Monday, December 27, 2010

[Interview] Jan Horwath

Jan Horwath is Professor of Child Welfare at the University of Sheffield

Her books include The Child's World: The Comprehensive Guide to Assessing Children in Need (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009) and Child Neglect: Identification and Assessment (Palgrave, 2007).

She also co-authored Effective Staff Training in Social Care: From Theory to Practice (Routledge ,1998); Working for Children on the Child Protection Register: An Inter-Agency Practice Guide (Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1999) and Making Links Across Specialisms: Understanding Modern Social Work Practice (Russell House, 2003).

Before becoming an academic, Jan Horwath worked as a practitioner, trainer and manager in both voluntary and statutory social work settings.

In this interview, she talks about her work and the writing it inspired:

How did you initially become involved in social work with children and families?

As a young social work student I always intended working with children and families therefore, when I completed my training, I looked for a job that would enable me to focus on this user group.

My first social work position was with a non-governmental organisation, Middlemore Homes, in Birmingham. The charity provided residential placements lasting between one and three years for families that had both a history of chronic neglect and the Local Authority was considering care proceedings. My job was to work intensively with a small number of families to improve parenting capacity and address the impact of neglect on the children. I particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to really get to know the families and to use a range of individual and group approaches.

I maintained this interest in children and families whilst working as a generic social worker for both Manchester and Oxfordshire Local Authorities and continued to develop my group work skills by, for example, running groups for young people exhibiting challenging behaviours.

A move to Sheffield provided me with an opportunity to further develop these skills with children and young people when I became an intermediate treatment officer. I am particularly proud of the pioneering work I engaged in with colleagues in Sheffield in the mid 1980s which included establishing groups for parents of young offenders. One of our most successful groups was for parents of young men who sexually abused. These experiences provided me with the foundation to go on and practice abroad; provide education and training and manage staff working in the child welfare field.

How has practice with children and families developed and changed since the first edition of The Child’s World eight years ago?

Whilst editing the chapters included in the second edition of The Child’s World, I was continually reminded of the significant research, policy and practice developments that have had an impact not only on social work practice but also on the practice of all professionals who come into contact with children and families.

Not long after the first edition of The Child’s World was published Lord Laming’s inquiry report following the death of Victoria Climbiè and the Government’s response: Every Child Matters began to have a significant impact on policy and practice.

As the book is about assessment practice I’ll focus on that area of practice.

One of the most striking changes to assessment policy and practice is the broadening of focus of assessment in order to identify early concerns and children with additional needs. This has been achieved through the introduction of the Common Assessment Framework.

There have been considerable changes to organisational and practice contexts which were designed to address concerns about weak accountability and poor levels of service integration. These changes have reinforced the contribution that practitioners from a wide range of disciplines can make to both assessing and meeting the needs of vulnerable children as well as children in need. The changes have also emphasised the role and responsibilities of senior managers in creating a climate that promotes effective practice.

Practice has also changed as a result of increased research regarding, for example, the impact of issues such as domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse on a carer’s ability to meet the needs of their child. We have also become increasingly aware of the impact of child maltreatment on brain development.

Whilst Every Child Matters placed considerable emphasis on measuring outcomes to children, rather than focusing on processes and outputs, performance management systems in adult and children services have, in my opinion, continued to overemphasise processes and outputs, such as measuring the number of assessments completed within prescribed timescales, meaning that the focus on the child and their needs has taken second place.

We have also continued to learn lessons from serious case reviews over the last eight years.

Similar messages have emerged in terms of making sense of information and using professional judgement and ensuring staff receive adequate supervision. The recent death of Baby Peter highlighted the importance of assessing parents’ level of engagement in terms of motivation to change.

Reflecting on all these developments, the most important learning point for me was made by Lord Laming in his inquiry report following the death of Victoria Climbiè in which he emphasised the importance of practitioners understanding what a day is like in the life of a child when assessing their needs.

What, in your opinion, are the main challenges facing social workers today?

Those in the profession have always been aware of the many challenges social workers encounter. However, in the past few months, these challenges have really come under the political and public spotlight.

The interim report of the social work taskforce, for example, outlines many of the challenges and indeed there are many. For example, complex cases, a demoralised workforce; lack of clarity regarding the role of the social worker; an emphasis on performance management and the very negative portrayal of social workers in the media. Yet against this backcloth frontline staff are undertaking some excellent work and not only safeguarding but also promoting the welfare of numerous children.

For me the biggest challenge is recognising effective practice and in the same way that we have begun to pay more attention to resilience amongst children and young people we should be considering what makes for a resilient workforce. Why is it that some practitioners can continue to work effectively with service users when others in the same or similar settings struggle?

What do you do in your spare time?

Living in Sheffield with the Peak District on the doorstep it is hardly surprising that I spend much of my spare time walking those hills and dales. I also enjoy walking long distance paths and my current project is the Thames Path. However since the end of June I have been spending much of my spare time with my first grandchild, Oscar. He is an absolute delight and no I'm not biased.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in September 2009

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Monday, December 20, 2010

[Interview] Eva Gordon

Fantasy and paranormal romance author, Eva Gordon lives in Northern California.

