Oct 2014 CWG Critique


How do I keep this short! I would claim not to enjoy ‘short stories’ – other than those that I used to read in science fiction magazines – but I have read numerous novellas. Two authors that I remember well are William Bradford Huie and Joseph Conrad. There is the realisation that circa 30 years of my career involved me in writing of some sort or other, but not fiction (Ahem! I was a civil servant you may think that untrue). On a voluntary basis I carried out peer reviews on submissions for publication by The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

However, non of the foregoing consciously prepared me for writing a critique on the CWG stories, but the result of doing so surprised me. Firstly I needed to find out how I might do this and researched ‘literary merit’ to see if this would help. Not a lot really; but it did bring the measure of ‘quality’ to my notice, being something that I constantly faced in my job as an engineer. Not quality measured against an objective standard but quality as a subjective appraisal. My search for ‘quality’ in this form was found in Robert Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, which I posted to Zen and the 17th Chapter.

Finally I researched ‘critique’ and this was really helpful, leading me to post The Short Story & Critique. From these findings I decided to compile a spread sheet (with my changes) that would enable me to compare the short stories as – at this point – I was finding them (mostly) very hard to read and enjoy. Perhaps in keeping with this month’s theme changes occurred. The first one being that it changed my ‘instinctive’ rating of the stories. The second influence was to make me look objectively at the stories. But perhaps the most surprising result was that it increased my ‘enjoyment of reading all the stories’.

In assessing the objective qualities of the stories, identifying similarities in story lines (where I thought that they existed), identifying their differences in each story’s assumed publication to a successful market, still left me with the requirement to rank three of them. I decided to allow the influence of my subjective appraisal (my PF – Pirsig Factor) to be 20%. This produced another surprise. I found myself having to read the stories over a number of times, comparing those that were similar in some way and again using my 20% to influence the ranking. Each time I read the stories the CWG ranking changed often, as I had to combine my 20% with – sometimes – a reassessment of my objective rating.

October 2014 Creative Writing Competition.

