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Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House
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 24 Sep 2017, 23:09 #233328 Reply To Post
Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House are below. These critiques are for Competition Period 2 2016.

The Editors are working on the winning critiques for Competition Period 1 2017 which completed on July 1st.

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

Random House Editor Review of Just in Time

Dear Bob,
Congratulations on being chosen for review. I can completely see why – there’s a great deal to like in Just in Time. Through your delivery and Shaun’s interesting personality you’ve given a new take on the dystopian/future world thriller; it’s a really accomplished piece of writing and I’ve enjoyed reading it. My notes really are about making more of all you have in here. I hope they’re of some use to you as you revisit the manuscript.

In general, I found the opening of your novel to be impactful and intriguing – it’s a fun and immediate first line that does a lot to show us Shaun’s personality immediately. You could actually afford to slow things down a little from this line on. We’re told a lot all at once: the army patrols, key achievements of Shaun’s life . . . I wonder whether we could actually have the army patrol go past so we can see it rather than being told about it. It would be an even more dramatic opening and would do a lot to visually show us the way the world has changed.
It’s key we get as many details as we can on the Snuff and how and why it spread from the start of the book. You’ll be teasing more of this through as you go, of course, but a little more up front would be very satisfying, I think. Could the last letter from Jess to her father work, for instance? Then we would glean that she was an in-demand microbiologist rather than being told it? As much as you can show rather than tell is always useful and tends to be more impactful. Dr Wu is mentioned very briefly and then moved past – is there anything more we can seed there?

He’s a fascinating character and I’m very interested in him. As he’s the one who is completely leading us this world and this story we do need to feel attached to him – understanding why he behaves how he does, even if we don’t always like him. I really wanted to know even more about him as we went through – how he really thinks and feels about his situation rather than the bravado he’s put up to survive as he has. We obviously don’t want him to be self-pitying, but maybe flashes of genuine positive raw emotion – for example when he thinks about his daughter and touches her photograph – might make him more empathetic.
I’d love to be able to compare and contrast as it were between him as an adult and him as a child so we can track the man he became from what we see of him as a child. Some of this is likely to come from the interactions between him and his mother. Is there more you could do there to bring out both of their personalities in their exchanges?
When he has gone back in time to his childhood bedroom, it would be so emotional and immediate for him to suddenly be there. He would question it more presumably, and be more powerfully affected than we’re seeing just at the moment? He seems quite casual at points too, for example, when he goes to Mick’s house and when he realises that crucially saving the human race could be in his hands . . . Some more highs and lows in the way he navigates this very extreme situation would add an extra layer of brilliance.
Do we need there to be slightly more impact and fallout from the changes his mother and Mick would be picking up in Shaun? More surprise from them at points, such as when Shaun fights back at school?

Time shift
I think this works really well in terms of its pace and how you’ve written it, but there’s huge potential for it to be even more impactful, I think. Some of this would come from us getting to know Shaun better so we feel even more invested in him and his plight as I’ve gone in to above but I also think it could be even more of an opportunity for us to learn more about the world and to move the plot forward . Could we see Shaun navigating this world more immediately – re-getting used to it and comparing how it differs to what the world has become. Even touching people must freak him out now that he has to avoid the virus being spread – more detail like seeing him flinching away from physical contact etc would help us build a picture of how everything has changed . . .

And I think that’s everything for now, other than a smaller thing, though so tricky to get perfect . . . I wondered about the title. Just in Time feels rather too generic for such great fiction writing and I think you could possibly think of something punchier as your novel deserves!
The very best of luck with this.

All my best,
Random House

 24 Sep 2017, 23:10 #233329 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

What the Mouths of Shadows Say

I found this to be a fascinating piece of writing that really kept me intrigued through a range of emotions. There’s some very accomplished writing and a lovely atmosphere in here – congratulations.

I’d love to do more to boost Lenora’s character from the outset. She’s clearly a fascinating woman, very 3D and yet we don’t get her voice and personality ringing out of every page in the way we might. We could see this from the off, for example, when we first see her reaction to the strange man’s advances. She has a moment of panic but then seems to relax into the very out-of-the-ordinary situation. She’s clearly a woman who knows her own mind so would she not initially have more to say to the stranger’s advances, even if she then grows to enjoy them?

