My Christmas Top 5 – Miranda Dickinson
I can’t deny it: Christmas is my favourite time of year. I adore the traditions, sense of excitement and sheer sparkliness of the season – I was even proposed to by my husband on Christmas Day! It’s no surprise to any of my friends and family that so many of my books have featured Christmassy scenes. Here are my Top 5 favourite Christmas things:
- Twinkly lights
You can never have too many fairy lights! I love the weeks leading up to Christmas when houses in my neighbourhood begin to come to life with colourful lights. There’s something so hopeful and positive about light and colour appearing in the dark of winter.
- Christmas Carols
I love singing at Christmas and this year I’ll be joining with friends at my new church to sing wonderful carols. We meet in the function room of a pub, which is a bit different! This will be the first Christmas my little girl Flo is really aware of, too, so I’m excited about watching her learn carols I’ve loved all my life.
- Christmas Shopping
I never have a lot of time to shop for Christmas presents because I’m usually writing or promoting a book, but in recent years I’ve started a tradition with my best friend where I get all my gift-shopping done in one day. We go to beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon armed with lists, have breakfast and then hit the shops. It makes Christmas shopping feel fun and exciting – and it’s far more productive because I know I only have that day to get everything I need.
- Cheesy Christmas Films
There are a couple of films I have to watch every year that really make me feel festive: The Muppet Christmas Carol and White Christmas. But recently I’ve fallen in love with those really cheesy Christmas made-for-TV-films that are shown during December. It doesn’t matter how wobbly the sets are, how dodgy the acting is or how utterly preposterous the stories are, I love each and every one of them!
- Spending time with people I love
Since becoming a published writer, free time has always been hard to come by. Often, writing and editing claims my evenings, weekends and holidays and I’ve really had to fight for time with the people that matter. I treasure the couple of weeks over Christmas when I can put work aside and spend time with my family and friends, catching up with them and having fun. This year, I’m so excited about hanging out with Bob and Flo – I’m looking forward to happy chaos opening presents on Christmas Day!A Parcel for Anna Browne by Miranda Dickinson
Also by this author: Fairytale of New York
Published by Pan on 24th September 2015
Amazon UK, Amazon US
The gift of a lifetime?
Anna Browne is an ordinary woman living an ordinary life. Her day job as a receptionist in bustling London isn't exactly her dream, yet she has everything she wants. But someone thinks Anna Browne deserves more . . .
When a parcel addressed to Anna Browne arrives, she has no idea who has sent it. Inside she finds a beautiful gift - one that is designed to be seen. And so begins a series of incredible deliveries, each one bringing Anna further out of the shadows and encouraging her to become the woman she was destined to be. As Anna grows in confidence, others begin to notice her - and her life starts to change.
But who is sending the mysterious gifts, and why?
The UPS deliveryman waited in line, checking his watch. It had been a long day already and he still had two hours of his shift remaining. Traffic was backed up two miles out of the city on the main arteries and it was only going to get worse as the weekend rush began. He would be late – as he was nearly every Friday evening. His wife would not be happy. Neither would his kid, waiting for Daddy to come home and try out his new football in the back garden. Like he’d promised . . .
Ahead of him a line of three people waited not so patiently to receive security passes. They were red-faced and rude, loudly voicing their annoyance as a young receptionist did her best to remain affable. Too many people in this city were willing to engage their mouths before their brains, the deliveryman concluded. God forbid he should ever have to work in a city building. Trapped inside steel walls, breathing everyone else’s recycled air, office politics as unforgiving as the air con – that wasn’t the life for him. Visiting them on his round was bad enough. The sense of relief he felt climbing back into his delivery van confirmed the rightness of his career choice. At least he could drive away from places like these, even if it was to visit identical buildings somewhere else in the city.
He glanced up at the large atrium, rising six storeys to a domed glass ceiling, the imposing architecture befitting a national newspaper. Marble floors and mahogany fixtures, subtle uplighting and large brushed-steel planters filled with greenery at the feet of a glass lift, which reminded him of a Roald Dahl story he’d read as a boy. It was the kind of building his brother Warren would kill to enter, with his cheap suit and greedy ambition. Not that the dodgy knock-offs his brother peddled were ever likely to get him into this place. Warren could take the mickey out of him all he liked for being a ‘jumped-up postie’, but it meant he could enter fancy city buildings where his brother would never be admitted. That was something. Smiling to himself a little unkindly, the deliveryman stepped forward as the party ahead of him moved on.
The young woman behind the reception desk apologised for his wait. She had a pretty smile, he thought, the kind that transforms a face when it appears.
‘How can I help you today?’
The deliveryman lifted up a package. ‘I have a parcel . . .’ he checked the label, ‘for Anna Browne?’
