Saturday, February 19, 2011

[Interview_2] Zukiswa Wanner

South African writer, Zukiswa Wanner is the author of The Madams (Oshun Books, 2006); Behind Every Successful Man (Kwela Books, 2008) and Men of the South (Kwela Books, 2010).

She is also the founder of the Read SA campaign, a campaign encouraging South Africa to read.

Her first novel, The Madams was shortlisted for the 2007 K Sello Duiker Award.

In this interview, Zukiswa Wanner talks about her latest novel, Men of the South, which has been shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize:

How would you describe Men of the South?

In an age where the world is battling with equal rights, Men of the South is a story of the struggles that modern day man is struggling to come to grasps with despite his apparent advantages over his female counterpart.

While, in retrospect, and to most readers, it may appear that my more powerful characters are the first two protagonists, the story was actually a backward thing and came about as a response to the world-famous 2008 negrophobic attacks in South Africa.

The first draft took me the usual two to three weeks it takes me to write but given that there is always edits to do before final publication date, I would say a year and a half.

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

I think it was the adjustment from being one male character to another. With three protagonists, I had to work very hard not to make the characters sound as though they were the same guy.

The way I wrote it was experimental as I had never written using the male voice in a novel before - let alone three male voices. So to make it work, I had to focus and do extensive research on the particular character I was working on at any point in time, id est the stay-at-home dad; the gay male in the closet; or, the educated immigrant forced to take a job that's below their qualifications.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I think I really got into Men of the South and the characters in a way that I have not with any of my other books.

It was also the only book that I have since read post publication many times and enjoyed -- not as my work but as "quite an interesting piece of art."

I believe I have very far to go as a writer but, somehow, reading this book, for me, was like watching yourself in the mirror and thinking, "Wow. I am growing."

What sets Men of the South apart from other novels you've written?

What I mention above. The fact that it was the one book that I have written that I could read post-publication from beginning to end.

It is also my first book where I have not focused on women's issues (and that is not to say I am a post-modern anti-feminist female) but tried to understand the other side of the coin that is manhood. In some ways it was easy for me as I am a mother to a son and kept putting my son in the shoes of all the different male characters in my book.

The other two books have been focused on contemporary social commentary of what bothers me as a woman. So in some way, I think of Men of the South as the male answer to The Madams and Behind Every Successful Man but this time not as spoken by what some women might think is a biased male voice but more from another woman writing in a way she perceives menkind.

In what way is it similar to the others?

I think Men of the South's greatest similarity to my other fictional work is that its set in contemporary South Africa.

I have been referred to in some parts of South African media as Lit-Lite because the language is as accessible as that on television. My vision for books is making them accessible and enjoyable to people who would generally not pick up a book.

When I start preaching to the converted that are the literati, I think I will start thinking of myself as irrelevant.

That said, although the issues my characters deal with from the first book to the present are presented in a non-preachy way, they are not any less serious for that.

And, despite its setting, one of the other constant comments I have been told about my work from people all over the world is that although the characters are South African and mostly black, the readers can identify with the characters in my books. It is a revelation of the similarity of the human condition.

How did you chose a publisher for the novel?

I didn't so much as chose a publisher for Men of the South. I worked with Kwela for my second book (Behind Every Successful Man) and I had a good relationship with the whole team so we both didn't see any need to terminate it (and, I hope, they liked my manuscript).

What will your next book be about?

I am working on two manuscripts and I am not sure which I will let out first so I cannot for sure tell you what my next book will be about.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

[Interview] Zoë van Zwanenberg

Zoë van Zwanenberg is director of Zwan Consulting and project coordinator for the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being.

She is also the author of Leadership in Social Care (2009, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

In this interview, she talks about her work:

How did you first become involved in social care?

I first became involved through my work with the National Health Service in the UK, where I was head of organizational development and I was involved in developing partnership working at a strategic level. When I then moved on to become chief executive of the Scottish Leadership Foundation, I was asked to undertake a study into leadership and management challenges in social care and support the development of a national approach to leadership development for the sector in Scotland.

What do you think are the main challenges currently facing social care practitioners and managers?

The current financial situation is going to give double pressures to both practictioners and managers, demand for services is likely to increase as demographics increase the elderly population, and unemployment and debt add problems for children and families. At the same time, budgets for service provision are going to be squeezed -- practitioners and managers are going to have be to be very focused about focusing provision without loss of quality and relationships with partner agencies are going to become even more important.

