The free website to help new writers to develop, and to help talented writers get noticed and published Books
YouWriteOn July 2012 Critiques - Random House, Orion Reviews << Return To Main Site

 Welcome to the YouWriteOn Forum

**News Random House & Orion Editors to continue free reviews of YouWriteOn Top Ten Writer  - publishers of many of the world's bestselling authors 

YouWriteOn Authors'  Congratulations to our many authors achieving sales and signings successes through  Waterstones, Amazon and others! 

YouWriteOn Message Board > The YouWriteOn Forum > The Professional Critiques Forum Help Search Recent Posts
YouWriteOn July 2012 Critiques - Random House, Orion Reviews
Page 1 Start New Topic Reply To Topic
 03 Sep 2012, 22:14 #157139 Reply To Post
YouWriteOn July 2012 Critiques - Random House, Orion Reviews

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 July 2012

Random House Critique of Earth Child

Dear Tony,

I was very interested to take a look atEarth Child, and glad to have read it. As I’m sure you’re very aware, dystopian teen fiction is seeing a real boost at the moment, thanks in part to the success ofThe Hunger Games. With such a lot of fiction in this genre, it’s obviously important to make any new book as unique and special as possible. I think in some ways you’ve absolutely done this – I was gripped and would have happily continued were there more in front of me – but there are other areas where I don’t think you’ve quite made the most of what you have here. I do hope my notes are useful for you as you revisit the manuscript, but please do accept my congratulations on an accomplished piece of work so far.

The world

The future world is obviously what a novel like this hangs on … I love your idea of wiping out the world’s adults, but I think we need some more detail, even in these early stages of the novel, on how, when and why the ‘cataclysmic disaster’ you mention in your synopsis happened, and what exactly it is. Slipping in detail through the thoughts of your characters or their interaction/conversation will mean you can do this without bombarding the reader with a huge amount of information and back story all at once. I really do think we need more. You need to get your readers to stick with you, and they won’t if they’re not fully engrossed in the world.

At the moment all I know from reading the sample chapters is that Julie, Harvey, Red and Woody are searching for other children but we don’t really know why. I think that we need to understand that it’s worth these surviving children ploughing through the storm for whatever they’re looking for. And at the moment we can’t because we don’t fully appreciate why they’re doing it.

The crew ofHope

As above, I think we need more on/about all four of the children. You’re already setting them up as four very distinctive characters, which is brilliant and I’m interested in all of them, but they don’t quite feel as 3D as they possibly could do. Their voices (Woody excluded, obviously) don’t seem as unique as their personalities, and it would be great to see them interacting a little more than we do at the moment so that we can hear them all more clearly. This way we’ll be able to see their character traits and how different they all are to each other rather than just being told about it, and also see which characters have better relationships than others etc.

Narrative-wise, are you planning to keep things from either Julie’s or Harvey’s perspective/point of view as you have in the sample I’ve read? It might be interesting to look at making one or both of these narratives in the first person; that could really go a long way in helping your characters to jump off the page. Or will Red’s and Woody’s perspectives be introduced too? I think both Julie and Harvey as the points of view we follow at the moment need to be more vivid. With Julie, in particular, I really wanted to get into her head, learn what she was thinking and feeling about being in this life-threatening situation with these three other children, and learn more about her past life.

I also had a lot of questions about the children and their situation. How long have they known each other? Who was the last to be found and picked up? Harvey must have been first asHopeis his family boat? Do we learn his (and the other’s) back story? How old are they all? I realise Harvey’s twelve, but what about the others? Twelve actually seems quite young to me given that this will be aimed at teenage readers – maybe he should be more like fourteen? Where are all the children from? Different countries with different languages etc? Have they ever seen anything like these Caribbean islands before? And where have they searched before coming here?

I did wonder about us maybe jumping into the story at an earlier stage than we do at the moment … Maybe as, or just after, they’ve met Red (as she’s clearly the least experienced sailor)and got her onboard. This would allow you a lot of opportunities to explain the world and the set-up via the other three, as well as obviously explaining why Red isn’t anywhere near as good as the others on the boat.


