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 13 Aug 2013, 21:58 #171389 Reply To Post
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, Bloomsbury and Orion publish authors such as Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling.

Some very good feedback on the potential of top ten writers in July. Editor Natalie Braine said she would be interested to see more of CLEMENTINE'S SHADOW.

Natalie worked at Orion and critiqued The Legacy by ywo member Katherine Webb when it was a youwriteon top ten story. This resulted in Orion Senior Editor Sara O’Keeffe publishing The Legacy which won the popular vote for the Channel 4 TV Book Club Summer Read 2010 and was shortlisted for Best New Writer at the 2010 Galaxy National Book Awards. As an update, Katherine's subsequent novels The Unseen and A Half Forgotten Song were both Sunday Times Top Ten Bestsellers.
 13 Aug 2013, 22:00 #171390 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Reviews

THE SPIDER SUN by Julian Green

Firstly, congratulations for being selected for the longer critique. I very much enjoyed reading the sample material, and can see from the synopsis that you have plotted out an imaginative, action-packed, colourful caper with lots of child appeal. I hope the following suggestions are helpful.
You plunge your reader into the thick of the action from the beginning, which is great – Jacob’s confrontation with the mysterious creature in the garden makes for an intriguing, attention-grabbing opening. I wonder if you could inject a bit more menace into the scene by having Jacob exhibit more fear – in response to the truly terrifying line ‘The shape crept forwards, crunching the leaves’, Jacob ‘swallowed. He had to go’. You could ramp up the drama here by telling the reader that Jacob panics, or is rooted to the spot with fear, or breaks out in an icy sweat.

I absolutely loved the land of Borgania and its cast of quirky characters. You’ve clearly had so much fun creating this world, and it really shows in the joyful, playful prose and detail. From the names of the beer sold by the brilliantly monikered Patsy Codfish, Belching Bumpkin and Salamander Sizzle, to Inglenook’s grumpy banter and Toadflax’s sideline in selling volvetine skins and sewer ducks, this is a richly imagined place that comes alive in a very compelling way for the reader. I did wonder how you were going to make use of the fact that people can regrow their bodies in Borgania, and the logic behind this – it’s a great idea, and gives an extra ‘magical’ quality to this world, but from the synopsis it didn’t seem to be a particularly important or explored feature of the plot. Could you think of more ways to weave this into the narrative? Perhaps Inglenook gets a bit slice-happy with his sword (poor Toadflax!) and one of the children is hurt? But is thankfully able to regrow their missing limb, as they are in Borgania? Just a thought!

The juxtaposition of chapters in Borgania and the ‘real world’ of Jacob and Laura works as an effective introduction before they collide with the appearance of Inglenook with Jacob’s missing rucksack on his lawn and then in school. As in the opening scene, do make sure that Jacob’s response to the strange goings-on around him is described – he hardly seems to process that something out of the ordinary is happening. The denizens of Borgania are so well-drawn and larger-than-life that Jacob is feeling a little flat in comparison at the moment – I’m sure he develops as a character as the narrative progresses, but injecting him with a little more verve and personality at the beginning will really help your reader become engaged with his story.

I think your story has heaps of potential and appeal – I’d have loved to keep reading! I wish you all the best with your writing.

Lauren , Editor, Random House


And here’s your second review! This is exactly the kind of funny, fast-paced middle-grade action adventure that publishers relish seeing, as it has the potential for the widest appeal for young readers. I thought Mot’s voice worked brilliantly – from the pompous, self-important but yet still-charming opening of ‘To my dear fans…’ to his fake humbleness and puffed-up take on events. He really is a fantastic character. As with your previous story, THE SPIDER SUN, I could tell that you’ve had a blast writing this – the words zing off the page and the plot unfolds effortlessly.
Your supporting cast of characters is very well realised – the three mangy dogs Scar Snout, Bone Crusher and Saliva Dripper gnawing away on their bones and fighting over who gets to eat Mot are full of personality and vigour. And you have a very appealing, playful writing style and use of imagery and words – I particularly liked ‘As all rodents know, you should never shut a human in a hot carriage without leaving a window open’ and ‘the thunder rumbled again, bouncing among the hills like an excited cricket in a drum’ – visual, immediate and witty.

