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 17 Feb 2012, 14:54 #143879 Reply To Post
NEW - Random House & Orion Reviews

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
 17 Feb 2012, 14:54 #143880 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of FOR SOPHIE’S SAKE

Dear Katie

I enjoyed reading your early pages of FOR SOPHIE’S SAKE and think they marked a promising start. However, I think the material so far needs a fair amount of reworking. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, 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 a few line notes to illustrate some of my points.


Structure is the backbone of any story, and if your narrative is to flow, the structure of the novel has to be carefully considered. From reading these early pages and the synopsis, the narrative takes a very linear direction. By having the novel in two parts, set in different time periods and shown from different character perspectives, you’ll bring texture and variation to the story. But I did feel that the opening chapters could benefit from further development. Perhaps you could consider having a few chapters shown from Lynne’s point of view, obviously without giving too much insight into her thoughts and motivations, as the reader needs to be as shocked as Ruth when she discovers the betrayal. But if you presented them in an intriguing and enigmatic way, so the reader doesn’t quite know what to make of Lynne, you would create a more mysterious atmosphere and hopefully keep the reader guessing as to what is about to unfold. This added dimension to the narrative would also ensure that the reader doesn’t tire of Ruth’s strand, as Lynne’s POV (point of view) can potentially offer relief and added drama.


I thought the opening chapter started with real promise, but then seemed to stray into predictable territory. The story of an abused wife is not an original one, and so you need to present Ruth’s story in a unique and insightful way if you are to engage your reader. For example, the novel The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle tells a familiar story, but presents it in an unusual and vivid way. The story is shown through the eyes of the protagonist, Paula, and told in her distinct voice. And this is what you need to aim for with your novel – exploring what is unique about Ruth’s story and depicting it in an engaging and entertaining way.

The second half of the novel, shown from daughter Sophie’s POV, should bring a new angle to the story, revealing how she has been let down by both parents and how her strength of character can still pervade in the face of terrifying abuse. Like with Ruth, you need to mine what is original and distinctive about Sophie’s story and really pull the reader into her narrative.

An important point to make is how you present your narrative. At times, you tend to overstate what you are trying to say, and so the potency of the scene is often diluted. You need to focus on stripping back the writing to expose the true emotion of each scene. And you need to depict it in a more economical way – to succinctly convey what you want to say in a few words, rather than overstating, and in turn your narrative will be all the more powerful and potent for it. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to an aspiring writer is this: less is often more.


While we get a glimpse into Ruth’s own thoughts and are instantly engaged by her, her portrayal when she’s interacting with other characters feels slightly off pitch. When Lynne comes into the surgery and expresses her concern, Ruth hisses back at her, is abrupt and quite rude. Ruth then goes on to barge round Lynne’s house and shout at her, and then blurt out that she knows about Lynne’s love life issues. For a woman who is in an abusive relationship, this seems like an unlikely reaction to a neighbour’s concern. Would she not act wary and be more reticent in what she says? I think this early exchange needs further consideration if it is to ring true, and if the reader is to still feel emotionally connected to Ruth and empathise with her.

Coupled with this, your dialogue exchanges often feel rushed and forced. The initial conversations between Lynne and Ruth aren’t wholly convincing as an exchange between two virtual strangers. Their third proper encounter is when Lynne comes round to the house when she hears John shouting at Ruth. Again, the exchange doesn’t feel entirely believable. They are talking as if they have known each other for a long time. Surely they would be more tentative and awkward around each other, especially given the very personal circumstances?

Remember that less is often more. As the saying goes, silence speaks volumes, and more can be read from what isn’t said than what is. At present, the dialogue can feel very melodramatic, and is more akin to a soap opera than an involving issues-led women’s fiction novel.


As I often say to aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a narrative, but also the hardest to master. If the tone of a novel is pitched wrong, it can severely compromise a reader’s engagement with the story.

