Knitting CAN Walk!

NaNoWriMo – Get in the mood!

As writers around the world approach the start line for the annual fifty-thousand word challenge, I offer you the prologue to one of my previous efforts, which became a self-published novel with many great reviews from readers. I hope that it fires you up to get off to a roaring start.

My only advice, take it or leave it, is to just keep on writing until you are done.
Never look back on yesterday’s work. You’ll never finish.
You’ll have plenty of time to review and revise at a later date.

An Appeal

Please read the whole post rather than blithely ‘liking’ it without a second glance.
Then . . .

. . . if you are inspired by this piece of writing, either to participate in NaNoWriMo 2020 or to grab a copy of Knitting Can Walk! for yourself so that you can continue to read the rest of the book, PLEASE SHARE this post on your personal blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter or Instagram channel, or any other means.

Thank you!

Prologue to Knitting Can Walk!

Panchali Masih was full of admiration as she stared across her desk at the smartly turned-out man in front of her. She had already made her decision. Calum McDougal was perfect. She would definitely offer him the role of Global Customer Services Director at Summit Software. From the moment he walked through the door that morning, he had impressed everyone that he encountered. People had been running into the CEO’s office all day to tell her that they would love to welcome Calum to the senior management team of the company.

Indeed, Calum had gained Panchali’s immediate respect during that first breakfast meeting in the Savoy Hotel in London back in December. She’d had no hesitation in inviting him to New Jersey for a round of second and final interviews. The shortlist had been down to only two candidates, but his rival for the post had been almost a standard, stereotypical senior manager. Calum was something special.

However, she felt compelled to interview him. She doubted if he would blow his chances at this late stage, but it could happen. She had a feeling that she was about to enjoy the experience.

Calum sat comfortably and smiled back at Panchali. It was obvious that he would not speak until he had been spoken to. She glanced down at the CV and notes in front of her.

“It’s been a long day for you. You’ve met with all my senior managers and a lot of the staff. And you gave a great presentation this morning.” She paused. “So, after all that, what do you think of my company?”

Calum considered his answer carefully before responding. He didn’t want to upset the owner of this company, because he really wanted the job. It had been a wonderful day once the shock of the initial encounter with the VP of Human Resources had worn off. He had met Licia in the car park shortly before eight o’clock. She had asked him how he would like to set up his presentation. “It will be in the boardroom, of course. We have a projector and a screen if you have slides on your laptop to show. We even have an old-fashioned overhead projector if you’ve brought some transparencies!” She’d laughed as she made this last remark.

“What do you mean by MY presentation, Licia?”

“Your presentation on ‘How Summit Software will gain a beach-head in Europe,’ of course.”

A look of shocked realisation had broken across Calum’s face. “Oh no! I’m sorry. I looked at your agenda and was expecting to watch one of your executives presenting that case for my benefit.”

“Oh dear. There’s obviously been a misunderstanding, Calum. I do apologise. It must be my fault. The agenda is ambiguous. I should have written the owners’ names against each agenda item. I’d better tell Panchali about my mistake immediately. She’s expecting you to brief us on how you’d get the business going across the pond. We’ll have to cancel that session.” Licia was obviously distressed by her error. “Oh dear. She’s not going to be too happy with me for this.”

Thinking quickly, Calum saw that all was not lost. He might even turn it to his advantage.

“It’s alright, Licia. If you could explain the situation to Panchali and ask her if I can have until nine to prepare, I am sure that I can come up with something in that time. It’s an hour-long session, so I only need four or five slides as background to my talk. I’ll just tell everyone about my ideas on the matter and open up a general discussion. I could benefit from the vast experience in the room, and I am not going to be running alone in Europe. I’m sure that I’ll have plenty of advice and support from the leadership team.”

“Are you sure? You’ve already got less than an hour to prepare.”

“Yes. No problem. Just tell me where I can sit in peace for a while, and point me to the coffee machine.”

“You can sit in the boardroom. Nobody will disturb you. And the coffee’s right here,” she said, pointing to the open kitchen door.