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of the book so far, and I’m sure that the narrative continues in a similarly polished, pacy, engaging way. Comedy-fantasy is not an easy genre to make look this easy – congratulations!

Lauren , Editor, Random House

From reading your synopsis, I can see that this book is going to be full of twists and turns – terrible secrets revealed, families ripped apart, grim history relived. All the ingredients of a gripping, involving saga – a genre that proves to be perennially popular.

You touch on some extremely hard-hitting subjects, namely the holocaust of Viannos and the horror of discovering that your spouse may be your sibling. I have only read the first few chapters, so haven’t seen how you handle the plot unfolding in this dramatic fashion, but take care to give these big revelations due time and space to be set and explored. I found the beginning a little stop-start and brief, which results in the reader failing to form a real emotional attachment to, and empathy with, these characters. For the later revelations to pack the big emotional punch that they should, we need to care about Angie and Nick and feel invested in their future happiness together. Could you look into fleshing out their life a bit more in the opening chapters? Can we see how in love and what a strong, secure, happy couple they are? Perhaps Angie can be sitting at her desk reminiscing about how they got together and how excited she is that their wedding is just around the corner.

You are very good at transporting the reader to the heat, hustle and bustle of Heraklion Airport and then through the countryside with its ochre earth and olive trees. Really go to town on these descriptions – you want your reader to be able to see, smell and practically taste Crete! Similarly, pay particular attention to scene-setting period detail when the narrative moves to the Crete of 1943.

You write the soldiers marching on the village brilliantly – ‘an ominous wind blew through the branches around me, and deep shadows from the trees performed a hideous dance’ gave me shivers – and the chaos that follows is very well paced and with a convincing sense of rising panic. I think it’s just that opening scene which isn’t quite working for me at the moment – it feels flatter than the rest of the material, and less real and engaging. With more focus on setting up the characters of Angie and Nick for the reader from the start, I’m sure you have a commercial, compelling book here.
I wish you all the best with your writing

Lauren , Editor, Random House


What an interesting, original piece of writing! You very cleverly subvert accepted thought about cyborgs – that they are automated, feelings-free, ‘other’ - by revealing their thoughts and emotions in a very human way. The reader believes that they are hearing the voice of an imprisoned, tortured human until the line ‘Cyborgs are not supposed to feel any physical pain. But we do.’ which is devastating and very powerful in its simplicity.

Disoriented (in a good, compelling way!), the reader flinches at the beating given to both cyborgs in the room – the throwing up of blood, the swelling eye – even as the cyborgs themselves remain calm and in control. The way that the female cyborg intones, ‘I get the next one right in my abdomen. I think they broke one of my ribs’ is extremely chilling, likewise her musings on the heightened neuron paths in cyborgs which ensure one hundred percent efficiency present a stark, uncomfortable contrast with the violence going on in the room.

I was finding the story quite horrifying in its absence of emotion, and then you introduce the idea that the female cyborg is worried about her male counterpart, feels protected by his presence, has a connection with her partner that feels entirely relatable and human. You balance these conflicting traits brilliantly – I felt a huge amount of empathy for your female cyborg in a very short space of time, which is quite a feat!

I wish you all the best with your writing.

Lauren , Editor, Random House

 13 Aug 2013, 22:01 #171391 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of AN HYSTERICAL GIRL

Dear Shaun Wilson

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your mystery novel, AN HYSTERICAL GIRL. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging and successfully drew the reader into your story. 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 any 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 from reading these opening chapters, it seems like you have given a lot of thought to the structure of your narrative. These opening scenes and chapters are shown from alternate character POVs (points of view), which can be an effective literary device that helps create texture and variance in your narrative, as well as hopefully ensuring the reader doesn’t tire of the main storyline, as new angles and different character insights are continually being offered as the drama unfolds.

