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Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House
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 24 Jun 2017, 16:44 #227393 Reply To Post
Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House are on the PDF attachment to this post. These critiques are for the competition period ending July 1st 2016.

Many thanks to everyone for participating with their stories and feedback.

YouWriteOn remains voluntarily funded by us, including our funding of editor critiques.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 24 Jun 2017, 17:04

Penguin Random House Reviews 2016.pdf (507Kb) - 134 view(s)
 13 Aug 2017, 04:37 #231554 Reply To Post
Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House and Bloomsbury Editors are below. These critiques are for Competition Period 2 2016.

YouWriteOn remains voluntarily funded by youwriteon, including our funding of editor critiques.

Many thanks to everyone for participating with their great stories and feedback.

Penguin Random House Editor Reviews

Dear Julian,
Congratulations on being chosen for review. I can completely see why; yours is an immediately engaging, vibrant world, and you’ve created an interesting cast. I do have some thoughts on how the book might resonate even more strongly with your young audience, and also some questions that came up as I was reading – I hope they are useful to you as you revisit your manuscript.

I love how you first introduce her to your readers as curious, boundary-pushing and 3D – everything a heroine in middle grade fiction like this should be. In the very opening scene, especially, I love the way she questions her father’s norm and it feels like it works really naturally with her growing older and her slightly cheeky, quirky personality. I wonder if we can see this multi-layered character more consistently as we continue through the novel? I love the sound of her using the pea-shooter with her father asleep at the opera, for example – maybe we could even see this scene? I felt that we rather lose Tabitha’s vibrancy as we go through the rest of this sample material. She doesn’t seem quite as bold or sure in herself somehow.
I’d love to suggest that you spend a little more time developing Tabitha with this in mind. I would also love to know what sparked these changes in Tabitha’s acceptance of the world around her, and how they’ve developed and maybe grown stronger. I wonder whether it might work to make her curiosity around the treatment of fairies and angels etc even more immediate. ‘Something about keeping it in a lamp didn’t seem right, and she almost regretted using her powers to help Papa catch it’, for example, seems quite calm and collected – maybe too adult? Could you really let us in to what she’s thinking and feeling? And later, ‘Papa, these fairies won’t get hurt, will they?’ suddenly seems quite naïve and like she’s stalled a little in her thinking. As she really wrestles with these new thoughts and the fairness of the world around her, do we need to see her coming up against the views of Cospers and her father earlier and maybe more aggressively than we do at the moment?
Tabitha’s tone and voice is very strong in places too – I love her interactions with Blackthorn right from the start, for example. Even though you have chosen to tell this story in third person, when we are from Tabitha’s perspective I think there are places where we lose the feeling of authenticity in her voice a little. The opening to chapter three, for example: ‘Tabitha had a grand, well-lit bedroom’ made me wonder if this would be how Tabitha would describe the room herself, in her own words?

The magic of the world
I love the way you introduce this – fully embedding it as a day-to-day part of the world. What is never fully explained, though, or maybe teased more from the outset, is why and how Tabitha has the magical abilities that she does. How unique do these abilities make her? As in, how many other people can do what she can? And what exactly is it she does? Could we see her more in action?
These questions led me on to others around how this elite world – one where magic is a key part – fits in with the rest of the world. Is magic only for a certain sector of society? Does Tabitha have to hide her magic from anyone? We hear of common people, for example, but we don’t really see them. Is this something we should explore further to make Tabitha even more special as our hero? I wonder if we do need this magical divide in society as we’re already exploring the divide between humans and magical creatures?
I have to confess to feeling a little confused when the house becomes a boat, and I actually only picked up any dragon involvement from reading your synopsis. I love the idea of this amazing vessel and the magic of it – I think you could afford to make this really clear and visual to add even more drama.

