Monday, 27 February 2012

Efficiencies Or Job Cuts? The Relentless March of the Euphemism

I have just taken voluntary redundancy – oh, sorry, don’t I mean ‘voluntary disengagement’? That’s what it says on my letter of confirmation, but I’m quite sure it’s ‘redundancy’ – of the voluntary kind, in that I chose it rather than the other way around.
The reason for my eventual decision is long, convoluted and familiar, I am sure, to lots of you reading this. But, suffice it to say, it all began with a root, branch and - indeed, twig - reconstruction of the newly named ‘Professional Services’ section of the organisation for which I used to work. (For ‘Professional Services’ read ‘administration’).

When I say ‘reconstruction’, to those of us working through it, the word ‘deconstruction’ would have seemed more apt. Not one department was left untouched. Indeed, people were leaving in droves - the victims of what was termed ‘efficiencies’. Imagine losing your job and being told it was an ‘efficiency’ measure. The slur is inescapable. Talented people took the (admittedly generous) voluntary redundancy (sorry, ‘disengagement’) packages on offer and jumped ship. Skills were lost. Suddenly everyone had two people’s jobs to do. Some, like me, had even more than that.

Inevitably, mistakes were made, innocently by people who had been thrust into the deep end without a life raft or a safety net and had received, at best, minimal training in their new additional roles at a time when all the processes and procedures were also being radically overhauled. 

Everyone was told they would have to work harder for less money (how true that was). As usual, decisions had been made in ivory towers without recourse to anyone on the proverbial ‘shopfloor’ who actually knew what was involved and what the result of such swingeing cuts would be.

Inefficiency in the name of efficiency.

OK, euphemisms have been with us forever. How about ‘bathroom tissue’ (toilet paper), ‘mixologist’ (bartender), ‘sanitation engineer’ (janitor/caretaker),  ‘collateral damage’  or ‘casualities’ (for people killed in war) or the use of ‘challenged’ following words such as ‘mentally’, ‘intellectually’ , ‘vertically’ and so forth. ‘Preowned’ (secondhand). Women are said to be 'in an interesting condition’, 'with a bun in the oven', 'up the duff' or any one of a multitude of things in order to avoid the word 'pregnant'. ‘Surreptitious entry’ is what a burglar makes when he/she breaks into your home. And you are never drunk, just a little ‘tired and emotional’.

Then of course we have the infamous ‘negative patient care outcome’ (the patient died).
Euphemisms are supposed to soften the blow of harsher words and, in today’s politically correct (there’s another one!) environment, help us to avoid using vocabulary which would/could give offence. Some of them – particularly relating to sex, bodily functions and even death – are amusing or downright funny. As we go through life, it is hard to avoid using them at some point or another.
But am I the only one who finds the increasing use of euphemisms which strive to cast a veil over harsh policies in politics and the workplace patronising and insulting? I don’t think so.

It was my choice to opt for redundancy. Others are not so fortunate. Don’t insult them by talking about ‘efficiencies’ and then proceed to axe their jobs. Tell it like it is. Use plain English. We’re not as stupid as some people would like us to be!

Right, I’ll get ‘down off my soap box’ now and ‘welcome your input’. What are your favourite – or least favourite – euphemisms?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Want To Know A Secret?

Cambian Street really exists!
Yes, it's time for me to come clean. Readers have been asking me after all. The Cambian Street of my latest short novel is based on a real location, although in true writerly tradition, I have changed it a bit. Widened it actually and made it busier.
The pretty town of Priory St Michael is also real, complete with the old bridge over the river and its idyllic scenery.
The steep High Street, mentioned in the story, exists and is pretty much as you would see it if you visited (although the traffic can be far more treacherous than the photos below depict). The Club is up there. On the corner of the street that became Cambian.

