Monday, June 27, 2011

[Interview] Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor is registered manager of a residential home and a company trainer. He works with young people with attachment difficulties and delivers training on the subject to foster carers, social workers and residential childcare workers.

He is the author of A Practical Guide to Caring for Children and Teenagers with Attachment Difficulties (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010).

In this interview, Chris Taylor talks about his work:

How did you first become involved in working with children and young people with attachment difficulties?

I had a 15-year career in industry and, having worked through two recessions, I was feeling a bit jaded with commerce. A broken hip from a cycling accident gave me time to think about my future. My own children were young teenagers, and I believed I had something to offer adolescents, and that I would be motivated and rewarded.

I found a job as a 'house a parent' (it's 20 years ago, language was different) in a therapeutic community. I don't think I really knew what I was getting into. The model of working was psychodynamic, but attachment wasn't the dominant paradigm. Many of the children in the community had been severely neglected or abused. They were often traumatized and struggling to find an internal representation of safety. All this was then acted out in desperate and often self-defeating attempts to resolve their insecure past.

I'd read [John] Bowlby's work in the late 60s and I, as I began to explore ways of understanding the troubled and vulnerable children in the community, I began to think more deeply about how their attachment pattern was deeply intertwined in their difficulties and their presenting behaviors: their developmental pathway.

How does understanding attachment help childcare and social workers?

I think we have to caution against suggesting that an individual's attachment is a catch-all for their current condition.

Development is a pathway, and each individual is where they are because of a huge and complex array of innate and environmental factors acting on each other. However, that basic biological drive to be close to the primary caregiver for safety, comfort and reassurance is a powerful mechanism in an individual's early development. Although initially the attachment relationship is a descriptor of the dyadic relationship between child and caregiver, as the child becomes older, the pattern of attachment becomes increasingly an aspect of their individual functioning.

Our attachment history affects us all, and children who have had sub-optimal early care are likely to be anxiously attached and to carry this anxiety as a self-fulfilling prophecy into other relationships, developing behavioral coping mechanisms that may make them difficult to care for. If the caregiver is also frightening, the child cannot organize their coping strategy in a coherent way. Such a child presents a huge challenge to be adequately cared for.

Understanding attachment allows professionals charged with this task to unpack the child's adjustment and work out ways of responding to the child that answers their attachment need and switches of the child's self-defeating behaviors. Understanding caregivers' attachment history can give us insight into the kind of support they may need to adequate parent a trouble child.

Would you be able to tell us about your work in a therapeutic unit?

For the last 10 years, I have managed a four-bedded therapeutic unit. In that time, every child who has been resident has had some degree of attachment difficulty. The children (or young people) may access individual psychotherapy, but, helpful though that can be, therapeutic means something more than that.

The model is one of supporting and enabling development whilst challenging maladaptive coping mechanisms. We promote a holistic, planned environment that provides a secure base for the child to explore their past and current relationships in the here and now. Working as a symbolic attachment figure, the staff team provides the sensitive attunement to enable the child to begin to use information from both emotions and cognition in a flexible way, to gather a coherent understanding of their attachment history and gradually possess 'earned security'.

We also think about the staff's needs from an attachment perspective. The children we care for challenge the secure representations of their caregivers; support needs to be matched to the internal pressure exerted on the caregiver by the child's coping mechanisms. Adult attachment models provide a powerful framework for doing this.

What developments have been made in the area since you first started working with children with attachment difficulties, and what is your hope for the future?

Many foster-carers, residential workers and social workers are now hugely interested in attachment theory, which has become one of the foremost paradigms in child development. It is now more common to see at least an attempt to think about the child's current experiences in the light of their attachment pattern.

I think some fostering agencies have gone a long way in thinking about both the foster child's and the carers' attachment styles when trying to make placements. I also now see more placement decisions in residential care where the child's attachment needs are mentioned, but there still seems to be little serious thought about what to do with this. What this means is that there is often a description but little idea what may help, perhaps a vague idea that something therapeutic is required.

I'd hope that in the future we may continue to develop holistic, psycho-social models for promoting recovery; children develop anxious attachments in their first relationships, recovery takes place in supportive and enabling relationships and social environments.

