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 10 Jun 2013, 19:50 #168646 Reply To Post
Critiques March 2013

Each month on editors from Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett.

Some of these posted before, posting under the month of the top ten so easier for members to find.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 10 Jun 2013, 20:01
 10 Jun 2013, 19:52 #168647 Reply To Post
Orion Editor of Mot and the Egyptian Transformation , line edit of opening chapters attached.

Generally very good, with a fun hook and an enjoyable voice. Like the way it lets the reader work out what's going on before Mot does - tricky to pull off, but generally impressive here. Not sure how you'll work it in later books when Mot is more aware of his heritage/power. Mot is a great character, although I worry that you've got too much of the narrative relying on him. Later sections/books might fix that, though, as you introduce new characters.

That said, more than a few places where there are too many gaps in the text - I understand the desire to keep it stripped down, but there are too many points where there's an assumption of understanding on the reader's part which just isn't there. I've added some stuff in to cover much of this, but when writing you might want to think about this.

Which leads us to my next concern, purely as a publisher, not a reader - the synopsis as provided (more on this later) is almost two pages long, and the 7k words I've seen cover only the first third of a page. I know that's mostly set up, but you're left with quite a lot to cover and for an 8-12 age-range you might be at risk of becoming too long. This might, of course, be sorted out in the writing.

Synopsis is too long and detailed - you need it to be a reasonable page of A4 at most. I've made some cuts, although of course I realise this isn't an official submission, as it were, so I might be telling you things you already know. The amended synopsis is at the end of the document, but probably needs more work.

There are a few worrying continuity errors - is he eating corn or wheat when the book opens? If he has to jump from the statue to the 'escape' hole, why would he expect to be able to reach the statue again? Etc. Not the end of the world, but a closer reading needed before actual submission.

Slightly concerned that you're assuming a level of knowledge of the egyptian gods in your reader, but perhaps I'm overthinking that, and you handle them very well, so I think most readers will go with it. Just thought it was worth mentioning, although you don't want to lose the lightness of touch.

Prose-wise, I have very little to say - a nice neat style, with a few moments of uncertainty around punctuation that I've highlighted. Works well for the target audience, which isn't easy - I was impressed. The 'cleanest' youwriteon text I've had so far.

All of that said, it's my job to find the problems, not the successes, so please don't think I wasn't impressed. Overall, a very successful piece of work with some minor flaws that need addressing, but nothing insurmountable. One of the problems of this system is that I have no idea how far down the process of writing you are. This needs work before submitting to an agent or publisher, but it's absolutely worth sticking with. I can see a market for it, and wish you the best of luck.

Marcus, Editor, Orion

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 10 Jun 2013, 19:53 #168648 Reply To Post
Random House Reviews

Meridian – Ellie Daniels

Congratulations on being the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! I very much enjoyed reading your first chapters; Finlay is a very likeable central character and the flashback to 1275 brought a fantastic new dimension to your story which made me keen to read on and find more about the mysterious Stone and the serpent. Your writing is lively with a real energy to it, especially when it came to chapter endings, and there were some lovely descriptive phrases that really brought your book alive for me.


Your book has a quick pace to it and is filled with lots of incident and intrigue, which keeps a reader eagerly turning the pages. I thought the ending of Chapter Two was a masterclass in how to effectively employ a cliff hanger – I wish more authors had your talent for this! – and I really enjoyed the flashback to 1275, as it showed that the novel would take a very original turn. Depending on how frequently you flash back to this same strand as the story progresses, I wonder whether you might want to put that section in italics to very obviously flag up that it's a different strand to the present day?

Where possible, do try to resist the temptation to tell the reader everything straight away; it's absolutely fine to let readers piece together information for themselves so don't feel that you have to tell us about Finlay's past, why he's come to Cornwall, what he's been doing over the past few years all in the first two pages. Drip feeding information can be a really good way of encouraging readers to engage with your book as they make their own guesses as to what's happened in a character's past or what a certain, elliptical comment may refer to – the passing reference to 'Home wasn't a place I was welcome now, and there was no going back' is a great example of this. Readers love a challenge so don't worry that they will lost interest if everything isn't spelled out straight away.

On a side note, I was a little surprised that Diggory and Richie don't appear to have waited to help Finlay as he ran from the tidal wave – I can understand how frightening it must have appeared, but it sounds like he was just feet away from them so wouldn't they have tried to haul him to safety?


