than draw her into the story.  More importantly, they may insult some minorities and date your book to yesteryear.

So how do you convey that a character has an accent not shared by other characters in your story?

Let them tell us.  A POV character might comment on someone else’s southern drawl, or tony Oxbridge vowels. 

Use word order and word choice.  A rancher from Texas will use different idioms than a banker in Edinburgh.  And, for the record, not all Canadians end their sentences with “eh,” but it’s fun to through it in when we’re on a patriotic rant.

So, why was I startled by my friend’s accent? Perhaps because we’ve been exchanging letters for so long I’d forgotten how far away she lived.  Perhaps because both our countries are part of the British Commonwealth and we share a common cultural background, or maybe I tend to see (and hear) the world through my own experience.  In any case, I had a lovely time and I’m truly thankful to modern technology for letting me develop a friendship on the opposite side of the world. 

POW’s and World War I

  The set up to my  short story, “When the Boys Came Home,” relies on a Canadian Prisoner of War turning up in England.   Here’s a little background on that often forgotten contingent of men.  The story is found in the anthology Dreams and Promises.

Mistreatment, malnutrition, forced labour, and disease were standard among the POW camps in Germany.   Food scarcity, bad food, and inedible food were the greatest complaint of the prisoners. Most sources agree that without care packages from home, either from relatives, or the Red Cross, or other organizations, many allied POW’s would not have survived their incarceration.

Canadians were known as tough fighters but 1400 were taken prisoner in a single day in 1915 when they were gassed by the enemy during the Second Battle of Ypres.

Once taken prisoner, soldiers were expected to resist aiding the enemy and do their best to escape.  Such action often resulted in even harsher punishment, including beatings, being forced to stand at attention for hours, being tied to a post and food deprivation.

Unlike WWII, where liberating armies marched into the camps at the end of hostilities, and freed the prisoners, in 1918 there was no such liberating force.  Once the armistice was signed, German guards at the prison camps went home, leaving the POW’s to fend for themselves. Already physically weakened, these men had to make their own way, with no co-ordinated transportation.  They mostly headed for France aboard trucks, trains or anything else they could board.  Some walked.  Many died from exhaustion along the route.

When British or Commonwealth soldiers were picked up they were sent to reception centres in France where they were fed and clothed.  From there they were sent to channel ports and from thence to Britain. Captured officers were expected to write a report on the circumstances of their capture and why they’d been unable to avoid it.  .  A true soldier, it was  believed, would fight to the death rather than surrender. There was a popular suspicion that prisoners had an easy war, sitting about in a camp, away from the danger and that those captured were cowards

Once POW’s returned home and were able to tell their own stories the truth became clear.  Being a prisoner of war, far from being safe, was one of the most dangerous conditions a soldier could find himself in.

When soldiers finally made it back to their hometowns in Canada many were afflicted with “barbed wire disease,”, a disorder brought on by complete lack of privacy, an ignorance of the duration of captivity, irregular communication with friends and family and restrictions on all aspects of human activity.  Symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, restlessness, memory loss, violent mood swings, insomnia, nightmares and impotence.  See A.L. Vischer.

Once the prisoner made it safely home, some of their families wanted a brass band welcome, but most soldiers just wanted to quietly reintegrate into their old lives with as little fuss as possible.

While “When the Boys Came Home” doesn’t feature a POW, an understanding of this group of soldiers will help the reader more closely relate to the characters involved.

 

Sources:

http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cas/w1c-pow.html

https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/prisoners-of-war

Hero or Villain – You Decide

 

Matthew Begbie was the first Chief Justice of B.C. following Confederation in 1871.  He has been characterized as a  resolute and fair upholder of British law and order, a true Victorian who did his duty, and as a cruel and arbitrary jurist.

