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Oct 2018 Bloomsbury and Penguin Random House Latest Editor Critiques
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 03 Nov 2018, 15:49 #239279 Reply To Post
Displayed below are the Random House and Bloomsbury Editor critiques for the Competition Period covering May 1st 2018 to July 1st 2018 Critiques. Thank you to everyone for their stories and feedback.

Penguin Random House Editor Critique of Ollie and his Gadgets by Mark Vector

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique – I was so pleased to read the opening to OLLIE AND HIS GADGETS, which I found very funny and smart. I really enjoyed that we launched straight into the action from the opening lines, and the jokes peppered throughout genuinely made me laugh. I really like Ollie as a character, and his brilliant Aunty Billie too. I love the set up of a normal boy getting these extra-special spy gadgets to get the best of the school bully – it’s immediately relatable for a lot of young readers, but has some great action built in even while it focuses on the more mundane elements of Ollie’s life, like school.

You’ve got a nice opening here so I do hope my notes will be helpful in really drawing out the positives and tweaking a few things to make it a totally compulsive read for young people.
Plot and pacing

As I mentioned above, there’s a lot you’ve already done brilliantly in terms of pacing, including starting with an episode of high action. However this opening scene of Ollie being beaten up does go on for quite a long time, and I wonder if you could use it as an opportunity to seed the gadgets themselves. Maybe Ollie could be thinking about all the things he would do to Gnarler if he wasn’t so helpless?

Considering there are some moments that go on for a long time (including the opening fight, and the scene at the gym) there are some moments that seem like they’re skated over in comparison. When Ollie first comes home and heads up to his room to avoid his mother seeing his black eye, I wonder if this should be given a little more space. Why is it skated over so quickly? Is it because his mother isn’t as invested in his life as she should be? If so, I think this could be more effectively illustrated if this moment was pulled out and examined a little more.

I love that the school setting gives the reader a lot to identify with. However, in your synopsis you mention that Ollie and Aunty Billie go on to discover dark family secrets and a ‘conspiracy of worldwide proportions’. This is super exciting and really raises the stakes in the story. Is there a way to seed this from the very beginning? As Ollie is telling the story in the past tense, perhaps he’s able to do a bit of foreshadowing – ‘At the time, I wasn’t to know the dark secrets I was going to unearth when I used that first gadget for the first time’ or similar? Something that lets the reader know that this isn’t just about beating a bully at school – Ollie is soon going to be caught up in something bigger than he ever could have imagined.

Character and motivation
I really love Aunty Billie particularly – she has so much spirit and feels like a real driving force in the story. Ollie, too, feels like he has a lot of character – I wonder if we can see more of this in the supporting cast?

Gnarler, while his defining characteristic is of course his bullying nature, feels a little 2D at this stage. I hope that later in the story we find out a little more about him and why he is the horrid way that he is, but even in these early pages I think there’s space to round out his character a bit. Ollie mentions that the whole class call him names behind his back, so the implication is that he’s a bully to almost everyone. In a lot of stories, particularly for children, bullies are backed up by other (usually cowardly) students that follow the ringleader whatever they do. Gnarler may be a lone ranger in this story – but I’d love to see a little more of the dynamic of their classroom to see how this works. Are the other students glad that Ollie seems to be getting the brunt of the abuse? Do any of them try to suck up to Gnarler? Has Ollie ever done anything that particularly brings Gnarler’s wrath to his door?

I think there’s space, too, to look at Ollie’s mother. What, exactly, has been the effect of his father’s death? How long ago was this, and how is Ollie himself affected by it?
I also think you could do a little more to examine Aunty Billie’s motivations. It’s clearly a big deal that she’s sharing this super-secret tech with her nephew and a bigger sense of why she gets involved would work well, I think.

Age group
I’ve already mentioned how genuinely funny I found this – and I think the humour, for the most part, is pitched brilliantly for a child. However I would encourage you to think about what age group exactly you want this to appeal to – the majority of the humour (particularly as much of it is toilet humour) would work well for 7+, but one or two of the jokes sit much older than this (thinking particuarly of the limerick).