  1. The Circle of Life by Chester Goode

    1. This story is plausible to a reader of science fiction. It was cleverly and amusingly constructed, especially the introduction of ‘Corn Dog Rosie’.
    2. I thought that the acceptance of the technology without any qualification was valid and it didn’t matter how good their Mongolian or Italian was.
    3. The implicit ‘time intervals’ may matter to sci-fi purist. (I thought it was valid and didn’t need explaining
    4. I’m not sure that the first paragraph was appropriate in the form presented. If it needed to be said then why?
  2. THE THIRD ACT by seadams
    1. ‘As a girl, in the years just before the War, she had often flown a kite on Brighton Beach’. It’s not clear if these are her thoughts or the authors means of transition. I think that it broke the flow. Why would she have ‘remembered’ flying the kite and not been ‘flying it’, the following paragraph didn’t require the same sort of ‘memory introduction’?
  3. The Good Shepherd by Atiller
    1. The placing of the introductory paragraph bothers me each time I read this story. As does the use of the word ‘cerebrum’.
    2. But there was more to it than that!  I think that that this a ‘key’ sentence, in which the story provided enlightenment.
    3. Given the ‘mysterious appearance of the Good Shepherd’ any connection between the collision with stag and the stag in grounds of the church at the Christening, was not realised immediately. I have to assume a connection between the appearance of the stag here and the significance of the first paragraph? A metaphor for the ‘Good Shepherd?
  4. For Better or Worse? by Misty
    1. ’34 and ¾s and 37and 1/4 ‘ didn’t ‘look right’ to me. Why not ‘approaching 35’ and ‘turned 37’?
    2. “Of course you must go but I hope you’ll make it up to me when you get back.” and ‘Their friends were all his : Ken, Curly, Winston and Tamsin who Mike had known since he was 12’. Perhaps the key sentences in defining the relationship between Marianne and Mike. The latter could be confusing, I think the inference is that he’s known all three for 12 years? Although I’m confused by Tamsin’s relationship in this ménage.
    3. The significant occurrence is left to the last paragraph? Having the reader determine the consequences may not result in Marianne being credited with with  – what I read to be – a step forward in her self esteem.
  5. Going Home by Expat Angie
    1. The more I think about the relationships ‘Inge-Vassili’, ‘Vladimir – Ester’, Vladimir – A.N. Other, possibly concluding with ‘Vassili – Ester’, I’m not entirely sure what I’m intended to infer. My inferences are:
      1. I don’t think that anything untoward occurred between Inge and Vassili at least not yet.
      2. Nothing untoward happened between ‘Vladimir – Ester’
      3. Vladimir had the occasional dalliances with A.N. Other.
      4. Vassili may ‘fall for Ester’.
    2. There was one awkward moment when Aline  pointed to Inga and Ester and their handbags. ‘Look they are the same.‘ This sentence left me ‘up in the air’ and unsure of its significance in what I assumed was to be a ‘happy occurrence for everyone at the new hotel’.
  6. A BREAKING THE MOULD by Lostinwords
    1. “Blimey, that sounds jolly boring.” Even if a ‘working class’ lad like Spen might say “jolly”, at this point in the story I can’t credit his mates doing so.
    2. I dared not pass the 11+. Is this intended to convey Spencer’s fear of a ‘superior’ socio-economic group’, if so is this valid? The story clearly makes it so; but it’s something that seems to be a generalisation that one may have expected to find only in a private school? I assume this ‘fear’ is realised later when Spen attends grammar school? Was this feeling of ‘inferiority’ (if that’s what it is ) overcome? If it is inferiority, why did it exist? Is Spen now ashamed of socio-economic group, how did the happen?
    3. It’s difficult to describe characters over an extended time period without some significant ‘life change occurrence’. All stories must reflect a life change over this extended period and that this change must be attributed to something occurring over that period. Did the father’s attitude to Spen mould the son’s attitude to his own children, or did it simply contribute to the change in Spen’s in socio-economic grouping? Is it the latter that now tempers Spen’s attitude and possibly memories?
    4. Unlike my father, I hope I’ll let my children make their own decisions”. This uncertainty about the future is, perhaps, the inevitable conclusion?
  7. WORTH IT by Pavlova Queen
    1. At the outset Amy wasn’t portrayed as a ‘bad’ character. But following the conclusion to the story, did Amy really dislike Serena that much? In the end you must assume that she did. Was this always disguised and coupled with an obvious jealousy?  I couldn’t decide and perhaps this was intentional?
    2. ‘Whereas I – seemingly conventional, uptight and bashed by religion – was a right-on modern girl dying to try everything and to hell with the consequences’. Is this a key sentence in explaining Sara’s character? I took me a while to think that it might be.
    3. ‘..if I offer to be a subject for his commission, he’ll see there is so much more to me,… I read this as being Amy’s only motivation for taking the children and something that took me a while to realise.
    4. Amy and Serena do come across as opposites, was it intended to portray Amy as really insensitive self-centered person – even to the well being of of her own children? If it was, it certainly worked but why did I miss the motivation for taking the twins? Why did the ‘absolute shallowness’ of Amy’s character only occur to me at the very end?
  8. Wednesdays at the Washateria by americanmum
    1. The interweaving of 3 stories was cleverly contrived as set by two key sentence: ‘She seemed hardly older than my own girl, a seventh grader’ said by Melissa and ‘It’s foolish you coming here to do your laundry when your machine works just fine’ said by John.
    2. The involvement of three generations was clearly being established by Melissa (the presence of Mary and the comparison of Jennie with her daughter).
    3. Mary’s need to go to the Washateria was withheld until John arrived at the accident.
    4. The significance of Mary doing her wash on a Tuesday  was not immediately apparent to me.
    5. Jessie was quite overpowering, yet her behaviour emphasised the generational differences.
    6. Although the story began and ended with Melissa, I’m not really sure now who I actually cared about. Certainly not Jessie, probably Mary, but I now wonder why I attached less significance to what was happening in Mary’s and Melissa’s lives than in Jessie’s?