I also hope that the resources careful and effective work requires are forthcoming; social area budgets are going to be under pressure, but these children deserve a chance to have useful and fulfilling lives.

What are you currently reading in your spare time?

I like to have two or three books on the go for spare time reading, and often my leisure interest reading rubs up against my work.

I'm currently reading Bedlam: London and its mad (Catherine Arnold). As well as unraveling historical social constructions of madness, it's an engaging social history from mediaeval to recent times.

I'm also reading Jarheads (Anthony Swofford), the author's account of living through the fear and boredom of the first Gulf War, and Opening Skinner's Box: great psychology experiments of the twentieth century (Lauren Slater). The experiments are familiar, but Ms Slater writes about them in a way that makes you think you were part of them.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in January 2010

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Friday, June 24, 2011

[Interview] Pam Inder

Leicester-based writer and former museum curator and university lecturer, Pam Inder is the co-author of seven books.

The books, which she wrote with Marion Aldis, include:  
In this interview, Pam Inder talks about her writing:

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I didn’t really have much choice about writing – I worked as a museum curator and writing catalogues, articles in journals etc was very much part of the job! However, the sort of writing I now do came about rather differently.

Back in the early 1990s, I did an MA in English Local History and became friendly with one of my fellow mature students, Marion Aldis, who was very interested in 19th century diaries. Some months after we finished the course – by which time I was working at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent – I helped a colleague with a local history project she was doing with a group of students which involved them in looking at original documents.

One of the sets of documents they were given to work on was a collection of diaries (in Keele University Special Collections Library). The students hated them – they were quite difficult to read – so I spent quite a lot of time helping them with that part of the project and realised that the collection was actually enormously interesting – and no-one else was studying it. I contacted my friend – and we embarked on what became a 12-year project tracing the history of these North Staffordshire diarists. Fortunately for us they were an eccentric, quarrelsome bunch so their lives made interesting reading ...(I can talk about this at length!)

Fairly soon we realised that the material was worth publishing and set about looking for a publisher. We wrote to a number of national publishers – none of whom were interested – then we heard about a publisher (now retired) in Leek and he published five books for us based on the diaries.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

We write ‘popular history’ – for people who are interested in the same sort of things that interest us – the everyday lives of ordinary people, especially women, in the 19th century.

We both read a lot of history but I’m not sure there are many direct influences on our work. In some of our books – notably Finding Susanna, we incorporate quite a lot of the story of our research projects and our personal stories. Research is a form of detective work and the way we uncover information can sometimes be quite quirky.

We also have a lot of fun – we are both married women, not as young as we’d like to be, and going off on research trips together is very enjoyable, very different from the lives we lead as wives and mothers.

What are your main concerns as writers?

I suppose our main concern is, first of all, to do our research properly. What we write is always as factually historically correct as we can make it. The second concern is to try to make our subjects come alive – without relying too heavily on our imaginations. And the third is to write in a lively, approachable style. So much modern history is written in jargon.

Writing as a pair does help – we are quite critical of each other.

Do you write everyday?

I, personally, don’t have any particular process for writing. I’m busy – I write when I have the time, while dinner is cooking, while the kitchen floor is drying – whatever. I certainly don’t write every day.

