Everybody’s had one, haven’t they? Everyone has a story about the boss who made life miserable at work. The manager who had a knack for taking credit for other people’s work, who delighted in humiliating staff and wouldn’t hesitate to throw others under the bus. Terrible bosses are more common than we’d like to think – so it’s no surprise there are a lot of them out there in the world of fiction.
In 29 Seconds my protagonist Sarah Haywood finds herself up against a powerful, highly accomplished man with a stellar reputation and the power of ‘life and death’ over the careers of those below him. But her boss has a secret side too, a side the world doesn’t see: that of a serial predator with a track record of sexual harassment going back decades.
I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t worked with anyone like Professor Alan Lovelock, but I had a lot of fictional source material to draw on when I created him for 29 Seconds. In no particular order, here are some of my ‘favourites’ – but which one do you love to hate the most? Pick your poison…
1. Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada
Scarily close to some bosses that I’ve known, which makes it all the more unsettling to see her in action. Arrogant, demeaning and excessively demanding, she makes requests that are almost impossible to fulfil, such as getting a copy of the new Harry Potter book before it’s actually come out (so her children will have something to read on the train).
2. Les Grossman – Tropic Thunder
Compellingly awful to watch. Loves to remind his staff over and over again that a retarded monkey could do their jobs. Abrasive, greedy, vile – the very worst of Hollywood. Also probably the only time you’ll see Tom Cruise in a fat suit.
3. Ebenezer Scrooge – A Christmas Carol
The granddaddy of all terrible bosses. The world’s most famous miser set the benchmark for others to follow: miserable, cold-hearted and mean-spirited. As Dickens wrote, “The cold within him froze his old features…”
4. Meredith Johnson – Disclosure
The boss in Michael Crichton’s thriller is devious, dangerous and untrustworthy, weaving a web of lies to discredit the protagonist and get him fired for sexual harassment. But her real motivation goes deeper…
5. Franklin Hart Jr – Nine to Five
The utterly terrifying head of Crunchem Hall Primary School in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story – partial to locking pupils in ‘the chokey’, a tiny cupboard with broken glass sticking out of the walls. A former shot-putter in the Olympics, she’s also prone to picking up and hurling children who break her (very strict) rules.
29 Seconds is published by Bonnier Zaffre and is out in paperback on March 8th
Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . . When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid - in the only way he knows how. He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.