SunsetChurch123114_0031As per the previous blogs regarding my commitment to review new, self-published authors. I wrote a review of indie author HJ Lawson’s novel, War Kids. She responded. I responded to her response. Hence – a review, a response, and reality – at least from my perspective.

Weak writing hinders well conceived story

War Kids starts with a BANG! in the middle of the action. Jada, a fourteen year-old girl wakes up to witness a horrific scene – the hospital she is recovering in has been bombed. You never know how she got there or what her injuries are, but she’s fit enough to escape the ruins.

Zak is at school when the soldiers arrive and begin indiscriminately killing everyone. He manages to escape as well.

So starts the individual journey’s of Jada and Zak through war torn modern day Syria to try to reunite with their families.

Author, HK Lawson has picked a contemporary theme and packaged it with an excellent cover, but unfortunately her writing is not up to the task.

Very early on the author’s inexperience becomes apparent. She uses capital letters like BANG to indicate gunshots, THUD, THUD, THUD, is the sound of heavy boots. Rather than find appropriate descriptive words and images she resorts to capitalization and punctuation (there are 463 exclamation marks in the book) including the combination ?! (used 21 times) which is supposed to indicate what I’m not sure, questioning shock perhaps?

Gratuitous profanity is also used for emphasis, though oddly it’s mostly in the character’s thoughts and not in their dialogue where it might have been put to good use.

Clichés abound, diction is limited with the use of “horror, horrific, horrible”, and “hell” repeated countless times as is “God” (used 55 times).

The narrative is littered with horrific events and human tragedies but because the characterization is so shallow and one-dimensional I never got to know anyone as a real person and so the impact on this reader was minimal. Except for their gender the children could be interchangeable, they are all good, virtuous and brave; the soldiers are all bad, evil and cowards.

The author gets caught up describing the details of the action, much of which would be better left to the reader’s imagination, but comes up short on giving the character’s reaction to events which would help develop their personalities and create reader empathy.

Another example of the lack of craft is displayed when the author launches into a couple of pages of back story about how Jada’s father taught her to use a gun just as she’s about to blow the brains out of a bad, evil, cowardice man intent on raping her.

Half way through the novel it reverts to a YA romance, but here again the lack of depth in the characters and their reaction to these new feelings left this reader unsatisfied.

The plot is a bit convoluted and at one point flashes back 19 years and introduces and entirely new line that really stretched this reader’s suspension of disbelief. The story would have perhaps been better served if it would have stayed focused on the two original protagonists and delivered from just two points of view instead of six.

Nitpicking issues include a BBC journalist allowing an interviewee to editorialize to an international audience – would never happen, I know, I’m a journalist.

As far as I can discern, the UN has had a limited presence in Syria in the role of observers. Whenever the heavy hitting begins they pull out, so it’s not likely they would be rescuing any civilians from a bombed hospital as the reader is lead to believe near the beginning of this story.

And what about religion? Only ten percent of Syria’s population is Christian, yet all the children in this novel pray to God not Allah.

The lack of political context could be justified by the fact the characters are children, however, the kids I know, at the very minimum, reflect the parent’s prejudices. I think the lack of understanding of the situation may have more to do with the absence of research into the issue. Consider this paragraph by the character Faith, an international doctor in the war zone, delivered to a BBC television reporter.

“Suffering has gone beyond all boundaries. There is no safe place left. Syria has become a battlefield. Every aspect of human rights, freedom, and citizenship are lost from view, and no one cares. Entire villages have been cleared off the map. Innocent children are being massacred, and a whole generation is being erased. For what? I pray every single moment that the government and all political parties around the world will engage with the rebels. The rebels are capable of engaging in dialogue, because if they do not, the blood of the innocent is on their hands. All of their hands.”

For what?

Well, there’s obviously some motivation though you may not agree with it. Deep background and an understanding of the characters’ situation, inserted subtly, can give the story more authenticity.

Engage with the rebels? What exactly does Faith mean when she says this? Does she mean negotiate with the rebels for a truce? Is this an example of using the wrong word?

The rebels are capable of engaging in dialogue because if they…?

Who are they and what do they want to engage about? Again, should this read “negotiate”?

Blood of the innocent is on their hands …?

Whose hands – the rebels, the government (and which government is that), political parties around the world, everyone’s?

This story has potential and is well conceived. All it needs is for the author to log her 10,000 hours before writing it.

I received this book free from the author in a giveaway sponsored by BookLikes.

Hi Rod,

Thank you for time reading and reviewing the book (War Kids). As an fellow indie author you understand how difficult it is to get your book in front of people. 

It’s just a shame you didn’t like it, I am very new to the writing world. In fact I’ve hidden away from writing for many years due to my dyslexia. Writing War Kids gave me the confidence to share my work, it may not be the best but I love it. I continue to learn and understand this very alien trade to me. 

Hayley Lawson

Author of WAR KIDS

Dear Hayley,

Being an indie author is frustrating, but writing for me is so much more than getting published – even than getting read.

Ironically, most of what I’ve learned about the craft of writing has come from critiques and bad reviews – not books, not conventions, not online seminars. It can be painful, but when I get past that sometimes there’s something I can use. I always keep in mind it is still only one person’s opinion and, hey, they may not know what they’re talking about, right?

Like you, I simply love to write. I love finding le mot juste, just the right word or phrase, creating a new metaphor other people actually get, and (especially) that magical experience when the story takes off in a direction I had not intended it to and my characters do and say things I never imagined they would. They’re in control, I’m just a conduit.

I also write because it gives me an opportunity to research and learn, as I imagine you did with your book War Kids. I purposely put my characters in emotional and physical situations I know little about. In my novel Not Wonder More my heroine is schizophrenic and also a natural healer. That was a learning curve.

Apparently, we also share the third reason I write – to influence my readers with my view on issues, or as George Orwell put it, “There is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

The last reason I write means I’ve got to put it out there, and the reality is some people (sometimes most) don’t like it. So it’s a good thing I don’t write for money or fame, because I’ll likely have neither.

Nietzsche said, “Art is the proper task in life.” I agree as I hope you do. He also said, “The doer alone learneth.”

Writing is a craft. The more you do it, the better you get. I continue to write and learn and hope you will. Conceiving and creating a book is a great thing. You should be proud of what you achieved.


PS Thanks for the offer of the book, but it’s not necessary


My new novels, FOREST – Love, Loss, Legend and The BIG PICTURE – A Camera, A Young Woman, An Uncompromising Ethic (now in paperback) are available on Amazon and at

Read Reviews

Visit my publisher’s website for excerpts from, and buy links to, my three novels, Spirit Bear, Eagleridge Bluffs, and Not Wonder More – Mad Maggie and the Mystery of the Ancients.

More of my original photographs can be viewed, purchased, and shipped to you as GREETING CARDS; matted, laminated, mounted, framed, or canvas PRINTS; and POSTERS. Go to:

View my flickr photostream at

Or, My YouTube channel if you prefer photo videos accompanied by classical music