Lord Hubert
Is a great creation; fun and vivid. I wonder if we need to spend quite as much time with him as we do, however. Especially in chapter two as we were just beginning to get to know Tabitha and the events are so key to her evolving questioning, I did wonder if it jarred a little to be suddenly from Lord Hubert’s perspective? Do we definitely need to do this?
His relationship with his daughter feels quite open and loving in chapter one (and then later when they unite against Great Aunt Gwendoline – she’s brilliant!) but when we go back to them together in chapter two their dialogue feels more stilted somehow. I wonder if we need to explore their affection for each other a little more –this might make her pulling away from his opinions even more impactful and emotive.
He seems quite casual, for example, about how his daughter got her skills and how that links her to her late mother – would this not be a bigger deal? Is there any more to be made of him maybe secretly struggling over actually having to use Tabitha’s skills in the way he does, for his own benefit?
I love the humour you’ve written around this character through his stupidity and very naive approach to life. At the moment, though, a lot of it comes as he interacts with Cospers. Could we shift some of this over so Tabitha has a slightly more weary approach to her father that might be funny? Your book has the scope to be a real family read and so the humour around him will really resonate with adult readers, I feel. Maybe there’s scope to up the slapstick around him so that he is always as funny to the youngest of your readers? Clumsiness would fit in with his rather oafish personality, for example?

I have been thinking a lot about this character and wondering if we give him maybe too much page time in these early scenes? From reading your synopsis (which sounds excellent!) I couldn’t actually tell how pivotal he goes on to be, and so I’m going to make a bold suggestion: do you definitely need him? It would make sense, of course, in such an elite setting for the family to have servants, but I can’t help but think that having a man servant so influential in Lord Hubert’s life takes something away from Tabitha and her role, and her relationship with her father.
He’s key in these early scenes in providing the opposite opinion to Tabitha, or rather the opinion of elite society and yet he seems not quite as 3D as father and daughter. I wonder if some of this is that we don’t hugely see him interacting with our heroine. This might be something to look at? She’d pretty quickly spot that his opinions are very heavily influencing her father’s and seek to change them, wouldn’t she? Or certainly challenge them?

I love his entrance into Tabitha’s life. I think it would work well to maybe slow down even more their first proper exchange, in Tabitha’s bedroom. There’s scope for maybe some more humour in their formative relationship and more chance for you to show us more about each of them, possibly? When Tabitha uses Cosper’s phrase ‘lesser creatures’, for example, O felt there would be more sparks between the two of

I think that’s everything from me on these sample pages. I’m really pleased to have had the chance to read them and I hope these few notes will be useful to you. The very best of luck with this hugely imaginative and accomplish piece of work.

All my best,

Penguin Random House

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 13 Aug 2017, 04:37
 13 Aug 2017, 04:41 #231555 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Reviews

I read with interest your note outlining that some background info is kept away to avoid repetition. This is the challenge faced by every series fiction writer – how to get the necessary info across for potential new readers entering at any stage of the series. For the most part I think you handles this well, without any need for your introductory note, but I do have to confess to finding myself wanting a little more context around why Lucy and her siblings were in Africa, for example, just a little more scene setting wouldn’t be repetitive for your readers, I don’t think.
I really like how you build the tension from the off in this sample, in a realistic but gripping way and you do maintain this throughout. I was only really jarred out of this by how quickly Lucy seems to jump to the conclusion that she is connected to the witchcraft. I felt that she might need to be present or involved directly with one or two more events before we fully can go with her, believing in her worries completely.
I think my main suggestion around these sample pages would be to maybe dig a little deeper into the child characters themselves and their relationships with each other so that they very authentically leap off the page for us. Occasionally their voices seem a little too clipped and sophisticated for the children they are. I did really want to know more about them – especially Lucy, obviously. During the key set pieces, such as the rock slides I felt we could be rooted through Lucy’s perspective maybe even more strongly so that we’re absorbing her panic and thoughts alongside the action as it happens. She can really lead your reader through the stories and stop any hint at all of things feeling episodic. You’ve got such a great premise and set-up here so if we really believe in and empathise with these young characters, you can take us anywhere!
Alison, Editor, Bloomsbury