The woman’s pale-blue eyes widened. ‘Oh. That’s me.’
Her apparent shock made him grin. In a round made up exclusively of business deliveries to corporate offices, it wasn’t often that somebody was surprised to receive a package.
‘You weren’t expecting anything?’
‘No, not at all.’ She leaned forward a little, lowering her voice. ‘I never get parcels – not here or at home,’ she confided, peering at the package.
‘Must be your lucky day, sweetheart,’ the deliveryman smiled, giving her his handheld device and leaning against the desk while she signed. ‘You have a good day.’ He paused while he debated whether or not to say more, and then went ahead. ‘Hope it’s something nice.’
It had just been an ordinary Friday for Anna Browne. She arrived for work exactly twenty minutes early, as she always did, stowed her belongings in the small staff kitchen behind the huge slate wall of the reception area and took her place behind the desk. First task of the day was checking for notes in the diary for any important meetings due to take place at the Daily Messenger. There had been three marked for today: a visit from a trio of Board members to see the newspaper’s editor, Juliet Evans – the purpose of which was no doubt likely to set tongues wagging among the Messenger’s employees; a team of accountants due to meet the Finance Department at midday; and a raft of hopefuls expected from two o’clock for the next intake of the paper’s highly prized internship scheme.
There had been nothing to suggest today would be remarkable, save perhaps for an official-looking brown envelope waiting for Anna in her pigeonhole. A glance across the wall of uniform wooden boxes when she’d arrived confirmed that every employee had received an identical letter – the contents of which were soon the hot topic of conversation amongst her colleagues.
‘I won’t do it,’ snapped Sheniece Wilson, junior receptionist, her carefully straightened blonde hair bobbing with indignity. ‘I don’t care if it is official.’
Newly arrived receptionist Ashraf Guram looked worried. ‘But they can fire you if you don’t take part, can’t they? I mean, it says here . . .’
Ted Blaskiewicz, chief security officer, chuckled and slapped a comradely hand on the young man’s back. ‘You don’t want to pay too much attention to that, son. Trust me. They only fire you if they’re really angry. Mind you, you know what they say: last in, first out . . .’
As Ashraf’s brow furrowed further, Anna passed around the mugs of tea she had made for everyone – another Friday tradition. ‘What’s up?’
‘So, you haven’t heard the latest, then?’ Sheniece was waving a sheet of paper like it was covered in something unmentionable.
Anna surveyed the identically disgusted expressions of her three work colleagues. ‘I take it that it’s not good news?’
‘Read your memo,’ Ted said. ‘Turns out we’re all pointlessly job-swapping for a fortnight.’
‘Doing the work of someone else for less money, more like.’ Journalist Rea Sinfield had appeared at reception – her favourite place to be whenever she could get away from the newsroom, and especially when there was gossip to be had.
‘Work-shadowing,’ Sheniece spat the words like a fly from her mouth. ‘Another of the Dragon’s stonking ideas. It’s pathetic. What am I going to learn from . . .’ she squinted at the name handwritten on her letter, ‘Alan Drake in Logistics?’
‘I would’ve thought it was more about what you could teach him,’ Rea chuckled. ‘Sam from Accounts reckons he’s fit.’
‘Does she?’ Sheniece brightened a little as she considered this.
‘I’ll tell you what it is,’ Ted said, gravely. ‘It’s rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. Making us think everything is tickety-boo when it isn’t.’
Anna sighed. Rumours had been circulating like leaves in the wind for a month now, following a report in the Daily Post – the Messenger’s biggest rival – that unreliable accounting and questionable Board decisions had led to a dangerous shortfall at the newspaper. While Juliet Evans, inimitable Daily Messenger editor, insisted that all was well, the majority of her staff were yet to be convinced. Anna, however, was more inclined to believe her employer than the notoriously unreliable Messenger building’s grapevine. She had worked here long enough to see countless supposed threats to the paper come to nothing. ‘Things aren’t that bad, Ted. Ms Evans said as much in last week’s staff briefing. If anyone can get the Messenger through a tough time, it’s her.’
‘You mark my words, girl, the more she tells us it’s under control, the more in trouble this place is.’
‘Who’d you get, Anna?’ Rea asked, blanking Ted’s portent of doom.
Anna opened her letter – and her heart jumped. The name on the page caused her voice to squeak a little when she spoke it aloud. ‘Ben McAra.’ The air around her seemed to heat inexplicably.
