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Hi Angelica, I agree with Rick that the pitch is a rather a mish-mash of things which don't feel sufficiently connected. I feel like I'm searching for the woman's priorities. What is the object of her love - a person, a country, filmmaking? Or is it faith? Which is the most important, the filmmaking, the lover (if there is one)  or the foreign country? Whichever it is, why does faith stand in the way? Or does her home  country as well as her faith prevent her from getting what she most wants?

Pitches are very hard to write. What is the story really about? Is it finding love with a person or is it dealing with questions of faith? Is it about finding a career? Maybe the main theme is what it's like to have to leave home in search of happiness and all the pain that particular journey throws up. 

Then there's the more specific information that I think you need. In what way is she sheltered? She's managing to run a business. What country does she start in and which one does she move to. Why filmmaking - is her business connected to film or has she been told she has a particular talent for film. Why is she torn - what exactly is the dilemma? 

Finally you need a continuing sense of story. At present you've got the set up and her first decision - to move elsewhere. What readers want to know now is what happens as a result of that decision and what challenges her most. What's the most difficult thing she has to overcome?

All this in one short paragraph :) 



Hi Jo, I like the scene but for me the writing isn't yet as exciting as the events. This is a subjective reaction but I think reducing the psychic distance in the most intense parts of Milo's experiences would make them more gripping. Put us right inside his senses.

For Milo, [everything seemed to slow to a halt] rather a cliche and therefore it tells us he's in trouble rather than showing us. Could be deleted I think.

For Milo, the light brightened, colors pinpoint sharp [colours of what? A specific detail of something would add atmosphere]. Damp dog smell, barking and rushing,  their blood up. Sweaty men, boar musk, horse lather and saddle leather. The stillness of one of his own heartbeats. A roar.

My writing won't be right for you and I've probably used too many verbless sentences but I'm raising a few suggestions to make the scene more immediate and fast. You can also cut unnecessary words -- watch out for phrases such as 'roar of sound.' A roar is a sound, so it doesn't need qualifying. 

The story as a whole looks good. It just needs some editing. Many thanks for posting.


Being well known is obviously a great boost to publisher interest. I haven't read Richard Osman but I imagine all his television experience has given him a feel for a good story and awareness of identifying a target readership.

Hi Daniel, this is great subject matter for a story. Over-fishing and dredging are really worrying. The setting is also very interesting and there's lots of opportunity to develop a great sense of place and action.

At the moment I don't think you're achieving as much as you could in terms of descriptive writing. As others have said, the story reads more like journalism than fiction. It's easy to slip into this mode if you're simultaneously trying to think of all the things you want to say in a story. 

As well as thinking about point of view, you could do a lot more showing of what happens and less telling. Using showing will help you get into a character's POV and make the writing more immediate for the reader. For instance:

¬The boat [does she have a name?] heaved rose and fell through the heavy chop/waves/rollers half as high again the boat. Every bottom of a wave jarred his spine. Icy saltwater stung sharp as pins and would be doing the same to Isaac. There was no point in wiping it away and in any case letting go of the steering wheel would be damned stupid. Skippers had broken their arms and legs when thrown across the  cabins of rolling trawlers. Hang on and and keep an eye on Isaac. The boy was scraping the ice-blurred windshield just like he'd been taught. Every scrape with the [what tool is he using?] left a space for more water, more ice and a length of vision that sometimes reached the boat's bow but most of the time was a grey cloud over the wet deck. 

I've taken liberties with your story, my writing is a bit cliched and clunky and the seafaring facts are probably wrong, but I hope you can see what I mean about showing rather than telling. You want the reader to feel that icy water, Matt's pulled muscles and his anxiety. Naming the boat will help too. 

At times I wanted a clearer description of the seafaring aspects. You make it clear a little later that Matt must steer across the waves rather than end up sideways to them (I think this is how it's supposed to be done?) but that's not obvious in an earlier piece of description. Part of the thrill for the reader will be to learn something they don't know already - how to steer through a storm. I wondered too if Matt would refer to maps or charts. In the UK where I'm from I think it would be charts. This may be just a language difference, but using some technical terms can really help in a scene like this. Too much and the reader gets lost, but the right amount creates atmosphere and interest.

Keep going with this story. I think it's a really good one, it just needs more of the feeling of fictional writing and emotional connection with Matt. He's an appealing character and with his son on board as well, the jeopardy here is high and could be nail biting.