It’s hard for me to comment in a lot of detail on this point as I’ve obviously read so little of the novel, but, going off the synopsis, I love the idea of these two survival stories coming together from opposite ends of the earth. I’d have to see more to have an opinion on how you’ve weaved them together and to see if I feel as attached to Bahari as I do to Harvey, Julie, Red and Woody.

I’d suggest introducing Bahrai very soon, maybe even before now – coming before the crew ofHopego and explore St Lucia? He’ll also need to be as vivid and fascinating a character as you can give us. You want your readers to feel as interested in Bahrai’s story as they are inHope’s story, and there’s always the danger that if you leave readers with the same characters too long, they won’t want to be jerked away to one they don’t know.

I think you could really afford to slow down chapter three. Give us the Caribbean atmosphere, the tension in the children as they head off the boat, and a reminder of what they hope they’re going to find out there. I think the scene as they spot movement in the old house and then all the cats pour out could be terrifying and very eerie with a bit more detail.

They are the main three issues that I’d suggest you look at as you go back through your novel, but I did have a couple more smaller points to make:

The first is about romance. I realise that this is in no way a chick-lit novel, but it is mostly teenage girl readers rather than boys who enjoy dystopian books of this sort, and it tends to work well to have a hint of love/first love. Whether this is between Julie and Harvey, or in one of your other plotlines, I obviously can’t say at this stage, but I do think it’s something worth seriously considering.
I appreciate there’s not a huge amount of sailing jargon, but there are enough terms used that somebody unfamiliar with sailing and boats could potentially be confused. This is just something I suggest watching out for as you go through.
My final point is actually about the title. I don’t feel that you’re selling your book to its full potential with the title you have at the moment. For me,Earth Childdoesn’t quite inject the scope and excitement of the world disaster and what these children are now undertaking. It feels too gentle, maybe even magical, and I think you might be able to find something more distinct.

And they are all my comments on your sample chapters. I do hope they’re useful for you. There’s a great premise and some strong characters in here, I just feel that they need bringing out and making more of – you’re clearly a strong writer, and the hardest bit is already done!

The very best of luck with your writing,

 03 Sep 2012, 22:14 #157140 Reply To Post

Bloomsbury Editor Critiques

African Violet Sample Chapters – Editorial Critique

Dear Mo

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique. I was intrigued to read your sample chapters which, together with the synopsis, indicate that you that you have planned a really enjoyable family saga with a well-developed narrative structure. I can tell that the South African element of the story is informed by your own experience and really like your evocative and gentle title. The opening chapters generally seem in good shape, but in this critique I hope to identify a few points, both small and more significant, which you might think about as you continue to write.


I was a little disappointed after reading in your synopsis that African Violet is preoccupied with South Africa during and after Apartheid, that the opening two chapters are set in Newcastle rather than in South Africa and with very little mention of these themes. I understand that the establishment of sympathetic characters, as well as their relationship, is fundamental to your aims in the novel, but did find some of the expositionary detail slightly mundane. For instance, is the conversation that Lucy and Violet have about serial killer Ewan Tate and the nature of evil at the very start of the first chapter in any way significant to the plot? I assume not, and thought that you might consider cutting this kind of thing back slightly.

Further to the above, I thought that the novel could start with a scene-setting prologue, perhaps set in South Africa and maybe while Violet and Boni were growing up. You might have already considered this, but I think it would help to introduce the novel’s major plot and themes before we flash forward to the present day and are introduced to Violet and Lucy properly. Have you considered yet whether Lucy and Boni are going to narrate alternate chapters all the way through the book? If so, might there be a more elegant way to indicate the difference than by starting the chapter with their name? A recent novel that I worked on with two narrators used different fonts for each narrator – you might consider doing something similar. If they do continue to alternate throughout, this will require delicate handling, especially given the challenge of a novel set in different time periods.

I wasn’t completely convinced by your decision to include chapter titles in their Xhosa translation – it’s a nice idea that adds an exotic, African touch, but I also think it might be slightly alienating to some readers – it’s not, after all, a language with which many people are familiar.