On this note, I also wonder if you need quite the level of explicit violence that there currently is – it might narrow the readership somewhat, particularly considering a lot of books for 7-year-olds are still purchased by their parents. I wonder if you could focus instead – during fight scenes – a little more on Ollie’s fear and helplessness?

Specific line notes:
Today, I dreaded the bell’s clang of fear, fright and a promised fist fight.
Just take care to remain in the past tense – this felt a little muddled. I would recommend, ‘On this particular day, I dreaded…’
‘I’ve lost it,’ I lied. I couldn’t tell him the truth. He’d never believe me. To spend it on anything other than his protection was crazy. But the smell of the canteen’s fish fingers had been too much to resist. I’m only human. A fish finger loving human.
‘Cough up my money or I can’t protect you.’ Gnarler cracked his knuckles.
When I read this I wondered if there was more to this moment – I think it could be clearer what the two of them mean by ‘protection’?

‘Oh, not the prize again.’ She tried to straighten my curly hair only for it to spring back. ‘Is she still obsessed with that?’
‘It’s the only thing she cares about, since Dad—’

As above, I wonder if this a moment to explore a little more of Mum and what’s going on with her. I also think we might need a little more information about the prize, if it’s what Mum is pouring so much of her energy into.

Overall, you have a brilliant start to a really quirky story for children. Your tone is spot on and you’ve got the foundations in place to make this a really relateable yet exciting and bold adventure for Ollie and Aunty Billie. Good luck!

Emma, Editor, Penguin Random House

This post was last edited by YouWriteOn, 03 Nov 2018, 16:25
 03 Nov 2018, 15:57 #239280 Reply To Post
Penguin Random House Editor Critique of Zeezee Cop by Draig

Congratulations on being selected for a critique for your work – I can completely see why! You’ve got the beginnings of a really compelling mystery here, complete with intriguing characters and a bold, original setting. I hope that my following notes will be helpful in shaping your opening and taking on board for the rest of the book.

Setting and tone

As mentioned, I think the premise of this story is so original. It’s a really interesting examination of prejudice, and I would encourage you to really think about the message you’re trying to get across. In some places the tone can feel a little confused – it tips at times into quite light-hearted humour, and then goes on to tackle some quite intense questions. I don’t think you need to pick one or the other (in fact the mix is partly what makes it an enjoyable read) – but have a think about how you can smoothly transition between the two and build in some more organic rise and fall in the narrative style.
You’ve done a great job of setting up your characters, and I’d love to see you do the same for the setting. At the moment I can’t completely visualise the town with its different estates for the Neanderthals and the Sapiens. I think you could do a little more to really bring this to life, and at the same time lay down some more of the background (including the resurrection) that brought us to the point where our story starts.

Exposition and pacing
In general, I think you have a brilliant grasp of the pacing of your story. You end your chapters on high points of tension, and you seed enough of the mystery to really make your reader want to carry on going. However at times I think you have a tendency to over-explain or over-expose. I’ve noted some specific examples of this below. Don’t feel like you need to tell your reader everything – if you’re explaining something in the narration, think about whether you could use action to show this instead.

You have a really smart way of writing that makes for some genuinely funny observational humour that (rightly) usually comes at the expense of the ignorant Sapiens. At times the intelligence of this humour can clash slightly with some of the more crass moments. I think this is unavoidable to an extent – and, I’m sure, much of the point, considering how you are portraying the Neanderthals compared to the Sapiens. However I would encourage you to really think about evening out the tone throughout so that the reader isn’t taken by surprise with a coarse reference following immediately after some really smart humour.

I love Zeezee. He’s a really bold and intriguing main character. Already in these early chapters it feels like he’s got several layers, and you’re doing a great job of seeding his potential Sapiens traits.

