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On the Rocks - Chapter 1 (part 1/2) V2

by Coco 

Posted: 24 April 2007
Word Count: 1418

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Munching on sweets and surveying the office she most certainly did not call home Clare felt a predictable sinking feeling in her stomach.
Yet again she had been summoned to Big Boss’s office, and although Clare couldn’t think of anything she had specifically done wrong today there was no doubt she would be finding out shortly. It didn't make her feel better to notice that the rest of the team were deliberately keeping their heads down, so much for team spirit. Clare's only hope was that a cola bottle sugar rush would kick in soon.

Eventually Liz, Office ‘98 spiky EA (Executive Assistant) whizzed herself across the open plan space to Clare ‘He’ll see you now’
Clare could tell that Liz was trying to be kind but to the uninitiated she sounded a little like a Bond villain. So just the run of the mill Executive Assistant really.
This thought made Clare giggle and hastily swallowing she nodded to show that she had heard and that she was cool - just exactly as you should be to have a sensible, grown-up conversation with your reasonable boss.
She didn’t know who she was kidding, every time she did this, every bloody time, it all went to pieces outside his office door when Kick Me Girl did a quick change and dripped in to be a complete loser.
Clare had pondered her work many times since Big Boss joined and decided that it wasn’t that she was bad at Sales, her technique was a simple one based on being very organised and asking at the right time. No, the problem was the unsavoury reputation that Clare had got with Big Boss, the heinous crime of being ‘too nice’. Obviously in the world of ‘Opportunity Maximisation’ this was a little bit unusual but everything had been just fine until he had come along and decided Clare was plankton.

Bracing herself and mentally repeating lines from her ‘Harness Your Natural Power’ book – “You are worthy of great things. Let your presence FILL and COMMAND your space” blah, Clare knocked on the door.
A few moments and then the flat tones of Big Boss, ‘Yes’.
Trying to keep her head high Clare walked in, ‘Hello!’
Clare’s plans for her tone of voice had been somewhere on the controlled and neutral scale but instead she sounded like she was trying out for head cheerleader. Squirming, Clare realised she hadn’t achieved ‘commanding presence’ but her ‘vacuous airhead’ was right on the money.
Perhaps looking like a cheerleader might have helped she thought, but such comparisons were unlikely with unruly hair and complexion more politely described as “English rose”. She was no waif either which Big Boss also seemed to dislike, but it wasn’t her fault that at all of 5’4 Clare towered over him.
‘Clare. Take a seat’
So he was doing this with that voice, all clipped and frosty. Clare looked at her boss. Mid-forties, married with children, so far so normal. So how did he manage to look so like a reptile? Skin grey and sort of wet looking, movement’s quick and darting - she could have sworn every so often a forked tongue hissed out. The small yellow eyes swivelled as they regarded Clare, and she in turn froze like a fat mouse
‘Clare, it has been explained to me that you have changed the Fitz presentation after I approved it. May I ask why you felt the need to do that?’
There was an awkward gap before Clare’s words helpfully rushed out to fill the vacuum
‘Um, there was an error in the figures and I thought –er- that we shouldn’t include them as they were incorrect….so I corrected them…so that they were…er….correct”
Clare had thought she had been being efficient when she had changed the figures – they had been taken from an old file. Now she knew that somehow this was unspeakably wrong. Another great silence followed which Big Boss made the most of by perfecting his evil stare, and although it seemed to Clare to not require too much polish there was nothing to do but wait for him to speak
‘Clare have I not made myself clear when I have said on numerous occasions that no presentations are changed after I have approved them?’
At this point Clare knew she should be quiet but the dumb mouse had decided to fight
‘Yes….but the figures were wrong, I noticed it…and I input the right ones…’
Her voice finally trailed away as she realised this explanation wasn’t having the desired effect, for her anyway. Big Boss on the other hand looked positively elated that she had walked into his trap and as Clare babbled she realised he was really enjoying this.
Finally this moved her to anger and she stood, eyes blazing, in front of the slimy little man and said in the clearest, commanding voice possible ‘Listen here Reptile Head, I am not wrong, you are…!’
Obviously this last piece only took place in her head but god how she wished she could say it rather than sit through the hazy ten minutes that followed
‘It is not up to you to make changes Clare – in trying to fix something that was ultimately cosmetic you could have made a huge error and blown the whole Fitz account – ‘
Lots more floated by but after a couple of weak ‘but’ and ‘Um’s Clare submitted to being squished.
It was over eventually although Clare did manage to bump into a mobilised smoker’s crew on her exit to nicely ensure the latest gossip would be company wide. Red faced she skulked back across to her desk before dropping into her seat like a stone, what the hell could go wrong next? The arrival of office shark Samantha at her desk answered that question but Clare made herself take her deepest breath and smile sweetly. If crossed Samantha would hug you just to get a better grip on that knife in your back.
‘Clare love, in with the boss again?’
Clare kept it simple ‘Yup’ and tried to indicate this would not be a long conversation by picking up some papers. Paying no attention Samantha perched herself on Clare’s desk, skirt hitching up to best show off spinning toned legs ‘How was it babes? He roast you did he?’
‘Well it wasn’t too bad in the end – I’ve had worse’
Whilst Samantha laughed away Clare sat stiff; she was in no mood for her humiliation to be the coffee machine tale of choice, besides it was dawning on her that Samantha was most likely candidate for “letting it slip” that the presentation had been changed. Clare questioned how the bloody hell she had ended up in her own life at times like this, but with a mortgage and grown up bills to pay there wasn’t really much choice or time to think about it either.
Once Samantha had moved on, bored of getting less gossip than she could make up Clare logged onto her emails. Guiltily ignoring all the ‘Action required’ ones she clicked onto one from Vick sitting ten desks away.
To: Clare Hardy
From: Victoria Jones
Re: Fitz Account
Saw you in the naughty chair –want to get a glass of wine after work?
Also – pretty please can you do me a favour and use your best googlin’ skills? My sister met some guy last night and he reckons he’s on holiday here and is chief of police on the Cayman Islands, can you check it out?!!

