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 11 Feb 2012, 12:27 #142626 Reply To Post
Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett. Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

Each month on editors from Orion and Random House provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated YouWriteOn Top Ten novel openings, and mini-reviews of the rest of the top ten stories. This aims to assist all authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novel submitted to them.

Click here to view the story extract links for the stories reviewed below which are listed under October 1st for 2011
 11 Feb 2012, 12:28 #142627 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Crititique of The System: John Armytage Cooper

Dear Elizabeth,

I very much enjoyed your sample chapters – your writing is confident, fluent and engaging, your opening paragraphs hard-hitting and exciting, and your concept is an interesting one. It's a promising start.

What I hope these notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. My notes take the form of over-arching comments on the main elements of the novel, followed by more detailed page-by-page notes to illustrate some of my points.


It can be very effective to open with a prologue – and in this instance it plunges your readers right into the drama and intensity of the action. With a prologue, you set up expectation, revealing something that will later be key to the plot – and of course here, as we later find discover, it's a brutal murder in the village (though of whom we're yet to find out!). It's an immediate hook, and it will keep readers turning the pages, which is ideal for teen readers.

So far, the structure works nicely, and the pace is good, another important thing to remember for teen readers. But you have Pearl meeting Jack in chapter two, she's immediately attracted to him, as he is her (or so we assume), and you also set up the violent undertone, which – according to your brief synopsis – is to define their relationship.

But how is it all going to develop? I'm sure it sounds patronising to say it but it's particularly true for children's books and Young Adult novels that there needs to be a clear Beginning, Middle and End. Have you considered writing a chapter by chapter synopsis for the book? It's a great way to get an overview, and really focus the plot. You'll be able to see which areas are working, and which need more drive. And, this is true of any novel, but particularly for teen readers who have notoriously short attention spans – unless a scene or episode is driving the plot forwards, do you really need it?


This all ties in with my notes above – in the prologue and opening chapters, you've succeeded in hooking readers in, and now you need to maintain it through plot and pace. Which is why it's wise to have the whole thing plotted out, even if it's just in your head.

In your brief synopsis you say that Pearl is abducted on a school trip to London – to be rescued by Jack and driven to Brighton. To me this feels quite far-fetched, and not in-keeping with the chapters I've read. How do you get to this point? If Tipper and his friends (I'm assuming it;s them?) are 'school bullies', is it really credible for them to be able to kidnap Pearl on a school trip? And why would they want to? To get to Jack? At this point in the story, things need to have developed so that this kidnapping is a natural progression rather than coming out of the blue, and we need to be invested enough in Pearl and Jack's relationship for it to feel real and threatening – and to care about what's going to happen. And, reading your synopsis, do you even need the kidnapping episode to drive the plot forward? Couldn't you do it without? Why couldn't Jack reveal his background to Pearl just because they are growing closer? Why do you need a kidnapping in order to prove it? If your characterisation is strong enough then you won't.

I love the idea of this satanic cult that Jack is involved in – when will this be revealed? You touch upon this briefly in your synopsis, but will you expand and go into more detail? How will the satanic theme drive the plots forward? From your synopsis I understood that it was the group of thugs who abducted Pearl, not Jack's satanic cult – are you overcomplicating things by having two 'baddies' so to speak? The satanic cult concept is what will make the book different, and stand out from just an ordinary teen romance – so you do need to make sure this is developed properly too. The relationship between Jack and Pearl and their relationship vis a vis the satanic cult will work together to drive the plot forwards so it's important they are given equal weight.
Have you thought through the ending? From the synopsis it appears that Jack dies. Is this the case? How have you got to this point? It would be good to have a much fuller synopsis so that you can indicate how exactly the plot develops and gets to this point. I confess that just having Jack die at the end feels a little disappointing. It means everything he and Pearl have been through together has been for nothing, the cult have won. I'm inclined to think that most readers would feel a bit disappointed and cheated to invest to much in these characters and their love for one another only for it to come to a rather anticlimactic end.


Pitching the tone is often one of the hardest things to get right, but I thought you achieved it very well in these sample chapters. There's a nice sense of anticipation and foreboding underlying the sleepy town feel and I thought the dialogue and interactions between characters felt very real and authentic – particularly between Jack and Pearl, where it feels awkward and anxious, in the way that teen romance usually is, but also funny and warm.

