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An Executive Birthday

by sykesbex 

Posted: 09 June 2003
Word Count: 1132
Summary: An eager woman is desperate to be successful in life and the one way she thinks she will acheive this, is to own a briefcase! But will Annie realise that she has to be good at what she does to be successful? After all, there is no point looking the part if you can't actually play the part. Is there?

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Annie clambered out of bed and announced to the world “It’s my birthday!” Her husband Simon (who had been fast asleep up until that moment), put his head under the pillow whilst muttering “Here we go.”

“Come on sleepy head, get up. I have to be at work in an hour so I just have to open my pressies before then!” Annie said excitedly, pulling the covers from Simon.
“Can’t we wait till you get home from work? You could open them at the meal with
your parents tonight.” Replied Simon, trying to grab at the covers.
“Nooooo!” She yelled, almost sounding like a spoilt brat. “I need my present for work remember?”

Simon sighed. “I told you Annie, I’m not getting you a briefcase. You have to earn it.”
“But I have.” She whined. “I’ve got a good job and I’ll be promoted before you know it.”
“You’ve only been there six months!” He stated. “There are people there who have been working for the company for years. And where are they? On the same level as you.”

It was true, Annie thought. She had been at the Paper such a short time, but she knew it was what she wanted to do, she was sure she was moving forward. The others weren’t as ambitious as she was. They were all happy answering the phone and taking messages for the reporters. Annie however, had so many ideas, so many different angles on how she could approach all those issues and stories. When she had been offered the job, the Editor had told her that the chances of promotion were there for the people who worked at it. Annie took that to mean if she worked hard, promotion would be hers.
“Trust me Simon, I’m on my way there, but I need to look the part.” Said Annie.

She crossed her fingers, hoping that he was just kidding and would suddenly pull out a leather-bound, executive briefcase, with her initials on it.
“Maybe next year honey.” Said Simon, yawning at the thought of getting up so early. “Happy Birthday though.” His eyelids closed and before he knew it, he was back in the land of nod.

Annie was not impressed at her husband’s lack of enthusiasm, he of all people should be encouraging her to succeed. Oh well, she would just have to show him that he was wrong. She’ll be a top journalist in no time.

She hadn’t studied Journalism at University. In fact, she only just managed to get her A-Levels, but she knew she could do it, she didn’t need a piece of paper to tell her that. She sighed. “Some people are just born with talent.” She said to herself. “And like all great geniuses, I am so misunderstood!”

Annie got to work ten minutes early in the hope that they might want to do a big presentation of her cards and gifts. She may not have been there long but she wasn’t stupid. Annie knew that they had been having a collection for her, the money (in a big brown envelope with her name on it) had been kept in Judy’s drawer. There were a couple of measly presents on her desk, but not one of them looked remotely like a briefcase, she was not happy. How many hints did she have to drop? Even her boss knew about her longing for a briefcase because they had discussed it in her interview.

She could remember it well.
“And what are your goals and ambitions?” Mr Clarke had asked her, looking down through his spectacles.
“I want to own a briefcase.” She had replied, which had granted her a strange look from Mr Clarke, as if he wanted some sort of an explanation.
“A briefcase symbolises everything I want to do with my life.” She said, pleased with the imagery she had just planted in his mind.
“I want to work my way up to he top and be able to share my ideas with people. I want to influence your readers with my articles and interviews. But most of all, I want to be successful in what I do.”
“And a briefcase will do what exactly to help you achieve your goal?”
Annie had simply replied, “All successful people have briefcases.”
He had looked fairly impressed with her answers and seemed to nod to himself.

“And finally Mrs Chambers. Where do you want to be in five years?” He said to her to close up the interview. She didn’t have to think for long before giving her answer.

“Sitting in your chair!” She said with a huge grin. “Or one very similar to it!”
Annie thought this might have made him uneasy; after all, it seemed like she was after his job already! But he just laughed and told her that she was very ambitious which was a good thing in his eyes.

Annie had just finished thanking everyone for her cards and presents, when Mr Clarke called her to his office. This is it, she thought as she scurried down the corridor.

“Annie, it’s nice to see you. Please, take a seat.” Mr Clarke said pointing to the chair in front of his desk.
“I have been looking over the ideas you gave me for possible features and I would like to talk to you about one of your ideas. If that’s okay with you?”

Annie wanted to jump up and down with excitement, but somehow she managed to reply in a very calm manner.
“Sure Mr Clarke, which one did you like?”
She couldn’t believe he had actually taken the time to read her ideas and now was sending her ‘on the field’ to research them. He started explaining but she wasn’t listening. Panic swept over her and it must have shown in her face because he stopped talking and asked her if anything was wrong.

“I don’t look the part Mr Clarke. Nobody will take me seriously without a briefcase, I’m not even wearing a suit.” Annie said, getting a bit hysterical.