It can be a really helpful exercise when you come to rewriting your early drafts to storyboard your narrative, summarising each scene and chapter, so you can get a clearer overview of the shape of your narrative, as well as hone in on any potentially weak areas of your story that may be lacking in pace or drama. Each scene and chapter has to have momentum to it so that they each feel like they are driving the narrative. If a scene or chapter doesn’t do this, you may need to reconsider whether it should remain in your final draft. Remember that a large chunk of writing a book isn’t just putting words to paper – it is editing and re-editing what you have written. And structure is the first building block in the editing process.


I know you state in your synopsis that this is a prequel to The Turn of the Screw but that the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know this, as it can very much be read as a standalone. I’ll discuss in more detail my thoughts on the genre and market of this book further down, but in terms of plot, I think this is an element of the book that needs such consideration. In these early pages, I sometimes wondered what kind of story you were hoping to tell. The storytelling obviously has a lot heavy religious influences and connotations, ranging from devout Christianity of some of your characters to the satanic cult worship of some of the other characters. Emily, the vicar’s daughter, is at the centre of this story – a girl on the cusp of womanhood, who is plagued by evil visions, but who also questions her family’s religious beliefs. And also at the heart of the story is the mystery of the missing girl, Mary, and Emily’s own connection with her.

This is huge dramatic potential here, but I felt this wasn’t fully capitalised on in your early chapters. Some of the character POV scenes, such as drunken Crease’s perspective, seemed to take the story a little off track. And the scenes between the vicar, his wife and the doctor felt a little directionless at times, with too much dialogue that seemed to circle around the same issue. I think these scenes could be condensed down quite a lot so this section of the narrative flows better, rather than slowing down.

In contrast, I thought Mary’s and Emily’s scenes were much more effective in terms of drama and intrigue, and really drew the reader into the narrative. Be careful that the religious ideals of your characters, as well as the wider meaning that you wish to convey, don’t weigh down on your scenes, slowing the down. Remember that less is often more in storytelling…


Echoing what I have said above in my notes on plot, while I felt that Emily and Mary were well-drawn characters, I did feel that the vicar, his wife and the doctor were much hazier in their portrayal, and seemed more like mouthpieces for what you wanted them to say, rather than characters in their own right. You need to work on getting under their skins and revealing what is unique and individual about them to be able to really bring them to life on the page. There is also very little physical description of your characters. There only needs to be small details, woven through the narrative, but they will help the reader visualise the characters that much easier.


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. While the opening scene was vividly rendered, I did find it quite hard to picture the setting of some of the subsequent scenes. What is the village like where the characters reside? What is the vicarage like? Again, like physical descriptions of your characters, only small details are needed, but they can really help bring your fictional world to life.


The first three scenes are told in past tense, whereas the fourth scene is told in present tense, I assume so that the unfolding drama feels more immediate to the reader as they are placed alongside the Crease daughters. And the fifth scene returns back to past tense. There were a few instances where you switch tenses from past to present within the same scene, which I’ll list below:

• ‘He used to fight anyone for the heck of it but he is no longer the cock he was’ (should be: ‘He used to fight anyone for the heck of it but he was no longer the cock he once was’).
• ‘From now on she will read the real Bible’ (should be: ‘From now on she would read the real Bible’)
• ‘She will no longer discuss…’ (should be: ‘She would no longer discuss…’)
• ‘the lord of the shire has exclusive right…’ (should be: ‘the lord of the shire had exclusive right…’).
• ‘One was promptly provided and she has been reading it…’ (should be: ‘she had been reading it…’).
• ‘Emily’s mother was not going to… Firstly, she will be dragged out into the light… which she will now be held… Emily’s mother was’ – switches in the same paragraph from past to present and back to past again.
• …has since proved invaluable…’ (should be: ‘had since proved invaluable’ to be consistent with past tense used in rest of the sentence).

Be careful to avoid unnecessary change of tenses when you come to rewrite this draft, as it’s important that your manuscript looks as polished and edited as possible.


A prequel (or sequel) to a classic is a very risky endeavour, and one that is not often pulled off successfully. One of the most famous, of course, is Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Jane Eyre, and even that, a brilliantly written book in its own right, still divides Bronte aficionados. In the last few years, there has been a trend for modern authors to turn literary classics on their heads, with a tongue-in-cheek tone, with such parody offerings as: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But the demand for these kind of books has since waned.

