Monday, June 21, 2010

[Interview] Annette Wellings

Annette Wellings is a Pilates instructor who suffers from major scoliosis.

She began exploring different ways of keeping her body flexible and healthy whilst working as a linguist and artist in Australia and subsequently, she retrained in rehabilitation Pilates.

Her book, Curves, Twists and Bends: A Practical Guide to Pilates for Scoliosis (Singing Dragon, 2009), looks at how scoliosis sufferers can benefit from the practice of Pilates.

How did you first find out about Pilates?

While working as a linguist and an artist in Australia and Fiji, I became increasingly aware of my body becoming more hunched and painful with scoliosis.

By the time I was about 35, my spine was rigid and my torso was becoming increasingly twisted.

I realised that I needed to do something and explore options, instead of passively sitting by and lamenting the ‘degeneration’ of the spine.

I began exploring different ways of keeping my body flexible and healthy, and I discovered Pilates.

How easy is Pilates to learn for the complete beginner?

The beauty of Pilates is its simplicity and versatility.

Essentially it is a gentle form of exercise that is constantly adjusted and moulded to suit the particular needs of the individual.

For the complete beginner, it is important to go to a good qualified teacher who understands your condition.

Pilates is a subtle process and, like many effective exercise programmes, it requires time and focus in developing a mind-body awareness. Rather than instant gratification or a quick-fix, it bears gradual profound benefits over time.

Your new book Curves, Twists and Bends looks at how scoliosis sufferers can benefit from the practice of Pilates. How can Pilates complement traditional rehabilitation medicine?

Whether individuals have opted for surgery or not, it is vital that people with scoliosis (particularly severe curvatures) keep the spine and body as healthy, supple and lengthened as possible.

Pilates provides gentle exercises that can help improve flexibility, posture and alignment, and lengthening.

Pilates can be particularly useful for scoliosis, by teaching how to move and engage separate muscle groups. This can help tease out asymmetrical patterns of muscle use, encouraging the strengthening of weak underdeveloped muscles, and breaking down the dominant bossy muscles which develop on one side of the torso.

While surgery focuses on straightening out the spinal curvature, it is important to highlight that Pilates exercises are not designed to restructure the spine. Their purpose is to encourage flexibility and length, and enable the body and spine to be as healthy and supple as possible. As such, Pilates is suited to all people with scoliosis. The basic exercise movements can then be modified and developed more precisely to suit the particular shape of an individual curvature.

Your co-author Alan Herdman suggests that the message of Pilates is ‘Quality not Quantity’. How often would a typical scoliosis sufferer need to practice Pilates to feel the benefit?

Alan is right. Pilates requires you to be mindful and put time and effort into any programme, particularly if you’ve got scoliosis.

To get full effect and benefits, two to three times a week is a great start.

Including it as part of your everyday lifestyle is ideal.

There is no quick fix for scoliosis, and it’s good to put in consistent time and focus over the long term, learning and listening to your body.

In the book you look at different strategies for living with scoliosis. As a sufferer yourself, what is the best advice you can give to other people living with this condition?

First, accept your scoliosis and recognise that it makes you unique. It is a symbol of your individuality.

Get information about your curvature, so that you understand and are aware of what your scoliosis involves (e.g. location, size and type of curve).

You should explore options available for treating your scoliosis and keeping your body strong, lengthened and flexible.

It’s important to make yourself a health care plan for life, including adequate rest, a healthy diet, and a gentle regular exercise routine to keep the body as supple and healthy as possible.

Think length. It’s wise to avoid movements and circumstances which jolt or compress the spine.

In short, let go and listen to your body. Accept, observe and explore your condition with curiosity.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

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

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

[Interview] Bryony Rheam

Bryony Rheam is a Zimbabwean writer.

Her short stories have been featured in anthologies that include Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III; Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe (‘amaBooks, 2008); Laughing Now (Weaver Press, 2007), and Women Writing Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2008).

Her first novel, This September Sun was released from 'amaBooks in 2009.

In this interview, Bryony Ream talks about her writing:

How would you describe your novel, This September Sun?

This September Sun is a mystery/romance novel. It may have a deeper meaning and could be read as having post-colonial undercurrents, but that was not the main reason why I wrote it.

It's about a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe who longs for a more exciting life elsewhere. She returns to Zimbabwe from the UK when her grandmother is murdered and is forced to face some hard truths about her family history.

The novel begins on the day Zimbabwe gets its Independence from Britain and it charts the changes, both good and bad in Zimbabwe over the next 25 or so years.

The main character, Ellie, struggles to find an identity for herself in a country where she feels increasingly sidelined. She never really feels she fits in in Britain either.

What would you say was the aim behind your writing the novel?

To tell a story.

Perhaps also to express something of myself. I'm very much like Ellie - I don't feel I fit in anywhere in particular.

Who is your target audience?

I suppose it would be Zimbabweans of my age group, but it seems to have appealed to a wide range of people of varying age groups and racial backgrounds.

I do feel my own age group and those younger than me don't really have a 'voice' which represents us. A lot of Zimbabwean writing has centred on the war, but if you were born within the last 35 years, the war doesn't have so much relevance.

For people of my generation, we tended to be brought up on stories of the war and I feel the older generation want to hang on to the bitterness and loss associated with it ... It holds you back from looking forward and living in a present which isn't weighed down with racial politics ... I think my generation would like to live 'normal' lives, not worrying about the legacy of the past.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Many people think that This September Sun is a true story, but it isn't.

I do draw on personal experience, but can quite honestly say that no event is absolutely true in the novel and no character is a true copy of someone I have met in real life.

Which authors influenced you most?

I think Graham Greene and Virginia Woolf.

I love the way Greene writes a story that indirectly raises lots of philosophical questions. I like the stream of consciousness style of writing of Woolf's and how the smallest things have the greatest significance.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is to tell a good story, one that makes you think and one that you get so involved in, that the characters live on beyond the closed book. I don't want to get bogged down with delivering a specific message.

I really enjoy writing and feel such a sense of accomplishment when I have finished something.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

At the moment, I have a full-time job and two young children. There isn't much time for writing in my life!

I also feel that the western publishing world is suspicious of white fiction writers from Africa. It would be easier for me to write my memoirs!

I think that western publishers feel that white writers cannot possibly give an 'authentic' view of Africa. The West tends to see famine, wars and AIDS as 'Africa' and feel uncomfortable about publishing stories of middle class people who are not struggling to survive.