Generally I thought your writing style was confident and engaging, and well-suited to the genre in which you are writing. However, I did find the tone at times slightly sentimental. It’s a small point, but I wasn’t taken by the metaphor that Violet uses in comparing Sociology to someone with whom Lucy has fallen in love, especially when we learn in Lucy’s chapter that her academic love is not Sociology but English! Another minor and technical quibble, but I wasn’t complete convinced that she would be able to decide so casually to apply to read Archaeology and Anthropology rather than sticking with English, her real love, or finding a Sociology course somewhere other than Oxford.

While your synopsis doesn’t reveal the ending, and it is hard to judge by reading only a couple of chapters, I hope you take the opportunity to deal with emotionally sensitive subject of South Africa before, during and after apartheid, and how people have been affected. The work of Nadine Gordimer might be useful in giving you a sense of possible ways of dealing with these emotive and powerful issues.


I enjoyed getting to know Violet and Lucy and found them interesting and sympathetic – their relationship was sweetly-depicted, too – I quickly got the sense that they really care about each other. The alternating narrative voices allow us to see what’s happening from different points of view and makes their relationship more immediate and real. However, it is a real challenge when employing multiple narrators to ensure that their voices are sufficiently distinctive, lest the reader can get confused. I think that you manage this pretty successfully on the whole, but did think that Lucy could feel more authentically ‘teenage’ at times (occasional words, such as her use of ‘mother’ jump out as being a bit unlikely for a girl of her age). Also, as Violet is keen to point out, her granddaughter is academically bright and well-educated; perhaps you could make this more obvious in her narrative voice in order to emphasise the differences between your narrators?

I would like to find more about Lucy’s relationship with her mother, Mary. I know you’ll develop her character in subsequent chapters, but I think you need to be clearer about her illness – is she depressed, or an alcoholic, or both, and are we as readers supposed to sympathise with her or dislike her for how she’s restricting her daughter’s future? I see from your synopsis that you intend to include chapters from her point of view, but think the novel might be stronger if you stick to Lucy and Violet – a third narrator might make for a slightly fragmented feel, especially if she’s a character with whom we feel less sympathy.


It feels slightly unfair to assess the setting ofAfrican Violetafter only a few chapters because I can tell that the African location is going to be so important to the storyline. In the third chapter, when we’re taken back to South Africa in 1937, I got a real sense for South Africa nearly eighty years ago. I hope you make as much of this foreign setting as you can – it’s obviously a place that’s close to your heart.


It’s difficult to effectively critique the plot of a long and, from what I could tell by reading the synopsis, fairly complicated novel from reading only the first twenty pages or so. However, I found the sample chapters a great introduction to the lives of Violet and Lucy and their contrasting motivations. It seems that the coincidence of Lucy meeting the elderly Boni, now a tribal leader, in South Africa on her gap year is going to be a key emotional climax of your novel. In order to maintain the readers’ credulity, this plot point, and the moment at which you reveal it, should be very delicately handled. Is Lucy going to be aware, for instance, that she’s staying in the same part of South Africa where her grandmother lived so many years previously? So that readers feel able to believe this coincidence, you might consider signposting it or dropping hints about the possible link before the actual reveal.


African Violet is commercial fiction that, given the dominance of your strong female characters, will appeal especially to a female audience. Spanning both multiple periods and locations, it feels comparable in tone to successful novels such asThe IslandandThe Returnby Victoria Hislop. Reading successful books in your genre such as these is a great way to understand what makes bestselling authors so popular, and how they handle such devices as change in narrator, location and time period.


I really enjoyed the opportunity to read a sample of African Violet. I ended the chapters keen to read on and find out more about the journeys of both Violet and Lucy. Very good luck as you continue with the novel.

Nick, Editor Bloomsbury
 03 Sep 2012, 22:15 #157141 Reply To Post


Congratulations on being well reviewed by your peers on YouWriteOn. I thoughtMyawas a creepy short story with real bite and an especially strong opening scene. The ‘papery hands’ of the ‘insubstantial’ girl instantly make us feel ill at ease although we don’t, of course, at this point, realise why. This first encounter with the mysterious girl is deftly handled, a sunny picnic in the park that quickly reveals itself to be something much darker. I did wonder after reading the whole story, though, why Mya only appears to the narrator at this point – is this something that you’ve considered exploring?

