24 Windows

Equality Award
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Annabel Tate's life is a mess. When an unconventional Advent calendar appears at her door from an unknown sender, Annabel's life could be about to change as she completes a new challenge each day until Christmas. Each challenge takes her out of her comfort zone, but is it for better or for worse?
First 10 Pages


It was only words and words could never physically harm you. Or could they? The question flashed through Annabel Tate’s mind.

She was inclined to disagree as she mentally scanned the scabbed-over wounds of her past. They weren’t visible to the naked eye, but to her they felt as real and raw as the graze on her arm when she came off her bike at age seven.

Or the sting of hearing the dismissive tone, the underwhelmed reaction that followed a school competition prize, as if she expected her to do better. By the time she got to her graduation and landed her first job she wasn’t sure if she could be outwardly excited about her achievements. If that was allowed or appropriate, or if she was just exaggerating something trivial.

She thought she’d grown used to failure being her default, but somehow it still hurt. Despite the knockbacks, she still thought she could live up to her mother’s expectations, but she was quickly reminded that the bar was set high.

‘Maybe it was time to rethink this career path of yours. Settle down, have your own family.’ Her mother’s remarks rang in her ear and somehow, she couldn’t dismiss them anymore.

A familiar discomfort returned again, and with every word it spread fast across all her senses. Her heart thumped furiously, her jaw tightened, and her cheeks flushed as she dug her fingernails firmly into her palm; her knuckles turning even whiter than usual.

Will she swallow the hurt again and let it keep brewing under the surface or face the unknown? What was it going to be? The choice was hers to make alone.

Chapter 1

Annabel Tate stood on platform five staring in the direction of the tracks as if waiting for a train. She had done this many times before on the way home from work, but today was different. Today, there was no one else around. The trains came and went one after the other, but Annabel didn’t move. People had rushed past her and slowly the station drained of commuters. The few that arrived were huddled under the roof, sheltering from the pounding November rain. But not Annabel. She had been standing there motionless for over an hour, the rain pouring down her face, masking the streaks of tears. She was cold and numb, but none of that mattered.

In her head she went over what had happened again and again. Trying to remember every word to find where it all went wrong. She had been so sure that this time it was her turn; she didn’t allow an inch of doubt. There was no other way. She had to be right. She wanted to rewind the clock. How far back she wasn’t sure. A week, a month or maybe more.

Her stomach fizzed as she thought of Jonathan sitting across the table from her just a few hours before. The initial compliments felt so faint Annabel even questioned their existence.

‘I’m really sorry to tell you, but we’ve decided to give the position to Sandra. It was such a close call and if we had two roles to fill, we’d have been able to give you the opportunity as well.’

But she knew these were empty words. Roles like these were rare, and if they came up, internal applicants weren’t usually considered.

Exactly two months ago, it all seemed possible when an email landed in her inbox, with the subject line Editorial Opening. Her reserved demeanour didn’t often allow for huge outward displays of emotion, but the excitement was almost too much to keep inside.

She had worked as an editorial assistant for Herold & Hains for over seven years and becoming an editor was all she’d ever wanted to do. At first she was quiet, wanting to learn as much as she could, soaking up every bit of knowledge around her. And despite her insecurities, she took every opportunity she could to show her bosses that she was made for this role and that she wanted it more than anything. She often worked long hours and weekends to prove she was committed, taking on extra projects to show them she was ready to move up the ranks.

In the early stages, despite her valid contributions she often felt inadequate, an imposter. Nevertheless, she ploughed on with determination. But something had to give, and it was her relationships and personal life that paid the price for hanging onto a dream. She knew that there was only a fine line separating grit and determination from single-minded madness. And to reassure herself, she chose to identify with the former.

She knew this editorial opportunity would make all the sacrifice worth it; it would prove to herself and everyone that had doubted her that she had what it took to succeed.

The excitement she felt when she received that email was long gone.

She had battled with her demons throughout the process, but she almost allowed herself to be pleased when she made it to the final round with only her and Sandra in the running.

With the finish line in sight, she worked late into the night to get her pitch perfect. The panic that she felt when she thought she’d lost the file as she fell asleep over her computer still made her shiver. If it wasn’t for her neighbour’s, James’s help in locating the missing presentation, the whole thing could have ended there, with nothing to present at that final stage.

But what difference would it have made?

This wasn’t the first time she’d faced rejection, but this latest defeat felt even worse than the ones before.

Jonathan’s rejection still rang in her ears.

How could they give it to Sandra? Of all people, why her?

Her limbs felt numb, her chest tight and her jaws tingling. She’d wished she could vanish without having to hear the reasons for her inadequacy, but she wanted to know where she’d gone wrong.

‘Is there anything that I could improve on in the future?’ she asked quietly, her voice shaking slightly.

‘Your ideas were original and sound. Please don’t think there was anything wrong with them,’ said Jonathan. ‘Sandra just pitched something different from what we’d ever done before. It was a bold suggestion that showed great insight.’

A bold suggestion. The words reverberated in Annabel’s mind. She was vexed with herself for not going with her initial idea. For choosing a safer path. Then an earlier conversation flashed through her mind. Sandra sounded like she was going to play it safe and go with a more popular option. If it wasn’t for that exchange of words, her confidence in her original plan may have never wavered. She would have never thought of completely scrapping her pitch and coming up with a new one.

‘Sounds intriguing,’ said Annabel, trying to regain her composure.

‘It is. We were wondering if you’d be interested in assisting Sandra on this project?’ asked Thomas. As the Marketing Director he was part of the interview panel and he often got involved in the projects Annabel worked on. He had been silent up to this point, sitting on Jonathan’s right.