At five to nine, people had started coming into the boardroom, introducing themselves briefly as they took their seats. By the time Panchali had joined the assembly, there were twenty-two men and women sitting expectantly around the large table. The CEO took control and asked Calum to launch straight into his presentation, as they were already running half an hour behind schedule.

The audience listened respectfully as Calum talked to them about the likely target organisational structure in Europe, which would initially be run out of the United Kingdom, developing the small existing customer base, the creation of likely partners and their enablement, training for staff, customers and partners and the support that he would expect from the much larger team in the USA.

As he had expected, there were a lot of questions, which he thought he fielded quite well, and much discussion. There was a very friendly, receptive atmosphere in the room. He could tell that his well-tested ploy of switching from “I would…” to “we will…” half way through the presentation had paid off handsomely. They were already speaking to him as if he were part of the team.

Throughout the discussion, Panchali had remained silent and relaxed at the far end of the table. She was keenly observing every move and every word.

Finally, she asked a question. “Say I were to give you the job right now. What would be your first action, back in London, next Monday?”

Calum didn’t even have to think about his answer for one second. He already knew.

“The job title says it all. I would be the first appointed Global Customer Services Director at Summit Software. Naturally, my job would be founded upon the services that our customers require, or believe they require. I would plan, and embark upon, a whistle-stop tour of ALL of our existing customers, worldwide. In advance, I would make sure that the most appropriate senior contacts within each of our customers could make themselves available to spend some time with me during my visits. I’d need some assistance to do that. I would ask them all to lay it on the line for me: the good, the bad and the ugly of their interactions with Summit Software. I would listen very carefully to their perceptions of us. I would be asking them what more we could do for them, and doing my best to spot opportunities to deliver more services and better services to them all. I’d need some admin support to plan all of this, but I would aggressively drive my own timescales so that I could get back to London and plan our next moves as soon as possible. My guess is that, within six to eight weeks, we’d have a very good idea of what would be required, and we could then prioritise, taking into account our current capabilities and budgets.”

The room was silent. Calum wondered for a moment if he had got it completely wrong. Most of the management team were turning to look at their CEO.

Panchali leaned forward and applauded. She actually applauded! The rest of the audience joined her.

“Calum. I have to tell you that I could not have heard a better answer to that question if I had written it myself!”

Once everybody except Licia and Calum had left the room, Licia beamed broadly and offered her congratulations on a great performance. She then offered to take Calum to his first one-to-one meeting, which would be with Kumar, the Chief Technology Officer. “I was really worried for you this morning, when we discovered the misunderstanding about the presentation. I’m amazed that you pulled it off so well.”

“Thanks Licia. I actually work best when I present on the fly. Months of preparation for a presentation makes it go kind of flat, don’t you think?”

For the rest of the day, Calum had enjoyed a succession of thirty-minute meetings with all of the senior managers. What he had most enjoyed was the informality of the lunch break. He had sat with the developers, support team and administrators as they shared their lunch boxes that they’d all prepared and brought in to work. He loved this culture. Most amusing was the short cricket match that followed lunch. The American colleagues were obviously quite bemused by the strange game that the Indians were playing outside on the grass. Calum tried to explain it away as “a bit like baseball, but with only two bases and two batters.” That had confused the locals even more.

At last, he had reached the final interview of the day; of the whole process. He knew that answering Panchali’s question regarding his thoughts on her company honestly could carry a potentially huge risk, but being straightforward and truthful, despite the risks involved, had usually paid enormous dividends. He decided to go for it.

“To be honest, I love your company, its products and its people, and I feel that I could really fit in here, but I think that your trademark is actually worth more than your entire company. If Bill Gates or Larry Ellison or any other IT giant wanted to print those three little words on any of their boxes, they would have to pay Summit Software an absolute fortune for the privilege.”

There was a long pause as Panchali stared at him, looking very serious. He wondered if he’d made a big mistake. Eventually, she smiled.

Calum was very relieved when Panchali’s smile broadened into a grin. She laughed.