More particularly, the infamous cupboard also exists - wherein lies so much evil.
OK, I'm not going to show you any pictures of that - believe me, it's not for the fainthearted! So, instead of that, here are a couple more scenes of the real locations behind the settings for The Demons of Cambian Street:


 All that remains, of course, is for me to tell you where this particular location lies, but that would be too easy, wouldn't it? I won't tell you whether it's a town, city or village but I will tell you that it is in North Wales.

Any guesses?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Out Today! The Demons of Cambian Street

Sometimes evil wears a beautiful face...

After her illness, the quiet backwater of Priory St Michael seemed the ideal place for Stella to recuperate. But in the peaceful little town, something evil is slumbering, waiting for its chance to possess what it desires. When Stella and her husband move into the long-empty apartment, they're unaware of what exists in the cupboard upstairs, the entrance to an evil that will threaten both their lives.

I am delighted to announce the arrival of my latest paranormal horror novella, published by those lovely people at Etopia Press.

The inspiration for this came from a creepy, dark and brooding walk-in  cupboard in my own home. The building dates from the eighteenth century and has gone through a number of metamorphoses over the 250+ years of its life. 

Opening the door to that cupboard brings you face to face with some of them. Your imagination does the rest. Its dark in there and you can't see the back of it. It rambles and has an inner doorway through which you can glimpse an enormous artificial Christmas tree, beyond which is blackness.

An extract from 'The Demons of Cambian Street'  is published on a separate page on this website and I can tell you that, while writing this, some odd things happened. We know our apartment is haunted and have had a whole host of strange phenomena to deal with. Thankfully none have been as frightening as Stella's ordeal. 


The Demons of Cambian Street is available from: 
Barnes and Noble
and other online booksellers

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Rip-Roaring Regency Romance from Sue Swift

 Today I am delighted to bring you an excerpt from award winning, bestselling author Sue Swift's latest -  a hot and passionate Regency romance entitled 'Lord Devere's Ward'. 

His honor or his passion...
Orphaned Kate Scoville is trapped in a tower prison by her scheming uncle, who plans to wed her to his loathsome son to gain control of her fortune. Plucky and resourceful, Lady Kate escapes to London to beg help from her guardian, the elderly Earl of Devere. But once she arrives, Kate is astounded to find that the Earl has died and his son has inherited--and her new guardian cuts a very dashing figure...
Quinn, the present Earl, remembers Kate from his childhood as an awkward child he loved to tease. But his father's ward has grown into a beautiful young woman, and when she comes to him in need, he finds his thoughts far from honorable. Duty demands he offer his protection, but their attraction is irresistible, and the temptation of the dark-haired beauty may be too much for even an honorable man to resist...

Now, sit back and enjoy an early excerpt from 'Lord Devere's Ward':

