Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Cover Reveal: The Crash

For a few weeks now I've been blogging my novel, The Crash, and last week things really heated up as we found out that hotshot businessman Jason Jackson-Jones has a dirty secret - he's been cutting corners in the manufacturing process in a way which could cost lives.  So this seems like a good time to interrupt the story for a very important announcement.  The Crash now has a cover!

I'm celebrating by getting together with a few writing friends on their blogs.  You can read an interview with me on the blog of Angela Wren, who first helped me introduce Jason to the world:


And if you'd like to find out more about serialising novels and how I was inspired by Dickens, head on over to visit Viki Meadows!


That's all for today - do come back next week for another instalment of the story.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Welcome Nancy C Weeks

Hello Nancy!  It's lovely to have you visiting again! I interviewed you in 2013 when Shadow of Greed came out, and you said that it was going to be part of a five book series. How did it feel, seeing the whole Shadows and Light series come together?
It was such a wonderful feeling, but that doesn’t really express what seeing all five books in a row did for me. For years, I dreamed of being an author, like Nora Roberts or Kat Martin. And here I was with a completed five book series, and in less than two years. It verified in me that dreams come true.
Do you think you have changed as a writer over the course of the five books in the series? (And/or) Can you share something you learned along the way?
There is no way I’m the same writer who sent In the Shadow of Greed into Crimson Romance with every finger and toe crossed. I think the greatest learning experience I have had is working through developmental edits with my amazing editor, Julie Sturgeon. With each book, she pushed me to go deeper into my characters and bring out their unique personalities onto the page. It’s grueling, mind boggling –hard work, but hopefully, I’m a better writer.
You've also written a tech-twist on a traditional fairy-tale which appears in Modern Magic - tell us a bit about how you came up with that idea.
I loved being part of Modern Magic. In fact, I was working on The Eyewitness when the project came up and I actually put The Eyewitness aside so I could write His One Wish. I couldn’t resist writing my own modern day Aladdin. The story of a true hero, an injured veteran who can no longer do what he trained for years to do, that one thing that defined him as a man now feeling he has no worth, no value. I had to find him a Jasmine, or in my story, Jazlin, who would turn his world upside down, and prove to him that he has more to offer this world than he could possibly imagine. Now, that’s a romance, a happy-ever-after I had to write. And I loved every minute. His One Wish flew off my fingers as fast as the word formed in my head. That, dear readers, is rare.
Your new book, The Eyewitness, is a romantic suspense novel. What inspired the story? Is it a standalone or part of a new series?
The Eyewitness is the first book in a three book series. I decided to keep my characters in the same world as the Shadow and Light series for one reason---it’s so hard letting go of my sexy, amazing McNeil brothers. And maybe, one of them will find time to pop into this new series.
I explored the amazing world of forensic science in this story. As with all my books, I get my ideas from the sometimes crazy world I live. I don’t think I was would use the word inspired, but the suspense element in The Eyewitness came from a tragic event way to close to home. Two men plague my state of Maryland for months in 2002, shooting victims at random. The news channels dobbed the criminals as The Beltway Snipers. My villains—the way all three series are connected—copy-cat on that event.
Let's see the cover. Can you tell us a bit about the cover image and how it represents your story?
I loved this cover. The woman on the cover is a spitting image of how I imagined my heroine, Emersyn D’Azzo. The Crimson Romance art department rocks!
Are there any other projects, either already published or in the pipeline, we should know about?
My most immediate future goal is to finish the next two books. Once the D’Azzo series, [Emersyn, Tessa and Nathan] is in the world, I want to try writing something a little calmer maybe a romantic suspense comedy. I not sure that sub-genre exist, but I’m going to give it a try.
And finally, can you share the blurb and perhaps a short excerpt? And of course a link to where we can pre-order/buy the book?
I would love to share my blurb. 
I hope the excerpt isn’t too long. I loved writing that scene.

The blurb:

Fans of TV’s Blue Bloods will love this dynamic new suspense series.  Maryland PD forensic scientist Emersyn D’Azzo has an explosive past with her father’s younger, sexy partner, Detective Alec Pearce. Then an ill-timed kiss destroys the thin line of trust between her and her dad, just before tragedy strikes and someone guns down her father. The fatal bullet turns out to be tied to the ongoing spree of random sniper kills across the state, but Emersyn knows this wasn’t a random act of violence and is determined to find the killer. To do so, she’ll need to rely on help from Alec, whom she doesn’t quite trust but just can’t resist. When they discover a connection to a decades-old disappearance of a college student, their investigation takes a deadly twist. Can they learn to trust each other with their hearts to save their lives?

The excerpt for The Eyewitness

In this scene, Emersyn did something that she needed to do, but in the process, hurt Alec deeply. As always, they spend a few moments getting along before they turn back into vinegar and oil. But no worries, I eventually give them a good shake. They mix together just fine. Enjoy! 

Emersyn opened the driver’s door then faced Alec. He moved in close, the back of his finger brushing away the moisture on her cheeks. She didn’t pull away when his hand rested on her waist. “I’m sorry, Alec. I thought clearing my father’s office would help.”
“You don’t owe me an apology. I get why you came here, and it is me who should apologize. I took my mood out on you.”
He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Emersyn ached to press her hand over his and feel his heat on her face. But at the same time, a new sense of self-preservation prickled across her skin. Who could she trust? Her own mother had warned her that she really didn’t know the man in front of her.
Fear had a way of distorting reality. Her world had become so damn confusing she couldn’t find balance. She slipped her hand into her pocket and fingered the flash drive. The small piece of plastic could be nothing—or it could be everything.
“Em, where did you go?”
She faked a smile. “Just thinking about work. I keep expecting an email from security requesting my badge.”
He drew her close, wrapping his arms around her, his warmth calming her immediately. She couldn’t pull away. She needed this—something else she couldn’t understand.
He finally dropped his arms and took a step back. “I know Angela McCain well. Regardless of how she feels about you right now, she will get to the bottom of what happened yesterday.”
“I keep running the events through my head. The fire had to come from inside the walls, but there was no burning smell.”
“The fire marshal and CI team are on scene. This wasn’t a lab accident, and they aren’t treating it as one.”
“Why haven’t they questioned me?”
“I’m sure they will at some point.” He lifted her chin. “Something else is wrong. I see it in your eyes. What else happened?”
“You are a terrible liar.” He let her go, resting his arm on the roof of her car. If he was trying to make her feel trapped, it worked.
“From my house to here, what could have possibly happened?”
“What do I have to do to get you to trust me, Em?”
The annoyance in his voice set her back up. “I’m not getting into this with you in the parking lot.”
“Answer my damn question.”
And they were right back where they always seemed to fall, at each other’s throats. She tossed her shoulder bag into the front seat. Hell, if it was a fight he wanted, then maybe a good bitch-slap was what she needed to clear her head. “For starters, you can stop pissing me off with things like this.” Emersyn knocked his arm off her car so she could drop into the seat. He blocked the door when she tried to close it.
“How, Em? I walk into a room, and your blood starts to boil.”
She couldn’t get the shields up fast enough. “You could at least pretend you don’t despise me, maybe treat me once in a while like you treat Tessa.”
He knelt and reached for her hand. “I don’t despise you.”
“Now who is lying?”
Sorry, I had to stop. Stephanie asked for a short excerpt. But here is where you can find The Eyewitness . If you chose to read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved writing it.
And here is where you can find me if you would like to stalk me. But…the best way to keep in touch is to sign up for my Newsletter and/or join Nancy’s Corner, a site I created for a more personal relationship between me and readers. Please stop by and check it out. I would love to have you. Enter as guests, leave as friends.
Unless there's anything else you'd like to tell us about, that's it for now -thanks very much for visiting!
Thank you, Stephanie! I love dropping by for a chat on your lovely blog.
I love having you to visit too.  And now I'm off to read The Eyewitness!  

