Welcome to the three hundred and ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and career coach Judith Thomas. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Judith. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Judith: My name is Judith Thomas and my recently published book is WORK ABILITIES – A Guide for Persons with Disabilities Seeking Employment. Originally from the UK, and hoping to return there when I retire, I am currently based in Ottawa, Canada. Most of my training and public speaking work takes place in Toronto.
My trail to becoming a writer is a very convoluted one. I was always drawn to write and initially thought of becoming a journalist. However, life intervened and I had various jobs and a family, before finding a career that I enjoyed. I got involved in the employment sector of work quite by chance and found that I loved it! So, I went back to school, first becoming a Career Coach and then a Career Development Practitioner. I’ve been employed by various non-profits as an intake co-ordinator, career counsellor, workshop facilitator, job developer, community outreach worker, and program manager. I discovered a passion for helping others and chose to work with marginalized youth, the long term unemployed and persons with disabilities (pwd). During my work with pwd, I myself became disabled and could no longer work in a full-time, structured environment. After a grieving period, I decided I could still help others through writing about my expertise. So, I first wrote my Work Abilities Guide and have just completed a Career Coach Capabilities guide which is for job coaches working with pwd.
Morgen: Gosh. They say write about what you know… Is it non-fiction that you generally write?
Judith: So far, I’m sticking to employment related material as that is my expertise. I have written several magazine articles on various topics such as youth, hope based counselling and behavioral interviewing, to name a few.
Morgen: I would imagine that there are quite a few outlets for those topics. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Judith: I only have one book published to date and it is under my own name.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Judith: I applied to several career based organisations to help offset the cost of publishing and marketing, but was not successful in any of my proposals. So, I just paid my own publishing costs and will continue at a slower pace than I would like!
Morgen: But you get all the satisfaction. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Judith: No, but some of my article writing has led to public speaking engagements which I thrive on – especially if they are paying ones!
Morgen: Oh great. I look forward to those. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Judith: Surviving on a disability pension does not allow for hiring an agent! However, I do have a lot of encouragement from past colleagues and current friends.
Morgen: Agents should only get paid from your profits but it can be an expensive process finding one, in time and postage certainly. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Judith: Yes, my book is available in eBook form for those with visual impairment.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do?
Judith: Currently, I do all of my own marketing, but it is a long, slow haul. I utilise any speaking engagement I have to advertise and sell my books, as well as participate in a lot of discussion on the LinkedIn website.
Morgen: LinkedIn’s great, isn’t it. If your book were to be made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Judith: Someone with a lot of humour! It is extremely tough to convince some employers to hire you with a disability, so you need to be able to smile and keep moving forward.
Morgen: Presumably being self-published, you chose your title and cover of your books, how important do you think they are?
Judith: Yes. I titled both my books and also chose the illustrators for them. I think that was very important as both titles describe what the books are about and the illustrations make them more interesting if you are a visual learner.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Judith: Saving frantically to have my next book published!
Morgen: Ah yes, money. But such a thrill seeing your work out there. With your time spent marketing etc., do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Judith: I often write best in the mornings, but inspiration can come at any time. Since my physical condition does not allow me to sit for long periods, both my books were written mainly lying in bed with a pencil and paper. I typed them up later, as I was able. Luckily, that means I always have a pencil and pad at my bedside, so I can jot down ideas at any time.
Morgen: Me too – I have pads and pens everywhere. I rarely write in bed but I know novelist Marina Lewycka does. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Judith: I am not a highly organised type of person. I write very randomly and then sort out order and chapters later.
Morgen: Some who are organised do it that way. It’s whatever suits us, isn’t it. This is where I usually ask about creating your characters…
Judith: Characters don’t really come in to it for me, although my books are heavily based on “characters” I have assisted to become employed and “characters” I have worked alongside. I describe them in both books as “the good, the bad and the ugly!” There are lots of real stories in both books, with names changed to protect the innocent.
Morgen: Very wise. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Judith: The editing I normally do is to add stuff after I think I’m finished.
Morgen: And if you’re anything like me you could just keep going. Do you have to do much research?
Judith: Yes, I need to include some facts and figures, as well as relevant web sites, for my readers.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Judith: I hope not!!!
Morgen: Me too. I have loads of writing that I’ve not touched for months but I’m hoping I can do something with it. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Judith: My favourite part is the passion that goes in to what I write. My least favourite part is the cost factor.
Morgen: Drat, that pesky money again.😦 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Judith: Follow Nike’s sales pitch; “Just Do It”.
Morgen: Absolutely. You can’t edit a blank page. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Judith: Winston Churchill, Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher. Can you tell I’m a Brit, even though I’ve been in Canada a long time? I would have to serve vegetarian out of respect for Ghandi, but I would ply Winston and Margaret with lots of wine, so they wouldn’t mind the food!
Morgen: My mum’s a vegetarian so I eat her Quorn variations whenever I visit and it’s really nice although I couldn’t give up meat (unless I was told I had to). Coronation chicken… yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Judith: yes, from Ghandi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Morgen: I like that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Judith: I’m trying to break in to the market of training other career coaches and have made a small start.
Morgen: But you enjoy it so you’ll keep going. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Judith: My publisher’s website has an author learning centre at www.Xlibris.com.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Judith: I like Linkedin and am in several of the career related groups. I am also a member of Google Groups for Career Practitioners. I find them quite valuable.
Morgen: I’m on Google+ but I’ve not heard of the latter – thanks for that. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Judith: I think people will always want to read and increase their knowledge – no matter what format they read in.
Morgen: I agree and now they have their phones, tablets, computers… Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Morgen: I love the cover. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Judith: I’d like to thank you for giving writers this opportunity to showcase their material. You obviously have a passion for helping others too!
Morgen: Oh, you’re so welcome. I do really enjoy it, yes.
I then invited Judith to include an extract of her writing and this is from Chapter Two of ‘Work Abilities’:
By far the majority of employment agencies and non-profit employment organizations truly care about their clients. Most of them hire well-qualified, empathetic counselors, facilitators, intake coordinators and job developers. But, those “Ugly” ones we mentioned earlier are also out there.
Remember – If you are being coerced in to a position that you don’t want, then you have the right to refuse. You may be looking for a temporary job to assist you financially, or you may be in the long haul search for meaningful employment. Either way, the choice is yours and there is no right or wrong concerning your needs and values.
Warning – There are some agencies and individuals who care more about their statistics and funding, profit margin, or personal reputation, than you as an individual. Many organizations have a “quota” to fill, in order to stay in business.
Solution – If you are unhappy with your job coach, their program, or the agency you are with, the solution is simple; ask them to close your file. Try an agency, or consultant, that you think is a better fit for your needs. Start by checking out their mandate, or vision statement. Does it sit well with your own values and beliefs?
Quote from Marianne Cooke, Employment Support Consultant, Link Up Employment Services for Persons with Disabilities, Toronto, Canada:
“My belief is that both of the manuals Judith has written are long overdue ‘missing pieces of the puzzle’, for job seekers with disabilities, ‘Workabilities’ is a guide to who’s who in the specialized employment services universe, it is a practical kit to navigating the sometimes confusing and hidden maze of services and supports available, a detailing of pitfalls to avoid and opportunities offered and finally and importantly, the guide instructs on how to keep hope alive and confidence high during a job search. In sum, ‘Workabilities’ is many things; and although time and persistence by job seekers may eventually uncover best ways to take advantage of all that the system has to offer, this guide offers a highly valuable ‘shortcut’, knitting together the best of best practices and approaches and presents all of these in a highly readable style.”
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