THE SCRIBE’S BOY by Kay Leitch
Your novel opens very immediately and intriguingly and I love the atmosphere. What I would say about the opening chapter, however, is that I very much thought this was a story being told from the perspective of an adult male. With this in mind, I wonder whether you might want to take a look at the immediacy of Alfred’s voice, right from the off. At the moment, he doesn’t quite sound like the young boy he is, phrases like ‘Only a madman would stay out in this weather’, for example sound quite worldly for him. Some of this comes, I know, from the fact that the character you’ve created is speaking in line with the period he lives in, but I think maybe there’s more of a balance to be found in his childish outlook, and in the fear and panic he must be feeling. I read with interest in your synopsis that you had planned to have Alfred with his friend, Seth, and yet we don’t mean him in these very first pages. Having a partner-in-crime for him might really bring his voice alive as we see him interacting with somebody his own age.
The pacing you have in these opening chapters is good and so I don’t want to encourage you to slow things down, but I did feel that you could afford to give us a little more info about Alfred and his background to avoid any confusion around what he’s doing and why. I felt I wanted more of a sense of why he felt running away was his only option so that we’re really rooting for him. I wonder if expanding the very short flashback to Master Bernard as a sort of prologue or maybe adding in more flashbacks might help with this? In general I did feel I wanted to know him better, to be let in a little more to his thoughts and feelings. There are points where he seems like an observer as the Scribe goes about his business. Can we have him more of a contributor? Wouldn’t he have more trust issues? In which case he would ask Scribe many more questions about why he’s helping him, maybe? We would learn more about Scribe that way too.
Historical fiction tends to be popular with teachers and librarians. The period of history you’re writing about is not commonly studied in schools and so it might be worth thinking about how you could make even more of the elements of your novel that would really resonate with educators.
Alison, Editor, Bloomsbury

IMELDA ABLAZE by Kathryn Scherer
There are some lovely ideas, images and turns of phrase in here and I really enjoyed reading it. The tone is great.
I love the quirky touches such as the chapter title notes, and we also get this quirky feel in Imelda’s spirit, which comes well through the narrative and in the action. I think I would suggest that you take a look at the dialogue in these opening pages particularly to make sure it’s as sparky and authentic as these brilliant characters you’ve created. Just occasionally, it seems a little stilted.
I really like the relationships we see between Imelda and her father, and the other members of her family. There’s scope for you to maybe let us in some more and develop these so that they’re fully 3D, and consistent. We’re told, for instance, that her father understand her curious nature better than her mother and yet when he shuts her down after they first meet Marin she just dismisses his response as an overreaction. It feels like they would normally understand each other better than this?
You’ve clearly done an excellent job of fully developing the world and its magic, and I’m fascinated by it, but I do think you could do more to tease in their particular skills and quirks from the very start of the book. How does the magic affect the family’s day-to-day lives, and how does this fit in with the world around them? Could we see some more of this before Imelda’s accident, maybe? I also wondered whether it would be worth feeding in what it means to be an Onglet from the start of the book too, so that we can see it playing out in action rather than being told about it in Dad’s speech to Imelda at the end of this chapter.
This feels like a very commercial piece of middle grade fiction and I wish you the best of luck with it.

