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 13 Nov 2017, 14:25 #235313 Reply To Post
The critiques from Editors at Bloomsbury for the last competition period are below.

Thank you to everyone for their stories. The standard of top ten stories considered for the ten Editor critiques was exceptionally high, and it was a difficult decision to decide on the final ten.

All stories that didn’t receive a critique this time round are welcome to try again in the current or next competition period. This includes reuploading again if you want to start with feedback from scratch as the quality of stories was very high.

The Editor critiques include the longer critiques for the three stories judged as the top three for this competition period and the mini-critiques for the other seven stories.
 13 Nov 2017, 14:28 #235314 Reply To Post
Critiques from Alison, Senior Editor at Bloomsbury

The Boy Thief – Chloe Mesanges

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with the opening to your story about Akili and Alice. Both make for good protagonists – determined and brave, and perhaps both a little reckless as well – and look to have the depth needed to carry a story.


A dual narrative is an excellent way of keeping readers hooked as you constantly switch between your two characters, and it's a great way of introducing cliff hangers. The potential problem with this approach is that readers will normally always have a favourite character, whose timeline they prefer, and to be honest, there is very little you can do to combat this other than ensure that equal space is given to each character = so no-one has more chapters than the other – and you're giving both of them a series of small challenges, which keep their respective plotlines moving forwards.

At present, Akili's storyline was the more compelling for me, as he was so alone in the world, whereas Alice at least had her family and her friends and a certain level of support and wealth to sustain her. I wonder whether, if we saw for ourselves more of the relationship with her friends we would feel more for her when she has to move? In its current form, I didn't have the sense her friends were really close to her, and that might raise the stakes if we genuinely thought Alice was losing people who really understood her and what she had gone through with her bother. As it was, I could kind of see her parents point that a change would be good for them all.

Poor Akili and his bus journey! I think you do need to slow down a little before Akili does run away, it's such an impulsive decision and while I appreciate that we do find out that his step father is abusive and violent, we don't really see this for ourselves before Akili makes his decision to run. He goes from seeing a friend for what appears to be a routine night to running away and there’s almost nothing in between to show us the thought process. Is he taking any supplies with him? Is he sad or worried to be leaving his mother behind? I wasn't quite clear what had happened to his bus ticket – when exactly did he lose it? Perhaps that is something you could bring out more clearly in the next draft, along with how frequently the buses run, as I had just assumed he would be able to get straight on to the next bus with no real problems.


I like the awkward, passionate, unhappy Alice – I think many readers will be able to identify with her emotions and her desperate desire to fit in and her compulsion to tell stories. I really felt for her when she was blocked by the boy she liked on WhatsApp, and my only thought was whether her parents could perhaps be a little softer towards her when they first tell her about the trip to Africa? I know they believe they are doing the right thing but I would have thought they'd also know how hard it must be to be told they were moving to a country Alice didn't know at all, without her friends, so perhaps they could try and be a little more persuasive at first, before she responds so badly.

Her father is well drawn, I loved the idea of his personality filling the hallway 'even more effectively than his impressive height' – this is a very vivid image. Her mother is perhaps a little more lightly sketched in at this stage – you've set her up to be something of a career woman, but I wanted more depth to her depiction, as we saw with her father and his different personalities at home and at work. One thing I would flag up is that Alice's mother is described as wearing 'slacks and a blouse' but I can't quite imagine a school girl using words like 'slacks'; it seems a little old-fashioned to me.

Akili seems bright and kind and considerate, and I did feel for him being pushed off the bus! At the moment we don't get much sense of what is going on in Akili's head in the way we do with Alice, so perhaps that's something you can look at drawing out so that readers can get under his skin.

I do love the 'slow, awful smile' of Akili's step-father – what an incredibly chilling description! The contrast of that 'awful' with the idea of a smile, which should be warm and friendly, is done perfectly to conjure up a real sense of menace.

Atmosphere and writing:

There are some lovely details in your story that brought it to life for me; the scent of the chicken stew, for example. It's just a tiny detail but it's wonderful to see an author using all five senses and not just focusing on how something looks. I thought the image of Alice and Toby perched on the top stairs, peering through the bannisters like squirrels looking through the branches was lovely, and perfectly captured the sense of two children huddled together.