His Career

  • Nov. 16 1858 Begbie arrived in Victoria on. The following day he left with Gov. Douglas for Fort Langley on the Fraser River,
  • Nov. 19, 1858 new colony of British Columbia was proclaimed. Douglas and Begbie swore each other into office.
  • 1859 Begbie, though a member of the judiciary, was appointed to the Executive Council of British Columbia. This unusual blending of the judicial and executive functions was necessary because Begbie was the only man in the colony with legal training
  • 1859 Aliens Act, written by Begbie, passed into law.  Allowed for naturalization of aliens after three years residence in B.C.
  • 1859 Gold Fields Act also drafted by Begbie set out the rules and regulations for the mining of gold in British Columbia.
  • January 1859 he accompanied Colonel  Moody and a party of Royal Engineers up the Fraser River to quell an insurrection that had broken out among the miners at Yale and Hills Bar. Begbie convened court and tried ringleader, Ned McGowan.  Begbie imposed a fine for assault.
  • February 1859. Begbie walked from New Westminster to what is now Lillooet and back (a journey of approximately 350 miles) to familiarize himself with the mining population of the Fraser River.
  • 1860 Pre-emption Act, the main feature of the Colony’s land-settlement policy, also drafted by Begbie.
  • 1860 He  walked from New Westminster to Kamloops and back to explain the Gold Fields Act to miners and gold commissioners.
  • Along with Sir James Douglas he worked to counter the move to American annexation.
  • 1865 alone he rode about 3,500 miles to hold assizes in mining camps and small towns all over the colony.
  • He espoused the rights of Chinese  opposing a head tax on Chinese immigrants.
  • In 1860 he told Gov. Douglas that Indians (First Nations) held land rights that must be recognized.
  • Fought efforts to displace Indians from their homes.
  • Became fluent in Shuswap and Chilcotin language in order to understand they cases without an interpreter.
  • Persuaded Ottawa to preserve native fishing rights on the Fraser River.
  • Wrote provincial legislation giving Indian common-law wives of white men a share of his estate if he died intestate.
  • 1864 “Chilcotin War” breaks out. Fifteen whites are killed.
  • Aug. 15, 1864: Eight Chilcotin warriors including chiefs Klatsassin, Telloot and Tapitt come into meet Gov. Seymour. They are arrested.
  • Sep 28-29, 1864: Judge Begbie presides at the trial of Klatsassin and the eight others. Five are found guilty of murder.
  • October 26, 1864: Klatsassin and four others are hanged.

“We have all heard of the sacredness of the pipe of peace … among the Indians,” Judge Matthew Begbie wrote to the governor of B.C. on Sept. 30, 1864. “It seems horrible to hang five men at once, especially under the circumstances of the capitulation.”

  • July 1865 another Chilcotin chief is tried and executed in New Westminster
  • 1872 Begbie commites four Indians convicted of attempted murder to the custody of a missionary rather an impose the death penalty.
  • 1875 He is knighted by Queen Victoria in a private ceremony at Balmoral Castle.
  • 1890 Begbie refuses to imprison a group of strikers at the Nanaimo coal-mines despite their repeated violations of court orders.
  • Throughout his career he championed the underdog. Under his judgements, 22 Indians were hanged  He obtained a reprieve for 11 others.
  • He tried 52 murder cases but hanged only 27 convicted murders, despite rigid sentencing rules of the time.
  • Oct. 26, 2014: B.C. Premier Christy Clark and members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation  (Chilcotin) participate in a redress ceremony, the 150th anniversary of the hanging of five of the six chiefs. The province issues an apology.
  • April 13, 2017 Law Society of B.C. announces it will remove statue of Judge Begbie from its lobby.

You be the judge. Is Sir Matthew Begbie a hero or a villain?  Leave your vote in the comments.

Note:  I have used the word “Indian” rather than “First Nation” as that was the term used during Begbie’s time.  I have also used the spelling Chilcotin, rather than Tsilhqot’in, for the same reason.

SOURCES: Canadian Heritage and University of Victoria

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/begbie_matthew_baillie_12E.html

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chilcotin-tsilhqotin/

Dreams and Promises

 

This is the cover for an anthology of six Canadian short stories/novellas written to celebrate Canada 150.  In case you hadn’t heard, my country is celebrating a big birthday.  The British North America Act was signed into law on July 1, 1867.  Under its terms, the land we now know as Canada ceased to be a colony of Great Britain and became, instead, an independent nation – with certain caveats.  We were still part of the British Empire and Britain controlled our foreign policy.  Thus, in 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany, Canada was automatically at war too.

The story I’ve contributed to this anthology is set in the aftermath of the Great War and is titled, “When the Boys Came home.” The title references a famous song of that era

Keep the Home Fires Burning, 

While your hearts are yearning,
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
‘Til the boys come home.