Chapter One
Badham Abbey, Wiltshire, England
January, 1820

"God, help me!"
Kate Scoville kicked and flailed her feet, struggling to grip the tower wall with her oversized boots. She whispered a hasty prayer in the chance that the Almighty paid attention to her small corner of His world. Wearing clumsy, borrowed gloves, she grasped the rope tied to the attic window and pushed her boots against the side of the tower, seeking purchase on the wall.
At last, her toes found a mortared joint between two massive blocks of stone. She breathed deeply until her racing pulse steadied. The chill air knifed her lungs. She could see her breath, small puffy clouds, when she exhaled.
She looked down and gulped. Three far stories below her, the slate roof of the abbey gleamed, pale and frosty in the moonlight.
She tried not to utter curses damning her wretched uncle, whose treachery had brought her to such desperate straits. First he'd torn her away from her beloved home in Somerset. Then he'd nagged her to marry his beef-witted son, Osborn, until she thought he'd drive her quite out of her mind. Locking her in an icy tower attic until she cooperated had been the proverbial last straw.
She inched her boots down the tower wall. The short sword she wore on her belt beat against her side with every halting step as her cape flapped around her knees. She finally attained her immediate goal: the abbey's second-story roof. Still clasping the rope, she crept across the slippery slates. If she reached the edge of the roof without mishap, she'd climb down to the ground by way of a convenient vine or tree.
At the end of the rope, she released it with a shaky, nervous hand. A few steps later, her feet flew out from under her. Yelping, she fell with a bump to slide down the pitched roof, scrabbling for a hold.
Scant feet from the brink, she plunged into a black gap. Her cape caught on the rough edges and timbers of the roof, breaking her fall. Despite her clinging garb, she plummeted through the hole, too shocked and frightened to scream.
"Oof!" She landed on a wooden floor, which emitted a massive boom as she hit. Her body clenched, and she whimpered in mingled fear and pain, realizing she could have been badly hurt had she fallen on her sword. She rubbed her left side through her doublet. She'd be bruised the next day, but didn't have time to sit and bemoan her aches and pains.
Heat from her exertions flooded her body. She controlled her trembling, stood, then looked about, recognizing the ballroom on the abbey's second floor. She adjusted her borrowed clothing, the costume of a Tudor boy she'd found in the attic. She'd donned it knowing that a doublet, hose, boots and cape were more practical garb for escaping from a locked tower room than her usual bulky gown and soft shoes.
She prayed that no one had been awakened by her noisy advent into the cavernous ballroom. The entire household should have been roused by the din she'd made. Perhaps God did listen.
Kate smoothed her hair with a quivering hand whilst considering her situation. She was tired, sore and frightened, but she was now only one floor away from freedom. She could leave through any of the large windows lining the ballroom to climb down to the ground. She wasn't sufficiently bold to use the front door.
She twisted the latch of the nearest window, pushing it outward. The hinges squealed, an unnerving sound which kicked up her heartbeat to a gallop.
But still, no one was roused. No one raised an alarm. With relief, she remembered the sordid habits of her uncle and his whelp. Herbert and Osborn were undoubtedly sleeping off last night's libations. The servants, as undisciplined as their masters, were doubtless in no better condition.
How could her grandfather have made such a foolish choice? She'd lived with him since the deaths of her parents, and surely he must have been aware of Herbert's predilections. The odd arrangement her grandfather had created in his Will left her in her uncle's custody until her coming-out, but had made her the ward of an Earl in faraway London , an older fellow she'd met but once. "Grandfather must have gone dotty at the end," she muttered.
She cast aside her fruitless reflections. Stepping through the open window to the terrace outside, she flipped a leg over the balustrade near a pillar, which was covered by a sturdy ivy vine. Digging a boot between its twining, woody stems, she used it as her ladder to reach the snowy ground below.
She dashed over the snow without a backward look, hoping that no one from the house observed her dark shape stumbling across the bright, white field. The front gate was locked, but she found a spot where the current Earl had neglected the upkeep of the walls. She grinned when she saw the tumbledown stones, which proved to be an easy climb.