One thing I would like you to think about is having a little more confidence in your writing, but also in your readers. It's very common to feel that you must explain everything to a reader immediately, for them to understand what is happening, but readers are bright, curious people who love to engage with a piece of text and start to slowly build up a picture in the mind; they're often very good at filling in the blanks themselves. For example, on the first page, you tell us that Akili lives in a 'tiny village in the Usambara mountains of Tanzania' and that Akili hisses 'in Swahili'. I'd just to encourage you to think about whether we need to know that information so quickly. Do you think readers would be able to understand the story without that detail? Might there be a way you can draw it out more naturally? This information is given to us in the context of Akili thinking how wonderful it must be to live in a city rather than his village, but Akili already knows that he lives in Tanzania. Would he really need to include that extra detail or is that something included for the reader, much like the fact they're speaking in Swahili? It's a hard balance to drip feed information and to maintain the conceit that this is all happening inside Akili's head, but I want you to really think about how you can do that as that's what really pushes writing on to the next level.

Just a few small spelling mistakes that I picked up were 'causally' should be 'casually' and 'blond' should be 'blonde' when used for a woman, so Alice's mother would have 'blonde hair', her brother 'blond hair.'


This was a promising start to a story and you've got the foundations of your story and characters in place. What I would encourage you to look at it in the next stages is how to really get under the skin of your characters and show us, rather than tell us, how they feel, particularly in relation to Akili and his decision to flee his town. I'd also encourage you to apply those characterisation skills that work so well with Alice's father to her mother as well, as right now she seems far less well defined. Good luck!

Alison, Editor, Bloomsbury

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 13 Nov 2017, 14:30
 13 Nov 2017, 14:29 #235315 Reply To Post
'Mini-Critiques' - Alison, Senior Editor at Bloomsbury

The Vanished by Simon Totten

I have to say that this took me by surprise! I didn’t read your pitch in order to come to it completely fresh and was expecting from the opening scene that this would be a dark and scary read about missing children and then we were in a fantasy land with garrulous fairies and giants.

I do generally advise writers to avoid rendering all dialogue phonetically – unless you are Irvine Welsh it can become quite wearing, especially when the journalist opening the piece speaks in 'normal' dialect, which could suggest that the working class characters don’t speak ‘proper’ English. It's great to really want to give readers a sense of your characters' background and accents, but I would strongly advise that a few well-chosen words of dialogue sprinkled throughout will do wonders; every single line feels too much and is a distraction from the actual story you're trying to tell. You don't want to run the risk of readers spending more time working out what the characters are saying than on imagining this fantastical, very surprising world you've conjured up for them!

I do think your portrayal of Amy is a little broad and I would say, sometimes verging on the cruel; 'forcing her not inconsiderable weight' for example, feels like an unnecessary jibe at her weight. Is that essential for the story, I wonder? The fairy makes another reference to Amy's weight later on, and you highlight her struggling to keep up because she's unfit, and I don't think you need these repeated references. The equation fat = lazy/bad character in children's books is a very uncomfortable one so I'd like you to really think about the associations you're making, however subconsciously. Books should include a range of characters of different body types but at present you seem to be linking Amy's weight to other more unpleasant characteristics. If Amy’s weight is relevant to the story you’re telling, is there a way you can explore that without it seeming to be a consequence of her being lazy and/or spoilt?

What I also struggled with a little was the way you seemed to initially set Amy up to be a fairly stereotypical teenage girl, into pink and glitter and celebrities and reality tv, and then had her instigating them escaping and going to play into the woods. I couldn't quite square the picture of Amy as caring about her pink hoodie and her hair, etc as wanting to go into a dirty, messy wood and I'd like you to think about ways in which you can make this more convincing that she would take this approach. Perhaps you might consider bringing out a more tomboy-ish side to Amy, or alternatively have her take less joy in climbing and just see the woods as a way to escape the suffocating misery of her new house and her mother?

Good luck!