Sam’s voice is a strong one and this comes through from the off. I fascinated by her and by the role she will go on to have in Jack’s life and adventures. However, as I read through these sample pages I felt that we lose her a little. Is there scope to show hers and Jack’s relationship developing some more? It must be initially strange for Jack to have somebody so connected and so involved in his life, having presumably been lonely for a long time. We do see the one exchange where Sam switches to privacy mode but I would love to see some more of how their new relationship is playing out.
I was also very interested in how this world, and the situation Jack finds himself in now, fits in with the rest of the world and his life before? This technology all seems so strange to Jack but isn’t this something completely embedded in the near future world you’ve created?
Jack’s own voice could maybe feel even more authentically teenage at some points, I felt. I did wonder if we could see him interacting more with his new friends and with Sam. This might help us get to know your supporting cast even better, which would be interesting, and also let Jack’s voice shine. Although we are let into his head a lot and feel through that his nerviness, we don’t quite see this in the way he interacts with others, where he seems quite at ease – I’m thinking about the confident way he talks to Rosie, for example.
Do we need to see Dad so we can actually see how awful he is rather than being told about it? I’m interested in what Jack’s life was like before starting at school. Does he have friends on the outside of what’s going on in his school life?
Your synopsis is interesting and very ambitious (as is the linked game) –weaving together two very interesting genres. I also do like your suggested revised title of Jack and a Girl Called Seven, although it maybe gives fewer clues about the sort of novel this is and maybe makes it seem a little younger?

 13 Aug 2017, 04:43 #231556 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Reviews

There’s some really accomplished writing in here and the clear atmosphere and the setting really hits you with their immediacy from the off. It’s difficult for me to comment fully and in the most useful way when jumping into the action in the middle but I hope that my few comments below are useful to you.
The pace feels good, but because I don’t feel like I know Tommy, I wondered if it felt a little bit frenetically episodic occasionally? Tommy needs to really lead us through the novel so that we feel like we understand his motivation – especially important as events turn even darker in tone. I’d love to know more about what he’s thinking and feeling as he gets caught up in these events. Further to this, I would love to suggest that you make sure Tommy and Davey are really distinct from each other, 3D and as vibrant as each other so that when we build to the climax of the novel, it’s as hard-hitting and impactful as you want it to be.
I wanted to ask a question about the setting and your rationale for setting the novel in the 1970s. You mention the hottest summer on record, but I couldn’t tell from your synopsis or this sample how key the time period is to the plotting and heart of the book. Certainly, the themes around gang warfare, coming of age and violence are sadly all too current. It’s just maybe worth bearing in mind that the setting does need to feel totally integrated, fully part of the immersive story we’re reading and not at all jarring.
I also had a question about how you would pitch your book, and who for. In writing your covering pitch letter, for example, it would be really worth outlining what else the readers of your novel are picking off the shelves. Having these readers in mind as you revisit the book might help you add in some extra touches and details that will really resonate with them.

There is a lot of great detail, writing and themes in here, although picking up in the middle of the book like this does make commenting on it a little tricky. I hope the thoughts and notes I have outlined below do prove useful, however.
It’s clear you have your world well thought-out, and so for me, the heart of the book is around the relationships of the children and them as individuals. It’s important that we know and trust them, also really feeling their energy and excitement, and panic when it comes. At the moment, I am finding their voices a little adult in tone and rather formal, and I also don’t feel like I know them very well. I think there’s space and scope for you to slow certain key scenes down and really let us into the heads of the children. We do get this from Rose immediately as chapter seven opens, but then I didn’t feel it quite so strongly as we went through. Occasionally I did also wonder if the children sounded a little too similar to each other. Some of this will go, I think as we get to know them better, but perhaps it’s something you could take a look at as you go through the novel so they all distinctly jump off the page.
I am fascinated by Ben, and he’s a great creation. Obviously there are some very key scenes involving him before this sample that I have been reading, but I felt that here I wanted to feel in him the weight of his secret identity even more. This is a huge thing that he’s coming to terms with, with a great deal of drama about it. Is there even more to be done with this?
I like the sound and the flow of your synopsis, and in general there’s a great atmosphere to this. In your key dramatic moments, don’t be afraid to slow down a little and get as much drama and excitement from your action, mystery and set pieces as you can!

