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 25 Apr 2012, 16:31 #148408 Reply To Post
NEW - Random House & Pan Macmillian Reviews

Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett. Pan Macmillian are also now providing critiques for youwriteon authors too. Pan Macmillian publish authors such as Emma Donoghue and Carol Ann Duffy. Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

Each month on editors either from Random House, Pan Macmillian 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
 25 Apr 2012, 16:32 #148419 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critique of Deceived

Congratulations on being a top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! I very much enjoyed the opening chapters of Deceived, which were a wonderfully tense and exciting read that left me desperately hoping that Anya would survive and escape her husband.


You open your story with a nicely disquieting scene in which Jed arrives at Anya's temporary seaside refuge. Although at this stage we don't know what has led Anya to flee from her husband, it's very clear from the start, even when he is attempting to charm the landlady, that this is a man who is not to be trusted. There were a few lines that confused me on my first read – how could Jed 'see' the sponge mixture the landlady had just put in the oven? – but it soon becomes clear that there is something very unusual about this estranged couple. The hints about what is really going on, the mention of the gift, Anya and Jed's visions, the 'society', the mysterious brooch, etc are kept to a level that intrigues and excites us, whilst not giving too much away or frustrating readers.

I thought you did a very good job of building the tension as you cut from Jed in the bedroom, his eyes fixed on Anya and Willow, and the scenes on the beach as Willow played happily, unaware of her father's arrival. When Anya realised that Jed had found them, but seemed to be heading back to the flat regardless, I had my heart in my mouth as I read on, convinced she was going to end up at the flat and was relieved that they were then able to escape in the car, although it soon became clear that they were not going to escape him entirely. Your extract ended with a particularly powerful cliff-hanger, first the revelation that Anya was (I assume at least) attempting suicide as the only way to escape Jed, and then the second, yet more chilling revelation, that despite the pills, she still hadn't escaped him.

For the purposes of creating more tension, I wonder whether it might be worth removing the line in which we discover that Anya has left Willow at 'St Madeline's Home for Children'? If the reader has no idea where Willow has been left – is it with family, or friends, or someone connected to the mysterious 'society'? - this would undoubtedly encourage them to sympathise further with poor, abandoned Willow and wonder just where Anya might have been forced to leave her beloved daughter.

Anya seems to attempt to trick Jed into thinking she had gone elsewhere: 'if she kept her thoughts open too long he would suspect a trick'. Is this so she can draw him away from where she has left Willow? If it's to try and trick him into thinking she has gone north when she's actually going elsewhere, it doesn't seem to work very well as he catches up with her that same night.

Quality of writing

Your writing is generally very good, with some particularly vivid descriptions; I loved the landlady's resistance melting 'like lard in the frying pan' and the wallpaper in Anya's flat peeling 'like a jaded bloom' as it brought a touch of faded beauty to what was undoubtedly a tatty, neglected room. Your description of Anya's dress, 'which merged like camouflage on the beach' went beyond a mere physical description to remind readers that this was a woman who was always on the run, always attempting to hide herself and her daughter.

Other descriptive lines may benefit from a little further attention, such as 'Cooking fat clung to her as if she'd just bathed in it'. I couldn't quite picture this – what did it cling to? Her hands? Her face? As we discover she has been making cakes presumably it might make more sense to say she was covered in flour and/or sugar? Sometimes it's just a matter of looking at your choice of individual adjectives: when Jed discovers that Anya and Willow have vanished for example, you write that he 'bounded out of the room' but this seems far too positive and cheerful a movement. I would normally think of dogs bounding across parks, rather than dangerous men hunting down their estranged wives and child.


Anya is the character I felt we got to know the most about, and I think you did a very good of emphasising the strain she was under whilst also showing us the resilience that she has had to develop as a result of Jed's pursuit of her. Despite clearly being frightened for her life, she comes across as a strong woman who has been preparing for this day for most of her life.