“You don’t need a briefcase to prove you are a good journalist Annie, you can do that on your own.” Mr Clarke said, reassuring her. “Get yourself established so people know your name, and then worry about looking the part.”

So that’s exactly what Annie did, and she never looked back. She took her
leather-bound notebook and parker pen that Simon had bought her for her birthday,
and she worked like she’d never worked before. So much so that on her next
birthday, not only did Simon have the perfect briefcase waiting for her when she
woke up, he had also bought her a designer black suit, so the world would be able to
see, just how successful Annie Chambers had become.

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Comments by other Members

stephanieE at 10:15 on 10 June 2003  Report this post
You have a fluent and modern writing style, which made this piece easy to read, but I was disappointed at the end... I was expecting a twist in the tail - was the collection for Annie's redundancy rather than her birthday? How would she react? Your last paragraph is the short story equivalent of 'and they lived happily ever after'. I think it would be more interesting to see how Annie comes to recognise that a briefcase isn't the huge symbolic reward she has built it up to be, rather than the bald statement that she received the perfect briefcase on her next birthday. I get the impression that perhaps you just ran out of time at the end?

I think I recognise the character though, one of those so desperately eager to succeed types - and they can go two ways: either you admire their ambition and their dedication, or you hate their guts!

One other minor thing (may just be a result of the upload process): at the end of speech, use a comma rather than a full stop, otherwise it becomes rather stilted. For example:
“But I have.” She whined.
would be better as:
"But I have," she whined.

Keep up the writing, the more you write, the better you will get.

sykesbex at 11:59 on 10 June 2003  Report this post

I know what you mean about the twist in the end, I thought I had the story all worked out, but when I got to the end, I realised I hadn't thought that far!

I like the idea of redundency money! I think I'll have another look at it!


Account Closed at 13:10 on 10 June 2003  Report this post
Ah, as mentioned above, the writing style is fluent and, I guess, modern.

I think you could possibly be a little more descriptive, though, without disrupting things too much.

Eg - describe Simon's half-sleeping face as he tells Annie he hasn't bought her a briefcase. The bags under his eyes, his unimpressed look at being so rudely awoken, etc. Describe the look of the office Annie works in. Is it orderly and efficient, or is it a mass of unruly paperwork constantly under assault from an unrelenting army of ringing telephones?

Plus the ending was, well, not what I was expecting. You could easily expand this piece to include a full story on the year between birthdays, and how she goes about achieving her success.

On the whole though, the style is easy to read, and flowed well.

bluesky3d at 15:03 on 10 June 2003  Report this post
enjoyed the story very much and your style...

but i do agree about the redundancy being better
these are some ideas that went through my head...

perhaps Annie actually got a briefcase as a present from Simon but when she is made redundant in her temper she throws it away into the canal?

its Simon who consoles her with the words...“You don’t need a briefcase to prove you are a good journalist Annie, you can do that on your own.” (Not Mr Chambers)

.. a year later she is the boss and sitting at her executive desk and opens her present ,, it is another briefcase from Simon!..she smiles but looks slightly disappointed until.. she opens it and inside she finds .. a ticket for two for a weekend in Paris !!

(am i just a slushy romantic?) :o)


sykesbex at 23:20 on 10 June 2003  Report this post

I like those ideas! I have been 'mulling' over a few myself and I reckon once I get started, I'll end up re-writing it!


Becca at 14:13 on 11 June 2003  Report this post
Rebecca, welcome to the shorts room. Lots of good thoughts from those who have written already. I had a slightly more fundamental problem with the story itself. I was wondering why she was not able to buy her own briefcase, and if someone who needed other people's approval that much would be the type of person to have thoughts about ambitions.
Your writing style is clear, although I felt you could do away with the brackets. In the first sentence you explain in brackets that her husband had been asleep, which is exposition, or 'telling not showing.' If you were to take up what Insane suggested about describing the husband's half-sleeping face, the reader would know he'd been asleep without you needing to tell us.
Looking forward to seeing more pieces.

bluesky3d at 15:19 on 11 June 2003  Report this post
Becca I take your point about wondering why she didn't have the intellectual or financial where-with-all to buy her own briefcase, if she was executive material, and you make some good points on style.

However, perhaps I may come to Skyesbex/Rebecca's defence, people are inately quirky .. so when writing about people, writers act like psychologists and the subject's seemingly irrational behaviour in the story can reflect quirks of character that are interesting to pick up on and explore.

A bit like writing a story about a plumber that never fixes the drip in the tap in his own kitchen! What seems weird is also often so true to life!

Andrew :o)

poemsgalore at 18:59 on 11 June 2003  Report this post
I agree with everyone, the writing style is great and I particularly loved the dialogue, very quick and moves the story along nicely. Look forward to seeing what you do with the ending. Maybe you could still make her successful - at the cost of her marriage, so she has to make the choice between husband and career. The briefcase could become a symbol of failure too.