Slaves of God – Peter Riddelsdell

This was a fascinating chapter to read and while I know that you said you didn't need to read the first chapter to understand this, I did put it down find myself wondering what might have happened in that first chapter and who else we might have met in that!

I thought you blended the historical setting atmosphere very skilfully into the narrative; it can be a challenge to maintain the right balance between helping the reader understand the context and not overwhelming the actual plot, but this worked well here and was helped by your engaging central character. I liked the fact that I wasn't entirely sure whether Andrew was a genuine, passionate believer or whether his love of adventure had led him to seizing on the opportunity being a missionary provided and I think that ambiguity could be extremely useful to you as the novel unfolds.

My one concern is that there is a lot of information and names to absorb in this opening chapter; I understand that Mr Peel has to explain why Andrew has been summoned to their organisation but I did wonder whether some of this story could be cut back a little to allow more space for Andrew's feelings to come to the fore? The best books are those in which we can really get under the skin of a character and I would have loved to have seen a little more of how he felt hearing what Mr Peel was telling him. I did love the conclusion to this chapter with him realising some kind of mistake had occurred – it made me think of a more serious Scoop, with a case of mistaken identity – and debating whether to confess or not, but I also liked the mysterious reference to their very different ways of praying and I think it's these tantalising little references that will hook a reader, rather than a lot of background detail.

I hope this is helpful, and good luck with your next draft!

Slotting In by Paul Marlow

This was an interesting opening piece, which gathered pace at a surprising rate. I would recommend slowing down the pace of your story, to enable readers to really get to know Student so we can really understand why he adores Yakov and how he could so quickly accelerate to killing someone for money. Student is obviously confused himself about his feelings and who he is and what he wants for life, but I want you to spend a little longer showing rather than telling us how he feels. You often default to the characters telling us how they were feeling and I sometimes felt they found it too easy to articulate what was bothering them; most people I know find it much harder to be able to grasp what is at the heart of the matter and express it in words.

I also think your work would benefit from a slower built to Student's attraction; we move very quickly to Student's 'secret thoughts' that go straight from admiring Yakov’s hips and clothes to him thinking of 'pleasuring Yakov between two fruit machines.' I feel it would be more convincing and engaging if you were to draw the reader in slowly, if Student admire Yakov's physical appearance and gradually built up to his fantasies of it turning sexual. To go straight from Student admiring Yakov's close fitting t-shirt to wanting sexual relationships in just two paragraphs is too fast, I feel, and you risk losing the reader along the way. Perhaps let us realise Student's real feelings before even he does.

It seemed a little strange to me that Yakov didn't react more strongly to Student's declaration of love; I do appreciate that Student says 'I wonder if I love you' rather than an all-out declaration of love but I would have thought that growing up in such a masculine culture, Yakov would have reacted more aggressively rather than simply avoiding eye contact and speculating that Yakov didn't like women. I would suggest you might want to take another look at this scene; perhaps Yakov could be initially horrified and Student can offer Yakov more money to win him back over, and from there we could build to the stabbing?

Just on a quick side note, this may just be me, but I'm afraid I rather took against the punning tone of your title! The book itself seems serious in its tone, so this felt like something of a mismatch when everything, title, book, pitch, should be working together as one harmonious whole.
 13 Nov 2017, 14:30 #235316 Reply To Post

Critiques from Marigold, Editor at Bloomsbury

The View from Upper High Hog by Caroline Bridges

Congratulations on your story having been one of the top-rated this month!

You immediately set up an intriguing central relationship. Bebe/Bette Noire is the narrator’s guardian – so what happened to the narrator’s parents? Nor does it seem an entirely happy or equal relationship. A tale of an orphan always holds intrigue – just think of Dickens. Plus, you then use the Gatsby/Carraway trope of the reserved, quieter narrator, being drawn into the life and world of a more glamorous being, and taking the reader with them. You neatly flip of the reader’s expectations when the touching moment when Bette Noire declares her love for the narrator, meeting her eyes, is disrupted by the narrator then revealing why Bette Noire’s story, and therefore her declaration of love, is ‘total baloney’.
It would be good if you could give a year for this section, particularly as you give us a time and location for the next. Could you also name each section, so we know who is speaking? Otherwise, the reader will assume the voice speaking in ‘Bebe Gets the Hook’ is the narrator from the first section.
I do have another suggestion, which you may not like. I slightly worry that by giving us this opening, strong as it is, you have given the game away. We know that Bebe will be fine and that she’ll end up taking this child, or whatever it is, on her adventures, because we’ve had this opening. So the following chapters lose their intrigue rather. Might it be better to begin straight with Bebe? Particularly as she has such a strong voice?