Finlay has a very likeable, self deprecating narrative voice, which helps a reader quickly warm to him. I thought you did a good job of letting him roll his eyes at the mysterious Arthur Hemming's warnings of an earthquake, without making him sound too flippant so we were on his side from the start whilst accepting that this was a slightly farfetched idea he had been sent to investigate.

I wasn't quite clear why he volunteered to help look for the Rector when he'd just been reflecting that he needed to get hold of Gus and some clothes, and lie down somewhere, especially when he was only dressed in a sheet! Were we meant to read this as him feeling compelled to help out or that he thought this might be the best way to get hold of Gus? It might be best to add some small note of explanation.

We only have brief glimpses of the other characters, but I thought the awkward Rector had plenty of potential to be a very interesting foil to Finlay, both physically and mentally, and I liked what little we saw of the 'pink girl'. I presume she is being set up to be Finlay's love interest, but I was very pleased to see that Finlay didn't need to rescue her at the start of the book, and she actually seemed more in control than he was.

Quality of Writing

You use some lovely descriptions in your work – I could so clearly imagine the 'curtain of jackdaws' and the trail Finlay left behind him, 'like some great sea monster', and I thought the wood burner puffing out smoke, as if it was sighing in dismay at Finlay's lie was a lovely line that told us so much about what Finlay himself was feeling at that point. The location of your book was one of the most appealing aspects for me as it's not an area I know well, so I loved the details of the landscape and the setting that you wove through your writing.

I'm not sure if I've misunderstood the context, but I couldn't quite work out how Diggory had 'riddled the wood burner' as I can only think of riddled in the sense of something being riddled with holes. Have I misunderstood?

As with my comments above about plot details, do try and let the physical descriptions of your characters slip out gradually, in line with the story itself. I thought it worked very well, for example, when you had Finlay ruefully reflecting that 'I arched my spine... At six foot five, I wasn't built for airplane seats and cramped hire cars' because the physical description was directly related to the action of the story, whereas the girl 'homing onto my own damaged eye – most of the green obliterated by the black distortion, which made my pupil huge and strangely bird-shaped' felt a little more clumsy, as if it had been slightly shoehorned in. I don't have a problem with her noticing his eye – as it's clearly something very startling – but the comment about how his pupil appeared just didn't feel like something Finlay would think to himself, at this point. What would probably work better at that point would be an emotional response that gave us a sense of what this damaged eye means to Finlay: is he annoyed or embarrassed by the girl staring at it?

As a side note, as you tell us the date in just the first few lines of your opening section, 'It'll be September 11th, Saint Michael's Mount. An earthquake' I don't think you need to have the date and the location at the top of the chapter as well, it feels a little like unnecessary repetition. The flashback is in the same location, so we don't need that to be stated here either and I wonder whether it might not be more intriguing if you left it to readers to try and work out when it was set? The clues you give us should be enough to identify that this is occurring in the past (especially if you were to put these sections in italics, as suggested) and do readers need to know exactly what year it is at this point in the story, or is this something we could work out gradually?


I thought this was a lovely opening to a novel, and I can certainly see why other readers have enjoyed it so much. The success of Kate Mosse's 'timeslip' novels, such as Labyrinth, indicate the large audience out there for intelligent, pacy reads that blend the contemporary with the historical and I'm sure your story would appeal to fans of those books. Finlay is an appealing central character – intelligent, resourceful, self-deprecating but with a tragedy in his past – and I would happily have spent longer in his company.

I'd recommend looking at ways in which you could drip feed information about Finlay's past and his presence in Cornwall gradually throughout the story, rather than explaining everything to us immediately. People rarely give us their whole history when we meet them for the first time in real life, so it can feel a little clumsy when an author gives us what seems to be a character's entire backstory in the first few pages. Remember that it's far more fun for readers to put together a few tantalising clues than it is to have everything explained to them! I'd like you to think about ways in which you could reveal this information through other means; could someone see Finlay's photograph of Anna, for example, and ask about her or where it was taken? Could Merryn ask Finlay in the car what he was doing in the area and why he needs to rent the cottage?

