Book

Swimming with Sharks

Ria’s ideas about power-sharing within a community organisation are an obstacle in the path of progress for the new Executive Director who applies pressure to squeeze her out.

Ria is ill-equipped for the onslaught and no match for the Establishment. She finds herself grappling with echoes from childhood, and her fight for justice takes its toll.

Swimming with Sharks is a story of survival that moves from the despair of failed hope to healing, forgiveness and regrowth.

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NOW A FREE DOWNLOAD

Download for Kindle readers.
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Download for most other readers.

My techo-help (life-mate) has set up the download process and tells me there is no simple set of instructions that would work for everybody. If you have difficulties, he suggests you ask any teenager, or let us know (contact details follow) and we can attempt to problem-solve.

PRINT COPIES

Some print copies are also available (free) on first-in basis by providing your details for postage (my contact details follow). I will pay the postage for those within Australia. (It is not expensive and not worth the hassle to get people to send back.)

TO MAKE CONTACT

You can make contact through the mailbox of the Facebook page (click here), the contact form of this website (click here), or by email to me (Joan Beckwith) at 2020socialjustice@gmail.com.

 

Endorsements of “Swimming with Sharks”

This is a fantastic book for anyone who is being, or has been bullied at work.

Moira Rayner, lawyer and former Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity

 

A riveting read, especially for those who have seen their workplaces turn into alien environments and are struggling to understand what is happening. This book takes us on a personal journey through workplace change; the highs, lows and survival.

Pamela Curr, human rights campaigner and advocate for asylum seekers

 

Ria’s story is an uncomfortable unfolding of a common story for women in the workplace. This does not make for easy reading or a light book at bedtime. But this is a book worth reading by all women who devote their lives to their work, often forgetting to stop and smell the roses.

June Kane AM, Advisor to UN agencies on labour exploitation and human trafficking

 

My favourite part of the book is the middle section. I can really identify with the family’s grief. Ria’s mother reminds me of many women I knew of her generation and faith.

Judy Small, political singer, songwriter, guitarist

 

Reviews

I spent a few hours glued to this book…

From the start I was with Ria as she struggled with her own and other people’s demons. The intimate knowledge of the subject matter came through and made this totally believable and gripping.
I feel so sad at what we do to each other in the name of rightness and order – power games we play to confirm our places in workplaces; the damage that is inflicted by life, by parents, by our psyche; and the overarching drive to save face, to ‘put on a good show’.
It is reassuring to know that there is hope; that there are people who see a different picture. There are good friends and support networks when we feel on our own against an overwhelming problem or system.
There is a place for hugs and ritual and ‘time wasting’. Efficiency is not god.
Totally recommend this valuable contribution!

MAJ

 

A moving story that will suck you in

Swimming with Sharks starts off in a community health organization which is going through a time of change. Once its main interest was the wellbeing of its clients, but now there are new funding rules and performance indicators, and also a new CEO. The main character (Ria) is both idealistic and bad at office politics, and she tries to support the wellbeing of her clients with unfortunately predictable results.
The title of the book is a metaphor, and the chapter headings expand the metaphor with useful advice: first, do not get into this situation; second, if caught out, try not to bleed. Ria fails on both these counts, once by chance and her own unawareness of danger, and again (and very badly) by trying to defend her clients interests against an immediately hostile administration.
The novel is in three parts, starting as I have described and followed by a central segment which is a kind of prequel set in Ria’s childhood many years ago. I found it interesting to tie this central section back to the first, finding some reasons why Ria behaved as she did, as well as reasons why she was so vulnerable to abuse from the CEO. The backstory also gave depth to my appreciation of the final third of the book (which covers the aftermath to part 1), allowing me to understand her stages of rebuilding in terms of their new foundations. Ria’s memories of her mother meant all the more to me when I knew where they were coming from.
Someone else who has read this book has told me that she thought the main character was too spiky, too inflexible, and that as a novel it would have been better if Ria had been more likeable and more able to bend with the wind. But I don’t think so. We are what we are, and some people will stand up to the system even if (as here) it is much stronger than they are. I believe that this is good. And Swimming with Sharks is not a depressing story: it ends with forgiveness and redemption, with humor and new growth, and it left me with feelings that were oddly satisfying.

Sandbelt

 

About workplace injustice

Joan Beckwith’s book Swimming with Sharks gets the reader thinking from beginning to end, and would be a very good addition to book club lists. I enjoyed it enormously. It is a beautifully written novel in which the author cleverly develops the theme of social justice around her main character Ria. Readers will identify with Ria’s experience of workplace injustice and her various attempts to resolve the issue. The story graphically illustrates the conflict between a worker’s commitment to laudable client-oriented values, and a boss determined to implement her own views about how the service will be run and who will work in it. As in so many contests, it is power that determines the outcome. Ria engages in self-critical adaptation and finds consolation in family and friends, but does she ever achieve recognition and justice. And how do the clients fare?

Chris B

 

How to survive the modern workplace!

This is a beautifully written book with an unusual approach on the hot topic of organisational dysfunction and workplace bullying or harassment. The author has crafted an engaging story set in a busy community counselling agency that is undergoing major “change management” with the arrival of a new Business Manager, who immediately targets a well respected member of the counselling team. Her strong values around the rights of the client in her professional work are immediately interpreted as a threat to the new manager’s plans of delivering the cost cutting and organisational change plans she wants to implement at any cost!
Beckwith, engages us with her intimately drawn characters, and a tense setting that acts out the modern day workplace most of us dread going to each and every day. As we grapple with the tensions of keeping our values, personal and professional ethics, that are too often under siege from the constant demands from management to cut costs, rationalise our jobs and services, all in order to meet targets and efficiency goals often completely divorced from any reality on the impact of these demands on clients and workers.
The issues of workplace harassment and bullying are not new, but Beckwith’s approach and perspective is, as she teases out every bit of humanity she can from all the characters. Swimming with Sharks is not only a great read, but a valuable contribution to this field. Highly recommend.