Bebe/Bette-Noire’s voice is really good. It’s so sassy, tough, quick-witted and of its era. You give her a lovely rhythm and there are some great, juicy lines: ‘like a ghost trying to remember how to live or something’ – it’s the ‘or something’ that makes it true to Bebe; she’s thinking on the hoof, nothing is polished, but there’s flair and glitter a-plenty.

I found the plot at times too fast-moving and quite disorientating; I felt a lot was being skated over. To match her character, Bebe’s voice and narration races along and while this makes the voice vivid, and while I love the tantalising glimpses Bebe gives us of her past (she’s had eight husbands – how did all the others die?), I did sometimes want solid ground beneath my feet and to spend longer in the stories she is relating, to experience them as they’re happening rather than only as anecdotes and pithy one-liners. What is this set-up where she is staying, where her husband was employed? I have no sense of how big it is, what it looks like, what kind of countryside it is set in. As she leaves it pretty swiftly, perhaps this isn’t a problem, but when Bebe arrives at her new home, make sure you let us see where she is living, so she isn’t a character floating around in a void. Similarly, I found it frustrating in this opening that Bebe recounts, ‘even before … things had been getting real weird up at the house’. I wanted to see that weird stuff, not just be told about it in retrospect. I think you have three options here: leave it as it is but ensure you spend more time building up the suspense and weirdness later on; show us this weird stuff, by introducing a sizeable new sections; or keep the reference to weirdness out of it and instead let Bebe and the reader walk into the new job near-innocent, near-wholly trusting, then build up the weirdness more gradually (although I can see that being thrust onto a train and given a small child isn’t exactly easy to pass off in a low-key way).

Everyone pales in comparison to Bebe, don’t they? However, I’m always wary of a novel with only one strong character. Are you going to make the Russian child a bigger character? Or voice? Having other strong characters should help Bebe’s character; she’s a joy of a character at the moment, but I wonder if she might become one-note without other characters to interact with? If you want her to be a fully-rounded character, we’ll need to see those moments when real emotion comes through in her, not just sassy ripostes and healthy, veering on deluded, self-belief. Just a moment of self-awareness, a realisation of the vulnerability of her position in society, could be rather effective. Moreover, other characters will give us a bit of a break from Bebe, who is such a force of nature it might be nice to break that intensity up a bit.

Only two very small ones. The first is that in the opening section, the narrator reveals she was four when she was first foisted onto Bebe. Yet in Bebe’s narration, the child is very much still a baby. Perhaps this is all part of Bebe being such an unreliable narrator, but I wanted to flag it up just in case. A baby would be easier for Bebe to cart around in later chapters, but a four-year-old might hold more comic potential?
The second is an even smaller consistency. Bebe reflects that just before she heard of her husband’s death, she was ‘still thinking of asking if I could borrow the ape to form a new act’: this is the first time she’s had that thought, so I would amend to ‘I was thinking about asking’.

Comic writing is extremely hard to pull off and comic novels are a tough sell. I worry that Bebe’s arch tone might potentially become grating, so to avoid that, it’s really important you have a solid story for her to be our hero (or anti-hero) in. Historical fiction, however, will always be popular, and that’s what you have also created. You have a really promising beginning here – a brilliant central character, an intriguing premise and a fascinating period of history. Allow yourself to pause for breath; don’t let Bebe rush you along. You need to build up atmosphere, suspense, surroundings, if you want to immerse the reader and keep them hooked. But it’s an original story and an original character, so I think you’re going to have a lot of fun – and that should translate into the novel and to the reader.
 13 Nov 2017, 14:31 #235317 Reply To Post
Critiques continued.

