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 15 Jan 2013, 22:37 #161882 Reply To Post
Each month on editors from Random House, and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett.

The editor feedback aims to assist all budding authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novels and novel openings submitted to them.

Random House Editor Reviews Click here to view the stories which are listed under December 2012
 15 Jan 2013, 22:40 #161884 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critique by Robyn Millar

Congratulations on being the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! I was intrigued by the title of your story, and I very much enjoyed what followed – it was a light, bright read with an engaging heroine faced with a predicament that is bound to be familiar to many of your readers. I'm sure many people can sympathise with Amy's frustrations and even those who are unfamiliar with being single later in life are bound to warm to her bright, determined character.


The plot itself, a young woman despairs of her single status, is a familiar one, with an entire genre of 'chick-lit' novels exploring similar themes, but you brought a lovely fresh feel to the familiar tropes of the joke presents from friends, the awkward set-ups and terrible nights out, etc.

I think the fact that Amy works in an STD clinic gives your story a fresh, modern twist, and I would actually suggest you think about mentioning her job far earlier in your story; if you're hoping to get published at one point, agents and publishers will be looking for something different, so you want your story to feel as interesting and original as possible right from the first few lines.

Amy's friendship with her downstairs neighbour, Nina, was another area that I thought had the potential to set your story apart from others on the market – I've only read your opening chapters so I'm not sure how the story develops beyond this point, but I thought there could be a very interesting contrast between Nina's advice and experiences, as an older woman, and those of Amy's friends and colleagues.

The warning signs were there when Amy was warned about her 'beer googles', but I did wonder whether it really was likely that a man would be quite so rude about a woman that he had just slept with, especially as Amy is only in her early thirties. If she were in her forties, it might have felt more plausible, but would she really have stood out as the oldest woman in the bar? I wouldn't have thought a 31 year old woman would look significantly older than women in their twenties. I could imagine that Amy might have worried that she was the oldest woman in the bar so perhaps it might be more convincing if she made a joke about feeling like the oldest woman there to Paddy the next day, only for him to agree with her, much to her horror?

It's a very minor point, but I was surprised that Amy wouldn't have checked her email for a few days. Perhaps this is just my experience, but most women I know in their thirties do check their email far more regularly.

Quality of writing

Your first chapters have a lovely lightly humorous tone which made for a very enjoyable read – I really liked Amy's comment that weddings offered slim pickings now, that they have 'become the Weight Watchers of the new millennium dating scene' and her reflecting that if she and Dino made a run for it, then one of them at least might 'live to date another day.'

I would generally advise against multiple exclamation marks in professional writing, such as in ''Oh joy!!' I know you want to show us Amy's cheerful desperation, but it's what you say that should convey that feeling, rather than the punctuation you use, so do try and avoid them if at all possible. I would usually recommend against using any exclamation marks other than in dialogue; you certainly don't have to go that far in a piece of writing that does have a more flippant, light tone, but do try and keep them to a minimum.

The standard of your writing was generally very good and I only spotted a few typos, including to the 'enth degree', which should be 'nth degree' and 'treat 'm mean' should be 'treat 'em mean'. I wasn't sure if Clineque was an Australian company I'm not familiar with (I did a quick search online and couldn't find anything) or whether it was Clinique that Melanie could have modelled for?


Amy is a very likeable narrator, and one you instantly warm to. I liked her blend of cynicism and optimism, and her cheerful determination not to let her situation get her down, although I have to confess that I didn't quite understand why she thought Valium would be useful if she was 'forced to top' herself. I had assumed that 'top myself' was a reference to killing herself, in which case I couldn't quite see what valium would do!

Occasionally, Amy could come across as slightly immature for someone in her thirties; although I could understand her revulsion, her response to the old man offering them drinks in the bar – YUCK! - did seem a little more like something that someone in her teens or early twenties might say. Her conversations with her colleagues were bright and funny, although I was surprised we didn't see her talking to her actual friends either in person or on the phone, especially after she mentions them at the very beginning of the book in connection with her birthday presents. I think it would be really interesting for us to see her talking to the people who genuinely do know her very well, rather than just her well meaning colleagues.

