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 04 May 2011, 12:39 #116289 Reply To Post
Random House are the publishers of bestselling authors such as Dan Brown and John Grisham. Each month on editors from Random House and Orion 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 March 1st for 2011
 04 May 2011, 12:40 #116290 Reply To Post

L.J. Heneghan

From the sample material and synopsis, there was much I really enjoyed about your book. Famous Five meets Blackadder is a very appealing pitch, and your opening is acidly funny and succeeds in hooking the reader’s attention from the off. The arch, knowing narrative voice is reminiscent of the Lemony Snicket style and injects a lot of humour into your story, and your oddball characters really leap off the page.

The concept of a band of kids travelling through time and ‘fixing’ history isn’t a particularly original one, but you keep things fresh with a packed plot that has twists, intrigue and drama throughout. Ralf hasn’t yet been propelled back to the past in the material I’ve read – really go to town with your descriptions of the historical settings and the people he encounters. The 1939 village of King’s Hadow has plenty of scope for some great characters – I’m sure you’ll write these very well.

One drawback to having a narrator who isn’t actually part of the action is that events can feel ‘reported’ rather than ‘live’, and you can lose a sense of immediacy that is necessary to keep the reader compelled and completely involved in the story. For example, at the very beginning, we are told about Ralf’s parents’ deaths (I loved ‘…mysterious and gruesome accident involving a dog, some sausages and a two-ton steamroller’! The mind boggles…) and that Ralf is packed off to live with his Great Aunt Gloria, but we are given no indication about how Ralf feels about the situation. As a consequence, your reader struggles to engage and empathise with him, and he feels a little flat. Think about the Harry Potter books – the reader is constantly party to Harry’s internal thoughts and conflicts, and is very emotionally engaged with him as a result. I’d suggest developing Ralf more along these lines – inject a bit more personality into him.

Great Aunt Gloria is a fabulously surreal creation, but I did find her a bit inconsistent. She seems formidable and even frightening at first, but then makes an effort to cook him chips, as “Boys love chips, don’t they?”. Later on, we’re told that they play chess and read history books together. I wonder if you making her a more straightforward ‘ogre’ figure might work better? When Ralf goes exploring (I did find myself asking why he didn’t do this sooner) it would be good if he could be worried that Gloria might catch and punish him, adding some tension to the scene. Ralf making the decision to stay with Gloria doesn’t really ring true – why wouldn’t he take the chance to leave and find a normal foster family? He doesn’t seem keen to go exploring again, so what is it that keeps him at Janus Gate?

From reading your detailed synopsis, I can tell your plot really kicks off properly when Ralf meets the other Turnarounders. Lots of action and puzzle solving to follow – sounds great! Very best of luck with your writing – your ideas have bags of child-appeal.

Lauren Buckland, Random House.

 04 May 2011, 12:42 #116291 Reply To Post

Marion G. Harmon

What an interesting take on the well-worn superhero theme. I particularly liked that your main character is a petite woman – move over Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne! You clearly know a lot about the genre without being a slave to it – I thought people being able to ‘choose’ whether to use their newfound powers was an interesting concept – Hope could continue to just be a normal girl if she decided this life devoted to fighting crime wasn’t for her. Superheroes are so often shadowy, secret people, and I thought them being public figures with press officers etc was a very smart idea.
Your writing style is impressively controlled, with some light-hearted one-liners – I love the ending of the extract from Villains Inc, where Hope is told to leave the box alone. “Where’s Mr Moffat?” “We think he’s in the box.” Perhaps sprinkle more of this kind of dry, sharp humour throughout the books?