From reading these early pages and your detailed synopsis, this seems like quite an unusual and unexpected prequel to The Turn of the Screw. While The Turn of the Screw was a horror, you describe your book as a mystery novel. Also, while James’s book was a novella, it seems that, from reading your synopsis, there will be two parts to your story, with another book entitled Deeper Turning. Will this be a sequel to The Turn of the Screw? You need to think about who you are writing for with a novel like this, as this will very much influence the style of your storytelling.

Specific comments and line notes:

A small gripe, but you use the numeral ‘1’ rather than the Roman numeral ‘I’ for your scene subheadings, so you might want to correct this for accuracy.

‘Since it was only Sunday school, there was only her juvenile peers to pass judgement on her, and only the most benign…’ – repetition of ‘only’, used three times. Is this intentional?

You have a tendency to refer to characters in quite a formal and even abstract way – such as ‘the mother’, ‘the daughter’, ‘the wife’ – rather than by their character names, which does distance the reader from them somewhat.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a very promising start but attention needs to be paid to plotting and characterisation. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, 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
Natalie Braine
 13 Aug 2013, 22:01 #171392 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Ex-Hulme by JJ Zanko

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your crime novel. You vividly depict your setting of inner city Manchester, and your protagonist Eddie is equally vividly portrayed. I did find him quite a hard character to warm to in these opening pages. While the reader is left to question whether Eddie is responsible for the fate of the runaway girl as the novel unfolds, it’s still important that they feel engaged with him as a character if they are to remain invested in his story.

I did think the structure of your narrative needs some attention. Both chapter ends felt a little anti-climactic and flat – they don’t have that page-turning urgency to them that will compel the reader to want to read on. Each scene and chapter has to feel like it is pushing the story on, as well as pulling the reader further in to your fictional world. It might be a good idea to storyboard your writing, scene by scene and chapter by chapter so you can ensure there is enough pace and drama to fuel your narrative. Also, you describe this as a ‘historical’ novel, and I wondered why, given the story is set in 2005? Obviously there are references to Eddie’s past in 1980, but unless there are flashbacks to this period, I would steer clear of categorising your novel as historical, as this is quite misleading to potential readers.

Professional mini critique for Clementine’s Shadow by Peggy Rothschild

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your mystery thriller novel and was impressed by the confidence of your storytelling. The opening scene is intriguing and ambiguous, instantly hooking the reader and drawing them into your story. I thought the alternate character POVs (points of view) were well drawn and all equally engaging and entertaining. The scene with Casey pointing the gun at the teenage druggie was incredibly tense and well played out. Like Casey, you expose Winston’s flaws, but also his strengths, endearing him to the reader and making them invest in his story.

I thought the setting was aptly described and the searing temperatures and arid landscape imbued your narrative with atmosphere and heightened the sense of building tension. I did think that POVs from Brady and Jane could have appeared earlier on, even if they were just short ones, rather than so many POV scenes from Casey in these early chapters, as I think this would help build pace and drama, as well as break up Casey’s scenes more.

Professional mini critique for One Last Thing by David Llewellyn

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel, but did think they could benefit fro further work. There is obviously a certain level of suspension of disbelief needed when reading your novel, but it still needs to feel realistic if the reader is to be fully immersed in your narrative. I felt that the conversation between Dr Cartwright and Nancy, discussing the murder of her husband, felt much too direct and rushed. There needs to be more of a build up to this, and I think Dr Cartwright needs to be a little bit more ambiguous while he is sounding Nancy out to see whether this is what she wants. Perhaps it might be best to begin with a scene with Nancy and her husband at the clinic, to see them interacting, so the reader can understand why Nancy and Dr Cartwright come to their murderous decision. I’m all for dropping the reader into the middle of the action at the beginning of a story, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t alienate the reader. Remember that less is often more – you don’t need to be so overt and forthright in your dialogue. Sometimes subtlety can be just as powerful…

At times it felt like your storytelling was veering towards a tongue-in-cheek tone, which I wasn’t sure if this was intentional or not. Tone is a very important facet of your narrative, as it very much influences a reader’s engagement with a novel. If your tone feels off-pitch, you risk distancing the reader. And I think this is something you need to bear in mind when you come to rewriting. Just what kind of story are you trying to tell, what is the tone, and what emotions are you trying to elicit in your reader? If you are not sure of these elements, this uncertainty will become apparent in your storytelling.