I think this is because the West still carries the 'white man's guilt'. They also have a certain idea of Africa and want that image to be fulfilled.

I actually find African readers and publishers far more sympathetic. I have been really pleased to receive so many positive comments about my writing from black readers.

When did you start writing?

Ever since I was a child I've been writing something.

I stilll have a little book of stories that I wrote when I was about 11 about a dog called Merlin. I always dreamed of being published and used to send stories off to various publishing houses which, of course, were turned down at that stage.

I started writing short stories in my early 20s. At the end of 2002, I saw 'amaBooks' advert looking for short stories for their first anthology, Short Writings from Bulawayo, and I sent off "The Queue", a story I had started writing a couple of years earlier.

"The Queue" is about an elderly white woman who cannot cope with the circumstances in which she is living. She has to deal with petrol queues, rapid inflation and just the general difficulty of living in Zimbabwe if you have little money. She thinks back on her life and tries to come to terms with her loneliness - her son lives in Australia and her husband is in a home as he has Alzheimer's. The story ends with the woman's death.

Do you write everyday?

I wish I did!

I write very erratically.

I lack discipline, I'm afraid!

What motivated you to start and keep working on This September Sun?

I was in London having a conversation with two friends. One of them happened to mention that at Independence, the British flag was burned at Brady Barracks. Thus, the first line was born!

After that I joined a writing group. It was great having a weekly deadline to meet. I am not very disciplined on my own though and after I left Singapore, which is where I had joined the writing group, I became lazy and wouldn't write as often.

It was only when my daughter was born that I began to write again - every time she went to sleep! I did a lot then and then I had a couple of weeks when I was by myself and I used to sit for hours and write. I was determined to finish it.

It took me about 10 years to write the novel.

The parts of the novel which are set in the 1940s and 50s were the hardest to write as I had to get all the historical details correct. I did a lot of research to get them right.

I actually enjoyed the research the most as I really loved hearing all the interesting stories people had to tell. I learnt a lot - like the fact that you could buy wonderful ice cream in Abyssinia during the Second World War!

The novel was published in Bulawayo at the end of 2009. I knew Jane and Brian of 'amaBooks as they had published my short stories previously.

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

My short stories deal more directly with the political situation in Zimbabwe, whereas the political situation is more in the background in my novel.

The novel is similar to the short stories in that it's about relationships between people and how we are all products of our environment.

How would you compare writing short stories to writing novels? Is the process the same?

It's completely different, although I still have to manage to write a short short story - I tend to write rather long ones!

It's easier to write the short stories because you can get to 'the point' more easily.

What will your next book be about?

It's going to be a murder, also set in Bulawayo, but this time it's a murder that will have to be investigated and the murderer discovered.

How many books have you written so far?

Just the one book, This September Sun, published by 'amaBooks in 2009.

I've also had short stories published in the following anthologies:What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Having This September Sun published. It was a major achievement for me!

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Friday, June 11, 2010

[Featured Author] Peter Tomlinson

Pigeon Holes Are For The Birds
by Alexander James

Peter Tomlinson put his literary life on the line when he turned his back on the genre stereotypes agents, publishers and retailers love to slot into their gold-lined pigeonholes – and he’s never looked back.

After bravely ploughing an independent furrow in a field of his own, the first two novels in his Petronicus Legacy series have already been released and the third in the trilogy is under contract and its first draft is complete.

But even with a solid reputation as the author of nearly 300 poems in eighty poetry and short story magazines in the UK and abroad, the path less trodden – avoiding all genre models – was no easy route for Peter.

Mainstream houses turned down flat his first four novels and two one-act plays because they didn’t fit neatly into their well-ordered catalogues.

Only when he submitted his fifth novel to an independent press with a more open mind did he pique interest … and not only interest in that book; the publishers were so impressed that they immediately offered a three-book deal for Peter to get to work on following his 80,000-word The Stones of Petronicus, with The Time of Kadrik and The Voyages of Delticos to make up a series.

And, said Peter at his home in rural Shropshire:
There are heavy hints that the series won’t end with a mere trilogy.

You see, each book is absolutely self-contained; the lead characters in each are different, but descendents of characters past, the time setting is different, but is the result of times past, the situations are different, but are extensions of situations past … there’s a common thread of development that bonds them. Making up history as I go along means that I could tie together as many Petronicus books as life allows me to write.
It’s as though Peter developed a genre of his own when he took his first character, Petronicus the scribe, and placed him in a time and country that, ‘real world’ as it is, can’t be identified … but which is, certainly, a million miles from the land of fantasy.

He said:
There were times when I felt I was getting nowhere as publisher after publisher told me they just weren’t interested in me if I couldn’t produce a book that would fit their lists so that they could easily identify a target readership for the marketing boys and retailers. But I was determined to go my own way.

So I lowered my sights from the major publishing houses and looked around for a reputable small independent. I found BeWrite Books and we just seemed to click. Far from being frightened off by the fact that the book fitted no established genre, they not only went for it, they immediately signed me up for two follow-ups.

Stones of Petronicus came out last year, Time of Kadrik was published in the spring, and I’ve just completed the first draft of Voyages of Delticos for a winter release. Together, they’ll make up the trilogy, The Petronicus Legacy.

The novels are not typecast in the mode of conventional adventure/historical fiction; the location, characters and civilisations described are entirely fictitious. I take readers into places they have never been before and to meet characters they will meet again only in their dreams … or maybe their nightmares, as one reviewer put it.

The first book follows the theme of a perpetual search for truth and the nature of human existence. All the books explore the relationships between old and young as they complement each other through interaction of enquiring and often precocious youth and the steadier, more experienced wisdom of the elder.

There is no conflict between them except, at times, some understandable impatience. Together they face great dangers as horror and wickedness descends on their idyllic world, and here we see how the combination of youthful energy and mature wisdom triumphs.

But never could the work be labelled ‘fantasy’, in spite of a touch of the mystical and the introduction of some pretty fabulous creatures. My characters have no magical powers and they face purely human struggles in an earthly landscape. The result is education in its purest form.

And it couldn’t be written off as ‘adventure’ because so much of the adventure is of the mind. It’s not ‘historical’ because there’s no factual framework. And it couldn’t get by under that vague and confusing ‘literary’ banner because … well, because there’s always a beginning, a middle and an end to the stories.