This has a really impactful opening with a lovely atmosphere that you do maintain throughout – and there’s some very accomplished writing in here.
I think my main note is very much around Imlon and getting to know and understand him better from the outset (this will also go on to apply to Isendrin too, of course). These brothers – Imlon in the immediate opening of the book – are completely key in helping your readers navigate the complex political and religious factions of the book and thus it’s very important we understand the point of view they both start from. What is it that Imlon has been put under house arrest for? And what is it that he so strongly believes in? This could be clearer, I think. He’s referred to the Astronomer from very early on, and this role is obviously linked to his beliefs, and the danger he is now in. Would it help for the reader to see him in action in his field of expertise? Is there scope for some sort of prologue, for example, where we see him navigating the stars?
It’s important – and will go on to be even more important as your trilogy develops – that both brothers feel unique and are as clear and understandable as each other so that when we move between them, it doesn’t feel too jarring for your readers. At the moment, their speaking voices sound a little too similar, perhaps, and I think this could be potentially quite confusing for your readers. They’re obviously very clear characters in your head and from reading the synopsis, you’ve carefully thought out their respective arcs so it might be worth revisiting their voices in these pages to make sure they do really represent the two brothers.
With this in mind, we do get a lot of key information in these opening scenes through dialogue, and sometimes it can be difficult to fully absorb and digest it all when we’re not actually seeing the impact of what they’re discussing in action. This is something to be careful of as you go through the novel. It’s important that we do get the right balance between showing and telling.
The very best of luck with this ambitious and imaginative piece of work.
Penguin Random House

The House Book

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn! (And I was secretly delighted to see when I started reading that your story opens on my birthday, albeit many years before I was born so I was even more excited to begin...)


A dramatic prologue is a great way of opening a story, and I loved the hints of witchcraft and then the abrupt switch to more modern times, leaving readers wondering whether we would see our ‘witch’ again and what might have happened at Oakwood Grange over the years. Plus that intriguing last line of course, as we wonder exactly what the connection with Janie might be…!


I have a real weakness for stories set in big old houses, so the setting of Oakwood Grange is a big plus point for me and as part of your next draft, I’d encourage you to look at ways in which you can really build up a sense of the house. A physical description of the rooms gives the reader a certain sense of a place but what is perhaps a little lacking at the moment is that all important sense of atmosphere. This comes not just from a physical description but through engaging all the senses - the sounds and smell of a place are crucial in making it really come alive for a reader, so I’d like you to think about how to weave those elements into your story. Remember that one really striking detail is worth paragraphs of fairly bland description so really take the time to think of that one killer line that will bring Oakwood Grange alive on the page.

Quality of writing

Your writing is generally of a good quality, but the one thing I wanted to pull out was that it could sometimes feel that what was happening was doing so at quite at a remove and you didn’t always get us under the skin of your characters.

If we look at your opening pages, which are very dramatic in content, there is a sense of everything being done to the young woman but little sense of how she feels or responds to what is happening to her, which means the reader is held at a distance rather than being swept right up into the story. I wanted to see more emotion in those opening paragraphs, I wanted to actually feel her fear and panic rather than watching what was happening from a distance.

Whose perspective are you telling this part of the story from? If it is from her perspective, then the lines where you describe her master ‘ignoring the sobbing woman on the ground’ strike an unnatural note as she is that woman. Be careful also, that if you are withholding information from the reader it doesn’t feel too contrived; I found it a little frustrating that she obviously recognises her rescuer, but deliberately doesn’t tell the reader that. Try to think of a way in which you don’t draw attention to the fact they know one another or that it feels like she’s been interrupted before she can tell the readers who it is.

One small point: I would always advise against using brackets in creative writing and I can’t see that ‘(he grinned ruefully)’ needs to be in brackets, so I’d recommend tweaking that in your next draft.