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Do you need to change your beliefs about writing?

It surprises me slightly that I recently felt the need to write a blog post about affirmations.  I used to think they sounded woolly and new agey and I couldn’t imagine them working for me. Somehow, though, I couldn't quite give up the feeling that this technique had something important to offer me.  It had worked for Jeannette Maw and Louise Hay and so many other people I admired, that there had to be something to it.
The idea of affirmations started making a lot more sense to me once I read a bit about how the mind works, and realised that the work some coaches I admired were doing with affirmations was very similar to the model developed by Harper and Ellis and espoused by a whole generation of therapists.

The model, often described as ABC, provides a framework for understanding how an event (activating event, A in our alphabet) triggers a set of beliefs (B) which in turn have consequences (C). I’m grossly oversimplifying here, partly due to my own limited knowledge and partly to keep this post a reasonable length, so please bear with me as I try to explain how this applies to us as writers! For a writer suffering a crisis of confidence, the ABC model might look something like this:

A - activating event - my story is rejected for an anthology

B - belief - my story is rubbish and I'll never get anywhere as a writer

C - consequence - I give up submitting and lose interest in my writing.

The ABC model suggests that if we can shift our beliefs, which are the turning point in the model, we will then think differently, act differently and get different results. In our writing example (a fictional example, obviously, because I've never sulked on receiving a rejection… and if you believe that you'll believe anything!) I might look at the event of my story being rejected and the belief that it's a poor piece of writing and I'll never get anywhere as a writer. Then, knowing that this will lead to the consequence of losing interest in my writing, I might choose to look for a different and more empowering belief.

Instead of believing I'll never get anywhere, I might choose to believe that what I have to say is important, but this story hasn't found its right home yet, which would result in the consequence of deciding to send the story off to another anthology where it might be accepted, enter it into a competition, or even just post it on my blog. All of which are much more positive and productive than giving up submitting my work.

And how do we change our beliefs? It starts with an awareness of the belief we want to change and a decision about the new belief we want to adopt.  But once I’ve chosen a new belief, it isn’t going to imprint itself on my unconscious.  I need to practice asserting and acting on the new belief I’ve chosen, which is really nothing more than affirming the thing I’ve chosen to believe and acting on the new belief until I start seeing different consequences.  In this case, I believe in the value of what I have to say, and my ability to persist until I find the right publisher or way of reaching my readers. As a result of this belief, I’m regularly writing and submitting work again, and eventually seeing positive consequences in the form of work accepted for publication, and payment landing in my bank account! Those are the beliefs I'm choosing to affirm this week. 
Are there any new beliefs you'd like to adopt about your writing?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Crash: Chapter Four

In last week's instalment we met Jason's new PA, Gaby, and his potential new Engineering Manager, Brad.  This week we spend some time getting to know them both and finding out some of the secrets of Jason's factory.