To look at Vick who was on the phone, typing away studiously with pen tucked behind ear you would think she was hard at work; only Clare knew that she was booking a wax appointment and banging out personal emails.
Making sure she looked equally active Clare clicked onto the internet – she may feel useless but she was definitely still queen of the search engine. If anyone could find out if the “hot man” was lying it would be Clare. Moments later she was done and tapping a reply
To: Victoria Jones
From: Clare Hardy
Re: Fitz Account – Action required
Your sister’s man is lying; the real chief of police is pushing 50 and currently attending a crime conference in Paris. Anyway who lives in the Cayman isles and holidays in here?
Can do tonight but only for one really –almost boyfriend coming over
See you in the pub @ 6

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Comments by other Members

Luisa at 21:29 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Hi Coco,

Welcome (again!) to the group and congratulations for uploading your first piece here!

It was great to read your opening chapter - I enjoyed it. I think Clare's a great character and it was great to experience everything from her sarcastic, funny point of view. There's some great humour in this piece.

You've also got the boss character across very well and I can easily picture him. I like this a lot:
Mid-forties, married with children, so far so normal. So how did he manage to look so like a reptile?
(At first I thought you overused 'so', but then I liked the effect you created with that!)

I did have trouble following what was happening towards the end, though. I'd say that there's maybe too much going on, and I think you might need to simplify the final third of this chapter, and clearly signpost exactly what the reader should be worrying about at the end of the chapter.

On a more nitpicky level, I think you could consider varying your sentence length and structure more. Particularly at the very beginning, I thought there were too many long and complicated sentences.

I'm not sure if your use of brackets quite worked, although I can see why you have them. I definitely wouldn't use them here, though:
There followed a great silence which Big Boss made the most of by perfecting his evil stare, (which seemed to Claire to not require too much polish).
I think that joke works well without brackets.

I hope some of this is useful for you. I really liked the feel of this chapter, and the way you poked gentle fun at the workplace and created amusing characters.