 13 Aug 2017, 04:43 #231557 Reply To Post

Do really try to let a character’s backstory seep out gradually over the course of the story; the conversation between Ludo and Rob is too heavy handed in how much information is just dumped on the reader in one short exchange, as is the flashback to the conversation between Rob and Janie.
It makes for a far more engaging read if we gradually pick up information about characters over the course of the story and join the dots ourselves in some cases - don’t worry about telling a reader everything as soon as you introduce a character, no-one expects, or wants, a character to present their cv along with their first lines of dialogue so please don’t feel we have to know everything about them as soon as we meet them. We have a whole book in which to get to know your lead characters.

I’d also like you to think about how to focus on showing rather than telling us how a character is thinking or feeling. Again, it’s a far more interesting, engaging read if we as readers can work out for ourselves why Janie has got up and walked away from Rob, rather than you telling us ‘she was so cross she had to get up to put some distance between them.’ Don’t feel you need to spell everything out - play with seeing how little you actually need to show us for a reader to nevertheless be able to picture a scene perfectly. Let us see the little moments that show us how Rob and Janie’s relationship works - are they generally very tactile, or is one always in control, for example? - and draw this out on the page as it’s these little moments that really bring characters to life on the page.


As I’ve mentioned, your dialogue can tend towards the exposition heavy and this is an area I’d really encourage you to focus on as you continue to develop your writing.

Dialogue can be a fantastic way of conveying elements of a character’s backstory or advancing the plot, but it’s crucial that it feels natural in order for the book to work and for readers to believe in the characters you’ve created. It would be really worth you spending some time on this and looking at how much you actually need to tell a reader and how much they can fill in the gaps themselves; I’d suggest a bit of creative eavesdropping in bars/cafes to really focus on how people who have known each other for years speak to each other! I bet you’ll be surprised by how much you, as a stranger, can glean from their conversations without them having to spell it all out in the way it often happens here.

Dialogue can be one of the most difficult areas of writing and many established writers struggle with it in their first drafts, so please don’t feel disheartened that it’s not quite working at present. I would really recommend listening to as many people as possible (always carry a notebook when you’re out and about) and look at how other writers use their dialogue, and having the confidence in your writing to not feel you have to tell your readers everything straight away.

Good luck!
 13 Aug 2017, 04:44 #231558 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Critique

The Game of Kings - Michael Conway

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories! I was immediately gripped by your opening paragraph, and could certainly see why people had responded so positively to the opening pages of your story.


The historical setting of your book will, no doubt, appeal to many readers of historical fiction and this is a period ripe in colour and incident that will lend itself to a dramatic, exciting read. There is always a tricky balancing act in historical fiction, in ensuring that while you have evoked a strong sense of the period, the writing itself feels fresh and original and engaging, and I think you carry that off very well here.

Towards the end of the section, there is perhaps a little more exposition than I think we need, which does risk slowing down the pace of the narrative and I would suggest you look at ways in which you might be able to cut a little of this back so the reader isn’t too overwhelmed with the historical and religious elements and that the plot can continue to unfold smoothly. Remember that some readers may not be familiar with this period at all, and too much detail can be more off putting than too little, so experiment with ways of alluding to certain events or characters that you can then pick up again at a later point when the main thrust of your story is underway.

I thought you generally did a very good job of evoking a wonderful sense of period, from the descriptions of their clothes and buildings to the fascination with this new game of chess, and it felt very ‘real’ and vivid as I was reading.


The treatment of the thief makes for a dramatic opening to your story; I winced at his hand being chopped off, so barbaric! And very well described by you.

The issue of the murder of fitzRobert’s son is a delicate one and I think this might benefit from a little closer attention; as readers we are led to believe that fitzRobert and his son are worthy of our contempt but it is a challenge to begin your story with a murder and have so few characters seem to be concerned by the act. Even if fitzRobert were distinctly unlikeable, I am not sure it is entirely convincing that a bishop would be so seemingly unconcerned by a murder. The slaughter of another man would have been an affront against God at that point and I have to confess that I had some sympathy with fitzRobert, who sees the man who killed his son head to the Holy Land with no punishment and no one unduly concerned at his loss. I do understand that because of the Pope’s pronouncement, legally Will has escaped censure, but would no character express any sorrow or indignation or regret that a man had been murdered and someone had lost their beloved son? We don’t see the murdered man’s bad behaviour for ourselves, so we have to trust that he did deserve to die, and that is quite a gamble to make when you’re just introducing readers to your world.