Rui Santos

 

A great read about challenge, power and survival

Swimming with Sharks is an awesome read and although I cried in a few spots, it provoked many things for me (particularly family issues) and I am still mulling over some aspects of it (not just the family issues.) It answered a few questions but brought a few more to the surface. This is a book for anyone who has endured challenges within their family of origin or abuse of power in the workplace – or are close to someone who has.

Becky

 

Human Interactions and emotions, evolving and unravelling on the pages

Swimming with Sharks is one of those books I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu and hear a little voice in my head saying “that’s what I should have thought, or could have done, or wished I’d done” when faced with the Lenas (and Lens) of this world. Yet I equally enjoy the unpredictability of how Ria’s (the believable and interesting protagonist) story unfolds, and often wonder how she’ll handle the subtle and not so subtle abuse, or how she’ll “play the game” without compromising her values or losing her sanity. I also love the rawness and realness in the different levels of relationships between the major players, cleverly reflected by a strong yet gentle and non-judgmental author’s voice as the “The Portal’s” eclectic staff evolve and unravel, all the while keeping the reader wondering how the plot and the characters will mould together. It is a book that I enjoyed immensely, would definitely read again, and would recommend to anyone perturbed or disturbed by social injustice, or who has been affected by toxicity in the workplace … in one way or another.

Annette O

 

A powerful book.

Heather Gridley

 

I found this book easy to read and could relate to working in an NGO, where workers need to be passionate, as Ria and her colleagues were, and do the work with, rather than for or to, their service users. Lena was power-hungry, and destroyed the spirit of The Portal. She didn’t belong in the NGO sector; I’m not sure where she did belong.

I found parts about the Catholic Church hard to believe, especially after reference to Catholic magazines with “photos of families on the cover, sometimes with more than twenty children” (p.143). Having been raised a Catholic in 1950s Melbourne, I came across a family of 16, but more than twenty? Also, I know there was too much emphasis on rules and regulations at that time, but one would have to come across one or two kindly nuns going through school, and it would have been more believable if Ria’s mother had been referred to as having a mental illness that manifested in her sad and shocking understanding of Catholicism. I’m appalled and disillusioned with the Church at the moment, but trying to believe the good outweighs the bad (although struggling).

Overall, this book is well written and held my attention. I read it in three sittings.

Barbara Peach

 

Swimming with Sharks is a fictional comment on the all-too-real dangers of rocking the boat in your workplace and trying to take on management head-to-head. It’s about the bottom line in this cutthroat modern world being money and not people. And it’s about people power and fighting back.

WendyO

 

Don’t let the title fool you. You might think it has something to do with actual sharks…in a way it does, but not the ones that swim in the sea. An entertaining read about relationships.

JohnM

 

A beautiful story of our journeys to be more human; I devoured it in two days, and hope many others will get a chance to read it.

JessM

 

A marvellous piece of writing, cleverly bringing together two painful parts of the main character’s life; yet it brings hope as well, and remarkable insights into the ability of people to survive and swim above the evil that exists.

JenR

 

Parts keep coming up weeks after reading it; always the sign of the power of a book. The structure is effective; the way the two stories reinforce each other and highlight the theme of ‘power over’. I like the recognition that there has to be an individual response to survive, but that it is structural power and also needs a collective response. It would have been easy for Ria to succumb to cynicism and hopelessness, but good for the story that she doesn’t. It’s pretty harrowing and the writing makes the emotion inescapable.

GaiM (1)

 

A really good read, very accomplished. Easy to keep turning the pages, relatable, and I wanted to find out what was happening to this character. Gave me the heebie-jeebies as well, though, all that management-speak and accountancy model and commodifying people. Reminded me of a place I have worked.

HeidiM

 

Couldn’t put it down; love the way the story and characters develop.

JoannaM

 

I really liked this book, and gave it to my sister who also liked it and found Ria a very sympathetic character.

MargC

 

I thought it was fantastic, and so did my partner. Riveting, courageous, strong, beautifully written, stories and emotions expressed so well. It has kept us talking long after we finished it. We both know a Lena or two so it had us captivated from the beginning. The link from past to present is brilliant; the childhood part evokes such strong emotion and the insight into the therapeutic process is brilliant.

MichD

 

I enjoyed the perspective, honest and courageous. Very engaging, and dealt with the emotions in an insightful and sensitive way. I had empathy for the Ria character, but it seems the people above her were mainly interested in protecting their own interests and egos. I particularly loved the middle section on childhood and the commentary on the unenlightened times and cruel way of raising children.

SteveD

 

The writing is great; the way the main characters are introduced, the pace, foreshadowing, expression of emotions, and movement between settings. I liked that Lena is a bit of a shadowy figure, lurking behind everything but we don’t really ‘know’ her, which to me is part of her power; like a nightmare figure that can’t quite be shaken but can wreak an enormous amount of fear and damage. It also becomes clear, very economically, how someone like her can get away with what is obviously outrageous behaviour.

GaiM (2)

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