“That is very perceptive of you, Calum. And you are very brave to say it to my face. Others may have thought it in the past, but nobody has ever been bold enough to say that to me before. It is my turn to be honest with you now. What you just told me is precisely the reason that the trademark is registered in my own personal name rather than in the company’s name.”

Panchali lowered her gaze to Calum’s CV once more.

“I see that you are interested in mathematical puzzles. Does that include the ones made of blocks of wood, pieces of string and wires?”

“Yes. They’re great fun.”

She reached down to pick up a large wooden box from the side of her desk. Tipping the contents noisily onto the surface she challenged, “Good! I love them too. Have a go at some of these while we speak.”

Calum scanned the puzzles before him. There were several with which he was already very familiar. He quickly grabbed one of his favourites and started to take it apart. As he did so, he informed Panchali that some of his favourite books when he was a youngster had been Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions series.

She chuckled. “Me too!”

Calum nimbly finished the first puzzle and picked up another.

The questioning moved on to much more business-focused concepts, especially back onto the morning’s topic of how Calum saw the business running in Europe and how he expected to develop the services team and business worldwide. All the time that they were speaking, he continued to dismantle the puzzles. Panchali could see what he was doing and selected one that she knew was unique. It had been designed and crafted by her grandfather, just for her, when she’d been about ten years old.

Calum struggled with it, eventually daring to pass it back to the CEO with a request that she show him the trick. She was delighted to do so, and even more delighted when Calum had no trouble in repeating the solution a few seconds later.

“You are a very open and honest person Calum, and I like that. All of my executives, and all of the junior staff that I have spoken to during the day like you very much. I want to be equally open and honest with you now. For the last half an hour I have been observing you. You already had the job when you walked in this morning. I just wanted to go through the interview with you as confirmation of my initial thoughts. Have you enjoyed the day and the whole process?”

“I have, Panchali, very much. But does this mean that you are offering me the job?”

“Yes it does. I want you to work here at Summit Software. Licia has already drafted an offer letter for you, which I’d like you to take away with you. I am sure that you will find the terms to be very appealing to you, but I am open to negotiation if you wish to discuss any of the details. You can tell me your answer tomorrow morning before you depart for the airport, or you can take it back to England and call me next week. Perhaps you’d like time to discuss it with your family?”

“No. That won’t be necessary. I wouldn’t have made the trip here if my wife hadn’t been as enthusiastic as I am about the job and this company. Today has just reinforced my feelings. I’ll read the offer, but I am almost certain that I will be in here to accept first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Great! However, before we finish for the day, there is one more question that I always like to ask every interviewee. I am afraid that it is somewhat of an interview cliché, but I am keen to discover what your answer will be. I have a feeling I might hear something new from you.” She paused. Calum frowned. “What would you say has been the greatest achievement of your life so far?”

“That is very easy for me to answer, Panchali. There is no doubt whatsoever that the greatest achievement of my life so far, and I know that I will never surpass this if I live to be a hundred, is that I taught a little girl to walk after the clinical experts had declared that she would never be able to walk.”

For once in her life, Panchali was genuinely stunned. She was speechless as she tried to absorb Calum’s statement. Her mouth actually hung open.

“Say that again!”

“I taught a little girl, a six-year-old Chinese orphan girl, to walk, despite the advice from top clinical experts in Hong Kong that it would never be possible for her to walk on her own.”

“If you are telling me what I think I just heard, then this is truly amazing. Almost incredible. Please tell me more.”

“Do you want to hear the short version or the long version?”

Panchali considered this for a few moments.

“Calum. If you don’t have any plans for this evening, my family and I would be delighted if you would dine with us and tell us all about this little girl who learned to walk. Would you please join us?”

“Yes. I’d love to accept your generous invitation. I was only going to sit in my hotel room and flick through the two-hundred channels available on US TV.”

“Great. I’ll send a car to pick you up from your hotel at seven. See you later. I look forward to hearing this story. It sounds fascinating.”


Please click here for more information about the book and links to reviews and purchasing sites.