So pleased you've discovered Natasha Pulley, Jane. I haven't read The Kingdoms yet but have loved her other books.

Checkout 19 is Claire-Louise Bennett's debut novel. It's brilliant and wonderful. Using autofiction she describes discovering literature as a child through library books and what it's like to start thinking like a writer, playing around with your imagination. The main character loves E M Forster's Room With a View which I also finally read for the first time this year. I love Forster but it has taken this long to get the film version out of my head. Checkout 19 is about growing up and the writing is really distinctive. 

Flickerbook is a memoir by the children's writer Leila Berg, republished a year or so ago. Berg grew up in Salford in the 1930s in a dysfunctional family and she uses short discrete scenes to show efforts to understand life and herself. As with Claire-Louise Bennett, I think the writing is outstanding.

Hi Dave

I like the the way you've created a full world and varied characters. The ending is especially interesting. I feel there's a good and comic story ready to be revealed -- though the name Titcombe made me wonder what kind of comedy I was in for. Maybe more subtlety is required, unless I'm the one being unsubtle. 

The writing became alive with "He had only been teaching ..." etc, You have the challenge of portraying a frustrated character but his situation comes across clearly once you reach this point. It was here that I started get interested in Gerald and his situation. Openings are notoriously difficult to get right but, as you've probably heard before, they can often be improved by deleting the first paragraph(s), the throat-clearing descriptions which we writers tend to think are necessary but actually risk bogging down our carefully crafted scenes. You can move these descriptive sentences to later in the story if they are really needed.

My only other comments are to watch out for repeated words and phrases especially in quick repetition, e,g, "the sound of" and to think about period-appropriate vocabulary. You don't have to write like an Edwardian but words such as opted and reset felt too modern - or rather the 21st century way they're used broke the mood. Gerald is a well-drawn character who I think will come to life even more if we can hear him talking and thinking as someone in 1910. I also wanted to hear him and his pupils use dialogue to show what the girls think of him rather that having this told to me by the narrator. 

I hope this helps and good luck with the novel. As Roger says, accept/consider/reject.

Thanks for posting.

I'm always relieved to read messages like this blog from Harry - and any post from Harry is welcome, read, marked, inwardly digested. But this one in particular. 

Out in internet world my heart sinks at generalised suggestions that written fiction will be better or more reliably achieved by using the techniques of drama, especially screen drama. For my poor heart this means frequent sinkings. Those suggestions -- which sometimes seem like a diktat -- can put non-script writers, especially novices, in danger of following particular paths before they're familiar with all the pros and cons for their own work. Of course thinking about the structural techniques of any artistic medium is interesting and hones our critical skills - the energy in a sculpture; the increase and release of tension in music. Any medium you like, or don't like - all worth studying. If a three-act movie structure, or a minimalist approach to dialogue or to the characters' internality, inspires someone to solve a creative problem, to be freshly inventive -- I think that's brilliant. If you can make these things work well within creative writing, co-opt them. I just worry that such a dominant medium as film carries the risk of blindsiding us.

Hi Eric, yes, - horses for courses. In your example we need to know what the poor man has suffered.

I've probably said this already but I think there are two points to descriptions, including those of scenery, machinery or anything. 1) whether some particular detail is needed. Often it isn't but sometimes it is. 2) The author has to take into account three points of view: the character's; the reader's (what do they need to know and what will be their interpretation of what's said); and the author's (what do I need to say to drive the plot and the characterisation, and - if relevant - to provide an example of the theme of this scene or story.)

Writing = mental gymnastics.

I don't see a difference either. It's the same problem even if some expressions of it appear more palatable than others.

I agree but in Faulks' case I'm not sure that's what's happening. Most of the report is from a journalist rather than him but he seems to have used feedback to review his approach. Assuming the quote is his real words, he says, 'Instead of getting all huffy and puffy and grumpy old man about it, I thought about it a lot.'  This seems the right thing to do and presumably that's why he told the audience about it. Of his novels I've only read Birdsong, and so long ago I can't remember details, but I've heard him on the radio a few times and he comes across as generous with descriptions of how he writes and how he sees craft issues. 

I also don't know how the article obtained the quotes from Bernadine Evaristo and Dawn French but if I'm reading the article correctly they're on different topics from Faulks' reappraisal of how he describes women. They overlap but they're not the same thing. I think we're seeing journalism in action rather than useful lessons from successful authors.


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