I wonder if you could do a little more to bring out some of the other characters and their motivations – at the moment Zeezee’s fiancé hasn’t got much else to her – I understand this is in part to illustrate your point that the Neanderthals mate for procreation and don’t need to get to know each other, but as Zeezee himself feels so well-rounded it would be great to feel this about his partner too.

I also think some of the characters motivations could be a little clearer. It may be that you go on to bring this out in subsequent chapters, but Meter Mann feels a bit underdeveloped here. By the end of Chapter 3 I’m not totally sure if that part of the storyline has been wrapped up, or whether Zeezee is still investigating what went on there. I found myself enjoying the story the most when there were hints that perhaps there was a bigger conspiracy taking place. I still have a lot of unanswered questions about Meter Mann that I hope will go on to be answered in the remainder of the book.

I had a question too about Neanderthal names in this story – you mention that there are only a few surnames and then an array of letters and numbers that make up the first name. I do think it could be a little clearer how this is decided, and how Zeezee, for example, has his own name too?

Specific text examination
Zeezee was a Neanderthal. The Homo Sapiens were too lazy to pronounce this in full so Neanderthal becomes Neander – Nander – Nan.

This is an example where I don’t think you need to explain this outright. It’s implicit once we know that he’s a Neanderthal, and when we realise the connection when he’s called a Nan. It might be more powerful, too, for your reader to draw this conclusion about Sapiens themselves.

Neanderthals cared little for possessions, although they should have done as their homes were frequently entered by the Saps, not to steal, just to wreck.

I wonder if this could be an opportunity to show rather than tell? Perhaps Zeezee could recall a time when this happened to him – or someone that he knows. Can we see the aftermath of the breaking and entering? You could suggest to the reader that it’s just an act of spite by a Sapiens, rather than spelling it out in this way.

He held his HHU in his left hand to upload the readings for the day and to log off. The time was 16.23pm and was the exact time he heard the first of two gunshots.
Another brilliant end to the chapter. I wonder if you could build the tension a little more: ‘It was 16.23. As he began to log off, he heard it: two loud gunshots, ringing through the air’ or something similar?

I found these opening chapters really compelling, and with some more world-building I think you could make this into a really compulsive read. I also think that the mystery element is what really keeps the pace up, so I would recommend pulling that out even more and looking at the rise and fall of the narrative to bring it to the forefront. By pulling out some of the backstory of the world as well as some more traits of your secondary characters I think the story will be elevated to the next level – but this is a bold and exciting start, and I wish you the very best with your edits!

Emma, Editor, Penguin Random House
 03 Nov 2018, 16:00 #239281 Reply To Post
Penguin Random House Editor Mini-Critiques

Gold-Digging in Brixton by Eva-Marie Grace – mini critique

You’ve got a really bold and intriguing opening here, and the tone of your writing is spot on for the kind of ficiton you’re writing. Generally the pace of the story is really good, flitting between the present and the flashback to meeting William. You’ve seeded the different strands of the story well and what you’ve created is a compelling opening where your reader feels interested enough to invest in your characters.

Bramble herself is multi-layered, which comes out brilliantly over this opening. However I wonder whether you could seed her genuine intelligence and sense of humour a little earlier, as currently she’s a very unsympathetic character at the start. I love that she uses her beauty to get what she wants and the section where she reflects on the moment she realised she had influence over men because of it is really powerful.

In terms of your writing, I do think you could do some work to vary your sentence structure and syntax to ensure more rise and fall in the voice – currently you do this well in sections with dialogue, but the more narrative-heavy sections can feel a little repetitive. I would also say to watch out for telling your reader instead of showing – there are a few instances where it feels like you over-explain a little, and actually Bramble’s voice is distinct and compelling enough that you can leave a few more things to inference.

On the whole, with some careful attention to the way you present Bramble and evening out the consistency in her voice, you’ve got the foundation to what I can tell is a smart and original piece of women’s fiction, congratulations!