The tone of these early pages is very intimate and conversational, instantly drawing the reader in and aligning them with the protagonist. But while the tone is quite chatty and even light at times, there is an underlying darkness and poignancy.

The synopsis hints at mysterious plot twists and turns, and I think this sense of mystery and foreboding needs to be worked into the earlier pages if you really want to really hook your reader.


A small point, but I wonder if the title is too close to the famous novel Sophie’s Choice. And I don’t think For Sophie’s Sake is quite a strong enough and arresting title (such as the aforementioned The Woman Who Walked into Doors). This might be something you want to reconsider when you come to rewriting this draft.


You class this as a mystery and women’s fiction, but as I have said before, the mystery element of the novel is rather underwhelming in this first draft. There’s no real sense of menace, foreboding or intrigue. There needs to be more tension in the scenes with Ruth and John and a greater sense of mystery and enigma in the scenes involving Ruth and Lynne. The reader needs to know that all is not as it seems, and by ramping up the dramatic tension and building a sense of mystery, you’ll keep the reader hooked and frantically turning the pages.

Line notes:

‘And so the next time my husband hits me, my mind is full of the people I’m not, and I don’t have to think about the person I am.’ – Wonderful line. There needs to be more poignant, insightful lines like this…

‘It was as if I’d never noticed before, as if I was standing back and watching through someone else’s eyes. Lynne’s eyes?’ – Overstating here with the last line. Remember, less is more.

‘But last night, for the first time, it didn’t.’ – Isn’t it still the same night as when this scene opens? Perhaps change to ‘tonight’.

‘I don’t know who I am anymore - it’s so frightening.’ – You don’t need to have Ruth state that it’s frightening. The reader can sense that she’s frightened from the state that she is in. Try not to over-tell.


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 attention needs to be paid to structure, characterisation, plot and dramatic tensions. I think your writing would benefit from further guidance. Have you considered joining a creative writing class/course? Feedback and regular constructive criticism from other readers and writers is vital and will help shape your work and hone your storytelling. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to remember that writing is made to be read. You need to engage, intrigue and entertain your reader. If you are writing for yourself and not considering the reader’s experience, this will show in your work.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine

 17 Feb 2012, 14:54 #143881 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for The Samaritan by N A Randall

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was an involving read but given that it was nearly all entirely reported, rather than played out for the reader to experience first-hand, this would put the reader at a distance. My other concerns were the structure and your characterisation. You opt for a very linear structure wherein you give a day-by-day account, which begins to feel a little tedious. I also felt that Richard wasn’t a charismatic enough protagonist – you need to work on getting under his skin and making him unique and intriguing. The frequent mention of the empty vodka bottle and packet of pills also gave the twist ending away too early on, so you might want to consider being more subtle in that respect if you want to keep the reader guessing.

Professional mini critique for The Passenger by Dante O’Donnell

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. Jon often talks directly to the reader, which gives the narrative an intimate tone. However, the first chapter in particular did feel like a non-stop stream of consciousness, or even like a stand-up monologue. And while it was humorous in parts, it didn’t really draw the reader in as it felt quite vitriolic and smug. Jon is an interesting character but ensure he doesn’t estrange the reader with his bitterness. You categorise this as a horror and a mystery. ‘Horror’ is incredibly misleading, as this has none of the key facets of a horror novel, such as suspense, pace, atmosphere or foreboding menace. I recently read one of your short stories (Young, Gifted and Skinned) which you also misleadingly classed as horror. It is absolutely crucial you know what kind of novel you are writing and what kind of readership you are aiming for. Otherwise your confusion will compromise the strength of the narrative.

Professional mini critique for The Prisoner by Clar Ni Chonghale

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. While it was confidently written, it wasn’t compellingly told. The relationship between a prisoner and his captor has much dramatic potential, yet this wasn’t entirely capitalised in the opening chapters. It is hard for the reader to really empathise or emotionally connect with Peter in these early pages, and it is absolutely crucial that you hook the reader and draw them in straight away. I think there needs to be less focus on the politics of Peter’s capture, and more focus on the personal story. The storylines involving Peter’s mother and girlfriend should bring another dynamic to your narrative, as well as hopefully ensure the reader doesn’t tire of Peter’s story.

