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meridian systemI was lying on a table in the back room of a two up two down terraced former mill-house in Chorley, pins sticking out of my arms, my legs and my face, and I felt weird, but in a good way. No, this isn’t the opening of a piece of fiction. This was 2007 and the beginning of my journey into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, my first consultation with an acupuncturist – though my experience and subsequent journey into the esoteric, did go a long way in informing my romantic story “Push Hands”.

I’d felt I had no choice in trying acupuncture, being afflicted with a ringing ear that western medicine could do nothing about. And you know what? It worked – of a fashion. Over a period my ringing ear didn’t ring so much any more. And the sessions made me feel different in other ways. I was suddenly more relaxed, more clear headed and energetic. In short, I felt better and a good ten years younger.

Acupuncture’s not available on the NHS, and at thirty quid a session, and with anything up to a dozen sessions or more being required, depending on what ails you, you have to be sure you want to use it. But then I found you could maintain that calmness, that clear headed, relaxed feeling by practising Tai Chi and Qigong. And eventually as we practice, we feel unfamiliar sensations in the hands and the arms, and we wonder: is it Qi?

I began, years ago thinking to nail this mysterious business of Qi, because without it, I believed, TCM and all that mind-body stuff didn’t make sense. But I’ve ended with a more pragmatic view, and a greater understanding of western physiology which explains things well enough if you can only be bothered getting to the bottom of it. I still hear Qi talked about in classes, and it grates a little now, but you can approach it from different angles, both from the traditional, and the practical and the secret is not to get hung up on either. Just do the exercises, the meditation; visualise, rationalise it however you want. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is it works.

One of my biggest frustrations with the traditional path is there has never been a consensus among so called masters about what Qi is, at least nothing one can glean from reading their books. With medical science, the more you read, the clearer things become. With Qi, however, the more you read, the less you understand anything at all. I’ve come to the conclusion the whole business is more of a misunderstanding, born partly out of a rejection of science in the west among those largely resistant to or ignorant of it, and in the east a willingness to present concepts in terms of what we apparently want to believe. And what we want to believe in is Qi.

In that acupuncturist’s consulting room there was a dummy with all the acupuncture points indicated as dots, with lines joining them like the map of a railway system. The lines indicate the so called meridians along which Qi is said to flow, an idea that can be traced back to a book by George Soulie de Morant, an early translator of oriental philosophy. But the strange thing is even the most revered founding oriental work on acupuncture, the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook doesn’t mention meridians. The meridian theory appears to have been an early twentieth century, and largely western, invention. It caught on and we’ve been talking rubbish ever since.

The acupuncture points are real enough. They are what we would now call neuro-vascular nodes, areas dense in fine veins and nerves, situated along the routes of the major arteries. These are referred to in early Chinese texts, a link having been found between them and the function of the organs of the body, that stimulating them can bring about certain healing effects – reducing inflammation, pain, sickness. The precise mechanism is complex and not well understood, but appears to be a result of the stimulation of the body’s natural healing mechanisms. In short, TCM works and is very effective, but the meridian theory, the model underpinning it, as presented to the west, and all its talk of Qi, is misleading at best, at worst, plain wrong.

But having said that it’s sometimes still useful to think in terms of Qi, more as a metaphor of physical effects. In practical terms, Qi has two components. One is oxygen, the other is glucose. The oxygen we get by breathing air, while glucose comes from the food in our stomachs. Both are carried by the blood to every part of the body where they combine to produce chemical energy, either for motion, or for healing and regeneration of tissue. Practices like Tai Chi and Qigong encourage deep breathing, boosting the amount of oxygen in the blood – you also get hot and you sweat because the by product of the body’s chemical equation is heat and water. Heat and water are a good sign. The movements during practice stimulate the neuro-vascular nodes, drive the lymph, and the relaxed, mindful attitude encourages a return to homeostasis, a neutral chemical balance essential for a healthy body. To practice Tai Chi or Qigong for an hour a day is to experience a dramatic change in the way you see and feel your body and the world about you.

The problem for westerners has been the gradual erosion of any romantic notions regarding one’s existence. Medical science has reduced life to a series of mechanical functions, an approach that, while advancing our understanding to miraculous levels, has ironically sucked the life out of being, and what we crave is a return to the mysterious. Perhaps in Qi we have been seeking to put the soul back into the machinery, and to revivify belief in the reality of our selves. But the path of the soul is something else, a somewhat longer journey of which the mind-body stuff can be a part, but only in the sense that in calming the mind, in freeing it from the debilitating distractions of the material life, it can then, in quieter times, return more readily to a deeper contemplation of other things.