Jed is made more frightening by the fact we know relatively little about him – the passing reference to 'the effect he had on the opposite sex' gives us a possible insight into how his relationship with Anya came about, but by keeping his back story to the minimum in these first few pages, you force the reader to concentrate primarily on the threat he holds for Anya in the present day. Although I appreciate that the final scene in this extract may be cut off part-way through it didn't seem that he was surprised that Willow was not in the car with Anya – had he already realised that Anya was alone? Or is it just that he hasn't noticed yet? I wasn't sure whether in the line 'They would both know that pain soon and his suffering would ease', both referred to Anya and Willow or Jed and Anya.

Willow plays a relatively minor role in these first few pages although I think it will be clear to everyone that any child of 'magical' parents who bemoans their own lack of talents will rapidly go on to develop those self same powers!


You classify this as for an Adult/YA audience, which seemed right to me although I would say that children generally enjoy reading about characters who are slightly older than them, so it might be that Willow is a little too young to appeal to the thirteen-fifteen year olds, who I’d have thought would have made up the majority of your readers. I would also say, based on just these first few chapters that it’s likely to appeal more strongly to a female readership so if you did come to submit it to an agent, you might want to make that clear from the start.


This is a very strong opening; a tense, exciting read it introduces us quickly and effectively to your central characters and introduces us to a number of mysteries about which readers will undoubtedly be very eager to read on and find out the truth. Your writing is strong but remember that every word counts so do think very carefully about your choice of words, particularly in the early stages when you are trying to establish a character for us.

 25 Apr 2012, 16:37 #148410 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillan Editor Critique of Postcards

Dear George Adams

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of POSTCARDS. 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, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.


Structure is the backbone of a novel. It gives shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the narrative will not flow. For the most part, it seems like the narrative follows quite a linear direction. Told solely from Adam’s POV (point of view), it also aligns the reader with him. My biggest concern is how you structured the narrative in such detail that too much unnecessary information is fed to the reader that does nothing to further the story nor is it entertaining. So you need to look at streamlining the narrative more in terms of structure.

In the section that begins ‘This is all that had happened’ – this is quite a clunky way to introduce the backstory and events leading up to the present. You need to structure your narrative in a way that feels intrinsic to the story but also has moments that are unexpected, to keep the reader engaged. As I mention below, this present to past to present structural device doesn’t quite come together.


The opening few paragraphs didn’t really pull me into your narrative. You’re attempting to be both quirky (with the voicemail recording) and intriguing (with the rhetorical question of why Adam is phoning John), but it instead feels quite underwhelming to the reader. And when the narrative eventually catches up to when Adam makes that phonecall, the events are far from dramatic or compelling, making this seem anti-climactic. I think you need to reconsider this opening. It’s crucial that you engage the reader from the get-go if they are to remain invested in the story.

As I mention elsewhere, your style of writing is quite verbose and over-written, with words upon words and descriptions layered upon each other. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to an aspiring writer is ‘less is more’. Don’t over-tell or over-describe. By loading your prose with words, you can actually dilute the meaning and lessen the emotional impact. You need to draw the reader in and immerse them in your story, not overload them with words and images.

The plot seems to move very slowly in these early chapters. There’s too much preamble and set-up. I would suggest that when you come to redrafting the manuscript, you look at trimming these early scenes and focusing on moving the narrative along. Otherwise you risk losing the reader’s interest and engagement very early on.

My main concern, as I mention below in my comments on genre and market, is the science fiction element of the story. In all honestly, it doesn’t sit naturally alongside what is essentially a chick lit novel. It feels like you’re unsure of what kind of story you want to write. And while it’s great to be experimental and flout convention, this has to be done in a way that is fresh and original, and you haven’t really achieved that. So this needs serious attention when you come to rewriting.

Another plot point is that the postcards felt a little contrived at times. For someone who had never met Adam, would Julie really send a friendly, affectionate postcard saying she was going to drop in? Surely she would call rather than just expect someone she’s never met to be there or even be happy about her visit? I understand the plot hinges on the enigma of this, but it needs to feel believable. You might want to have a rethink about this. Perhaps tone the postcards down and even have Julie leaving a couple of voicemails?


