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YouWriteOn
 16 Apr 2016, 02:47 #195564 Reply To Post
Random House Critiques – by Senior Editor Alison

Hidden Lives/Jane Hales


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month – what a fascinating blend of female friendship and literary history! I'm sure many readers will be able to relate to that sense of wondering whether you have made the right decisions in life and the gaps that can spring up between women who had once been on very similar paths. I love the idea of Naomi and Tamsin both struggling to deal with lives that are far from the ones they pictured for themselves and envying one other their lives with no idea of what really lies beneath the surface.

Plotting/structure

My biggest concern at present is that the premise is a little far-fetched – the idea that Sita would allow two people without any experience in the media to film and interview people and spend vast quantities of money in the process requires a fairly hefty suspension of belief. I'd suggest really trying to make this as plausible as possible; perhaps you could consider having Sita call rather than just text, and explain why she couldn't rework the timings or send a bright young intern with experience in the media to assist? I also think it's crucial to give a little more sense of what Sita's proposal actually is – is the programme a kind of literary Top Trumps (Wickham vs Darcy) or is it a programme about key titles in the English Literature canon, etc – and why she has invited two old university friends along with her.

It's very important that people believe in the set-up because otherwise they won't believe in the story as a whole and we don't want to give readers any excuse to put the book down. I wondered whether it might make more sense if Sita actually emphasised the holiday/bonding aspects of it rather than the work as I couldn't quite believe the mother of 3 small children and a high powered businesswoman would find an entire week off at such short notice to help a friend on a work trip, whereas something that was supposed to be a holiday with some work elements might be more convincing? But either way, with this kind of commercial womens fiction, it's important that readers can relate to aspects of the story and be able to consider what they would do in similar circumstances and while I think Naomi's dilemma over her cheating husband and Tamsin having to deal with cancer is something people could imagine for themselves, the actual set-up of being sent to do a reccee for a tv producer seems a little too unlikely.

Writing

Your writing is generally clear, direct and strong with a really strong sense of place, whether that's Naomi's house with the twins posting their food through the gaps in the floorboards, or the purple moors in the golden sunshine.

For your next draft, I'd like to encourage you to think about ways you can let readers pick up key pieces of information without having to tell us – is there a way, for example, that we can put the pieces together and work out for ourselves that Lawrence is Sita's husband and that he is wealthy enough to support her career without Naomi having to tell us? Dialogue can be an excellent way of giving readers snippets of information through which they can build up a picture of characters' lives, although do always keep in mind the importance of making sure the dialogue sounds as natural as possible and isn't just an obvious vehicle for telling readers information. I'd really encourage you to experiment with ways of letting information seep out in fragments; often writers feel they need to set up the background for readers as soon as the story begins, but readers will be more engaged by a story that emerges gradually. Think about what information readers actually need to have to understand the story at that point and cut back on anything else. To go back to the example above, for example, do we need to know on page 2 that Sita's husband subsidises her or is that something that could potentially come out later on when Naomi remembers Rob being given the deputy head job say, or via a conversation with Tamsin?

Characters:

Even in these few chapters, Naomi and Tamsin felt very vividly realised to me. You are very good at those little moments that encapsulate a whole life – Naomi half undressed on her wedding day, having to have the microphone wrestled away by her brother, Tamsin secretly relishing a day without phone or email, even if it's a day spent at a NHS clinic – and I think that's a real strength in your writing.

In your next draft, I'd suggest really focusing on the women's style of narration. If the book is to be split equally between the two women, you need to ensure that the two narratives reflect their different characters. Ideally, a reader should be able to pick up your book at any point in the story and work out, just from the style of narration, from whose perspective this section is being told. They obviously have very different temperaments and the art of good writing is teasing out how these differences will have a very subtle effect on the way they narrate their stories.

Conclusion

This is a very solid start to your book, with some strong characters and good, clean writing. I'd really like you to work out ways of making that premise as plausible as possible as that was what I kept snagging on when I started reading which then took me out of the story you were telling, and I think resolving that should be a big part of your next draft.

I also just wanted to briefly flag up the title as I think it's a little generic and rather bland, which is not a fair reflection of your actual writing! The reader gets the sense very quickly that this is the theme you're exploring in your writing and personally I'd think a more intriguing title would stand you in far better stead for intriguing a reader or agent. It might be worth having a browse in a bookshop of titles you think will appeal to a similar readership and looking at the range of titles those authors have employed, to give you some inspiration.

Good luck!

Alison
YouWriteOn
 16 Apr 2016, 02:48 #195565 Reply To Post
Random House Mini Critiques

Chrysalis Corporation by Stuart Martin

Wow, there was an awful lot going on in these first chapters!

