Friday, November 30, 2007

A review from 'marko'

Marko has already done all three of the short stories I posted on YWO, so I was eager to read what he had to say about Amelia's Body.

'Well, you obviously don’t believe in doing things the easy way, AC.

This is a bold and brave experiment, cleverly written. You have a polished talent for narrative so that whatever you write reads well. The wealth of detail is dispensed with a casualness that I found particularly impressive.

Having said all that, I’m not entirely sure where this is going. Each individual cameo is so satisfying that I found myself wishing that the story had been written in a more conventional form, so that I didn’t have to fit all the scattered pieces together myself (never had the patience for jig-saw puzzles).

I suppose you could accuse me of idleness.'


I know what he means. People keep telling me that I'd get on so much better if I just wrote the story as a conventional narrative. I will do - in three years' time, if I still haven't found a publisher to take it on!


This December, I will be reading 'The Children of Green Knowe' to J (aged 7) and 'The night before Christmas' to T (aged 2). I've also bought them the most wonderful book as a present: 'The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon' by Mini Grey.

Love A

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nope, gone off StoryWar

They gave my stories three out of ten! Stupid Americans.

(Sorry nice Americans. I know there are lots of you out there really.)

What a nice man!

'perryi' wrote:

This is really very good. I like your authoritative attitude, your prose is hard-bitten and emotionless when it needs to be and the clues you present and the characters you describe are rounded and lifelike.

I like the way you play with point-of-view and timescale. It keeps your work original in an area which has been well and truly explored and expolited by other writers and indeed television dramas. You get inside the head of a fourteen-year-old girl very well (to the best of my knowledge, anyway, never having been inside the head of one myself), and when the narrative changes with time, you update your language and dialogue well.

I wonder how long you've been writing. It reads as if you are well-practised in the art. Your air of authority makes the police-procedural aspects of your narrative thoroughly believable. If this is a product of research, then it is well-handled, and you don't let the textbooks cramp your style. If the procedure is imagined, you make it seem real anyway. I like the way you describe weather and other details surrounding the murder scene, and I like the way you hint at backstory for your hardened and embittered police officer and pathologist. I would like to read more of this book.

There are a couple of things which I think need looking at. I mention them here in some detail not to be picky, but because I think you're on to something here and they deserve to be pointed out rather than glossed over. Here they are:"The snow outside is falling hypnotically in large, fast flakes." Kill the adverb, it is your enemy!

"MIGHT have done, or places she MAY..." Capitals are shouting, italics are emphasis. I realise that YWO doesn't allow italics, and you may have written these words in italics anyway, but if you haven't, perhaps you should. If not, leave them unemphasised and allow the reader to place the emphasis.

“I’m Emma,” answers the taller, slender girl, with Louise Brooks hair. “I’m the eldest; I’m twenty-two. Sarah-Jane here is twenty, and Amelia is another two years younger than her". Who is Louise Brooks? I'm a bloke, I know nothing of these things! Is she a famous model or a hair stylist?

"bloody sex life. We can’t seem to talk about anything else without arguing. (Ruefully) I can’t say I bring much to the discussion; we all know about my two 'epic romances',”" Not sure if the (Ruefully) works. It's clumsy in mid-dialogue, and again, the reader can make assumption about the nature of her speech.

I know the Leicester area well, having spent a few years of my misspent youth there. The following is a clue, but only in some people's minds - "“Dad was the only one who didn’t see her last night. He had some meeting in Loughborough and had to stay over." Now, you and I both know that Loughborough is only half an hour or so from Leicester and that Dad could have quite easily come home, so my immediate thought is that Dad was up to something he shouldn't have been. Many readers won't know this geographical fact, so maybe you should sneak it in somewhere a bit earlier so the reader can think "ah-hah!" (if indeed they're meant to, but I certainly did). I felt unfairly advantaged by this.

The following sentence is really, really good. "I expect one of them will ask, ‘Who is Amelia?’ and, although it has been fifteen years, I will begin to cry. A man named Max took her from me. He took her with a velvet glance, with a razor-touch so sharp and swift that, for a long time, neither of us noticed that the other was lost." That's very, very good narrative. It gives an opinion, rather than pointing a finger, too, so we are quite deliberately no further forward in the whodunit stakes whilst the prejudices of the character are revealed. Brilliant.

So, I've been a bit picky there, but only because your story is so good. The points I've made haven't diminished my marks, which were fours and fives, so please don't think I'm nitpicking.

I liked your story very much and I wish you every success with it.


He also emailed me separately, to talk more about it, which has only happened twice, but it's very nice when it does.