Just as a brief aside on the title, it's certainly quite different which is always a good thing but I wonder whether it might not appeal to some readers, as some won't necessarily want to read about someone described as a 'loser'? Obviously, it's meant to be self deprecating, but I worry that it could potentially sound a little downbeat when Amy's story is actually a fun read.

Alison, Random House

 15 Jan 2013, 22:41 #161885 Reply To Post
Random House Mini-Critiques

Larry Pennydrop: Master of Luck by Adrian Lynch

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn this month with the first few chapters of your bright and engaging children's story!

Your story bounced along with plenty of energy and exuberance, and I liked the relationship between Larry and Ratajak and the glimpses we had of the dynamic developing between Larry and the other children he meets. As the story progressed, it had some more perilous elements, such as the phantom rider, which I think could have the potential to worry some younger readers, although I'm sure older readers will take to them enthusiastically!

One thing to bear in mind for the future is to be careful not to overload your story with too many adjectives and descriptions to the point where it does actually detract from the story itself. It's lovely to see a writer employing a varied vocabulary, especially in books written for children, but it is perfectly fine, and indeed quite welcome, to sometimes just have a character walk or say or answer, rather than shriek or grab or moan. I did feel that, at times, you might have been trying a little too hard so I'd encourage you to relax into your writing and remember that what's important is creating a vivid mental picture for your readers, rather than using the most varied vocabulary. And on a similar note, one descriptive word is usually all you need – for example I don't think saying that the blows from his grandfather that rained down on Larry were 'Heavy, painful blows' necessarily adds anything, because hard blows suggest that they would hurt, and if they were painful blows you'd probably guess they were done with some force.

Good luck with your writing!

Emerald Green by Karen Milner

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month. I thoroughly enjoyed your first few chapters and I think the prologue was a great way of opening your story: it was smart and sharp, and immediately gives the reader a vivid sense of the narrator and her family.

Your opening chapters are well written and full of energy, reflecting Emerald's childlike exuberance, although at points I did feel that your writing would benefit from you slowing the pace down a little and giving each scene a little more space to breathe. We jumped from episode to episode quite quickly, and I would have loved to have had a little more time to let the individual events really develop and for us to consider the implications of what had just happened before we dashed on to the next event. Did the horse riding help or hinder her tricky relationship with her schoolmates, for example? And what happened to her relationship with Steph after she'd unwittingly accused her mother of being a stripper?

I had a few, very minor plot points you might want to consider for any re-writing. Would her mother and the stranger who helps them when they crash the car not assume she was concussed if she was seeing double after a crash? I would have thought that was more logical than it being caused by shock. And Emerald's comment that she wished she was dead when she was in the car did surprise me, it felt a little extreme for someone so young to say something like that. I would have thought that at that age children would be more likely to be overly hysterical at the thought of upsetting their mother, rather than having the self loathing to wish they were dead, even if she is exaggerating for affect.

Good luck with your future writing!

Theresa Smith at the Court of Heaven by Polly Walshe

I really enjoyed the opening chapters of your work, I think Theresa makes for a wonderful narrator. Smart, sharp and witty, she is a very charismatic storyteller. I loved her wry observations – 'one of those low slung English faces that look bad in a hat', the house that 'makes you feel your face is being pressed into damp earth and held there by force' – it felt like a very classically English wit, harking back to the brittle social comedies of the twenties and thirties. Occasionally, I felt you slipped into slightly broader comedy, when Theresa was on the phone to Abigail for example, and I'd recommend keeping the more overtly comic scenes on quite a tight leash, as a little goes a long way.

You do a very good job of undercutting the apparently smooth waters of Theresa's life at the Court with the more troubling mentions of the 'treatment', allowing us a glimpse of what has been happening to bring Theresa to this point without overwhelming the narrative with backstory. The reader is very quickly given a sense of the rivalries and desires that bubble underneath the surface of the home and it feels like you've really considered every element of how the home would work, rather than just looking at what is necessary to tell the story.