At the moment it feels gritty and real but be careful not to make it too far-fetched (kidnapping, prime minister involvement etc). It needs to feel real and credible and convincing throughout, or readers will lose interest..

It is quite brutally violent at the beginning, and while that's a tone and atmosphere you're trying to create for effect, you might need to consider that for some publishers this might be going a little too far. You should be open to differing opinions on this.

Drugs and alcohol references – think about your readership. With drinking and class A drugs, this feels quite top end, and that can be quite a difficult sell. You need to make it clear you're not condoning anything, and including it needs to feel necessary rather than gratuitous. So far I think you achieve this, but it's certainly something to watch out for.


Violent, mindless and brutal, Spook is an immediately unsympathetic character, and so it's with some skill that you manage to turn it around and have us feeling sorry for what's about to happen to him at the end of this episode. In the opening of chapter 1, you also get right inside Pearl's head – essential as she's our main character, our eyes and ears. We understand her sense of fear and unease about what's going on outside, but also her classically teenage, frustrated reactions to the chit-chat of the congregation.

This is all so nicely done, which is why I was a little disappointed when, later on, you seem to rely mainly on dialogue to develop Pearl and Jack's relationship. I can't overstate this enough – we need to be inside Pearl's head at all times. If she's feeling nervous about having Jack stare at her, but also pleased and surprised that someone is paying attention to her rather than her more confident friends for once, then tell us. If she's contemplating approaching Jack but thinks he doesn't recognise her and is worried about looking stupid but feels drawn to him anyway – tell us. I'm being rather heavy-handed in my emphasis here, and usually this is the sort of thing that can be dealt with with a well-placed sentence or two here and there, but it's important that YOU guide the reader, rather than leaving them to interpret what your central character is feeling through dialogue. Pearl is our eyes and ears and we need to feel what she's feeling when she's feeling it. When she gets home and Uncle Jim is there, her sister questions her, she's so full of excitement and butterflies and the person she's just met, would she even be properly aware of them? Would she bother to engage with her sister in the usual bickering? Or would she float around on cloud 9 until she's brought back to earth with a bump at the news of the murder? I felt very strongly that this needed quite a lot of work – and I've tried to help you by pointing out areas in my page by page notes that you might consider looking at.

Critique Continues next post
 11 Feb 2012, 12:28 #142628 Reply To Post

You open the first chapter with the date 'March 2016'. Why is this significant? It's not too far in the future – and bearing in mind that most publishing houses acquire books with a view to publishing them the following year (or the year after – we're already acquiring books for 2013), it could well be that – if you succeed in getting your book published – that it wouldn't actually be until 2016. So why be so specific?

The setting itself is nice – and you create a real sense of small town life, with its church congregation etc, and the very palpable frustration of local teens and the dynamics between them. But it equally could have been set in 2011, so I wasn't entirely sure what you were trying to achieve by placing it so definitively in 2016. Will it be significant as the novel progresses? Will there be another story strand set in a different period of time so that you need to differentiate? If not, you either need to make the significance of the year clear right from the beginning, or just lose it entirely.

You say the book is set in Gloucester, which is quite a large town, and yet it feels like more of a small town, almost village-like in mentality. Again, is there a reason why you're making the setting/place name so specific? That reason could be much clearer – because your depiction of the setting feels like a contradiction.

Satanic cult – as I've said above, I like this idea, but I wonder if it features heavily enough in the opening chapters. It will all play a part in achieving the atmosphere and tension of your setting. Do you need to develop further and think about at what stage you're going to introduce it and develop it? It needs to be closely interwoven with the rest of the plot and so it's certainly worth planning this out.


Just a brief note on the title. It’s rather long – and the addition of ‘John Armytage Cooper’ as a sub-title won’t mean much to readers picking up a book, or editors picking up a script for the first time. ‘The System’ on its own is quite nice, but from the chapters I’ve read I’m not quite sure how it applies. It might be worth having a think about what could be a more effective hook. Of course, agents and publishers may have their own ideas and offer you suggestions, but your script is more likely to be picked up if the title ‘speaks’ to potential readers, and I’m not sure that this one does.

I thought your synopsis was succinct and concise, but I felt that there could have been a little more detail. Usually, when you submit to a literary agent, they ask for three chapters and a two-page synopsis. So the synopsis not only has to give them a flavour of what the novel is about, but also summarise the plot for them, and I'm just not sure there's enough here to really hook an agent in and give them a full sense of the book.


