Wednesday, April 28, 2010

[Interview] He Jinghan

He Jinghan is the author of Bagua Quan Foundation Training (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009) and Bagua Daoyin: A Unique Branch of Daoist Learning, A Secret Skill of the Palace (Singing Dragon, 2008).

A fifth generation practitioner of the BaguaQuan lineage, he was introduced to Master Gong BaoZhai at the age of 23 and began to specialise in Bagua.

He Jinghan is now dedicated to the cultivation and promotion of the Bagua Daoyin.

When did you first become interested in Bagua Quan?

I was interested in the teachings of Gong Bao Zhai, my teacher, before I began to learn the art of Bagua Quan.

I started practicing Bagua Quan because I found it had more depth in comparison to the other Chinese martial arts that I had previously spent some years learning, like Taiji Quan or Xinyi Quan.

As I started to understand the philosophy and theory of Bagua Quan through physical practice, I began to experience the real depth of it. It is since then, that I have been interested in Bagua Quan.

What are the main benefits of practicing Bagua Quan?

There are many different ways that you can benefit from Bagua Quan. The different stages of Bagua Quan, each have there own different benefits.

Firstly, you experience physical and mental improvement, secondly you begin to grow in self-confidence; however the most powerful benefit is the understanding that is gained of the "cause” and “result”. The results tend to be physically visible, and understanding the roots of the cause for this visual difference is truly the greatest benefit.

What would be your advice to anybody considering starting to practice Bagua Quan?

I would recommend that you read my book in order to understand what Bagua Quan is and whether it is for you.

Set your goal and start from the very beginning. The foundation practices won't seem too difficult. However, it is very important to practice with awareness of yourself, your capabilities and ensuring that you don’t think about fighting from the beginning.

Make sure that you feel right and comfortable in every practice. Move to the second practice only once you completely understand and feel comfortable with the first practice.

Have faith that the result will come naturally if the cause is right.

What or who most inspires you?

I was and still am inspired by many Who's and Whats.

We are inspired only if we have a “subject” and a “question” in mind. To me, it is Bagua Quan, that is both a subject and a question on body and mind improvement. The key to this lies in what my Sifu once told me: “ask why about everything, find the roots and understand the connections.”

Therefore, I could be inspired by a phrase in a book, a child’s posture, a mistake made by myself or somebody else, a creature from nature or even an advertisement on TV ...

What was the last book you read?

I read many different kinds of book. I usually read different books in one period of time.

I have just finished reading the speeches of Mr. Nan Hwai-Jin, a Daoist book on Chan Tong Qi and also his speech about a Buddhist book Jing Gong Jin. I was reading these whilst I also finished reading the beginning of heaven and earth a book about Mr. Hu Lan-Chen, a debatable character in the last hundred years in China.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

This article was first published in the Singing Dragon Newsletter in June 2009

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

[Interview] Alma Kroeker

In this interview, Alma Kroeker talks about her blog novel, In the Absence of White Rabbits:

When did you start writing?

I would say that I started writing as a child, but this particular work began about four years ago. I was lucky enough to have a day-job that allowed me to work on the novel.

I didn’t want to be overly poetic with the writing which is why I decided to make half the novel dialogue.

Publication was simply a means to having the story out there, for anyone who might be interested.

Who is your target audience?

I worked in a hospital and was witness to some of the issues and people, surrounding the field of psychiatry.

I wanted to write something that would incorporate both sides, doctor and patient, of the experience of being mentally ill. As such, the novel is probably of most interest to those people, though others have also enjoyed it.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think we’ve all, at times, on a spectrum of intensity, felt the pressures of life and looked for ways to escape or alleviate that stress.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

That there is something helpful in my novel and that no one will be able to access that information.

Do you write everyday?

I tend to write at least a little bit each day. It depends on how inspired I am.

There are also times where I feel pressed by the characters to tell their story and I will write for hours.

How many novels have you written so far?

Just the one – In the Absence of White Rabbits (2009).

The novel examines a woman’s deteriorating psychosis and her relationship with her doctor.

Why did you decide to release the novel as a blog?

The process of obtaining a publisher is difficult for any new writer.

It was most important to me that the novel be made available to the public. A blog is a forum where people can easily, and without cost, access the novel as well as contribute criticism. However, getting the site recognised is a difficult process (html formatting can also drive me crazy).

It is my hope that the novel's first year online will see a dramatic increase in readers.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the novel?

The main character experiences a great deal of turmoil; I found it difficult to write for lengthy periods of time while being submersed in her world.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

The end. I wrote the last sentence and thought I was done when out of nowhere another sentence was put down which completely changed the tone of the story.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I wrote a story and people read it.

Possibly related books:

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

[Interview] Ged Sumner

Ged Sumner is a practising craniosacral therapist and Chi Kung teacher.

