Impostor syndrome or the obstacle course of the self

Independent researcher and author Helen Kara continues her fortnightly series of blogs on the practice of non-fiction, academic writing by looking at often the biggest challenge in the whole process – the writer themselves… 

Helen KaraThere are lots of potential obstacles to writing: lack of time, motivation, or ability; needing to read all the internet before you start; and so on. Not having time is often cited as a major reason why people don’t write. I have little time for time as an excuse.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s possible to write effectively in short periods of time. It took me around ten minutes to write the first 100 words of this blog post. That’s 100 words I didn’t have before. If I spent ten minutes writing each day for five days, I’d have 500 words, or approximately a typed page of A4.

I went on a fiction writing course, some years ago, with the Arvon Foundation, and one of the tutors was the novelist Andrew Cowan. I remember him telling us how he wrote quite slowly, and not to worry if we did too, because every novel was just a pile of pages, and the thing to do was to carry on putting another page on the pile, and eventually you’d have a whole novel’s worth, and it didn’t matter if that took you years.

an inspirational woman

On that course I also met an inspirational woman who is the other reason I have little time for the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse. This woman cared, single-handed, for three young children and her elderly, infirm father. She had to get them all up in the morning and washed and fed, take them to their various schools or day care, and then go to work to earn her family’s living.

After work she had to collect them all again, bring them home, feed them, do the housework, and put them all to bed. Then she used the next half-hour for writing, while the house was quiet, before she fell into bed herself. She talked about how lucky she felt to have half an hour, every day, for her writing. At that point I made a silent vow that I would never, ever, whinge about not having enough time to write.

hk_19092014maskI’m motivated to write, my ability is proven, and I’m not much of a procrastinator (if you don’t count tweeting, which I don’t – you have to write tweets, right? So it’s practice). But I’m experiencing a whole new obstacle, which has made this week remarkably unproductive. It’s called impostor syndrome. Essentially, I feel like a fraud, and I’m sure I’ll be caught out, because I can’t possibly be allowed to get away with impersonating someone who knows enough to write a book.

I had this with my last book, too, but it didn’t kick in until the writing was done. This time it’s really getting in the way. It’s completely bizarre because I know it’s ridiculous – I can write; I do know about research; and I also know how to spot gaps in my knowledge and how to fill those gaps. Yet there’s this incredible feeling of fraudulence right alongside that knowledge.

“impostor syndrome is a great problem to have, because it’s a problem of success”

In one way, impostor syndrome is a great problem to have, because it’s a problem of success. I’ve experienced other problems of success, such as learning to say ‘no’ (I’m quite good at that these days) and managing a ridiculous email inbox (that too). But I’m really struggling to solve this problem.

Going back to the reviewers’ comments, lovely though they are, doesn’t help. Their criticism could not have been more constructive, yet their gentle and useful pointing out of ways I could strengthen the typescript simply have me convinced that if I wasn’t a fraud I would have thought of them myself. I found out that one of my writerly heroes, Neil Gaiman, has also suffered from impostor syndrome (well worth watching, but skip to 7 mins 25 secs if you want to get straight to the point).

You’d think that would be comforting – but no, it intensified the problem, as in: I must be even more of a fraud if I think I can have a syndrome that Neil Gaiman had. I’ve tried to persuade myself to think differently – ‘come on, Helen, you can do this writing thing, you’ll be fine’. I’ve tried to berate myself out of it – ‘for goodness’ sake, Helen, get a grip and put some words down’. Nothing works.

So I guess I just have to find a way to live with it and write anyway. Oddly enough, I think writing this blog post may have helped. It is well known that writing can be therapeutic, so maybe… I’ll let you know next blog.

Let’s hope the blogging has helped!  Whilst you wait for the next instalment however why not browse some of Helen’s previous blogs below:

Reviewers comments: the good, the bad and the ugly


That difficult second research book

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The complexity of convergence: criminal justice, mental health and risk

The World Mental Health Day earlier this month aimed to create awareness and mobilise efforts to support the mental health of individuals.  Editors of A companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk, Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley, which publishes today, have a particular interest in the point of ideological, legislative , practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice.

In their blog post academics and Policy Press authors Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley begin to outline some of the intertwining issues surrounding criminal justice and mental health.

