This is a chapter from my current work in progress. It has the working title The Circle of Ashes (Previously The Circle.) It is currently around 56,000 words and this chapter introduces the character of Izzy who may be a ghost!

I’ve been using the Heroine’s journey to help me plot this novel as it has two interwoven story lines. One is set in modern-day London and the other in Neolithic Britain. Both main characters are strong women on a journey. One on pilgrimage across the land bridge that once joined Britain to mainland Europe and the other on a metaphorical heroine’s journey.

A simple heroine’s journey
a complex heroine’s journey

This chapter is currently entitled ‘Allies’. At this stage of the heroine’s journey the heroine finds support, her posse. My main character (MC) for this storyline really needs a posse because she is quite a misunderstood person, as many strong, ambitious women in the past have been.

Shelagh stalked through the foyer of the building with her Hermes briefcase in one hand and the other shoved deep into her pocket. She had left her gloves in the car. It was very unlike her, to leave anything behind, let alone her gloves on a freezing cold day. The receptionist saw her coming and swiped his card to open the door for her. Dr Barton looked like she was in the mood for firing people and he was determined not to get in her way. He dashed over to press the up button for the elevator and smiled what he hoped was not a nervous, but apologetically efficient smile.

‘I had trouble with my swipe card. For the garage. Have someone take a look at it please. It’s not really good enough,’ she said.  

She held up the card for him to take as she walked across the expanse of polished concrete to the bank of lifts. He fell into step with her and she turned to look at him. She had a way of looking at people that made them feel scared but empowered, like she wanted them to do the thing she had asked and not make a mistake. Shelagh Barton liked for the other person to have a little personal victory and in the process make her day easier.

‘Right away, Dr Barton. Mail is on your reception desk. You have…err, a lot of applicants upstairs.’

The lift doors closed, swallowing his final words.

Relieved to have an elevator to herself, Shelagh checked her hair in the mirrored wall. To match her mood, the weather had been foul since she had returned to the city.  As the lift made its ascent, she took a few deep breaths and cleared her throat, preparing for the onslaught of eager graduates, acting students, and wannabe filmmakers, all desperate to make their mark. They will all tell her that she is their idol and how hard they will work, but history told her they will bail as soon as the going gets a little tough.

The elevator slowed as it reached the 20th floor and the doors slid back. The entry to the offices was so crammed with gorgeous young things it looked like an Oscars selfie. Shelagh took another deep breath and stepped into the foyer. The entire group shrunk back en masse.

The receptionist was standing at his station, a neat stack of folders in his hands. The doorman had obviously warned him the witch was about to blow into the office.

‘Mail. Reading. Reviews. Financial,’ he said, handing her the colour coded files.

‘I hear the third Julie made quite an impact while I was away,’ Shelagh said, instead of hello. ‘Another one bites the dust.’

‘Yes, ma’am. Yes, she did.’

‘I will never hire another assistant named Julie, Julia, or Juliet,’ she said loud enough for the gathered applicants to hear. Two women stood slowly and slipped out of the room and towards the lift.

‘Or Jules,’ the receptionist offered. ‘Remember Jules?’

Shelagh remembered Jules. A young guy in a Burberry overcoat followed the Julies to the lift foyer.

‘I go to my Grannie’s funeral and come back to a shit storm. You know that venal cow was my fifth assistant this year?’

The receptionist nodded again.

‘I really don’t ask for much. Just turn up and do your job,’ she said.

The receptionist’s eyes followed as two more lemmings made for the cliff.

‘That’s probably enough?’ she said to the receptionist who nodded, the hint of a wicked grin on his lips, and made his way back to his station.

Shelagh turned to the remaining applicants. ‘That’s thinned the herd a little.’ She smiled at them, her best television star smile, and some of them, bless them, sat back a little and relaxed. She looked down at her neat pile of files then raised her hand and said what she always said to the groups of people who gathered for one of her castings or if she was hiring someone.

‘This is going to be a little like a fairy tale, but I don’t want your first-born child or a sack of gold. It’s this simple, whosoever brought coffee has the job.’ Shelagh could be theatrical at times. She walked through the crowded foyer like Moses parting the Red Sea, the sound of scurrying behind her as the horde made for the lifts and stairs. By the time she reached her office door, peace had almost returned to the foyer. She turned to the two hardy souls who remained.

‘Whatcha got for me? Flat white, full cream milk, triple shot. Extra Hot?’ Shelagh said.

The teenager dressed head to toe in white held aloft a re-usable insulated cup, her head down like a knight offering allegiance. The young guy with a 20s waxed moustache stood and took a swig of his coffee on the way to the lift.

‘It’s not extra hot. I’ll show myself out,’ he laughed, sliding his portfolio under his arm.

‘Wait. What’s your spec?’ she asked his retreating back.

‘Animation. Ma’am… animation. I have a Graduate degree and two years’ experience.’ He turned back to her and offered her the black folder.

‘Come in, both of you,’ she said.

20s moustache turned around and looked at the lifts as though trying to decide which way to go. Shelagh was already in her office, plugging the mini-usb stick from the top of his portfolio into a laptop. She sat and gestured at the chairs opposite. His work appeared on the flat screen on the wall.

‘This is good work,’ she said. ‘You don’t want to be my assistant. Go and see Trent, the Creative Director. 18th floor. 3-month trial to start?’

He nodded.

‘Don’t let me down,’ she said.

His backside had hardly hit the seat and he was up again, gathering his portfolio and thanking her before making his way out.

She turned to the other applicant who had watched the exchange with interest. Shelagh took the coffee from the girl in white and took a sip. It was indeed extra hot.

‘Okay, Sassy, how did you know about the extra shot and the extra hot?’ Shelagh took another long sip of coffee. It was perfect.

‘I asked the doorman. He’s the bomb.’  

Shelagh was impressed. They sat in comfortable silence as she read the woman’s curriculum vitae.

‘Sorry for calling you sassy, but you are.’ Shelagh sat back and looked at the young woman. ‘Izzy, do you know you’re the first person who has ever come to interview as an assistant who just wanted to be an assistant? You’re qualified and have the experience… to be an assistant.’ Shelagh felt her shoulders relax for the first time in weeks. ‘Can you just answer one question?’

‘I want 8,50 an hour and 4 weeks off in August.’

‘No, I mean, yes, that is perfect, but my question is about the white. Why? And how do you keep clean?’

She shrugged. ‘I’m careful, I guess. My friends all say I’m all about the details.’

Shelagh sat back in her chair and laughed softly. ‘In that case, I’d say you are perfect for the job. When can you start?’


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