We had multiple characters, locations and many different threads introduced. It's quite a lot for a reader to get their head around so do try not to rush things and overload the opening of your book with so much that a reader can't make sense of it. You really want to give them a moment to orientate themselves and at least get a sense of the characters before we move on. I’d recommend slowing the pace down and letting some scenes breathe before you move onto the next scene.

When writing this type of action packed, pacy commercial writing it's important to try and keep your writing simple and unfussy – I'm not sure 'perused the menus' adds anything and it sounds quite fussy. Would your characters really use that word if they were talking to someone else? The same is true when it comes to descriptions like 'arcing it into his mouth' or the car 'meandering' along the country lanes.

And on a similar note, 'wished for it all to stop' doesn't sound like the way a five-year-old boy would think to me. When telling a story from the perspective of a young child it's so crucial that the reader believes they are reading the words and thoughts of a child and not an adult writer. Obviously there will need to be a certain degree of finessing but I really want you to think about how we make this terrible section feel like it's really happening to a young child who won't necessarily understand what is happening to him. I do have to sound a brief note of caution here and say that this scene may put off some readers and agents; it's very very important that it's not felt to be gratuitous and there only to shock and/or attract attention. Do you think you need this in the first few pages, when readers are still trying to work out what kind of book this is and whether they want to read on, or can you hint at it and allow readers to fill in the gaps themselves?

On a minor pedantic note, 'Mrs Edwards had a habit' – Stuart/Joey wouldn't know it was a habit yet, as he'd only just arrived!

I hope these comments are helpful as part of your next draft.


Tea and Baklava – Zoe Antoniades

This is a very charming glimpse into family life, and I did feel for you having to share your birthday with two other people – and especially when their birthdays weren't even that close! I think many readers will be able to empathise with that sense of fear and confusion over their parents' relationship, too.

I am not sure whether you ultimately hope to publish your memoir or whether you're just enjoying the process of writing it. If it is the former, I'd encourage you to think about what makes your childhood special and different to so many other people; why would someone love to hear your story, do you think? What makes this a story appealing to other people? I think your Greek family background is fascinating and I would have loved to have had a sense of the clash of the Greek and the British at home, and especially anything to do with food or with music or anything that really would have give your childhood a very distinct feeling unfamiliar to many readers.

Something I’d like you to bear in mind when writing is that don't feel you have to tell us every single line that was uttered in a conversation, sometimes it could be quicker or more interesting if you summarised parts of it or condensed it for readers so we could get a sense of what was important about this conversation rather than reading every line.

Congratulations for being one of the top rated stories, and good luck with your writing!

The Shattered Mirror/Nick Poole

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories! I very much enjoyed the opening of your novel; there's a wonderful sense of atmosphere and menace in your opening pages and I was so pleased to see you using all of the senses to conjure up the feel of Victorian London as the smell of a city is so often neglected by writers, but can be one of the most effective ways of creating a sense of place. I loved him contrasting the types of rain he'd experienced – this being thin and steady unlike the American rain or the Asian torrents – which not only gave us a sense of the season and place but also allowed readers to speculate as to where he might have travelled before this point, and why: it’s more than just a piece of description.

I also really liked how you used other characters to help create a vivid picture of our central character, the old woman telling him 'You're going to need a lot of money. We ain't got no blind girls here' was far more effective than having him describe himself and gives readers a wonderful opportunity to start imagining him for themselves, instantly involving them in the story you are telling. Mr Bliss is a wonderfully creepy character, and I liked Phoebe’s energy and defiance.

What I’d like you to think about as part of your writing process is what makes your book special – the historical crime fiction market is a fairly crowded one, especially with regards to books set in Victorian London, so I want you to think about what would make an agent – or a reader – sit up and take notice when this arrives on their desk. Is it the writing, the plotting, the characters? Try and read as widely as you can in this area so you’re confident your book will stand out and why; this will be really helpful for if/when you come to approach agents. Good luck!


Alison, Senior Editor, Random House
YouWriteOn
 16 Apr 2016, 02:48 #195566 Reply To Post
We will add further critiques when received.

Best wishes
YWO
YouWriteOn
 16 Apr 2016, 02:49 #195567 Reply To Post
We will add further critiques when received.