I hope these comments are helpful for you as you write, and good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House

 10 Jun 2013, 19:54 #168649 Reply To Post

The Ricochet of Sunbeams – Derek Byrne

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with what I thought was a very striking, imaginative piece of creative writing. From the title I had expected something perhaps a little sweeter or saccharine, so I was very pleasantly surprised by what I read. You employ some wonderfully vivid descriptions, the 'fingers of the desert' creeping into the car, the boy clinging on to the wire fence 'as if he's trying to claw his way to the top' and there's a sense of menace that runs throughout these first chapters that keeps the tension humming through your writing. It is both appealing and unsettling at the same time, and in many respects made me think of early Ian McEwan books, such as The Cement Garden.

I would generally advise against switching perspective so frequently as it can leave your writing feeling disjointed and unfocused, but I think here it generally works well with the sense of oddness and alienation you're creating. I would keep an eye on it though, and try not to switch between characters too frequently so that readers have longer to get inside the mindset of each character. I'm not sure about putting 'He hates me because he hated my Dad' within asterisks, is this meant to imply that Gavin is thinking this line but not saying it out loud? If so I would put this in italics, not in asterisks, or work it into the narrative in some other way as asterisks aren't a recognised punctuation mark in creative writing.

I thought this was a very strong opening to a novel, good luck for the future!

The Truth about Sally – Adrian Lynch

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with your bright and lively read. The Truth about Sally had plenty of humour running through it and Sally is a very appealing heroine. Your writing showed some lovely, imaginative touches – I loved her lips pinching close like a startled squirrel and the battle to rescue/release Tilly from Truth's jaws! I don't think I've ever seen a book anthropomorphised so charmingly before.

I would recommend having a quick look at a punctuation guide for advice on using commas as you do sometimes use them where they're not needed. For example the sentence 'The common thing about parties, appeared to be that kids got presents, which sounded nice, and that eating too much cake, made you sick, which didn't sound too nice' should read 'The common thing about parties appeared to be that kids got presents, which sounded nice, and that eating cake made you sick, which didn't sound too nice.'

Ignore the well meaning, but misleading advice about using one wherever you'd pause to take a breath – essentially commas should be used for lists, so 'The girl held grey, yellow and pink balloons'; to connect two separate clauses i.e. 'The cat jumped on the mat, and the girl shouted to her mother to answer the door' or to bracket information which can be removed from a sentence without it disturbing the flow, i.e. 'The cat jumped on the mat, which was a violent green colour, and the girl shouted to her mother to answer the door.' A good punctuation guide is invaluable and getting this straight in your mind will leave you with more time to focus on the creative side of your writing.

Hunted by Shadow – TB Tschauder

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month on YouWriteOn. Your first few chapters made for a very interesting read and the twist when we suddenly jumped into the 'real world' worked beautifully to wrongfoot me and make me eager to read on.

Do take care to read your work through very carefully afterwards – when images are so vivid for you as a writer, it's easy to overlook details that you might have forgotten to communicate to readers. For example, when you wrote that Leyna forgot about her doll and dropped it, smashing it on the floor, I was confused as this was the first we'd heard of a doll and previously Leyla had wrapped her arms around Will, which I would have thought would be tricky if she was already clutching her doll.

It's a strange truth that going into a lot of detail about a heightened emotion – whether that's fear or anger or love – can actually dilute its impact. I found that having Leyna both vomit and then wet herself in fear within just a few paragraphs actually undermined the sense of tension you'd been building since the story began. Sometimes it can be more powerful to give a reader just a few details and let them piece together for themselves how frightening a situation that would be.

One small plot point, Leyla 'settled for November 4th' when she filled out the form for the medical tests, which made it sound, to me at least, like she'd just decided there and then on that particular day but I presume she, or someone else, would have allocated her a birthday as soon as she came into the orphanage for the sake of forms, etc?

Good luck for your future writing!

Alison, Editor, Random House
 10 Jun 2013, 19:54 #168650 Reply To Post
Editor critique of THE DEVIL OF ILHA GRANDE

Dear Fred Hebbert

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your thriller novel THE DEVIL OF ILHA GRANDE. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further work. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure is the backbone of a novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. And while I thought your structure was very strong in these early chapters, I did think how you structure your plot more widely needs some consideration. But I will detail my comments on this in my notes on plot below.
From these initial chapters, it seems like your narrative will be structured from the alternate perspectives of different characters. This is an effective device that will not only open up your story in terms of scope, but will also ensure that the reader doesn’t tire of any one character or storyline. And this technique helps instil a greater sense of pace to the flow of your narrative.
A small point, but I would consider restructuring your subheadings so they are simpler, with the day first (e.g. Wednesday 12 October, 2005). Also, by stating ‘two days earlier’ and the date feels like an unnecessary repetition. Perhaps just one rather than both?