Ben McAra had a reputation as the wunderkind of Fleet Street – a young, ambitious reporter who had quickly risen through the ranks of journalism-school hopefuls to become one of the major voices in British print media. The Messenger had headhunted him from a junior news-desk job at The Times and promoted him to chief correspondent, thus making him a star. All of this was impressive, but what Anna liked most about him was that he wore his success as casually as a weekend jacket, seemingly unaltered by his professional position. It was what she had first noticed about him when he came to work at the Messenger three years ago. And her respect for the easygoing reporter had gradually become something more.
Rea and Sheniece gawped at her. ‘You only bagged the best-looking bloke in the building! Way to go, Anna!’
Flushing, Anna fixed her gaze on the handwritten name on the memo. She knew it well – although admitting it to her colleagues was more than her sanity was worth. Ben McAra, dark-haired, cheeky-smiled star reporter of the Daily Messenger, who had never so much as cast a glance in her direction, but whom Anna had secretly admired since he arrived at the newspaper. ‘I don’t know why I’ve been paired with someone from the newsroom,’ she mumbled, hoping to draw attention away from the burning beacons of her cheeks.
Sheniece stared at Anna as if she’d just turned green. ‘He isn’t just “someone from the newsroom” – he’s the chief reporter. The fittest bloke on Fleet Street; the fella half the women in the city would walk over hot coals to get close to!’
‘He’s annoying, but you wouldn’t kick him out of bed,’ Rea agreed, with all the indelicacy of a tabloid journalist.
‘There must be some mistake,’ Anna said, her racing thoughts made audible. ‘I can’t work in the newsroom.’
Sheniece’s false eyelashes fluttered with excitement. ‘It’s perfect, though! Think about it: you have two whole weeks to cosy up with a sexy journo, chasing headline stories. All that danger and passion and deadlines – it’ll get the blood pumping, bringing the two of you together . . . He’ll be jumping your bones in no time!’
Anna felt sick. ‘It won’t be like that . . .’
‘You obviously haven’t heard the rumours about Ben McAra,’ Rea smirked. ‘He’s very single right now, and more than willing to come to the aid of a pretty damsel in distress.’
‘You watch that McAra, Anna,’ Ted warned, as Sheniece and Rea drifted away to loudly concoct increasingly filthy scenarios about Ben and her. ‘He’s a snake. Murray Henderson-Vitt in the newsroom says he has no scruples when it comes to getting what he wants.’
Anna rolled her eyes. ‘Murray would know. Honestly, Ted, I’ll be fetching Ben coffee and typing up his notes, that’ll be all.’ But, secretly, the thought of spending a fortnight with the man she had been fascinated by for months both thrilled and terrified her. What would she say to him? And what could she possibly offer him in return? She liked her job in reception and was good at it. But she had never even considered she could do anything else at the paper. Comfortable with what she knew, the thought of a new work situation – even a temporary one – scared her. What if she made a fool of herself? What if everyone saw her mistakes?
A memory of a village-hall stage and the cruel laughter of a packed audience forced its way to the forefront of her mind, the affront twisting her stomach. Feigning a coughing fit, she hurried to the small kitchen behind the reception wall to steady herself against the stainless-steel sink while she pushed the recollection away.
I won’t go back there, she vowed. I’ll never do that again . . .
Scrambling to control her thoughts, she tried to think rationally. Of course she would be fine. Work-shadowing would probably be like work experience had been at school: no matter where you were placed, the tasks were the same – filing, making coffee, doing the boring stuff nobody else wanted to do. Anna could do boring and mundane, happy to be out of the spotlight. And this would be no different. So she would just follow Ben McAra around, willingly taking the unimaginative jobs he offered her, and keep her head down. Two weeks would pass soon enough. And then she could return to what she knew best – safe behind the reception desk of the Daily Messenger.
The sound of a barking voice summoned her back to her post, where Sheniece was now struggling to be polite to a newly arrived group of visitors who were voicing their frustration at the security procedures Ted had recently introduced.
‘I shouldn’t have to give you all this information,’ a portly man bellowed. ‘Do you know who Iam?’
‘Perhaps I can be of assistance?’ Gently nudging her colleague out of the firing line, Anna proffered a bright smile, instantly diffusing a little of the visitor’s anger. Sheniece didn’t argue: it was well known that irate members of the public were her least favourite thing to deal with. Of all the reception team, Anna’s coolness in the face of fury placed her firmly ahead of her colleagues for crisis management. It was a skill honed over many years, in a season of her life that nobody here knew about.
After much blustering and threats of dire consequences when the Board heard of their ordeal, Anna furnished all the visitors with passes, collected the details required by the new security protocol and sent them, grumbling but defeated, on their way to the top-floor boardroom. As they left, a smiling UPS deliveryman stepped forward.
‘I have a parcel . . . for Anna Browne?’
Reproduced with the author’s permission from http://extracts.panmacmillan.com/extract?isbn=9781447276043