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moll - william  hogarthOr less sensationally: Self-hosting your own ebooks

The business of self publishing continues to fascinate me. Currently I’m using two of the big names in free self-publishing, namely Feedbooks and Smashwords to host my stories. This basically means their computers hold the files containing my words and they present them in a such way that readers can find them – primarily on their smartphones or their Android tablets. This is by far the most efficient way for a self publisher to disseminate their work. For the traditional tweed suited, bow tied author, the dream is a book on the shelf at Waterstones, a highbrow book signing, and a table at the Booker awards ceremony, but for the modern indy – well this one at least -the dream is simply to have their book picked up by a Smartphone somewhere in the world, and using Smashwords and Feedbooks has worked out really well for me in that respect.

But there are snags in letting others host your work. With Feedbooks in particular I must admit to a growing irritation at the presence of childish smut that’s so “in your face” it’s hard to know where to look when you browse their website these days. If anyone can publish anything there’s always going to be a race to the “bottom”, and Feedbooks demonstrates this in heaps. If my rather staid literary titles end up sandwiched between offerings of anal intercourse and incestuous bonking there’s not a damned thing I can do about it, and I no longer find it “cool” to be seen out in such company. One is also at the whim of tech support when something goes wrong. Feedbook’s stats have been broken for months now, perhaps creaking under the strain of all that smut, so I’ve no idea how my stories are doing now. I’ve had a good run on there, and I hesitate to complain, but it makes one wonder, it makes one consider one’s options.

Smashwords on the other hand, while still a vibrant and valuable hosting service, one that has long championed the cause of the independent author, I feel falls down on the subject of formatting and upload. I’ve followed all the rules, put several manuscripts through their automatic ebook generator now, and none of them have come out right, at least not to my satisfaction. I know I’m particular, but I want it to look how I want it to look, and I don’t want to have to wrestle with it in order to get it there, or pay someone to do it for me. They have smut on Smashwords too but there’s a button you can click to make it disappear. Unfortunately, it makes most of my stories disappear as well.

Ho hum.

I don’t mean to sound like a grump, and I am grateful for the services these outfits provide – they really have saved me from drowning in my own words, and snatched me from the demoralising treadmill of traditional publishing. But what if you could produce your own ebook file, host it somewhere privately, for free, where you can maintain control of how your book looks, get stats on daily downloads and above all avoid having to sit down with pimps and pornographers? Sounds good? Well, I thought so, and I’ve spent the last few days exploring how I might go about it.

In order to get your work into an ebook reader on a smartphone or an android tablet you need it compiled in .epub format or .mobi for Kindle – there are other formats, but they’re the main two a writer should concern themselves with.  Sigil is a very useful tool in this regard – at least for epub. I put “Push Hands” through it last night and the output is very encouraging. The software is easy to use, well documented and free. For conversion to Kindle format, I’m guessing I’ll have to use Calibre, another free ebook formatting tool, but I’ve not tried that yet.

For the self-hosting bit you need Dropbox. I’ve had a free “cloud based” storage account with them for a while but I don’t use it much. With Dropbox you get a private and a public folder. If you drop your Sigil generated .epub file in the public folder you can then generate a web address to that file, which you can then cut and paste into your blog. I’ve created a separate page here at WordPress called “EPUB” where I can put my links. And hey-presto, a self publishing indy author, self hosting, and all for free. The downside? Well, as with all self publishing, without a team of publicists blowing the trumpet for us, we mustn’t expect many clicks, but a writer has to keep abreast of the options. Plus, if Feedbooks and Smashwords go belly up, at least my books are still out there.

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book thiefAs I’ve written before, one of the hazards for Indy authors who self publish is piracy. You write a story, put it up for free online, and then it mysteriously appears for sale on the Kindle Marketplace. This has happened several times with my novels – and it’s just happened again. My story “Push Hands” is currently available on Amazon for the princely sum of $3.25, and I’ve no idea how it got there. I cried foul on the comments section, which is how I got the last lot of pirated material taken down, but Amazon doesn’t always approve of such unconstructive criticism, and I may have to approach their legal department directly. Again.

There’s not much we can can do about online piracy, other than remain vigilant and challenge it on sight.  If you’re an Indy, the first time this happens you’ll find it upsetting, even a little creepy that someone out there is impersonating you, but I think we have to accept it more as an occupational hazard and not get too hung up about it. The main concern here is for our readership, and to make sure no one ends up paying for work they think is coming from us, when it isn’t. So if you find your work for sale on the Kindle Marketplace, and you didn’t put it there, keep your head, spare your expletives and speak to Amazon. There is a process, and it works. Amazon will take it down.

If you’re a reader and you’ve paid money on the Kindle Marketplace for anything I’ve written, then I’m sorry but it’s been pirated and I urge you contact Amazon, who should refund you. All my work is available for free on Feedbooks. I do not self-publish on the Kindle Marketplace.

If you are the pirate, I’ve nothing really constructive to say to you, other than you’re courting some seriously heavy Karma, my friend, and you really need to mend your ways before it catches up with you.