PT, SM, KCNational and international awareness days are just one example of the myriad of activities aimed at promoting mental health agendas. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, those tasked with the mandate of support, educating about, and treating mental health issues are cross-disciplinary and multi-agency. One area, among many, of discussion and debate on the improvement of mental wellbeing and the support of mental health issues is in the criminal justice context.

Those in contact with the criminal justice system who experience poor mental health may be considered as exceptionally vulnerable. A system whose remit is to respond to a variety of crises – be that of a criminal or personal/social nature – is a system of complexity with a range of demands placed upon it.

Precarious system

Moreover, it is a precarious system whereby the expectations placed upon it are diverse, with innumerable competing aims. Allegations that aspects of the criminal justice process fail to support the needs of those with mental vulnerabilities are frequently expressed, and so too are those concerns that the system itself is implicit in creating and exacerbating mental health issues.

So then, the mobilisation of policies and services to address mental health in a criminal justice context have evolved, but at the same time has come under scrutiny. Indeed for some, the boundaries between healthcare and criminal justice have become blurred, and not always with positive outcomes.

This critical approach to the intersections of criminal justice and mental health legislation, policy and practice have grown gradually and have illuminated upon the ideological, legislative, practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice (see for example, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2010).

“A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas”

Convergence continues to take place in many criminal justice and penal systems. It is complex to observe, sophisticated in form and influenced by a range of imperatives, agendas and discourses. The overlapping areas of criminal justice, mental healthcare and risk require a critical and balanced understanding, and along the way, require observers to ask the question “who benefits?”

Multiagency approaches and cross-discipline developments in the area of mental healthcare, risk management and criminal justice are becoming increasing normalised in the organising principles of those subject to sanctions and interventions.

The benefits of increased convergence are well documented, not least in the developing agendas to support mental health issues in areas such as court diversion and prisons. But at the same time, understanding the complexities of convergent practices provides a potential to be alerted to unintended consequences and less-than-positive outcomes.

A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas, not least when thinking about the support and treatment of those subject to its controls.

The delivery of therapeutic interventions within an environment of sanctions is ideologically contradictory to say the least, and so the challenges facing those tasked with the planning and delivery of interventions are increasingly becoming more acute.

A companion to criminal justice mental health & riskA companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk by Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley is available at the discounted price of £22.39 (RRP £27.99) from Policy Press website, here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The Points Interview: Henry Yeomans


Interview with academic and Policy Press author Henry Yeomans, (first published on ‘Points’ by Claire Clark 14th October 2014) about his book Alcohol and moral regulation: Public attitudes, spirited measures and Victorian hangovers. Perfect Monday morning reading…

Originally posted on Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome back past contributor Henry Yeomans (check out his previous series of Points posts here,here, and here). Yeomans is a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leeds. Here, he discusses new book, Alcohol and Moral Regulation: Public Attitudes, Spirited Measures and Victorian Hangovers (University of Chicago/Policy Press for the University of Bristol, 2014).

screenshot_1200Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Alcohol is a magnetic topic for public attention in England and Wales. Newspapers incessantly run stories on the ills of binge drinking, new government policies regularly seek to address ‘irresponsible’ or ‘problem’ drinking, and commentators and campaign groups routinely demand tighter laws to counter an ‘out of control’ drinking ‘epidemic’. This level of alarmed attention tends to be justified by a widespread belief that drinking in Britain is a worsening and peculiarly British social problem…

View original 1,274 more words

Korean Reunification — Closer than Anyone Thinks?

Academic and Policy Press author Salvatore Babones shares his thoughts on the recent disappearance from public view of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, suggesting that this may be the first sign of an internal move towards reunification within the country.  

Salvatore Babones

Salvatore Babones asks if Korean reunification is on the cards

North Korea’s 31-year-old ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong-un was last seen in public on September 2, 2014.  On October 14 the North Korean government released undated photos purportedly showing Kim paying an inspection visit to a government research facility, but as of writing there is still no firm evidence that he is at the reins of government despite massive international media attention questioning his grip on power.

Power in North Korea has been passed down from father to son over the last seven decades as ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il-sung was succeeded by ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il who begat ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong-un. As North Korea prepares to enter its eighth decade, Kim is potentially missing in action and there is no designated successor in sight.