While I warmed to your characters, they didn’t always convince as living, breathing figures. I think part of this is because of the dialogue and inner thoughts, which are presented in a way that can feel stilted, almost as a means to provide the backstory in an easy way for the reader’s benefit. Try to avoid this at all costs. Another piece of crucial advice to bear in mind when writing is ‘show don’t tell’. You need to show that a character is feeling a certain way, not merely have them say this is how they are feeling (which can feel like lazy storytelling). More can be said in what you don’t say than what you do. So try not to get hung up on bringing the reader up to speed with exactly what has happened in the story and how the characters are feeling. I’ve highlighted certain lines below that particularly jar, to illustrate my point.

I think you also need to work on Adam’s portrayal. He felt like quite a weak protagonist who lacks charisma. The reader needs to feel invested in his story if they are to carry on reading. So try to work on getting under his skin and showing what is unique and compelling about him, not just what is ordinary and familiar.

It also feels a little contrived that so many of the female characters look like Tracy – Libby, Fiona and Julie. Obviously Libby would be similar looking given they are sisters, and we’re told early on that Julie and Tracy got mistaken for twins (which is the main twist of the story). But why is Fiona so similar to Tracy and why has Adam only just realised? Are we actually supposed to believe that they really do look alike, or just that Adam is seeing his dead wife in lots of other women?

Continues next post
 25 Apr 2012, 16:37 #148411 Reply To Post

Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can also be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. I thought that while the setting was nicely evoked, a lot of the descriptions felt overwritten. Again, less is more.


As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone isn’t pitched right, it can seriously compromise the reader’s engagement with your novel. And I think this is one of the areas that needs particular attention. Given that it feels like you’re unsure of what kind of story you’re writing and what kind of readership to tailor it to, similarly the tone of the novel feels off-key a lot of the time. We feel none of the grief and hurt of Adam, we’re only told he’s feeling this. I think if you work on showing the reader rather than telling them how a character is feeling, this will improve the overall tone of the novel.


You have classed this as chick lit, mystery, romance and science fiction, which is quite an ambitious mix of genres. And to be completely honest, from a commercial viewpoint, I don’t think this works. Science fiction is a predominantly male readership, and the female readers who are interested in this niche market generally do not enjoy ‘chick lit’. So I’m concerned that in by trying to broaden your readership by fusing two genres together, you’ll actually alienate both readerships.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write to get a real sense of what works and what doesn’t work in this area of the market. It is vital that you understand your readership. After all, the first lesson in being a good writer is in being an astute reader.


If you intend to submit your material to a literary agent, most agencies will ask for the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis. So it is crucial that your synopsis concisely summarises the main plot elements as well as gives a taste of what the novel is like. Firstly, your synopsis is too long. You need to work on condensing it. And try to avoid inserting yourself into the synopsis – there is a lot of reference to what kind of book you think it is, your ambitions as a writer and your personal history. Instead have a brief author biography, separate to the synopsis.


A small point, but I felt the title was quite weak. It’s too obvious and simplistic, and conveys nothing of the essence or tone of the book, not does it really compel a potential reader to pick it up to find out what it’s about. This may be something you want to reconsider. Perhaps go to your local bookshop to get a sense of how other similar books are packaged and marketed to their specific readership.

General points and line notes:

You misuse the colon and semi-colon, which can be quite distracting as a reader. If you’re unsure of the proper usage of punctuation, it’s always best to stick with just commas and full stops.

‘She led me to the letterbox; one of our first routines upon returning home…’ – but Rebekah leads Adam out of the cottage, so they’re already home, they haven’t just come back from day care.

‘felt the warm water all around me; the colourful fishes drifting past; the young woman coming towards me; her smile, her warmth, her delectable smooth, wet skin’ – firstly, this makes Adam sound a bit lascivious but also it’s too wordy. Remember, less is more, especially with descriptions.

‘Back from the four-kilometre walk’ – would a two-year-old physically be able to walk that distance?

‘It’s been hard work for me, keeping happy for Rebekah, cheerful for my clients. Inside I hurt all the time’ – example of dialogue that doesn’t feel natural. Remember – show, don’t tell.