It was a pleasure to read and I'm only sorry it finished when it did.

Alison, Editor, Random House

 16 Jan 2013, 02:31 #161887 Reply To Post
Hello Ted. Please pass on my sincere thanks to Alison from Random House for her very generous and positive critique of It made my day.
Uncle Ciaran
 16 Jan 2013, 09:51 #161894 Reply To Post
Quote: robynmillar, Wednesday, 16 Jan 2013 02:31
Hello Ted. Please pass on my sincere thanks to Alison from Random House for her very generous and positive critique of It made my day.

Congratulations Robyn. I thought Strictly Shagging was really good and am so glad this review came back positive.

Keep at it, your energy and humour are winning qualities..
karen milner
 17 Jan 2013, 00:24 #161916 Reply To Post
Ted, please pass on my thanks to Alison for reading my opening chapters of Emerald Green. It was very useful feedback and I will most definitely take it on board in my next rewrite.
Best wishes, Karen.
 17 Jan 2013, 16:12 #161951 Reply To Post
Hi, Ted. Please pass on my thanks to Alison for her feed back on Larry Pennydrop. Her advice is useful and appreciated. Also thank you, for providing such a great website. All the best. Adrian.
 25 Jan 2013, 15:44 #162309 Reply To Post
Editor Critique for INVISIBLE MAN.

Dear Paul Marlow

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel INVISIBLE MAN. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further work. 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 helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. Your novel opens in present day and then flashes back to when Viktor first meets Yakov, leading up to the same events that open the novel. This often used book-end device is simple and can be effective at pulling in a reader as they want to know how the character arrived at the start point/end point in the novel.
Given the novel is structured in a first person narrative and solely from Viktor’s POV (point of view), this places a lot of onus on your protagonist and his storyline, as they need to keep the reader engaged for the duration of the novel.
But from reading your synopsis, it seems like the narrative will be quite one directional and linear, with little or no subplots. But introducing more subplots and texture into your narrative, you’ll help ensure that the reader doesn’t tire of the main storyline. So structure is an area you should focus on when you come to rewriting this draft. I would suggest storyboarding your novel chapter by chapter, to get a clearer sense of how the narrative flows, as at times the story does feel like it lacks direction and focus. Every chapter needs to feel like it has a purpose, furthering the story in some way or building upon the characterisation.

Your plot is simple one that has been told before. An impressionable teenager meets an older, wayward friend who is a bad influence. They cross each other and part ways. The protagonist sinks into depression, but then tries to turn his life around, when he meets his friend/nemesis years later, which will become his biggest test as to the sort of person that he has become.
While the story ends with a twist of sorts, I worry that the simplicity of the plot won’t grip readers for the duration of the novel. It revels in the seedier, darker side of life, whose characters have limited prospects. Although Viktor embarks on a physical journey to the UK, leaving his home country behind him, it is his moral journey that the reader will need to be invested in. And I worry that Viktor isn’t a strong enough protagonist to carry the burden of an entire novel. See more detailed comments on characterisation, which expand upon this.
You class this as ‘literary’ fiction, but I found that these early chapters lack the insight and profundity to set your novel apart from other similar stories. These opening pages are readable, but they didn’t pull me into your story in such a way that I felt compelled to read on. You need to explore what is unique about Viktor’s story, rather than falling back on well-worn narratives.
There needs to be more depth to your story in these early pages. You have a tendency of reporting a lot of the drama by telling the reader what is happening, rather than showing them. Always remember this maxim when you are writing: show don’t tell. Otherwise by reporting huge chunks of the narrative, you instantly distance the reader rather than allowing them to experience it alongside your characters.
These early pages felt quite insular and small in scope. From reading the synopsis, it seems like the story will open up more later on when Viktor meets more people and heads to London. But the opening chapters of a novel are a crucial test of whether or not you can hook a reader. And so this is an area you need to revisit, concentrating on how you can effectively pull the reader into the story and keep them gripped.