I am the real Michael Graeme and you’ll find the real, unadulterated, unpirated, totally original, and absolutely free version of my story “Push Hands” here:

Push hands book cover

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Well, never has my flabber been more ghasted. My thanks to Lori and to Emma for writing to me and pointing out that my “free” novels are apparently for sale on Amazon.com as e-books for the Kindle. I had been thinking about making some of my books into Kindle editions, but discounted the idea as ludicrously complicated and probably pointless, so I was astonished to discover it’s already happened. Unfortunately they appear to have been written by someone else.

What?

The road from Langholm Avenue is currently being sold by Kevin Peters under the title “Love lost and found again”. My novel Push Hands is being sold by Jennifer Watson as “Fearful of the consequences”.

I’m actually quite stunned by this.

If you check the “look inside” feature on Amazon for these works, you’ll see the text is mangled and truncated, but definitely my own words. If you pay to download these books you’re going to be disappointed, you’re going to be angry, and my only comfort is you won’t associate them with my name. The product descriptions on Amazon are also a straight forward cut and paste from my descriptions on Feedbooks, where both of these books, like all my works, are available for free – and where, hopefully, the formatting is neater and the text more complete. Jeeze, I agonise over these books,… I kick myself for every misplaced comma and apostrophe, then some scam merchant comes along and hacks and cuts indiscriminately, and charges you six dollars for it.

If you’ve read Push Hands or Langholm Avenue, I thank you,… you are valued as a most rare and precious  reader, and much respected by yours truly, whatever you thought of my work. If you’re also an Amazon customer, could I ask you to go over to Amazon.com and leave a comment in the reviews of “Love lost and found again” and “Fearful of the consequences”, pointing out this strange discrepancy?

I don’t mind giving my work away. I love to write and in many ways it’s been a great relief to me to finally brush aside the  obsession with published and therefore paid authorship, which was clearly beyond my reach. I do greatly appreciate the comments from all my online readers. It’s given my work a terrific boost over the years, but it hurts to have someone steal and try to sell my stuff under their own name, thinking I wouldn’t notice. I suppose it’s a risk we all take as independent authors, putting our work up there, unprotected, for all the world to see, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that someone’s tried to engineer a scam with it.

I urge “Jennifer Watson” and “Kevin Peters”, probably nom-de-plumes of the same n’er-do-well, to remove these books from Amazon.com immediately. If they’ve plagarised my stuff it’s reasonable to assume they’ve done it to other indy authors as well, so I also urge Amazon to take a closer look at their account. I’ll also be writing to Amazon and reporting the outcome here. I’ve been a good customer of theirs over the years, with never a cause for complaint, and I’m sure they’ll be as concerned as I am that this kind of thing is going on.

I’m not sure if I should feel insulted or flattered at this stage. I feel violated, possibly, which isn’t nice at all. I think I’ll take a bath, then go to bed. Maybe I’m dreaming all of this?

My thanks again to Lori and to Emma.

Regards

Michael Graeme

**Updated 18 Feb 2012 ** These plagiarised works are no longer on Amazon.com.  They took them down before I was able to contact them. Other works have now appeared though, under my own name and bearing their original titles. These are proving more difficult to shoot down.

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My thanks go to all the readers who have downloaded Push Hands from Feedbooks. You’ve been reading it on your iPhones, your iPods, your iPads, your Androids, your Sonys and your Kindles. And I especially thank those of you who have taken time out to say how much you’ve enjoyed it. Your comments on Feedbooks and your private emails have been a joy to read. I loved writing Push Hands, and your reaction to it has been most uplifting, most encouraging. I long to write something similar in the near future. I originally put it up on Feedbooks in December 2008, at the start of my indy author crusade, and since then it’s achieved about 10,000 downloads, which is wonderful. Thank you all again.

I’ve reviewed it a few times since 2008, most recently over the last few evenings, with the aim of  sweeping up still more typos that eluded me in previous scannings, and for which I apologise profusely. I am my own editor, and I’m clearly hopeless at it.

I do still enjoy reliving the story of Phil and Penny, and hopefully my love of these characters will ensure that  future re-readings will capture the typos that remain.  Still, the vulnerable side of me wonders if I did Phil and Penny justice, and I hope they can forgive my shortcomings. But hey – there are a lot of writers out there. They didn’t have to pick me – but I’m glad they did.

If you have an e-reader, and you’re keen on blagging some free fiction, feel free to check it out on Feedbooks – you’ve nothing to lose after all. The story is complete and free to download, about ninety odd thousand words – or around six hours of reading, a couple of evenings or a week, depending on your hunger.

If you’re a guy, I want you to fall in love with Penny, because I’m a guy too and she’s a truly magnificent woman – stomach like a roll of suet, hair like straw, magnificently huge derrière, and thighs cratered with cellulite – and if that puts you off you clearly don’t deserve her. If you’re a gal I want you to fall in love with Phil, with his balding head and his tinnitus, I want you to hold that head against your bosom, and tell him everything will be all right, and if you don’t like the sound of that, then you don’t deserve him either.

Intriguing? Well I’m sorry, but middle aged people have love lives too, you know?

Regards,

Michael.

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