How many books have you written so far?
  • The 1844 Diary of John William Sneyd: Muskets and Mining (Churnet Valley Books of Leek, 1996) 144pp. Transcript of the diary with an introduction and a lot of illustrations.
  • John Sneyd’s Diary 1815-1871: Thirty Pieces of Silver (Churnet Valley Books of Leek, 1998) 264pp. Edited transcripts of some of his 50+ diaries with chapters describing the major events of his life. He was a clergyman who lost the family fortune in ill-advised mining speculations, had a fellow clergyman imprisoned for slander, quarrelled irrevocably with his eldest son. He was a charismatic, able, but deeply flawed man.
  • Finding Susanna: the Story of Mrs Susanna Ingleby, née Sneyd 1831-91 (Churnet Valley Books of Leek, 2002), 379pp. A biography based on her diaries. The most colourful event of her life was that she married in 1860 to an abusive husband and left him after a mere six weeks. Thereafter she was a social pariah and ended up as housekeeper to her widowed brother (the one who was estranged from their father) bringing up his only child, her nephew, who grew into an extremely strange and eccentric adult. She was, however, the only member of the family who was remotely capable of managing money, and she spent her time bailing out impecunious relatives – including her youngest brother who was a clergyman who impregnated a teenage aidservant and was the subject of a Consistory Court hearing.
  • Susanna’s Cookery Book: A Culinary Adventure in Staffordshire (Churnet Valley Books of Leek, 2003) 128pp. A collection of Susanna Ingleby’s recipes together with comments from local people (some of them her descendants) who tried the recipes out for us.
  • Finding Ralphy (Churnet Valley Books of Leek, 2005), 288pp. The biography of Susanna’s nephew. He had a private museum, was a self-styled Knight of the Round Table, became Chief Druid for Staffordshire, conducted eccentric religious ceremonies in his private chapel, was a competent artist and a truly appalling poet – and totally eccentric.
  • Staffordshire Women: Nine Forgotten Histories (History Press, 2010), 126pp. Very much the same sort of thing as I’ve described for Norfolk Women. Subjects included a pottery paintress, an heiress who endowed a school, a nail mistress, a housekeeper in a stately home and a factory owner.
  • Our 7th book, Nine 19th Century Norfolk Women (title not yet decided) goes to press at the end of next month. To be published by Poppyland in 2011
How would you describe your latest book?

The current book is about 19th century Norfolk women and it takes the form of nine single-chapter biographies of ordinary women who led successful lives within the parameters of their social class. None of them are in any way famous – we aim to shine a spotlight on the lives of ordinary people. One was a governess who went to the Ukraine, one was a lighthouse keeper, one a fishmonger, one the matron of a lunatic asylum, one a farmer, one emigrated to Canada – and so on.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Its always hard to say how long something takes. The research for each chapter probably takes about a month – or it would if you could work at it consecutively – but that’s not how research pans out.

We got the commission for this book in October and it goes to the publisher at the end of July – but we’d already done some of the work in another context. So you could say it took 10 months – or three years – or twenty years if you include learning how to do what we do!

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

Poppyland, our publisher specialises in books on Norfolk which is why we chose him – but in the real world publishers do the choosing, not authors. The only disadvantage so far is that he is based in Cromer which is rather a long way away – time will tell what other (if any) disadvantages present themselves when he actually gets the mss!

What were the most difficult aspects of the work that went into the book?

There are always all sorts of difficulties – for this particular book we have had to discard several of our subjects either because someone else was working on them or because their descendants didn’t like us writing about them, for example.

My biggest difficulty probably this time was finding illustration of a particular small town in the Ukraine – you’d be amazed how difficult that was.

You deal with problems as they crop up - they are all different so there’s no simple answer.

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

Single biggest achievement? Well, I suppose getting fairly esoteric material published at all was quite clever – let alone having (so far) had three separate publishers.

Most of the people we studied with write and do research – few of them have published.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

[Interview] Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone lives, works, and writes in Cambridge, MA. He is the author of several novels which include Three Parts Dead, which is currently out on submission.

His short stories have been featured in magazines that include Space Westerns and On The Premises as well as in the anthology, The Book of Exodi (Eposic, 2009).

He also administers the blog Two Guys, Three Hundred Poems, where he publishes and comments on translations of the anthology of Tang poetry known as the 300 Tang Poems.

In this interview, Max Gladstone talked about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I began writing before I actually knew how to put letters together -- just a bunch of scratches filling my parents' old notebooks, one line at a time -- but if you mean writing stories, it started with a very simple vampire story typed out on an old suitcase Remington in my closet at the age of five or six.

From there, it was a short skip and a jump to wanting to be a published writer: I realized as soon as I started reading books that were worth remarking upon that I wanted to respond to the ladies and gentleman I had read, and the best way to do that was to write books of my own.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

In terms of genre, I write mostly in what John Crowley would call the genres of romance: science fiction and fantasy, with a bit of mystery thrown in.

