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ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:53 #127383 Reply To Post
Random House are the publishers of bestselling authors such as Dan Brown and John Grisham. Each month on YouWriteOn.com 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 July 1st for 2011
ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:54 #127384 Reply To Post
Random House Editor critique of Chronic by Jonathan Budds

Congratulations on being selected as the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! There were some great stories in the top ten this month so I was interested to see which story had beaten all of them to the top spot and I was very pleased to discover the beginnings of an intriguing, off-beat mystery that I would certainly have read more of, had it been available.

Plot/Structure

I didn't read your synopsis before I read the first few chapters but I saw that it was described as a 'psychological mystery/thriller' and was expecting something more like a traditional thriller so was pleasantly surprised by the unconventional mystery that unfolded. The term 'thriller' generally suggests a tightly paced, nail-biting read that really keeps readers hooked and turning the pages whereas your novel had a much slower pace, with a rich sense of atmosphere; this certainly isn't a criticism but it is just to highlight that some readers may be surprised by what follows if they see the term psychological thriller. On finishing your chapters, I did feel as if I wanted to re-read it straight away, with the 'right' frame of mind so I could really appreciate that sense of atmosphere.

I personally really liked the oddness of the setting; the half-finished hospital with the wires jutting out of the walls made me wonder if Sam was dreaming at points, which worked nicely with the scene in which he did then dream Lizzie coming to visit him. Even the characters themselves often felt dream-like, the surgeon who never tells Sam his name, reminds me of those maddening dreams in which you're trying to make sense of everything but no-one will answer your questions directly. Even Sam's nurse isn't straightforward – I loved Sam's suspicion that he was pretending to be gay, it made it feel as if everyone in your book, except Sam, was actually an actor playing a part, with some playing their roles better than others.

I'm imagining this is a deliberate plot point which will be related to Lizzie's membership of Lativ, but it struck me as odd that Sam tells us he never met any of Lizze's vet friends and that we don't have any mention of her family beyond the scene when Lizzie tells Sam her name in the car; I would have presumed that the papers would have tried to interview them when they discovered Lizzie had apparently tried to kill her husband? Or that they might have tried to contact Sam and/or his father?

Quality of Writing

Your writing is generally good and works very well to build up the dreamy, slightly unreal feeling of the plot and the characters. Your scene-setting was very good and I'd have actually liked more descriptions of places because I think these were very strong, and contributed to that sense of the world not being quite as it should be.

Sam's father's description of it as 'An Area of Outstanding National Melancholy' worked perfectly with the bleakness of the life outside the hospital; it was easy to imagine how unexpected and captivating Lizzie must have appeared when she suddenly burst into that windswept world.

Characterisation

Your characterisation is particularly strong, you have a real talent for capturing people's voices in particular, which can be very tricky – I had such a strong sense of Lizzie and Dean even though we can't truly understand Lizzie's motivations, much like Sam himself. Her joke about the the seemingly sweet lambs potentially causing drivers to swerve to their deaths felt to me like your novel in miniature, something potentially straightforward and simple but with a very dark side if one were to just look at it from another angle.

The chorus of male patients on the ward was brilliantly done; there was a real sense of black comedy in their observations which added to the slightly odd feel of the setting in the half-finished hospital. I particularly liked how small the world felt; most thrillers tend to be set in urban settings and we traditionally perceive the coast as somewhere one goes to relax but you brilliantly subverted that by showing us dark and strange these tiny communities can be, and how much more terrifying life is when everybody thinks they already know your business.

At this stage I couldn't quite get a complete handle on Sam – I wasn't sure whether we were intended to see him as some kind of loner, rescued from single life with only his dog for company, or whether we were supposed to see him as a typical everyman who wakes up to find his normal life has spiralled out of control. In your synopsis you mention that he loves the visceral pain of cycling, which I thought was a really interesting idea and as pain is obviously to play a crucial part in the book that follows, I'd have liked to have seen this idea developed a little more in these early chapters. When Sam complains that he's always incredibly healthy – that 'bruises disappear overnight', it creates an image of someone very straightforward, not used to a world where he's not in full health, and I don't think this then works with the idea that he has something of a secret life where he is very familiar with the damage one can cause to your body.

Market:

Although I don't want to be discouraging, as I think your writing shows such promise and it's obviously been very well received by the YouWriteOn community, I thought it was worth flagging up that if you are hoping to find a traditional publishing house for your novel, its slightly off-beat nature might make it a little more difficult for you to do so.

