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Care has been taken not to identify any particular author or book concept. This has very much determined the extracts from my reports that I can reproduce here.


Next steps

Although I enjoyed reading your novel very much, I think that it requires further revising and polishing to fully realise its potential. I’m sorry, it must be hard to hear this when you’ve obviously invested so much of yourself in this novel and must be longing to send it out into the world after a long gestation process. What I’m saying is that there is something worth polishing. You have built a solid foundation, now it needs to be tightened and the word count reduced to bring the jewels to light.

Checking and proofing

You’re not adequately proofing your writing. I think that any errors or jarring notes would become very clear if you were to read your work aloud. It’s amazing just how effective this can be. Make editing marks on your MS as you read aloud.

Your very first task when you revise is to run spell check through your file. This will immediately identify the large number of joined-together words throughout your text.

After you’ve run spell check, I recommend that you make the corrections I’ve listed on the hard copy. This will give the manuscript a basic tidy-up and you’ll then be able to see more clearly how to implement some of the recommendations I’ve made in this report.

Tightening up text and reducing the overall word count

You need to vary the lengths of your paragraphs, just as you need to vary the length and structure of your sentences. I’ve shown in my marks on the hard copy of the MS examples of how and where you could break up some of your paragraphs or make some sentences shorter and tighter. Attending to both of these areas will overall tighten up and more sharply focus the novel, increase the pace of the story and make it more readable.

I’ve recommended further on in the report under the individual page comments that whenever you introduce material from XXX’s diaries, you should start a new chapter on a new page.

Where to cut text: I’ve shown on the hard copy in many instances where and how a sentence or paragraph could be cut. However, rather than advise you to cut out big chunks from the novel in specific places, I think that you need to work your way slowly and carefully through the manuscript as a whole and cull a sentence or two from almost every page. Closely review every paragraph and assess how it might be tightened. In each paragraph and page ask yourself if you’re taking too long in each scene, if there is any way you can make the same point in a simpler, shorter way. With every scene, ask yourself what is the main thing that needs to happen and if you are depicting it in the most effective way.


Obviously the big questions I had to ask myself after reading your novel were:

  • Was there was sufficient narrative momentum and tension throughout the novel?
  • Did the individual parts add up to a satisfying whole?

My answer, I’m afraid, is not yet. Your novel requires more shaping and refining to fully achieve its potential. The text is currently in a raw, unpolished state at present and requires considerable revising.  There are some good ideas and some sections that crackle along, but on the whole the novel is undermined by prose that doesn’t flow and sparkle. There are also some serious flaws in the plot and characterisation.

The feedback I’ve provided in this report is not untypical of feedback given to a new writer who is not only learning to write but also to write his or her first novel. So please bear this in mind when you read the report. Although some of my comments may not be what you were hoping to hear, don’t forget that writing a novel is very much a process and it generally takes many drafts to get it right. This is normal. After a writer has been toiling away in solitude for a few years writing a novel in a vacuum, getting a manuscript assessment is a way of bringing some ‘fresh air’ into the project and opening a few more windows and doors.

Next steps – what needs further attention

The opening of the novel

I recommend that you shorten the first three pages, which at present are operating as a kind of prologue. Page two is slow and ponderous – cut to the chase. You need a compelling opening to your novel which will prompt readers to want to find out more. I didn’t find page one sufficiently compelling to hook me in. I recommend that you think about ways in which you could revise your first page to make it stronger.

You need to identify in your chapter headings (particularly at the beginning of the novel), which character is addressing the reader. I felt confused at first. I recommend that you head page one with XXX’s name and head the sans serif text that begins on p. 4 with YYY’s name. Readers will quickly pick up the different voices after you have identified the speakers for the first two chapters.

Tone, voice & language

Your novel is written in dual-narrator style with XXX and his daughter YYY alternately addressing the reader directly. I don’t think that either voice is completely successful. XXX’s voice is ponderous and formal – too much so at times. YYY’s voice comes across more as a recalcitrant, arrogant and scornful teenager than as an educated woman in her late twenties. One of the limitations of using the technique of each directly addressing the other is that we are not privy to any private thoughts or actions that neither YYY nor XXX want to reveal to the other.