Emma, Editor, Penguin Random House
This post was last edited by YouWriteOn, 03 Nov 2018, 16:02
 03 Nov 2018, 16:02 #239282 Reply To Post
Penguin Random House Editor Mini-Critiques

The Country of the Heart by Embe Byron – mini critique

This is a wonderful opening to what promises to be a really compelling piece of historical fiction. I found all three characters that we meet in this section to be well-drawn and the tone of the writing situates it perfectly in the time period. I have a few notes that I hope will be helpful in taking the book forward and making more of the foundations that you have laid solidly here.

Your writing is really strong, and it’s atmospheric from the first line. I really liked that we were thrust straight into the action (in fact all three narratives have compelling openings) so do make sure you keep that momentum up all the way through the chapter, particularly as you’ll need to compensate in these early chapters for the slight jarring there always is when we’re introduced to a new point of view.

I think you have a little space to work through your sentences to really make sure they’re as tight as they can be – the imagery is really nice, but sometimes the metaphors and adjectives can slightly overwhelm the action. I wouldn’t say you need to get rid of these entirely, especially as it’s so much of that which makes the atmosphere so palpable – but it’s about making sure a reader, who isn’t familiar with your characters and setting from the off, can really picture what’s going on without being interuppted by the sometimes too-purple prose.

At times the passing of time (so flitting from one event to the next) can be slightly clunky, so do make sure you’re giving due time to all the important moments and losing those that don’t matter. However overall you have a really brilliant opening here that hooks your reader into this world completely. You have three distinct characters, and once it starts to become obvious how their fates are intertwined (as long as the stakes remain high) I feel confident that this will continue as a compelling historical epic.

Emma, Editor, Penguin Random House
 03 Nov 2018, 16:03 #239283 Reply To Post
Penguin Random House Editor Mini-Critiques

The Innocent Sink by Paul Kardos – mini critique

This is a really smart, surprising and gripping short story – congratulations! I loved reading it, and I hope my notes will help make it really shine.

Your writing is strong throughout and I particularly found the opening intriguing. I think you could make Leonard’s age a little clearer from the off (the mention of school bullying had to take second read), and I think from the very opening you could make it clearer that the box is ominous. At the moment the first sign of trepidation is at the mention of ‘cruel hoaxes’. You do go on to build tension really brilliantly – the creeping dread is spot on, and generally you do just the right amount of exposition – in this case, not a lot, which really helps with the impact of the ending. I would recommend you pay close attention to your exposition though, as there are a couple of places where you have overexplained when you don’t need to – cutting back on these will ensure you don’t lose momentum throughout.

I wonder whether the title is quite right – I understand the reference, but out of context it sounds like the sink is a noun (the kitchen sink) and so doesn’t totally fit with the story if you’re to see it in insolation, or even with the synopsis.
Overall this is a really strong short story – I thought the ending particularly was really strong and smart. With a few tweaks you can make this a really chilling episode that will stay in the reader’s mind long after the last sentence – I wish you the very best of luck.

Emma, Editor, Penguin Random House

 03 Nov 2018, 16:08 #239284 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Graham Finding Me

Congratulations on having one of the highest rated stories this month!

Bethany's anxieties
I like how you're not labelling Bethany with anything specific, but indicating through her anxieties that she does struggle with some settings and interactions. Her saying, for example, that her 'brain feels like it's having to swim through treacle' and her over-berating herself for not having understood that Poppy was flirting with Matt, even though Poppy brushes off Bethany's misunderstanding as inconsequential. There were only two moments I wondered if an adult's phrasing came through in her thoughts: 'social mistakes' and 'loud socialising' - would a teenager think in these terms? Will you show her learning how to seek support from books, youtube, people at school? Will she bond with other students at school who have similar anxiety issues or who are coping with other obstacles that result in their feeling isolated from others?

