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I know I’ve been a bad blogger recently, and I apologise.  I’m trying to get a grip on the various calls on my time, and hope to see some improvement now that I have decided to cut down my work – my paid, day job as an anti-money laundering adviser – to four days a week from January 2018.

I have also set the publication date for “Plank 5” as Friday 9 March 2018, which means that I will start that scary countdown clock as soon as I have finished writing this post.

In other news, I heard this week that I have not been long-listed in the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition 2017.  (You may remember that I asked your opinion on which Plank should be submitted, and you chose “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”.)  Mslexia sent a very helpful (standard) rejection email explaining what they were looking for, which I thought might be useful to other writers out there, so here it is:

The one thing that really made the judges want to read on was a central character they believed in, who was unusual in some way, and – absolutely crucial, this – was embroiled in some kind of dilemma, quest or conflict.  Passive characters standing on the sidelines were less likely to engage our readers; however painful their internal lives may be, it’s vital that inner torment is expressed in action and plot of some kind.  If this applies to your novel, you might consider rethinking your main protagonist, to give them a more powerful personality, or simply to give them more to do!

As in previous years, there was a complaint about the use of prologues: ‘almost always an unnecessary device’ that often delays entry into the story.  This applied particularly to prologues set in a different time period, or featuring characters that didn’t appear in the main text.  When someone is reading a lot of manuscripts in one sitting, as literary agents and editors always must do, the need to be gripped immediately becomes especially urgent.  ‘My final selections tended to have a strong voice and plunged the reader straight into the story.’

Indeed all of our judges admitted regretfully that they had to pass over a great deal of exceptional writing because the pace was simply too slow.  In some cases this was because the writer spent too much time spelling out the details of the setting (in the historical and speculative fiction manuscripts especially); in others the dialogue was rather long-winded and repetitive.  And some marvellously creative texts seemed to meander or tail off, rather than propelling the action forwards.

Again as in previous years, many novels started either with the protagonist waking up, or with the words ‘It all began like this…’.  Nothing wrong with those beginnings in themselves, but anything that smacks of cliché is going be a turn-off for a professional assessing manuscripts as part of their job – and it’s such an easy thing to avoid.

It’s disappointing, of course, but as Sam would doubtless say, we’re not doing this for reward and recognition.  I hope he’s right!