Her books include the kabbalistic fantasy, The Stone of the Tenth Realm as well as the three novels that make up her Wolf Maiden Chronicles series: Werewolf Sanctuary (Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2009); Beast Warrior: Viking Werewolf (Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2009), and White Wolf of Avalon: Werewolf Knight (Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2010).

In this interview, Eva Gordon talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started seriously writing about 7 years ago. I enjoyed telling stories to my high school students and realized my imagination took me to wonderful places.

I wanted to share my stories and getting published became my goal.

I joined a critique group, and began to edit and edit. I then sent out my query letters to both agents and publishers. A small UK Press published my first fantasy novel, but we dissolved our contract because they no longer had printing rights in the US.

How would you describe your writing?

Paranormal romance and fantasy writing. Paranormal/Fantasy Romance. The majority are historical.

My target audience are adults - most likely woman though men enjoy my novels as well.

I love all types of stories but books with a great romance make reading them much more enjoyable. I like happily-ever-after.

Which authors influenced you most?

So many, from Jane Austen to Frank Herbert.

However Michael Crichton and Diane Gabaldon touched a chord. Like me they were trained in the sciences and I like their style of grabbing you into the story.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My passion for wildlife, especially wolves, ravens and horses inspired me to go in a direction that would include them. I love wolf and werewolf lore and do workshops on both topics.

My degrees in zoology and biology influenced my writings by adding a bit of science here and there.

My women characters are often academic or healers. I have taught AP Biology and Anatomy Physiology so women in my stories are smart and independent. They have the brain and their love interest has the brawn.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Finding the time to promote, because like most writers I would rather create stories and nothing else.

However, I do set time apart for promotional work and have learned that this is my time to connect with social groups and have fun.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The lack of money from the countless hours of work and dedication. This amount of energy in any other work situation would have made me a CEO by now.

Do you write everyday?

At least five to six days a week.

I first check my e-mails and put them in folders for later. Then I sit in my office and begin.

I start by looking at my outline and the story plays out like a movie I am watching. I never know what the characters will do until I watch them in my imaginary movie. I then translate the visual into the written word.

I aim for at least 2,000 words a day.

I also do research since most of my paranormal novels are historical. I end the day when I have reached my scene goal or, if overwhelmed, I end it when 2,000 words have been completed.

How many books have you written so far?

I have four fantasy novels.

The first, The Stone of the Tenth Realm is a kabbalistic fantasy first published by a UK Press. I am now out of contract and am trying to sell and I will let you know later.

The next three are part of my Wolf Maiden Chronicles series:
What would you say your latest novel is about?

White Wolf of Avalon: Werewolf Knight takes place during Arthurian Times.

It is Book 3 in the Wolf Maiden saga and revolves around intrigue and circumstances within the lycan secret society in Arthur’s Britain.

In the novel, Bledig, a werewolf raised by humans, only wants to be a knight in King Arthur’s court but is told he must unite a pack against evil lycan lord, Gorlagon. He refuses to follow his destiny until he meets Annora, a woman philosopher and his destined mate.

How long did it take you to write White Wolf of Avalon: Werewolf Knight?

The rough draft usually takes about three/four months but I edit daily.

The novel was published by Vanilla Heart Publishing in March 2010 because a small Indie seemed like a good starting place. Small Indies are more open to new writers. Very helpful to newbie questions.

One disadvantage small publishers present is that there is no distribution at book stores or chains such as Target so one must go to the bookstore to request a signing. Most folks buy books because they see them out in the front of the store and that is the disadvantage of a small publisher.

What sets Werewolf Knight apart from other things you've written?

It’s still a paranormal romance historical/fantasy novel but with problems only found during King Arthur’s times. Unlike the earlier stories my male protagonist does not want to be a lycan.

Since it is part of a series, the secret lycan universe is the same. There is always an alpha lycan looking for his human female mate, a wolf maiden with the mark of the lycan print.

And what will your next book be about?

Lycan Gladiator, which takes place during Roman times.

I am also working on my Stone Trilogy and a Raven Shifter trilogy. And another lycan contemporary in the series is also in the works.

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

Getting published and getting some really great reviews.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

5 Tips for Making Good Money as a Freelance Writer

By Ellen Berry

The marketplace is full of opportunities for writers. There are always new messages that need to be communicated or old messages that need to be communicated in a new way. There are always people and businesses who need help looking good through the use of good writing. When economic times are challenging, the need to spread the word about products, services, and causes increases exponentially.