‘Tears glistened at the base of her eyes; delicate liquid trapped and quivering between her eyelashes; then splashed into fragments when she blinked’ – quite a drawn-out description about someone crying! Less is more…

‘No, but I’d say that would be it’ – why would he assume that Julie is Tracy’s Canadian friend when Tracy never mentioned a Julie? This feels a bit contrived.

‘She speaks so well! She’s not even two yet!’ – feels like you’re treading old ground. The reader already knows this.

‘skinny little pixie’ and ‘like a little pixie’ – again, repetition.

‘started bleeding badly’ – why? Did she cut herself getting out the spare wheel? Are we to assume she bled to death? Or that she fell over the gorge? It’s a bit vague.

‘Their smiles were spread across all three of us’ – odd description.

‘Can’t you see me Adam? Can’t you see me?’ – another example where the dialogue doesn’t feel natural but jars somewhat. Less is more.

‘I talked Libby into coming with me’ – why, when Glenn and Fiona are his close friends, and he’s trying not to lead Libby on when he knows she’s interested in him? Seems out of character and don’t quite understand Adam’s motivations here.

‘Fiona, Libby and Glenn exchanged furtive glances. So often, I seem to be at the centre of non-verbal communication that doesn’t actually include me’ – you’re overstating the point here as the second sentence just reiterates what we’ve been told in the first. Remember, less is more.

‘the then unknown but very talented…’ – unknown when? Presently? But then goes on to say he has a public persona, which contradicts that. This is a bit of a muddled sentence. Consider rephrasing?

‘Libby had been able to invite lots of her family…’ this whole lengthy paragraph is an example of lazy storytelling. You summarise what has been happening in a very overt way that is dry and uninspiring for the reader to read. Show don’t tell, and if it isn’t intrinsic to the story anyway, it doesn’t even need to be mentioned in summary.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need quite a lot of work. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

 25 Apr 2012, 16:38 #148420 Reply To Post

Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

Heating the House

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month and I do hope that the house fire you yourself experienced was nothing like as traumatic as the one in this story!

It is clear from the very beginning of your story that something bad will happen as a result of the couple’s purchase of the stove, so the challenge for you as a writer is to maintain a level of suspense and you perform a clever double bluff by switching the focus of your story part way through so the focus is not on the stove, but on the mystery of Rory's secret life. I also liked how the stove was ultimately responsible not for the destruction of something special to Izzy, which readers may have assumed from her earlier fears, but for the death of the man who championed it.

I would have liked to have seen a little more of Rory's bullying attitudes first hand as I think this would have been stronger than us learning about it from Polly's complaints about him, especially as this is the first we learn that Izzy and Rory are not as happy as they were when they bought the stove together. Showing, rather than telling, is the key here.

I did have some reservations over the ending of your story which might be worth you thinking about if you are planning to re-draft it any point. I couldn't believe that the fire brigade or the police would not have checked the entire property very thoroughly for anyone who had been trapped by the fire before they let anyone walk around, particularly as it was a residential property so was likely to have had someone in it at the time of the fire. I was also a little unclear as to how you wanted readers to feel at the end of the story. When Izzy tells her sons that they're 'going home' it sounds as if it's meant to be a positive ending to their story – now they are going somewhere they will be safe and happy – but surely the revelation of her husband's death, even if he had been cheating on her for years, would still leave Izzy devastated, if only for her sons, who have now lost their father?


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month on YouWriteOn. I am not sure whether your story comes from personal experience – I wondered whether it might have been intended as a piece of life writing, rather than as a piece of fiction – but the emotions behind it are very vividly and strongly expressed, even if it is fictional.

I thought you did a very good job of conveying how easily our lives can change, and how difficult it can be to manage not only your own feelings, but those around you. You didn't shy away from showing us how even though the narrator clearly adores her daughter, there are so many challenges to face as a result of her daughter's disabilities; even loving parents can sometimes be left exhausted and angry.