  9. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Giselle
    1. This story that gave me the most problems, especially as I now tend to confine my reading historical facts and (some) fiction. Completely subjectively (before embarking on any intention to critique) I would have given it a CWG rating. I now find myself wondering if I should have written a critique of the story as a piece of pure historic-fiction, but I think that it’s  intended it to be historic- fiction largely embroidered around fact?
    2. The time-line sequence (moving backward) made the flow difficult for me to follow and the use of a calendar to date these became a distraction.
    3. I’m assuming that the story is aimed at the specialist reader with an interest and knowledge of Voltaire, acceptance of ‘fact-based-fiction’ and an understanding of the historic references and the terms used (without footnotes).
    4. I’m not sure how many ‘non specialist readers’ would know what the Treaty of Utrecht was about (although it is alluded to earlier) or its significance in the story (although it did relate to the characterization)?
    5. I didn’t understand at all the significance of ‘…people talk sadly of how they lived thirty years ago..‘ ?
    6. Would readers be aware of the significance of Olympe being a Huguenot and its impact on her relationship with Voltaire’s and him with his father?
    7. The opening paragraph immediately set me researching Voltaire. Something that perhaps it shouldn’t have done, but the character being described came across as someone ‘arrogant’ who treated his incarceration lightly, or was Voltaire’s ‘bluster’ actually ‘arrogance’?
    8. In the opening paragraph; was a pen picture of Voltaire more important here than an emphasis on the significance of the Bastille and imprisonment there? Do we have a misunderstanding of what the Bastille actually was and how it was used?
    9. I have to read it yet again to determine (for me) what the ‘life change occurrence’ was. I’m assuming – given the final paragraph – that it’s Voltaire’s relationship with Olympe but this seems insignificant compared to his incarceration in the Bastille and did not (?) contribute to it or his inspiration while incarcerated?
    10. Perhaps Voltaire is resigned to his relationship with Olympe ending as he is to the uncertainty of his incarceration in the Bastille?
  10.  Jebb Just by capucin
    1. The use of strong dialect created a problem for me in that I simple struggle to read such stories. However, the scenario of a wooden fighting ship always appeals to me, and in this case I really did read the story.
    2. Nevertheless, while I enjoyed the story the use of dialect made (for me) any critique difficult, I relied on the picture painted by each paragraph and in that the story succeeded.
  11. Doug’s Windfall by Danthemann
    1. An amusing story but one in which I frequently became ‘lost’, it was only after a number of readings that I attached any significance to; ‘He had dreamt of Mr. Mooney, his old maths teacher, pointing repeatedly with a stick to six figures chalked on a blackboard. 7.43, 9.12, 17.70, 34.99, 41.50 and 46.00’. 
    2. I wondered why I missed him telling Marianne that he had won £600K, perhaps because at that point the story became very convoluted. Always amusing but I found it difficult to piece together the flow.
    3. Ultimately I’m unsure of how Doug came by the money. I thinks he’s the lottery winner, but why is he telling his wife this story about internet fraud? Is Doug the author Timothy Barnett? Is this a story embedded within a story?
    4. Is Doug actually a sort of Walter Mitty?
  12. Marrano By Peter
    1. How I came to write this story is quite convoluted itself!
  13. Without Question by archie_tp
    1. I was really confused by this story and felt that a prequel or sequel to it would explain what was happening.
    2. There were not enough hooks in the story to enable me to surmise what was happening. At a guess I would say that the protagonist had ‘time travelled’ and ended up in a very dystopian future. My reasoning being that Timmy didn’t know what a notebook was and there were no schools. The why and for what reason, is not clear to me.
  14. I Was Fortunate to Have Cancer by furryfeatures
    1. Read as an autobiography I assume the ‘life change’ – in terms of this months theme – occurred when: ‘For the first time in ages I have played bridge with people, rather than a computer. I have got involved with Meetup.com, an international socializing organization based in New York and operating worldwide. Through this I’ve encountered an Asperger’s Syndrome social group and a group for playing board games. I have been to the cinema for about the first time in ten years and I am definitely finding more fun in my life! Life may not yet be brilliant but it’s now something that I can feel optimistic about. Things are getting better’. 
    2. This piece contains a number of significant occurrences, bullying at school, lack of friendship, difficulties at work , sever depression and, ultimately cancer. It’s also seems clear to me that contact with Macmillan Cancer Support brought about the significant life change occurrence. This significant life change (as indicated in the above extract) has more to do with the implicit response to this support. Something that goes beyond what has actually been written.
  15. Lullaby For Two Little Boys by inkandviolets

    1. I found this to be a very poignant piece. and thought the lullaby key, “Nani, nani, puiul mamii, Nani, nani, puiul mamii, Pui?orul mamii mic, Facete-ai, maic?, voinic…..” was used very effectively (an accurate translation would be nice).
    2. The portrayal of Irina as an immigrant was clear and the implied prejudice encountered was balanced by her better experiences whilst travelling to and from work.
    3. It’s clear that she is in an economic trap, which binds her to the Golds and from which there is no apparent escape, she needs her job with the Golds for the sake of her own son.
    4. Given the implicit indifference of the wife and contempt of the husband, her ‘bondage’ was confirmed by her ’empty threat to leave?
    5. I assume that however much she clearly (?) disliked the Golds her emotional bond with their son Max was finally confirmed when Irina said “No. I will go to Max.”. Her singing her lullaby to him confirmed Max as her own (surrogate) son and resignation to her ‘bondage’ in a foreign land?

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The Bulletin

This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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The Real Economy

Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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