He has also studied shiatsu, healing and attachment based psychoanalytical psychotherapy.

He is Director of the College of Elemental Chi Kung.

His new book You Are How You Move: Experiential Chi Kung has just been published by Singing Dragon.

How and when did you first become interested in Chi Kung?

When I was 25 I went to a class by a Chinese Chi Kung master in London and was completely blown away.

The movements were like nothing I had seen before and the energy was remarkable. I could instantly see it was an amazing mix of exercise, meditation, and subtle energy.

Since then I have been studying with different people, learning more about it, practicing and teaching it.

What is experiential Chi Kung?

The art of deepening into chi is to become skilled at being body and chi aware.

You have got to experience what's within the movement forms so that you deepen into a body sensation and a chi field state. You feel chi, you don't think it or have an idea of it.

What will people gain from using the Chi Kung methods described in your book and what kind of people will benefit from them?

Everyone will benefit.

Regular practice if only for a short time will bring greater vitality, more suppleness in the body and greater stamina and mental focus. When you practice them a lot you can overcome illness, transform your mind and your whole approach to life and become much more attuned to your life's purpose and the subtle forces and movements within nature.

What or who most inspires you?

People who are using their energy, skills and resources to make a difference in the world today by creating greater awareness of the need to live a life in attunement to our environment.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (other than Chi Kung)?

I like driving my tractor around my land. I like taking my kids to the beach. I like cooking.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

This interview was first published in the Singing Dragon Newsletter in May 2009

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Monday, April 19, 2010

[Interview] Richard Wink

Richard Wink's poetry has been published in magazines that include Ditch, Underground Voices and Aesthetica Magazine.

He has also published a number of chapbooks, among them, The Magnificent Guffaw (Erbacce Press); Apple Road (Trainwreck Press); All Along the Wensum (Kendra Steiner Editions); Delirium is a Disease of the Night (Shadow Archer Press) and Devils and Daylight (New Polish Beat).

Dead End Road (Bewrite Books, 2009) is his first full length poetry collection.

In this interview Richard Wink talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing poetry after finding out that I had been gifted the happy knack of putting together some snappy metaphors alongside sparse, blunt prose.

Overtime I graduated from bedroom notepad scribbles to actually getting my work published in various magazines and periodicals. This took a great deal of perseverance and patience, as paper cuts bled into rejection letters and grovelling around on my hands and knees led to grazes and bruises that blunted the ego.

I guess I never set out to get published; it took a great deal of courage to actually put my neck on the chopping block and send my words out into the open. But once you get that first acceptance and you see your poem in print – it becomes a drug, you soon get addicted and eventually you end up with all kinds of hopes, dreams and delusions.

Such flighty ideas led me to put together my debut full length collection, Dead End Road. Getting the book published was merely a case of chancing my arm, getting some interest from a publisher and then working with a fine editor who cut away the fat and produced a lean, succulent composition.

Having said that I have grafted, working my way up the small press grapevine, putting out chapbooks through indie presses and publishers, honing my craft over time. Getting Dead End Road published didn’t just happen, I had to put the hard yards in.

How would you describe your writing?

My poems are a mixture of what I see and what I imagine, a crude oily blur of fact and fiction, an exaggeration of reality.

I’m attempting to mould together many different influences - blend kitchen sink drama with surrealism, and then add two teaspoons of existentialism.

Who is your target audience?

Anyone can read my words; I’m not aiming for an intellectual minority. I endeavour to make my writing as accessible as I can.

Surely it is common sense for a writer to want as many people to read his words as possible?

Which writers influenced you most?

Carol Ann Duffy ignited the passion, Charles Bukowski made me realize anyone can do this and Allen Ginsberg explicitly taught me how to sprinkle the sugar.

Do your personal experiences influence your writing in any way?

Most certainly, as I mentioned before I write about the everyday, I believe there is a lot of mileage in the mundane. Any writer would be foolish to ignore what they directly experience.

In my working life, I’ve encountered the good, the bad and the ugly in an assortment of weird and wonderful jobs, I aim to capture the unique characters like butterflies, and pin them down on paper.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I think every writer faces self doubt. That little voice in the back of your head that politely asks what the hell you are doing?

I find it best to flip that little voice off, and plough on into the light. So basically what I’m saying is that I am fearful of the legitimacy of my words, yet fearless when it comes to getting them out there into the open.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The challenge is to get people to read Dead End Road.

I mean there is are a lot of obstacles to overcome, both from the bloated corpses of the past, the dead poets, and those poets who are currently hot stuff - alive and kicking with the backing of the bigger publishing houses.

I’m dealing as best as I can, but I’ll be honest and say that I find the promotional work hard going. Let’s face it; I would make a terrible car salesman.

Do you write everyday?

I’m working (real work, not writing!) long hours at the moment so time is very much at a premium.