She headed for the toll-gate near Derbeck. All coaches and stages traveling west to Bath or east to London would stop there.
But where would she go?
# # #
Kate hesitated as she regarded the imposing door fronting the Earl of Devere's Berkeley Square townhouse. She hoped that her guardian could relieve her anxiety. She'd felt little else since she'd embarked upon her current perilous course by setting her boots against the frosty stone wall of Badham Abbey's tower attic.
She drew her hood back. Her hair, untended for days, threatened to slip from its ribbon, and she pushed it out of her face. Lifting the heavy brass knocker, she let it fall. Its boom echoed the frightened pounding of her heart.
However, the mien of the butler who opened the door didn't impress her. Small and withered with age, the fellow squinted with frank curiosity at Kate, who threw back her shoulders and glowered at his stare.
"Good day, sir." She knew she sounded like one of the ton despite her outlandish appearance. "Is this the residence of the Earl of Devere?" She wanted to be certain. It wouldn't do to invade the wrong house.
"Ye-es," the butler said. "Er, I am not sure if the Earl is receiving." He eyed her again, disapproval pervading his features. "Who may I say is calling?"
"Lady Katherine Scoville."
"Indeed?" The butler, moving onto the doorstep, looked up and down the street as if searching for an equipage or a chaperone.
Kate pressed her lips together. She hadn't come this far to be intimidated by a servant who, judging by his poor vision, probably had trouble finding the door, let alone deciding who should enter and who should not. She slipped past him into the marble-floored entry. A staircase led upward to the first floor, and she could see an open upper hallway, trimmed by carved balustrades.
"Now see here--" His voice raised, the butler grabbed her arm as she spied a uniformed footman, holding a silver salver, leaving an upstairs room. Shutting the door behind him, the footman looked down at her for a moment, then turned toward the back portion of the house, where she presumed the servants' stairs lay.
Her destination clear, she tore her arm from the butler's grasp, inadvertently knocking into a small piecrust table which stood in the entry. The delicate table teetered, then fell with a crash, shattering a vase which had been sitting on it.
A bell sounded as a man shouted from upstairs. "Bartram! What the devil is going on? You know full well that I don't allow racket in the house before noon!"
Kate, tussling with Bartram, took advantage of the butler's temporary distraction to leap up the stairs. Perhaps the owner of the voice would help her in her quest for her guardian. She pushed into the room from whence the shout had issued.
She had never seen a man in his nightshirt. For a moment, time stood still as they stared at each other, Kate's eyes widening. She felt the blood drain from her face as she looked ‘round.
Good God. She was in a man's bedroom. A large, tumbled bed, complete with four elaborately carved posters, stood to her right. Dressed only in a nightshirt and cap, the occupant of the bedchamber looked at her in the same hungry way a fox targeted a coney for dinner.
The chap did greatly resemble a fox, or perhaps an English setter. Tall and thin, he was a veritable Duke of Limbs. His lank, reddish hair stuck out from a white nightcap which slid down over his forehead. He had a Roman nose and pale, unshaven skin spattered with freckles, which furthered his resemblance to a spotted white dog. His wide mouth and large, soulful brown eyes completed the comparison.
He had a very nice smile, she concluded, as did all the setters she knew. Though deeply cognizant of the impropriety of the situation, she grinned back at him.
"Forgive me," she said in her sweetest tones. "I do regret bursting in upon you so abruptly. And forgive my appearance. I realize I must present a strange sight. But, as they say, needs must when the devil drives, and I have certainly been driven by a devil to this guise."
The man continued to smile at her. "A young lady. Curious. A rather unusual female," he mused aloud, "but not at all unwelcome, despite her peculiar appearance." He sipped from a china cup. A full tea service sat on the table in front of him near a window overlooking Berkeley Square .
Whoever this young man might be, he apparently had a taste for the ladies. With her wealth of experience managing her late grandfather's roistering friends, her anxiety eased a trifle. She could manipulate the situation quite well, thank you.
"Good day, sir." Scraping together the remains of her dignity, she bowed, for a curtsey would be ridiculous in her present attire. "Can you, er, direct me to the Earl of Devere?"
"Yes," he said, "I believe I can direct you to the Earl of Devere."