Chapter Four

Gaby looked around at the polished horse brasses on the walls and the faded tapestry seat-cushions in mild surprise.  This wasn’t the kind of place she’d expected to find recommended by a man who surrounded himself with blank walls and modern rectangular leather sofas.  However, a glance at the specials board told her why it would be the lunchtime venue of choice for a man with reasonable taste – which was certainly what Jason Jackson-Jones considered himself.  Brad ushered her to a table in a snug corner near the open fire, and went to the bar to fetch drinks for them both. 
“So what brought you to England?” Gaby asked on his return.  He paused while he set down her lemonade and his beer, and then answered slowly, “It was because of my wife.  Look far enough into anything and there’s always a woman behind it, don’t you think?”
Coming from someone else, that might have sounded cynical or chauvinistic, but Brad’s matter of fact observation made Gaby laugh. 
“To the power behind the throne,” she said, raising her glass.  Brad clinked his bottle with her glass, took a deep slug of the drink, and then asked, “What are you eating?”
“The mozzarella and sun-dried tomato ciabatta.  What about you?”
“Maybe the steak and Guinness pie.  With hand-cut chips of course.  Do you think they taste different depending on whether the cutter is mechanical or manual?”
“I don’t suppose so.”
“Sure I can’t tempt you to a cooked meal?  Or a pudding to follow?  My treat if you’re worried about your boss’s expense account.”
“No, that’s fine thanks.  It’s not a good idea to eat too much at lunchtime.  I need to stay awake in the office this afternoon, and it’s been a tiring few days.”
“Really?  Why’s that? If you don’t mind my asking.”
Gaby stared into the flames as she answered vaguely, “I was moving over the weekend, and then I got a call out of the blue this morning asking me to come in because Jason had lost his P.A.”
“Careless of him,” Brad joked, settling back further into the thick cushions.  “Did he check she wasn’t just under a pile of files?”
“No chance of that,” Gaby laughed, remembering Jason’s bare, paper-free office. 
“So have you worked for JJ before, or did you just start there today?”
“And they let you out with the company credit card?”
“I’m a trustworthy person.” 
“I’m sure you are.  I just didn’t see Jason as a trusting one.  Although maybe it’s just men he distrusts." 
“Maybe,” she conceded.  “What did you think of the company so far?  And the job?  Is it like what you’ve done before?”
“Similar I guess.  I spent a year at the forge before last time I went back to the States, so it’s probably a lot like that.  Hot, grimy, and hectic, but I did enjoy getting to put my MBA theories into practice.”
Brad paused as the waitress leaned across him to place Gaby’s sandwich on the low table in front of her. 
“Thank you,” Gaby smiled up at the waitress, but the woman’s eyes were firmly on Brad as she straightened, giving him a lingering view of her ample cleavage.
Brad, to his credit, did an excellent job of pretending not to notice, and carried on as soon as she’d left, “Jason didn’t make this job sound the most appealing, it must be said.  I mean, he carried on about the grit and grime as if he thinks I wear five hundred dollar Italian suits every day instead of just for interviews.  But that’s not so bad.  It’s more the fact that he seems to think everyone should jump when he says jump, even down to travelling for trade shows at ten seconds notice, and working day shifts or night more or less according to his whim.”
“I know,” Gaby agreed, wiping a stray smear of tomato off her lip.  “I can see how that could get annoying.  Especially if you’ve got a family waiting for you at home.  I suppose I can be more flexible, and I quite like knowing that I’m working for someone who’s so dedicated to his company.  After all, if he didn’t take it seriously, a lot of people would be out of jobs.”
“That’s true,” Brad conceded.  “And I suppose I’m pretty used to hard work and odd hours.  As a student, I didn’t exactly keep a steady nine-to-five.”
“You must’ve worked really hard to get a Harvard MBA.  It’s supposed to be one of the best, isn’t it?” Gaby said, remembering seeing shelves of Harvard Business Reviews lined up along the office walls of businessmen and women she’d respected. 
“Pretty hard, and I suppose smart too.  You soon learn what needs doing and what’s an optional extra if you want to stay afloat.”
“I bet.”  Gaby munched on her sandwich and watched and listened as Brad outlined his experience of being a Harvard student, in between bites of steak and Guinness pie. 
When he’d finished, Gaby smiled.  She’d enjoyed listening to his account and it had cemented her sense that he was exactly what Jason Jackson-Jones needed, whether he knew it or not. 
“I do hope you’ll come and work for Triple J Auto Parts,” she said truthfully.
“If I do, it’ll be more for the P.A. than the Managing Director.  I have to admit, the idea of having such a lovely colleague is appealing.”  Somehow the compliment, delivered with Brad’s polished urbanity, disturbed Gaby.
“And what would your wife think of that?” she asked, more caustically than she’d intended. 
“Probably about the same as I think of her having a poster of a different Brad on her wall,” he joked, and the moment of tension passed, but Gaby was sure she’d seen a flicker of something – annoyance, or maybe even pain – in his eyes.  
“Which Brad would that be?  Brad Awl?” she joked, and was rewarded with a second, unstrained smile. 
“I’d better let you get back,” Brad suggested, and Gaby agreed, although for a moment she’d been tempted to neglect her duties a little longer.  
“Well, I hope you’ll be joining us once we’ve checked out your references and so on.”
“We’ll see.  I might be seeing you tomorrow.  If not, I’m sure there’ll be something I need to speak to Mr Jones about before too long.  Or at least his P.A.”
Gaby laughed and followed Brad out of the door, shivering a little as the chilly air hit her thin suit. 
She wanted to get in out of the misty cold, but she didn't want Brad to walk out of the car park and never come back. 
"No, I didn't.  Thought JJ might be keeping trade secrets until I'm actually employed."
"Maybe.  I don't suppose you could steal too many trade secrets just by walking around the factory."
Brad laughed.  "You'd be surprised what an expert can learn from just the sound of a machine or a glance at a plan left out on a desk."
"And are you an expert?"
"Yes."  It wasn't an arrogant observation, particularly, just a statement of fact, as Gaby might have stated that she was a good assistant, that she made a difference to the lives of the people she worked for, even if it was only for a short time.  She wasn't a fan of the British tendency to talk down one's own abilities.  There were enough other people in the world willing to do it for you, if you let them.  Brad's high opinion of himself wasn't a problem.  The problem was that, if it was true, and she had every reason to believe it was, JJ might well not be happy with her letting him look around.  But she was sure that he needed to see what he was taking on before he could make an informed decision, and she couldn't see him as the type to take on a commitment whose nature he couldn't assess.
"Maybe I shouldn't let you back in then," she joked. 
"You can trust me," he said, giving a mock sleazy grin.
"Yeah, I'm sure," she joked back.  "Oh well, what have I got to lose? Come on.  Donna promised me a tour this afternoon.  I'm sure she won't mind taking two of us around instead of one."
She led him back inside and told Donna what she had in mind.
"Jason doesn't like non-staff being on the shop floor."  Donna's eyes were nervously wide as she seemed to contemplate Jason's reaction.
"He took his visitors around this morning," Gaby said.  Brad seemed to be happy to hang back and let her do the talking.
"They're customers."
"And Brad's nearly staff.  He could be coming in to manage the shop floor tomorrow.  Jason can hardly expect him to manage a factory he's never even seen."
"I suppose."
"Sign yourself back in and Donna can take us round," Gaby told Brad, and this time Donna capitulated. 
Brad signed his name in the visitors’ book.  Donna dug three sets of bright yellow earthing strips out of her desk drawer and asked everyone to put them on their shoes for safety.  That done, she handed watch covers to Brad and Gaby, and a ring cover to Brad for his white platinum wedding ring.  While they were putting them on, she dropped her own watch into her desk drawer and covered it up with a phone message pad.
"There.  Ready to go," she announced, and led the way through the sound-proofed double doors at the back of reception.
The corridor that faced the trio was a strange no-man’s land between the smart, shiny marble and plush carpet public face of the reception area, and the clunky, clattery, metal and plastic shop floor.  Brad and Gaby stepped aside to let Donna lead the way along the corridor, and punch in the code for entry to the secure shop floor. 
Inside, it was a strain to hear anything, so they spoke little as they walked around from one machine to another.  Occasionally Brad asked Donna something, but he had to lean so close to her that Gaby could make out neither his questions nor her responses. 
One machine in particular seemed to interest him.  It stretched from the floor almost to the ceiling, two stories higher.  Inside the hulking green shell, something grey and heavy clunked inexorably up and down.  To Gaby, it looked almost evil - something Blake would have written about belonging in a dark satanic mill - but Brad brightened visibly as he studied the small blinking red lights on the front and watched two boiler-suited men checking and moving the boxes it produced.  He picked out a few pieces from one of the boxes, ran a finger over one edge, and asked a question of the elder of the two men.  The grey-haired man frowned and shook his head, and shouted a response which against the harsh sounds of the factory still sounded little more than a whisper. 
Brad frowned, shook his head, asked something else, and then got another inaudible response. 
He made another remark, still looking unusually serious, and then the man beckoned to him and led him back towards the door by which they’d all entered.  Gaby looked at Donna, who looked back at her, shrugged, then joined the procession.  They must have looked for all the world like a mother duck with her ducklings making their way in order across the factory floor.  The sight of not one, but two, smartly dressed women drew eyes to their progress, but if there were any comments, they were lost amidst the din of machines. 
After a walk that seemed longer with each deafening second that passed, as the air became thicker with the scent of something metallic and Gaby's shoulders tensed at the thought of the hammering that the steel was taking, they reached the door by which they'd entered.  Compared to reception, the blank corridor had seemed bare and shoddy, but compared to the inferno they'd just left, it felt like a haven of luxurious tranquillity. 
Gaby was glad she'd never had to work permanently in an environment like that, and hoped she never would. 
Coming in, Brad had been eager and chatty, but now he seemed distant and preoccupied, following without a murmur as Donna led them off a side door, into the canteen, and showed them where the catering team posted the weekly menu.  She then pointed them in the direction of the toilets and storerooms, and finally led the way back to reception.
"Interesting?" Gaby asked Brad as they removed the earthing strips from their shoes and returned watch and ring covers, and Donna unlocked her drawer and fished out her watch. 
"Very," he answered, still sounding abstracted. 
"What was all that about with those two guys?" Gaby asked, wondering whether that was what was absorbing his attention.
"Which guys?"
"The ones on the big machine," Gaby said, to a smothered laugh from Donna, who had no doubt observed that there were at least a dozen big machines on the shop floor, most of them operated by two guys. 
The description was sufficient for Brad, however.
"Oh, that.  There are some issues with the steel quality and JJ doesn't seem keen to sort them out."
"That's not good, is it?"
"Not good might be an understatement," Brad said darkly, then, with a flicker of his eyes towards Donna and a nod towards the small conference room where his interview had been conducted, he suggested wordlessly that they take the conversation elsewhere.
"Thanks, Donna," Gaby smiled at the receptionist.  "Brad and I are just having a quick word in the small meeting room, if anyone needs me."
She followed Brad through the door, took one of the huge leather seats, and waited.
Brad didn't take long to fill her in.
"The steel they're using isn't good enough for all the jobs they're making it do.  It's ok for the sheets and hinges, but the springs undergo more tension and they're getting a very high failure rate, but not yet high enough for Jason to want to do anything about it, because better steel's more expensive."
"Well, surely that's his decision," Gaby said, but she could feel the tension and knew that there was more to it than that.  Brad was seriously worried, and his next remark explained why. 