Kelly van Nelson Daughter of a Divorcee

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

What a great opening line. You place us one of the most traditional and recognisable settings – a wedding – but immediately indicate there's something a bit off – the jokey graffiti on the soles of the groom's shoes. You then further subvert the expected by dropping the reference to the bride having wrinkled hands. This is no blushing young bride. Readers will want to find out more about this unusual set-up. One quibble: wouldn't the police say with what they are charging the mother? I can understand why you're withholding it, you want that to be revealed later, but that seems a bit of a cheat. I almost wonder if you should tone down the drama of this opening; the police blundering in seems unrealistic. With a less dramatic opening, the charging could be done off-stage, as it were, and you could therefore keep it secret from the reader without it seeming too deliberate.

The thing I tripped up over occasionally was something rather prosaic: time-line. At the end of the wedding scene, Kat/Kitty mentions being thirty – ie she was born in 1986. But then it goes back to 1984 and not only is she alive, she's old enough to be twirling in a skirt (we later find out she's five). In chapter three, she's eight. That's fine for time to progress, but I don't feel there has been that much of a change in the story, relationships or narrative voice and outlook, from her being five to her being eight. I wonder what has happened in those missing three years?

I slightly worry that Kat's voice isn't always entirely convincing as a child: 'they sway like they've eaten too much of that sherry trifle that us kids have been told is off limits'; her knowing that such a word as 'chameleon' exists; the cake looking like 'a garden filled with the most fertile earth that any living thing could live off'. You've written some lovely lines that do work from a child's perspective: Kat deflating as if she's one of the red balloons and Coleman has prodded her with a pin, or later, Frank being like a snail coming out of its shell. You have a nice wry voice, a sly way with asides; just be careful this doesn't take over the child's narration.

You've chosen a good tight collection of characters for us to get to know. The mother, the best friend and the boy next door/future love interest. I like that. I want to find out how Coleman progresses from being the annoying friend to the man who still cares about her but with whom she clearly has some kind of troubled past. What went wrong in their relationship? Will it be resolved? The mother is in this extract shown very much just in one role: the nightmare mother. I think it will be important for you to flesh her out so that we understand why Kat still puts up with her and as an adult is still going to her weddings and why so many men fall for her. One way to avoid characters, particularly her, seeming too cartoonish would be to avoid using overly-dramatic dialogue verbs (holler, bellow, babbles).

A great start, with nice detail, an intriguing set-up and promising characters. The tone at times seems uneven – comical and farcical one moment, grim and gritty the next – and is something you could look at tweaking as it made me unsure what I was reading and where it was going. My one other thought is you should perhaps come up with a more enticing title? It's quite a dry, factual title when really, you've created a vivid and dramatic world.

An Infinite Uncertainty by Colin Davy

Well done on having one of the top-rated stories this month!

Science fiction is one of the most inventive genres of fiction, but also one of the most competitive. This extract is just setting the world up, but to make your novel stand out, you will need both strong characters and a fascinating premise. The idea of alternate universes will always be intriguing, so you will definitely have readers willing to give your novel a go, but to get them to stick with you, you will have to work hard to make your version the different and fresh one, the one that challenges the reader’s mind in a whole new way. I’m sure you’re aware of this and working at it already!

Keep the dialogue true to the character – Rachel is being professional but then uses language that seems more true to John 'don't fret', 'merry ignorance', 'this feels weird'. As a side-note, the language also needs to fit the universe – would such colloquialisms as 'mad as a hatter' have transferred across? In addition to her language not always being professional, she seems very touchy-feely. Squeezing his arm in sympathy, placing a hand on his thigh, stroking his cheek. It doesn't seem to fit her not only being a doctor, but a stranger. You draw attention to this at one point (“Is 'very attractive' a medical term?”).