I am not generally a fan of exclamation marks in creative writing, unless used in dialogue, but I appreciate this is a personal reaction and so I would just suggest trying to keep these to a minimum if possible. I would also say to be careful of over using certain phrases, such as 'Let me tell you', do try and keep an eye out for phrases that you know you are particularly fond of using.

The Very Long Walk of Gerald Ferguson: Part Two

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month for your second instalment in your series. I haven't read part one, but I found this episode to be a entertaining, idiosyncratic read. There was plenty of humour to be found in Gerald's encounter with the amorous Beryl and I was quickly sympathising with poor Gerald as he struggled to be heard above Beryl's monologues. It might be interesting for you to read the recently published The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, as this also centres around an older man taking on an unlikely walk across Britain.

Do keep an eye on grammar and punctuation in future instalments – there were a few instances of 'your' instead of 'you're' and some misplaced commas – and try not to let your characterisation be lost in favour of humour. The odd pairing of Beryl and Gerald made for some very funny scenes but as someone who hadn't read part one, I wanted to know much more about Gerald himself, about why he was on this mission and what his friends and family made of his decision. I was surprised, for example, that he didn't seem to make any attempt to call his wife and let her know where he was. I know you don't want to keep repeating yourself for those who have read previous instalments but as Beryl doesn't know anything of Gerald's quest, I'm sure she could have asked him a few questions (even if she didn't listen to the answers!) about what he was doing and why.
 25 Apr 2012, 16:39 #148412 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillan Editor Critique of A RELATIVE LOSS

Dear J R Minett

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of A RELATIVE LOSS and thought they showed potential. I remember reading early chapters of the same novel in an earlier draft and it is much improved. However, I think the material so far still needs a fair amount of reworking and 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. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to a few specific line references to illustrate some of my points.


Structure is the backbone of your narrative. If the skeleton of your novel is sound in structure, this will help create pace and narrative flow. And this is the area that needs most attention. These early pages felt very unstructured and meandering. There’s no real sense of time passing, and Freddy’s thoughts and version of events seem to flit from one moment to the next, in bitty fragments. In short, the structure feels chaotic and directionless. You need to work on focusing the narrative and pulling it together into a more cohesive whole that will flow more naturally and really pull the reader into the story. At present the reader will feel quite distanced from the unfolding story as you fail to really immerse them in your fictional world.

As an example of the narrative feeling bitty and unstructured, there is one section where one minute Freddy is helping Mr Yeo with the pigs, the next he’s in class (only briefly touched upon for a couple of sentences) and then he’s back with the Yeos. It all feels very rushed and unfocused.


I thought the opening line was great. It instantly intrigues the reader and makes them want to read on to find out more. But as discussed above, the subsequent chapter soon loses its intrigue and becomes quite muddled and chaotic. It seems like you’re trying to cram what passes over a number of years in a short space of time, making it feel piecemeal and unfocused. This is something you need to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Too much of the story seems to happen off stage and the reader is just given an abbreviated version, rather than being witness to it as key scenes play out. For example, you never show Freddy’s reaction on learning the news that he is to be separated from his parents, or their reaction. It is just brushed over, losing all emotional impact and again feeling rushed. You need to tackle key scenes like this head on if you are to fully engage the reader. One of the most crucial pieces of advice I give aspiring writers is to show don’t tell. The reader needs to be witness to the important dramatic scenes that the characters experience. Otherwise you risk alienating them. And important bits of information are never touched upon in these opening pages. For example with the birth of his sibling – we have no idea if it’s a girl or boy, Freddy’s reaction to having a sibling and his relationship with it before he is forced to live with a strange family. Where do the Yeos actually live? And where have his parents gone? It seems his dad has remained in London, as that’s when Uncle Wal is killed going to visit him yet later there is talk of his dad being at soldier training camp. And where has his mum and the baby gone? Does he see them much? Are they far away from each other? It is key details like this that will bring the story alive for the reader. At present it all feels quite vague and hazy.


We don’t get a real sense of how the characters are connected or, more importantly, the reality of their relationships. For example, it’s not apparent early on who Freddy’s uncle is related to – his mother or father? And what is there relationship with Wal like? Uncle Wal is very domineering and a bully, yet you never really see how Freddy’s parents react to this. They seem like distant, elusive figures. You state in the synopsis that Freddy’s mother is lonely and never wanted children, but this doesn’t really come across in these early pages. You need to show the reader this.