The books couldn’t even be classified in terms of potential readership; they would appeal as much to young people as to mature adults, as much to a female as a male audience. And if there’s the slightest whiff of ‘coming-of-age’ (another genre these days), you’d be hard pressed to say whether the coming-of-age applies to a young character, an old character or even a whole civilisation.

In Petronicus, for example, we have the young apprentice to life learning at the side of the master craftsman as the two main characters journey through the joys and tragedies of their lives together.

Sure, I can understand why it is my books would confound publishers whose first question is ‘what genre?’ But I wasn’t about to compromise my work to squeeze it into a narrowly defined slot to suit commercial trends.
Although there is conflict and great danger in the lives of the principal characters, Peter avoids falling into the trap of relying on gratuitous violence to carry the story along. The writing creates vivid images in the minds of his readers and he often crafts his writing in terms of acts and scenes in a visual drama.

Perhaps unusually for an author, he is predominantly an ‘imager’ and this visualisation – actually being an eye witness to what he creates – is demonstrated in his writing.

He has often said that reading is better than watching film; the scenery is better.

In his second novel, The Time of Kadrik, which is set in the same fictional landscape, 10 generations later, Peter casts his players onto a much wider canvas. Here we are introduced to different characters in a different time. The principal player is Kadrik who we follow from boyhood into maturity as he is forced by catastrophic circumstance to question the beliefs on which the survival of his community depends.

With only his wife to support and encourage him, Kadrik lives through several lonely years until his fate is decided by an inescapable imperative and a resolve that comes to dominate his life. In order to save his community from complete collapse, the very young Kadrik must embark on a perilous journey both geographical and intellectual. He undertakes this journey in the company of three unlikely companions: a nameless outcast and two members of a mysterious humanoid species known as the Men Half Made.

Peter insists:
Even so, I avoid straying into the realms of fantasy.
The ‘quest’ is a very human endeavour toward human goals. The Men Half Made are not mythological mermaids; they’re merely an earthly breed apart. And, although I draw heavily on a lifetime of historical research, there can be no confusion between the books in this series and a historical novel because of the way I’ve used what I’ve learned to create an entirely new and fictitious historical base.
I’ve travelled widely to research the backdrop to my scenes. But, again, I’ve used what I’ve learned to create a new reality rather than a Neverland.
A reader might occasionally think he’s worked out where in the world the characters are playing out their roles – but he’ll soon find that he’s mistaken.”
BeWrite Books editor, Neil Marr, said:
One of the beauties of being an independent press, driven by factors that are by no means entirely commercial, is that we have the freedom to experiment with work that doesn’t necessarily fit some tried and tested, money-spinning formula.

Peter’s books break new ground – and that’s their problem in the mainstream where genre is all important. Big-business houses – their marketing departments and their retailers – are tied to established best-selling formulas to keep afloat. A small independent like BB is free of those restrictions.

In the end, it’s the reader who benefits.
Peter’s work is consistently at the top of our ‘most reviewed’ lists. Readers who read the first couldn’t wait for the next … and already, we’re getting emails from people desperate to know when the next will be available.
These books are fresh, you see. There’s nothing else like them out there.
Peter’s road to print was long, winding and frequently pot-holed.

Born in a working class district of Merseyside, UK six months before the outbreak of World War II, he retains some hazy memories of the blitz he lived through.
I vaguely remember my mother cradling me in a blanket and telling me that the ‘all clear’ would be heard soon and we would be safe again.
His father joined the Royal Navy and served throughout the war on destroyers and mine-layers, returning home in 1945 a virtual stranger to Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter was evacuated with his mother and elder brother to a remote hill farm in North Wales to escape the blitz, and that is where his vivid memory begins.
I well remember the sheepdog and the farm animals and I have a pictorial recollection of being left on the edge of the field whilst my mother helped the farmers with haymaking.
There is also a recurring infant memory of a distant mountain that seemed very remote and mysterious.
There was no electricity, gas or piped water in the family’s evacuation home so that much time was spent collecting wood for the fire. Whilst in the safety of North Wales they knew that their home town was being heavily bombed and that relatives were in constant danger. It was inevitable that the anxieties their mother felt were inadvertently transmitted to her children.

When the war ended, the family was re-housed back on Merseyside in one of the emergency prefabricated houses (prefabs) on a cleared bomb site opposite a pawn shop. Peter received the minimum education and often ran wild with other kids in the wasteland of bombed-out buildings and post-war dereliction.

He has only two clear memories of his junior schooling: fear of being wrong and the embarrassment of a recurring stutter, a disability suffered by many wartime children. Perhaps this early communication difficulty led him to retreat into his own imagination.

It was during his brief secondary schooling that his interest in storytelling began. Often, when the teacher was engaged in administrative tasks, Peter was called out to stand in front and tell the class a story. It was terrifying at first, but he gradually mastered his stutter and enjoyed the task. This happened so often that making up stories on the spur of the moment became second nature to him.

He left school aged 15 and worked briefly in a shipyard before finding a job as a telegraph boy at an American Cable Company’s station in Liverpool. They trained him as an operator and taught him the telegraph man’s economy and precision in the use of language. They also trained him to touch type, a skill useful to an author. In fact he can still type as fast as he can speak.

His main recreational interest at the time was mountaineering and rock climbing. He associated with a group of free-spirited, rebellious young people who regularly hitch-hiked to North Wales, slept in old barns and tents that fell down whenever the wind blew, and involved themselves in poetry, heavy drinking and deep discussions by candlelight.

Peter was a very early member of the Cavern Club in Liverpool. But these carefree years ended at the age of 18 with conscription into the British Army. Peter resented the curtailment of his freedom and the discipline, bull and homesickness played heavily on him. Years later he published a poem recalling those feelings:
Conscription 1958-60

Barracked and confined
in drab wooden huts
with the smoke of cheap cigarettes,
smells of adolescent sweat
and scant privacy.

Tethered to an unfamiliar routine,
a world of harsh discipline,
contrived discomfort
and coarse khaki roughening skin,
chasing any kind word or praise
amidst insults and humiliations
embarrassingly endured.

Cold, always cold
in those slow, homesick,
day-counting weeks
in alien Catterick.

An ache filled the space
where our freedom once was,
where fettered youth could no longer run.

Then ranked in tight marching order
and dispatched as props for a dying empire
with mum’s fears, dad’s knowing eye
and daft words like: ‘It does them good’.