Honestly, I write when I can, forcing the muse through the fatigue and mental tiredness.

Each session starts with a cup of tea, I scribble in the notepad, and ideas form from the ether. Then I make the first draft, the second ties it all together and the third normally is finely polished.

Right now I’m working on a novel, so the process is a lot stricter and tightly regimented; sessions need to yield a minimum of 1,000 words.

How many books have you written so far?

A number of chapbooks and one full length collection of poetry, all released between 2005 and now.

It started when after getting in a few magazines and anthologies I approached a small press in the States that put together a chapbook called The Beehives, then I approached another that helped me with Stress, both are pretty shocking in terms of quality and thankfully no longer in print. However the experience got me thinking more about assembling a body of work rather than an odd gaggle of poems.

Then I went on a glory run and released The Magnificent Guffaw through Erbacce Press, Apple Road via Trainwreck Press, All Along the Wensum through Kendra Steiner Editions and Delirium is a Disease of the Night with Shadow Archer Press. Apart from a little chapbook I released with A J Kaufmann’s imprint New Polish Beat titled Devils and Daylight all of the other chapbooks have led up to my debut full length collection Dead End Road; the training miles before my marathon, if you will.

How would you describe Dead End Road?

I’ve described it as Revolutionary Road meets Desperate Housewives; a series of snapshot poems that look at different characters and personalities along a fictional road.

It took me a couple of months to write, because I really got into a good groove, the words were flowing effortlessly.

The book is published by BeWrite Books. I picked BeWrite because they have a roster of talented writers that I respect, and also because I wanted to work with a publisher that is forward thinking, and ambitious.

What advantages and/or disadvantages your association with BeWrite Books presented?

Speaking open and honestly I found that the editing process was superb. I worked closely with Sam Smith, an experienced writer who helped shape the collection into something substantial and coherent.

I was certainly impressed with the quality of the paperback version of the book, it looks superb.

The disadvantages have mostly been promo related, when you work with independent publishing houses it is up to you the writer to seek out reviews, this can be tricky with every Tom, Dick and Harriet also attempting to plug their books. You really do have to knock on the door of every reviewer and hope they will give your book a read, and hope you get a favourable review.

What will your next book deal with?

The novel, tentatively titled Tears and Spittle will be about a man who loses his identity and embarks on a Candide-esque misadventure across the dirty South (of England).

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Writing Dead End Road which I believe would be a wonderful stocking filler gift. What with Christmas around the corner. It makes sense for you to pick up a copy!

Possibly related books:

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

[Interview] Marita van Aswegen

South African author, Marita van Aswegen writes poetry, short stories and novels for both children, young adults as well as adult readers.

Her work has been published Afrikaans, Sesotho and English.

Her books include Dance Thispo, dance (Kwela, 1997); Gavin’s Game (Masterskill Publishers, 2009) and Phapo’s Gift (Knowledge Thirst, 2010).

In this interview, Marita van Aswegen talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first story when in 1964 when I was fifteen. I sent it to a magazine ... but it was rejected.

It was a love story and I sent it to Sarie. That was the favorite magazine of the sixties.

I was a teenager and my mind was filled with roses and moonshine and the perfect love.

What would you say motivated you to start writing?

As long as I can remember, I always wanted to write a book.

During the years when my children were small, I wrote essays and poems because essays are short and you can complete one in an hour or so. ( Small children do not give you a lot of time to write.) The essays were on subjects like: "Going to the hairdresser" (humorous essay); "We got electricity!"; "The day I put a cheque on the car’s roof and forget about it", etc.

The poems were for small children (through my children’s eyes) and also poems that expressed my own personal feelings. The latter I kept for myself.

Two of the poems for children were published thirty years later in Die nuwe verseboek by Riana Scheepers!

I just had to write things down, I felt happy when I did that.

After all my children went to boarding school, I started to write on a more regular basis.

My first book was published in 1997. I had sent the story to several publishers and got it back six times. But I did not give up. The book was in Afrikaans, but Kwela Publishers also translated it in English and Sesotho. The book was for adults who did not go to school when they were children and they got literacy classes as adults.

The book is about a young postman who has to deliver a letter to an old man who was waiting for a letter from his grandchild. The old man was attacked by a robber and the postman saved his life.

It was easy to write and did not take me long. I kept on resubmitting it because I believed it was a good story. Yes, Kwela translated it into Afrikaans and Sotho too. The book was beautiful, but unfortunately only the Afrikaans and English sold. The Sotho did not sell at all.

How would you describe your writing?

I have been writing for different markets.

The first book was for ABET readers.

After that I wrote Roer jou riete Pampas, a youth book in Afrikaans. It was translated in Sesotho.

I wrote several short stories for teenagers that were included in different books.

I wrote a teenage novel and several stories for the Kroonsteen series.

I also wrote more literary short stories.