Account Closed at 21:59 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Reads really great, nice chapter and really great start to a book as you're straight in there, and I'm in my head ready to go to the pub with the girls for a wee post work drink!

Love your boss character too, sounds like he's cooking the books eh for client presentations, ;) I got a very good sense of all the characters indeed.

Think Luisa might have a point, because you're doing this from a narrative distance of looking at what Clare is going through and not just from her head, you'll have to make the narrative bits in short sentences so they're easy to absorb.

I've struggled with similar in a novel. Sometimes I think when I go into the narrative, it's hard because it's easy to think you need to write more than you actually need. You might not be able to see what to cut until you're at the end and going through it all again after some time, at least that's what I do.

Example edit to shorter sentences could be:

Called into the Big Boss’s office –again- and she knew there would be ‘words’; actually she couldn't recall having done anything wrong today but that didn’t mean too much for Clare at the moment.
As she sat her co-workers ostentatiously kept their heads down around her, she knew they knew that she was in for a kicking, but of course they were all relieved it was Clare - again - and were happy pretending not to have noticed.

to: (not the best example but hope it gives some idea)
Lord. Called into the Big Boss’s office for ‘words’ - again! Her co-workers were keeping their heads down around her, maybe they knew better than her why she was in for a kicking? And, of course, they were happy it was her at the end of it - as always.

But do feel free to ignore me, it's so much about how we all see everything subjectively on here.

I LOVE the title, hope you keep it!! And I'd love to read more, so please do post more soon.

Coco at 22:12 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Thanks - I really apreciate the comments, really constructive (sorry, brackets - but got to say you guys are pros!). I knew I had some issues with structure as some of the the text just doesn't "flow" in my head. Will leave for a bit and redraft as I am tending to keep revisiting and edit myself over and over (it's hard because I want it to be perfect!) - but means I am not makinng progress with the story

Lammi at 22:29 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Yes, I think your style could be simplified and streamlined while losing none of the charm of the voice.

Seriously ration the use of inverted commas, dashes and brackets, and try to use more direct and simpler sentences so there's a more fluid balance. For example, you have quite a lot of sentences beginning with 'ing' words - Munching on wine gums, Hastily swallowing, Bracing herself, Trying to keep her head, Mumbling like, Soom incoming, Paying no attention, Making sure. One or two of these per page is fine, but clusters of them can be distracting unless you're after a very specific effect.

And sometimes they render a sentence unnecessarily complicated, eg: 'Mumbling like a moron Clare's explanation didn't help' would be a much clearer and direct sentence if you said something like, 'Clare mumbled an explanation that sounded moronic even to her.'

Typo; Clare changes to Claire at one point. Watch out for loose commas.

Nikkip at 14:39 on 25 April 2007  Report this post
Hi Coco,

love the story and MC but agree with the other comments that some of it can be simplified - but as A05 says, that's easier to do once you've got the whole story down and have really got into the flow of it. Just carry writing for now!

Coco at 21:53 on 26 April 2007  Report this post
Thanks everyone for your comments, I couldn't resist redrafting in the end but will definitely leave it alone for a bit now. I have also uploaded the second part of the chapter for anyone that would care to have a read.

Don't know if anyone can answer but is there any protocol I should be observing? ie you comment for me, I comment back? I have read lots on here but not really sure I want to lend my novice opinion!

Luisa at 23:46 on 26 April 2007  Report this post
Yes, it's pretty informal, but usually if people comment and they have work uploaded in the group, then you'd comment back. And I'm sure you have loads to contribute! And anyway, we're all writing for readers and every reader's opinion is valuable. But no pressure!

kezza at 12:41 on 01 May 2007  Report this post
I really enjoyed this too, Coco. Not much to add to the great comments above, except that I loved this:

Skin grey and sort of wet looking, movement’s quick and darting - she could have sworn every so often a forked tongue hissed out. The small yellow eyes swivelled as they regarded Clare, and she in turn froze like a fat mouse.


Keris x

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