 

There are no WWI veterans still alive in Canada, our last known veteran, John Babcock died in 2010 at the age of 109. Still there are many families, including mine, who have old photographs of relatives who went to war. When they came home, most of them refused to speak of the unspeakable hell they had endured.

Perhaps they hoped that keeping silent would help them forget.

Perhaps they wanted to protect their loved ones from the terrible knowledge of trench warfare.

Perhaps they suffered from shell-shock and were ashamed.

Yes, I said ashamed. In our time, media, movies and books ensure the public knows about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a consequence of witnessing horrible suffering. Military personnel, first responders, firefighters, police officers, even jury members at a horrific murder trial may suffer from PTSD. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a model of compassion and courage, is one of the most well-known victims of the disorder. It is a condition that never goes away, never sets the sufferer free, and demands empathy and understanding from all of society.

After the Great War, 1914 – 1918, what we call PTSD was known as shell-shock. It was spoken of only in hushed tones. Sufferers were considered somehow culpable and inferior. “Men” were expected to take whatever evil came upon them and get over it. Society in general had little understanding of their nightmare.

I believe it is unfair for one generation to judge another based on our modern sensibilities. Corporal punishment was deemed normal for centuries. In 2008 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld section 43 of the criminal code which states Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

And don’t forget that a parent who resorted to spanking as a last resort may also have read bedtime stories to his children, rocked them in her lap and scrimped on his own needs in order to buy his child a Christmas gift. Our notion of “abuse” has changed drastically over the last fifty years.

So, while I am loathe to foist our modern political correctness on previous generations, I admit the treatment of some WWI veterans, especially POW’s, broke my heart. Subjected to mud, filth, enemy fire, rats, lice, bad food, the screams of dying men and wounded horses, pounding of artillery and the often incomprehensible order to take 50 yards of ground at the cost of a thousand lives, it is a wonder any came home sane.

1867 was the year my country became independent but much of our national pride and our belief in ourselves as Canadians was forged in the battlefields of Europe. Ypres ,Vimy Ridge, The Somme, Passchendaele, Hill 70. . . those names resonate in our national conscience.

Sir John A. MacDonald had the vision and the will to create a new country.

“Our Boys” earned it a place in the world.

I hope my story warms your heart and reminds you of the terrible cost of war.

Dreams and Promises is available here

Cover Design

I’m learning something new this week, cover design. I’m part of a group who has written an anthology of short stories to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  When the project began, I was assured someone else would handle all the formatting, uploading, etc.  Then, last week, authors began creating covers for their individual stories.  So, I had to learn something new in a hurry. 

 

My story is about a WWI soldier who returns to Canada with amnesia.  He has forgotten he is engaged to the heroine and brings an English fiancée with him.  Will he get his memory back?  Which woman will he choose?

 

What do you think? Which of these covers do you prefer?  Please use the comment section to record your choice.  I’d love to hear your reasons, too.

Independence Day


 

Today, May 17, is Independence Day in Norway.  The date commemorates the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814 that ended a 100 year coalition with Sweden and, prior to that,  400 years of Danish rule.

Nearly every country in the world has a national day that celebrates their liberation from some other power.  The U.S.A celebrates on July 4, Canada on July 1, Australia on January 1 (that’s summer down under). France has Bastille Day, July 14, to commemorate the abolition of feudalism and the arbitrary rule of the King.  Even England, the country from which many nations of the world today won their freedom, has Magna Carta Day on June 15, to celebrate a cornerstone in the development of a modern, parliamentary democracy.  Just as children grow up and leave home, mature nations are eager to be autonomous — but with favourable trade agreements in place.

The same thing happens in families. As we grow up, we demand independence, but at the same time we strive for connections.  This seems to be an eternal struggle of the human condition, autonomy vs connectedness.  It’s also a rich source of inspiration for writers. How many times have you read about a heroine who is determined to escape the stifling influence of her family/job/school/location, only to then find herself adrift and desperately seeking a deep connection with another.  I’ve just finished writing a short story where the heroine struggles with this problem.  Does she carry on as expected or does she break free?  Does freedom mean loneliness?  The story is part of a collection that celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday.  

Our independence from Britain was a gradual process.  We went to war in 1914 because England declared war on Germany.  In 1929 the Privy Council of Britain was the final court of appeal for a group of Canadian women seeking to have females declared “persons” under the law.  It wasn’t until 1982 that our last legal ties with Britain ended with the patriation of our constitution.  Just like nations, families break apart in various ways, some with anger and violence, like South Sudan, others more peacefully. 