Jubbly at 20:52 on 11 June 2003  Report this post
I agree your style is very readable and bounces along. I got the feeling the whole piece was more about her relationship with her husband than anything else, and is reaction to her birthday is very controlling. I don't think that's the right ending either, it just peters out but I think you know that by now. I don't want to give you any alternatives I'm sure you'll work them out yourself, so keep at it, you're so nearly there.


sykesbex at 00:23 on 12 June 2003  Report this post

I'm going to definately work on that ending! I've started talking a look at it tonight, but it is driving me crazy because I just cannot think what direction to move it in!

Keep watching though, I'll post the 'new and approved' version as soon as it is finished!


Becca at 07:03 on 12 June 2003  Report this post
The briefcase as a symbol of something is a good thought.

noddy at 09:22 on 12 June 2003  Report this post
Hi Becks,
I thought the story was a good read, although I think some fleshing out of detail might help. I'm sorry, but Annie is just far too eager for her own good... how about having her 'muddered' by her husband (puting his head back under the pillow... yeah, like he's not up to something). I can also think of an ironic use of the briefcase. Now that would be chilling.
But seriously, look forward to reading some more.
Best Regards,

matheson at 12:28 on 15 June 2003  Report this post
Hi Becks,

Like the others I felt the narrative flowed and Annie’s progress through the story was clearly explained. I shared the others reservations about the “happy ever after” ending and some of the underlying psychological questions the character begs (why couldn’t she buy her own suitcase). I think its good you are committed to a re-write. Re-writing is the real discipline in writing I think.

The one area which I think might benefit with some re-thinking is Annie’s tendency to “talk to herself”. Others have touched upon a tendency in the writing to tell not show and the internal dialogue supports this tendency. Maybe something that was more fixed in Annie’s point of view and which described the world around her “through” her expectations would be more powerful than interpolating Annie’s “thoughts” and mutterings. For example, what does Annie DO when she is not impressed with her husband….what’s the revenge, implemented or planned.

It’s a good beginning. I look forward to the rewrite.

All the best


Sarah at 12:08 on 17 June 2003  Report this post

This was cute. It was almost like a Little Miss story, like Little Miss Achiever, or something like that. (Please don't take that the wrong way!) Like everyone else says, your writing is really clear, and crisp. Excellent.

It's hard to tell what tone you're going for. There shouldn't have to be a twist at the end, but the end doesn't have to tie up nicely either. Modern shorts rarely do that anymore. It's okay for them to just... end. I think this story could very naturaly be a 'be careful what you wish for' type thing. Maybe she gets the briefcase and realises what a burden they can be... maybe her husband gets her a really cheap one, symbolising a half-hearted love... I don't know... maybe she figures out that a briefcase is nothing more than some cardboard and leather, and her successes are totally exclusive of that....

Do you own any short story anthologies? Read some, and more, and more and more...

old friend at 15:49 on 04 October 2003  Report this post
Hello Rebecca,

I do hope that we ahall have more of your work.

You say in your other piece that the story rejected by WOMAN was 'An Executive Birthday' which, I guess, must be this one???

The interesting question is WHY this was turned down by that Magazine? The oft-repeated reason for rejection is that 'not suitable' or similar phrase. This means absolutely nothing... except 'NO' or even 'NO THANKS'.

You aimed very high with WOMAN and may I say that even though you have a good, well-balanced style your story is far more suited for a younger and less sophisticated readership (as seen by WOMAN).

The opening of any story should have some impact on the reader and, if possible, give clues, hints and tips for 'a good read'; above all it needs to encourage the reader to 'read on'. Your main character is instantly 'placed' as being young, sweet and she develops as a not-too-strong personality quite immature in many respects.

This is not to say that it is not a good story... but it is not one for the WOMAN market.

I feel that you have a natural writing talent for children's stories, but do remember that there are three perhaps four segments of age groups within that market, so your writing needs to be specifically aimed. It is not easy to write for children, but some people 'have it' and others do not. You happen to 'have it'.

All success.


sykesbex at 22:44 on 04 October 2003  Report this post

Hi Len!

Thank you for your comments on my work, they are much appreciated. I realise now that 'Woman' was perhaps not the best market to send my work to.

I have often thought about writing for children, but I have no idea of how to get started or where to look. Could you offer any advice?

Once again, thank you.


old friend at 14:19 on 09 October 2003  Report this post
Hello Rebecca,
You can approach this 'writing for children' from two directions. Do as much research as you can on the specific age groupings in this market. Talk to writers who specialise in this work. Read as much as you can on the subject and the work by established children's authors.. This is all so obvious advice but essential.

I did know a lady who 'started from the other end'. She just 'wrote stories for children' without any of the appreciation of 'market segments' and all that. It wasn't until much later that she began to look into this question of 'different age groups' when she found that her work slotted in naturally to one group or segment. She was then able to target the publishers side more accurately.


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