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Journalist and writer

Archive for March 2009

Auslander by Paul Dowswell

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Auslander by Paul Dowswell. Bloomsbury. £10.99.Auslander by Paul Dowswell

Piotr is a Polish boy who is orphaned when his parents are killed in a car crash.

The Nazis have invaded his country and, as a minor, is forced to leave his home for an orphanage in Warsaw.

There he is assessed and measured by the Germans, who categorise him as “racially valuable” because he is Volksdeutscher (of German blood) and packed off to Berlin to the home of Prof Kaltenbach and his family.

Hailed as a perfect German specimen, Piotr quickly realises he wants nothing to do with the Nazi movement and decides he has to do something to get out. But, this is 1942 and possibly the most dangerous time for someone in his vulnerable position to go against the prevailing political storm.

A profound and moving story, Wolverhampton author Dowswell is an historian who has captured beautifully the intensity of the time, the fear and trepidation of young Germans during the Second World War.

Very different in style and tone from his previous children’s books, which centred on a young boy, Sam Witchall in the Napoleonic Wars, this is a mature story and one that carries a powerful message about how corruption can destroy almost anyone.

It does take a little time to get going, but it really is an excellent novel  with some incredible historical insights, including  the Fritz von Rabaneau adaptation of Silent Night that included the words, “Silent Night, Holy Night,all is calm, wakeful only is Adolf Hitler, watching over Germany’s destiny…”

While this book will receive obvious comparisons with John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, simply because of the time in which it is set. They are totally different, but if you enjoyed Boyne’s incredible novel, then Dowswell’s is certainly worth exploring.

Written by CommonPeople

March 18, 2009 at 5:15 pm

How to ‘engage users’ by getting rid of public sector jargon

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Hurrah for the Local Government Association.
It wants all public sector organisations to ban the appalling jargon and gobbledegook that litter their publications and reports.
The association wants ugly phrases and words to be banned, arguing that they alienate the ordinary person, and are often meaningless.
I applaud this sentiment wholeheartedly.
Is there anything so ugly as listening to someone discuss “blue sky thinking” or “citizen empowerment”?
Why are so many reports bogged down in the sludge of horrible management-speak such as core values, facilitate, edge-fit (what?!), service users, improvement levers, worklessness and – a personal “favourite”, incentivise?
These words and phrases strangle our language and do nothing to “improve our skill set” (sic). They are of such profound hideousness that you might wonder if they fell out of the ugly linguistic tree and hit every branch on the way down before being stamped on by the OED.
These report writers use these phrases because they think it makes them appear clever and professional. No, it doesn’t.
The chairman of the Local Government Association, Cllr Margaret Eaton, said it is vital that councils get their messages across clearly.
“The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases,” she said.
“Why do we have to have ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?
“Councils have a duty, not only to provide value for money to local people, but also to tell people what they get for the tax they pay. People would be furious if they have no idea of what services their cash is paying for and how they should get to use them. “
Who’d disagree with that?
There are some words and phrases that might (and I say “might” with extreme trepidation) have their place in the privacy of the boardroom, where inter-departmental co-workers might wish to cross-fertilise their ideas and champion collaborative best practice so that they are coterminous for the end user/client. At this point in time. Naturally.
But, for heaven’s sake, don’t be lazy and trot out these sterile phrases because you can’t be bothered to think outside of the box (sic) and engage with the populace or other stakeholders in a meaningful way. Such parameters are not good network models. We want the outcomes to be normalised.
So let’s embrace the LGA’s wish and be proactive in streamlining the potentialities of negative strategic priorities outcomes.
It’s time for these local authorities to interface with the agencies and engage in place shaping so that multidisciplinary practitioners can look at them as beacons of communication.
After all, we live in a can-do culture where there is sufficient capacity building to overcome such challenges.
Consider it actioned.

Written by CommonPeople

March 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

How Twitter users published a book for Comic Relief

with one comment

I’m not sure it was meant to be such a large project.
A tweet went out on micro blogging site Twitter in mid February, asking if anyone would be interested in a collaboration to produce a book for Comic Relief.
Linda Jones, a journalist and director of Passionate Media, and fellow scribe Louise Bolotin wondered if TwitterTitters (a name voted upon by the discerning users of Twitter) could be done in time for Red Nose Day, March 13, 2009.
Before they could change their minds – or even take a breath – submissions were pouring in, a website was set up and comedian Dave Spikey, of Phoenix Nights fame, had agreed to have a previously unseen work included.
And then Nat Coombs, whose online Chelsey:OMG! is gaining a huge following, wrote the foreword to the book.
A PR agency, a Twitter contact of the organisers, got involved, an editor, illustrator and judging panel soured (all through Twitter); advice was sought on the micro blogging site and messages flew around to keep everyone up to speed.
Such a valiant effort meant the book was conceived and born in about the same gestation period of a mouse.
And what a book: 12 pieces of wonderful writing from established and emerging comic talent. Some of the stories will make you giggle; others will have you guffaw uproariously. How do I know? Well, I was one of the judges.
Thrilled to be asked in the first place, and ever so slightly daunted by the 70+ submissions, I pored over the texts and was thankful I wasn’t in a public place when I read them, such was my snorting and occasional shriek.
It was a tough task, but the shortlist was drawn up in super quick time, we judges  – Martin Millar, Diane Shipley and Maria McCarthy – didn’t fight (although an arm wrestle was suggested) and the book – published by http://www.Lulu.com – was on sale before you knew it.
So, go on, buy a copy. Please. It costs £4.99 to download or you can get a real 120-page paperback copy to treasure for £9 (or JUST £9, as those sales types say). All proceeds go to Comic Relief – nothing, rien, nada goes to those who were involved with its production. All they need is the glow of satisfaction of a job well done.
We might not have climbed Kilimanjaro, but we have climbed our own mountain doing this: doing something funny for money.
Please support the TwitterTitters book – you can buy a copy here: http://www.lulu.com/content/6281246
If you want to find out more about Comic Relief and the projects it supports in the UK and Africa, click here http://www.comicrelief.com