This is definitely top-end YA – which can be quite a difficult sell in the UK market, although thanks to the success of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, booksellers and publishers are definitely beginning to grow in confidence when it comes to commissioning/buying YA. What you need to do is to think about and define your novel's USP. Where do you think it would sit in the market? Which writers would you compare your writing/themes to? How will it stand out? It's good to be aware of the competition and how you see your writing in comparison.

Page by Page Notes

p 1 – pulled a packet of fags from his back pocket – it's fine to use slang in direct speech, and also in when you're describing how a character feels as you do for Spook in this prologue, but avoid in descriptive narrative.

p 2 – he couldn't weigh more than seventy kilos – this won't mean much to most people. Give it some context.

p 4 – Lydia had the best of the genes looks-wise – don't feel you have to include character description right away. It can be dropped in bit by bit through the novel, and here it seems to jar a little.

p 4 – 'Why do you think they hide?' … Not for one second did I think they were weedy. – I find this contradictory – people who are hammering against the church door, screaming abuse are angry, volatile, not calculated. I'm not sure it's convincing that they would just disappear when people come to investigate. If it's something you want to stick with, you should definitely have Pearl wonder how strange it seems. If these people are so angry and abusive, why do they only stop at words? It doesn't make sense.

p 5 – I thought about Tom, about how frightened he must have been at the end. This is really nice, but why do her thoughts go from the violence/shouting outside the church, to Tom? Does she think that the people outside the church had something to do with what happened to him? Does she think it might be Spook? It seems implied here. And if it isn't the case, perhaps you need to set the scene a little – what sort of abuse is being shouted? When had it started or has it been happening ever since she can remember? Why does she think it's happening? You could embellish here to set the scene.

End of chapter 2 – Pearl is thinking about Tom again. And yet in the next few chapters he isn't referred to again. Presumably he's the first person to have been murdered, and at the end of your sample we hear about the second murder? This could be clearer. And it would also be at the back of Pearl's mind when she decides to go for a walk with Jack – and sees his dangerous-looking and aggressive brothers.

p 6 Monday dawned much the same as Sunday – it wouldn't though, because presumably she has school in the morning when she doesn't on Sundays.

p 7 An afternoon's study leave meant an excuse to visit the local pub. It's fine to include this here but you need to make it clear you're not condoning underage drinking so it shouldn't be depicted as the norm.

p 7 – Three boys stood opposite the pub … They weren't talking and they looked kind of scary. So it's obvious here that she and her friends don't recognise them. Wouldn't they be struck by this? In a small town, they'd expect to recognise most people their own age, wouldn't they? And if they don't recognise these boys then they'd definitely remark on it. Somebody new would be all the more interesting and appealing in a small town.

p 7 – 'Fine,' I said. It was a lie. I wanted him. It was like an ache in my chest. This is nice, it captures that kind of teenage melodrama. But be careful not to let it happen too quickly. The relationship needs to be believable and credible throughout because, as I said earlier, this is what will drive the plot. This is a physical reaction, but the relationship will depend more on Pearl's emotional reaction, which you'll need to develop.

Continues next post

 11 Feb 2012, 12:28 #142629 Reply To Post
p 7 He was staring at me. Why does she think he's staring/interested? She's clearly not used to the attention, so what's going through her head? interested in her? She'd be flattered, but unsure what to do, how to react, and she'd definitely wonder what he sees in her over her two friends.

p 8 – similar point to the above. If she can feel his eyes on her, why is she worried about him falling for one of her friends? Has she had boys look at her like this before? It clearly makes her uncomfortable, but is there something about it she likes too? The fact that she's been singled out, above her two friends who usually get all the attention?

p 8 – Tipper stood in the doorway for effect. Is this from Pearl's point of view? So she thinks he's doing it for effect?

p 8 – When Tipper and friends arrive, can you make it clearer who knows who? Pearl recognises Tipper and his mates as school bullies, and his friend gives Abbi the once over, but they don't actually seem to rknow one another – which they would if they went to the same school, wouldn't they? The girls clearly know enough about them to dislike them, so you need to give a bit of context. What do they know about this gang that makes them so scary? Do they have friends who have been affected by things Tipper etc have done?