Kim Jong-unConventional policy analysis predicts instability and mayhem if Kim does not resurface soon to resume control of his domain. But another outcome is possible, perhaps even likely. It is conceivable that Kim may have been deposed by his generals due to a volatile combination of murderous ruthlessness and youthful inexperience. If so, the generals may be much more open than the Kim family was to compromise with the South.

Military juntas the world over have come to understand the benefits — to themselves — of compromise with the United States and acceptance of capitalism. All across Asia, from Indonesia to Myanmar to South Korea, the families of former military commanders are now extraordinarily wealthy property developers, investors, and local fixers. And then there’s the example of China right next door.

The Kim family that has ruled North Korea for seven decades has every incentive to cling to absolute power. As recent events across the Middle East have shown, family autocrats do not, perhaps cannot, step down gracefully. North Korea’s faceless generals, on the other hand, are unlikely to face international tribunals or execution by firing squad. The rational thing for them to do is to hand over the reins of power and fade into wealthy obscurity.

If the North Korean generals do sue for peace, expect reunification in short order. The South Korean government may be against it but the South Korean population wants it and South Korea is a vibrant democracy. If the German precedent of 1989-1990 is any guide, popular euphoria will quickly sweep away official attempts to put on the breaks. As soon as the credibility of military power begins to erode, people power will ensure rapid reunification.

The reunification of Korea and the spread of democracy from the South to the North through the mundane mechanism of crony capitalism may not make for a very inspiring story, but that does not make the story any less likely. The only person standing in the way is Kim Jong-un, and he may not be standing at all. A charismatic dictator cannot remain out of sight for long without losing control of his people’s imaginations. Whether he is in fact alive and well making inspection tours, is just sick or really has been deposed, Kim Jong-un may already have passed the point of no return.


The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Reviewers’ comments: the good, the bad, the ugly

In her continuing series of blogs on academic writing as an independent researcher, author Helen Kara considers the ‘gift’ in the academic publishing process that is typescript reviewers feedback. 

Helen KaraReceiving reviewers’ comments can be a scary moment. Will they hate it? Will they like it but want lots of changes? Will they even agree with each other?

HK for 12-09-14giftIt can be hard to remember that a review is a gift. Think about it: someone has taken the time and effort to read your work and give you feedback. If you’re lucky, it will be immediately obvious that the feedback is helpful – but this is not always the case.

The International Committee on Publication Ethics published a set of ethical guidelines for peer reviewers in March 2013. Among other things, they say that reviewers should:

• Make sure they have time to do a proper critique before they take it on
• Not critique work unless they have the necessary expertise in the subject matter
• Read the work thoroughly
• Make constructive comments about the text, not personal comments about the writer
• Give their feedback within a reasonable length of time
• Keep the work, and their feedback, confidential

In my experience, reviewers’ comments generally come in some time after the agreed deadline. Coincidentally, as I was thinking about this subject, the amusing Twitter account @AcademicsSay tweeted:

I will confess to a few sleepless nights and chewed fingernails while waiting for those overdue comments. I think this is partly because academic reviews are usually anonymous: the reviewers don’t know who wrote the text, and the writer doesn’t know who has reviewed it.


There’s heaps of debate around the blind peer review system. For my part I would prefer to know who is reviewing my work, so that I could judge whether they have the necessary expertise, and could ask them to clarify anything I didn’t understand. I’d also be happy to be open as a reviewer. I think this would increase reviewers’ accountability, and make the possibility of vicious personal comments, alluded to by the CoPE guidelines above, vanishingly small.

Luckily for me, I’ve never been on the receiving end of destructive review comments – unlike unfortunate friends who have been reduced to tears and even put off writing altogether. I have had reviews which weren’t massively helpful, but not reviews which were actively unpleasant. Mostly my reviews have been truly helpful.

Even a helpful review isn’t always easy to use and process. I find reviewers’ comments fall into three broad categories:

1. YES! Brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of that? Implement.
2. NO! Reviewer’s got the wrong end of the stick. Ignore.
3. AARRGGHH! Reviewer may well be right, but I need to do more reading and thinking before I can decide.