Bethany's relationships with others are already being used very nicely to show how difficult she finds real life interactions - and how important her engaging with them are, if she is to understand the world better and become less isolated. I like that her relationship with Poppy is complex: they're friends, but Poppy's not above being frustrated by her or preferring another friend. But when it matters, Poppy is there for her. One inconsistency with Poppy is that when we first meet her, Bethany is surprised to see her at the bus-stop - she's only there, it turns out, because she spent the night at Pippa's the night before (I would perhaps consider changing one of these names, as they're pretty similar to each other). Yet at the end, Poppy is getting the bus home again with Bethany - so does she live in that area after all? At the end, when you Poppy messages Pippa about Matt, there's no need to say 'she decides to message her friend Pippa' - we know Pippa is Poppy's friend; just say 'she decides to message Pippa'.

Josh I find really interesting. I think what would be nice would be if you could show the moment he gives her the gluten-free cake. We've seen that he is often completely lost in his videogames. Yet he cares enough about Bethany not only enough to have bought her a cake, but has even remembered (and noticed in the first place) that she is gluten-intolerant so needs a gluten-free cake. Even if you're not setting him up as a love interest, it could potentially be quite a touching moment, and a moment for Bethany to feel noticed and cared for by her friend.

One small thing about Josh - would he really have forgotten his mum putting flapjacks into his bag? Or is it more likely that he would just have not noticed? And: why does Courtney, when calling him an idiot, look pointedly at Bethany? With both Josh and Bethany, we need to see why they are friends with Bethany. In these opening chapters, in most interactions she seems to be the victim, or at least on the back-foot. She's happiest in her daydreams: so I hope that over the novel, part of the arc will be her managing to find happiness in real life, not just in escapism.

You've planted some seeds very carefully to show that Millie is not a straightforward mean girl, but I think Courtney could perhaps be toned down. She seems rather overdrawn as the villain at the moment and she might be scarier if she is more realistic. Demanding as much as £20 from Josh, for example, or picking on some girl at random for her poor bone structure. And, this is a small point, but most schools have a no make-up rule: obviously this is skirted round but I think contouring, heavy eyeliner and lipgloss would not be allowed, particularly by supposed golden girls. If a school teaches Latin, I think they're even less likely to allow such obvious flouting of the rules, as it's more likely to be a more traditional school.

Bethany's love for Jane Austen
What's very effective is how when the teacher asks questions about Pride and Prejudice, Bethany answers them in intense detail - but in her head. (Side-note: if Bethany loves Pride and Prejudice so much, why does she drift off practically as soon as the lesson has begun?). Is Finding Me going to be based on an Austen novel? Or is she going to apply lessons from Austen to her own life? I think what's lovely about her love for books is that she isn't actually just living in the her head and in the books: she has found a community of kindred spirits online through their shared love of Austen. So she can socialise, but it's just particular circumstances - a noisy Nando's, eg - that make her feel uncomfortable and nervous. Will her online community come into her real life? And if she's a real Austen obsessive, she would think about novels other than Pride and Prejudice, but you'll have to be careful when bringing those other novels into Bethany's thoughts or conversations both to maintain authenticity in Bethany's voice, i.e. for her to continue to sound natural and not like a textbook or an adult, and to avoid alienating those of your readers who don't know anything about any of the other Austen novels but P&P.

Tiny corrections
'A piercing jumble'- can a jumble pierce? What do you mean by this? 'A crushing jumble'?
Italicise titles of books, TV programmes and films
After 'Ted Baker totes', that 'which' should be a 'that'.

You've set up a very sympathetic, complex, vulnerable and likeable character, with a couple of pleasingly contrasting friends set against a promising 'baddy'. There's a lot of room for emotional development with Bethany and I'm sure her struggles and story will resonate with young readers so I wish you all the best in taking them on that journey with her.

Marigold, Editor, Bloomsbury

 03 Nov 2018, 16:09 #239285 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Hanson The Fragility of Meaning

Congratulations on having one of the highest rated stories this month!