How much influence have your personal experiences had on your writing?

I love writing for children age nine to twelve.

Because I work with children from the rural communities who grew up in difficult circumstances, I like to write about them. They have so much courage, they inspire me.

Being a social worker had influenced my writing in the sense that I became more aware of social issues like alcohol abuse, verbal abuse, poverty, etc. Real life had influenced me more than any book ever would.

Which authors have influenced you most?

I appreciate the work of Jacqueline Wilson, the British writer. Her stories soften the disappointments of real life.

It gives hope.

I like that.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern as a writer is the fact that children in South Africa rather spend time outside than reading books. Whenever I meet with children, I try and motivate them to read.

In the rural area where I stay, most of the parents of children are illiterate. Therefore there is no reading culture in the homes. Children have to walk long distances to farm schools. These children speak Sotho in their homes and then they have to learn English and Afrikaans in school. Reading is for them a nightmare because their mother tongue is neglected in schools.

Farm children do not have the facilities that bigger schools have. There are no libraries, no reading groups, no one who can open the world of reading to them. They should be helped to love their mother tongue and reading in their mother tongue. Writers in their mother tongue should visit schools and motivate children to be proud of their own language.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge for me is to write every day. I discipline myself to do that. Even when I do not feel like writing, I go and sit in front of the computer and write something. After a while the ideas just flow. I write till I feel I have completed the specific idea that I am busy with.

I enjoy writing for children the most. But it is not always easy. As a writer you realize that you have an impact on children’s minds and for me this is a great responsibility.

I write mostly in Afrikaans, this is my mother tongue. I love Afrikaans because I grew up with it. I can express myself in one word. The last ten years I also started to speak English quite often, because my children are overseas and I visit them every year. I started to translate my Afrikaans children’s stories into English. I enjoy it.

What would you say Phapo's Gift is about?

My latest book, Phapo’s Gift is about the ten-year-old Phapo who is clever, pretty and happy. But she has a big burden to carry: her father, who she loves very much, is dying from Aids.

All around her, her school friends are getting boyfriends and girlfriends, but Phapo wants nothing more than to make mud cakes under her favourite tree and dream of beautiful dolls.

When the boys start to look at her, her Grandma tells her a very special secret: Phapo has a precious, perfect fruit inside her. She alone has the power to treasure or to destroy that fruit.

It took me about three months to write the story. It will be published during 2010 by Knowledge Thirst.

How did you find a publisher for the book?

I received an email from SCBWI where Knowledge Thirst was asking for stories.

I sent in my story and they accepted.

Since they let me know they want to publish the story, I have been working with professional, punctual people all the way. I enjoy working with them. I enjoyed writing the story, first in Afrikaans and then in English.

I feel the story has something to say for children and might help them to understand the preciousness of sex. What makes this book different is the fact that the publisher kept me informed all the time and I could see how the book was progressing. This was excellent.

What will your next book be on?

My next book is already finished. It is about an orphan in a centre for abused and neglected children.

Every book is an achievement for me.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

[Interview] Michael Acton

Michael W. Acton is Founder and Senior Instructor of the Wu Shi Taiji Quan and Qi Gong Association UK.

He has been training for over 30 years and is the sole representative of Dr Li Li-Qun, a fourth generation Wu Style Taiji Quan master and a leading Qi Gong master.

His new book entitled Eternal Spring: Taijiquan, Qi Gong, and the Cultivation of Health, Happiness and Longevity has just been published.

When did you first become interested in Taijiquan and Qi Gong?

When I was young I was fascinated by Indian Yoga and so I began to practice meditation when I was eleven. I was without a teacher then and pretty much in the dark. There were no yoga teachers anywhere near my home town in the early sixties and I certainly had not heard of Taiji quan or Qi Gong then. I have always been drawn to yogic practices.

I was also interested in all things Chinese and especially Chinese painting and its Daoist roots. I was already a good candidate for Qi Gong and Taiji though still knew little to nothing about it.

My first introduction to Qi Gong was a small book of Daoist Yogic practies and I also found a book by the American dancer Sophia Delza who had studied the Big Slow Form of Wu Style Taiji Quan with Ma Yueh Liang when she had lived in Shanghai. I think that was in the 1940's. The illustrations in the book were hopeless to learn anything from and although I got the first few moves I got no further. It was not until many years later, after university, that I found a teacher of Taiji Quan.

I am not sure when I first saw Taiji even. There were only a few teachers in London at the time. I was however lucky enough to meet a young Chinese Malaysian who was starting a small group. When I saw him practice the form I was deeply impressed with the beauty and natural elegance and sense of integrated power. I started to learn the Wu Style form, Tui Shou and some Qi Gong from him. As fate would have it, it was the same form which Sophia Delza had studied and whose book I had struggled with back in my school days.