Continues next post
 25 Apr 2012, 16:39 #148413 Reply To Post

While setting is the backdrop for any story, it can be a character in its own right and can help build atmosphere and even influence the tone of the narrative. Yet there’s very little physical description of where Freddy lives, what the Yeo’s house is like, Freddy’s bedroom, what his school is like, even physical descriptions of the characters. And subsequently, it’s very hard for the reader to envisage where the story is taking place, so once again they are kept at a distance from the narrative.


You class this as historical fiction, literary fiction and general fiction. Straight away there is a contradiction in your categorisation. Literary fiction is very different from general fiction, and if you’re unsure of what your novel is, that uncertainty will come across in your writing. I would class this as general and historical fiction only. ‘Literary’ connotes a certain profundity, sophistication and poetry of prose that isn’t reflected in your writing at this stage.

Family dramas set in the Second World War are a popular focus for a lot of novels, so for yours to stand out from others in its genre, it needs to feel fresh, original and with vividly drawn characters that the reader really cares about. And these are all things that you haven’t quite accomplished in this draft and should be a key focus when you come to rewriting.


I wasn’t convinced about the title, which feels somewhat weak. It also feels a little clunky in its meaning and doesn’t really convey what the story is about.

Line notes:

‘It had felt like war for ages and now he had a stutter’ – the two parts of this sentence don’t really feel related. Bit of a non sequitur.

‘it was Norman’s nerves which made Uncle arrange evacuation’ – why Norman’s nerves? He doesn’t seem like a particularly nervy boy. You make fleeting statements like this but don’t really expand upon them, again putting the reader at a distance from your narrative.

‘By October’ – this has no relevance as the reader has no sense of what month is was before or how much time has passed.

‘his stutter had gone … “M-meat?”’ Seems a contradiction as clearly Freddy’s stutter hasn’t gone. Or is it just because the idea of the pigs being slaughtered brings out his emotions and his stutter? Need to be clearer if it is to have meaning to the reader.

‘While the class wrote out the kings and queens’ – example of how unfocused the narrative feels. There is no description of school, you tell the reader what is happening rather than show them, and it all feels very rushed.

‘He looked at the window, the door. They still looked the same as when he’d gone to school that morning’ – meaning is too vague. What are you trying to say here?

‘He thought so highly of you, Billy’ – don’t you mean Freddy?

‘Cannon fodder. Know what that means now?’ – the meaning of this is a bit ambiguous. Is the reader meant to think that’s what he thinks Freddy is? Or that’s what Wal was?

The synopsis mentions that the Yeos have dogs yet these aren’t mentioned in the actual novel, or at least not in the early chapters.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far has potential but needs some revision. Particular attention needs to be paid to structure, providing more plot detail and building the characters. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 25 Apr 2012, 16:41
 25 Apr 2012, 16:42 #148414 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillan Editor critique of THE STRATHBUNGO CELLIST

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of THE STRATHBUNGO CELLIST. However, I think the material so far still needs a fair amount of reworking and 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. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to a few specific line references to illustrate some of my points.


Structure is the backbone of your narrative. If the skeleton of your novel is sound in structure, this will help create pace and narrative flow. And this is an area that needs particular attention when you come to rewriting. The structure is sometimes quite meandering, which makes the narrative feel a bit shapeless and directionless. While I thought the flashback scenes to Aulay’s time in Iraq work well and serve as a much-needed diversion from the main storyline, it didn’t feel particularly melded to the central narrative strand. I think you need to work on making these gel more together. I would also consider having a flashback much earlier in the narrative, even if it’s just a brief one, otherwise the revelation that Aulay is working as a spook seems to come out of nowhere. One of the things your narrative is lacking in is pace, and I think if your structure is more streamlined, this will help. You might want to consider storyboarding what happens in each chapter, so you get a clearer sense of the shape of the narrative and which areas are stronger than others.


