Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    The Time Pool

    I was going to post this earlier, but WM sent me a synopsis as well, and I've only just had a chance to have a look at it. It's a fantasy novel for 9- to 11-year-olds.

    Jason Edwards leaned on Lady Lee’s aft rail, gazing into the motor yacht’s bubbling wake. The warm Caribbean breeze ruffled his auburn hair, his eyelids drooped and his thoughts drifted back to England. If his schoolmates could see him now, they’d be green with envy.

    A high-pitched whine snapped him back to the present.

    The long fishing rod in the handrail socket whipped over in a trembling arc. An unseen marauder had snatched the distant bait and was tearing the line off the reel.

    Jason flung his Coke can aside. “Strike!”

    He dashed to the railing and heaved the bucking rod out of its socket. Gripping it tightly, he edged himself into the fixed chair and manoeuvred the butt of the rod into the swivel hold. The reduced growl of the engines told him Dad had spotted the strike from the bridge. “You got it in securely, son?”

    “Yes, I’m okay,” shouted Jason, feet braced on the hinged plate. The reel ratchet clicked furiously. Jason’s breaths came in short gasps as he hung on to the rod and tried to locate his quarry.

    The flip-flop of running sandals announced company.

    From the corner of one eye he glimpsed his twin sister Michelle’s cut-off jeans. “Undo my watch for me! Don’t scratch it. And keep out of the way!”

    She flicked her long hair back. “Oh, pardon me for living. I’m not your slave, you know.” She removed his watch, anyway. “It’s one o’clock, near enough. I’ll time you.”

    Some distance astern, a metre and a half of angry silver and blue blasted through the surface. The hooked fish stood on its tail in a frenzied lashing of spume and

    Michelle pointed. “Look! I see it.”

    “Wow! A kingfish!”

    She punched the air. “It’s a beauty. Can I hold the rod?”

    “No. You’d lose it.”

    The kingfish sprinted for freedom, the line screaming off the reel.

    “The bucket!” yelled Jason. Cool the reel!”

    “Yes, master.” Michelle ipped the nearby pail over the humming reel.

    Sprayed water spattered Jason’s sunglasses. “I can't see! Wipe my specs.”

    She smudged them, giggling.

    Sweat ran down Jason’s back as his white-knuckled hands kept a firm hold on the rod. The ratchet fell silent but the kingfish maintained a steady pull. Jason took a deep breath. Now for the tough part. Haul the rod upright. Then lower, winding as fast as possible. Over and over. The rod grew heavier and heavier. His tongue sandpapered his lips. “Find my Coke. Pour some down me - my mouth preferably.”

    “I can hardly miss. It’s big enough”

    “Oh ha, flipping ha.”

    With another arm-wrenching sprint, the fish reclaimed all the line so preciously reeled in. Jason groaned. Back to hauling and winding.

    Michelle clutched her forehead. “Don’t lose him!”

    The commotion brought Mum rushing out from the cabin, camera ready. “Get closer to Jason, Michelle. I’ll get you both in.”

    “Keep going, son!” called Dad. “You’ve got him.”

    Got him? Jason grimaced. Why didn’t someone tell the fish?

    The majestic kingfish fought on, but eventually exhausted, it surrendered. Vanquished, it lay on the deck, an accusing glint in its dying eye. A touch of sadness mingled with Jason’s feeling of triumph as he knelt and admired the beautiful markings and elegance of the streamlined silver and blue body.

    “Took you thirty minutes,” said Michelle. “It’s a whopper. My turn next.”

    Dad had cut the engines and climbed down from the bridge. “Sure, next one’s yours but we’ll let that one go. Only need one for the freezer. Beautiful creatures, aren’t they?”

    “Yes.” Jason rubbed his cramped muscles. “What do you think it weighs? Fifty?”

    “Kilos? No. Pounds? Maybe. Congratulations, son. You beat me – I was in my teens before I landed my first fifty-pounder.” Dad shivered. “Where’d that wind come from?”

    Jason had felt it too. Then it was gone. A dark strip lined the horizon. Probably only a change in water depth, he thought, turning back to help Dad stow the fish in the side locker.

    Suddenly a shadow swept over Lady Lee.

    A cold wind rippled Jason’s T-shirt. Goosebumps prickled his arms. He looked up. An umbrella of dense clouds roiled and swirled towards the motor yacht from all sides. Pea-size raindrops stung him on the head and shoulders.

    “Pa! We got trouble.”

    “What the…?” Dad slammed the fish locker shut. “Get in the cabin! Quick!”

    The clouds closed in at speed, blotting out the sun. A howling wind engulfed Lady Lee. Heaving waves sent her rolling from side to side.

    Jason clung to the handrail. Straining to see through the now blinding rods of torrential rain, he struggled towards the cabin door.

    Ahead of him, Michelle held it open. He could barely see her frightened, rain-streaked face. “Come on, Jason!”