It was many years later (1992) in Shanghai that I would eventually find my true teacher; 16 or so years after my first Wu style teacher had returned to Malasia. During that time I had kept up my practice though not always systematically and even learned other forms and worked with and met other teachers. Only one, however, really impressed me. He was an old Chinese artist from Shanghai who had left China for London. His Traditional Yang Style, Hsing Yi and Ba Gua were quite remarkable and inspirational. When he stopped teaching and moved to Australia I realised that I would have to go to China to get what I wanted.

What do you think is the particular relevance of Taijiquan and Qi Gong for a Western audience?

Their relevance to the Western audience must surely be the remarkable ability of Taiji and Qi Gong to bring about good health, self healing and restore a sense of vitality and mental clarity. It also bring us back into contact with our true nature and the natural environment and the conditions of life.

Western Science will no doubt eventually explain much of what Qi Gong is and what it can do. But we don't have to wait for explanations, we can cultivate the experience now. We can rediscover our innate ability to restore and heal ourselves and rest in mental dimensions that will always remain beyond science. In a world where we are sensorially overloaded and so many of our experiences are tailored, limiting and manipulative, we can discover an internal freedom and strength and a sense of real liberation and empowerment and perhaps even spirituality. The methods for this were cultivated thousands of years ago. It has taken a long time for the West to notice them.

What would be your advice for anyone in taking up either Taijiquan and Qi Gong?

Find a good teacher and a good and mutually supportive group and don't get caught up in the politics of who does what and which form is best.

Always avoid conceit and arrogance in a teacher and never submit anything for the promise of 'secret knowledge'. Just do it with no aim other than giving yourself up to the experience.

It may take a long time to feel you are getting somewhere so persevere and do not look at the end goal. The key to the achievement of Taiji and Qi Gong are firstly perseverance, then slowness, precision, lightness and correct awareness. I rate correct awareness very highly since, without it, form often remains only beautiful movement and the deeper levels of achievement will remain a mystery.

There are often long periods when you do not seem to achieve much but progress often occurs when you least expect it. Suddenly you may discover that your level of practice is deepening and your ability to maintain a steady and undistracted awareness is maturing. Always return to the experience, perseverance is more important than talent and never give up.

The extraordinary lies hidden within the ordinary.

What or who most inspires you?

I think it must be the people in China who rise early and go to the park to practice their Taiji or Qi Gong. In a way they have transcended the discipline of practice because for them it is as ordinary as eating rice; just an everyday activity. One feels good, the other tastes good and both are important for a long and healthy life.

My teacher Dr Li Li Qun is one of them and he has been practicing since childhood. He is now in his 80's and still cycles to the park each morning. Such an inspiration. His belief that Taiji and Qi Gong is for everybody is also inspiring.

Finally, I should say that I am inspired also by the humility of such people and their deep connection to an ancient and remarkable tradition and belief.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (other than Taijiquan and Qi Gong)?

I make no distinction between spare time and Taiji and especially Qi Gong time which I try to practice continuously from morning to night.

I am also an artist and so I am often thinking about paintings.

I spend a lot of time with my wife and daughter and the rest goes on working to make a living. My first Taiji teacher said that making money must come first, then the family (since without money the family would not be secure) and finally the practice of Taiji Quan. It is a good rule of thumb in our modern world though I'm afraid I have done it the wrong way around.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

This interview was first published in the Singing Dragon Newsletter in April 2009

Possibly related books:

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The benefits of bodymindcore work, Conversations with Writers, April 2, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

[Interview_2] David Hough

Historical romance author, David Hough has been writing for more than 20 years.

His books include King’s Priory (BeWrite Books, 2007); The Gamekeeper (Lachesis Publishing, 2007) and The Gallows on Warlock Hill (Lachesis Publishing, 2008).

In an earlier interview, he talked about the factors that motivated him to start writing.

David Hough now talks, among other things, about his novel, Prestwick (BeWrite Books, 2009):

Are you still writing everyday?

Some days I will get 5,000 words onto my computer, other days it will be only five hundred, but at least I will have written something. That’s important.

I write every day.

The process starts shortly after I wake up. While enjoying my first cup of tea, I will focus my mind on the scene I expect to write that day. I don’t switch on my computer until I have a good idea of how that scene will pan out. Then I start writing and I keep on writing until I have completed all I planned before I started.

The next bit is easy.

I switch off the computer and walk away from it. I know from experience that if I try to write something I haven’t previously planned it will be rubbish.

How would you describe your latest book?

My latest book is called Prestwick.

It’s a high tension aviation thriller set in the skies off the west coast of Scotland in the 1980s. It was published in 2009 by BeWrite Books and you will find it on their web site. You will also find it on my own website.

It’s a bit different to my previous books in that the pace is so much faster. Pure thriller.

I chose the time and location because they were meaningful to me in my career as an air traffic controller.