From reading these early pages, this very much feels like a novel of two halves. The Glasgow-set strand is dark and sombre in its exploration of the cities seedy criminal underbelly. And the subplot in Iraq feels completely different in tone and approach. As I mentioned above, these two storylines need to feel more connected if the reader is to engage with your narrative.

The attempted assassination scene had the potential to be very tense, but it’s brushed over in a couple of lines, so all sense of action and suspense is quickly dissipated. You need to tackle dramatic scenes like this head-on and really pull the reader into that world. You want them on the edge of their seat, rooting for Aulay.

You also tend to rely on summarising events and reporting, rather than playing out scenes for the reader to experience first-hand. Try to avoid this, as it looks like lazy storytelling, and you risk distancing the reader. Pull them into your story and immerse them in this fictional world. If you’re telling them what happens rather than showing them, it becomes diluted. Keep that in the forefront of your mind when you come to rewriting this draft – show don’t tell. It’s one of the most important pieces of advice a writer can be given.

A small point – the way you set the scene and introduce backstory to the reader can sometimes feel a bit clunky and stilted. Details like this need to be interwoven seamlessly if you don’t want to pull the reader out of the story.


While more fleeting characters like Eddie and Eileen are great personalities who are vividly portrayed, Aulay’s characterisation felt quite flat. As a protagonist, I worry that he lacks the requisite charisma to carry the weight of a novel. You need to work on getting under his skin as a character and revealing his innermost thoughts. What is unique about his? He felt quite distant and unknowable to me. More like a pawn and observer than a main player. And it’s hard to visualise Aulay as there is very little physical description about him.

Similarly, Shaz’s depiction felt underdrawn. It’s hard to see just why Aulay is so obsessed with her, why she has such a hold over him. You need to show her allure more if the reader is to understand and empathise with Aulay. Like Aulay, Shaz too lacks charisma.

Continues next post
 25 Apr 2012, 16:42 #148415 Reply To Post

While setting is the backdrop for any story, it can be a character in its own right and can help build atmosphere and even influence the tone of the narrative. You effectively highlight the contrast between dismal Glasgow and the hot, otherness of Iraq.


As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a novel, but also one of the hardest to master. If the tone of you narrative isn’t pitched right or feels off-key, it can seriously compromise the reader’s engagement with your story. My concern with these early pages is that the scenes in Glasgow are unrelentingly dark and sombre. This would be fine if there was pace and suspense to keep the reader turning the pages, but as well as being very dark, the narrative is very languid and meandering. Although the Iraq flashbacks offer some relief to offset the darkness, these too lacks pace and suspense.


I was actually a little confused about what kind of novel you were trying to write, and that uncertainty really shines through in the story. As I said above, it feels like a book of two halves that don’t yet complement each other or gel. You write in what is a very niche area of the market. Only Irvine Welsh has been commercially successful, and this was largely due to the film adaptations of his work bringing his novels to a wider audience. And while your story is likely to appeal to a predominantly male readership, my concern is this will be very limited, as your novel lacks the pace and intrigue of the commercial novels that men tend to buy. What I would suggest is reading as widely in this area as possible, to get a sense of what is out there and what readers are responding to.


I felt the title was a little misleading about what type of novel this is. My instant thought was that it was perhaps a literary novel, given the reference to cellist. Again, be sure what kind of readership you’re aiming your novel at.

Line notes:

A lot of your writing feels quite vague in meaning, and I think some clarification is needed for certain lines of the novel to have meaning to the reader. You also use quite a lot of obscure lingo and slang that most readers wouldn’t understand. Examples below:

‘Shaz’d been busy’ – not sure what you mean? Unless you meant to say Eddie not Shaz?

‘He wasn’t blazin’ saddles, Aulay, in or out of the scratcher’ – from the context I understand what you’re saying but I think this slang is too uncommon for the general reader to understand.

The scene where Shaz and Aulay are talking by Kenny’s graveyard – would Kenny’s mother not be able to overhear their conversation if she’s also standing there?

‘Johnnie Smote saved up for months and Aulay had to agree’ – agree with what?