© Peter Tomlinson – first published in Reach Magazine
As a wireless operator, Peter spent 18 months in Cyprus. It was here that his serious interest in poetry really began. It was often too dangerous for young soldiers to venture far from their army camp but he was able to wander freely in the nearby deserted ruins of an ancient Greek city and give his vivid imagination free rein. Often he put his thoughts on paper and years later he worked these into published poems.

Another three or four carefree years passed after demobilisation before he went to college and university and pursued an academic career.

After early retirement, he worked for a few years as a cultural guide overseas, leading tours on foot in Rome, Venice, Florence, Assisi, Verona, Istanbul etc. What he saw and what he learned was to find its way into the fictional land he created for Petronicus and his descendents.

Since achieving his ambition to take time to write, he has published hundreds of poems in scores of magazines. Success came to him when Bluechrome published his first commercially produced poetry collection Tunnels of the Mind, which received favourable reviews.

In an effort to present even more work to readers, his wife, Margaret, suggested self-publishing under their own imprint, Hengist Enterprises. This launched four collections of poetry, two collections of short stories and two collections of original epigrams.

Peter read his poetry at numerous poetry festivals. At the Oxford Poetry Festival he had a chance conversation with a friend, the well known British author and poet, Sam Smith, who suggested submitting work to his own publisher, Bewrite Books.

Neil Marr – who edits both Peter and Sam’s work for BeWrite Books – said:
It was a fortuitous meeting. Sam is another author whose writing refuses to be pigeon-holed. It courageously crosses genre lines or, like Peter’s, absolutely defies all genre definition.

The sheer scope of Peter’s books is breath-taking. He’s the only author I know who can produce an epic in a tight 80,000 words.
Many of Peter’s ideas for poems and novels come to him whilst he roams wild and lonely places; the Shropshire hills and forests, the mountains of North Wales, the Lake District and the Alps. He finds that the restful rhythm of solitary walking removes his thoughts from the futile imperatives of modern life and provides an easy conduit for ideas to flow into his receptive mind.

His wife Margaret acts as an at-home editor, paying meticulous attention to his manuscripts, ensuring clarity, correct use of grammar and making sure a good clean copy is sent to his publishers.

Margaret says:
After we’ve had breakfast and discussed our plans for the day, Peter settles down to the intensive daily writing session. He is very self-disciplined about this and not even the lure of a visit to the supermarket can drag him away. Slips of paper with cryptic words litter the house as ideas enter Peter’s head and he scribbles them down before forgetting them. This can happen at awkward times: I’ve even found messages on the loo roll!

He freely admits to living in a dream world and it can be disconcerting living with a daydreamer. Not only does he forget important things I’ve told him, but he forgets what he’s told me. Is this the onset of senility or the flame of genius burning bright?

Despite these drawbacks, I think that Peter’s writing has drawn us closer. I am full of admiration for his creativity and feel privileged to be involved in the process, especially when we discuss ideas and language, although the dots and commas department is where I really feel important.

Entering into the dream world is the best of all: during our recent travels to Iceland and Greenland we were both fired with delight at recognising scenes from Petronicus – the Land of the Towering Rocks, the Land of the Bubbling Mud, the Mountains that hold up the Sky. Peter had created them in his mind before we saw for ourselves that they actually existed in the real world.
This interview first appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine

Possibly related books:

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Related articles
  • Peter Tomlinson [Interview], Conversations with Writers, November 19, 2007
  • Sam Smith [Interview], Conversations with Writers, November 5, 2007
  • Neil Marr [Interview_1], Conversations with Writers, November 5, 2009

Thursday, June 10, 2010

[Interview: 2 of 2] M. A. Walters

In an earlier interview, science fiction, horror novelist and short story writer, M. A. Walters talked about his collection of short stories, A Flourish of Damage and other Tales (Sonar4 Publications, 2010).

M. A. Walters now talks about the influences he draws on as a writer:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I would say it’s a mix. I think I jump across genre lines pretty freely. I think most of my current work is a combination of science fiction, horror, and speculative fiction.

I kind of have to think the writer Nina M. Osier for that. She writes in the sci-fi genre and seemed to think it might be a good fit for me. She is a good teacher. Also, she was subtle. I felt it was OK to try on the genre and it was a great fit.

Who is your target audience?

I try and be inclusive on purpose. For example, I try and write strong, interesting and flawed characters that will appeal to many personalities.

I try and hook the reader and keep them moving. I want them both entertained and challenged.

People have told me that I write strong and interesting women. Which is funny to me because women are still a mystery to me. I thought it a stupid notion to cut out half the world’s population by only writing for men. For example, women are quickly discovering science fiction today. They are joining the sciences and I think they offer some intuitive wisdom even there in the hard sciences. They have been solidly in the horror realm for a good while, since what, Mary Shelley, which is horror but also an early sci-fi theme.

I hope my work appeals across genres and across gender. For example, Jian, the lead character in the first book of the Minders series is a very strong, powerful and complex women. She really ended up being the lead. I did not plan it that way at all. She took over but made the book better for doing so.

Of course, the same applies for the male characters. I mention women because I’ve gone out of my way to include them in the sf genre by looking at them as potential readers.

If you just want a good adventure story, I think you will want to give my work a look. If you are a horror, sf, or speculative reader, the same also.

I attempt to be inclusive. I think, even a mystery or thriller reader would enjoy some of my work. At least I’d like to think so.

Which authors influenced you most?

The truth is ... and this is what I think makes my work a bit unique ... a lot of my influences come from outside my genre.

I see the influence of some surrealistic poets, for one, in the way I string sentences together and sometimes unusual word combinations and the way I piece environment together.

For me, environment is the biggest character in a story. I learned that from F. Herbert.

As for the others, these are people I’ve not read for a long time but the poetry and internal world is still there. Writers like Paul Bowels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Pablo Neruda. They all wrote the interior world very well. At the same time, their eyes were piercing, in the awake sense. You could see through their eyes, in new ways, the ordinary world.

It’s strange, but there is poetry in every thing if seen very clearly. There are violent explosive episodes in my work, but there is an odd poetry and beauty there also. Perhaps because so much is at stake in those moments. I want the reader to feel that. I want them to be tense and uncomfortable.