I thought the opening scene was really good – well written and vividly described, and tense enough to make the reader feel compelled to read on. I did wonder whether it was necessary for you to reveal the identity of the man (Sebastio Alves da Silva), especially in the very first line. Not only is this quite a mouthful of the name, it interrupts the flow of your opening line somewhat. Also, by withholding his identity, you would make the prologue seem more ambiguous, and in turn more menacing, if the perpetrator is not named, regardless of whether your protagonist knows his identity or not. In a thriller, it’s crucial to keep the reader guessing and invested every step of the way. And by withholding certain key facts, even if some of the characters are privy to them, will help build a more intriguing edge to your narrative.
After the dramatic opening, I found the first chapter a little underwhelming. There seemed to be too much of a focus on introducing the characters and expounding on religious ideas. It is key that the first three chapters of any thriller novel grip the reader completely, pulling them in and immersing them in the unfolding drama. And to be completely honest (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t!), there was nothing thrilling or gripping about your first chapter.
Equally, chapter two felt somewhat lacking in any real tension or drama, with the concentration seeming to lie with gradually introducing the reader to your fictional world and its inhabitants. Again, if you really want to grip your reader, you need to immerse them in your narrative from the get-go, not guide them by the hand as you introduce each of the characters. Drop them right into the middle of the action. If you don’t capture your reader in the first three chapters, you very well may have lost them.
It is only in the third chapter that the narrative seems to pick up in speed, drawing the reader in more effectively. When you come to rewriting, you need to look at how you can hook the reader much earlier on, and maintain a heightened sense of drama throughout these opening chapters.
The fact that an American nun was recently killed in the jungle is only really mentioned as an aside in these early chapters. This is a crucial piece of information, and one that is full of potential in terms of drama and tension. I think more needs to be made of this earlier on, so the reader begins to fear for Sister Sarah’s own safety.
From reading your synopsis, my main concern is how you will create a greater sense of menace and drama, and maintain it for the duration of the novel. It’s hard to get a sense of the unfolding drama from the synopsis alone, but it seems like the main driving force behind the novel is the identity of the ‘Devil’ and Sister Sarah’s quest for spiritual enlightenment. There needs to be more fuelling your story if this is to work as an effective thriller. Will there be any sub-plots? And twists and red herrings. Out of all genres in commercial fiction, thriller writing is perhaps the most formulaic in terms of what literary devices to employ to keep your reader gripped.
A good exercise that will help you hone in on potentially weak areas of your narrative and also see which areas are stronger is to storyboard your novel – either scene by scene or chapter by chapter. Then you will be able to see more clearly the shape your plot takes, and where the drama and tension might tail off too quickly.

While Sister Sarah is an intriguing character, she didn’t really leap off the page in these early chapters. From having read these opening chapters, this seems like it will be more of a character-led thriller than a plot-led one, and so it is imperative that your characters not only draw your reader in and make them empathise and align with them, but also are compelling enough to carry the weight of the narrative and fuel the progression of the story. You need to get under their skins and reveal what is unique and distinctive about them. Each character needs to be memorable in their own way.

Setting is of course only the backdrop to a story, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping build atmosphere and even tone. Your descriptive prose is very good, so it would be nice to see a few more details about the setting woven through the story, to really bring alive your world for the reader. These need only be small brushstrokes, but the more vivid they are, the more quickly you’ll transport your reader there.

Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone feels off-key or discordant with the rest of the narrative, you risk alienating your reader. The tone of most thrillers is one of brooding menace and dark intrigue. And while these opening pages have shades of those occasionally, overall I felt the tone was influenced a little too much by the piety of some of your characters, making some of your writing feel a little too earnest. Remember that less is more. In a thriller, even a religious thriller, your primary aim is to grip your reader, keep them guessing as well as tensely turning the pages to find out more. And I think you have some way to go before achieving that.
When you come to rewriting, consider the tone of your writing, and how that affects the reader’s experience as the story progresses. Also, read other thrillers with a critical eye, analysing their tone and how they manage tension and suspense throughout. As much can be learnt from reading as it can from writing.

As I’m sure you’re aware, thrillers are one of the most popular genres in commercial fiction, but they are also one of the most crowded, so it is absolutely imperative that your book is able to stand out in a competitive marketplace. Also, religious thrillers don’t have the appeal as they once did (in the height of Dan Brown), so you need to consider this and ensure that your book is as thrilling and dramatic as it can be if it is to snare readers.