The story concerns the crew of two aircraft that collide over the North Atlantic – just a glancing blow, enough to cripple them but leave them both just about flying. The weather is atrocious and the only airport open to them is Prestwick, but the pilots are refused landing permission.

Why? What do they do about it? You'll have to read the book to find out.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

I’m a bit wary of that word “difficult”. Can we look at the things I find most challenging?

My main concern is that my writing should be to a professional standard. I rather think that even if I was a famous author I would still have that concern about delivering a professional standard of work. The reading public are not fools, you know, they can recognise the difference between good and bad writing.

I deal with this concern by taking extracts from my work to a weekly writer’s workshop and reading it aloud to a critical audience. They know me well enough not to hold back in their criticism and I value that. I write down each and every point they make and then go away to consider them.

Invariably, there are ways to improve on my first efforts and so I rewrite sections again and again until they are as good as I can get them. I never, ever accept a first draft as anywhere near good enough.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

A writer is a creative artist. He or she creates people and events that would never otherwise exist or occur. That, to me, is a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. I can look back over a manuscript and say to myself, “But for me, none of this would be. The characters would not exist and the events would not have taken place. I have created something unique.”

It’s a great feeling.

What sets Prestwick apart from the other things you've written?

As I said before, the story runs at a faster pace than my other books.

Also, this is the only story I have written in which everything takes place in the space of one day. I had to write it that way in order to draw out every single moment of tension as the pilots struggle to keep their crippled aircraft in the air.

It is similar to the others in that I was writing about things I knew. I did some research, but not as much as for the historical novels because I lived through the period and environment of this book.

Do you know what your next novel will be on?

I am working on a sequel to The Gallows on Warlock Hill. I enjoyed writing the original but realised afterwards that I hadn’t said everything I wanted to say. There were other “themes” I wanted to explore. So I have taken the same locations and the same conceptual premise as the first book and wrapped it up in a new plot and new characters.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I write stories that have real meaning for me. Two of my novels are set around the history of Cornwall, my birthplace. They describe the place as it was more than 100 years ago simply because I wanted to research the era of my own Cornish ancestors. Other stories mix history with the present day because I am fascinated by the effect history has upon our present day lives.

I began by looking at the matter from a surface viewpoint – how the wider aspects of history have shaped our environment - and then I started to delve into the idea that our previous incarnations on earth might affect the sort of life we experience today. One of my favourite books, King’s Priory, was the first in which I really went to town on the idea that each of us has a soul with a past history which is relevant to our present life.

I write about places I know, or have known. My latest novel, Prestwick, is a fast paced aviation thriller set in locations on the west of Scotland where I have worked. My previous novel, The Gallows on Warlock Hill, describes the glorious Dorset countryside, near to where I now live. It also delves into the problems people faced in Northern Ireland during the “troubles”. I was the aerodrome controller on duty at Belfast Airport on the day troops were first airlifted into the province in 1969. I wanted to put my thoughts about that experience into the story.

I suppose the writer with a target audience nearest to my own is Barbara Erskine, but I try my best not to copy her style. I want to be recognised for my own way of writing. Why do I write for that audience? Simply because their reading preferences match my own. I enjoy reading that sort of book

How much influence has Barbara Eskine had on your writing?

This is where I may seem to be contradicting myself.

The two authors who have influenced me most are Nevil Shute and Daphne du Maurier. You will rightly tell me that they don’t write the “Barbara Erskine” sort of story. But they have both written novels in which time barriers have been broken. Remember du Maurier’s The House on the Strand and Shute’s In the Wet?

But that’s not the real reason they had a great influence on me. It was their writing style that captured my imagination. I have read all their books and enjoyed reading them time and again because their narrative “voices” spoke to me.

The writing just came off the pages for me. I try to capture that skill in my own writing.

Why is accurate research important?

I enjoy writing about history and I aim to put a lot of effort into researching the subject matter so that I get the history right, or as near right as I can manage.

Of course, I am likely to make mistakes, but at least I try to get it right. I get frustrated when I read stories by writers who have simply accepted popular but misguided myth as fact and embedded it into their novels.

A while back I was asked by an editor to scrutinise a manuscript sent in by a lady who had written a fanciful tale about Bonnie Prince Charlie, depicting him as a brave Scottish hero intent only on achieving Scottish independence. In reality he wasn’t Scottish (he was born in Rome, his father was born in England and his mother was Polish) and his sole aim was to capture the English throne.

There is so much information out there on the internet, there really is no excuse for any writer not getting the facts right.

In case you are wondering, I loved the time I spent living and working in Scotland and I feel that those writers who get the country’s history wrong do the people of Scotland a gross disservice.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

To be recognised as a writer.