You might think the YES! comments are the best ones, but actually the AARRGGHH! comments are often more help in the long run. I’ve just been dealing with one of those for my next book. It involved reading (which meant buying) two new books, quite demanding ones at that. Also thinking hard about what the reviewer said, what the books said, and what I was trying to say.

“try to make considered rather than knee-jerk decisions”

The process was expensive and made my brain hurt, and I confess that at times I felt like cursing the reviewers. But the net result was a couple of new paragraphs written – quite important ones, too – and some useful learning for me.

It’s important to have a strategy for dealing with feedback. When I get reviewers’ comments, I read them carefully and take time to digest them. Then I write a to-do list based on the comments. Even where I think a reviewer has got the wrong end of the stick, I aim to give careful consideration to their suggestion, in case my response is actually knee-jerk defensiveness (I hate to admit it, but…!). So I will add ‘consider reviewer’s suggestion about X’ to my to-do list, because in a day or two that suggestion may look much more plausible.

If reviewers disagree with each other, it’s up to me to decide what to do. But, again, I try to make this a considered rather than a knee-jerk decision. Say reviewer 1 thinks a section of my work is irrelevant and should be deleted, while reviewer 2 thinks it is seminal and should be expanded. This tells me that the section in question elicits strong opinions, which probably means it has some value. Thinking about reviewers’ feedback in the light of their other comments can provide clues about how to go forward. It is often possible to work out a reviewer’s standpoint by the comments they make and the literature they recommend, which can offer useful context for a writer’s decisions.

As the writer, the final decision is mine. But I do know that the more effort I can see a reviewer has put into their work, the more I want to do justice to their input. As with any gift, often it’s the amount of thought that goes into it that makes all the difference.

More debate on peer reviewing (let us know your thoughts in the comments section below too!)

Weighing up double-blind peer reviews

More blog shaped words from Helen can be found here:


That difficult second research book

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Publishing behind-the-scenes: What really goes on at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Policy Press - 014

Julia Mortimer

Publishing professionals from across the globe will descend on Germany next week for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair (or Frankfurter Buchmesse). This is the world’s largest trade fair for books and is held annually every October.

As the first three days are restricted exclusively to trade visitors we asked Policy Press Assistant Director Julia Mortimer to give the rest of us an insight into this mysterious world…

It’s that time of year again when publishers from all over the world set off for Frankfurt, but have you ever asked yourself what actually happens there?

What is the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Frankfurt Book Fair is the main gathering place for representatives from book publishing and multimedia companies to meet and negotiate international publishing rights and licensing fees. To give you a sense of scale here, over 630 rights agents attend, each holding on average 15 meetings a day! There are over 7,000 exhibitors from 102 countries and last year the Fair had well over a quarter of a million visitors who also attended the many publishing seminars and events which are run.

Get your walking shoes on!

The exhibition centre is vast, with eight halls the size of London’s Olympia, so there is a lot of walking as well as a lot of talking going on! This film is an entertaining illustration of how big the Fair site really is:

Who do we meet?

Frankfurt provides a fantastic opportunity to meet other publishers and agents from all corners of the globe in order to help our books and content reach people who need them. This year I have translation rights appointments with contacts in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Korea, Norway, Italy and agents who cover the rest of Europe. We also meet with a wide range of sales representatives and vendors of English-language Policy Press content in print and digital formats worldwide. Details of all the distributors  and reps we work with globally are on our website.

Which books sell where?

For rights sales, publishers and agents are usually looking for single-authored books which are not too long as they are not keen on translating edited collections or lengthy works. Obviously the content needs to have relevance in the territory and this is increasingly the case for Policy Press as we continue to publish more internationally-focused books. Other countries, particularly developing countries, may also be looking for examples of how to implement policy or practice on the ground. For example, in China and India publishers are interested in our books on urban development and planning, social welfare and health policy as they seek to develop policies to deal with the challenges they face. In order to ensure content can reach as many audiences as possible we license low cost translation rights where applicable.

Women of Power Interestingly, we have just sold the Chinese rights to Women of power and the Japanese rights to The social atlas of Europe, so you never quite know what is going to appeal. The social atlas of EuropeSome of the other exciting books I will be focusing selling rights for are: Why we can’t afford the rich by Andrew Sayer, Leading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton, and Climate change and poverty by Tony Fitzpatrick.