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#WritingTip: should I write a prologue?

Sue Moorcroft blog

Image that says writing tip

I’m always surprised when someone tells me editors, agents and readers don’t like prologues. Many of my books have a prologue. No editor has asked me to remove one and I’ve even been specifically asked to include one. As a reader, I love them. I find them intriguing.

What do I think a prologue is? Typically, three to five pages of introductory material. Its importance often doesn’t become clear until it shows itself as a catalyst or significant background to the main story. It’s often characterised by being distanced from the opening of Chapter One in time or location so wouldn’t flow easily into Chapter One.

Are prologues necessary? I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if a book still makes sense. If it does then I guess it was written to “set the mood”. But if it later proves crucial to the…

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#ChristmasWishes ebook publication day!

Sue Moorcroft’s stories are always enjoyable and worthwhile reads.
Take a look.

Sue Moorcroft blog

Cover image Christmas Wishes
Christmas Wishes

Such an exciting day when a book first goes on sale! Thanks to all the lovely NetGalley users who have already given Christmas Wishes so many great reviews.

Christmas Wishes is available for download in the UK now.

Join Hannah in her journeys between beautiful snowy Sweden and cosy Middledip as her life in Stockholm fragments and the village calls her back. Nico’s downshifted to Middledip too as he has two children to care for and an eating disorder to cope with. Will any of their wishes come true?

Image: When it came to Hannah's turn she found herself making one of those wishes that are half-formed in the back of your mind, a yearning you've hardly admitted to yourself.

If you’d prefer to await the paperback or audio versions then they’ll be coming along on November 12th 2020.

Download Christmas Wishes on Amazon UK

Download Christmas Wishes on Apple UK

Download Christmas Wishes on Kobo UK

To double the excitement, today’s also publication day in Italy for La vacanza che cambiò la mia vita – which was

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Book Review: Brilliant Basics for New Trainers by Niall Lavery and Glen Butler

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Brilliant Basics for New TrainersBrilliant Basics for New Trainers by Niall Lavery and Glen Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the joys of training is that, no matter how experienced you are, you can learn something new every day. Here’s an opportunity to learn something new.

This book is packed full of great advice for trainers from those who have been there and done it. Every tip is backed by anecdotes of personal experience, smothered liberally with good humour. Anyone who has presented in public or delivered any training will empathise and will recognise parallels with their own experiences.

Having said that, I have no doubt that there are snippets from which we can all learn. I can guarantee that you’ll find something in the book which will help you to improve your own delivery.

The narrative is easy to follow and the structure allows you to choose between reading straight through from beginning to end or dipping into it for reference from time to time. My personal advice would be to read the whole book and then place it on you most reachable bookshelf for future reference.

It is easy to read and you will enjoy it. Have fun!


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Book Review: Little Big Lies by Liane Moriarty

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My top advice to you regarding this book is that you should persevere. By the time you get to the end of the story, you will agree with me that it was well worth it.

For me, the first quarter of this book was boring and suffered from character-building overload. There were just too many people with superficial appearances that I just knew were false. You could say that the title of the book had warned me that it would be so. I soon learned that somebody had been killed at a school event for parents and that one of those parents was responsible for the death.

However, once I had struggled through that first quarter, the action picked up to a pace that kept me interested throughout and always had me wanting to read on to see what happened next.

I predicted the identity of the victim fairly early on and was even quite close on the motive. That didn’t spoil my enjoyment though. I couldn’t wait for that person to meet their untimely death, although I would have liked them to endure some prolonged suffering before their life was terminated. I would have loved to witness the uncomfortable wriggling of the victim for a while.

What I couldn’t guess was the identity of the perpetrator. Nor could I guess how the victim would die.

I enjoyed reading the consequences of the death for some of the main characters in the book, especially the closing line. DON’T you dare skip to the last page! You’ll spoil your own experience.

I recommend this book with some emphasis on my advice at the beginning of this review.