Love A

P.S. I also got a straight 'fives' review for my short story 'Privet' today, which was good, because the last-but-one reviewer said it was boring!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Story War

Try this:

I haven't a clue whose idea this was but you can post as many short stories as you want and readers give them a simple rating out of ten - then the stories are automatically ranked against each other - such a simple concept. Readers don't need to login or hand over any details or money. All the stories are under 3000 words and the vast majority are by American authors. It's a fascinating site. I doubt any serious agents/editors ever look at it but it's still interesting. I put a couple of pieces on there to see how they would do.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Girly things

I've been getting so sick of never having anything new that, a couple of weeks ago, I broke out my credit card and went shopping on the Boden website. The stuff has now arrived and I was sure I'd get that familiar sick, guilty feeling but it was all lovely so I'm keeping it! I went through my whole wardrobe, deciding what was worth keeping and what wasn't and I actually IRONED several things that I haven't worn in years because they had taken up semi-permanent residence at the bottom of the ironing basket. I organised my wardrobe BY COLOUR and, after getting dressed in my new clothes, I actually went into the bathroom and put on LIPSTICK! I felt almost human again. I think it must be that crucial my-toddler's-just-reached-two-and-a-half stage that all mums go through. With daughter no.1 though, I was working full-time so I never had the chance to notice it.

Love A


I feel awful. I had to review her piece last night (she wrote some lovely things about Amelia's Body - see below - although she wasn't quite so nice about Love Child) anyway, that's not the point. It was the first piece, since the one by 'angelscribe', about which I could find almost nothing good to say at all. It's so hard. I tried to be encouraging and constructive but I'm afraid I'll have upset her just the same.


A turn-up for the books

Well, a turn-up for me at any rate. Still getting the reviews in, still polishing the book. Actually, I put up a short story on YWO as well, and it was doing better in the ratings than Amelia's Body, so I wrote another and that did well too, so I wrote another! So I now have four pieces on the site getting reviewed but I won't bother transferring any of the shorts reviews to this blog. I'll let you know my star-ratings as they come in/change though (these are averages of all the individual reviewers' ratings, stars awarded out of 5).

They give you an overall rating and then a second rating which is your 'genre fans' rating, i.e. ratings given by people have your chosen genre listed amongst their favourite reads. So far I have:

Amelia's Body - overall: 3.5*, genre fans: 4* (out of 5)

Privet - overall 4*, genre fans 4.5* !!

Love Child - overall 3.5*, genre fans 4*

Celeb - not enough reviews for a star rating yet - need four at least

So I'm pretty chuffed with all that, especially as everyone's trying to get their own stuff into the top ten at the end of the month, so there is little incentive to mark highly.



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Re: comment to last post but one

Thanks Hecate - I will. (And thanks for the confidence booster too!)


They either love it or they hate it

'Ayodele Campbell' wrote:

The interweaving of the different points of view really works for me, the teasing tidbits of information from past present and future timelines making the reader work towards a solution for the puzzle that is Amelias body. The intricacy of detail really held my interest. I don't think the comments others have made about the narrative voice of Caroline are viable; who hasn't been 17 or 14 ? The importance of communicating the vivid moods expressions feelings insecurities and immaturity of youth is perfectly captured in your narrative, and I would say quite definately don't rewrite your character Caroline, I found her believable; teenage is usually a bi-polar existence especially since intellectual development and physical development have to coexist in the same burgeoning potent body. I loved your narrative.

But 'Jeff' wrote:
I found Amelia's body to be fairly well written, but that the story was segmented too much. Because of this I quickly lost interest. I would also say that it was quite slow and lacked that ocassional burst of activity that keeps your interest. It seemed to plod along at one pace and never break it up with a bit of humour or action. Other than that I have little else to say except that in the line that says "That's about the size of it," she frowns, "one o'clock wev'e got to be back." I thought that the second part of this dialogue would start with a capitol letter. I say this because I have been criticised many times for doing the same thing, although a capitol should only really be used in this way if it is a proper noun. Good luck, although it's not my cup of tea.