These are leadership and management challenges for practitioners and managers.

Clarity of purpose, clear direction, standards and focus on outcomes will have to drive work, with relationships as the key ingredient.

Why are leadership and place-based development so important in social care?

If we see leadership as being about clarity of purpose/outcome and the ability to align different individuals to a shared vision of what that should be, this is clearly core to the work of social care staff, as they work with individuals and families to enable them to achieve the best that is possible.

Place is, in my view, critical as the particular circumstances and context for each family and individiual are an essential element of understanding their issues and their ambitions. Work with individuals and famillies is never context free, and ensuring that we have a clear focus on place and on ensuring that work is specific in that way, we are more likely to be able to set realistic amibitons and align services to meet those desires.

The issues are different if you are working with a family in an inner city sink estate to if you are working with a family on a remote island, and these two extremes are just the outer ends of the spectrum. We need to work at all points along the spectrum and to understand what the impact of the differences are on both what we do and how we do it.

Could you tell us about the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being?

The Centre for Confidence and Well-Being was established in December 2004. Originally set up as a company limited by guarantee it was later granted charitable status on educational grounds.

The Centre's mission is to help bring about a transformation in Scottish culture so that it supports more:
  • Optimism (for self, others and Scotland),
  • Self-belief (an important ingredient in "can-do" attitudes),
  • A "growth mindset" (essential for people to realize their potential),
  • Resilience ( required in helping people keep going when life is difficult),
  • Positive energy (essential for relationships, team working and collaboration),
  • Sense of purpose/meaning (important for motivation and well-being),
  • Giving (an antidote to a "me" centered world and a source of personal energy and inspiration), and
  • Wisdom (important for leadership, good decision-making and for advancing the confidence agenda).
The Centre's work is guided by the following principles:
  • Creative and entrepreneurial,
  • Positive and optimistic,
  • Rigorous in our approach,
  • Values led/committed, and
  • Guided by common sense.
The Centre has a history of providing the following:
  • Robust research,
  • Reports and documents that can influence policy and policy makers,
  • Reports, documents and books that are user focused and accessible to the general public,
  • Seminars and conferences that bring together leading edge research with issues of practical application, and
  • Management and delivery of multiple projects.
The Centre works with a small core group of professional staff supported by a range of specialist associates. The Centre has well developed web resources to support its work and a dedicated secretariat team.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare-time?

I am chair of Scottish Ballet and the arts are my real love, so I spend much of my time listening to music, reading, going to ballet, opera, concerts and theatre and art galleries. With what time is left, I work in the garden, sew and spend time with friends travelling, mainly in Europe.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011

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

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Uncovering Leicestershire's hidden literary talent

Dr Corinne Fowler is an author and a lecturer at the University of Leicester's School of English.

She is also the lead person behind Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing, a project which aims to raise public awareness of Leicestershire’s diverse literary culture and foster local, national and international critical recognition for the writing.

The project is being supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and will deliver its aims by summer 2012 through five main outputs, namely:
Dr Fowler was encouraged by recent studies on Britain’s writing, as well as her own research, which revealed a great imbalance between London and regional writers’ readerships, fuelled by prevailing readers’ perceptions of regional black and ethnic minority writers.

“Recent research suggests that our publishing industry distorts our sense of Britain’s literary landscape. Not only this, but that Black, Chinese and Asian writers outside London struggle to achieve literary recognition or gain access to wide readerships,” she said.

Professor Martin Halliwell, Head of the University of Leicester's School of English commented:
Grassroutes is a fantastic project that will showcase the many literary talents in Leicestershire.
Dr Corinne Fowler is collaborating with a wide range of regional organisations to develop a visible forum for transcultural writing in the East Midlands.
The regional organisations that have partnered with Grassroutes include The Asian Writer; Charnwood Arts; the Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research at Lancaster University; Embrace Arts at the University of Leicester; the Leicester Library Service; the Literature Network; Mainstream Partnership; Short Fuse Fiction; Word!; and, Writing East Midlands.

"We are really excited that this project will be directed through the School of English. It will be a major resource for both new and established writers and will be of significant benefit to the writing community across and beyond the UK," Dr Halliwell said.

For more information, please contact Dr Corinne Fowler or visit the Grassroutes website.

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