‘Daily Snot’ – assuming you mean a tabloid newspaper here? If so, should it be in capitals?

‘if Eddie has a shrapnel wound, Aulay could…’ – could what? I think you’re being too vague here.

‘Aulay slipped a half bottle of whisky into the voucher drawer. The nurses would understand’ – understand what? Again, I think you’re being too vague for this to have real meaning.

‘Why the Security Services wanted him to infiltrate a Glasgow drug gang’ – this information seems to come out of nowhere and is presented in a way that doesn’t feel remotely dramatic. This is surely crucial to the narrative, yet the revelation to the reader feels brushed over and underwhelming.

‘His insides squeaked when Shaz answered’ – odd description…

‘Have a seat, Hurricane’ – who’s saying this? Is Aulay being facetious calling Major Storm Hurricane? Or are there two men talking to Aulay – Hurricane and Storm? You need to be clearer if you don’t want to confuse your reader.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far has potential but needs some serious revision. Particular attention needs to be paid to structure, characterisation and pace. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

 25 Apr 2012, 16:43 #148417 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillan Mini-Reviews

Professional mini critique for Clingfilm by Franck Sligo

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. The story is very much told in Bernie’s voice. Narrated in first person, we see the story solely from her POV (point of view). But despite that, I felt like you never really got under Bernie’s skin. We actually know very little about her – her age, what she looks like (other than her red hair), whether she always plans to work in her father’s shop, how long since she left school etc. It is small details like this that will really bring a character alive.

I also found it difficult to understand Bernie’s thoughts and mindset about the boys taking advantage of her. At first it seems like it’s verging on rape, yet then she keeps on her a roll of clingfilm, and almost seems to welcome the male attention. I couldn’t decide if you were trying to portray her as simple or naïve. And this difference is crucial in how the reader will relate to her. I think you need to be clearer on what Bernie is really thinking. At first she obviously doesn’t understand what is going on during her encounter with Red, but her sexual awakening would soon lift the veil of ignorance. For the reader to empathise with her, they need to understand what is going through her mind.

A small point – you’re not consistent in your use of tenses, so this is something to keep an eye out when you come to redrafting.

Professional mini critique for The Wall by Marco Lobo

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your historical adventure novel. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is quite a niche area of the commercial fiction market, and one that is also highly competitive. So it is crucial that your novel is able to stand out from the rest. And while this was an engaging read, it didn’t immerse me or sweep me up in the way that I’d hoped. These early pages weren’t compelling or even particularly accessible; you seemed too focused on setting the scene and introducing the characters, rather than dropping the reader into the middle of the drama.

The exchanges between the characters also felt quite stilted, which will distance the reader. I can understand that you’re trying to capture the formality of the era, but it’s important that you pull the reader into your fictional world and make them care about your characters. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely in this area of the market as possible. The key to being a good writer begins with being an astute reader…

Professional mini critique for The Courageous Dream by Adrian Lynch

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. The after-life is a subject full of dramatic potential and one where you can really let your imagination run wild in how you portray it. However, I felt that you opted for quite a simplistic storyline where the backdrop of the afterlife wasn’t really intrinsic to the drama.

Whilst it was an entertaining read, the humour sometimes felt a little laboured, such as Peter getting traditional sayings muddled. And the language and dialogue often felt more tailored to a younger readership over an adult one.

Professional mini critique for For Our Liberty by Rob Griffith

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel, but I wasn’t instantly hooked by your storytelling. The tone – cheeky, light-hearted – seems somewhat at odds with the story. At times you have your protagonist directly address the reader. This is quite a risky and tricky literary device to pull off – one that will either endear the reader or distance them. And at present I don’t think Benjamin is a strong enough character for this to be effective. You need to work on getting under his skin, revealing what’s unique and charismatic about him.

Another issue with having your protagonist narrate the story is that a lot of the action is reported rather than played out for the reader to experience first-hand. By reporting and summarising what’s happened, all sense of tension, suspension and drama is lost, and you keep the reader at arm’s length rather than drawing them near.

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