As I discussed earlier, you place a lot of pressure on your protagonist by only showing the narrative through his eyes, and told from a first person narrative. And I’m concerned that Viktor isn’t charismatic or intriguing enough to really make the reader want to follow his story all the way to the very end. Compared to Yakov, who feels much more full of life and character, Viktor pales in comparison, and is quite forgettable as a protagonist. While his a story of growth and change, he needs to feel distinct and interesting from the get-go if you are to draw the reader in to his world.
The narrative should become more varied and interesting as more characters are introduced, as these opening chapters are almost solely concentrated on exchanges between just Viktor and Yakov. But in these early pages, you need to work on opening Viktor up to the reader and really getting under his skin, as at present he is quite a hard character to empathise with.

Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone feels off-key or discordant with the rest of the narrative, you risk alienating your reader. Your tone is inevitably very dark, but it’s imperative that it doesn’t feel unremittingly so. There needs to be flashes of light, humour and humanity amongst the darkness, otherwise it can make for a dour reading experience!

You class this as literary and general fiction. But also say this is aimed at ‘fans of cutting edge literary fiction’. I wondered what it was about your novel that you thought made it ‘cutting edge’? If you make hollow statements like this you only serve to distance potential readers. When you are trying to tempt readers and literary agents, it is pointless if you try to tell them what you think they want to hear rather than frankly describing what your book is actually like. It is always best to be direct rather than peppering your synopsis with exaggerated clichés that an agent will have read a thousand times before. Remember that less is often more!

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 a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine

 25 Jan 2013, 15:45 #162310 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Fatima Saleh by Alexander Ikawah

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It really conjured up the dry, dusty, brutal world that Fatima inhabits. My only reservation was that perhaps it felt a little too short, and the ending a little too abrupt. But I liked the almost cyclical nature of the narrative structure, but also how by the end, the roles had somewhat reversed and the reader was compelled to view Fatima in a very different light.

I understand that the repetition of a paragraph (beginning ‘She was squatting in the new patch she had cleared earlier…’) was a deliberate replication, to show how the narrative is almost split into two stories with seemingly identical beginnings but very different endings. But I felt that by repeating it almost in its entirety wasn’t strictly necessary but was actually a little distracting as at first I thought it was an error. This is just a minor comment though.

Professional mini critique for Olive Tree at Sunset by Kate Fereday Eshete

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was concise and simple, yet will keep the reader guessing until the very end. You successfully build a sense of tension and unease, so that the reader is left to question which character they should be wary of and isn’t who they seem. But of course, the last person they suspect is Emahoy herself, until the very end!

It was interesting to open the story literally from a bird’s eye point of view, seeing Emahoy, her hut and Getachew from above, initially keeping the reader at a distance, before suddenly drawing them into the story in a very immediate way. And again ending the story with the same bird’s eye perspective, but this time the reader is looking down upon the scene with a very altered vision.

Professional mini critique for Time & Place by Ciaran Lynch

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. But I found it overly dense in terms of detail and descriptions, so much so that the actual plot and characters weren’t able to shine through clearly. You have a tendency to report what is unfolding, rather than play it out for the reader to experience. While the short story form is inevitably limiting in terms of length, this shouldn’t mean that it constrains the scope of your story. You need to really draw the reader into the story by showing them what is happening rather than telling them.

In short, it was an engaging read, but I felt you could develop your characterisation more and trim some of the extraneous detail so the plot feels more focused and driven. This felt more like the opening of a novel than a fully formed short story, and in turn the ending felt rather underwhelming.

Professional mini critique for A Thread of Darkness by Trevor Saull-Hunt

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the third instalment in your Spinebender series. I have also read the previous two through YouWriteOn. I thought the opening chapter was will undoubtedly grip the reader, but I think it might be even stronger if you opened the book with Lee breaking into the house, rather than the meeting beforehand. In this way, his actions and motives will be more mysterious and enigmatic, and the reader will wonder if he knows the family he is about to kill.