As the story continues, the reader gradually becomes aware of the unreliability of the mentally unstable unnamed narrator and protagonist. Discomforting details play on our minds as we realise that Mya, from the start subtly linked in the narrator’s mind with a possible pregnancy, doesn’t actually exist but rather seems only to be present in the narrator’s head as a result of an aborted pregnancy she had as a girl after being raped. The narrator’s subsequent mental breakdown and physical deterioration, as well as the impact that both have on her marriage to Tom, is well-drawn and the conclusion is shocking, although I did slightly feel that this second half of the story felt rushed and lacked the immediacy of the story’s opening.

It makes a great short story, but have you considered usingMyaas the basis for a novel or novella? The longer form would allow for the creation of much more tension – more scenes where the reader doesn’t quite know who to believe could make the moment of reveal even more subtle, and the mental deterioration of the narrator even more disturbing.

Harebell’s Baby

Congratulations on being well-reviewed by your peers on YouWriteOn – in the opening toHarebell’s Babyyou have created a strong and sympathetic female character facing problems with which the reader can really identify. The first person narrative puts us in her shoes and helps us to understand her motivations, explaining her feelings and effectively providing context for her actions. I found myself rooting for her and keen to know how her story would unfold. However, it is a consequence of this choice of narrative method that we only learn about the other characters from the ways in which they relate to her and, as a result, I felt that they were a little two-dimensional. Perhaps you could consider fleshing out the characters of Julia’s father, her brother Nathaniel and his wife Bess especially, telling us more about their backgrounds and personalities.

The prologue establishes that several years before chapter one, our narrator Julia, a woman of some social standing, was sent away to confinement having fallen pregnant by an unsuitable man. Here she meets Harebell, a woman in a similar predicament to her own. I gather from the title and your synopsis that the relationship between Julia and Harebell (and their children) will be key to the plot of the novel. It’s a small point, and perhaps irrelevant given that I’ve only read the opening chapters, but I thought that Harebell’s Child might be a more suitable title for your novel than Harebell’s Baby – more elegiac and suited to the period setting.

I enjoyed your description of the story’s setting, especially of the gloomy family house and the surrounding moorland, and felt you were confident with the novel’s location and period. However I also thought you should be careful when using period dialogue and detail, which can be just as effective when employed sparingly. The suspension of the reader’s disbelief depends entirely on the integrity of this detail; your dialogue occasionally felt slightly forced. Writers such as Sarah Waters and Jane Harris successfully manage the very tricky task of making period speech ring true without being stagey – reading books such as theirs might help you with your own dialogue and how to write period detail with subtlety.

Jakob’s Colours

Congratulations on being well-reviewed by your peers on YouWriteOn. I was gripped by Jakob’s story, and felt that the dual narrative timeframe only reinforced the sense of jeopardy and pathos. The title is clever – it lends a lyrical feel that is reinforced by the images in your writing. I can see from the synopsis that it will make even more sense when we realise that Jakob’s father Yakov is a colourist. However, in the scenes set in the ‘present’ (1943) I would have liked to get more of an idea of what, or who, Jakob is running from and the danger that he is in – I can tell from your synopsis that you intend to reveal this later, but it might make the reader feel more emotionally engaged earlier if the jeopardy was more explicitly described from the very beginning. Similarly, when Jakob hides in the cupboard, the friendships he forges with Loslow and Cherub are touchingly drawn and moving. I would have liked to find out more about the backgrounds of Jakob’s two new friends at this stage.

The intricate structure adds tension and dramatic irony to the ‘before’ scenes; have you thought about how you will sustain this throughout the length of the novel, and whether the two strands will eventually dovetail? It’s hard to understand exactly how such an intricately-plotted novel will fit together by reading only the sample and synopsis, but I was most impressed by your writing and confident that you have a good grasp of how the rest of the novel is going to work.

A Village Called Faraway

Congratulations on being well-reviewed by your peers on YouWriteOn – I enjoyed the exotic setting for your story of a sleepy village completely isolated from the everyday world. It lends the story an almost fable-like feel. I was also struck by the large and varied cast of characters in the village – enough to sustain lots of stories should you want to write more stories in the series.