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Book Review: A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

Rating: 3 out of 5.
A Single SwallowA Single Swallow by Ling Zhang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having read this book and not loved it in the same way as many other reviewers, I feel rather guilty. I do like it and I think that the story is fascinating. It is brutal in places and often tragic. The biggest tragedies are the words that were never spoken by the main characters, which have been regretted ever since. This is a recurring theme throughout the book and clearly demonstrates that opportunities should usually be seized at the time that they arrive rather than thought about for many years to come.

The three main strands of the story are narrated by a Chinese soldier, an American pastor and an American military instructor. These characters, whilst sharing a celebratory drink on VJ day promise to return, as ghosts, to the village which pulled them together, on the anniversary of that day after their deaths. Eventually, they hope, they will meet up and reminisce. On the face of it, that’s a very clever device to enable the telling of a story from three individual points of view. But, for me, it failed.

The pastor, who is also a doctor, dies soon after the end of the war, before he can even make it back to the States. The Chinese soldier dies a few decades on. The military instructor dies at the age of 92, by which time the other two ghosts have grown impatient and angry that they have had to wait so long.

The strands of the story bear authenticity and match other accounts that I have read from the same region and period. They reveal great details and feelings which tug at my heartstrings. The binding force is Swallow, a local girl with whom each of the three main characters form differing relationships. Not only do they perceive her differently, but they each have different names for her. She is key to the development of the story from the beginning right through to the very end.

A three-star rating means that I liked the book and that I would recommend it.

So, why didn’t I rate it higher?

Ask yourselves this question. If old friends and comrades met up, even as ghosts, after many years of separation, would they sit and narrate their part of the story for hours on end without interruption? Of course not. They’d have animated conversations with many interruptions for questions and disagreements. I’ve attended many reunions and they are always filled with multiple chatter as we merrily and sometimes forlornly reminisce. Each of these characters is permitted to speak for tens of pages of the book at a time. It is impossible. That disappoints me.

Then there is an element of ridiculous. Two dogs, who played a central role in the lives of all four main characters, including the Swallow, get together for a reminisce of their own. That would be OK as it stands and would be rather entertaining. However, not only are these two dogs trilingual, speaking Mandarin, English and Dog, they are very intellectual in their language and descriptions and they are wonderful philosophers, probably more so than their human masters. They are also mind-readers. They relate the thoughts of the humans and one of them can even read a thermometer and understand the magnitude and meaning of the patient’s temperature.

Although these aspects distracted me from the amazing stories, I would still highly recommend the book to you.

Read it. I look forward to hearing your own opinions.


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Ocado’s Number One Fan

Who doesn’t love a GOOD NEWS story, especially in these troubled times that we live in? This is the heart-warming story of how a young lad’s day was made by the initiative of the Ocado staff at our Erith Customer Fulfilment Centre.

It was originally published on the Ocado intranet by our Internal Communications Specialist, Harriet Reddish. I am delighted to have received the permission of the family and Ocado to share the story with the rest of the world.

Meet Frankie!

He is 18 months old, and lives with his Grandma near Ocado, Erith. Just before lockdown, Frankie was due to have surgery for a cleft palate, which was unfortunately cancelled. This meant that during lockdown he and his family had to shield so that if the surgery was rescheduled he would be fit and ready to go. 

During this time he developed a fascination with our Ocado vans and he would get so excited every time one went by. After his surgery was completed in July and he was able to leave the house, Frankie and his Grandma would sit on the wall outside and wave to each Ocado van that passed by. Of course our drivers waved back to them! 

Frankie’s Grandma wrote to us to let us know how much he loves our vans. In response, Steve Hammond, Erith General Manager, and Josh, one of our fantastic CSTMs (Customer Service Team Members – delivery drivers) arranged a visit to the brave little boy with some goodies and, of course, one of our vans! Steve presented him with some toys and a cake and Frankie was thrilled to sit in the cab of the van. He enjoyed playing with Josh’s customer phone.

Frankie had a great time!
 

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The News… or Not? (Rant ;) )

Trent's World (the Blog)

A few months ago, I started to do a series that was a little more political. At the time, I put out a proposed agenda of other topics I would take on. Well, it obviously didn’t happen.