The following chapters are short, snapping and compelling, giving the narrative a page-turning pace. All I would say is that less is sometimes more, if you want your reader to remain truly invested in the story and to keep them guessing. Lastly, as I mentioned previously in my editorial comments on the first two novels in the series, I do feel that the title ‘Spinebender’ sounds more like something aimed at young teenagers rather than adults…

Best wishes
Natalie Braine

 25 Jan 2013, 15:46 #162311 Reply To Post
Editor Critique for PENDRAGON’S SISTER: PART I

Dear James A Tucker

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel PENDRAGON’S SISTER: PART I. I thought that these opening chapters were well written and engaging but I did think they could benefit from further work. 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 helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. From the early pages, it seems like the opening of the novel will be told in two parts, focusing on Morgana as a child, when her sister is taken from her, and her as an adult, when she is exiled to a convent. And these two different POVS (point of views) are structured in alternate chapters, which is a conventional structural device, but one that works well to ensure that the reader never tires of one storyline. While this is of course the same storyline and different POVs but from the same character, these are two threads that will eventually connect and tangle as the novel progresses.
From reading your synopsis, it seems there will be another character POV from that of Vivian, whose story is also told in two threads – modern day and Morgana’s era. By introducing another character POV later on will help create more depth and texture to your narrative, and open it out in terms of scope.

You take a well-worn tale and turn it on its head, giving it an unusual and fantastical twist. It seems like it will be a tale that will focus on the personal and moral struggles of its main characters as well as the larger struggles of an entire nation, and beyond that, explores how the past affects the future – and vice-versa.
From reading your synopsis, it seems like your plot will be complex, with unexpected twists and turns that will hopefully keep the reader invested in your tale and wanting to turn the pages. It will be both an imagined scenario yet also grounded in historical detail and fact.

It’s quite unusual to show an Arthurian-set tale from a largely female perspective. Morgana seems like a strong protagonist from these early pages. As a young girl she is outspoken and headstrong, whilst as adult, she is still wilful yet now has to be quietly strong. She is a character whose actions and decisions will come to haunt her, and this conflict has much dramatic potential for her characterisation. Her sister was taken, her father was killed, and she learns that her mother is a coward, first when her sister leaves, and again when she doesn’t want to leave the confines of her own convent. And so Morgana is left to fight on her own.
It is hard to gauge what kind of character Vivian will be from the synopsis alone, but like Morgana, she seems like she will be a forceful figure who has ambition but the becomes fearful of her own power and the havoc that her actions can wreak. Again, this allows for much dramatic potential in your portrayal of her. And the fact that both Vivian and Morgana will both unite and turn up each other at various intervals throughout the book will make the reader’s empathies sway as the characters debate their moral choices.
Your decision to cast Merlin not as a wise, benevolent wizard but one that is in his own way power-hungry and even a little jaded with humanity is an interesting one. This may cause raised eyebrows from devout Merlin aficionados but it means there is much scope here to play with people’s perceptions of a character they think that they know.

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. And in historical fiction, as well as fantasy fiction, it is crucial that you conjure a world that is vivid and tangible in its detail if you are to truly transport your reader there. And this was an area where I felt you could expand upon somewhat in these early pages. In no way should descriptive prose be lengthy passages describing the characters’ surroundings in exhaustive detail. But you need flashes of succinct description, seamlessly woven through, to really bring your setting – and in turn your story – to life.

I thought you synopsis was comprehensive and detailed, giving the reader a clear sense of how the story will progress after the end of these opening chapters.

You class this as historical, science fiction and fantasy. This is likely to appeal to fans of Arthurian legend, but this also means that your readership is likely to be quite niche. Given that the novel features two female protagonists (and you feature ‘Sister’ in your title), this may also mean you limit your appeal to a more female readership, as sadly the statistics show that the majority of male readers prefer to read about male protagonists rather than female protagonists. So this is something to bear in mind in terms of your intended demographic.

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start and I’m sure with further development and honing, the story will really begin to leap off the page. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine
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