The following are 10 lessons I learned in the 12 or more years I've been doing work as a writer (in some capacity or another):
  1. Know your options - When I dreamed of being a writer in college, I had no idea there were so many options available to me. Certainly I read about careers in marketing, communications, journalism, and technical writing, but I didn't realize that I could be successful and happy doing them. Were I to do it over again, I would have shadowed people at work, taken more practical application classes rather than theory, and participated in internships as often as possible to get a real-world sense of writing as a commodity. Among the many areas that writing is used in business, I've made good money:
    • Helping people organize and write content for their websites
    • Working with trainers to create training manuals
    • Writing guides and FAQs for using products and websites
    • Interviewing clients to figure out what they want and then communicating it to the technical team (requirements gathering)
    • Doing research and then summarizing results in reports
    • Creating copy for brochures, flyers, ads and marketing letters
    • Writing articles designed to attract readers and links to websites
    • Scripting multimedia pieces and voice-overs
    • Writing surveys, interviewing subjects, and summarizing survey results
    • Optimizing website content for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Tracking pertinent news items and summarizing them in original stories for websites
    • Writing policies in ways people can easily understand and creating posters to motivate them to follow policies (awareness)
    • Analyzing how processes happen and documenting them (business analysis)
    • Writing reviews of movies, products, TV shows, books, stores, new businesses, conferences, travel destinations, hotels, restaurants, etc.
    • Creating PowerPoint presentations and writing speeches and sales pitches
    • Freelancing as a journalist for local papers, online ezines and reference guides
    • Writing press releases
    • Editing and proofreading
    • Creating resumes, cover letters and portfolio websites
    • Writing and editing grant applications
  2. Think of yourself as a writer - Although I did a lot of writing for my work, I didn't think of myself as a writer. People came to me with writing projects, but I thought of myself as someone in marketing or training or business analysis or web development. I was hesitant to box myself in by calling myself a writer - I was worried that I would limit my earning potential - or access to team-based projects that created something bigger than writing by myself ever could. But eventually my employers, colleagues. and clients started referring to me as a writer, and introducing me to other people as a writer. I took the hint, and it opened up many more opportunities to do what I love doing. I have since narrowed the scope of what I do even further by becoming a subject matter expert in areas that are particularly interesting to me, which makes it easier to find writing jobs (since there are fewer people who can write at the same level of detail or use the same skills).
  3. Become a quick study - Along with creativity, knowledge of how to write in a journalistic style, knowledge of AP Style and Chicago Manual of Style, and a keen editorial eye, analytical skills have been important in helping me make more money.When an employer or client comes to me with a writing project, their primary concern is my knowledge of the topic - they don't want to waste time or money for writing that seems superficial or uninformed. So I've learned how to start a project by asking the right questions, finding the answers, and analyzing the results. As an example, if I was hired to write about forestry (something of which I have little familiarity), I would adopt the role of an overachieving teaching student by taking introductory courses in forestry in order to be able to turn around and teach the material. I'd learn as much as I could as fast as possible, and then regurgitate it in a way that made sense to me, a new learner.

    Developing an analytical mind takes time and focus (a college education helps tremendously), but is essential for many different kinds of professional writing - especially technical writing and business analysis.
  4. Grow your skillset - There are core competencies for professional writers that can greatly enhance earning potential and employability. Many colleges and universities offer major courses of study in these fields:
    • Information design is the science behind how information is organized and displayed in order to make it the most accessible for the spectrum of readers. (The importance of information design was widely discussed after it was revealed that the White House received repeated warnings in executive briefings about a potential terrorist attack prior to 9/11, but the warnings were missed because they were buried far down in reports that were dense with text.)
    • Search engine optimization (SEO) is the science of using keywords, key phrases, content organization, links, and other Web elements to make websites more visible to search engines. Without well-done SEO, people who search the Web may have difficulty finding a website that has the content for which they're searching - or it may be far down on a list of results.
    • Technical writing is used to write software manuals, help and FAQ guides in software and on websites, and diagrams or flow charts to depict processes. But many employers and clients don't know that's what technical writing is, and they will post jobs and search for job candidates using the term "technical writing" even though what they're really looking for is copywriting or instructional writing. For jobs that are truly technical writing, a common requirement is knowledge of industry-standard software for technical writing and help or FAQ generation.
    • Instructional design is the science of writing instructional material so that it is easily learned and retained by different levels and groups of learners, and guidance for instructors in order to teach material consistently and efficiently.
  5. Promote your personal brand - To find employers and clients, it takes a combination of push and pull - not only hunting down jobs, but communicating your availability, capability, and uniqueness as a writer. You may be an outstanding writer, but if people aren't aware of what you can do, they may overlook you. It's important to define what you do early on, and put a brand to it - an identity that communicates what you do and how it is unique in the marketplace. Consider your brand - your reputation - whenever you publish anything online (even if you're just updating your Facebook status).Something I wish I had done early on was to consider myself in business for myself, even when working for others. I would have taken on the role of being self-employed and created a company name (it's easy and affordable to become a sole proprietor) so that I could receive tax benefits, but mostly because that identity helps me take myself seriously and feel in control of my career.
About the author

Ellen Berry is a member of BrainTrack's writing team. She writes articles about a number of education and career topics, and has contributed content to BrainTrack's Career Planning Guide.

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