To date, I am standing on a low rung of a very long ladder, but I am on it and that gives me a sense of satisfaction. Of course I want to climb higher, but I am under no illusions about the difficulties that entails. For the present, let me enjoy holding in my hands a book I have written, let me enjoy counting myself amongst the world’s congregation of writers.

How do you intend to achieve this climb to the top?

I have been published mainly by small presses: BeWrite Books in the UK and Lachesis Publishing in Canada. They are both excellent organisations and I have nothing but warm feelings and praise for all involved in both companies. But, as a dispassionate writer, I still harbour that spark of hope that I might one day strike lucky and get my work recognised big time.

How do I deal with it?

I attend writers’ conferences and writers’ workshops with feelings of optimism that one day I will meet an agent or wealthy publisher who will look favourably upon my writing. My problem will then be in dealing with the inevitable feelings of guilt at leaving behind the good people who gave me a start in my writing career.

Possibly related books:

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Related articles:
  • David Hough [Interview], By Penelope Jensen, INside Authors, January 2008
  • David Hough [Interview_1], Conversations with Writers, October 5, 2007

Monday, April 5, 2010

[Interview_2] Gail McFarland

African-American contemporary romance author, Gail McFarland has written and published seven novels, among them, Lady Killer (Domhan Books, 2003); All For Love (Lulu.com, 2006); and Dream Runner (Genesis Press, 2008).

Her work has also been featured in the anthologies, Bouquet (Pinnacle Books, 1998) and Can a Sistah Get Some Love? (Lady Leo Publishing, 2010) and includes the ebook, If Ever (Lady Leo Publishing, 2009).

In this interview, Gail McFarland talks about her latest novel, Dream Keeper (Genesis Press, 2009):

What motivated you to start working on the novel?

I have to say that it was a combination of love for the characters and curiosity.

I had barely written the last words of Dream Runner before I began wondering about the rest of the story -- well, that and the characters started to “haunt” me.

I also got tons of emails and letters asking (actually demanding!) to know about Rissa and Dench.

How would you describe Dream Keeper?

Here’s hoping that I did an absolutely brilliant job on Dream Runner, and readers will remember Rissa and Dench …

Dream Keeper begins about five years later, and we find that Rissa and Dench are now married and enjoy a nearly perfect marriage. Though neither of them would ask for more in a mate, Dench was raised by an aunt and has no other family, while Rissa had both parents and her much loved brother. Knowing that the connection of family has always been one of Dench’s deep desires, Rissa wants a baby for them, and when she finds herself pregnant she is sure that their dreams are about to be fulfilled.

But when she loses the baby, she’s faced with anger, depression, and obsession. Dench has always been the man for her, and he is the man who would walk through fire for her, but is he man enough to hold on to her? And will a baby ever make three?

How did the idea behind Dream Keeper come about?

Oddly, it just sort of slipped up and ambushed me.

Rissa and Dench are secondary characters in Dream Runner, and I thought that was where they would stay, but they had other ideas, and thoughts of Dream Keeper were born. In writing, they grew and began to develop themselves in my thoughts and I liked them and their connection enough to know that they would have a story of their own.

As for the loss of a child and infertility issues, I work in wellness/fitness and have had to follow clients through somewhat similar circumstances, and it was something I wanted to view more intimately. In my thoughts, Rissa and Dench had the kind of connection that would help a couple survive and thrive through that kind of situation -- and Dream Keeper is the result.

How would you describe the process that went into creating and producing the novel?

Because I am a traditionally published author, one of my biggest issues could have been convincing a publisher that Dream Keeper was worthy of the money and effort that would go into producing it. Happily, my publisher (Genesis Press) loved the story as much as I did and has been very supportive.

It helped that Rissa and Dench were clearly a couple at the end of Dream Runner, so that left me looking at who and what they were destined to become. With that in mind, I began with a simple outline -- a blank page where I listed the things that I could see happening to them over a period of months and years. By the time I got to item # 20, and knew that I could continue, I knew that I had a story that could be fully developed and passionately written.

I used my initial outline as the skeleton for the story. The items I had initially listed became the framework for chapters that I could move into logical patterns and build upon.

Ultimately, the framework allowed me to develop the characters and their story.

How did you know when and where to stop?

This is a hard one … Like most writers, there is always one more line, or just a little more to tell.

And, yes, I am the woman who once tried to talk the postman into giving a manuscript back because I thought of something I wanted to add.

But the reality is that every story must come to an end, and you have to give your baby a chance to stand on its own.

For me, this is where the outline is an invaluable tool. If an item, or a story detail doesn’t fit into the timeframe, locations, or other dictates of the outline, it’s out -- and you have to be very definite about it!

How long did it take you to write Dream Keeper?

Every minute of four months -- this was an almost non-stop project.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that went into the novel?

The hardest thing for me was the chronology. Keeping things in order is hard enough in the real world where we rely on things like clocks and calendars to keep us straight, but to have to set up separate calendars, and then go back and re-read both the first book and its notes in order to outline and plot the third book was … difficult, confusing, and way too much fun, because I learned a lot in the process.