"If they're failing that high in the factory, there's a good chance more could fail in use.  Which could mean deaths on the road."

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Hollywood Kisses: Cover Reveal

I'm excited that my romance Perfect Partners has been selected to appear in an ebook bundle along with some of my favourite Crimson Romance authors including J Arlene Culiner, who I interviewed on my blog way back in 2015.  

The collection features a selection of romances set around the large and small screens, and although I can't help thinking that the inclusion of Perfect Partners in a Hollywood themed collection may be cheating a little - it's actually based around a UK dance show filmed in London and Blackpool - I'm delighted my book will be in such good company.

It's up for preorder now on Amazon UK, and at £1.99 for six full-length stories, it's cheaper than a box of popcorn, never mind a cinema ticket!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Crash: Chapter Three

I recently introduced hard-nosed businessman Jason Jackson-Jones in Chapter One of The Crash. After week one saw him waiting for a new PA and Engineering Manager, in Chapter Two he filled the first of those gaps.  But is his new PA exactly what he's looking for, or a bit too good to be true?  

Jason pushed open the door of the office adjoining his, and did a double-take.  Sitting at Lucy’s desk, for all the world as if she’d been there forever, was the most extraordinarily stunning, tall, black-haired woman.  When she stood to greet him, he realised that her height was in part due to very high black heels.  She should have looked like a waitress, in a white blouse with a black skirt and jacket, but it was inconceivable that this elegant creature might actually stoop to serving food or drink.  It seemed unlikely enough that she was here to type his letters and do his filing, though that was the only explanation he could find for her presence.
“Mr Jackson-Jones?”  She put out her hand.  “I’m Gabriella, or Gaby for short.  I’m your personal assistant for this week.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Gabrie... Gaby.”  Considering her height, her hand felt surprisingly delicate in his.  “I hope you’ll enjoy working here.”  It wasn’t a sentiment Jason had ever expressed to any of his previous P.A.s – and there were many. 
“Has Donna showed you around?  And how to log into the computer?  And answer the phone?” 
“She’s showed me around and set me up on the computer.  I found the manual for the phone in the drawer, so that should be fine too.”
As if in response, the phone rang, and Gaby snatched up the receiver as promptly as if it might explode on the third ring. 
“Triple J Auto Parts, can I help you?”  Gaby didn’t yet sound like a bored receptionist, but then they never did on the first day.  The constant stream of sales calls, customer complaints and meeting rearrangements could hardly fail to grind down even the most dedicated assistant eventually, but Jason hoped he’d see at least a bit more of the enthusiasm first. 
Gaby paused, her chiselled face tilted as she listened.  Jason knew he should go into his office and get on with his work, but instead he stood watching as she nodded and smiled at the person on the other end.
“Thanks, Donna.  I’ll let him know.” She ended the conversation swiftly but politely, and turned to Jason.  “The agency have sent you over a CV for a potential Engineering Manager who’s available for interview now, and to start tomorrow if you like him.”
“Why’s he available so quickly?”  Jason was instantly suspicious.  Of course it was convenient, but he’d learned to be suspicious of things that were too convenient.  ‘Available immediately’ usually meant, ‘recently fired’, and often for a good reason. 
“Apparently he’s been abroad for family reasons, and has just moved back to the UK.”   
Not such a problem, then.  If it was true.  Well, if the guy sounded good at interview he’d have Gaby check out the story before he appointed. 
“OK.  Get him booked in for eleven thirty, and then print me out five copies of the contract for the lunch meeting.  Donna can show you where they’re kept.”
He noticed as he settled back at his own desk that Gaby did as he requested without needing to disturb the receptionist, having already worked out how to access his diary, check which meeting was taking place this afternoon, and then select and print the relevant contract in the customer’s file.  She was quick.  Which, sadly, meant she wouldn’t last long. The good ones were always in demand and soon moved on.  Not, he was quick to remind himself, that he was looking for anyone permanent from the agency.  Temporary agencies were just that – designed to provide an overpriced but convenient stopgap until a cheap school leaver or recent graduate could be appointed. 
As he started flicking through the eighty-three emails that had arrived during his meeting with the Japanese, the computer flashed up a meeting request.  Gaby had booked the interview for eleven thirty in the small conference room.  A few minutes later, she came in, dropped five copies of the contract in his in-tray and left without speaking.  Jason could get used to this level of convenience.  But he’d better not.
Today everything seemed almost too good to be true.  Things continued to run smoothly with Gaby insulating him from the outside world, and at eleven twenty-nine exactly Donna called through that his candidate for the Engineering Manager job was waiting in the small meeting room.  He picked up the CV that the agency had faxed through, glanced at the name on top, and headed downstairs. 
Jason walked through the door of the small meeting room on the dot of eleven thirty.  Like Gaby, Brad stood to shake hands.  Brownie points for that.  He was sharply dressed in a grey suit, with shades peeking from his breast pocket, but Jason decided not to hold that against him.  The November sun sometimes sat low over the hills, and sunglasses were almost more necessary than in summer, especially when the dew or overnight rain made the roads reflect like shimmering streams. 
“So, talk me through your CV,” Jason requested, sitting back with his arms folded in a pose that demanded, ‘Impress me.’  In part, he did this to see which aspects of their work history a candidate would single out as important.  It was also a useful reminder of the key aspects of a CV he’d only taken a moment to skim.
“As you can see, I graduated with a BA from Vassar, worked for Hamex Manufacturing for seven years and then went back to school to take my MBA at Harvard.” 
Jason winced, as much at the smooth American drawl as at the straightforward delivery of this textbook career history.  A Harvard MBA wanted a job at what Jason was honest enough to admit was a pretty parochial manufacturing company?  Something didn’t stack up here, and he was going to get to the bottom of it. 
“I met my wife Rachel at Harvard.  She’s a Brit.  Her family are from Sheffield and she didn’t want to leave the area, so we settled here.  I worked at Forgemasters for a year, but then my Dad got sick back home and I went back to care for him during his last months.  Now I’m back, looking for somewhere to put my experience to work.”