Whilst I really enjoyed reading your sample chapters, I don’t think the title gives an indication of what kind of novel this is – you might like to consider the titles of novels that you think are similar to yours. The sample of your story that I have read recalls ‘cosy crime’ in far-off locations, similar to the books of Alexander McCall Smith or Anne Zouroudi. In Father Nikodimos you have a sympathetic protagonist keen to get to the bottom of a mystery – I would have liked to find out more about his background. You mention that he’s only been in the village for two years – where was he before?

It’s a small point, but I found it confusing that all the women in the village have Kyria at the start of their names. I’m guessing that it’s some kind of Greek way of referring to people in polite conversation, but is it entirely necessary? Sometimes it was hard for me to work out who was being referred to.
 03 Sep 2012, 22:17 #157142 Reply To Post
Some critiques for previous months are delayed due to an Editor's family bereavement. We will add further critiques as and when received.
 04 Sep 2012, 07:35 #157171 Reply To Post
Thank you for the review of Mya - and yes I have considered taking this idea and turning into a novel (more likely novella). Really glad that the reviewer thinks it has got the legs. Mya will be back
 09 Sep 2012, 10:25 #157768 Reply To Post
Thanks Ruth and Random House. There's a lot there for me to mull over. Glad you enjoyed Earth Child, Tony
 23 Sep 2012, 14:41 #158473 Reply To Post
Many thanks to Nick at Bloomsbury for the encouragement. Sorry I missed this thread earlier. I've been away from home for a couple of months and only able to log on occasionally. I really appreciate getting such brilliant professional advice.
 10 Oct 2012, 13:46 #158917 Reply To Post

I love the idea of guardian-angels-in-training – and poor old Jacob is so hapless and unlucky, setting up plenty of potential for comedy throughout your story. Your opening hurls us straight into the action, which is great – pacy and dramatic, with the screeching of the car’s brakes.

Your character descriptions are very visual and fun – the insect-like twins and red-faced Grundle with his bushy moustache and multiple chins, and pocket-sized but fierce Lucy Moon – but I found Jacob himself a bit flat. I’m not sure he seems panicked enough at potentially failing to save the life of a child, and I think he’d exhibit more concern over his fate when being appraised by Grundle, Norton and Sage. Seeing his emotional responses to situations will help your young readers feel more empathetic with Jacob from the start. Could you look into making him as vibrant as Lucy, who is a great character – smart and smart-mouthed! I love lines like when she snaps at Jacob: “What you doing? Putting your make-up on?”

Jacob and Lucy’s first encounter with the ghost is brilliantly creepy – it drifting “into the room like an abandoned sail pushed by the wind” gave me shivers, as did your description of “its body glowing as though lit by a weak candle”. Jacob’s fear and breathlessness is palpable, but can we see a brief conversation between himself and Lucy once the ghost disappears – to see their overwhelming relief? I think this scene ends a little abruptly as it stands.

I’m sure that the answer as to why ghosts are turning hostile and infiltrating Warehouse 33 is uncovered later in the book – but I did find the logic behind this a bit confusing in this first section. Children training to be guardian angels is fantastical as it is – and then adding ghosts and even fairies to the mix does feel a bit muddled. I think I’d like to see this entire world set-up a bit more clearly and consistently, for example, why is Bonfire Night the last day of the Warehouse year? Little details like this that I struggled to make sense of, and therefore found myself getting diverted/distracted from the plot. You don’t need to add in reams of exposition or scene-setting – perhaps we can hear some important details via a conversation between Jacob and Lucy? To give the reader more of an indication of their past/how they feel about being separated from their family and training as guardian angels, etc.

I love the concept of the cube that traps ghosts – a never-ending, impenetrable prison for them. And Jacob turning ghost hunter (as I learned from your synopsis) has scope for lots of action and drama. I’m hoping Marcus features a lot throughout the rest of the novel – he’s definitely an annoying foil to Jacob, and Lucy’s withering interaction with him at the end of the sample material is very entertaining!
Just a small point: you say that the full manuscript is 75,000 words, which feels rather long for the age-group. You may wish to hold back certain characters/plot developments for future books in the series, to reduce the length a little?
Best of luck with your writing.

