Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Critique by Nancy Bilyeau: The Atonement of Louis Godbout

TITLE: The Atonement of Louis Godbout
GENRE: Historical
ENTRY: #20

The pitch:

Lower Canada, 1838. The revolt against British rule FAILED (for quicker meaning):/is in tatters/. Louis Godbout, THIS IS UNCLEAR, HE IS HALF FRENCH, HALF-CREE GENETICALLY OR IS HE A MAN TRAPPED BETWEEN THOSE TWO WORLDS EMOTIONALLY?:/a loner caught in a no-man's land between French and Cree, is banished to the penal colony of Australia I'D CUT THIS, IT MUDDIES HIS CHARACTER IN THIS SHORT A DESCRIPTION: /for a rebellion he didn't believe in/. In exile he finds comradeship; in humiliation, dignity. Inspired by the courage of a Huguenot/Londoner convict woman, THIS IS TOO VAGUE FOR A PITCH, IS THERE A CLEARER NARRATIVE LINE, DOES HE FALL IN LOVE, DOES SHE HELP HIM FIND PEACE OR BELONGING OR SAVE HIS LIFE? /he wrestles with the meaning of home, identity and belonging/. Based on true events.

On a low-skied Sunday morning, the 25th CUT:/day/ of February 1838, Louis Godbout gave his cabin door a nudge. He could feel the weight of a snowdrift on the other side. As the door crack widened INSERT COMMA the chink of a new day SHOWED ITSELF:/ began to show itself/: a DELETE:/glimpse of/ leaden landscape blasted by an overnight blizzard. VERY NICE IMAGERY: Crystals from the advancing drift spilled over the threshold like salt from a bag.

Merde, I hope I can get out of here.

FIX REPETITION OF 'DOOR' AND TIGHTEN:/He shut the door and went through to the door at the rear of the cabin. Out back, in the lee of the storm, it was clear.


Today, for once, he wouldn't have to dig himself out.

He put on his toque and capelot and stepped DELETE:/out/ into the open. The air was muted after the fresh PICK ANOTHER WORD:/dump/ of overnight snow. NICE HISTORICAL DETAIL:/His snowshoes, great platters of wood and webbed hide, hung from a hook outside the back door/. He lashed them to his moccasins, pulled a pair of WOOL?:/woolen/ mitts over his hands and set out from the cabin toward Châteauguay.

NOT SURE THIS IS WORKING. PLUS YOU ALREADY SAID 'LOW-SKIED' IN FIRST SENTENCE:/The land looked close to the sky, as if the white-crusted fields had been leavened and baked in an oven/. He headed for the western bank of the Châteauguay River, his shoes stamping giant prints across the virgin snowfield. This late in winter his racquettes were like one with his body, NICE DESCRIPTION: as if his feet had sent out new growths of sinew and bone. Gross and clumsy that they were, the shoes let him skim over the deep powder like a snowshoe hare.

The writing in your selection is full of evocative description. I could feel the weight of the snow against the door, and see the sky outside the cabin. I very much enjoyed the scene you set.

I would consider weaving in more of Louis's internal struggle. I think we need to read more than his reaction to the weather, shoes, and the countryside, as lovely as the writing is. Is he setting out with dread, with anticipation? Is he overly confident? Suggesting the possibility of conflict soon to come would bait the reader's hook and make her or him eager to keep going.

I made notes in your pitch, to help clarify the meaning. I would make less internal the core struggle of Louis once he is in Australia. Readers (and prospective agents and editors) need to know if this is a historical novel about a man finding the meaning in his life, surviving against difficult odds, or finding love and acceptance from another person. (Ideally, all three :). Finding the meaning of concepts such as identity might not be making the best case for your book in a pitch, though that is definitely a powerful theme for the book itself. You say in the middle of the pitch that he's a loner, is the emotional journey of the novel one that ends with him learning to love and trust another person? A more specific arc would be great to tease out.

For a comparison of a 19th century-set story of a person thrust in a new place with epic overtones, I would take a look at Lauren Willig's new novel, "Summer Country."

Best of luck with your book, which is set in a very interesting time and place and with a strong premise.


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