There is a fight scene in the "Rocks Beneath" and there is so much at stake in that moment, the whole book has been driving you there as the tension mounts. You are so invested in the character by that time and more than just the life of those two individuals is at stake. After a friend read that passage, he said he was exhausted and that he hated one of the characters. Actually hated them.

That meant I had succeeded in my venture.

It was the biggest compliment I’ve received thus far.

The point is, I really did not discover my genre until about 10 years ago. Friends tried to get me to read the Ring Series, Tolkien’s work. I said, "Isn’t that for kids, like teen stories?"

One day, I picked it up and was completely pulled in, completely sucked in and I never looked back. That’s a good point on horror writing, I think.

Throughout Tolkien’s work you see the influences that haunted him from World War I: the trench warfare is there; the deep friendships and the harshness; the senseless death ... I’ve heard others say this also. I think it is true and a very strong feature of his work.

From there I discovered Frank Herbert’s Dune, and later the work that continued through Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

Lovecraft is also there in some work. Like in "After the Fall, the Remnant". Which is outlined to continue and become a full novel, perhaps my next.

I think I need a break from the Minders.

Bradbury, he was a man so far ahead of his time. And he could be so nostalgic and sensitive, and yet far out front ahead of his era. And he still is!

I see some Bradbury in "Scraps of Time and Place".

Bradbury is like childhood, terrifying and wonderful at the same time. I’d like to think I capture a little of that from time to time. Stephen King is like this. He knows and understands childhood and the wild things in the closet and the shadows under the bed. He writes remarkable friendships, the ones we carry with us always, from those years.

S. M. Stirling is a contemporary writer I really enjoy. I can’t pen point a particular influence although I aspire towards his battle scenes. He can put those together better than anyone I’m aware of now.

When did you start writing?

When I was between 10 and 12 years old.

People, kids begin to look at the world around that age. Before that we are pretty focused on the self. Well, I began to look around and realized the world did not operate the way I was taught it was suppose to. That view then turns on the self and I realized that I made even less sense. So I began to order things on paper. Back then it was pen and paper and when pen hit paper it was somehow transforming and natural.

Getting published ... that has been a twisted path for me with many pitfalls and detours.

First, I put pen to paper then, sometime later, the thought of sharing arrived slowly.

Writing is a damned scary venture, isn’t it? Sharing what you have written, that’s not for the faint-hearted but, face it, we writers are basically faint-hearted. You can’t have that kind of nature and not be a bit thinned-skinned. It’s like a romantic venture, that moment you put it all on the line.

You eventually learn to tuck your ego away or so I hear -- but it’s raw and takes some courage always.

I started by letting a few people I trusted look at my work, but that was much later. I was in the process then of deciding this is what I want to do. I always keep returning to that.

I started as a poet, believe it or not. And I did publish in that genre in this anthology or that one right away. The poetry came much later when I was in college, as did the short stories ... I took those genres up seriously in my early 20’s. Before that is was snippets, patches of stories, a half poem, it was mostly journal type entries. But it began there.

Strangely and odd enough I was not heavy reader until college.

It was like a dormant part of me woke up and woke up at a full gallop. I’ve been catching up ever since.

It was an English teacher and I was terrified of him, anyone with sense was! First day of class there was like 37 people, mostly unknowing freshmen packed into his little class that had about 12 chairs.

We were spilled all over the floor and standing in corners.

He was a tall lean Scotsman with a big white beard and wore a little red beret and the same old brown wrinkled corduroy sport coat everyday. I think that coat was much older than I was.

We were all squirming and quietly asking each other, "What’s up?"

We knew this was not the norm.

He looked up and his eyes seemed to impale each of us. You knew there was no corner deep enough to hide in! In fact, we quickly learned not to sit in those corners anyway.

He quietly said, "If you are worried about having a seat don’t be. There will be plenty of seats soon enough. By the end of week there will be 12 to 15 of you left. Fewer of those will survive before to the end of semester."

Then he roared with the loudest belly laugh I’ve heard before or since. I once, many years later, heard that laugh in the back of a darkened theater and instantly said, "That is Mr. Moore." He was always Mr. to me even after we became friends. He was my first teacher in every sense of the word.

Well, Mr. Moore pointed to the door with his chin and said, "If you want to leave, now is a good time to do so because the door will soon be locked, as it will be every day the moment class begins. There are no latecomers here."

Those with good sense bolted for the door and he politely told them all goodbye and said thanks for coming.

Truth is, I think, I was too scared to leave.

Afterwards, I told my girlfriend of the time, "I can’t do this class. This is not for me."

She looked at me and said simply, "I think you have to if you want to write."

Well, long story made short, I survived the first week, and I survived the entire semester.

I took every class he offered, in fact.

I never walked in that room at ease, though. It was like a confrontation with a Zen master. There was the feeling that anything could happen in that room. Yet through all this, he was the most respectful person I have ever met.

He was not mean, ever. He was stern, and he was caring. But it was the kind of kindness that strips away falseness.

If you ever, and I did, say something glib or false you were ablaze in your seat instantly.

But it was always Mr. Walters, Ms. So-and-so. It was the first time most of us were treated as adults.

OK, so I did the bravest thing I think I had ever done up to that point. At mid-term, I quietly slipped a large envelope of probably 200 poems on his desk.

I was so frightened I could not talk. I just slipped it there on my rush to the door.

He never said a word about it.

I’m laughing here.

But the very last day of class, he said, "Mr. Walters, I believe this is yours."

I picked up the same envelope and neither of us said anything.

I thought, "Oh, crap, he did not even bother to look at them."

Lol.

I was mistaken.

I got home and realized every single poem was littered with red and blue ink. He had thoughtfully commented on each poem.

That was the beginning ... somehow.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

[Interview: 1 of 2] M. A. Walters

Maine, New England resident, M. A. Walters is a science fiction, horror novelist and short story writer.

His work includes the collection of short stories, A Flourish of Damage and other Tales, which is available as an e-book from Sonar4 Publications.

In this interview, M. A. Walters talks about his writing:

How long did it take you to come up with A Flourish of Damage?

It took a year to knock the shorts out while working on two novels. Sonar4 is the publisher. They are small but vigorous with solid heads and work ethics behind them. They are smart. I’ve had a chance at a bigger house, but I trust these people and know they will promote me, and I think I have something to offer them also.

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

Dealing with domestic violence and some of the darker sub-currents of our culture.