Weird turn of phrase, that.  Made it sound as if he thought his experience was something separate from himself.  As if it was going to walk around the factory, adjusting machines and chivvying along slack workers. 
Something about the whole spiel put Jason’s back up, and he decided to make things difficult for the guy.  After all, it was in the heat of the crucible that the steel was forged.
“Why aren’t you going back to Forgemasters?”
Brad gave a nonchalant shrug.  “I didn’t know how long I was going to be away.  They could hardly keep the job open indefinitely.  They went ahead and hired, and by all accounts the new guy’s doing a good job.  They’d gladly have me back, but it wouldn’t be at the same level, and I don’t want to be sitting around waiting for dead men’s shoes.  I want to be up and doing.”
“But doing what?  This is a tough job.  A lot of time on the shop floor.  It’s not a place for expensive suits.”  Jason looked the other man up and down with what was intended to be, and was, a scathing glance. 
“I can handle tough.  I know my CV reads like I’ve always had a silver spoon in my mouth, but the truth is I had a tough time before I got my scholarships to college.  Scraped my way out of what was really one step off the ghetto.  I thought I’d have made it once I got a job where I didn’t have to sweat, but when I got a job sitting at a desk all day I found it bored me senseless.  At college I learned to wear expensive suits and take my place in a board meeting, but I also learned that I need to spend at least some of my time at the sharp end, or I get antsy.”
“So what do you think you’d be doing here?”  Jason had flummoxed a fair few interview candidates with this one, delivered deadpan and accompanied by a piercing blue stare.  Most of them fumbled around, eventually delivering some variant of, ‘Aren’t you meant to tell me what the job involves?
Brad didn’t miss a beat.  It was obvious he knew his stuff. He swiftly summarised the main duties, cleverly working in a brief summary of the main tasks he’d performed in his previous jobs and the skills he’d bring to the party. 
When he wrapped up, Jason moved straight on, rather than following up with probing questions as he normally did.   He was satisfied that, provided his references showed he’d done what he said he had, Brad was more than capable.  His doubts were more on the score of willingness than ability, and to that end he fired off a few more questions about unsociable hours, last-minute travel arrangements and total dedication to the company. 
When Brad answered them all with equal panache, Jason came to the conclusion that, against all the odds, the first candidate might actually be the man for the job. 
When twelve o’clock came, he ushered Brad out to reception and asked him to leave details of his referees with Gaby when she came down.  Then he asked Donna to buzz Gaby, and get her down to collect Brad’s details.  “In fact,” he suggested, “why doesn’t one of you take Brad to lunch?  Book a table at the Old Bell.  Take the company credit card.  I’d join you,” he added for Brad’s benefit, “but I’ve got a prior engagement.  I’ll be in touch shortly.”
He shook hands with Brad, said his farewells, and then stepped into the print room to grab five brochures to accompany the five contracts.  That was one thing he’d learned over his ten years at the helm of JJ Auto.  Never stop selling until the ink is dry on the contract.
When he came out, Gaby was already downstairs, and his emergence from the print room was, probably coincidentally, greeted with a gale of laughter from reception.  Gaby had only started that day, Brad wasn’t even employed yet, and already they and Donna seemed to be chatting like old friends.  He couldn’t help feeling a little left out, even though he knew the way to keep a healthy level of respect from staff was to keep your distance. 
“I’m off to lunch with Hexhams.   Hold my calls,” he told Donna, and made for the car park.  Brad’s loud, pealing laugh seemed to stalk him out of the building, and he wondered what Gaby had said to provoke it. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Affirmations Do Work: Affirm Your Way to Writing Success

Recently I read a post on one of my favourite sites, mindbodygreen, entitled ‘Why Affirmations Don’t Work and What You Should be Doing Instead.’  I’d started an argument with the author before the page had even finished downloading. A few minutes later I realised that for many years I’d actually agreed with the author, and in some ways I still do.

The word ‘affirmations’ is often associated with new age thinking, get rich quick schemes and unrealistic positive expectations.  If by saying that ‘affirmations work’, you mean that you expect to sit in front of the TV eating junk food and affirming ‘I’m rich, famous and beautiful’ and have it suddenly become true, then it’s perfectly accurate to say that they don’t work.

But at its root, the word ‘affirmation’ simply means ‘the act of affirming something’, and affirm has two meanings: to state something publicly, and to offer emotional support or encouragement. So affirmations are simply statements of support, made publicly or at least out loud or in writing. It’s possible to affirm one’s commitment to an outcome, or to offer oneself support or encouragement with a goal by way of affirmations. And in this broader sense, I definitely believe in the value of affirmations.

The world is too full of negativity and drains on our energy. Anything that helps to refill the well of positives has to be a good thing. 

Sure, if you make your affirmation too far from your current reality, it’ll trigger the part of your brain which responds like a sarcastic teenager: 'yeah right. Like heck'.  (OK the word might not be heck, but I'm mindful that I’ll probably want to show this post to some of my older friends at writers' group who aren’t fans of strong language).

I'm a millionaire? Nah.  Barely paying the bills.

I'm a slender size zero? That size doesn't even exist in the UK. 

That’s another problem with a lot of the affirmations you’ll find floating around the Internet. Most of the ones I’ve come across are geared towards a US audience. Which means they generally just confuse me, rather than inspiring me. Money affirmations are accompanied by pictures of dollar bills. Healthy eating affirmations mention foods I’ve never even heard of.  What the heck are zucchini?

Which brings me to rule number one: for your affirmations to work they must be personal, using language which means something to you.

Rule two: they must also be believable. The article I mentioned earlier suggested using questions instead of statements, but statements actually work just as well… provided they state something that feels true, or at least possible, for you.

That’s why I say affirmations are the words that bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Each affirmation you use should take you a tiny bit closer to the desired reality.