She heard a door open behind her.
"Ah, Bartram!" the young man said. "Do tell me, who is this delightful young person, and how comes she into my bedchamber?"
A dry voice spoke from behind her. "My lord, may I present to you Lady Katherine Scoville."
"Kate! Bonny Kate, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom. Kate of Kate-hall, my super-dainty Kate.” The chap's brows lifted as he babbled on. “Hearing thy mildness praised in every town, thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded--"
Heat rose into her cheeks as she recognized lines from The Taming of the Shrew. Leaning back into his chair, the man cast his gaze up and down her person as he continued.
"Kate, like the hazel-twig is straight and slender--Oh! Let me see thee walk!" He blatantly examined her legs, exposed by the short doublet and the revealing hose.
"Walk out, most like!" she snapped. "I seek the Earl of Devere. Please direct me to him at once."
"You have found him. I am Quincy Tyndale, the current Earl of Devere."
"I beg your pardon?" She stared. "Is not the Earl of Devere an older gentleman?"
"I fear not--or at least, not yet. I gather, sweet Kate, that no one has told you that my father died this past year. I inherited his title and his responsibilities, including your guardianship."
"Ah, er, please accept my most sincere condolences." She struggled to maintain her composure as enlightenment dawned. Good heavens. Grandfather had made even more of a muddle of things than she'd previously imagined. The memory of a red-headed devil-boy leaped into her mind as she recalled Quinn Tyndale's visit to her home in Somerset with his father ten long years before. At age thirteen, Quinn had lorded it over her, taunting and teasing until she thought he'd drive her quite out of her mind.
But now her childhood enemy held her fate in the palm of his hand! What would happen if he held their past against her?
Quinn's next words dashed the slight hope that he'd forgotten. "I must say, it's a pleasure to see you, dear Kate. Kate, the pest who put frogs in my short-sheeted bed and added pepper to my soup! Dear, sweet Kate!" He looked her over yet again and laughed.
Aware of the uncertainties of the situation, she refrained from reminding the wretch that he'd peeked during blind man's buff and used her favorite doll for archery practice--as his target. Pressing her lips together, she maintained a calm demeanor, though her thoughts tumbled like a brook in spring.
"Bartram, take our super-dainty Kate to the drawing room and get her some tea. I'll attend her shortly. Malcolm!" The Earl shouted unexpectedly, and she flinched. A small dark man entered, so quickly that she suspected he'd been listening at the door. "Dress me at once! Can't you see we have a guest?"
Quinn winked at Kate as Bartram hustled her out.
# # #
Quinn couldn't restrain his mirth as he tied his cravat. As Malcolm assisted him into his midnight-blue jacket, the valet asked about the source of Quinn's fine humor.
"Did you see that creature who was just in my rooms? Wasn't she a prime 'un?"
"She, my lord?" asked the valet, in his Scottish burr.
"Aye, then," mocked Quinn, in a teasing imitation of Malcolm's accent. "My ward. I wonder what she is doing here."
"Mayhap something's amiss in Wiltshire."
"And what do you know of that, my fine sir?" Quinn narrowed his eyes at his servant, who shrugged.
"Gossip of your lordship's new status as guardian to the heiress of Badham Abbey shot through the servants like scandal at a tonparty."
"Do tell." Quinn was ever impressed by the ability of servants to know their employers' every move. "So what can the lady want?"
"Who knows the wants of women, especially one as young as she?" Malcolm tugged at Quinn's sleeves.
"Hmph. She comes to ask a favor. I'd lay a monkey on it."
"And will you give it to her, my lord?"
"I'd give her much more than a favor, if she weren't my ward." Quinn gave a final tweak to his lapel before proceeding out the door. "Pity she's practically family. Can't play blanket hornpipe with m'own ward."
He'd been surprised by the arousal he felt at his first glance at the cub who'd invaded his rooms; he'd never before been attracted to any catamite, however pretty. And this creature was a delight for the senses, with chestnut hair, blue eyes, and pouting lips that begged for a man's kiss.
But the moment she'd opened her mouth, revealing herself as a female, he'd wanted to turn her over his knee, strip off that doublet and those outrageous hose, and spank her sweet blind cheeks. This Kate wanted taming. A pity that her Petruchio would have to be someone other than her legal guardian.
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'Lord Devere's Ward' is published by Etopia Press and is available from Amazon
AllRomance/Omnilit and other online booksellers