The desire for independence vs the yearning for deep connections seems to be one of those universal truths of the human condition.  For writers, that’s a good thing.  We  need only to look at our own families to find grist for the story mill.

Libel or Slander

Canadian tort law states: The common law protects every person from harm to their reputation by false and derogatory remarks about their person, known as defamation. In addition, all Canadian provinces have libel/ slander legislation (defamation includes slander and libel, where slander is verbal defamation and libel is printed defamation).

 I looked up this information because I’d listened to a sports broadcast where athletes read derogatory messages that had been sent to them, usually on Twitter. The comments were appalling, hurtful attacks based on the players’ physical appearance, name, or gender. They had nothing to do with the skill or sportsmanship of the athletes involved. The broadcaster featured the comments in a “joke” section of the airing. Believe me, puerile, vulgar and slanderous comments are never a joke.

 I’ve no objection to vigorous debate.  A healthy democracy demands it.  But that debate should be about ideas and solutions, about a better future for the world.  The vile, brainless, profanity-ridden bluster of the ignorant that shows up on the internet is not debate.  It is verbal garbage.  It seems anyone with a public profile is grist for the mills of the haters but politicians are especially subject to these brainless tirades. Female politicians fare even worse. Do we really live in a society where a woman with an opposing point of view deserves to be raped? Will vicious, personal attacks prevent war, feed the hungry or even fix the pothole on your street? The answer is no, but they have and will drive dedicated, caring people out of public life, making all of society poorer.

 Words are powerful. They have the ability to demean, frighten and silence. As writers we know that. Why else does an author write, edit, re-write and rework her words in order to give them potency? As readers, we respond to words that touch our hearts, lift our spirits and encourage us to dream. We memorize poetry, not bigotry.

 Recently facebook has announced it will increase its efforts to flag and take down fake news, but the problem goes beyond fake news. What about those who commit violent crimes and post a video of their heinous actions? The material is all too real, but it undermines the very fabric of civilization, tearing moral standards to shreds, and reducing human beings to “objects,” to be used and exploited by evil internet trolls.

I hope platforms like facebook and Twitter can regulate users on their networks, but I long for a world where that isn’t necessary. Mayberry never existed, but I’d rather strive for a world as kind and gentle as that fictional place, then encourage the destruction of all acceptable standards of civility.

That’s why I write about heroic characters, even with their flaws and failings, they try to do the right thing, to help their neighbours and to honour their God. I hope that’s your choice too.

Morning Pages – My Take

 Following on from last week’s thoughts on meditation, this week’s blog features another way of clearing static from the mind, morning pages.

Julia Cameron, in her seminal book for writers, The Artist’s Way, insists that morning pages –three long-hand pages of stream-of-consciousness writing — are essential to the creative process.  Her theory is that we purge ourselves of mind static by writing it all down on the morning pages and are then free to get on with our work of creativity.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, instructs her students to start with childhood memories in their quest to “tell the truth” in stories.

I try to combine these two pieces of advice in my writing exercises.  Yes, I do writing exercises.  Just like a pianist practices scales, every artist/performer must keep her tools in good working order.  In other words, practice.  Many of my writer friends consider morning pages a waste of time.  The thirty minutes spent spewing drivel — their words, not mine — could be better spent on the current work.  That may be true for some, but I find doing some exercises before getting into the real work of the day, makes that real work more enjoyable, more poetic and more “true.”  However, I do choose which exercise to practice.

If my vocabulary seems to have shrunk to the same ten verbs repeated over and over, I do a “beautiful words” exercise.  Some words resonate with me, perhaps not with you, but the morning pages are for the writer not the reader.  So, I’ll fill a page with words like lilacs, lady, lavender, lollygag, lamp, luggage, lily, lollapalooza . . .  It doesn’t really matter what the words are, I’m just opening my mind to the beauty of language and calling some of those buried syllables to the forefront.  When I’ve finished, I go to my WIP and the words, that have been laboured and blocked,  now flow joyfully.