Making Lenora’s character and voice even more present throughout would also make her feel even more distinct to Clair and to Helen. Their voices don’t yet feel as distinct from each other as they might and yet they’re all clearly vivid people in your head – let’s get them all clearly jumping off the page.
I wondered how you would position the novel, and what readership you would say it was for. Obviously it’s difficult for me to suggest something here having only read these sample chapters but I think it is worth thinking about this now as it seems to cross genres.

Boys, Boobs and If-onlys
This is a very timely piece of fiction. Since the very successful Louise Rennison titles there hasn’t been anything that has broken out in quite the same way so there is a space in the market. The teen fiction that does break through all share a real authenticity of voice. You absolutely have flashes of this throughout the sample I have read – congratulations. Do just check to make sure Emmie’s voice rings out in a very real teen girl way throughout.

I wondered if it might work well to spend some more time on the break-up of Emmie’s parents. It’s such a crucial scene that then impacts the whole book, and affects the whole of Emmie’s character arc. Having much more emotion and confusion and drama around what is happening would really add some drama to the early chapters of the book, and it would also give us additional insight into the characters of Emmie and her parents.

Being let into the confusion and emotion Emmie feels about what is happening might also soften her a little, making her even more likeable. She’s really quite cold to her mother immediately after the break-up, and we don’t really understand why. I wonder if seeing her interacting more with Vicky or other friends would allow her to explain how she’s feeling. In the scene in the school bathrooms, where she’s acting to defend her friend she too comes across as quite cold. Letting us in more to how she’s thinking and feeling so we understand her a little better would really smooth off her harsher teenage edges, making your readers feel even more empathy with her.
I was wondering when the novel was set. The Nokia and Snake-playing places it in a specific time in the past – would it not work set in the current day, maybe?

The Chrysalis Covenant
I was really hooked from the outset of this sample. I absolutely loved the intense and eerie opening scene between father and son – it really is wonderful.

As we progress through the set up, we meet quite a lot of people quite quickly. We have to digest a fair bit of crucial information which we’re given through dialogue. It’s key that we don’t miss any of this and so I wonder whether to help with this, the voices could be even more distinct from each other at points. I think this might help us to digest the highs and lows and detail in an even more accessible way.

I’m fascinated by the reasons for George’s choice of men to be part of the covenant. Would we feel even more invested in this key scene where they agree to the plan and shoot their ‘donors’ if we know them a little first? I wondered whether you might want to slow us down getting to this scene so we’ve met all the men already and therefore feel even more invested in them and their quandary?

I like the grandeur that comes with the title you’ve chosen for the book and it fits with the formality of George, and his ego – but I do wonder if it positions the novel as well as it might. It doesn’t quite seem worthy enough of such an innovative plot to me.

Ruth, Editor, Random House

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 24 Sep 2017, 23:12
 24 Sep 2017, 23:11 #233330 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

The Ladies of Longbarrow Lodge and the Club for Mature Indulgence

I absolutely love this sample. The tone and atmosphere are perfect and it’s an incredibly fun premise.

In these early chapters we do move from character to character in very quick succession, getting a lot of information through dialogue. At the moment, I’m not completely convinced that all of the siblings sounds as distinct from each other as they might. Could we learn even more about them and their personalities and lives as they deal with the shock of what their Mother is up to? Maybe they don’t all have to have the same appalled reaction – could one of them be slightly more upbeat about it?

As we do move from character to character speedily, do take care that it doesn’t feel jarring. Perhaps we could spend a little longer with each of them before moving? Especially with Louisa as she’s the central character? It might make the reading experience slightly smoother, and allow us to get to know each of them better.

The Spellmakers’ Revenge
This is a very interesting premise and there’s a great deal in here to like. The atmosphere and the tone are strong – as you do have all these key things in place, I feel you can afford now to slow down and develop your characters even more so they feel as 3D on the page as they are in your head.

There’s a potentially very lovely relationship between Elena and Cosmos. I’d love to do even more with this. Growing up with the peculiarities she has done, Elena would relish Cosmos and hold him close. Is there more that can be done with the friendship and their distinct way of communicating? I can imagine you’d write some very tender scenes between them as the action progresses.

I’m struggling at the moment to feel like I know Elena as well as we might. I think her voice could ring out throughout the book more clearly, really demonstrating her personality. At points she seems very nervous and shy and at others – when she interacts with strangers, for example – self-confident. She doesn’t want to leave her mother behind and yet isn’t preoccupied by how she is and with calling the hospital etc. Could you have a look to make sure that she’s consistent?
I’m very interested in the world the book is set in. Is it completely ours? Maybe there’s more to be teased out in these early chapters to show us this. You tell us about Mum’s rituals beautifully but maybe we could see these somehow in the way Elena replicates them?