The opening of Wearing the Cape is great – very dramatic and packed with tension. However, Hope doesn’t seem to question her sudden ability to tear through the roof of her car. She tells herself to ‘Deal now, freak later’, and I appreciate that she has gone into saving-people-autopilot, but I think your readers will empathise with her more if she has a few more “I can’t BELIEVE this is happening!” moments. After Atlas takes her away from the crash scene, she still doesn’t really ask any questions or even register much shock/amazement at her ‘breakthrough’. The same can be said about when she discovers her father is Iron Jack. Be careful that your controlled prose style doesn’t rob the narrative of emotional punch – Hope is just a young girl, after all, and would have varied responses to things. At the moment she feels a little flat as a character – a lot of reporting of events takes place, but not much actual insight into how she is feeling. Perhaps play up her relationship with Shelly and tell us more about her sadness at her death, and that she’s missing out on usual rite-of-passage girl stuff like living with her friends at college, etc?

I love the extracts from the various guides at the beginning of each chapter – an inspired way of giving your reader information about the concept and set-up without having it clutter up the main plot.

A couple of small things – I thought the capes stood around appraising the scene where Godzilla goes on the rampage in Villains Inc for a little too long – yes, they need to formulate a plan, but there is a lot of destruction going on and not enough sense of urgency! And while I think Villains Inc is a great title, I wasn’t so sure about Wearing the Cape. Perhaps think of something more punchy and dramatic?

Very best of luck with your writing!
Lauren Buckland, Random House


Claire Whatley

Wow, your short story has really stayed with me! This genre is so hard to get right – and you’ve nailed it. It’s impossible to have character development in so few words, so you’ve stuck to the key ingredients – tight narration and pinpoint imagery. The corridor being described as “a tunnel of rancid butter” is brilliantly evocative. I really enjoyed the gallows humour of Pete hankering after the pretty nurses – it gives depth to what could have been a very depressing story of a sister visiting her terminally ill brother. The easy banter between Debs and Pete tells the reader all they need about them being close siblings – you convey all the relationships in this story so succinctly, with no need (or space!) for back story.

Lines like “It’s as though I’m doing something wonderful for the first time ever. Just sitting and holding a hand” and “I have the impression we’re an audience of two watching a hospital drama”, are heartbreaking in their stark simplicity. You convey a very affecting sense of grief without once straying into mawkishness – I was particularly touched by Debs’s observation “There’s a tattered smiley sticker on the corner of the seat. Every day I think of removing it, but don’t” – small, everyday things being magnified by acute sadness. The accident at the end is horrifying and hits the reader like the van hits Debs.

I was really impressed with your story - it is brilliantly written and you handle its pace perfectly.

Lauren Buckland, Random House.
 04 May 2011, 13:37 #116294 Reply To Post
Please pass on my thanks to Lauren for a really kind and incisive review. I am really chuffed that she engaged with it and will get to work on revisions post haste.

 04 May 2011, 14:13 #116301 Reply To Post
'Chuffed' is also the word from me. Please give my sincere thanks to Lauren for such a kind and encouraging review.


nil desperandum
 04 May 2011, 16:20 #116311 Reply To Post
Same here, Ted. I have seen the quality of editor-reviews vary from month to month, and Lauren has obviously put some thought into these. Please thank her for me.
 06 May 2011, 14:02 #116447 Reply To Post
Dear All

Thank you, and we have forwarded your comments to Lauren.

 02 Jun 2011, 11:55 #119107 Reply To Post
Is it me, or are the April 1st mini-crits a bit late? I haven't received one for The Special Years - or have I and I just can't find it?

Just noticed Claire got two for the same story this month. Shurely shome mishtake?
This post was last edited by dancingsue, 02 Jun 2011, 11:57
the long and the short of it

 02 Jun 2011, 12:19 #119112 Reply To Post
Quote: dancingsue, Thursday, 2 Jun 2011 11:55
Is it me, or are the April 1st mini-crits a bit late? I haven't received one for The Special Years - or have I and I just can't find it?

Just noticed Claire got two for the same story this month. Shurely shome mishtake?

I haven't had mine for Almost Perfect Plan, same month as you, Sue

 03 Jun 2011, 17:27 #119247 Reply To Post
I've sent Ted a note, Willow.
the long and the short of it

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