And then 'Hecate' wrote:
This is a stunning piece of work, in my humble opinion. Okay, partly subjective in that it's exactly the kind of book I would choose to read, but the writing is flawless. Sorry if this sounds a little OTT, but it's an honest reaction.
2 miniscule 'criticisms': the repetition of 'inventoried' in the prologue, then the next section (probably doesn't matter much); and 'practicing' should be 'practising', unless you're writing in or for the US, in which case, please ignore!
I loved the structure. The POV switches worked extremely well, I thought, and the way the backstories were woven inbetween was great – so huge variety, which was engaging, yet still completely coherent and moving the story forward.
Lovely descriptions of place/time – eg in the woods, at the crime scene. I'm normally averse to descriptions of place (plus I can't write them myself to save my life) but this was just right, and said in so few words.
I thought the characterisations were brilliant – even those who appeared for the briefest moments, or said very little, eg Caroline's male friend and David, came across vividly and believably. Also, some fantastic psychological observations in even minor characters, and nice little touches, eg Dad's occasional attempts at asserting himself in the all female household. In fact, the biggest mystery at this stage is the character of Amelia – but, of course, that's great, because we want to find out more about her.
Re your query about Caroline's dialogue. I don't know whether you've changed it since previous reviews, but to me it came over as absolutely convincing. I mean, teenagers ARE adult one minute, childlike the next – and their speech reflects this. I really, really would be very careful about altering this. In fact, the scene where Caroline is talking to her friend is actually quite lengthy, especially given that she's doing most of the talking! – but it read very easily and didn't seem too long at all. And totally 'right' for a 17 year old. Ah - looking again at your comments, I see you were referring to all the teenagers' dialogue – but, really, same point – all came over as convincing to me; infinitely more so than what you can get in a lot of published novels, I think.
And did I mention that I liked this?
Well done.


So now of course I don't want to change the structure. I'm also pretty relieved because it would have meant and awful lot of work.
Love A

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

6th and 7th

'Dragongirlanonymous' wrote:

Wow. Perfect 5 on every point. I could find absolutely nothing wrong. At all.I love the splintered view points and the rapid-succession time changes that lead from findings of the post mortem. Effortless transition. Her story is not told linearlly but from a thousand viewpoints across time and space, all somehow connected with her life. Very, very cool.Don't worry about the dialogue. I found it very realistic. A lot is also inferred about the characters without going over-board. Subtle, sharp, and poignant.Again. Perfect. Wowza. EXCELLENT job. And nice job subtely slipping it into Brittain. Standing ovation. Possibly the most unique story I've ever read. I want more!

I really needed this. I'd just had another one saying that my structure was crap, so I altered the 50-word synopsis on the front page of my extract on I took off the bit saying that the book was aimed at both adults and older teenagers, leaving just the 'adult' part, and I added a few words to prepare the reader to expect my attempt at a 360-degree POV structure. I hope that this 5* review won't turn out to have been a one-off. Anyway, when I get review no.8 I hope it'll be good enough to allow me to delete 'ronmcmillan' who gave me all those 2s back at the beginning (and thereby increase my average and also my chances of getting into the top ten this month).

Also, 'sunny' wrote:

Bottom Line: You write well, but the story's structure and the large number of characters leads to confusion.
The story's strengths:
1) Amelia is immediately interesting. She is both the murder victim and perpetrator (she didn't deserve their love).
2) Interesting character detail, about how Amelia paints her little toe although it has no nail.
3) Also interesting that Caroline's baby has a problem with her little toe (and she should have been named after Amelia)...however, unless the baby ends up being Amelia reincarnated, how does this move the story ahead? (It is hard to tell since I've only read the first ~10K!)
4) You write well. Each part of the story flows well, but I don't know why they are important or how they fit together.

1) "At this moment, or maybe this, but she did not resist." Is there a typo in this sentence?
2) When you initially switch to the scene in Leicester, you state the date is 1991. We have no frame of reference for what this means since you don't immediately share the year of her death. In addition, explicitly indicate each switch in POV to alleviate confusion. I suggest starting every change in POV indicating the name/age/time in a consistent fashion.
3) "Rose is complaining again that Amelia won’t do voices for the different animals. She says Amelia always does them when they’re on their own and it’s just because I’m here that she won’t do them now. Amelia is denying this completely. Rose says if Amelia’s going to be stupid about it we can both get out of her room right now." You can do this with dialog.
4) Do teenagers really want adult POV?
5) I suggest examining each scene/POV change and determining whether it moves the story forward. Remove any that don't.

On your writing style:
1) You switch between past and present tense. This is a bit unsettling. Switching tenses might work if you purely used present tense for the investigation and past tense for the past.
2) Stick to said/asked as much as possible. Whined, calls, cajoles, etc. are distracting.
3) Mostly use active voice, but a few times slip to passive (e.g. a weak sun has risen)
4) You do a lot of telling. I would enjoy more scenes with Amelia, showing her personality.

There are some fair points in this one, but two things I definitely don't want to do are to add more descriptive detail to the 'Investigation' chapters, or to flesh out the character of Amelia (the murder victim). Here's why: 1) in my head I see the Investigation chapters in black & white - almost like a documentary - the 'life' is in the other strand, the Post Mortem strand. If it were a film, only the PM strand would be in colour. This point of style is very important to me. 2) Amelia is NOT the central character - Caroline is. I like the idea that it will take readers a little time to see this.