p 10 – 'Oi, pal, are you deaf?' - When Jack intervenes, what's going through Pearl's head? The dialogue is great, spot on for the readership, it feels snappy and it feels real. But don't leave readers to interpret through dialogue. Get inside Pearl's head. Having felt uncomfortable with the stares, but drawn to him all the same, what's going through her head as Jack comes to her rescue? Or does she think he's coming to Abbi's rescue? When things start to get nasty, she must want to get out of there. Tell us how she's affected by it. This is when you start to get to the emotional stuff rather than just the physical attraction. She's grateful to him now, in awe, she'd want to thank him, talk to him. The dialogue here is good but it's not enough on its own.

p 11 – There they were again, Jack and the other two … Jack showed no sign he recognised me, said something to the one in the leather coat and they all laughed. Would she debate with herself here about whether to go and thank him, then change her mind, too intimidated by the situation? Give us that lovely up and down, high and low feeling of a teenage crush, so we're utterly convinced by her attraction and pull to him.

p 11 – Annoyingly, my whole body shook. Why? Surely she's spoken to boys before? Why's he so different? Get inside her head here. How does she feel about him running after her? Have her first impressions changed? He seemed very cool and aloof earlier, but is he friendly, warm here?

p 11 – 'I'll have you know, beneath this weedy exterior, I happen to be immensely strong.' This is lovely! It changes readers perceptions of him as this hard, cool guy, it opens him up to be someone we can like, who we can fall a little bit in love with ourselves. Pearl needs to observe this. She's our eyes and ears, and her perceptions will shape readers perceptions too, which is why internalisation is absolutely key.

p 12 – I love the humour, the embarrassment, the trying to be cool of their exchange here. But give us more of that weighing up of the situation from Pearl. e.g. Him saying 'us together' felt good, felt really good. More like this please!

p 12 – Tired of being safe, tired of being bored. Need more of a set up to give this impact – early on you could embellish about her boring life, family, etc even more so we understand why she's so drawn to this 'bad boy' who takes an interest, and why she's so willing to go with him the first time she meets him.
p 12 – It was quite a nice walk at first. Why? It's not just the route – that would be the least of her worries. All her focus would be on him – what to say, why he's taking an interest, whether she's making a fool of herself, what Lydia's friends will tell Lydia, whether he really likes her or not etc etc. All the emotions running through her head. She wouldn't just slip her hand into his (p12). This is too soon, too early in a burgeoning teenage relationship – it should be awkward, messy and totally uncool, because that's what makes it real.

p 13 – My misgivings grew with every step. What misgivings? She hasn't seemed to have any up until now. Is it because she's just realised where he's been leading her? Does she suddenly realise that actually she doesn't know anything about this guy and he's just led her to a pretty dodgy part of the village? And as she says herself, he's a 'scary type'. Why does she continue to follow him? She seems pretty sensible – at this point there must be something inside telling her to turn back – so what is it about him that makes her follow? Get inside her head.

p 14 – They were hooded, empty, like he'd taken something. Is she surprised that she didn't notice this before, when they were in the street by the pub? Why's she suddenly so scared of him?

p 15 – Sick terror raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Why's she so scared of Jack's brothers? Surely if she's with Jack, she'd feel safe. They're not going to do anything while he's there. And if they're his brothers, why would they? All this would be going through her head.

p 15 – 'They won't be happy, Jack,' Art said. What's going on here? What does Pearl make of this? Don't let readers interpret from dialogue. Pearl is our eyes and ears so she should pre-empt these questions for readers.

p 15 – He squeezed my hand. They've gone very quickly from not knowing one another, to holding hands, squeezing reassuringly and I'm afraid this just doesn't feel convincing. It's the first time they've met, not a first date.

p 16 'Please don't meet him.' Why's she so frightened? Guilty because she feels she's caused it? Worried because she likes him and would like the chance to develop their relationship? We need to know this, because the dialogue implies a closeness between them that doesn't feel convincing enough. We need to be inside Pearl's head.

p 16 – as above, this relationship needs more build up, and with this in mind I don't think it's a good idea to have their first kiss here. The first kiss should be all about anticipation, wishing, wondering, hope – and as we haven't had the time to really become invested in their couple yet, it falls a little flat here. I don't think Pearl is ready to fall in love with him yet, she hardly knows him – and yet it's enough that she can go home and fill her thoughts with him. Move the kiss scene to later so it has more impact.