Want to be a bestselling writer but never finish a project? Don’t start by affirming that you’re a rival to James Patterson or JK Rowling. Start by affirming that you complete every project you start. Or if even that feels too much, how about, ‘I always know the next step to take in my projects’? Or ‘I enjoy taking the next step on…’ and finish by naming the next project you’d like to complete.

Affirmations can work, but making them effective requires careful thought and deliberate choice of words.  Fortunately you’re in the best possible place to achieve that – after all, you’re a writer, aren’t you?!

Have you tried affirmations to help with your writing goals? Did they work for you? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Crash: Chapter Two

Last week I posted the first chapter of Jason's story.  Since the story was inspired by Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I'm posting it in a serialised form, I'll introduce this week's instalment with a summary of the previous chapter in my best attempt at a Dickensian style.

Chapter One: In which the tyrannical Jason Jackson-Jones finds himself losing both a Personal Assistant and an Engineering Manager, and is reliant upon the dubious skills of his pretty receptionist to replace them.

And now for Chapter Two...

Gaby was reading the paper when the call came.  She hardly hesitated before agreeing.  This company, Triple J Auto Parts, sounded like a challenge, and Gaby was never one to shrink from a challenge.  In a few minutes, she'd put on her trusty black suit, popped the essentials in her leather shoulder satchel, squeezed her feet into the high-heeled pumps she reserved for 'first impressions' moments, and headed out of the door.
It didn't take her long to get across Sheffield to the office, nor was the office difficult to find.  So it was a little before ten when she stepped through the door into the dimly lit foyer, watched by the hidden security camera and the blonde receptionist.
“Hello,” the pretty blonde greeted her.  “Can I help you?”  She didn't sound as bored as most receptionists.  Her hair was smooth, her make-up carefully applied, and her suit smart.  She smiled as she spoke, but still Gaby sensed her carefully hidden discomfort. 
“I'm here to see Mr Jackson-Jones,” she said, smiling back.
“Could you sign in, please?” the blonde woman requested, pushing a visitors’ book across the desk towards her. 
Gaby signed in with her full name and the time, drew a line through the space for car registration, and pushed the book back across the desk. 
“Here you are,” she smiled at the receptionist, whose name, she now saw, from a shiny brass badge on her lapel, was Donna.  “Do I need to wear a badge?”
'Yes.  I'll just make you one up.' 
Donna struggled to tear out the perforated slip from the book, and Gaby commented, “Those perforations are tricky little things, aren't they?”
Donna laughed: the laugh of one put-upon employee to another.  Suddenly, from treating Gaby suspiciously, as a possible rival, she seemed to have reassessed her and placed her in the ranks of possible friends. 
“Thank you,” Gaby smiled.  “Everything looks very smart here.  Is it a nice place to work?”
Donna considered this as she folded the slip of paper to fit inside a clear plastic badge sleeve.  “In some ways.  It's a good office and I suppose JJ's a fair man, but... well... he's a bit of a robot and he seems to expect everyone else to be the same.  The milk of human kindness doesn't exactly flow round here.”
“It must make a lot of difference to have somebody so warm and welcoming on reception, though.  After all, you're the first person that visitors see when they arrive, so when you greet them in such a friendly way, they must feel that it's a nice place to be.”
“I suppose so,” Donna said, sounding uncertain.  “I don't know.  Nobody else seems to notice.”
“Maybe not,” Gaby said soothingly, “but I bet they'd notice if you weren't doing it!”
Donna laughed out loud.  When she laughed, her blonde hair swung and her green eyes sparkled.  Gaby thought that watching her unfold under the warmth of an unexpected compliment was like watching a flower soak up rainwater after a drought.
It was a sight Gaby had seen and never forgotten.  She'd been spending time in Australia during a deep drought when the ground cracked and the grass, such as it was, withered.  Watering plants and washing cars was banned, unless it used rinse-water from the two-minute shower that was all that was recommended.  So keeping a garden going meant lugging buckets of old shower and washing-up water outside and painstakingly pouring them over the wilting plants.  The only things that thrived were the cacti and succulents, their fat leaves holding enough of the last winter's rains to carry them through the drought.  And then, when the clouds finally burst in torrents that made taking a step outside feel like walking into a waterfall, they burst into flower in a rainbow array of huge, bounteous blooms.
A lump came to Gaby's throat as she thought of all the beauty she'd seen in the world.  It was sad that so many people went through life thinking only of their next paycheque or chance to go out drinking, starting the evening with a good time which would gradually be forgotten in a haze of alcohol and then replaced with a raging headache and hangover.  Sometimes people were puzzling, but Gaby still loved almost everyone she met.  Everyone deserved a bit of beauty in their lives, and she noted with approval the vase of bright autumnal blooms on the reception desk - cheap at this time of year, but cheerful enough - and the motivational poster on the wall, which pictured an eagle hovering over a rocky outcrop, its talons outstretched and the wind lifting its feathers just a little.  It was a superb piece of photography, and the inspirational quote beneath it, although tacky, did fit the picture perfectly: 'Be an eagle: let life's breezes lift you higher.'
“Pretty flowers,” Gaby commented, and was rewarded with another smile.  Donna seemed like a nice girl, and it would be pleasant to have a friend and ally in the company.  Sometimes things got challenging, and then it was not only nice, but almost a necessity, to have a friendly face and some moral support. 
Encouraged by Donna's openness, she followed up her earlier question with, “Anything else I should know about working here?”
This time the smile was more guarded, almost cynical. 
“What can I say?  It's a job.”
Gaby thought it was a pity that so many people thought a job was a necessity at all costs, and that this fact, if fact it was, necessitated putting up with such unpleasant ones.  Surely there was somewhere else they could go?  She herself never seemed to be short of work.  But maybe it was different in other lines of work, especially with what everyone was saying about the economy.
Maybe, but in her heart Gaby didn't believe that.  She was sure things could be different.  Wasn't that what the poster was trying to say?  You could be a tree and let the cold winds break you, or you could be an eagle and find a way for them to help you fly.  Gaby thrived on challenges.  But she supposed everyone couldn't be the same. 
Donna was already starting to look uncomfortable, as if she thought she'd said too much, so Gaby rapidly backtracked and reverted to a more formal mode. 
“Is Mr Jackson-Jones available?”
“He's in a meeting at the moment.  Shall I show you where you'll be working?”
“Yes, please, if you don't mind.”
Donna led the way out of reception and up two flights of ringing metal stairs.  Gaby made a mental note to leave the high heels at home the next day.  
“This is your office, and through there is Jason's office.  You can call him Jason to his face, he doesn't mind, but to outsiders it's Mr Jackson-Jones.  Don't ask me why.  Anybody would think it was some time last century.”
“Or the century before,” Gaby laughed with her. 
Donna turned on the computer and showed Gaby how to log on.  Not having been instructed on what Gaby was to do once she arrived, Donna suggested that she spend a bit of time familiarising herself with the computer system and filing cabinets, and she'd bring up some company literature for her to read. 
“Oh,” Donna finished, “and do you want a cuppa?”
“Why don't you let me do that?” Gaby suggested.  “I can start to learn my way around.”
So Gaby's first job for Triple J Auto Parts turned out to be finding her way through the finance office to the small upstairs kitchen, and making a green tea for herself and an ordinary tea, white with sugar, for Donna, which she then carried back down two flights of stairs to reception.  Probably not the easiest way of doing it, but she accomplished the task successfully, despite her heels, and was still back at her desk before Jason emerged from his meeting. 
In his absence, she sneaked a quick look through the glass panelled door of his office.  It was crisply decorated, with plain cream walls, a sturdy black desk and office chair, and a huge brown leather sofa.  Curiously, since it was otherwise impersonal and functional, there was a small TV set up in one corner.  Gaby peered in and realised that it was set to display stock prices.  She hadn't thought anyone did that any more, when you could just set them up to appear on your computer at the press of a button.  Maybe Jason was more old-fashioned than the decor suggested. 
Apart from the television, there was little to indicate the room was owned at all, just a framed copy of the company's latest ad campaign on one wall, facing an identically framed certificate on the other wall.  The only letters Gaby could make out on it were 'APMA'.  A college?  A company?  She went to the computer and pulled up a web browser.  Or rather, she clicked on the icon for the web browser, only to be greeted with a pop-up window which demanded that she agree to the company's IT and Internet Policy before it would let her go any further.  She skimmed over the policy, typed in her name and clicked OK, and then the computer kindly permitted her to access a search engine.
A few seconds were sufficient to establish that APMA stood for not only Atlanta Professional Management Association (unlikely) and Arlington and Porlock Museum of Archaeology (even less likely) but also Auto Part Manufacturers' Association.  That'd be it, then. 
In just a few minutes, she'd learned that her temporary employer was a proud, practical man, with an interest in finance and a prominent place in his professional association.