I'm concerned about the degree to which American fantasy fiction concerns itself with the same issues as English fantasy fiction. It seems to me that we should be trying to do something different, and I've been trying to reach towards that.

I've spent the last year or two reading a lot of American fiction and trying to develop the voice in my writing. It's a very strange exercise, something like practicing Taiji Quan, where you have to be very conscious of the words you're writing and what they mean.

Who is your target audience?

I try to write for all intelligent people who like awesome stories.

Roger Zelazny has been an immense influence since I was a child, and a lot of my initial sense of the poetry in speculative fiction comes from him.

I also loved LeGuin's Earthsea books; her dragons are some of the best realized creatures (monsters? beasts? people?) in fantasy.

John Crowley's Little, Big has also molded the way I see fiction, though I didn't discover that particular masterpiece until college.

Recently, I've found non-genre authors the most moving and influential: Mikhail Bulgakov, Salman Rushdie, and Toni Morrison on the slightly slipstream side, and [William] Faulkner and John Steinbeck on the more traditional side.

East of Eden and Absalom, Absalom are particularly amazing, though in different ways.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Every writer is shaped by his personal experience, whether he admits it or not. I try to avoid directly copying events from my life into fiction, but my experiences in Asia (I lived in China, traveled in Mongolia, Cambodia, Thailand and Japan), and my travels in Europe and out west in the United States as a child gave me a wealth of experiences that are endlessly valuable in my work.

Bits of truth about life in China, and about the history of suffering there, show up from time to time in my work that's not set anywhere near China, for example. Certainly my sense of the pleasures and occasional torments of village life come from my experiences in China, and my students' discussions.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern, honestly, is that it's quite difficult to make a living as a writer, and that in the context of a full-time job I won't find time enough to get serious work done. So far I've tried to fight that with a rigorous writing schedule, and had some success.

My biggest challenges arise when the obligations of life get in the way of doing real, capital-W work, without being a huge loser to my family and friends. As far as challenges go, these are pretty simple, I guess.

I once met a farmer in rural China who made 100 kuai a month (about $12.50) from his crop; I said that seemed a very small amount and he said it was fine, that he made a lot less during the Cultural Revolution. He's been through challenges far greater than any I've faced in this life, and there are still tons of people in the world worse off than him.

Do you write everyday?

I write every day, though I don't have a set habit. I have an extremely portable word processor (an AlphaSmart Neo, if you're interested), that I carry with me while I'm writing, and if I have a few minutes I sit down and slam out a few sentences, a paragraph, a thousand words. The one-track mind is a great help to me there.

I've written several novels, one of which I'm submitting to agents as I write this; none of these have been published, though I have published a handful of short stories in small presses and magazines in the last two years: one short story of espionage and assassination, one about a group of Martian rebels, one about a dream-space-Viking invasion of Miami, and one about the travails of a Chinese doctor who discovers the secret to re-animating the dead (some of the time), all of which are linked off my website.

This year I'll be collaborating with Alana Abbott on a serial novel about fairy politics, gladiatorial combat, and political rebellion called Blood and Tumult, which should start appearing in fall on Baeg Tobar.

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is a sort of legal procedural with necromancers; it took me the better part of six months to write, and is currently in the submission stage of its life.

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

The query letter and plot synopsis were the most difficult parts of the writing process, though I did finally get the hang of them.

Essentially, you have to distill the book you've written to a few sentences. The problem is, if you could represent adequately your book in those few sentences you wouldn't have written a book, you'd have written flash fiction. So then you think about it as an exercise in marketing and flash fiction, and it's (mostly) okay. Of course, the success of that method remains to be seen -- fingers crossed!

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I enjoy writing the most. Putting one word in front of the other is great, especially when you feel that they're good words.

Revising is second-best. It's like whittling, only you're whittling your own child. Maybe it's more fun than that sounds.

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

Each of my books (and each of my pieces of short fiction, for that matter) have come out of different inspirations, and have been written in states of obsession with different topics. While writing this one, I spent a lot of time thinking about neural networks, religion, evolution, and finance, for example; previous books have been more concerned with Go, or with Genghis Khan.