Chapter 4 – wouldn't Pearl's thoughts be full of what's just happened? It's so exciting and new and dangerous, she'd barely able to think of anything else. Lydia/Uncle Jim – it would all brush off her very easily, wouldn't she? I'm not sure she'd be bothered about getting involved in an argument with her sister, or about what Uncle Jim is saying. She'd be in more of dreamworld, right up until the point where they get the call about the murder, wouldn't she? You need to be inside her head throughout this so we're aware of how the first meeting with Tom has affected her. This is what will drive the plot forward and keep readers interested in their relationship.

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far marks a promising start. But you need to pay attention to structure, plot, and particularly to characterisation. I think you would benefit from further guidance. Have you considered joining a creative writing class/course? Feedback and regular constructive criticism from other readers and writers will help shape your work and hone your storytelling.

Best wishes,

Jenny, Editor, Orion

 11 Feb 2012, 12:29 #142630 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for The Twelve-Fifty by NA Randall

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story and thought it was an interesting idea and definitely experimental. To imbue an inanimate object such as a jacket with its own distinctive voice and character is quite a difficult feat, and while you went some way in achieving this, ultimately the story felt a little gimmicky. Unfortunately I’m not sure whether a reader will be able to suspend disbelief enough to really engage with the jacket’s story.

Professional mini critique for Play On by Fleur Smithwick

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. The premise is an interesting one, and you sidestep the risk of the reader questioning Alex’s sanity by having her grandmother being able to see Sam too. It was hard to judge from your synopsis (which was concise and detailed), but I wondered whether the entire novel would be narrated from Sam’s point of view? If so, this might distance them from Alex as a character and also dissipate the sense of tension and suspense as Sam’s wish to own Alex becomes all-consuming. The reader needs to be placed alongside Alex rather than Sam.

Professional mini critique for Soul’s Child by Dianne Gray

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I thought it was well-written and had that page-turning quality that will keep the reader wanting to know more. My main concern was in the portrayal of Aurora. Her narration of her life to date seems quite detached and dispassionate, and she lacks the charisma and distinctiveness to really carry the weight of the story. You need to work on getting under her skin as a character and really unearthing what is unique and memorable about her as the protagonist. I also felt that the story lacked tension at times. The reader needs to feel Aurora’s own fear to really get pulled into her story.

Professional mini critique for Reviews of the Great Works of Literature by Phil Adams

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your the pages of your novel. It was an interesting concept and I’m sure that many other aspiring writers on YouWriteOn will be able to relate in some way with your novel! But in terms of its commercial viability, I think this needs a fair amount of reworking. The humour feels quite forced and obvious at times, rather than evolving naturally. Likewise, the structure of these opening pages seemed more suited to a magazine article or a blog rather than a novel; the narrative doesn’t flow in a way that will really immerse the reader. Another concern is the title: it sounds like a work of non-fiction and doesn’t really convey a sense of playfulness or humour. I would suggest reading as widely in this area as possible to get a sense of what does and doesn’t work, as comedy is a very hard genre to master.

Professional mini critique for Reviews of the Great Works of Literature by Phil Adams

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your the pages of your novel. It was an interesting concept and I’m sure that many other aspiring writers on YouWriteOn will be able to relate in some way with your novel! But in terms of its commercial viability, I think this needs a fair amount of reworking. The humour feels quite forced and obvious at times, rather than evolving naturally. Likewise, the structure of these opening pages seemed more suited to a magazine article or a blog rather than a novel; the narrative doesn’t flow in a way that will really immerse the reader. Another concern is the title: it sounds like a work of non-fiction and doesn’t really convey a sense of playfulness or humour. I would suggest reading as widely in this area as possible to get a sense of what does and doesn’t work, as comedy is a very hard genre to master.

 11 Feb 2012, 12:29 #142631 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of HEOROT by R M E Winter

Congratulations on your success on YWO. I think you have the beginnings of a very good book here, and I really enjoyed what I read. The writing style is polished, readable and enjoyable, and I think you’ve come up with a lovely way of revisiting one of the great stories of literature. The setting is interesting – although I think you could build on it a bit more – and the whole things feels competent and professional.

I’d be careful about putting in too many linguistic flourishes, if you’re aiming for a YA audience - you don’t want to overegg the pudding. As it stands (apart from the rape scene, which I’ll come back too) I think you’re pitching this about right. The worry, of course, is that you’re currently writing too simply for an adult audience, and I think you could (and should) thicken it up a bit, but I’m just advocating caution.