Any more than that would probably have to wait until he decided to put in an appearance.  

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Review: The Tenderness of Wolves

The Tenderness of WolvesThe Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ for no better reason than that I’d just read Maggie Stiefvater’s superb shifter novel, Shiver, and had wolves on the brain. I’d vaguely heard of it some years back when it won the Costa Book of the Year Award, but I had no idea what to expect. If I’d even bothered to read the blurb I might never have tried it – I’m not always a huge fan of historical fiction and the first line of the blurb is ‘1867, Canada’ – so it’s a good thing I grabbed a copy on impulse on the way out of the shop and didn’t look properly.
Though neither the setting nor the style is what I would have chosen, they both drew me in immediately. The wild, frozen north is the perfect setting for an inexplicable murder, and the lawlessness of the environment paves the way for one of the most dramatic murder investigation stories I have ever read.
The dead man, Jammet, owned a bone tablet, marked with mysterious carvings, which may or may not have been valuable, which may have been the motive for his murder, but is now nowhere to be found. The story blends multiple viewpoints, including one of the company men assigned to the investigation of French hunter Laurent Jammet’s murder, and the adoptive mother of one of the main suspects, young Francis, who inexplicably fled the small town of Caulfield in the wake of Jammet’s violent death.
Stef Penney manages the complex pattern of the narrative seemingly effortlessly, and intertwines the various threads of the investigation with a number of superb character studies and even several hints of romance. ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ is a brilliant story, dazzlingly told, the kind of book that leaves after-images on the mental retina for days to come.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Crash: Chapter One

A while ago I introduced one of my favourite characters to the world on my friend Angela's blog, and a lot of people have asked me when they'll get to read more about him.  Since I can't imagine Jason's genre-defying novel ever getting picked up by a traditional publisher, I thought it might be fun to give him some space on my blog instead.  So here's the first chapter of Jason's story, 'The Crash'.   Pop back next week for the next instalment, or follow my blog to make sure you don't miss one. 