Professional mini critique for Finger in the Dial by Ray Fordes-Stent

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading your short story. You have created a wonderful character in Olive – one that is believable, instantly familiar but also individual and unique. Your tale is tinged with sadness and has a bittersweet tone, yet there is also an underlying sense of hope and humanity, as it’s clear that Olive has lead a full life and has been loved, and is now ready to leave the world on her own terms.
 17 Feb 2012, 14:54 #143882 Reply To Post

I really enjoyed reading the opening section of your book – Hamish is clearly an intriguing, complex character who I already feel very engaged with and invested in. He has a clinical, detached manner that fits perfectly with his job as a doctor, but then we hear about the ‘familiar rage building’, which rather menacingly suggests turmoil below the surface…
You set the scene very well – the island feels isolated and bleak, matching Hamish’s mood. The waitress in the café, with her hollow face and trembling hands, powerfully hints at a sickness about the place – and Susan’s patently dying mother confirms that this is not a place full of light and vibrancy. You have succeeded in creating an uneasy, claustrophobic atmosphere which is very compelling. The dialogue is edgy and snappy and your sparse use of black humour (I loved Hamish’s response to Keiko disparagingly asking what he would tell his father about the fight with the bikers: “He’s dead. Was killed in a bar fight”) is very effective.
My impression from this beginning section is of a hardboiled detective novel – with Hamish, due to a sense of guilt over the death of his wife and daughter in the car crash, investigating Susan’s murder. Reading your synopsis, I was really surprised to see the supernatural element being introduced –encountering a sorcerer, shapeshifting and demonic possession certainly leads your narrative down a very different path! You are a very good, controlled writer, so I am sure you will be able to pull off this twist into the fantastical, but I urge a little caution. You don’t want to pull the rug out from under the feet of your readers too violently! I do wonder if Hamish shapeshifting into a cougar is perhaps a little too divorced from the reality that you have set up in these opening pages? Once Hamish meets Myrddin, it feels like a completely different book is unravelling.

I really like the idea of this loner doctor-with-a-haunted-past tracking down a serial killer for some kind of redemption – and I’m sure you’ll handle his blossoming romance with smart, spiky Keiko very well. I do wonder whether the supernatural elements will be ultimately distracting from the emotional turmoil suffered by Hamish, and the developing love affair with Keiko – but of course I am speculating, as I have only read the material uploaded to the website!

Best of luck with your writing – you certainly have original ideas and plenty of talent.

Lauren, Random House


I absolutely loved your short story I KNOW WHAT IT IS, and was really pleased to see two more stories by you for review!
This is brilliant stuff. I so enjoyed reading it. Cathy’s desperation to be accepted by the self-styled socially superior Erica is palpable from the beginning – you just know something is going to go hideously wrong for her, much like Hyacinth Bucket’s neighbour Elizabeth was always jittery and on edge in Keeping Up Appearances!

You describe Erica’s home perfectly – I laughed out loud at the hand-painted wall tiles from a small artisan workshop in Andalucia. I can absolutely picture them. You’ve got an excellent eye for detail that invokes so much and immediately transports the reader into the narrative. The perfectly symmetrical (but of course!) Christmas tree and the comedy of the singing, guitar-playing vicar are just two examples of this!

The day of the party itself is masterfully executed:

Everything is all so civilised and ‘just so’ – but with the threat of total anarchy bubbling away beneath the surface. The slide into chaos and violence is perfectly paced and hateful Gigi declaring Hannah to be her new best friend is such a great, unexpected payoff at the end.