I found the amount of dialogue a bit frustrating; it makes these opening scenes very static and moreover, you’re using the dialogue more for exposition than the establishment and development of character. I completely see that this is your setting up the universe, so is convenient and almost necessary, and therefore it’s fine to use a bit – but perhaps tone it down or let John and the reader learn in smaller bits throughout the novel about this world rather than in regurgitating it in one big go as John just lies there, taking it all in. However, there is one moment of telling and not showing you should look at: ‘Something was false, he sensed it. Rachel was lovely and very understanding, but was she too good to be true?’ Show us Rachel being lovely (you are); show us or let us feel John beginning to feel edgy. What is making her behaviour put him on edge? You want the reader to feel what he is feeling; not be told what he is feeling.

Perhaps be a bit less hung up on tracking the progress of facial movements? Rachel gives a smile, the smile broadens; Rachel frowns, someone frowns back at her; her frown fades; Rachel smiles, she smiles again, she frowns, John purses his lips. There’s a huge amount of frowning, smiling and pursing of lips but we can infer a lot of emotion from dialogue. For example: ‘You’re suspicious … And I thought we were getting on so well’ – you don’t need to pre-empt that with, ‘she frowned’.

Rachel is a promising character: the friendly yet slightly sinister guide. Can John and the reader trust her? I would perhaps advise not going too quickly into revealing her not to be trustworthy. Play with the reader, let them like her, but just drop the odd disconcerting moment to knock them off course. I don’t find John enormously sympathetic but I think it’s tricky to judge him here – he’s just lying in bed, trying to get his head around what has happened to him. What’s interesting about him is, of course, is that believes himself to be a man and has retained his heterosexual male identity, yet has awoken as a woman. He currently has a very blokey voice – he notices his breasts ‘wobbling’ , he is assessing Rachel’s looks almost constantly and one of his biggest concerns, rather than what is going to happen to him, is if he fancies her or not. Science fiction is a genre brilliant for looking at ideas relevant to our own society and gender and sexual fluidity are both much discussed nowadays – so I would love it if John were to have his male gaze and concerns challenged.

You have a whole new world to create – good luck!
 13 Nov 2017, 14:33 #235318 Reply To Post
Critiques from Callum, Editor at Bloomsbury

Horizon: A Question of Survival by Magnus Graham

Congratulations on being one of the top read stories of the month! I love futuristic stories set in space, and this has tonnes of great potential.

You’ve chosen to open the book with a Prologue, which should set the tone and whet the reader’s appetite for what is coming in the rest of the novel. A Prologue needs to capture the attention and imagination of the reader immediately, and I think that yours could be tightened up in order to achieve this desired effect.

I would advise you not to start with hypothesis: ‘he looked as though he wanted to scream … An agonising wail that would have worried neighbours clamouring to the front door, most likely’. A successful Prologue will start with direct activity. If he looks like he might cry out, it will be more exciting if he actually does. You want to start by getting inside the characters’ heads, so instead of suggesting what he might be feeling, assert it confidently – you are the authority on this world.

There is a lot of setting the scene here and as a result the pace sags. You obviously have a very clear idea of the setting and physical appearance of the characters, but the reader doesn’t need to know about the mismatched furniture, the ‘light cream dress’ and the exact facial expressions in such detail. In this situation I strongly feel that less is more. The depth of information is impressive, but if you cut back on this, the storyline will be much pacier. Think carefully about each word, phrase, description – whether it’s necessary or gives relevant information; if not, then cut it.

The first chapter has more energy about it – the crash-landing is a good way of grabbing the reader’s attention. I think this could be improved even further if there is a better sense of time-scale. There is a lot of dialogue in the time that we are told the Little Rascal is crashing and the actual landing, and as a result the stakes feel lower. Keep it tense and thrilling by making it clear how long Jesper and Stig have until the crash, and cut some of the dialogue. If they’re about to die they probably wouldn’t waste time arguing. Maintain the urgency even once they have landed: don’t talk about stealing the cargo so much, just do it. Show, don’t tell.

There are some good hints as to the characters’ backstories in these early sections, but in general they could be fleshed out more. Cheryl Eris is clearly a malevolent character who is being set up to play the part of the antagonist. She’s chilling, but at the moment somewhat two-dimensional. We know, for example, that ‘ever since she could remember, she’d always enjoyed having the fate of others in her control’, but is there more to this you can tease out? You mention her ‘moral code’ but don’t explain anything about it; what is this code that allows her to tie up men and electrocute them for her own personal gain, but not to kill them? People aren’t just good or evil, and readers expect more complex characterisations, even from their villains. Think about her backstory and why she’s the way she is; it will make for a more believable and successful character.