The clocks had just changed but Jason Jackson-Jones hadn't bothered to switch his watch or alarm clock.  Consequently, he arrived at work an hour early, as he would continue to do for another week or more.  An extra hour in the workday never hurt anyone. 
As he sat down at his desk opposite the dark window, he simultaneously turned on his computer and switched his phone off divert.  The two movements, one with each hand, were made with the smoothness of long practice.  As the computer went through its start-up ritual, Jason ignored the images moving on the screen before him.  His mind was already on the work of the week and the images conjured by the messages he heard.
Two had been left late on Friday by fellow auto-industry executives even more dedicated than himself - or, more likely, ones so dedicated to appearing hard-working that they were willing to interrupt their family dinners to place calls from their mobiles to others' office phones to create the illusion of dedication.  After all, both had his mobile number and were well aware that his Blackberry linked into the most state-of-the-art sound system and hands-free kit that his local Audi dealership could afford.  They could have called him on his commute out of Sheffield to his Peak District home, but they had chosen not to. 
It was all about playing the game, and Jason was an expert at the game.  It was what had brought him to the peak of his profession; at forty-two he was ten-year Managing Director of Triple J Auto Parts and the youngest ever chair of the Auto Part Manufacturers’ Association.  It was the reason his top floor office, in which he sat on this dark autumn morning, was the largest in the building and the most luxurious even when compared to those of his older colleagues on the committee of APMA.   He didn't even need to walk the shop floor to check on the progress of the latest batch of part manufacture.  He could just switch the display on screen, as he did now, to any of the seventeen cameras that monitored security and productivity.  He even had an information assistant whose job was solely to keep the two dozen process spreadsheets up to date in case he should need to know exactly how many hinges, springs or sockets were already stacked in boxes in the shipping area, how many in progress, and how many yet to be begun.  And if the latter number exceeded the former, it was a fair bet there would be letters issued by the end of the day, and the company's Office Manager-cum-HR person would be calling the agency for a fresh batch of temps.
Jason was, he considered, a tough man but a fair one.  His staff were paid the going rate and although he expected total dedication to the work in hand, he gave nothing less himself.  By the time the night shift left and the receptionist came on duty at eight thirty, he'd already returned the two calls on his answerphone, although only one of them had resulted in a conversation with a human being.  Slack, some of his colleagues.  Of course, Hudson might have been on his way to a meeting, but then why wasn't his office phone diverting to his mobile?  Time was money, and in an industry where margins had been shaved to the bone, you didn't waste a penny, or an instant. 
At eight thirty and some five seconds, Jason put a call through to Donna, on reception.  The CCTV camera trained on the foyer showed the pretty blond settling her handbag on the back of her chair and reaching for her coffee mug.  Coffee could wait.  Jason needed an answer now.
"Good morning, Triple J Auto Parts, how may I help?" Donna greeted him, having obviously not noticed that the red light for Jason's office line was illuminated. 
"Where's Lucy?" he asked.
"I haven't seen her," Donna stated the obvious.  "I'll check my messages now.  If she hasn't phoned in, I'll chase her up and get back to you."
"By quarter to," Jason specified.  "I've got the Japs in at nine, but they'll be early."
"OK.  I'll get on to it straight...” Jason put the phone down while Donna was still wittering. 
Where was Lucy?  The girl wasn't really up to the job, but she was the least flaky assistant he'd had for a while, and at least she normally turned up on time.  But not today.  Surely she couldn't have gone through the whole of Sunday without noticing the clocks had changed. Could she?  He mentally reviewed what he knew of the freckled redhead, and concluded that it was unlikely, but possible.  The alternative was that she'd rung in sick before eight thirty and Donna would relay the message once she'd checked her phone.  The CCTV camera on reception showed him that she was doing so now.  Good.  She could get herself a coffee while she was getting refreshments for him and his nine o'clock visitors.  Unless of course Lucy turned up by then, in which case he'd have her get everyone's drinks, including Donna's, as a reprimand for her lateness.
His phone calls for the moment completed, he clicked into his Inbox, deleted thirty or so industry newsletters and filed another five for later reading.  As he began the serious business of answering supplier and customer emails, his computer gave an irritated bing, and a small envelope flashed up the 'you have mail' icon.  He signed off the email he was writing and clicked on the envelope. 
He saw that it was from 'Reception' and sighed.  Why was Donna wasting time typing when she could have just picked up the phone?
The subject line read, 'Re: Lucy.'  There was his answer.  The girl was afraid he'd shoot the messenger when she came to explain the absence of his P.A.  When would the agency manage to find him a girl with backbone?
There was a message on my phone, the email read.  Lucy is not coming in due to illness this week, and she's handing in her resignation, which is a week's notice because she is still in her probationery period
Jason swore, not particularly quietly.  Lucy wasn't perfect, but she was useful, and he could ill afford the time to look for a replacement.  Maybe he'd have Donna do that.  It would serve her right for chickening out of giving him the bad news verbally.   And for forgetting there was such a thing as a spell-checker.
Jason hit last number redial, and Donna answered instantly.  Clearly, she'd been waiting for his call.
"What can I do for you?" she asked this time.
"Find me a P.A."
"Do you want me to ring FasTemps?"
"They're expensive," Jason snapped.
"The last girl they sent was wearing ripped jeans and had a nose ring.  No, FasTemps will do.  Usual contract."
It was a sad reflection on the state of the labour market, Jason thought, that this had happened so often that even Dozy Donna knew the drill.  Unemployment had never been higher, but that didn't make it any easier to get and keep decent staff. 
As if to reinforce his impression, there was a timid tap at the door of his inner office, and the sandy head of his Engineering Manager, Nick, appeared around the sturdy oak door.
"Lucy wasn't at her desk, so I didn't know whether to interrupt you or not."  Nick always sounded nervous and breathless, but he seemed to be halfway reasonable at keeping to production schedules, so Jason kept him on. 
"You're here now.  You might as well come in.  But make it quick.  I've got a nine o'clock with the Japs."
Nick came in and perched on the edge of the big leather sofa. 
"It's about the steel sheet we're getting from Metalworx."
"What about it?"
Nick twisted his fingers nervously and didn't answer for a moment.
"It's not good enough quality.  It's OK for the CX40s, but our failure rates for CX85s are creeping up."
"So get onto the suppliers."
"I've tried but it's within the grade we're paying for.  If we want better, we'd have to go to premium, and we can't afford that.  It'd be cheaper just to keep them for the 40s and go elsewhere for the 85s."
"We've got a solus deal for a reason.  It's cheaper, it's more efficient, and it keeps them loyal.  If they want to keep the deal, they need to sort out the quality.   End of."  Jason pulled his chair closer to his desk and put his hand on the mouse, signalling the end of the meeting. 
"Jesus," Nick said quietly, almost to himself. 
Jason ignored him and started skimming the seventeen emails that had come in while he was dealing with his receptionist and Engineering Manager.  As he clicked on one and waited for it to open, he looked up.  Nick was still there.
"What's the problem?" Jason asked.
"I can't do this.  I've had an offer from my old boss to go back to the forge.  I wasn't going to - the money's not great - but this is ridiculous.  You expect me to work miracles on quality, but without letting the price rise by a penny.  It's just not possible.  Something has to give.  If you can't get real, then I'm out of here.  Take this as my notice, and I'll put it in writing when I get back to my desk."
Nick stood and left with a weary sigh.
Jason leaned back in his chair and picked up his phone.
"Donna?" he interrupted her polite greeting.  "Get me an Engineering Manager.  As soon as.  And have security escort Nick out.  He's on garden leave, banned from the factory, as of now."
"Uh, OK."  Donna put the phone down without asking what Nick had done to deserve his fate, but Jason wasn't fooled by her apparent innocence.  The news would be all over the company in half an hour, if that, accompanied by a rash of speculation.  That was how Jason liked it.  Feed the rumour mill, and keep them on their toes.  It wasn't likely that anyone would believe Nick's protestation that he'd jumped rather than being pushed.  Not when he was escorted from the building by the two burly bruisers in black Belstaffs that Jason's CCTV display already showed converging on the production corridor.
The thought gave Jason a feeling of power.  The feeling behind it, the slight fear that after all Nick had somehow got the better of him, he shoved aside. 
Time to call Hudson again. 
This time, Hudson was in his office, and made feeble protestations about not having heard the message Jason had left.  But Jason was able to get his agreement, as he'd known he would, to the changes Jason had proposed to the APMA constitution.  Which meant that Jason had his majority.
He smiled as he put the phone down.  It was no sooner at rest in its cradle than it rang again.  He snatched it up.
"Hello?"  No need to identify himself.  Everybody knew.  Anyway, it was only Donna again.
"Your visitors are in reception."
"Good.  Get them teas or coffees.  And one for me - black coffee, two sugars.  What's happening with the P.A.?"
"They said they'd send somebody by ten o'clock.  Do you want them to call back once they have a name?"
"No.  I don't want to be interrupted in this meeting.  Whoever they send will have to do.  We'll get an ad out for someone permanent this afternoon."
Jason hung up.
He stood up, massaged his aching shoulders for an all-too-short moment, and then tugged on his jacket ready to head for the boardroom.  If he was lucky, his visitors and his coffee would be waiting for him there.
As he passed, he surveyed the lightening view from the window and let his mind review the day so far.  His P.A. and Engineering Manager gone in one morning.  Surely the day had to get better from here on in.  If only the agency could manage, for once, to send someone good – or, failing that, at least someone who could read and write, and didn’t think it was appropriate to come to the office dressed like a refugee from one of his teenage daughter’s favourite bands.