HAVE A GOOD DAY – Claire Whatley

The juxtaposition of a perfectly ordinary day infused with horror right at the end is very powerful . The narrator notes the ‘blanket of nothing over the world’ – today has started just like any other, with nothing exciting or different to look forward to. Just the routine of getting her son ready for school and then herself off to work – the day begins in such a routine fashion, in fact, that the waistband of her skirt being a little too tight is of note.

She is such a credible voice; tetchy, frazzled, clearly frustrated and even unhappy at how her life has turned out. Going through the motions – you convey this brilliantly with the line “I often arrived at work unaware of how I had driven myself”. This makes the shock of the car accident and the death of Henry almost unbearably acute – if the narrator wanted things in her life to change and be livened up a bit, she certainly didn’t want it to happen like this.

Short, sharp and very effective writing.

You’re in total command of the short story genre – congratulations and best of luck with your writing.

Lauren, Random House

There was much I enjoyed about the sample chapters – Roisin is a pleasingly complex and spiky personality, and it is very credible how she finds the notion that Anna is her mother to be completely off-the-wall and refuses to play ball. She is independent, self-sufficient and strong – excellent qualities for your lead protagonist! The alternating first-person narrative between Anna and Josh has the potential to work well – and will mean your book has both male and female readership potential.

I wonder if we need to know that Roisin has been able to perform acts of magic throughout her life at an earlier point – at the moment Anna tells her that it was after she became a woman (ie. got her first period) that the mysterious fires kept starting. This doesn’t pack quite the punch it could – I’d like to see Anna have more of an emotional response to her possibly being a witch – she’d suffer huge emotional turmoil if strange things kept happening to her and she suspected that she had powers that she doesn’t fully understand! I also wonder whether we should witness Roisin and Sadie together at the beginning, before Sadie’s disappearance, to really focus on their close relationship and invest more emotion in Roisin’s determination to locate her.

Reading the full synopsis, it seems that there is a LOT going on in this novel – all very exciting, action-packed, commercial stuff, but ensure you devote enough time to making the characters leap off the page and really engaging. Avoid a packed plot that takes all the focus away from the characterisation.

Best of luck with your writing!

Lauren, Random House
 17 Feb 2012, 14:55 #143883 Reply To Post

Trust No-One by NA Randell

Congratulations on being in the YouWriteOn Top Ten this month with the beginning of what looks to be a very intriguing mystery. Robbie is an interesting central character, and his career as a successful author brings a great added dimension to your story.


You have a fascinating premise and there are some great twists in these first few chapters, I could certainly see why other readers have enjoyed your opening chapters so much. I think, however, with a little bit of rewriting you could make them even stronger, particularly if you were to explore ways of drawing out the suspense to make for a more exciting, intriguing read.

Burying key moments, such as Ingrid and Mendoza's disappearance, mid chapter does lessen their impact, which is a real shame: I would have thought that you could make chapter one into a much more chilling opening chapter – the kind that would really grab the attention of readers – if you drew out the initial conversation between Ingrid, Robbie and Mendoza so that readers were given a little more of their backstory, and then ended the chapter with Robbie returning from the toilet and realising, to his horror, that the other two have vanished.

I also think it would make for a more suspenseful read if the police were to share the scepticism of the bar staff, at least until Robbie tracks down Asif and discovers that Mendoza had apparently died several years before. I'm afraid that it did seem a little unlikely to me that the police would send out anyone at all when Ingrid and Mendoza had only been missing for a matter of hours and especially to send out a Detective Inspector rather than just two junior constables. London is a big city which means the police force would always be incredibly over worked, so I imagine it would need something special to convince them that this case is serious and Robbie isn't just overreacting. Perhaps he could allude to his celebrity status in some way, as this then becomes part of the plot with Robbie's raised media profile? Or ask to see the CCTV himself?