I like the relationship between Jesper and Stig. They are two contrary figures – one rational, one more emotional – who are inextricably bound together by their choices. It makes total sense to me that Stig, who is something of a space bohemian, has ended up spending his life planet-hopping, but currently I’m not sure why Jesper has made this choice. It might be that you are planning to expand on this throughout the novel, but it might be useful to give a suggestion of his motivations early on. We know that his friends had ‘laughed at his decision to leave’ and that it is a dangerous position with a low life-expectancy, but since he seems like a sensible person (at least in comparison to Stig), it currently doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice for him.

Quality of writing:
As a general rule, you can afford to pair back your writing. You have a habit of using a lot of words to communicate ideas that could be expressed more simply. For example, when you describe Jesper as ‘sucking in extravagant amounts of recycled oxygen’, you could just say ‘took a deep breath’. Your prose will be better if it is cleaner, and the reader can pay more attention to the unfolding plot than unpicking complicated sentences. Similarly, calling a nose a ‘snottery orifice’ is pretty gross and diminishes the seriousness of your Prologue, as does describing Cuthbert’s face as resembling ‘an over-ripe tomato’. These phrases seem silly and could easily be cut.

Additionally, you use a lot of unnecessary qualifiers that absolutely need to be removed. They don’t add anything to your novel: the ‘almost seductive’ quality of Eris’ voice, Stig speaks with ‘some measure of confidence’, Cuthbert is not in ‘exactly in much of a position to answer the question’. Scan the novel for these, as they creep in and you need to be disciplined about spotting them yourself. They create the feeling that a book is over-written, which you want to avoid.
Your descriptions can also be cut down, as they can be repetitive. For example, Eris warns Cuthbert ‘rather coyly and in a flirtatious manner suggesting nothing of what was to come’, but ‘coyly’ is the only word you need here as the rest is implied. When Stamper is introduced there is a lot of overlapping imagery – that of a ‘steroid-pumped mountain’, a ‘six-and-a-half foot tall sentinel’ and an ‘ogre with little in the way of a mind of his own’. I’d suggest that you only require one of these descriptions in order to give the reader a clear sense of the character. He is twice called ‘devoted’ and twice called ‘pretty impressive’. He is a ‘pitiful weakling’ has a ‘weakness for drink’ and is a ‘weak man’ (all in the same paragraph). Jesper is ‘nervous’ twice in the first sentence of Chapter 1, and then ‘peers nervously’ again soon after. Repetition invariably means that the reader gets bored, which you can’t afford to happen so early on in the novel. Once you’re on the lookout for instances of repetition it will be really easy to identify and remove them.

There are some brilliant ideas here that need space to breathe. Be really tough on yourself and self-edit, or get someone to look over your manuscript and be really critical when there is information or description that doesn’t need to be there. This has the potential to be a truly thrilling opening to a very exciting novel if you tighten up the writing and pick up the pace. I’m sure it’s going to be brilliant!
 13 Nov 2017, 14:35 #235319 Reply To Post
Critiques continued.

The Flora and Fauna of Hell by Julian Green

Congratulations on being one of the top-read stories of this month. Your story immediately grabbed me; I really enjoyed the relationship between fantasy and science, and you have built an immersive world – or worlds – filled with interesting and inventive creatures. Well done!

Titles are very important when pitching novels to agents or publishers; a good title can do a lot of the work for you and so it’s crucial to get it right. I might suggest rethinking your current title. The Flora and Fauna of Hell is certainly atmospheric and creepy, but it signals horror and, as such, it’s not quite right. These chapters and charming and clever, imaginative and foreboding and I think it would be good to capture something of that in the title. It should be signalling the historical fantasy genre from the offset and better reflect the content.