Often I’ll use my morning pages to create emotion.  Here’s where the instruction to start with childhood memories is invaluable.  As adults we’ve learned to be civilized, to bite down on harsh words, to take a balanced approach.  As adults, we’ve learned to flat-line our emotions.  As children, we had no such constraints.  If we were happy, we were ecstatic, if we were angry, we were in a red-hot fury, if we were hurt our very souls wept with the pain.  If the scene in my story demands that my heroine be angry, I’ll do a writing exercise recalling a moment in childhood or the teenage years when I shook my fist in the face of my tormentor and shouted out my righteous rage.

To make these exercises effective for the story teller, they must go into detail.  Remember the room you were in when the event took place.  Describe it in every tiny detail.  Try to recall if there was music or bird song or the hum of a furnace.  What did it smell like?  What were you wearing?  In the morning pages, you want to go deep into your memory.  As well as putting you in the appropriate emotional state, the writing will put you into deep point-of-view as well.  The scene you write after this writing practice will be more “true” than any you made up out of your conscious mind.  Don’t worry about running out of material.  Flannery O’Connor   said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.

Morning pages can take the form of character interviews or a diary entry.  Here is where I explore my character, sound out her childhood memories, let her dream without constraint of money or time or circumstance.  When I put that character into the story, most of what I wrote in the morning pages will never make the published page, but the essence of what I wrote, forms the character and the more “true” that character is, the better the story.

Make up your own writing exercises.  Practice them.  See if it doesn’t make your writing – or painting, or sewing, or teaching or gardening – more satisfying.

If you haven’t read “he Artist’s Way, or Bird by Bird I highly recommend them.

To Meditate or Not

My friend has taken up meditation. Like all new converts, she’s an enthusiastic promoter of her new practice.  She talked to me of  the benefits  of a calm mind – more focus, better time management, clearer thinking, higher productivity.  All attributes I would like to acquire, so I signed up for the ten free on-line sessions and then she gave me another thirty that she’d earned.  I regret to say, I’m a failure at meditation.  As I sit here with my feet flat on the floor, my hands resting on my thighs, my eyes closed and the soothing voice of the leader tells me to focus on my breathing and let my mind empty itself, all I can think of is the million other things I should be doing.

I try opening my eyes and I can see dust. I avert my eyes and see my notebook lying open on the desk, accusing me of wasting time.  I close my eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath.  A car door slams and I remember that I need to run to the grocery store.  The cat walks by and demands that I pick her up and pet her.  Now, a cat’s purr is very soothing but I’m working a knot out of her fur, not meditating. 

After a couple of weeks of failed meditation sessions, I’ve decided the practice is not for me.

I clear my mind by writing it down. If I can’t sleep at night, I get up and write down the matters that are keeping me awake.  Then I go back to bed and drop off immediately, knowing that the problems are noted on a piece of paper and will be waiting for me in the morning.  I don’t need to keep running them through my mind during the hours of darkness.  When I’m stuck with a story problem, I write a list of possible actions and the outcomes of each.  Then I can easily determine where the story should go from here.  When I’m preparing for a big dinner party, I write down all the little things that must be accomplished before the guests arrive.  Once an item is on paper, I can get on with the job and not keep stopping to remember.

There are many studies to show that taking notes by hand rather than by typing improves students’ performance. This is because “Generative note-taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” according to Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles.  Robert Dugoni advises writers in his workshops to put away the keyboard and make their own, hand-written notes, even though he will provide his own notes at the end of the class.

Even if you’re not a student taking notes in class, there are good reasons to “write it down.

It makes you smarter.

That’s because putting pen to paper stimulates a part of the brain called the reticular Activating System, i.e. the act of writing it down tells the brain to give more importance to the stuff you’re focusing on at the moment

It sparks your creativity.

Susan Sontag and Truman Capote and J.K. Rowling, among others, write their first drafts with a pen. Susan Wiggs not only writes her first draft longhand, but with a particular pen, and a particular ink.

It keeps your brain sharp.

The act of writing engages motor-skills, memory and more and is a good cognitive exercise for aging boomers who want to keep their minds sharp.

So, thanks, my friend for sharing your joy in meditation, but I’ll give it a pass. Pen to paper, heart to brain, is my preferred method of finding focus, attacking a problem, or clearing the clutter from my mind.  For anyone who wants to try the course she recommended, here’s the link.  headspace.  For everyone else, visit your favourite stationery store and stock up on pens and pencils, notebooks and writing pads, line them up on your desk and enjoy.

 

 

 

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