Evelyn Waugh and the Jellyfish

I’m so glad I trusted Malcolm with my manuscript. His assessment was so valuable and gave me the momentum I needed for another draft. His feedback was constructive and showed me not just what needed fixing but also provided lots of fantastic ideas on how to do that. It‘s taken my manuscript up to a whole new level—Anne Dorrian

Manuscript assessment – how it works

I will write a detailed report on your novel covering every aspect and offering suggestions as to how to fix things that may not be working.

You can submit your manuscript electronically or send me a hard copy. 

Payment is in advance and can be done by bank transfer or I can email you a PayPal link to pay by credit or debit card.

Email me to arrange.


Up to 20,000 words £375

20,001 – 40,000 £425

40,001 – 60,000 £510

60,001 – 65,000 £530

65,001 – 70,000 £565

70,001 – 75,000 £600

75,001 – 80,000 £640

80,001 – 85,000 £675

85,001 – 90,000 £715

90,001 – 95,000 £750

Email follow-up: free

Additional Zoom call discussion. £100 for an hour

Express turnaround: 50%  extra for 10 day turnaround.

Mini consultation : pick my brains  £100/hr on Zoom. Face-to-face in Oxford £130

Fees if you want me to read material in advance:

£50 per 1,000 words, up to 5,000 words.


If you have seen the legendary BBC adaptation of Brideshead Revisited  you will remember the amazing character of Anthony Blanche who is generally regarded as being based on Harold Acton.  Waugh really couldn’t have chosen a worse person to send his manuscript to.

It was the summer of 1925. Evelyn Waugh had sent the manuscript of his first novel to a friend, Harold Acton. The response was so scathing that Waugh burned the manuscript, left his clothes on the beach and walked out to sea intending to end his life. According to his autobiography, he abandoned the suicide attempt after getting stung by jellyfish.

The detail about the jellyfish might lead the uninitiated to suppose Waugh was joking, but any new writer who has had to expose his work to the cruel gaze of other people will know he’s not exaggerating much.

Showing your work to somebody can be agony. Writers are incredibly vulnerable and sensitive in this respect.

 But unfortunately it’s a step that cannot be avoided. 

What’s the best way to go about this? Here are some of my thoughts gleaned over the years of bruising encounters.

Firstly, you need to be very careful about showing it to friends. Or amateurs in local writing groups. The problem here is, very often such people have no idea what they are talking about but have the ability to dispense their wisdom with an air of great confidence.

Since you as a new writer are more vulnerable than a new-born chick, utterly bereft of self-confidence, the odds are you will take their wrong critique to heart and change your novel in ways that are plain wrong.

I know this from personal experience.

You need, instead, to get the opinion of someone professionally engaged in the industry, but there are pitfalls here too for the unwary.

Over the years I have been repeatedly struck by how clueless a lot of people are in this matter. 

So often people begin by giving you a long shopping list of faults. 

This is so wrong. Usually they omit entirely any reference to what works and when you point this out, you know what they say?

‘You need to be more “professional” ’. Which is code for ‘Don’t be such a big baby.’

The Sorcery of the Sandwich

The amazing thing about all this is, there is a simple formula for delivering criticism that not only provides the writer with the information needed to improve the work, but crucially,  does so in a manner that fills the writer’s sails with the wind of motivation.

It is called the Sandwich, which means the bread is praise and the filling the criticism. You start by talking about what is good and what works. This isn’t difficult. I’ve read loads of manuscripts and never seen one that didn’t have lots of good stuff in it.

Why does this work?

Because it instantly diffuses the terror in your heart. When the person giving the feedback highlights the good stuff it is invariably the same stuff that you, the writer, are proud of.  A massive sensation of relief explodes within you. You are not an impostor after all! Those bits you thought were good? You were right! A published author likes them too.

This is insanely helpful.

And it completely transforms your response to the section about what needs fixing. Your heart surges with the motivation to get cracking on rewriting. Given how much blood, toil, tears and sweat you poured into your novel, this is the least you deserve. 

Malcolm Pryce