This must have been quite a change in tone and setting compared to the previous chapters. Jeremiah is narcissistic and self-involved, and it seems the only person he's in any danger from is himself. It's very much his voice, his immediate world, his problems. You will have made the reader care for Aferdita, Fajon and Bora, who were in genuine danger and suffering real hardship, so to be introducing someone from out of this family unit and serious setting is quite a risky step - it will be a tricky move to pull off to make us engage with him and his story, but I think he also offers you a great opportunity to give the reader really striking contrast (and maybe a break from some quite grim material).

What is Agnes' accent supposed to be? Writing in the vernacular is quite tough to get right and it's better to underplay it and I think you're unfortunately veering towards overdoing it at the moment. She sounds like a bit of a cockney charlady cliche, with all her 'blooming'-about, 'silly buggers' and dropped aitches and gees. (nb, you spell it Anges at one point). But then she also says 'holy bejesus', which sounds a bit Irish.

I love Jeremiah's conversations with his mate, though - you've captured perfectly that particularly kind of essentially meaningless laddy banter, banter that does sometimes cover up mates checking up on each other.

With the psychiatrist, though, is he actually a psychiatrist or is Jeremiah speaking to someone on the street or a voice in his head? If the other voice is indeed supposed to be that of a psychiatrist, his dialogue needs to become far more professional and less matey. If it's supposed to be a voice in his head, I'm not saying you should spell it out, but could there be some small indication that it is him just losing it even more?

Jeremiah's job
He lives in Stoke Newington, admittedly prior big gentrification, but still - zone 2 nonetheless; he has a cleaner; he maybe has a psychiatrist. So he must have quite a good job. Yet we are given no clue as to what it might be. Minimum wage, physical labour, highly skilled, office job, hospital, leisure - I have no idea what he does. Is that deliberate? Or should there be at least some reference to what he would be doing if he were at work as he should be, so the reader isn't distracted from the current narrative by trying to work out what he maybe does? Either way, he doesn't seem to be at all worried about missing work, which indicates he doesn't care about it, particularly as he has no clutch of fear about being spotted out - or about having to deal the next day with the consequences of having gone completely AWOL. Will this attitude towards his work, along with his inability to commit to a proper relationship be explained later on?

Should there be some attempt by work to reach him? Although as it's set in 2004, he may not have had a mobile, of course.
Small things

A very small thing first, but it did trip me up: there's a repetition of 'catchy' when Jeremiah's listening to the Rachel Stevens song.

Why, when Jeremiah is freed, does he only give Agnes a twenty, when they've agreed a fifty? And why doesn't she say anything?
'the plastic soup entangles us all in Mother Nature's less than pure DNA' - what does that mean?
I get that Jeremiah is getting wasted every possible hour, but would everyone else be out having such a big night on a Monday? Taking drugs, dancing etc?

So these are more potential inconsistencies or areas to be developed that I'm picking up on. When you're purely in Jeremiah's head, it's very effective - your woozy, trippy stream-of-consciousness sucks us into his mind. There's a good dark humour in this section and a slightly terrifying hurtle towards god-knows-what. You've got a lot of meat to get stuck into from Jeremiah and his life alone - is he actually an angel or is he mad? Why is he so unhappy and self-destructive? Will he find redemption through however his life connects with Aferdita, Fajon and Bora?

Are all the individual stories also written from first person perspective? Because if so, balancing four different voices, keeping them separate and yet authentic and believable, will be quite a feat - but if you can pull it off, impressive, and I like how specific the time and setting of Stoke Newington in 2004 is (where is Daniel Bedingfield now?!), and how much it will differ from Kosovo. It's a big challenge ahead of you, but I hope a satisfying one; certainly it should lead to an ambitious, absorbing and compelling novel for your readers.

Marigold, Editor, Bloomsbury
 03 Nov 2018, 16:10 #239286 Reply To Post

Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Martin Every Silver Lining

Congratulations on having one of the highest rated stories this month!