Out of curiosity, is there a reason why the crowd mutter angrily after the thief’s hand is sliced off? I had the impression that was the way justice was meted out here, so would have assumed they were used to seeing this punishment performed? One thing I always caution writers of historical fiction to be aware of is to not give characters attitudes that are appropriate to our period rather than their own, as it can feel quite jarring so if your characters are angry because they don’t agree with this punishment, I’d encourage you to think about whether that is how they would have felt at that time, with their background and education.

Quality of writing

I loved lines such as ‘His hands were thrust deeply into the pits of his arms, not to keep them warm, merely to keep them.’ It’s such a vivid picture, and so intriguing and menacing! It instantly engages the reader and encourages them to start speculating as to just what world this is, and what fate has befallen this man.

Your writing is very striking indeed, and I would just say to keep an eye out not to let it become too complicated and risk obscuring some of the emotion in your story; for example, when the prisoner is thrown into the mere on the first page, I wanted to feel the shock and horror of the act and be thinking about whether he was going to die in front of the watchers, rather than be distracted by, admittedly lovely, poetic lines about ‘great grey arcs of filthy water flying up to hide the wretch at the centre of the maelstrom.’ Not everything has to be described in such great detail; keep that for the really key points in your writing so those then stand out even more.


Your characterisation is generally very good indeed; lines such as ‘a grey old man, though perhaps neither so grey nor so old as this ordeal had made him’ and ‘a hearty, full-fleshed woman with an air of permanent amazement at her position’ really evoke a strong sense of character but also of the place and time, which is rare to see. There was a real sense of what motivated many of the characters, which I enjoyed, and I had developed a real soft spot for Sir John de Vere by the end of your story; I loved him deciding to go on the Crusade, and take his hectoring, whining priest with him!

Congratulations with what you have written so far, and I hope these notes are helpful as you continue to develop your story further.

Good luck!

The Artist: Tales of a very blue parrot by Davidian Black

This was a very lively and charming story, and I’m sure many readers will have enjoyed seeing Crystal building a new life for herself, and getting a spot of revenge on the troublesome Huw!

One piece of advice I would like to share, is that you shouldn’t feel you need to tell your readers everything about a character and their backstory as soon as we meet them; it makes for a much more engaging read if we gradually start to put the pieces together ourselves and construct our own picture of a character. In just your first line, we learn that Crystal has red hair and has moved from Manchester to Wales to a new house where she overlooks a lake, which is quite a lot of information for just a first line! And in the next few pages we learn everything that has brought her to this point. Now that’s great, but it is a lot of information to dump on a reader very quickly. Instead of telling us all about Jolyon and Crystal’s relationship how do you think it might work if you just referred to ‘The Bastard Jolyon’ and left readers guessing for a few pages as to who he was and what he might have done to Crystal? Think about when you meet someone for the first time, do they tell you everything about themselves immediately or do you tend to pick it up over the course of a few conversations? This is the process I’d love you to adopt here so that your readers will gradually get under the skin of your characters. Even in a short story you don’t want to be rushing things.

Good luck, and have fun!

Indignitas by David A Llewellyn

What an unusual story! A euthanasia clinic that also uses their expertise in dispatching unpleasant members of society is certainly a novel take on the end of life issue. You’re quick to establish the set up and personalities involved in the clinic, and introduce a more dramatic element with the murder of Mr Mayer to send our pulses racing (what a horrible way to kill someone! I had expected the clinic would adopt an approach of a quick and painless death, akin to the euthanasia they carry out on their patients) although I have to confess that I did twitch at the line ‘a predominantly female environment yet surprisingly supportive for all that.’ It does seem a shame to revisit such outdated clichés about women.