Neither Robbie nor Ingrid having a mobile phone was another element that struck me as a little unlikely – I could imagine one of them not having a mobile for moral reasons, but for both of them not to own just seemed a touch too convenient and I would recommend that you think about ways of having at least one of them actually owning a phone, but it being lost or broken. Perhaps Mendoza could spill something over Ingrid's phone which would initially appear to be accidental but in retrospect would have been a deliberate ploy to ensure that she couldn't contact Robbie or the police? I commission and edit crime fiction so I know how absolutely vital it is that you don't present readers with an opportunity to think 'that would never happen' because once they've lost faith in your plotting, it's almost impossible to regain it, so you really need your plotting to be absolutely water tight.


I liked the fleeting glimpses you gave us of London, the crowded, tourist spots of Covent Garden where the bar staff pay little attention to their constantly revolving clientèle, and the seedy backstreets of Tottenham. I would imagine that moving from a peaceful cottage on the Norfolk coast to the interview rooms of a London police station would prove quite a culture shock, and it would be fascinating to see how Robbie deals with this in subsequent chapters.

I would have liked to have seen how Robbie dealt with returning home alone to Norfolk, I think the empty house that he once shared with Ingrid presents you with a great opportunity to explore something much more atmospheric and haunting than the faster paced chapters before allow you to do.


We only really get to know Robbie in these first few chapters, and I do think we need to know a little more about him if we are to really empathise with him and the horror of his plight.

We know a few facts about him, but for me these didn't quite add up to a fully nuanced portrayal. I found it difficult at points to piece together the chronology of his life: when exactly was his novel published? If Mendoza was supposed to have died three years before, the novel must have been published several years before that, from what Asif says about Mendoza ranting to him about Robbie's success before he moved out to Spain. But in this case, what has Robbie been doing since that? If he hasn't published anything since then, would the Sun really describe him as the country's favourite 'new' writer? And why are he and Ingrid in London together this weekend? Is it a trip away, or is it a work event? We don't necessarily need those details for plot reasons, but they really will help readers think of your characters as real, flesh and blood people.

I also feel that because we don't see Robbie talking to Ingrid, or with either his or her family after her disappearance, it's difficult for us to form our own opinions of him. He can tell us what he's like but so much of what we think of a character comes through seeing how they interact with other people so if you were able to incorporate a telephone call or meeting where we see him let his family know what had happened, I think it could really benefit your characterisation.


Although I've made a number of suggestions for how you could alter or re-write sections of your opening chapters, I do feel that even in their current state, they’re very promising. However, if you are planning to submit this to agents at any stage, you will need to make sure they are as involving and gripping as possible so do look at my suggestions and see whether you think you could incorporate any of them or use them as inspiration for other changes.

Just as a quick additional note, I think your synopsis would also benefit from a little rewriting: at the moment you’re essentially repeating yourself with ‘fears the worst’ in the first line, and ‘worst fears’ in the second, which you want to avoid.

Alison, Random House

Rent A Chair: Safia Adam

I found your story to be a charming and surprisingly affecting read. The relationship between Greta and 'Frederico' felt very natural and genuine, and I liked the fact that, as far as I could see, there was no scandal that caused Frederico to kill himself, just a terrible sadness that his life was so different the illusion. I thought that Greta's reflection, that 'He had even rented a name', was a lovely way to sum up Frederico's pretend life which didn't diminish his character in any way. And how nice to have an older woman presented as perfectly bright, intelligent and curious, rather than as an object of pity!

As the story revolves around the importance of family, it might be interesting for you to look at ways in which you could bring them into the story a little more. Perhaps Greta could call her children on her way to her first appointment and not get through to Paul that first time? But even without this change, I could certainly see why your story has been so popular amongst readers – congratulations!

The Tracks by Daniel Lewis

Congratulations on being one of the Top Ten stories on YouWriteOn this month. I thought your story was very strong and you caught the voices of your different characters brilliantly, leaving me feeling genuinely moved at the end.

There were some lovely phrases that suggest to me that you have a real flair for characterisation, I liked the guard's teeth being described as 'like popcorn' and Suzanne's reflection that 'the end as real as I, suddenly, am not' and I was particularly pleased that we didn't learn too much about your characters, but were left to guess at why Benny thought certain people were 'Monsters' for example.