The Unspoken Death of the Amazing Flying Boy
I found this to be an incredibly arresting piece of writing with such drama and emotion throughout – congratulations. The drama and emotion comes in part from the darkness at the centre of Laurent’s life, and also through the way you mix genres. It would be very worthwhile considering – if you haven’t already done so – how you would position and describe the novel. I don’t want to suggest you pigeonhole the book but as it does cross genres I think it would be useful to think about who your readers are.

Laurent is obviously key to us navigating the novel and so I’d love to know him even better than we do. Especially as we cross into the more magical realism elements of the plot, it’s important that we really go with him emotionally. Could we develop his voice and his personality even more? At points he sounds quite old and at others young. I wonder if seeing him interact more with his ‘siblings’ might help establish him even more clearly?

I wondered if there might be scope to do even more with the gargoyles? It’s a real change of pace as we move into the ‘flying’ sections, and these gargoyles have wonderful witty and distinct voices and personalities. Could we use them even more to explain some of what is happening?

Ruth, Editor, Random House

 24 Sep 2017, 23:13 #233331 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

Gambit’s Child

I am not widely read in sci-fi but this is a very accomplished piece of writing with a fascinating premise. I very much enjoyed reading these sample chapters - congratulations.
I feel you could spend a little more time setting up the universe at the start in a broader way, maybe, rather than zooming into the characters immediately. Would a prologue work, possibly? Maybe even showing the events that end with the group of survivors in the Damage? It could be an incredibly evocative and action-packed start as well as giving us a bigger snapshot of your world?

I would love to know both Seeker and Graves a little more than we do at the moment. They’re obviously completely different beings, but I wonder if their voices and personalities are as distinct from each other as they might be.

You get some great atmosphere across with the tightness and intensity of your writing but I wonder if there might be a little more to be done visually to make things even more vivid?

The Case of the Mysterious Neighbour
Detective stories for children are having a renewed time of success and so you’re writing into a very buoyant section of the children’s market. As this is the case, I wonder whether you might want to think about a quirkier title, making it stand out even more? There are a lot of strong elements in here – congratulations! – I think you could now really pull out the character of Dawud to make him even more appealing and engaging for your young audience.

I wonder if you could introduce us right from the start to the idea that Dawud is keen to be a detective and documents anything mysterious he encounters, rather than waiting to have Mr De Lange suddenly be his first case. Then we would be seeing it rather than being told about it and get additional flashes of Dawud’s personality from the off. We would also then be getting more build-up to the idea the Mr De Lange is suspicious, giving us some additional tension.

It’s a fine balance with young fiction in making the language accessible and having the plot complexities at the same level. For the most part I think you’ve navigated this well – I do think your readers could take a little more drama and tension from the point the ball is lost. Maybe there’s more you could do to up the ante as the actual investigation begins?

I’d love to be able to visualise Dawud and Saira more vividly. Could we see them interacting in more detail so their voices really ring out along with their personalities?

The Nine Lives of Anton Montvoisin
I’m absolutely fascinated by this story – it feels so exciting and different; you have all the elements in place for a really gripping historical thriller here.

As you do have everything in place, my biggest suggestion would now be to really slow things down and make the most of it so we can soak up the atmosphere and really feel invested in the characters, relishing the drama you’ve written. I wonder if the writing – accomplished though it really is – always has a distinct seventeenth-century feel. Maybe ramping this up in places would add even more atmosphere?

I’d love to know Anton and Catherine better too. I wonder if we need to spend more time introducing them both so the reader is allowed to suspect that Catherine has some dark secrets before we find out through Anton in the garden. It’s quite hard to imagine the two of them as a couple at the moment as they seem to live worlds apart. Maybe seeing them interacting before we find out the truth would help us with this?

I’d love to see Catherine with more of her own personality, distinct to the dark work she does. And why does she do what she does? It would be an interesting reader dilemma to find ourselves warming to her in a certain way despite what she does. And likewise, at the moment, Anton seems maybe too pathetic for us to fully empathise with. Would it be interesting for us to see him becoming more like his old self as he finds out more and more of his wife’s secret life?

Ruth, Editor, Random House

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