In a lot of the shorts in this collection I’m pocking around some uncomfortable patches and corners of my self. I got a little too close to the edge a couple times and pulled back. It’s hard not to become the thing we hate at least for moments, the darkness in the world.

When we rally against injustice, I discovered it’s far too easy to become that which we hate. Yet that quick recoil itself is what tells us we are different. The lead character in "Flourish" is all about that very fine line, and it was a challenge to me. How does she take back her life and maintain that humanity?

I’m something of a near pacifist by nature but there is something in me that respond vigorously to blatant abuse and injustice. It’s a deep part of my nature; it’s part of the furniture of my self. It’s not going anywhere, so I accommodate it. I just work with it.

Well, the part of me that is pacifistic and tolerant and who is really a live-and-let-live kind of personality can encounter wrath and rage in myself when the large attack the weak and those that can’t defend themselves.

I used to practice aikido and aikido is a positive paradigm in relating to this inner and outer conflict. But people there take that to one extreme or another also. It’s all peace and light or it’s brutal, either of those points of view is BS in my mind. What there is are circumstances and the response that is proper for that given time. Lock your self into either of those corners and you are in a dangerous place.

People don’t want to think, they want right and wrong answers. There are solid lines that should never be crossed, when crossed you have lost what makes you human and there’s nothing left worth fighting for at that point. Forget that and your culture or person is over, you just don’t realize that yet. I’m very serious on this point. Perhaps I’m just a moralist at heart; oh-well all good horror is moralistic in nature.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you enjoy most?

The writing itself, when it’s pouring through you and you don’t really feel like you are at the wheel, you are something of a watcher and there is something magical there, about that, for lack of a better word ... It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever encountered. It’s addictive.

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

A couple of those stories are a bit too personal for my taste.

Maybe there is a little more of me in a couple stories in that collection than would normally be.

I was pushing the edge a few times there.

A Flourish of Damage and other Tales is similar to other things I have written because I returned to short story format, which was how I essentially saw myself in the past.

I went back to my roots.

Those stories were all written over the last year while I worked on the novels, they were like a breathing break for me.

The novel is an over-whelming experience for me. I like to do it but, frankly, it hurts.

What will your next book be about?

It’s either going to be finishing book two of the Minder series, tentatively titled The Culling, or I’m going to expand After the Fall the Remnant into a novel. I know where that’s going and I think its’ an interesting place. I’m excited to jump in those waters. It’s a very Lovecraft kind of tale, where something ancient and so very different from us suddenly jumps into the present.

We will also have the deal with our own dark-side there because the beings that show up look on us as simple resources, nothing more. It’s a coldness so deep it’s not coldness. That is much more frightening. It’s indifference. This is what we confront in the novel and I’m letting the human race off easily in this one. They will never be the same again, simple as that. The human race is done but evolution still proceeds from that point. Dormant things in the human also wake up; survival and chaos are also a different word for creation, right? I’m excited about this work.

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

Persistence ...

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Mine and those around me also. I always had a strong sense of empathy and saw a good deal of suffering and, yes, that shaped me and it’s there in the work.

I also grew up on the wrong side of the track so to speak. Which is an education in and of itself.

One of my characters from the story, A Flourish of Damage, is a writer and says something like she bleeds all over the pages she writes, because she is hidden there, but hidden well, hopefully. The writer has to step out of the way for things to work and yet still be there.

Remember, at the beginning, I said I began writing at around 10.

I think a lot of us can’t always solve our problems with the world but we become god-like with the pen, don’t we? Some of the injustice and sand traps of the world get solved or at least framed in a different light on paper. It’s a way to deal, to more than deal, to transform something in our selves. At the same time, remember, it’s hopefully just a good story. You have to entertain, never forget that, or, you are doomed. You also can’t make everyone happy, so don’t try. That’s related to what I said above. Be inclusive but don’t try and please all. That’s a foolish venture. I’m young in the business of writing but that seems pretty apparent.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write something, maybe just a blog, even correspondence.

Health does not always allow this. There are many days I simply can’t, but it’s always there, the mind is constantly spinning stories even if I’m sick in bed. In fact, that’s when I tend to crash through difficult parts of a story or character, in that quiet dreamy realm when sick or exhausted. I’ve had crummy health my entire life, in the last few years it’s been much worse. I don’t venture far these days. Which is odd for me as I used to love to travel, to throw myself into strange places and sink or swim.

I ‘think’ it was Proust who also was like this. I read where he said if he had been born healthy he would never have been a writer. I think that might be true for me, I would probably be out hiking and expending energy physically. So, again, there is a positive even to this. I came back to writing from illness. So, I accept this.

I try and make up for it during a good spell. Some days I can’t work. Some I will be here for 12 hours straight. When I can I’m here and I work hard and long. When I can’t, I can’t. As soon as I sit here, it happens, the world recedes around me.

There is something shamanistic about writing. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there. I’m not a TV watcher. This is what I do when I can. I take a nap in the middle of the day then find myself here again if health permits. Ends with some reading and sleep. Yes, reading, my eyes take a beating.

I’ve been away from publishing for many years and am only now seriously thrusting myself into that arena in the last couple years.

Early on, I had a bad agent and bad publishing house miss-adventure. I got very busy afterward and I just walked away from the business until just recently.

I had three books optioned by a medium-sized west coast publishing house. About the time my work was suppose to be coming out the house split and not remotely nicely. Many writers were caught in the middle of all this.

Aside from that, small bits here and there back then. Point is, I’m here now, and I’m seriously here looking at this as a profession. I take the work seriously. Myself as a writer, I hope, less seriously than back in those days.

I’m not often one for quoting my ex-wife, but she said most writers can’t really enter this profession until they hit 40. I think that is pretty accurate. Experience shaped my work and I think at 40 you can look back and see that and throw all that into your work. You have to go through the agony of those early years to do that. You can’t spare people from that, I don’t think.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Easy, I’m dyslexic, and not mildly so. This is why I was not a good reader until college, not that I’m good now. I was un-diagnosed before this. I read, and edit profoundly slowly but I write quickly, thankfully! It is a painful process for me, editing.

My early experience marked me throughout my school days. After I got my diagnosis after near 12 hours of testing with a wonderful college psychologist, I flourished as a student. I discovered, in fact, I had a very high IQ, I was not slow (I knew there was something very wrong), my brain was just wired differently and did not see words and such as most did. Most people don’t realize those glitches are not just for words. The thoughts twist and turn and I lose those also. I’m horrible with names, I never remember dates, and my sense of time is horrible. I’m not good in certain venues and formats due to this.