If you're writing from a first person perspective and as a stream of consciousness, it's good if you can avoid reminding the reader that you are an author. The reader needs to be in the protagonist's head: the protagonist isn't narrating a story, we are living in their mind. So backstory shouldn't be given explicitly, but rather in hints from which we can infer what's what. So for example, you say, 'Greg, my son, left home five years ago' - the switch would be quite easy here, I think. Just change it to something like, 'To think he's been gone five years. It feels more like five seconds' (or five decades?). And then 'Carol and I communicate as much by tone as by words' - I actually think you don't even need this sentence, as you then go on to say, 'I didn't want to break my concentration, so I went for apologetic' - so here you are showing the reader that Keith and Carol communicate by tone and you therefore don't need to tell us this beforehand.

You might want to give flipping it into present continuous tense a go as well - 'I strum my fingers I hold the cupboard door ajar' - then we're in his head, looking out at the world through his eyes. I like that you have your narrator rebuking himself for having a resentful thought about his son. None of us is perfect, we all have such thoughts - yet we also then do correct ourselves.

Your story has a lovely poignant domesticity to it. I like when Carol asks, 'You're not naked in there again, are you?' - this shows the reader very quickly, but without being melodramatic, that Keith really is suffering from some form of dementia and it's already fairly serious. She's not making a meal of it and neither is he; you're letting us draw our own conclusion from it. And Carol then warning him not to burn his head on the light bulb shows she cares about him and is already starting to think how to protect him from himself. It's small signs of how switched on those closest to anyone suffering from any kind of dementia have to be - while his response (irritation) shows how such care may not always be welcomed.

I'm not entirely sure about Keith asking Carol if Greg is going to come out as being gay. Is this another indicator of his mind deteriorating? It tripped me up as a reader that a father would ask this to his wife about their son, who must, if he left home five years ago, but at the very youngest in his early twenties. It's a bit of a distraction from the main focus of the story, as you then wonder if Greg is gay, or if Keith is actually homophobic and if so why and if he is, are we still supposed to like him? I would keep the focus on Keith.

You bring such heart and optimism to what is essentially a very sad situation, and I think that's lovely and rather special. I would consider not trying to tie up all the ends in one rush: have Keith looking ahead to the future, weighing up his options. The reader doesn't need to be told in one gallop that Keith does have some kind of illness and that he then retires early, but that Greg and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. Do still end on an up-note - I think it's a refreshing and positive way to finish - but perhaps resist the urge to wind everything up in one go. The rest of your story has been told at a gentle pace, suiting Keith's voice, so it would be more in keeping with that to slow the ending down.

It's a kind-hearted, warm and lightly funny piece and I'm sure people will find it a moving and rewarding story.

Marigold, Editor, Bloomsbury

 03 Nov 2018, 16:12 #239287 Reply To Post

Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Swizer Beckett Jamieson and the Legend of the 37th Legion
Congratulations on having one of the highest rated stories this month!

It would be good if you could describe what some of your characters look like, to help place us in Beckett's shoes. Mr Hashmi, Beckett's father, Ben. You give Ben the nice detail of his slouching shoulders while in the Principal's office, Beckett looks at the point where the linoleum of the admin office becomes the carpet of Mr Hashmi's room, but what do any of these people look like? You give us Annie - let us see these people as well.

Would the Principal call Beckett Mr Jamieson? Would he not call him Beckett? Or: if Beckett is at quite a grand school, does Beckett come from quite a traditional background and should he therefore call his father 'sir'? Unless Beckett isn't American.
A small thing, but I would italicise Crisis Shock throughout - it helps separate it out from the text, and it will mean it's not read as part of a sentence structure but rather just as the name.

'Nuts' seems quite a sweetly old-fashioned exclamation for a modern-day teenager - is that deliberate? Likewise when he later asks, 'what on earth is this?', and then further on yet, exclaims 'holy cow'. When is this set?

Is there something missing after Beckett's confrontation with Ben? You have a question mark, followed by --- , followed by another question mark. Nb after Beckett asks 'what on earth is this?', you need to delete that extra question mark at the end of the sentence, the one after 'Beckett asked'.

In normal conversation, particularly between children, unless you're trying to get someone's attention or you're greeting them, you wouldn't usually say their name, so I would cut Annie adding 'Beckett' to 'oh, just you wait'.