And relax…

So at Frankfurt there are an awful lot of back-to-back meetings in order to get through as much business as possible in 3-4 days, but there are also some pretty good publisher parties to attend. All to add to the general exhaustion felt at the end!

The Frankfurt Book Fair runs from 8th – 12th October this year.  If you can’t be there, why not follow hashtag #fbm14 to get live updates from the book fair? Follow @PolicyPress and @TPPJulia for our latest tweets from the event.

You can also read more about rights and permissions at Policy Press on our website. To find out more about rights at Policy Press, contact Julia at

Universal Credit developments since publication of “Understanding Universal Credit”

blog_sam-royston_200x200pxSam Royston is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Children’s Society, and author of “Understanding Universal Credit”, published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in February 2012. Since the original publication of this article there have been a number of policy updates affecting the delivery of the new system.  In this blog Sam summarises those change that particularly relate to the content of his article published in 2012.  The original article is free to access until 31st October 2014.


At the time of publication, the Government intended to introduce childcare support under Universal Credit at a rate covering 70% of childcare costs. “Understanding Universal Credit” showed that this would be a much lower rate of support than some families can receive through the current system as a result of a combination of childcare support through Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, and (what was at the time of writing) Council Tax Benefit.

Since publication, the Government have sought to address this problem by providing an 85% rate of childcare support for families in receipt of Universal Credit. As a result, although some families would continue to receive less support than under the current system, any difference will be considerably less.

Since 2012, the government has also introduced plans for a new “Tax Free Childcare” scheme. Although families in receipt of Universal Credit will not be entitled to receive Tax Free Childcare, differences in the way the two systems will be administered and paid may create some complexities for those caught between the two systems. These issues are expected to be debated during the course of the “childcare payments bill” in Autumn 2014.

Free School Meals (and other passported benefits)

The successful implementation of Universal Credit continues to be threatened by the potential introduction of a benefits “cliff edge” as a result of the interaction between Universal Credit and various passported benefits – including, most significantly, Free School Meals.

Notably, the Government have still not yet made a final decision about eligibility for Free School Meals under Universal Credit, however, an “interim” solution of providing Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit has been implemented.* In order to avoid undermining the progressive work incentive intentions of Universal Credit, it is critical that these rules remain in place following the roll out of Universal Credit.

Payment of Universal Credit

“Understanding Universal Credit” raises concerns that Universal Credit will typically be paid monthly and payments will not normally be able to be “split” between joint claimants. Increasingly concerns have also been raised about plans to pay “direct housing payments” (payments of the housing component to the tenant – rather than to the housing provider) through Universal Credit for tenants in the social rental sector – an arrangement which already exists for most tenants in the private rental sector. Concerns have been raised that these arrangements may lead to many social housing tenants to get into rental arrears.

The government has since released guidance on the circumstances under which “alternative payment arrangements” (APAs) will be considered. APAs would enable claimants to have their Universal Credit payment split, paid more frequently than monthly, or have the housing component paid to their landlord. Concerns remain that claimants will not be able to “opt in” to these arrangements for themselves, without this provision it remains a real concern that claimants unable to manage their money effectively, may not be able to get the support they need in order to do so.

Changes to the timeline for the introduction of Universal Credit

The government has significantly slowed the introduction of Universal Credit since original plans were laid out (for example, as late as the start of 2013, the DWP website stated that all new claims would be for Universal Credit from April 2014). During the initial period of the pathfinder, claims have only been able to be made by people with very specific circumstances, and in a very limited number of areas of the country. As of May 2014 only 6570 people were in receipt of Universal Credit .

Since this point, the government has begun to extend the pathfinder to additional jobcentres, and the service has opened to its first new claims from couples. From towards the end of this year, Universal Credit is expected to begin to take new claims from families with children for the first time.

It should also be noted that the Government’s decision to provide Free School Meals for all children in reception, year 1 and year 2, solves the difficulties arising from the interaction of Free School Meals and Universal Credit for this group of children.

The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice provides a unique blend of high-quality research, policy and practice from leading authors in the field related to all aspects of poverty and social exclusion.  For more information or to request a free trial please see our website here.

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