Professional mini critique for Samir by Isabella Bee

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel. You vividly capture the world of Samir’s upbringing, immersing the reader there so that they too feel the loss of Samir having to leave behind everything he has ever known.

A small point, but I would avoid calling it a ‘crime thriller novel’, when this is in fact based on a true story. I think you need to be clearer about whether this is non-fiction, with names and places changed, or whether this is fiction, but loosely based on a true story, as this is something a reader will want to know. Also, not many true stories are published in two volumes, especially not by unknown writers. I would consider condensing both stories into one volume, as otherwise you may put off potential readers if they realise they have to buy two books to learn Samir’s full story.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine
 13 Aug 2013, 22:03 #171393 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique of Maggot in the Rice

See attached line edit notes.

I thought the Chinese parts worked generally very well, although there are a few errors in continuity or sense that need fixing. I was much less enamoured with the English parts – I thought Rachel often talked in a very stilted and unreal way, and it really threw me out of the book. Aunt Judith is perhaps too unpleasant to begin with if you’re going to make her into a sympathetic character – we need something to hang on to, or the reader will just write her off right away.

Other than that, the prose was largely good, with an occasional tendency to overwrite a metaphor and certainly a somewhat shotgun approach to commas.

Most of my comments are in the attached file. It’s certainly got something, and with a little polishing – and consideration of how people actually speak – is something you should be very proud of.

Marcus, Editor Orion

Maggot in the rice with notes.doc (66Kb) - 330 view(s)
 14 Aug 2013, 08:53 #171396 Reply To Post
Thanks to Natalie for her mini-critique. Some helpful pointers for the next big re-write!
"Tread softly - some people have bunions"
 14 Aug 2013, 09:48 #171398 Reply To Post
Many thanks to Lauren for the reviews to my two books. I'm so pleased she likes them. I will have another look at Jacob's character reactions when I come to do a rewrite.

 16 Aug 2013, 06:08 #171484 Reply To Post
Sincere thanks to Lauren , Editor, Random House, for encouraging words regarding my novel THE RUSTED GUN. I have already taken the advice and have filled out the characters in THE RUSTED GUN new start, and will continue to work on the entire ms.

Thanks also to all the YWO members whose encouragement, advice and votes brought me this far.

aka P M Wilson

 18 Aug 2013, 10:55 #171566 Reply To Post
Thankyou Natalie Braine for your critique of An Hysterical Girl - much appreciated and I hope you don't mind a brief response to your points. Structure: 100,000 words have been edited out; I only write when a story 'tells itself' uncontrived so no research at all and I just try to make it concise and evocative but stay true to themes and period, including brief debates on religion and sex that form underlying thread of narrative development. Vicar and wife develop - no main characters, including several yet to be introduced, stay quite the same through story. I almost always eshew most physical details of characters/settings and try to put just enough to inspire a reader to visualise/engage rather than tell them what to imagine. The tense changes you pointed out have a reason in assuming a character's internal thinking; - 'cock he was' - uneducated phrasing, 'will' not would - signifying future intention, not necessarily kept. Thrice repetition of 'only' means safe, safer, safest. I have researched James' story after finishing writing - analysis and adaptations including Britten opera - and believe my interpretation/extrapolation is viable. Book two includes most of James novella (I dare!) with ancillory parts in similar-ish style and is no silly parody. As for writing courses, I've seen enough rote examples of such teaching repeated in peer reviews to assiduously avoid writing courses; in any case I never write 'on purpose'. This is my tenth edited novel since 2001 and the first I've put up as it is the simplest in theme and structure. I am very grateful for peer reviews and especially for your effort and your qualified perspective.
 18 Aug 2013, 14:41 #171573 Reply To Post
Well said, CF ('bout time someone highlighted the oft repeated 'just go on a writing course' criticism) and apologies for not knowing about the James' refs when I pointed the tense switches in my review. Respect.
... an honest insult is so much better than an insincere flattery...
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