I hope readers would say that all my books have interesting, well-defined characters, and a driving plot that consists of many wheels within wheels.

What will your next book be about?

The next project is going to be Blood and Tumult, an exciting project that I'm collaborating upon with Alana Abbott. I'm looking forward to collaborating with someone so experienced on such an interesting property as Baeg Tobar.

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

So far, I'd say my most significant achievement as a writer has been persisting. Writers write, finish what they start, revise endlessly, and move on to the next project. That way (I hope!) the best story is always the next one.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

[Transcript] Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing

Corinne Fowler is a lecturer in the School of English at the University of Leicester. Her work includes Chasing Tales: Travel Writing, Journalism and the History of Ideas about Afghanistan (Editions Rodopi B.V, 2007); Travel Writing and Ethics: Theory and Practice (Routledge, forthcoming) and Postcolonial Manchester: the literary response (Manchester University Press, forthcoming). In this video, she talks about Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing, an Arts Council funded project which, among other things, aims to promote transcultural Leicester writing:

The reason I devised this project was because I found, in my research, that books written by London-based writers, especially if they've got a strong transcultural element, tend to enjoy much wider readerships than those written by ... than those that are transcultural novels and plays and so on, in the regions.

What I wanted to do was to try and promote public awareness of the kind of scope and diversity and range of writing that had been produced in Leicestershire since 1980. The reason I picked that as the start date was because a lot of money then came through to councils to promote this kind of writing and publishing activity. A lot of this material has been produced by independent, alternative publishers which don't have commercial imperatives and which care about quality fiction in a devance sense. And what I mean by 'devance sense' is that I want to give a sense of the range of writing across Britain. At the moment, I think, our view of what's being produced is a bit distorted and London-centric. So, this project is aimed at combating that. And it's also ... it has several outputs which I think are really exciting.

There's going to be an open-access database, which I'm calling an e-catalogue, of all the titles I can find that have been produced since 1980 and there'll be an exhibition about writing in Leicestershire. Again, this will be at the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester but also in the central and reference library in Leicester.

There'll be a literary blog, which will enable people to give feedback, so that I can receive responses to my writing about the material I am uncovering. And there'll be a £1,000 writing commission which some people might want to apply for and an online, edited, writers' gallery which will give 50 author pages and showcase the writing of quality writers in Leicestershire who are at work today.

I did a study, and in many ways, this study inspired me to apply for funding to support Leicestershire writers whose work is transcultural in some way. What I did was, I compared compared Zadie Smith's White Teeth to a novel which had been produced in Moss Side in Manchester. The novel came out in the same month as Zadie Smith's White Teeth. It's called Forever and Ever Amen, by an author called Joe Pemberton. Both of them received excellent critical reviews. They were reviewed in the national media but Zadie Smith had an international following and Forever and Ever Amen soon fell by the wayside in terms of readership.

What I really wanted to examine was why they had two, such different trajectories and what was the cause of that. And, part of it, I found, was because there's a history of slightly negative reception of northern writing and of regional writing, in general ... which is the idea that anything that's not written in the cosmopolitan centre of London must, by definition, be rather parochial and of only local interest.

The other complication with Joe Pemberton's novel was that it was a working-class novel by a black writer based in the North and I found that these elements, all put together, were too much for the marketing brains of the corporate publishing world in London to take on board even though, I felt, in terms of quality, the two novels were comparable.

It gave me a sense of how so much good writing is falling by the wayside and that this is a kind of injustice which is driven by fairly commercial agendas on the part of publishers which are understandable, on one hand, but highly problematic and unjust, on another.

I have several partners that are involved in this project and the aim of these partners is to try and improve the local, national and international reach and exposure of this writing. I have a list here because it is quite difficult to remember them all.

There are 10 partner organisations: Word! at the Y; we've got the Asian Writer, which has got a big international following; Charnwood Arts; the Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research at Lancaster University; Embrace Arts at Leicester University; Leicester Libraries are onboard; the Literature Network; Mainstream Partnership; Short Fuse Fiction; and, an organisation called Writing East Midlands which mentors a lot of writers in the region. And these people will all come together as part of the steering group.

More information about the project is available on the Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicester Writing microsite.