Your writing is very clean but character motivation, intention and reaction could be tightened up a little. I was surprised that Frederick is so quick to accept the fact that he has a mysterious benefactor, giving little or no thought to it. He is an intelligent man and seems not to find it sinister that he has been cherry-picked from obscurity to lead the expedition to this new fracture. There is clearly an unknown agenda at play, but he is more concerned that it might be a waste of a few working days or a distraction. I think he needs to mull this over more before he accepts the proposition.

Similarly, despite the fact that this mission is sensitive, Frederick almost immediately reveals his plan to a group of strangers on the train. He says ‘I’d ask if you wouldn’t mention it to anyone. But its north of Settle, at Hellthorn Abbey’. It seems unlikely to me that a man of science would confide this confidential information with a family he doesn’t know. I appreciate that this is a plot device in order to build tension when they leave the carriage, but this could be achieved with a different exchange. Perhaps the uncle could merely ask Frederick where he is travelling to. However you want to change this, I think it’s important that it’s amended because the motivation is unclear and it’s quite jarring.

There are a couple of mistakes and inconsistencies which can easily be fixed as they are minor. For example, Claudia permits Frederick’s departure ‘with grace’ whilst simultaneously letting out ‘a sigh suggestive she had held her breath through much of their conversation’. This seems to me a contradiction; if she is sighing heavily then she’s not being especially gracious. At the beginning of Chapter 3 it’s a ‘moot point’ not a ‘mute point’. Also, you are over-fond of commas, which can be pulled back on. Ask yourself whether the additional punctuation is necessary; if not, cut the comma. The story will read better.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. The level of detail was very impressive and it feels extremely original and high-concept. I feel like a marketing team would have a lot of fun with this story. Good luck!

Luke and the Sky Ghosts by Michael Mann
Congratulations on being one of the top-rated stories of this month. This is an original and imaginative opening to a story which firmly places the reader in a magical world and introduces some warm and engaging characters.

You have done an excellent job of placing the story firmly in London, but it’s unclear to the reader when in time it is set. With the emphasis on Morse code and the reference to bomb shelters, my immediate thought was that this is a WWII story. However, when Old Ma Boxhill finds Luke’s unconscious body at the end of Chapter 1, she takes out a phone and rings the ambulance. Similarly, the van that hits Luke is ‘yellow and black, with go-faster stripes’ and tinted glass, which doesn’t sound like any 1940s vehicles I’m aware of. If this is a story set in the past, then there needs to be some consistency to the references – there would have been no ‘romantic movies on TV’ back then. If this is actually a dystopian world set in the modern day, I would expect more references to technology; most children in London now (sadly) don’t play with conkers, they play with iPads, and there needs to be more thought given to the skyline, which would be full of skyscrapers. Currently, you’ve only mentioned St Paul’s and Battersea Power Station.

You write well, but these chapters could be tightened up if you were to be more economical with your language. Sometimes superfluous words and phrases creep in, which feel jarring and slow the pace. For example, you don’t need to describe the bomb shelter as being ‘home-made’ if you’ve already clarified that Jess’ Dad is digging it. When Jess and Luke are playing conkers, you needn’t write ‘it was his turn now’ if you’ve just said ‘he let her go first’. When he is brought up to the sky ‘all Luke saw was white’; as such, you don’t need to say ‘to the left, to the right, up above and below’ because this is implied. Readers, especially children, are smart and they don’t need things to be spelled out so overtly. It’s often detrimental to the reading experience. I would encourage you to read through this draft and ask yourself whether everything you’ve written is important to the story you’re telling. If it’s been implied or it doesn’t add anything, cut it. I know this can be hard but it will make your prose much clearer.

There is also some repetition in the language which can easily be addressed and will make a big difference. When he becomes a sky ghost, you write ‘that was when Luke felt it. When he felt something… different. When he felt the edge of the breeze go right through him’. Later on the page there is a double repetition of ‘strange’ in two subsequent sentences, and afterwards ‘he floated after Loona back towards the beach. Luke floated above the sand’. Look out for duplications like this in the rest of your story.

Overall, I was really charmed by the storyline and the magical elements (I particularly loved the bit about the plastic bag-shaped cloud fluttering and gusting across the sky). With a bit of tightening, this will be even better. Good luck!

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