When writing multi voiced pieces such as these, there is always a danger that the characters risk sounding alike, as they've all been written by the same person, but I thought you brought out their different fears and obsessions and interests beautifully while underscoring the humanity that binds them all together. I also liked how it was clear that this was an event that would change everyone's lives, but in very different ways.

Good luck with the rest of your writing, I will be interested to see what you go on to write next.

Never Too Late – Susan Howe

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month!

The story of Dilly's renaissance will have struck a chord with many female readers I'm sure, and I very much enjoyed the relationship between Dilly and Jane and watching how each woman supported the other. I thought your writing was simple and effective, and lines such as 'Although he'd never laid a hand on her, Ray's scorn bit into her as much as any cuts or bruises’ beautifully conveyed how constant cruel jibes can be as damaging as physical abuse.

I was a little disappointed that your story didn't end with Dilly leaving Ray but perhaps that would have been just too tidy an ending, and the way in which you’ve written it allows your readers to imagine for themselves how Dilly’s courage will continue to build. Your story is lovely as it is but if you wanted to give it a greater sense of drama you could think about incorporating a scene where Dilly directly challenges Ray over his behaviour. The moment when she moves into Jasmine's room might be a good opportunity for that, in a subsequent draft.

Alison, Random House
 17 Feb 2012, 14:55 #143884 Reply To Post
YOUNG WOMAN IN DETROIT – Editorial Critique

Little Brown Editor Critique

Dear Yael,

First of all, I must say, it was a real pleasure to read the opening chapters of Young Woman in Detroit. I was really impressed with what you have achieved so far in terms of evoking a sense of place and the way you use carefully considered language to wonderful effect. You have a languid, lyrical writing style that suits the genre and period perfectly. In some respects I found it reminiscent of the early novels of Toni Morrison and also felt it contained shades of the recent international bestseller The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
What I hope to do with this critique is offer you some suggestions as to how you can hone and develop these chapters, and present some broader points to consider as the story progresses.

As mentioned above, your writing style really suits this genre; there’s something almost haunting about the way you describe the characters and setting. However, I think you should consider removing the text breaks, as they interrupt the flow of the prose here and therefore have a tendency to detach a reader from the story.

In some places I would tweak the phrasing slightly for clarity, for example, in the third paragraph ‘Olivia’s attendance at the one-room schoolhouse had been perfect until she was past fifteen.’ I would suggest replacing ‘perfect’ with ‘fine’. Also, in paragraph six, you describe Seborn Killion’s dead body looking ‘as if he had posed himself’, and this read slightly awkwardly to me. I would suggest substituting it with ‘as if he had struck a pose’.

There are some wonderful images conceived in these chapters, for example, the passage about the ice cream is extremely touching, and I thought the visual quality you created with Olivia imagining herself in a portrait as she’s walking in the snow was wonderful. Although I must say, it was at this point that I found myself wondering whether the novel would work better as a first person narrative, as the reader would be instantly pulled into Olivia’s world of hopes, fears and aspirations.

Something else to bear in mind as you revise these chapters, and the rest of the manuscript, is to look carefully at points of consistency and repetition. Consistency is particularly vital when it comes to names and you currently use both ‘Uncle Scruggs’ and ‘Uncle Lorenzo Scruggs’ in these chapters. I would suggest you pick one and retain it throughout to avoid confusion. Similarly, repetition can often have a dulling effect on a reader, but there are times when deliberate repetition can enhance a narrative. With this in mind, I wasn’t sure if the close repetition of ‘nosy neighbor ladies’ was deliberate or not.