Unfortunately, partly as a result of the recession, publishers are generally less willing to take risks on new or unconventional pieces of writing at the moment and because your novel isn't a straightforward psychological thriller, it's not so immediately easy to see how you would sell the book. As I mentioned above, thrillers do tend to suggest quite tightly paced narratives so, if you do reach the point at which you want to submit it to agents, you might want to consider how you would pitch the book to them using slightly different terminology so they're not expecting a more conventional read. I'm not sure whether you've ever read any Magnus Mills but I certainly thought he might be an interesting point of comparison for you – The Restraint of Beasts shares that brilliantly dream-like tipping into a nightmare feel to it.

Conclusion

This was a fascinating read, one of the most interesting, off-beat entries I've read so far for YouWriteOn. The plot breakdown in your synopsis suggests that the finished novel will be a very interesting read indeed and I do wish you the best of success with it. Congratulations again!

ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:56 #127385 Reply To Post
Random House mini-reviews

Solomon Says: The Blackmailer by Timothy Saint


I've now read a few different stories by you, and they are always extremely entertaining stories, with vivid characterisation. The Blackmailer is no different: the revolting character of Thorne-Baker, covered in food and dandruff reminded me of Roald Dahl's Mr Twit and I thought the idea you briefly touched upon – that blackmailing has changed because nowadays people aren't ashamed of their indiscretions and want to announce them to the world – was a fascinating one.

I did find the pay-off of this story slightly less successful than in your other tales, however and I think this is because the story itself didn't feel quite as fleshed out to me; the plot was all about the Old Lady's visit, so although the twist was still surprising, it perhaps wasn't as surprising because whatever revelation was going to happen, it was obvious it must concern her. If you were considering revising your story at any stage, I'd suggest looking at whether you could include some other characters – such as the tenants in the flat – even if it were only brief mentions, to give the story a little more depth.

Driving Sideways by Willow55

I really enjoyed the opening chapters of your work and I could easily see why you were one of the top rated stories this month – your writing is good, your narrator has a distinctive voice and I liked how you were able to keep the plot moving forwards while giving us tantalising glimpses into your characters' pasts. These are all the elements necessary for a good commercial novel, and you handled them very well; I would definitely have read on if there had been more to read.

I thought your characterisation was particularly strong; I could really picture Ellie's mother and sister, and you've captured how to sum up a character with just one defining characteristic, such as describing how 'Lawrence always gushed – he never 'said' when he could 'exclaim'; and he never laughed without grabbing an arm or a shoulder'. On reading that, I had such a strong sense of Lawrence – not only in isolation, but how he would have worked with the world around him. The only thing that slightly surprised me was that I couldn't picture Ellie as thirty-three, her voice seemed much younger to me, although I appreciate she is, as she describes herself, 'damaged' so may well be less mature than your average thirty-three year old.

Congratulations again!

No Time for Losers – Claire Whatley

Congratulations for being in the YouWriteOn Top Ten this month with your short story. It was a lively, well-written story that kept readers guessing, with a nice twist at the end. I liked how you didn't shy away from showing your main character, Annie, to be quite an unpleasant, judgemental character at points and how we saw her start to change at the end of the story. I did find the ending slightly uncomfortable in that I think we were supposed to share Simon and Annie's relief that Adam hadn't been wasting the past two years after all but I actually felt irritated on his behalf that now he was wearing clean clothes and was doing something respectable they were interested in him again!

Plotwise, I wasn't quite clear whether Adam was telling his parents that he had won a competition or a publishing contract, or both: he says that 'I've got a publishing contract now' yet he also appears to be holding a copy of his book and, had he just signed the contract with a publishers – which would also come with an advance – the finished book wouldn't be published for another year from that point. Adam says that he has won a prize for best debut novel but the book would need to be published before it was eligible for prizes so this would imply he signed a contract sometime ago and has undergone all the editing stages of the book in secret, without his parents knowing. It might be worth making that clear in a future draft of the story; personally I think you could just have him announcing that he had signed a publishing contract and that he had received an advance of £10,000 as that would still make the point that he hadn't been wasting these two years.
willow55
 18 Aug 2011, 01:38 #127415 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Wednesday, 17 Aug 2011 18:56
Random House mini-reviews


Driving Sideways by Willow55

I really enjoyed the opening chapters of your work and I could easily see why you were one of the top rated stories this month – your writing is good, your narrator has a distinctive voice and I liked how you were able to keep the plot moving forwards while giving us tantalising glimpses into your characters' pasts. These are all the elements necessary for a good commercial novel, and you handled them very well; I would definitely have read on if there had been more to read.