Still plodding on,
Love A

Sunday, November 04, 2007

4th and 5th reviews on YWO

'angelscribe' wrote:

A, thanks for your two reviews this weekend-recently due to feedback that wasn't helpful or constructive, and ratings you gave me of 1s and 2s, I had to remove it. Sorry! AS for yours, you have a good storyline but needs a bit of work.

Characters: 3 [we mark out of 5 in each area]
To me, they didn't seem real. None of them are described in full details or have background. None of the police have first names. They appear flat. Describe them and give them some history, other Max is Amelia's boyfriend/killer?

Story: 4
Interesting concept. This isn't teen fiction. This is mainly a crime novel. Your prologue is short. Insert spaces between narration/dialogue in some areas. Good drama.

Pace: 4
Very good pace. I didn't care much about the layout between the post-mortem report and the flashback. I don't think our crime novels are set up like that. But that's just my opinion. The construction was okay, the structure was fair.

Language: 4
Very well done. Thirteen-year-old is hyphenated. God is capitalized. Watch out for super long sentences. No colons. Use semi-colons to combine two full sentences, not fragments-you're using them wrong. Use commas. Owens' should be Owens's. Word echo: layers. On page 18, you're missing punctuation. Girls shouldn't have an ' in Girls Night Out.

Narration: 3
The flashback/PM report throws me off the flow like a distraction. Good POV and details.

Dialogue: 4
Very natural. Don't end dialogue before tags with periods-use commas. You're missing some dialogue on a page. Says isn't capitalized.

Settings: 3
No descriptions of any setting or scenery. Make it 3D by giving it layers of foundation like the Owens's home and the desk at the autopsy.

Theme: 4
A good concept, but needs a new layout to tell the story in narration. It's almost too much telling that way. Give your places and people some description.Thanks for the read.


'leightvwersky' wrote:

this was a triumph of style over content. my first reaction was that you need to work on the structure of this novel because although you have attempted something potentially very interesting and innovative it doesn't quite work yet (for me at least). the zipping back and forth between narratives and narrators is initially highly confusing and while not inscrutable certainly requires much re-reading for clarification. i'm afraid i think that is quite a serious fault line so early on.

too much mystery is a turn-off rather than a hook.

there are also loads of names that just get lost. stefan maric is never mentioned again, but will probably be important later. all those police officers' names are simply not necessary when you are introducing the plot in such an indirect way - smith and dexter can wait, so can dilbur kaur and dr hussain. the names distract at this stage when we really just want to concentrate on amelia and her close friends and family, and the police dealing directly with the case.

you also repeat a lot of information, for example the 6 am phone call and the fact that amelia's dad was in loughborough is repeated almost verbatim when wright and sharpe talk.

the summary of the police notes (p13 in my print-out) tells us nothing new.

also i wasn't sure why sharpe's habit of not using interrogatives in questions would irk wright? that seemed gratuitous. i also found her sentence 'did you see the body yet?'very odd. is she american? if not why doesn't she use the present perfect and say 'have you seen the body yet?' reading this was like watching one of those hollywood thrillers where the initial scenes are very brief, jumpily edited back and forth and are full of vital information (and you hope you haven't missed too much).

i think the fact that you had to spell out who exactly was who in no uncertain terms (i'm caroline aged 14 etc etc) highlights the fuzziness obscuring parts of your narrative.i'm afraid i found caroline and amelia's 'voices' aged 14 unconvincing - both way too old and way too young. and what are crumpled leaded windows? do windows crumple?

sorry to have so much to criticise. your descriptions of amelia's body, the vivid image of bridie throwing up in the mortuary, the breakdown of emma and sarah-jane were very good. and i liked david cooper, the blonde girls and luka ( but what on earth is a 'ubiquitous' blonde supposed to mean???).overall i think you have the basis of a really gripping thriller/mystery here but at present it needs another draft. you have a real talent for descriptions and atmosphere but get carried away by some odd expressions like the ones i mentioned above.

i gave this 3 for characters and story, 2 for pace, narrative voice and dialogue and 4 for language, settings and themes.

i wish you good luck with this novel.


I have made some changes, particularly in response to that last review (not all of which I thought was fair, I have to say) but I'm waiting for more of a consensus view before doing anything drastic such as totally binning the two-stranded structure of the novel. That really was my starting point for the book. That was the idea that made me actually sit down and put pen to paper in the first place. I thought 'What if I wrote a crime novel in which we don't see everything through the eyes of the detectives, or even through the eyes of the victim, or her mother, or her best friend? What if a 360 degree narrative could be constructed using many different points of view? Could that work?'

Maybe the simple answer is 'No, it can't.' but I'm not ready to give up on it yet.