In order for a reader to fully engage with a text, it’s imperative for an author to ‘show not tell’. There were moments of exposition in your opening chapters where I felt that you could have shown the reader the action, rather than relaying it in the past tense, for example, in the fourth paragraph you describe Olivia looking after her father in a few sentences, but I would suggest that you insert a scene in this first chapter where the reader has the opportunity to glimpse at a snapshot of her reality, so that they can fully empathise with her. It’s important to get a true sense of the drudgery of her life from the outset, so it’s clear why she’s so keen to leave and start afresh.

At this stage I also felt it may be necessary to make a little more of her thoughts about Olivia’s mother, as they’re clearly significant, but perhaps this is explored later in the novel.

I absolutely loved the opening – I found it arresting and curiously intimate – your carefully chosen words and phrases create a vivid setting and strong sense of place and period. However, I found myself wanting to know more. You mention a little about the house that Olivia and her family live in, but what does it look like – Sprawling? Crumbling? Imposing? And where is Maple Street – on the outskirts or in the heart of the town?

The sense of place is clearly going to be even more key to the novel by the time Olivia and Mourning have reached the inherited land and begin to work it, adding plenty of texture and colour to the story. The way I see it, the changes they create in the landscape could be be symbolic of how their lives, and their relationship, progress throughout the novel, which could add an extra dimension to the poignancy of the descriptions. I anticipate that there’s going to be something rather eerie about the place itself, and because of the tragedies that befall Olivia from reading your synopsis, I imagine that in spite of her tireless efforts, it will always retain an inhospitable atmosphere, almost as though it is another character in the novel. In this vein, something to consider may be whether the homes of Jeremy Kincaid and the Stubblefields could act as a subtle secondary commentary on their motives and support their characterisation?

I get the sense from reading the opening chapters that the characterisation of Olivia, and also Mourning Free, will gradually take shape as the story continues and this is clearly going to be a character-driven novel. From reading the synopsis, the success of this novel is going to hinge on the presentation and execution of this central relationship, which sounds extremely complex. It’s a difficult balance to strike in a novel – to create chemistry between protagonists that’s convincing enough for the reader to be willing them to consummate their romantic relationship, without them subsequently feel cheated when the characters don’t remain romantically involved. It’s also important that whatever happens, Olivia remains where the reader is reminded of Olivia’s youth and innocence as she attempts to catch snowflakes on her tongue.

Although I must stress that these are minor points as, on the whole, your characterisation is subtle and very well executed.
critique continues next post
 17 Feb 2012, 14:56 #143885 Reply To Post

I thought Nola June was beautifully rendered and is a fine example of the economy of your prose; in just a couple of sentences, I could picture her very clearly, as almost ethereal. And the way you describe Mr Carmichael so succinctly by using the children’s’ reactions to his appearance makes his depiction extremely vivid.

It would be beneficial, I think, to get a clearer sense of the brother/sister relationship between Olivia and Tobey – when he says ‘Well we’re orphans now…’ the tone isn’t very clear. Is it matter-of-fact? Despairing? Their relationship has the potential to really move the reader and perhaps this is explored further in later chapters. How does Olivia feel at the prospect of leaving him? There is definitely an implied closeness there, but I think you could take it a little further, either in these chapters or later on in the novel.

I also found myself intrigued by Uncle Scruggs. It’s important that the reader understands the significance of these family ties, so I hope this strand is developed further in the novel. Why was Olivia his favourite? Maybe you could introduce a flashback, perhaps as a short prologue.

The pace of the first chapter is very brisk, perhaps too brisk and the overall effect is a little superficial. As I mentioned above, I do think there is room for you to slow down at this stage, so that by the time Olivia is leaving Five Rocks the reader is eager to accompany her. Developing a greater sense of character and her personal history will help with this enormously.

In addition to the section depicting Olivia’s life as the sole carer for her father, I found the passage where she is addressing the issue of making a claim on the land a little rushed; it would be great to see her feistiness and ingenuity come to the fore here. Perhaps Mr Carmichael disagrees with the feasibility of Olivia’s claim to the land at first, but through her intelligent interpretation of the terms of the will, he ultimately has to concede that it is, at least a possibility. Similarly, by winning the argument, the reader feels that she’s clearly up for the challenge of whatever is going to come her way over the course of the novel. Olivia says she can use her mouth ‘just as good as Billy Adams’, so let’s see it!