Annie says 'by the way' and then almost immediately afterwards, Beckett also says 'by the way' - I would lose this repetition. Another repetition I would lose is that Annie explains the computer coding and time coding before Beckett first goes back in time, but then she again explains it once he's come back from seeing himself be pushed over by Ben.

My main worry is that Beckett is very accepting of this
essentially world-changing discovery of Annie's. She hasn't just cracked a code to some computer game. She has learned how to cheat and bend time. I think you need to show Beckett and Annie more excited, more scared, more confused. Anyone in their position would not know what to think - but Beckett just goes home and eats pizza and plays more games. Would he not think where else he would like to go> What else he'd like to do? He's very accepting of the idea of going to Rome - would he not also suggest some other time and place? This is a really fun idea and you have set up a core couple of friends (I really hope it doesn't turn romantic - let the boy and girl just remain friends!); you're clearly going to have even more fun sending them on adventures. But just think about their emotions a bit more, perhaps, so that they are even more real to us.

Marigold, Editor, Bloomsbury

 03 Nov 2018, 16:13 #239288 Reply To Post

Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

Fry Being Tim's Secret Life

Congratulations on having one of the highest rated stories this month!

I'd suggest switching Amber's narrative into the present tense continuous. That will make an already striking opening even more arresting. She is essentially being born when she is being switched on. Let us see the cardboard and polystyrene in front of her being taken away and Tim's face peering through the gap created.

How does she already know his name? Has she been programmed to know it? If not, have him introduce himself to her.

The matter-of-fact way she begins to do a striptease for him is both grim and funny - as is her having 'lushus lashes' and how functional her dialogue is.

You build up the setting well, giving us enough detail to let us picture the shed, the house and the cul-de-sac - we have the whole suburban picture. This is a normal house, the home of a supposedly normal family. But what does Tim look like? You have given us his height and age, but what about his hair, his skin colour, his build?

The seeming normality of the house - and of Tim, even his name! Such a normal name - makes his having sex with Amber so suddenly, without any romance or build-up, all the more shocking. It isn't violent or sexy or anything; it's just some depressing part of her programming. I think it works very well.
I'm not entirely sure about how you're presenting Tim, though. I think you're trying too hard to present him as a good man.

His caring about the world, about the Middle East being bombed. Why would he talk about this with a sex doll?

I think his thinking that Emily should perhaps be grateful he isn't interested in adult women is an interesting flash of darkness - just as he presents a 'good guy' image to the outside world, is he doing the same to Amber? He wants to be liked by people: that much is clear. But his wondering that about Emily, indicates he has not grasped at all what the problem is here, how dangerous his impulses are, how loathsome they would be to the huge majority of people.

He may be trying to contain them, but only because he knows he would be vilified. He doesn't actually see the impulses as wrong. Likewise, when Amber describes how, 'he described the plight of the millions of refugees and the disruption some of them were causing' - in the first part, he's trying to sound nice and good, but then is that xenophobia creeping out when he talks about the disruption they're causing? Especially as he then goes on to speak about terrorists. He isn't just locking himself in the shed: he is locking out the world. If you were to extend this piece, Amber being a dispassionate sounding board could be used as an interesting tactic to let Tim reveal more darkness about himself. After all, he knows she is incapable of judging him.

I think perhaps you tell us too much what Amber can and cannot think. Trust your writing and the reader a bit more - let us infer from your writing her robotic nature, her interest in Tim and his growing attachment to her. What might be worth having a go at is showing more of the dispute between Emily and Tim. Amber has no human emotions - how does she understand and depict what is going on with them? Or how about when the police find her? Do they treat her as what she is, a piece of machinery, or are they disgusted, pitying? How is the general public dealing with having robots - and sex robots, at that - as common gadgets?

I love the ending! Nice bit of humour and your leaving them to it shuts out Tim and his clichéd sexual fantasies.

Marigold, Editor, Bloomsbury

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