Lauren, Editor, Random House

JOLTED by Fleur Ferris

As I was reading your synopsis, I did think that your story had shades of The Slap, in its morally ambiguous, making-a-choice-that-can-affect-all-around-you central message. You certainly have a potentially controversial, thought-provoking, compelling story here – with Madi’s father committing suicide and her mother being sectioned very dramatic and emotional later events.

I do think you need to develop Madi’s emotional response to the situation in this opening section – she is feeling very calm and rational at the moment – exhibiting little of the explosive outbursts/confusion/anger/shock/upset that you’d expect from a teenage girl who has just witnessed her mother in bed with another man. You say “my mind rushes faster than I can pedal” as Madi flees the house – but let’s hear her jumble of thoughts and the actual rush of conflicting emotions she is feeling. I really want to be able to get inside Madi’s head more – for a first person narrative, she is coming across as rather detached at present. Even when she discovers that while her world was being turned upside down on discovering her mother’s infidelity, her new boyfriend was sleeping with another girl, she doesn’t register shock or pain.

The dilemma at the heart of your story is a very interesting one – but let’s ensure that the characters who act it out are as empathetic and genuine/authentic in their reactions as possible. You need your reader to be emotionally invested in Madi and her family for the horrors that unfold to pack the requisite punch.

Best of luck with your writing.

Lauren, Editor, Random House

THE LICENSER by Kate Braithwaite

I’m a fan of this kind of dramatic historical fiction, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your sample material. I really did feel transported to the fifteenth century, with the baying crowds gathered to burn the effigy in the square. Your opening line is particularly chilling! I did wonder if Anne would show more emotion – even though this isn’t her living, breathing husband, it must still be a horrifying thing to witness – and the fact that he has fled and is abroad would likely hit her hard at this point.

I think using dual narrative is a clever device for character development and a well-structured plot – it is very touching to see Anne and Nat ‘one year earlier’, in love, and safe and happy, after this fraught, violent opening. I really cared about these characters in the short amount of time I have met them, which will make the unfolding events detailed in your synopsis very authentic and compelling.

Your writing is fluid, visual and very engaging. I loved your description of Anne-through-Nat’s-eyes as having a “young witch’s smile, silken skin and bright challenging eyes” – gorgeous! And you have clearly researched the period of history carefully in order to bring it to life. This is a very impressive beginning of your book – I would have gladly continued reading on! The only thing I would suggest at this point is having a rethink about your title – I’m afraid I found it unappealing and ambiguous. It doesn’t immediately say ‘historical fiction’, which I think could be a problem. It also sounds a bit dry and dull – which your writing most certainly is not!

Best of luck with your writing.
Lauren, Random House

BILLY AND BARNABY by Carol Hughes-Hartmann

Oh, your story has really touched me! It is absolutely charming – managing to be sad and funny within the narrow frame of a short story is impressive indeed.

I very much enjoyed the slick TV presenter actually being very sensitive and switched-on, I loved naughty Billy peeing on the snooty director’s shoes and emerging as the cuddly antidote to Patsy’s increasingly lonely life. Selfless Patsy is such a strong character and narrator – the reader can’t fail to root for, and empathise with, her and how she soldiers on despite personal sadness at losing her beloved Bettina.
Your writing style is very fluid, assured and lyrical in places – your description of the late October morning as being a time “when dew-drop jewels encrust cobwebs in the hedgerows and everything sparkles” is gorgeous. And your ‘doggy detail’ is perfect – particularly the paragraph where you describe Billy playing in the autumn leaves and nuzzling Patsy.
I would only suggest taking another look at one thing – perhaps the reader could be told a little more about how Julie is struggling without Barnaby. We’re told she is grieving on the sofa, but in order for maximum sympathy to be given to her, can we hear Julie emotionally speak about how much she misses him? This would add even further depth and kindness to Patsy’s act of training Billy up as a replacement assistant dog for Julie.

This really is a small point – I loved this story! Best of luck with your writing.

Lauren, Random House.
Page 1 Add To My Topic Watch List Start New Topic Reply To Topic
Server Time: 16 November 2018, 01:46

Powered by Zarr Forums



Adverts provided by Google and not endorsed by