I thought your characterisation was particularly strong; I could really picture Ellie's mother and sister, and you've captured how to sum up a character with just one defining characteristic, such as describing how 'Lawrence always gushed – he never 'said' when he could 'exclaim'; and he never laughed without grabbing an arm or a shoulder'. On reading that, I had such a strong sense of Lawrence – not only in isolation, but how he would have worked with the world around him. The only thing that slightly surprised me was that I couldn't picture Ellie as thirty-three, her voice seemed much younger to me, although I appreciate she is, as she describes herself, 'damaged' so may well be less mature than your average thirty-three year old.

Congratulations again!



Ted, please pass on my thanks to RH for the helpful and encouraging review. Much appreciated. (And if the reviewer wants more of it to read, she's very welcome!)

This post was last edited by willow55, 18 Aug 2011, 01:42
Trik19
 18 Aug 2011, 08:10 #127425 Reply To Post
Congrats to all winners. You were picked by your peers and deserve to be commended on that. Well done.
Triona
YouWriteOn
 18 Aug 2011, 14:07 #127434 Reply To Post
Quote: willow55, Thursday, 18 Aug 2011 01:38


Ted, please pass on my thanks to RH for the helpful and encouraging review. Much appreciated. (And if the reviewer wants more of it to read, she's very welcome!)



Thank you, and we will pass on feedback to Alison.

Ted

This post was last edited by YouWriteOn, 18 Aug 2011, 14:08
daylightsimulator
 19 Aug 2011, 13:32 #127503 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Wednesday, 17 Aug 2011 18:54
Random House Editor critique of Chronic by Jonathan Budds

Congratulations on being selected as the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! There were some great stories in the top ten this month so I was interested to see which story had beaten all of them to the top spot and I was very pleased to discover the beginnings of an intriguing, off-beat mystery that I would certainly have read more of, had it been available.

Plot/Structure

I didn't read your synopsis before I read the first few chapters but I saw that it was described as a 'psychological mystery/thriller' and was expecting something more like a traditional thriller so was pleasantly surprised by the unconventional mystery that unfolded. The term 'thriller' generally suggests a tightly paced, nail-biting read that really keeps readers hooked and turning the pages whereas your novel had a much slower pace, with a rich sense of atmosphere; this certainly isn't a criticism but it is just to highlight that some readers may be surprised by what follows if they see the term psychological thriller. On finishing your chapters, I did feel as if I wanted to re-read it straight away, with the 'right' frame of mind so I could really appreciate that sense of atmosphere.

I personally really liked the oddness of the setting; the half-finished hospital with the wires jutting out of the walls made me wonder if Sam was dreaming at points, which worked nicely with the scene in which he did then dream Lizzie coming to visit him. Even the characters themselves often felt dream-like, the surgeon who never tells Sam his name, reminds me of those maddening dreams in which you're trying to make sense of everything but no-one will answer your questions directly. Even Sam's nurse isn't straightforward – I loved Sam's suspicion that he was pretending to be gay, it made it feel as if everyone in your book, except Sam, was actually an actor playing a part, with some playing their roles better than others.

I'm imagining this is a deliberate plot point which will be related to Lizzie's membership of Lativ, but it struck me as odd that Sam tells us he never met any of Lizze's vet friends and that we don't have any mention of her family beyond the scene when Lizzie tells Sam her name in the car; I would have presumed that the papers would have tried to interview them when they discovered Lizzie had apparently tried to kill her husband? Or that they might have tried to contact Sam and/or his father?

Quality of Writing

Your writing is generally good and works very well to build up the dreamy, slightly unreal feeling of the plot and the characters. Your scene-setting was very good and I'd have actually liked more descriptions of places because I think these were very strong, and contributed to that sense of the world not being quite as it should be.

Sam's father's description of it as 'An Area of Outstanding National Melancholy' worked perfectly with the bleakness of the life outside the hospital; it was easy to imagine how unexpected and captivating Lizzie must have appeared when she suddenly burst into that windswept world.