Best wishes
YWO
JaneDH
 26 Apr 2016, 17:54 #195758 Reply To Post
Dear Alison
Thank you very much indeed for this. Your comments are extremely useful and I'll be sure to take them on board in the next draft. Thank you for taking the time to read it so carefully.
All best,
Jane



Quote: YouWriteOn, Saturday, 16 Apr 2016 02:47
Random House Critiques – by Senior Editor Alison

Hidden Lives/Jane Hales


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month – what a fascinating blend of female friendship and literary history! I'm sure many readers will be able to relate to that sense of wondering whether you have made the right decisions in life and the gaps that can spring up between women who had once been on very similar paths. I love the idea of Naomi and Tamsin both struggling to deal with lives that are far from the ones they pictured for themselves and envying one other their lives with no idea of what really lies beneath the surface.

Plotting/structure

My biggest concern at present is that the premise is a little far-fetched – the idea that Sita would allow two people without any experience in the media to film and interview people and spend vast quantities of money in the process requires a fairly hefty suspension of belief. I'd suggest really trying to make this as plausible as possible; perhaps you could consider having Sita call rather than just text, and explain why she couldn't rework the timings or send a bright young intern with experience in the media to assist? I also think it's crucial to give a little more sense of what Sita's proposal actually is – is the programme a kind of literary Top Trumps (Wickham vs Darcy) or is it a programme about key titles in the English Literature canon, etc – and why she has invited two old university friends along with her.

It's very important that people believe in the set-up because otherwise they won't believe in the story as a whole and we don't want to give readers any excuse to put the book down. I wondered whether it might make more sense if Sita actually emphasised the holiday/bonding aspects of it rather than the work as I couldn't quite believe the mother of 3 small children and a high powered businesswoman would find an entire week off at such short notice to help a friend on a work trip, whereas something that was supposed to be a holiday with some work elements might be more convincing? But either way, with this kind of commercial womens fiction, it's important that readers can relate to aspects of the story and be able to consider what they would do in similar circumstances and while I think Naomi's dilemma over her cheating husband and Tamsin having to deal with cancer is something people could imagine for themselves, the actual set-up of being sent to do a reccee for a tv producer seems a little too unlikely.

Writing

Your writing is generally clear, direct and strong with a really strong sense of place, whether that's Naomi's house with the twins posting their food through the gaps in the floorboards, or the purple moors in the golden sunshine.

For your next draft, I'd like to encourage you to think about ways you can let readers pick up key pieces of information without having to tell us – is there a way, for example, that we can put the pieces together and work out for ourselves that Lawrence is Sita's husband and that he is wealthy enough to support her career without Naomi having to tell us? Dialogue can be an excellent way of giving readers snippets of information through which they can build up a picture of characters' lives, although do always keep in mind the importance of making sure the dialogue sounds as natural as possible and isn't just an obvious vehicle for telling readers information. I'd really encourage you to experiment with ways of letting information seep out in fragments; often writers feel they need to set up the background for readers as soon as the story begins, but readers will be more engaged by a story that emerges gradually. Think about what information readers actually need to have to understand the story at that point and cut back on anything else. To go back to the example above, for example, do we need to know on page 2 that Sita's husband subsidises her or is that something that could potentially come out later on when Naomi remembers Rob being given the deputy head job say, or via a conversation with Tamsin?

Characters:

Even in these few chapters, Naomi and Tamsin felt very vividly realised to me. You are very good at those little moments that encapsulate a whole life – Naomi half undressed on her wedding day, having to have the microphone wrestled away by her brother, Tamsin secretly relishing a day without phone or email, even if it's a day spent at a NHS clinic – and I think that's a real strength in your writing.

In your next draft, I'd suggest really focusing on the women's style of narration. If the book is to be split equally between the two women, you need to ensure that the two narratives reflect their different characters. Ideally, a reader should be able to pick up your book at any point in the story and work out, just from the style of narration, from whose perspective this section is being told. They obviously have very different temperaments and the art of good writing is teasing out how these differences will have a very subtle effect on the way they narrate their stories.

Conclusion

This is a very solid start to your book, with some strong characters and good, clean writing. I'd really like you to work out ways of making that premise as plausible as possible as that was what I kept snagging on when I started reading which then took me out of the story you were telling, and I think resolving that should be a big part of your next draft.

I also just wanted to briefly flag up the title as I think it's a little generic and rather bland, which is not a fair reflection of your actual writing! The reader gets the sense very quickly that this is the theme you're exploring in your writing and personally I'd think a more intriguing title would stand you in far better stead for intriguing a reader or agent. It might be worth having a browse in a bookshop of titles you think will appeal to a similar readership and looking at the range of titles those authors have employed, to give you some inspiration.

Good luck!

Alison


ProfessionalCritique
 14 May 2016, 00:15 #195982 Reply To Post
Please see the attached for further Random House Editor Critiques. Thank you to everyone for their stories.

youwriteon


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