Line notes:
‘… he thrust her under again. Again …’ – repetition of ‘again.
‘You do not know the perils of the other’ – great last line to your opening scene.
‘saucer-like face’ – not quite sure how a human face can resemble a saucer? Seems like a bit of an odd description. Perhaps something else here?

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Editor Natalie Braine
 10 Jun 2013, 19:55 #168651 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Hilda’s Assets by J McGuire

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. It’s an interesting premise with much potential for comedy. I particularly liked your opening, which sees Hilda cleaning the bathroom with Ernest’s flannel! There were also moments of unexpected poignancy, such as when Ernest reveals that he knows Hilda has been doing such things to get a reaction from him, and when he agrees to her scheme to ‘rent’ him out on the condition that she doesn’t divorce him.

While the tone is obviously very playful and tongue-in-cheek, the story still needs to feel realistic if the reader is to suspend disbelief. And I did feel some areas were lacking somewhat in credibility. Such as how readily Ernest agrees to Hilda’s idea, which seems to contradict what we’ve been told about him, in that he likes to stay at home and not interact with other people too much. And also his club of ‘Tae Kon Trol’, which feels a little over-egged. Remember that less is often more, especially when it comes to comedy. Sometimes subtle humour can pack a more powerful punch than an overstated joke…

Professional mini critique for Yesterday’s Shoes by Celia Micklefield

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. Your writing is very atmospheric and visual, instantly placing the reader where the story is set, alongside your characters. While I found these opening pages engaging, my concern was that they were a little slow burning for the beginning of a novel. It felt like there was a too much preamble and focus on setting the scene rather than dropping the reader into the middle of the drama.

From reading your synopsis, it seems like Marianne’s own personal story has much potential for drama and emotion. And I wondered if perhaps it might be stronger to open the book with a prologue from her perspective? It is hard to gauge from the synopsis alone, but will Marianne’s story be told in her own voice, or through Karen? Because if you are showing the historical scenes in an immediate way for the reader to experience, then it would be more powerful to have them show from Marianne’s POV (point of view) rather than reported second-hand through Karen. And also, by having two protagonists and two separate – but interlinking – storylines will give your narrative more texture and depth.

Professional mini critique for The King of the Castle by Julian Green

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It had a playfulness to it, even though it could also be quite dark and macabre. I liked the twist, and how you played with the reader’s expectations with the final last red herring that Rosemary is to blame for her previous husband’s death, only to reveal that it was the story’s main perpetrator all along – Jack, the dog! I did feel that the second half of the story was stronger than the first, and had more pace and drive to it, while the first half could have been more streamlined and focused. Also, some of the humour felt a little forced, rather than evolving naturally from each scene. I thought some lines were great (such as Jack ‘tenderising’ Bernard’s thigh with his sharp claws, and wondering why dogs ‘can’t do the decent thing like cats and bury their excrement so only kids playing in sandpits come across it’!) but others a bit unoriginal (‘seismographs would be twitching in Hawaii’).

Editor Natalie Braine
 10 Jun 2013, 20:01 #168652 Reply To Post
Further critiques will be added as received from editors i.e. 'Liquid World' for this month.
 19 Jun 2013, 13:57 #168911 Reply To Post
very nice post
 20 Jun 2013, 00:02 #169086 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Liquid World by Pat Dobie

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel. Orson is an unusual protagonist – a reclusive typist who still lives in the same house as his mother and has never left his home city. I liked how you also introduced another character’s POV (point of view) through Bea, also a character who feels lost and alone to some degree, and like Orson has a troubled family background.

At the heart of the novel is mystery of what has happened to Gregg and whether he is linked to the severed feet turning up on the beach. The only thing I felt was a bit of a stretch was Orson’s automatic assumption that the size fifteen foot could belong to his brother. Perhaps there should be a mention of how Orson and his mother haven’t heard from Gregg in a while before Orson reaches this conclusion? Otherwise this feels a little contrived for plot purposes.

From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that there will be a lot of surprising revelations, which will hopefully keep the reader guessing and invested in your story. And it seems Orson goes through a real narrative arc and develops as a person by the end of the story. I thought the dialogue was very well written and liked the quirkiness of some of the exchanges, which helped bring the characters alive.

Critique by Editor Natalie Braine.

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