Most of my comments will be found in the two accompanying documents, but a brief summary:


I think this is the part that needs most work. As it stands, you have a serviceable summary of the book, but it doesn’t inspire great excitement. You need to avoid getting bogged down in the details of the plot, and convey more of the feel and pace. The reader will find out the ending and character names for themselves - your job with the synopsis is to get them to read the first three pages. If the book hasn’t grabbed them by that point, the synopsis won’t help. This is often the hardest bit of writing, not least because you are so close to the book, but I find a good exercise is to take a (mental!) step back and try and write a new summary in five minutes, limiting yourself to, say, 5 lines (or 10, or 20 – whatever you’re happy with). Then do it again (and again), but force yourself to use different phrases. Look at the two (or more) together, and work out what you’re happy with, then make a more considered attempt.

However you want to do it, your synopsis should certainly not be any longer than one A4 page. To be honest, I tend to think that’s a bit much. If you really feel that you need a detailed summary of the plot, provide that as well, but your synopsis really needs to grab the reader. Certainly, the first line of your current synopsis needs to be snappier. I’ve had a very quick stab at something, but I’m sure you can do better!


Again, most of my comments and thoughts are in the ‘track changes’ version attached. But as an overview, I think it works very well indeed. The opening really draws the reader in, and provides a good basis for the main elements of the story. I think your lead character works well, but could do with a little more fleshing out. I’m well aware you may be planning to do this later in the book, but there are some questions that arise from the first chapters that I think should be addressed (why is he left behind by the villagers? What’s his status in the village, and why? What has happened to Grendel during this time?). The Saxons arrive and change everything for Hob (again), but unless we have a clearer picture of what life was like for him in the village, the changes may not register with the reader.

I think you should consider adding an extra (small) chapter, inbetween the two saxon arrivals. Give us some time with Hob in the village – it will answer a lot of the questions I had (how he broke his leg, his status in the village, what happened to Grendel during this time), as well as giving us more of a reason to be nervous when the second invaders arrive. It doesn’t have to be much, but after the action of the first chapter, you can afford to set the scene a little more. I’d also like this section to focus on the setting. Again, you may have been planning to cover this in later sections, but it would be nice to get more of a feel for the way in which the villagers live, the layout of the village and surroundings, and above all a sense of landscape. Some detailed descriptions of the countryside might really help here. You could also use this section to flesh out a few of the supporting characters – your description of Galla is fantastic, but the rest of the village is a bit faceless.

In terms of your YA question, as stated above, it generally feels right to me, but the rape is perhaps taken a shade too far. Again, comments are in the attached document, but I think you could safely tone this down a bit without losing the impact. As it stands, I think this would be a harder sell for a purely adult audience, but your plans re: language may well tip the balance there.

Continues next post

heorot Synopsis with notes.doc (28Kb) - 240 view(s)
Heorot text with notes.doc (77Kb) - 180 view(s)
 11 Feb 2012, 12:30 #142632 Reply To Post

As I said at the beginning, I think this is a really strong piece of work, and with a little tweaking could be made outstanding. The concept is a good one, and the writing is generally pitched right. Hob, from what I’ve seen of him, is a strong lead, although perhaps you need to work a bit more on his surroundings and those around him. I assume that Beowulf is effectively going to be the villain of the piece, but I like the way in which the other potential ‘bad guys’ (Hrothgar and Grendel, depending on your point of view) are both portrayed with balance. Assuming you can keep the quality up (and I’m sure that you can!), and provided you keep the plot moving, I think (and hope) you’ll do well with it.

Marcus, Editor, Orion

Random House Editor Mini Reviews

The Butterfly and the Wheel – NA Randall

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn this month; I found The Butterfly and the Wheel to be a very well written piece with a wonderful sense of atmosphere throughout and a brilliant cliff-hanger at the end of the sample chapters.

I loved the contrast between the 1960s Turgenovsky's amorous benevolence as he skilfully evades the hapless Bazdeyev and his younger self's frustration and misplaced arrogance as he loftily proclaims to Lev to 'Mark my words, I'm rarely wrong when it comes to political matters'. It's fascinating to see where the established poet began, particularly when we realise it's a very different past to the one we might have imagined after the events of the prologue.