On the basis of your synopsis for Book 1, you’ve clearly thought carefully about the plotting and the structure, peppering the story with interesting and three-dimensional secondary characters. I think the subplots will add depth and drama to the narrative and there are plenty of opportunities to ratchet up the tension, particularly with Olivia’s illness, her traumatic attack by the Stubblefields and their subsequent demise.

If you haven’t done so already, I would suggest that you put together a list of all your characters, think about their objectives within the story and how you’d like them to develop by the end. This will be a useful resource when you’re revising the novel so you can ensure that their various trajectories are sustained throughout and work in tandem with the plot.

Maintaining a driving force within the narrative is also vitally important. Often, novels have a tendency to drag somewhat in the middle, particularly when the primary objective of a protagonist is achieved (in this case, perhaps Olivia reaching the land). Do ensure that every line in the rest of the novel is as considered as those in these opening chapters and don’t act as ‘filler’ to pad out the story.

It’s fantastic that you’re thinking beyond this first book already as readers of historical fiction often enjoy reading part of a series, but it’s important that both novels can stand alone, so do consider this when you’re writing.

This is rather a small point, but I felt I needed to raise it. I’ve got to be honest and say that I don’t feel that the current title sells the novel in the best way. I actually preferred the previous title (Crazy Nola June’s Daughter) as it gave a sense of character and intrigue, but having said that I can see why you abandoned it, as I’m not sure it’s quite right either. I would suggest considering something more evocative – perhaps think about phrases or images you have concocted within the novel to come up with something suitable that packs more of a punch.

I hope that you find this critique useful. I think this novel shows a lot of promise and I hope that embellishing a little on the points above will help it to really shine.

I wish you the best of luck with your writing.

Lucy, Editor, Little Brown
 17 Feb 2012, 14:58 #143886 Reply To Post
Many thanks for feedback which we will pass on, and thank you for your stories

Yesterday, 16:45
#143109 Reply To Post

Please pass on my sincere thanks to Lauren at Random House for her kind and encouraging comments on Battle of the Barbies and Have a Good Day.

Feeling chuffed!
nil desperandum

Yesterday, 18:23
#143117 Reply To Post

Thank you Ted - these critiques seem to have come back really quickly and took me by surprise.

Please pass on my sincere thanks to Alison at Random House for her mini review of Rent a Chair. Her comments are very encouraging.

This post was last edited by safiaadam, Yesterday, 18:25
Shakespeare? he said. I seem to know the name .... To be sure .... The chap that writes like Synge.
(James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

karen milner
Yesterday, 18:26
#143119 Reply To Post

Quote: clairewhatley, Thursday, 16 Feb 2012 16:45
Please pass on my sincere thanks to Lauren at Random House for her kind and encouraging comments on Battle of the Barbies and Have a Good Day.

Feeling chuffed!

And so you should be, Claire. What fab reviews.

Yesterday, 18:45
#143121 Reply To Post

Could you please pass on my thanks to Lauren. Lots of great ideas there for me to mull over. I'm just starting another round of edits, so it's great timing. Thanks a mill
Triona (CJ Waters)

Yesterday, 22:10
#143136 Reply To Post

hey ted,

could you please pass on my thanks to alison at random house for her critique of 'the tracks...'

i really appreciate the feedback, and i'm chuffed that it's been so positively received.

now, on with those next chapters.

 17 Feb 2012, 15:40 #143890 Reply To Post
Please thank Alison for the mini-review of Never Too Late. It's much appreciated.
the long and the short of it

 18 Feb 2012, 15:58 #143968 Reply To Post

Thanks so much for the kind review. I appreciate your time, and would be delighted to send you more material if requested.

Regards - David
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