Next steps – issues to address

Although I salute your ambition with this novel, and there is much to praise, I think you have more work to do in order to fully realise its potential. I appreciate that this will be hard to take on board, particularly since it’s evident that you’ve worked very hard on your book, but it is not yet sufficiently polished.

To be honest, your novel is currently being undermined by your lack of knowledge of grammar and punctuation and the weak characterisation of your present-day characters. You also need to work on your sentence construction and cut back on your use of adverbs and cliches.

In essence, what I’m saying is that the text is still in a raw state. It will require considerable revising to bring it up to the required publication standard. However, I think this is worth doing. And I do hope that my comments and rough edits on the digital file together with this report will give you the practical tools to carry out these necessary revisions. They will give you guidance as to how you can further polish your writing.

You have more work to complete in the following areas.

Writing style/language/tone

You need to tighten up your writing overall. This is what I mean specifically:

  • Your sentence construction needs to be tightened.
  • The writing quality throughout the novel is uneven, with the present-day sections requiring the most revising work. The standard of writing in the historical sections is considerably better written than those set in the present day.
  • Over-use of adverbs.
  • Too much telling rather than showing. For example, show the reader that a character (XXX) is wily, rather than telling.
  • Too much narrative summarising of material that could be converted to scenes in real time.
  • You often revert to clichés – refer to my individual page feedback further in this report for several examples of this. You need to dig deeper to find your own way of expressing what your characters are doing, feeling and saying.
  • Point of view issues (POV) – you are not sufficiently in control of your character POV, often jumping abruptly from one to another within one page as if you are unaware that you are doing this. The chapter starting on p. 72 about the XXXs is an example of this. You move from BBB, to the twins, to CCC the mother, and then to PPP and back to the twins and then to YYY. Shifts of POV that are not under the author’s control can lead to confusion and can be jarring for the reader. As you are struggling to manage multiple-character perspectives, I recommend that you select a dominant perspective in each chapter and filter everything through this person. This means deciding who is telling the story. It will reduce the confusion.


I liked the lack of sentimentality in your account of these terrible experiences you underwent. You come across as someone, who even in her very early twenties was reasonably self-aware.

I liked the fact that your memoir is a ‘warts and all’ account. You present yourself as a complex and flawed person – as we all are, which is so much more believable than someone who is solely in victim mode and can’t see beyond this.

In my opinion there needs to be more retrospective reflection and insights to provide a shape to your material. I’ll now elaborate on this.

What’s missing

In my opinion what seems to be missing overall from your memoir, is the element that Philip Lopate (To Show and To Tell) refers to as ‘retrospective reflection’. Processing memories with the benefit and wisdom of hindsight can bring an essential emotional clarity to events. It’s a delicate path to tread as a memoirist, to inhabit the feelings and thoughts of a younger self, while at the same time allowing the presence of the older, wiser self to be perched on the writer’s shoulder, bringing hard-won insights to bear on the past. This is part of the shaping process that can transform even the humblest story into memoirist’s art.

Retrospective analysis also provides an opportunity to see beyond pain and rage to a clearer truth, to see how trials have been overcome and lessons learned. As a reader, I have a particular interest in the lessons learned. These insights may very well only come to you through the process of reliving past events and shaping them with the benefit of hindsight.

In other words, a memoirist can claim the attention of readers not solely by reciting an account of events in which they may have been victimised, betrayed or hoodwinked but by bringing an adult judgement and viewpoint to such events. This means that someone like you who has endured unpleasant experiences can still show the turning points where they made choices which resulted in some of these consequences. It’s the insights gained and revealed that elevate memoirs from prosaic to great. Self-awareness is key.

So it’s not a case of justifying your choices or actions through the vehicle of memoir, but more a case of showing the reader that you are laying yourself open to a process of self-discovery, searching for truth and understanding, through the careful selection and piecing together of fragments of memory. Once assembled these pieces create a shape, a series of patterns beneath which the leitmotif of a life can be traced.                                                                                          

General appeal?

One of the questions I must ask myself as I’m reading any memoir in manuscript form is if it is of sufficient quality and interest to a readership beyond the author’s own immediate family, friends and contacts.

In the case of your memoir, I think the topic of the controversial XXX Church is of voyeuristic fascination to many people, in much the same way that any closed cult is of interest to the outside world.