Although your writing is generally good, I think the ending of the first chapter could be made a little more dramatic – in the depths of the cellar Turgenovsky is weighing up the prospect of more money but an increased risk when the door explodes inwards, and guards burst in (I think this is better than 'dash' which sounds a little too jolly). This should be an unexpected, terrifying moment, a perfect cliff-hanger in fact, but your writing is just too restrained for the event it is describing. The key emotion you want Turgenosky and, by extension your readers, to feel is shock and panic, so it’s not important to tell us that the door is torn off its hinges by 'some kind of battering ram'. What's relevant here isn't what is breaking down the door, it's the very fact that the door is being broken down. And similarly, I don't think we need to be told that dozens of uniformed 'Okhrana' dash in because I suspect the unexpected name is going to make readers hesitate, albeit briefly, when again, it's not who that's pouring in that is the point here; why not say instead that the room filled with uniforms, or uniformed soldiers? You can give us the correct name of the soldiers at a later date, but what you want to focus on here is making your readers experience exactly the same panic that Turgenovsky will be feeling at this point.

Your language and tone were generally very good and seemed appropriate to their period setting although I wasn't too sure about 'my good man'; this feels like a traditionally English upper-class endearment, would Turgenovsky really use that?

African Violet – Mo Lovatt

Many congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn this month, when I'd finished your sample chapters I could certainly see why they'd been placed so highly; your writing is very good and both of your narrative voices felt fresh and believable, despite almost no physical descriptions of the characters I could picture them so clearly, just from the voices you'd given them.

I loved the older Violet's narrative, the affection and the dry amusement with which she regards her beloved granddaughter were so well transcribed and yet, when we came to Lucy's narrative we saw a different side to Violet, and her character took on greater depths as we saw the anger with which she regarded her daughter and her impatience at someone who could not merely put their depression to one side. I really admired how you'd resisted the urge to make the older Violet into a fragile older character, content to live through her granddaughter, her resentment for the tree outside her window (although she doesn't seem to resent the plants she grows – is that because they are more fragile than the tree?) gave us such a strong sense of who she was.

Although we have less of Lucy in these sample chapters I thought you caught her voice very well too, perfectly capturing her dilemma at being caught between her mother and grandmother, able to see the flaws and virtues in both women. There was enough of a resemblance between her narrative and that of both the young and old Violet for us to believe in a family connection, yet you carefully avoided giving her a confidence and eloquence that would have been unnatural for someone of her age and experience; she was still very much coming from the perspective of someone who was only 19 and could only see the world through her own experience of it.

I very much enjoyed what I read and while the concept of someone looking back on their life, and an unhappy secret buried within it, isn't a particularly new one the high quality of your writing ensured it still felt fresh and original.

Crazy Nola June's daughter – Yaei Politis

Congratulations on being selected as one of the top stories this month! I very much enjoyed the first few chapters of Crazy Nola June's Daughter: Olivia is a very appealing central character and a very believable one too, so many authors give their heroines characteristics appropriate to the present day rather than the period in which their book is set but I felt that Olivia had exactly the right blend of wanting to change her situation but being aware of the many challenges she would face in doing so. Similarly, you've given Tobey a convincing attitude of sympathy towards Olivia but also had him remind her of the importance of behaving appropriately for the time.

There were some lovely period details that really grounded us in the 1840s: the ice cream parlour serving sundaes with a piece of bread for you to wipe your fingers on, for example. I was a little dubious though, over whether, at that point in history, a young girl with relatively little schooling would know about the practice of Chinese foot binding?

The one concern I did have with your writing was actually over the title – Crazy Nola June's Daughter just felt far too comic for me, I hadn't read the synopsis before I began so I imagined it was going to either be a young adult book or a comic one and unless the tenor of your story changes dramatically beyond these first few chapters, I don't think the title reflects the setting or the style of your writing. I would personally suggest you consider something more evocative or intriguing, perhaps along the lines of 'Fae's Landing' or that you look at titles of books with a similar setting and feel to see whether they can provide some inspiration.

 11 Feb 2012, 12:30 #142633 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critiques

Badgerbear and the burnt map of Lumos – P.D. Cartwright

Congratulations on being the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! Your book has a wonderfully appealing, intriguing title so I couldn't wait to get started on your chapters and I was very pleased to discover they more than lived up to the promise of the title.