My first big topic was supposed to be “media”, ie, “The News”. Wow, the more I dug, the deeper down the rabbit hole I got! And I did not dig far enough for my liking. Sigh. Oh well, I will do just a quick overview, but no footnotes or anything that I had originally planned. And no stories showing how far out a lot of “news” really is! This will be a very small, light, scratching of the surface.

As I talk to people, read things and watch “The News”, I have some interesting observations. OK, none of this is original and many have talked about it before, but seeing it first hand…

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The Heart of Ocado

Please re-blog and share through any other social media channel that you use.

It has often been said that the heart of Ocado is our delivery drivers. Our full job title is Customer Service Team Member (CSTM). When we bear that in mind, that is why we are so good at what we do. Our mission is to delight our customers.

Anyone who knows me and who has worked with me during my professional career, will know that I have always been passionate about delighting my customers. Doing that is what makes any business successful.

Recently, we were asked to complete a questionnaire to provide content for the public Ocado blog. The questions had been submitted by our customers. I was very happy to learn that my answers had been interesting enough to be selected, along with two other incredible drivers, to feature on the blog.

Our answers were cropped for the blog. You can see the blog post, as it was published by Ocado, here.

Ocado Man with van designed by Bunty (aged 11)

If you are interested enough to read my answers in full, read on.

How long have you worked for Ocado?    
9 months.

What do you enjoy listening to when you’re driving?
Classic FM all the way. The presenters are very knowledgeable about the composers and their wonderful music.

Do you like to chat to your customers when making deliveries?
Very much so. I learn something new every day and I meet some amazing people.

Which van do you like driving most?
Lemon – because I am a writer who loves alliteration. “Lance in the Lemon Van” appeals to me. I also believe that yellow is the cheeriest colour.

What’s your favourite Ocado product?     
The new M&S ready meals and stone-baked pizzas.

What is the nicest comment that a customer has said to you? 
It’s Ocado man! The service that we receive from Ocado is the best and you are the best of the best, Lance. Thanks!

How many deliveries do you do a day?    
Averages out at about 18 but can vary from 12 to 26.

Where is your favourite place to deliver? 
The New Forest during daylight hours but this is one of my least favourite areas when it is dark and raining. Bournemouth and Poole are good at any time. The open areas of Bath are lovely but I’m not keen on the tight, steep areas of that city.

New Forest

What would you like us to know about your job delivering groceries for Ocado?          
I love it when the customers show genuine delight when I turn up at their door with their order. I get upset when I am running late because I know that the customer experience is badly impacted. This is often because the route schedule is either impossible or too challenging and, occasionally, because there are unexpected routing, traffic or delivery problems. This can be very stressful.

What is your favourite memory from working at Ocado?
The first day that I was able to wear the full uniform. I am proud to be a part of the strong Ocado brand and I had longed to show that off in my dress as well as the van that I drive. Sadly, the first six months of service lacks that identity.

Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)
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Making a difference – with the understanding that all of life is interconnected.

As a strong believer in the interconnectedness of everything in the universe, in in the time dimension as well as the spatial, I really enjoyed this article and the wonderful illustrations.

Merci Janet!

My Life as an Artist (2)

When I change one tiny section of a ten meter mural…everything is changed. The rhythm, balance, composition, everything. The same is true for life.

The other day I watched a documentary about Clive James (Australian critic, broadcaster and writer.) Filmed in 1991, London looked like a different world to the one we are inhabiting now. Much less crowded….no one carrying i phones….generally speaking a seemingly more manageable place.

Since 1991 many things have served to change the rhythm, balance and composition of our beautiful world. So much has changed in such a short period. Far too rapidly for we human beings to assimilate in a balanced fashion.P1100748Today we find ourselves with leaders who clearly have no understanding of interconnectedness, rhythm, harmony and balance overseeing and governing our collective futures. We wake each day alert to what new form of madness, they have imposed upon us!

Meanwhile, our beautiful world…

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