As you continue to develop your writing, it would be good to spend a little longer getting under the skin of your central characters. Dr Jones - with her use of shopping as therapy - was drawn in fairly broad brush strokes for example, and it’s better to spend longer really fleshing out a few key characters than it is to try and introduce everyone in just the opening chapters. Let your readers really get to know the personalities of your main characters, before you bring others into the spotlight.
 13 Aug 2017, 04:45 #231559 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Showdown at the Teapot Cafe by Luke Wespieser

This was an intriguing opening, and it’s certainly an ambitious start to have these very different narratives!

There’s a nice sense of humour that runs throughout - particularly in Archie’s storyline, but also in the cafe chapter - and as the extract drew to a close, I had more of a sense of how these narratives could come together. Without the full story I don’t know whether one narrative takes precedence over the others or if they will share the narrative equally between them but whichever option you pursue, it’s important to be consistent throughout. So often I read books voiced by multiple narrators where it’s clear that the writer is fonder of one than the others, and so the narrative tends to unfold unevenly. By opening with Archie’s story some readers may be expecting a YA read, aimed at readers of a similar age to Archie, so if this isn’t the case and your intended readership is older, you may want to think about how to make that clear. I would also recommend that as the book is told from multiple viewpoints, each section should have distinctive feel so we always know from whose perspective this story is being told. Different characters will notice different details.

One thing I did want to flag up is that the title of your piece does tend to suggest a certain kind of cosy womens fiction read (akin to books such as Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe) which doesn’t seem quite appropriate to the story you’re telling, and you may just want to bear this in mind.

Cured (Amy’s Story) - Dave Farrington

This was an interesting glimpse into part-way through your story. Although we didn’t see the events leading up to Jake’s attack, it was very easy to get a sense of what had unfolded through the brief references we were given by Amy. I like the idea of exploring what happened to people after they had been infected - it reminded me of the BBC series, In the Flesh, which explored how a ‘survivor’ of a zombie apocalypse attempted to reintegrate into society - and I think having Jake taken away from Amy gives the book a strong narrative impulse which will keep readers turning the pages.

At times I found the story moved a little too quickly for me; I would have liked you to have taken more time to show us how Amy and Megan responded to Jake becoming a zombie and how Amy felt about her son as he changed form before her; did she ever feel moments of revulsion or remember moments when he’d been equally dependent on her feeding him, when he was a baby? It’s the emotional side of your writing that really needs to deliver a punch and this is something I’d encourage you to focus on in your next draft, to push your writing on to the next level.

Good luck!

Devil’s River by Emma Beach and Cheryl Burman

This was a confident, well-paced and well written opening to a historical novel, which certainly - from the extract we have here - promises a story of drama and passion, with an exciting backdrop as the family set sail for New Zealand.

Opening with Betsy being led to her death is a great way to instantly engage readers and have them speculating as to what has led to this point. I thought I would be disappointed to be taken away from that crucial moment on the gallows but the story of Betsy’s youth and her mother’s decision to take her family to New Zealand, with or without her new husband, had me quickly turning the pages. I wasn’t sure how likely it would be that a woman would leave her husband behind - I had thought that at that point in history a woman was essentially her husband’s property, and wouldn’t be able to go against her husband’s wishes however much she desired it - but the scene at the docks certainly made for a dramatic read!

As your story progresses I would encourage you to focus on how to build up a vivid sense of atmosphere to really bring the period alive on the page; the descriptions of Betsy’s clothes at the beginning are very well drawn and help to create a strong sense of character, and I would also like to see you explore the other senses as successfully; smell is a particularly powerful way of establishing a sense of place, especially for this period.


Alison, Editor, Bloomsbury

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