I am, by nature, process-oriented. This doesn’t mean neat or organized, so I had to learn a whole new set of skills to cope with organizing the information and developing the characters in and for Dream Keeper.

What did you enjoy most about the work that went into the novel?

I don’t know if I ever shared the fact that I am an only child.

One of the things I enjoy most in life is watching the interaction between siblings, and Dream Keeper gave me a chance to not only watch, but to manipulate the relationships between siblings, friends, and lovers, to my satisfaction.

How different is this novel from other books you have written?

Dream Keeper, like all of my other books is an African-American contemporary romance.

It is different from my other work because it is the first sequel I have written. I usually write single-titles, meaning that each story is completely told in one book, and my characters do not usually overlap books, even when their locales coincide -- but this time was different. I found Marlea and AJ, and Rissa and Dench to be passionate, compelling, real, and likeable -- to an extent, I felt obligated to finish their story.

Was this by accident or by design?

Dream Keeper was an initial accident, but has ultimately become part of the story design.

What are your plans for the future?

I will be a contributor to Can a Sistah Get Some Love? -- a romantic anthology from Lady Leo Press (February, 2010). My story, “The Twentieth Century Fox” will be one of four in the volume, and I can promise enough sighs and smiles to keep everybody reading.

And, if I did my job well in writing Dream Runner, readers will remember bad girl Bianca Coltrane -- and she was very, very bad. But I believe in redemption, and will be sharing her story in a new novel, Wayward Dreams (June, 2010). Without offering a “spoiler”, I can tell you that fate has a lot in store for her on the way to love.

Possibly related books:

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Related articles:

Friday, April 2, 2010

[Interview] Noah Karrasch

Noah Karrasch is a certified Rolfer and licensed massage therapist.

He teaches core bodywork skills and has recently published a book, entitled Meet Your Body: CORE Bodywork and Rolfing Tools to Release Bodymindcore Trauma (Singing Dragon, 2009).

How did you first become interested in Bodywork and Rolfing?

25 years ago I picked up Ida Rolf's book, Ida Rolf Talks about Rolfing and Physical Reality (Rosemary Feitis & Ida Rolf) for $1. At the time I was a music teacher, but the cover and the concept captured me.

As I read the book, and her quote: "This is the gospel according to Rolf: When gravity gets flowing appropriately through the body, then spontaneously the body heals itself," I was hooked.

Though I had no training or inclination in this area, I immediately resonated and knew I wanted to learn her work. Within a year, circumstances allowed me to pursue the training in Boulder, Colorado. I've been employed as a bodyworker, and more recently as a teacher of bodywork since that time.

What are the main benefits that bodymindcore work can offer people?

Years back one client sent me a beautiful card after her work that said, "Thank you for giving me my body back."

Though many clients come for symptom relief from back, neck, or foot pain; fibromyalgia; as an adjunct to other therapies; or many other reasons -- my belief is that all of us are wound too tightly and holding on to old traumas down to our core layer. If I can touch someone's core experience and convince them to breathe and release old trauma, everything in their life becomes freer and better.

Ida Rolf suggested -- and I agree -- that it's less important to change symptoms and more important to allow people to find balance in their lives so the symptoms can disappear. So CORE work intends to give people a greater sense of who they are and how they go into the larger world.

What do you hope people will take from your book?

First, I hope they will learn to believe they're in charge of their own body and process, and start to treat their bodymindcore appropriately.

Second, I hope they will find practical and useful information that will allow them to learn to operate more efficiently and joyfully in their own body.

Without beating people over the head with my ideas, I hope everyone can find within the pages, specific ideas that can allow them to make profound changes in their world with simple awarenesses and exercises.

I want us all to move more freely and joyfully through our lives.

What or who most inspires you?

The new president of the United States inspires me for his ability to listen to alternate viewpoints without getting defensive. The American people inspire me for their choice of him to assume the office.

My father-in-law, an 85-year-old who is still out making friends and saying 'yes' to new experiences, inspires me to remember to stay open and enthused about all aspects of life; even those that at first appear negative.

The challenges of the times -- financial, environmental and personal -- inspire me to remember to stay grateful for everything that comes my way.

What are you reading at the moment?

I've just finished several light reads of British mysteries ... those are always fun for me since I visit England so often these days, and recognize many locales.

I just finished a Ken Follett book about medieval England, and enjoy historical fictions from nearly any era or location. I'm planning to revisit the Colleen McCullough series on Rome soon -- she's perhaps my favorite author for her extensive research and her ability to create such vivid characters.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

This interview was first published in the Singing Dragon Newsletter in January 2009

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

Dr Susan Shumsky [Interview], Conversations with Writers, May 14, 2007