Reading is painfully slow still, editing. There are days I can’t get my words pointed in the right direction, days I simply cannot spell. It’s funny, however, when some people read my work they say it sounds effortless. They don’t hear the huge roar of laughter inside. Effortless, no, painful yes! Thanks to the literature gods for technology.

Some days are okay. I have a prism in my glasses that helps me see the words better. Before that I had horrid migraines. Still do at times. But the problem is in the brain ultimately. I’ve learned to compensate for it. I choose to look at it in a positive light now. Maybe the gift of writing might not be there save for this disability? Who knows?

But it impacts edits, and as a writer and I don’t do public readings of my work. Signings I will happily do. Reading out loud is a painful childhood memory for me. I’m an adult now and can just say no. I will write for you, I do my job and yours is to read.

My generation did not know these things and I would get tossed up front and feel like a sideshow freak. Yet everyone knew I was quite intelligent, which was a strangeness to live with. Often times our weak points become our strongest points however. There is a certain irony in my becoming or being a writer you see. This irony is certainly not missed on me.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

[Interview] Thomas D'Arcy O'Donnell

Canadian script writer, Thomas D'Arcy O'Donnell is the author of Diamond Walker, a blog novel about an 18-year-old shaman baseball player.

The novel's protagonist, Jimmy Walker, is a provocative anti-hero who brings a fresh and disturbing capability to America’s Game. He is a cutting-edge warrior and a throwback to old-school modes and values who swims with killer whales and seems to project grace and brightness wherever he goes.

In this interview, Thomas O'Donnell talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

Diamond Walker started off (in my head) as an idea for a film.

I had the idea that if I could create a 'property' or story based in Vancouver, British Columbia, I could come back some day and, instead of working for someone else as a waiter or bartender, I could go to the places that amazed me and the work I did would be making the film that was in my head.

Through a strange turn of events, year later, I decided to write the story as a novel, after a synopsis for the film disappeared during the Pitch This competition at the Toronto International Film Festival.

All conspiracy theories aside (who took the synopsis and why?), I also realized it would be a very expensive film to make, so why not create it as a novel?

How would you describe your writing?

The stories, Diamond Walker, particularly, tend to be action or adventure with an ecological basis.

Nature and the environment are always in play and the principal characters are either for or against nature and the environment. The 'good guys' are highly in tune with nature, the 'bad guys' are completely oblivious and/or destructive regarding nature.

Who is your target audience?

I write for a very broad general audience ... all ages.

I like the idea of people reading about good ideas, good actions and characters (exemplars) who have the right ideas and values and know how to go about life with actions that reflect this accordingly.

On the converse side, I really don't see the value in slasher or mangle horror titillation, i.e. Bad (Fear) triumphs over Good. Though I see it has been a very successful theme for many writers.

So, in a way, I could say I write to present 'positive' alternatives to 'negative' stories.

Which authors influenced you most?

I've read thousands of books.

It's very hard to single out influence but I'll admit it's inevitable.

I've read every John D. MacDonald book, including the Travis McGee series; every Louis L'Amour book (westerns); the True History of The Kelly Gang (Peter Carey) blew me away and made me realize that prose or literary form did not have to conform to my perceptions just as the original Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain should have taught me.

The Horse Whisperer (Nicholas Evans) certainly inspired me and I hope my 1st book touches similar themes of man/creature/environment.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Nat Bailey is known as the grandfather of baseball, in Western Canada. While staying in his home (I had worked with his grandson in Banff, Alberta), he told me of his youth and selling peanuts and popcorn during semi pro baseball games. At his suggestion, I visited the stadium named after him, stood on the infield grass one morning and the idea (for Diamond Walker) poured into me as I looked up at an eagle riding an updraft overhead.

It was a magical morning.

The baseball diamond was like a jewel of green, set in an urban environment and Nat's words and storytelling from the night before were floating with the eagle ... yet in my head as well.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Getting the ideas out of my head, filtered through my clumsy fingers, onto paper (or text file) and then refining or resolving those primal ideas into prose or literary form and being satisfied, is really the challenge.

My only concerns as a writer are satisfying myself ... and that means there should be ideas of merit ... and if there's going to be conflict, crisis or resolution, my lead characters should be exemplars. They should define 'Winners'.

I can't in any way control what a reader of my work thinks ... though I hope they enjoy reading it. I hope they find values they can embrace ... or that make them feel good.

Do you write everyday?

I can only write when it comes to me. It either flows or it doesn't.

I don't see it as writer's block, I see it as a gift that comes to me, often via happenstance or intermittently.

At the same time, I do believe there's a laziness, mixed with self-doubt, to my writing. It's that smidgen of belief and creativity that keeps the small flame alive ... and so ... I write.

How many books have you written so far?

Diamond Walker is my only completed novel and its unpublished.

Keep in mind, that Diamond Walker came into my head ... before there was an 'internet' and I wrote on sheets of paper, then in spiral notebooks, or on napkins in bars or restaurants ... then as text files, eventually even as emailed memos to myself.

I sent queries and sample chapters to publishers, agents etc ... and finally decided to put the entire novel online as a blog novel ... It's kind of apropos actually, since it was written in fits and starts ... intermittently ... over the years.

I think my talent lies in writing. It certainly does not lie in effective contact with literary agents or publishers, though I've tried mightily, to pour effective effort into that Catch 22 endeavor.

Without complaint I can truly say, that an unpublished author in Canada faces an extreme uphill climb and I've constantly tried to reach outside of Canada for representation or interest. Others have succeeded and I'll always keep trying.

I'm self published ... I migrated the book to Wordpress as a blog novel. It's now driven mainly by serendipity, though I utilize its presence on the web via continued queries to the literary or publishing world and of course alternatives such as Conversations with Writers.

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

I remember one day when I was writing Diamond Walker and I was creating dialogue and the thoughts of a 45-year-old woman. I was almost overcome with doubt, thinking, 'Who am I to create the thinking process of a woman ?'

The same thing occurred one day when I was writing a treatment for a children's TV program and I was writing dialogue for a 6-year-old girl, but it was more of a feeling inside me of, 'Where the heck is this coming from?'

What will your next book be about?

My next book will likely be a sequel focusing on Hunter Walker (Jimmy 'Diamond' Walker's father).