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Who Would You Take Into The Interview With You?

I saw the first episode of the second series of that excellent BBC2 series, "Roger and Val Have Just Got In" a couple of days ago and Val (played by the ever-superb Dawn French), was faced with the prospect of an interview for the Deputy Headship of the school where she is currently employed as a teacher of Food Technology.

Her nerves were a-jangling and she had devised a cardboard box on which she had pasted the faces of three strong women she intended to 'take' in with her to the interview to give her courage and the right personal strengths and qualities to impress the selection panel. (Click here to see what I mean ) She chose Martina Navratilova, Hillary Clinton and Margaret Mountford from 'The Apprentice' (UK version). OK, it's a comedy-drama (a well-written and performed one in my view, although I know it doesn't appeal to everyone). It did, however, strike a chord. 

Most of us have role models - people whose attitudes, achievements, strengths and qualities we aspire to. We all have our own experiences of job interviews - and of scary situations in general. 

When you are faced with a particularly daunting situation, whose strengths and qualities would you wish to draw on in your hour of need? Who would you mentally transport in with you if you could?

I think my scary situation - but one to which I aspire (as Val does in the programme) - would be the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the filming of my novella, 'Cold Revenge'. I would be scared rigid and would need:

Kathryn Bigelow - the first female director to win an Oscar who fearlessly took on the male dominated world of film directing - even going up against her former husband ('Titanic's' James Cameron) and beating him. This lady has got guts, and isn't going to be intimidated. I need that if I'm going to get the best deal.

Oprah Winfrey - OK, an obvious choice but my reasons would be that in 'Oprah mode', I would overcome my insecurities when sitting opposite a panel of hard-nosed businessmen, and just go for it anyway!

Karren Brady - She must be one of the most persuasive, groundbreaking and fearless women on the planet. At the tender age of 23, she convinced her boss to buy the financially ailing Birmingham City Football Club. Prior to that, if a woman turned up in a Boardroom of a UK Football Club, the exclusively male board would have probably said, "Milk and two sugars in mine, please luv"!
Then,as its MD, she transformed Birmingham City so that four years later, it was valued at £25 million (approx $40 million). Add her to the two above, and I couldn't fail to come away with a platinum deal!

Now it's your turn. Who would be your three, in what situation - and why?

(By the way, if you want to see that episode of "Roger and Val Have Just Got In", you can watch it on BBC iPlayer 
But hurry as it's only there for a limited time)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Endings, Beginnings and Giving 'Bad' Stress The Bullet

To say that 2011 was a milestone year in my life is putting it mildly.

- I achieved my first publishing contracts
- Etopia Press and Gypsy Shadow both published books of mine
- I achieved my first ebook sales on both sides of the Atlantic
- I found out how great it is to work with a professional editor - and to have fantastic  cover art

These were the good things.

But there was another darker, and more dangerous, side to 2011.

It was the year, I became ill with work related stress. Not in my writing life - that proved to be the therapy that stopped the men in white coats from coming to cart me off. This was all related to my 'day' job and carried on for well over a year, probably more.

I do not recommend work related stress. As most of us know, there are two kinds of stress - positive and negative. Positive stress is 'Good Stress'. It fires the adrenalin, kickstarts creativity and imagination, makes us strive to achieve. I have always thrived on positive stress.

Negative stress is something entirely different. It is 'Bad Stress'. Dark, morbid, scary, inhabiting a murky world where all you want to do is run away, or hide, climb into a box, pull the lid down and not emerge until it's all over. In its wake, come nasty little demons, crawling out from under slime encrusted nightmares and fetid pools of bad memories. Panic is the norm. Relaxation unheard of. Sleep impossible. Self esteem and confidence crumble. 'Can do' becomes 'Can't hack it.'
No. Negative stress is not our friend.

2012 is the year I decided to give negative stress the bullet. Hurrah! 
I am waving farewell to my previous life. As of February 16th, I no longer have a 'day' job. All very amicable, I hasten to add and I am full of praise for the amazing team I worked with. But the current practice of piling more and more work on fewer and fewer staff is something I have grave reservations about. I know what it did to me...

So, 2012 heralds a new beginning in my life. A house move follows in mid-March and, no doubt, I will be still bashing away at my keyboard as they carry me into the removal van.

Of course, I couldn't have done this without the support of my wonderful husband. Somebody please give that man a Knighthood - or at least a medal for service above and beyond the call of duty. Goodness knows he deserves it!