‘So, I’d work under Sandra?’ asked Annabel, trying not to sound irritated. She could feel her cheeks flush with anger.

‘No, you’d still report to me, but you’d work with her on this project. You don’t have to answer right now, but I think you could really bring some great contributions. Just have a think about it before you decide,’ said Jonathan.

Sensing that their discussion was drawing to an end, she quietly said, ‘I will,’ as she readied herself to leave. The tension in her jaw had slackened somewhat, but her indignation grew as she closed the door behind her.

Why didn’t I stick with the Shaw manuscript? It might have been risky, but I could feel that it had legs. Maybe my mother was right. I should have stayed in Masham and managed the bookshop after all. And why did Sandra change her mind? But none of this would have been an issue if Annabel had trusted her instincts. A memoir style novel with Avery Poole, a fictional British secret agent in the centre of the story. Unlike other spy novels, this story focused on the inner workings of its protagonist. It had seemed that Sandra had no interest in the concept.

Annabel felt sick. Her initial panic and irritation had turned into something firmer, something unshakeable. That maybe this was it. Maybe she’d never be good enough to make the grade as an editor and she would be destined to follow other people’s ideas and never to make her own mark. The emotions sat heavy in her throat like a dam ready to burst again letting through another wave of tears.

It was only the deep rumble of the sky that shook her out of her trance. Her skin prickled from the cold as the wet layers clung to it. She looked at the clock overhead. It had just gone seven. She shivered at the realisation that she’d been standing there for over an hour, unaware of her surroundings.

The lights of the approaching train cut through the drizzle, and she stepped back, watching the carriage come to a halt and people dribble out of the doors. Still numb, she checked the overhead sign for the destination before stepping inside and taking a seat.

Sitting there wiping water off herself, she turned to look at her reflection in the window. The remnants of her mascara were still visible on her face. She took out a compact mirror to inspect the damage. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes burned red. She felt her eyes filling up with tears again as the train made its way out of the station. She shut the compact and swallowed a sob before the cycle could begin again. She was grateful to be sitting alone, away from the concern of others. She couldn’t wait to get home.

She took her phone out and the screen flashed up, alerting her to five missed calls, all from David. She hovered over the icon next to his name and hesitated for a second. She needed a sympathetic ear, someone to tell her that things were going to be okay. But would he understand? She couldn’t be sure. She tapped on the icon, listening to the rings before David’s voice greeted her.

‘Finally! I was worried about you. You haven’t answered any of my calls. Is everything okay?’

‘Yeah, sorry. My phone was still on silent.’

‘How did it go, then? Did you get the job?’ His voice was full of anticipation.

‘I…,’ Annabel’s voice cracked as she replied. ‘They gave it to Sandra.’

‘That sucks.’ He sighed. ‘So that’s it, then. No more late nights or working weekends.’

Annabel didn’t respond for a second. She knew what David wanted. She’d promised him that once this job came through, she’d have a less hectic work schedule and more time for him. But instead, she was exactly where she was before. Her dream still in sight, but just out of reach. Could she call it a day and accept defeat?

‘I agreed to help Jonathan on a project for next week. I might need to do a few things this weekend,’ she replied finally.

‘This weekend? I thought we’d agreed, Annabel. It’s Aunt Lou’s 60th birthday party and I told everyone you’re coming along, finally.’

‘I’m sorry. Jonathan asked and I couldn’t say no. If I decline now, they might not consider me next time there’s an opportunity.’

‘Next time? You’ve been trying for years, Annabel. Why can’t you just accept that this is it? You have a good job, the pay is okay and once you work normal hours we can finally have a life outside of Herold & Hains.’

‘But what if that’s not good enough for me?’ Asked Annabel her voice shaking as she dug her fingernails into her palm. ‘Is it so bad to have a dream and to work for making it a reality?’

‘It is when you have no life beyond it,’ said David with resignation.

There was a moment of silence before he spoke again.

‘I can’t do this anymore, Annabel. I’m just tired of trying to be your priority. Or at least to be one of them.’

‘But you are.’

‘No. Your career is.’

‘David, please,’ pleaded Annabel swallowing a sob as a lump gathered in her throat. Her heart was racing as she felt the weight of what was coming, desperate to stop it. ‘This is the last time, I promise.’

‘You know it’s not. Goodbye, Annabel.’

The line went silent, and Annabel collapsed on the table in front of her, the tears she’d held back throughout the phone call pouring onto the back of her hands. She felt broken and alone. For a moment she thought of ringing David back, but what would be the point? The voice in her head told her that maybe he was right.

The rain had stopped by the time she got off the train, and she had managed to regain some of her composure. The cold wind kept her anchored in reality as she walked along the high street from the station. Exhausted, she fumbled in her coat pocket for her keys as she got to her flat. She was startled when James stuck his head around his door.

‘Are we still on for dinner tonight?’ he asked eagerly.

She had no time to hide her confusion. It took her a few seconds before she remembered that she promised to cook him dinner in return for last night’s rescue mission. Annabel’s reaction was so automatic. She had no time to hide her confusion.

‘You forgot,’ he exclaimed.

‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t have the best of days.’

‘Oh, sorry. We can rain check if you’re not feeling up to it.’

Entertaining someone was the last thing Annabel felt like doing, but she hated to let James down, especially after everything he’d done the night before. She had to admit that being alone and feeling sorry for herself wasn’t exactly a great alternative either.

‘No, I’m all right. Just give me twenty minutes and I’ll rustle something up.’