I like the idea of a hunter, tracker Navajo, based in British Columbia who tracks missing or abducted people in wild or urban environments, and can deal with adverse weather, environments or dangerous adversaries.

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

Getting Diamond Walker finished. Uploading it to the web, as a blog novel was a huge milestone for me. But, as I mentioned earlier, satisfaction comes from feeling I've met, or come close to what I believe are necessary levels of creativity, competence and merit.

I wrote a poem, in support of a documentary project I'm developing, and I'd never undertaken a long poem before. Seeing that poem online within my research/development blog for Ann Harvey really made me feel good. Kind of that creatively exhausted satisfaction and, I guess, I should say that the whole process of trying to breath life into a documentary about a historical event, i.e. the attempt to write eloquently about an amazing story that actually happened, but is little known, is a pretty special challenge and opportunity.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

[Book Review] David Shields' Reality Hunger

A True Manifesto or Literati Hype?
By Jessica Cortez*

Essayist David Shields' latest book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto was released earlier this year to both critical approval and a measured amount of hype.

Of course, Shields' book endeavored to fulfill a lofty goal — to identify the course of literature's future.

Shields is even so bold as to trace the path of Art's future as a whole. And what better way to go about accomplishing this than to self-proclaim the little volume a “manifesto”?

Shields begins his network of interrelated theories in an interesting way:
Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.
He concludes his first chapter, “Overture,” in a similarly grandiose manner, which typifies the rest of the book, by proclaiming,
An artistic movement, albeit organic and as-yet-unstated one, is forming. What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: 'raw' material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional ... Randomness, openness to accident and serendipity, spontaneity; artistic risk, emotional urgency and necessity, reader/viewer participation ...

And on and on.

What is most fascinating about Shields' book is not simply its content, but its form.

The book is essentially a compendium of quotes, varying in length, from the short aphorism to a solid grouping of paragraphs, interspersed with the author's own musings.

The real zinger is that Shields does not cite the quotes' authors in footnotes. He does so only in endnotes, so that there is no way that the reader knows who said what unless she flips to the back of the book.

And the breadth of the cited authors is dizzying: Picasso, Roland Barthes, and John Mellancamp to name a few. Even an excerpt from Scooter Libby's legal brief is presented.

So what is the thrust of Shields' proclamations? What is his point?

In a perfect fusion of manic style and engaging content, Shields essentially prophesies a conflation of fiction and nonfiction, to the point that the two (apparently false) categorizations will be indistinguishable.

Sound too lofty? A little ridiculous?

To a certain extent, yes.

But there are two things that lead me to believe Shields' book stakes some sort of valid claim on the truth.

For one, I see Shields' basic premise everywhere — in Pedro Gonzales-Rubio's recent, fairly groundbreaking film Alamar; in the blogosphere; in virtual reality worlds like Second Life; and, even in the as-of-now dubious art form of karaoke (something Shields' book discusses at length).

Secondly, Shields' knowledge of the Western literary canon is solid. He doesn't take his feet off the ground in this respect. He pays tribute to our literary predecessors by demonstrating what they have had to show us about their own respective time periods, and, moreover, what the more enduring works can teach us about the future of the novel.

In an age where it seems as though people are reading less and less, Shields' little book is certainly revolutionary. Or at the very least, it's a breath of fresh air.

*Jessica Cortez writes on the topics of online degree programs. She welcomes your email comments.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

[Interview] Henry McGrath

Henry McGrath studied oriental medicine for nine years, obtaining diplomas in shiatsu, acupuncture and herbal medicine.

He is currently the Acupuncture Course Director and Academic Director for the College of Naturopathic Medicine and has undertaken clinical placements in the Herbal Medicine Oncology Departments of several Chinese hospitals in Nanjing and Beijing.

Henry is an Orthodox Christian and is interested in the links between religion and medicine. He currently runs his own private practice and works at Penny Brohn Cancer Care.

He lives in Bristol, UK.

His books include The Traditional Chinese Medicine Workbook (College of Naturopathic Medicine, 2007) and Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer: Harmony in the Face of the Tiger (Singing Dragon, 2009).

Why did you first become interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

I’ve been interested in Eastern culture ever since childhood. I started yoga when I was about 18, then martial arts, and soon became interested in Eastern philosophy. I started studying shiatsu, Japanese pressure point massage, when I was about 26, and this led on to acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

How can Traditional Chinese Medicine complement the approach to cancer in the West?

Western medicine focuses on the illness, whereas Chinese medicine focuses on the person.

The West looks at the detail, the Chinese look at the “big picture”.

Western medicine tends to see human person as a machine, whereas Chinese medicine sees the human as an integrated entity of body and spirit, intimately related to his surroundings. Disease is always a reflection of an imbalance of the whole organism, and even of the whole of creation.

In your new book Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer, you talk about qi and how strong qi can protect us from illness. How can we improve the strength of our qi?

Good quality food. Exercise. Fresh air. Cultivating harmony with those around us and with the planet. Most important of all, spiritual development. In Chinese medicine spirit influences qi.

What changes can we make in our diets to enhance our health?

Perhaps surprisingly, I would say the most important thing is not to become obsessive about food. Relish your food, enjoy every mouthful. Eat lots of organic food, without being fussy about it. Eat a little of everything. Give thanks for food, say grace whenever you eat. Fast sometimes, but in a spiritual context, rather than purely for health reasons. For example, in our Orthodox Christian tradition we abstain from animal products during Lent, and on Wednesdays and Fridays. This transforms one’s relationship with food.

What can Traditional Chinese Medicine hope to teach doctors in the West about person-centred care?

A lot of GPs I speak to recognise that it is very important to build a relationship with patients: I would encourage them in this.

It is one of the tragedies of the NHS that many doctors' surgeries are moving to a team system, whereby the individual relationship between a patient and a certain doctor is lost. Patients like to feel that someone knows them properly.

People seem aware of the depersonalising effects of Western medicine, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. With something like cancer, the GP could be the person who takes care of the patient through the whole confusing process, at present there is often nobody who does this.

I think it is very positive to see medical students learn something about complementary medicine: I recently had two trainee doctors spend a day with me in my clinic and receive a treatment as part of their training. They were both very inspired and said they saw the human in a very different way. Perhaps more doctors could visit us and talk to our patients about their experience of complementary medicine.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

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

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