    He inched towards her outstretched hand. Then a hard shove in the back sent him flying into her. They stumbled into the cabin.

    Behind them, Dad forced the cabin door shut and rammed the bolt home.

    “What’s happening, Ron?” Mum shrilled, clinging to the table.

    Dad didn’t stop. He vaulted the table and rushed up to the wheel. “Hang on, Jean. Kids, check the portholes!”

    Michelle secured the two within reach, then huddled close to her mum.

    Jason checked the other portholes. A wild roll flung him against the bulkhead. The cabin lights flickered and died. He clung to the nearest stanchion and flipped the light switch. Nothing. Lady Lee rolled again. Angry, white-crested waves tossed her back. Loose ornaments and paperbacks flew off the shelves.

    Jason prayed the engines would start; if Lady Lee could face round into the wind they stood a chance. A sickening lurch hurled him against the cabin door. His elbows hurt. He needed something soft. He tossed seat cushions to Michelle. “Haul the blankets and stuff out. Use it as padding. Your head. The table, whatever.”

    A sizzling flash of lightning lit up the cabin. Close on its heels, a deafening thunderclap attempted to shake Lady Lee apart. Jason shot a scared glance at a porthole. Visibility zero. He braced himself. Two pillows and a cushion kept the table edge at bay.

    Vibrations under his feet filled him with fear that Lady Lee was breaking up. Then he realized Dad must have got the engines started. His spirits soared at the surge of two hundred horsepower. That should get Lady Lee round. His cold fingers
    gripped the table edge. “Please, Lady, please.”

    Above the fury of the storm and the roar of the engines powering up, he heard Dad’s yell. “Come on, Lady! Turn! Come on!”

    Lady Lee rolled way over. She lurched back. Then, an anguished cry from the bridge. “No! Please. No-o-o!”

    The engine vibrations stopped.

    A cold hand pinched Jason’s heart. Why had the engines stopped?

    Dad punched the red distress button and faced into the cabin. The pale emergency lighting showed the anguish on his face. “Power’s gone. Wheel’s locked. She won’t move!”

    Jason’s knuckles turned white. Dad couldn’t be serious. No power or steering put Lady Lee – and them – at the mercy of the storm.

    The shrieking wind drowned his dad’s voice. “Hold on! We’ll have to ride it out until…”

    To a succession of lightning flashes and peals of thunder, the storm intensified. Relentless rain hammered the cabin roof, demanding it be granted admittance.

    Jason buried his head in the pillows. He jammed his feet against the table legs. A stomach-churning forward pitch accompanied Lady Lee’s next roll. She swung upright. Then rolled the other way. To Jason’s horror the roll refused to correct itself. He heard the frantic shouts of his dad, mum and Michelle, and then the shelving and cupboard contents showered down on him.

    With a groan of agony, Lady Lee flipped over. Jason’s world turned upside down. And blackness charged out of the mayhem.

    Good stuff here from W.M. His prose is generally fine. There are bits here and there where an editor would want to get in with the blue pencil: "The flip-flop of running sandals announced company... From the corner of one eye he glimpsed his twin sister Michelle’s cut-off jeans" - could he not just glimpse his twin sister Michelle? Or the 'suddenly' at the start of the storm, or the rain asking to be granted admittance. Little things that don't quite work. But in the main it's fine. The storm scene, with its short punchy sentences, is well done.

    There's not a lot wrong here, without getting to the level of line editing, which I'm not going to do. For all that, it doesn't have the sort of really special style that would make me sit up and take notice purely in terms of technical skill. The really important thing, then, is story, and that would be what determines its chances of publication.

    I've read the synopsis, in which the twins find themselves transported to a magical kingdom, and are involved in the search for a wizard who can help them get home (shades of Oz) and in the rescue of a kidnapped princess. Finally the wizard, the twins, and their friends are caught up in some sort of cosmic battle with an otherworldly monster.

    There are some good character ideas - I like the idea of the wizard's secretary, bespectacled, bun-haired Miss Quilldipper, who is small enough to fit inside a pocket. It all seems to be quite traditional and gentle, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but which might make it a tougher sell to cynical, gimlet-eyed editors (thank you, by the way, WM, for not having written a trilogy. They're such a dismal prospect, in the main.)

    If this crossed my desk, I'd give it four or five chapters in which to be thrilling and original, I think. A solid effort which (like a few sent to me so far) would need to be read into further.
    Torgo, 1:36 pm


    Many thanks for your time, Torgo, and I appreciate your encouraging and helpful comments. A hint of Oz similarity only dawned on me after I had finished the manuscript. It was not my intention to copy Oz in any way but I agree, there are similarities. Hopefully my story and characters are sufficiently different and strong to outweigh any objection that the similarity may cause.
    Anonymous WM, at 10:33 pm  

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