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.
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.
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.”