This was an interesting, imaginative read with a main character with whom many younger readers will be able to identify. Your world is vividly realised on the page and there were some lovely imaginative details that really helped to bring your writing to life – the brief description of Amoss' family home, for example, or Ruffrump's pink feet turning red in the warmth of the fire. Your early chapters set the scene very successfully, with Amoss's mysterious package and unexpected expulsion from home providing us with an intriguing sense of mystery while the pace of your writing really picked up with the introduction of the hawowl; I was racing through the pages at that point.

In a fairly crowded market you do need to have something that sets your fantasy world apart, and I was very impressed with how you'd created a new world through the conjunction of existing animals or concepts, like badgerbears, ratbat and baldberries – this really brings something fresh and new to your writing. I'd would personally have liked a little more description of the badgerbears themselves as I wasn't entirely clear which elements they had taken from each animal. For example, a bear is quite a large animal so I couldn't imagine a hawowl being able to grab a baby cub, but if they were closer in size to a badger that would make more sense. I think a future draft of your book could benefit from a little more detail threaded through the first pages so that we have a real sense of the creatures which inhabit this world. Is the rule that they take their majority of their characteristics from whichever animal comes first – i.e. badger in Amoss's case?

The story is told from Amoss's perspective but at one point we suddenly leap into someone else's perspective; who is it that tells us 'It didn't enter his head perhaps he should do things more quietly'?


I thought Amoss was a very believable character; I really felt his anger and sense of betrayal when badgerbears he'd known his entire life had turned against him, and I liked the dry note of humour when he wishes his mother's last words had been that she loved him or a warning not to run into the river as he was such a bad swimmer.

So far, Ruffrump has the feel of a traditional sidekick – smaller, weaker and more prone to jokes than Amoss – and I think their differing characteristics will complement one another nicely on their subsequent adventures. Both characters are outsiders and I presume we will learn more of Ruffrump's story in the future but I think it would be interesting to see Amoss reflecting on how different Ruffrump is from the badgerbears he has grown up with; our first encounter with Amoss gives us the impression that he is someone who values strength and physical prowess and this is likely to have an impact on how he initially sees Ruffrump.

Quality of Writing:

Your writing is generally good but I'm not sure you've got into the habit of thoroughly profreading your work yet, and this is such an important skill for a writer. Although I very much enjoyed what I read, these first chapters would really benefit from a little more attention to detail, particularly over spellings and punctuation. For example, their home should be a 'sett' rather than a set and it should be 'puss' rather than 'pus'. You didn't always seem quite clear over possessives; 'were doing what they asked' should be 'we're doing what they asked' (p3), 'what do you think your doing' should 'what do you think you're doing?' (p6), 'Your welcome' should be 'You are/You're welcome' (p6) and so on.

I'd also suggest that you look again at commas and consider where your writing might benefit from their introduction. For example the sentence 'Sparks skittered into the darkness but they died, useless on the damp kindling because like him they were too damp' would be improved by the addition of commas around 'like him'. These commas are called bracketing commas, and are used to mark information that does not interrupt the flow of the sentence: you could remove the information within the pair of commas and the sentence would still make sense. There were quite a few instances where the flow of your writing would really have been improved by the introduction of bracketing commas and I'd strongly recommend getting hold of a good punctuation and grammar guide to help you in your next draft as it would be a real shame if people were distracted from your plotting and characterisation by the quality of your writing.


Your first few chapters were a very enjoyable read – they felt fresh and original and your characterisation is strong; once you've ironed out those few spelling and punctuation mistakes, I think you'll have a very strong piece of writing.

 11 Feb 2012, 12:30 #142634 Reply To Post
Ted, please thank Jenny for such a useful and detailed critique. I'm most grateful.

Can't wait to get started on the re-write.


I'm still utterly confused about how and when these critiques arrive, but I'm really delighted to see The System finally recognised. A great review, very encouraging Beth. Congratulations!
Time And Time Again

Quote: ciaranl, Tuesday, 10 Jan 2012 21:21
I'm still utterly confused about how and when these critiques arrive, but I'm really delighted to see The System finally recognised. A great review, very encouraging Beth. Congratulations!

Thanks, Ciaran. That's so nice of you. I feel very lucky to have had such an in-depth critique.

Please thank Nathalie for her very detailed and thought-provoking critique of 'The Harlequin Girl'.

Thank you to everyone for feedback which has been forwarded on.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 11 Feb 2012, 12:31
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