Characterisation

Your characterisation is particularly strong, you have a real talent for capturing people's voices in particular, which can be very tricky – I had such a strong sense of Lizzie and Dean even though we can't truly understand Lizzie's motivations, much like Sam himself. Her joke about the the seemingly sweet lambs potentially causing drivers to swerve to their deaths felt to me like your novel in miniature, something potentially straightforward and simple but with a very dark side if one were to just look at it from another angle.

The chorus of male patients on the ward was brilliantly done; there was a real sense of black comedy in their observations which added to the slightly odd feel of the setting in the half-finished hospital. I particularly liked how small the world felt; most thrillers tend to be set in urban settings and we traditionally perceive the coast as somewhere one goes to relax but you brilliantly subverted that by showing us dark and strange these tiny communities can be, and how much more terrifying life is when everybody thinks they already know your business.

At this stage I couldn't quite get a complete handle on Sam – I wasn't sure whether we were intended to see him as some kind of loner, rescued from single life with only his dog for company, or whether we were supposed to see him as a typical everyman who wakes up to find his normal life has spiralled out of control. In your synopsis you mention that he loves the visceral pain of cycling, which I thought was a really interesting idea and as pain is obviously to play a crucial part in the book that follows, I'd have liked to have seen this idea developed a little more in these early chapters. When Sam complains that he's always incredibly healthy – that 'bruises disappear overnight', it creates an image of someone very straightforward, not used to a world where he's not in full health, and I don't think this then works with the idea that he has something of a secret life where he is very familiar with the damage one can cause to your body.

Market:

Although I don't want to be discouraging, as I think your writing shows such promise and it's obviously been very well received by the YouWriteOn community, I thought it was worth flagging up that if you are hoping to find a traditional publishing house for your novel, its slightly off-beat nature might make it a little more difficult for you to do so.

Unfortunately, partly as a result of the recession, publishers are generally less willing to take risks on new or unconventional pieces of writing at the moment and because your novel isn't a straightforward psychological thriller, it's not so immediately easy to see how you would sell the book. As I mentioned above, thrillers do tend to suggest quite tightly paced narratives so, if you do reach the point at which you want to submit it to agents, you might want to consider how you would pitch the book to them using slightly different terminology so they're not expecting a more conventional read. I'm not sure whether you've ever read any Magnus Mills but I certainly thought he might be an interesting point of comparison for you – The Restraint of Beasts shares that brilliantly dream-like tipping into a nightmare feel to it.

Conclusion

This was a fascinating read, one of the most interesting, off-beat entries I've read so far for YouWriteOn. The plot breakdown in your synopsis suggests that the finished novel will be a very interesting read indeed and I do wish you the best of success with it. Congratulations again!



Hi, and thanks very much for your review and advice. Much appreciated. Yes, the whole genre thing is slightly twisting my melon. I suppose the writers I was thinking about when I was working on Chronic (Murakami, early Ian McEwan, early Rupert Thomson, and yes, you guessed it (!), Magnus Mills) tend to blur genres and are just great off-beat, thought-provoking storytellers. I went for the 'psychological mystery thriller' because it seemed closest (questions about reality, head games, odd cults etc) and these days, 'literary fiction' just sounds a bit...well, you know.
Sigh. Anyway, I'll definitely incorporate your comments as I re-draft. If this one doesn't work, I still have my boy-teen agit-prop novel and my gothic cycling novel! What's that you say? Those don't fit genres either...? Dah!

daylightsimulator
 19 Aug 2011, 13:45 #127506 Reply To Post
Ted, sorry, I'm a bit thick: does the reviewer see replies automatically or do you pass them on?

If the latter, could you pass on mine? And if he/she would like to see more, then to let me know.

Thanks a lot.

Cheers

Jonathan
This post was last edited by daylightsimulator, 19 Aug 2011, 13:49
stjerome
 20 Aug 2011, 12:18 #127587 Reply To Post
Hi Ted

Would you please pass on my thanks to Alison for her review of Solomon Says: The Blackmailer.

The 'Solomon Says' project has been an enjoyable one and I've found both Random House's and Orion's critiques interesting and helpful.

Tim
Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited.
Ambrose Bierce (1842 -1913)
YouWriteOn
 23 Aug 2011, 18:33 #127824 Reply To Post
Thank you both, we will pass on your feedback to the Random House editor, Ted
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