Book Jacket


rank  Editors Pick
word count 62960
date submitted 24.03.2012
date updated 14.01.2013
genres: Fiction, Children's
classification: universal

Mr Unusually's Circus of Dreams

Sharda Dean

Ruby’s mother is killed by a jealous circus bear, leaving Ruby with her cold-hearted Aunt Julia. Then the Circus of Dreams comes to town.


Will Ruby find the home she is looking for? First she must face her fears and stop sleepwalking, searching in the night for her mother.

Don Unusually wants to master the most dangerous trick of all, the triple somersault on the flying trapeze. If he does he will make circus history and prove that his mother was right to pursue this dream even to her death.

Don’s father, Mr Unusually, struggles to keep The Circus of Dreams running, as people flock to the talking pictures and dance halls.

Will Don, Ruby and Mr Unusually fulfil their dreams or fall foul of the evil Mr Mortimer who hounds them at every turn?

First part of a Circus trilogy.

Mr Unusually reached the longlist (the final 21) of The Times Children's Fiction Competition in January 2013. The shortlist will be announced in February 2013.

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, 1920's, adventure, boy, children's, circus, dreams, fiction, funny, girl, gritty, historical, kids, magic, magical, young adult

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HarperCollins Wrote

The first piece in a three part circus themed children’s saga, ‘Mr Unusually’s Circus of Dreams’ tells the story of Ruby Collins, who, after her mother tragically dies in a circus performance accident, comes to live with her austere aunt Julia in Shepherds bush, London, in the late 1920’s. Just a small baby when she is adopted, too young to remember the heart-breaking reverberations of that fateful night, Ruby is haunted by dreams in which she searches for her mother, and longs to break away to a life that will reconnect her with her past.

I thought this was an impressive, well-executed piece of writing that could be enjoyed by both children and adults on different levels. What better theme for a children’s book than the circus, with its enticing juxtaposition of amazement and danger. The small, manageable chapters make this perfect bedtime reading, and with both prominent male and female characters I think ‘Mr Unusually’s Circus of Dreams’ would appeal to both boys and girls alike.

The first thing that struck me about this children’s book was the prologue, which presents an exciting circus scene, quickly contrasted by the shockingly dark and ominous theme of death that comes to pervade the narrative. As an opening, I thought this to be very strong, but wondered if ‘hot salty blood’ and ‘ripping skin’ might be a little too severe for some younger readers. That said, it was highly evocative, and sets the plot up nicely for what is to follow.

You write descriptions with great flair, stirring all the senses (‘she liked looking, tasting with her eyes’ and ‘the whirling music bounced off the brickwork, echoing along the alleyways’. The depictions of the busy circus are striking, and their vibrancy would readily feed any young imagination. Outside of the circus, you provide a realistic depiction of life in London during this period, however it would have been nice to see a bit more time dedicated to the city – major landmarks are mentioned but not developed, and more elaboration may help children not familiar with the city to imagine it more clearly.

I thought the characterisation was good and showed depth, but would also benefit from some development. What does Ruby look like? She is never described to us, and this negligence makes it hard to visualise her as well as some of the other characters. Even in books accompanied by illustrations, physical characteristics need to feature within the text itself. Some characters and their roles could be more strongly defined. Occasionally, characters are introduced but not elaborated on, such as Albert. Elsewhere, their presence in the novel can cause confusion: I thought the switching of names from Mr Unusually to The Ringmaster could also be a little puzzling in the opening chapter; as is Ruby referring to her mother as ‘Tara’. Finally, in terms of setting up your ‘bad characters’, Aunt Julia’s nature could be developed – if ‘anything was better’ than living with her Aunt Julia, then surely she should be more of an archetypal ‘Evil Stepmother’ figure?

I thought you ended the novel quite well, raising a number of questions, mixing the ominous with optimism and leaving us wondering what will come next: where is Ruby’s Aunt Julia and what will happen when she finds out Ruby is gone? Why isn’t Ruby happy despite seemingly getting what she wanted? This said, I thought the ending was somewhat weak in comparison with the opening. I would have liked to have felt more of Ruby’s excitement as she runs away on her adventure with the circus, and also hoped that the ending might have been left on slightly more of a cliff-hanger to keep the reader hooked.

Other than these few easily rectified points, I thought it was a great story. Essentially it allows children to do what they do best – break away and be mischievous, which I think is very appealing and great selling point for a young audience. Overall very promising, and with a few tweaks this could have great potential to be a marketable children’s book.

Paul Beattie wrote 826 days ago

Fabulous stuff, Sharda. Full marks and a spot on my shelf when I get a chance to shift things around.

I rarely read children’s - or even young adult - fiction but I really, really enjoyed your opening chapters. The writing is just so polished. I’ve read the opening four chapters now and, apart from one or two simple typos (eg ‘ten-year-old/eight-year-old [not ten year old etc,’ ‘her aunt [not Aunt]’ ‘Mary’s mum [not Mum]’ ‘1920s [not 1920’s]’ etc) I found this to be an extremely surefooted, reassuringly fluent, impressively immersive read.

The prose is just so well judged. It must be incredibly difficult to balance the need to use language/phrasing younger readers will understand without allowing the prose to become dull or one dimensional. You seem to have mastered this balancing act very nicely. I lost count of the number of beautifully simple, subtly poetic, arrestingly vivid turns of phrase and descriptive passages (eg. ‘a burnt firework smell,’ ‘smiled an open, toothless smile,’ ‘against the humming in his head,’ ‘felt the room wake up and watch,’ ‘she liked looking, tasting with her eyes’). This really is writing of the highest quality – confident without being flashy, original without being self-consciously quirky and, above all, just so evocative and involving. Impressive stuff.

It’s also terrifically funny in places (eg. ‘Alan, the larger chimp, uncrossed his legs, burped and puffed a smoke ring in the trainers direction’) which only adds to the pleasingly oddball, almost fantastical feel of the piece.

In many ways, - both in terms of plot/setting etc and the tone of the narration/writing style etc - this reminded me very much of Erin Morgenstern’s terrifically inventive, oddly surreal novel ‘The Night Circus’. No bad thing in my book!!

The sense of time and place is very persuasive with just enough period detail/cultural references etc to root the reader in the moment without ever getting in the way of the narrative. It’s clear you know your stuff, Sharda but you resist the temptation to ram your research down the reader’s throat. The detail is there, but it's in the background, adding tremendous depth and colour to the scenes without feeling like something the writer has simply dropped into the narrative for dramatic effect etc. Nicely done. The only observation I’d make re the sense of time and place is that, up until chapter 4 and the 'BBC' reference, I assumed the novel was set a few decades earlier, maybe the mid to late Victorian period?? I’m perfectly willing to accept that it’s set in the 1920s – and I may well have missed something in the earlier chapters – but, for what it’s worth, I just thought I’d mention it.

The dialogue feels fresh and original and gives a hint of the period setting without ever becoming unappealingly ‘stylised’ or too formal for the modern ear. Good use of conversation to add tremendous energy to the scenes and help flesh out the novel’s various characters. The exchanges are also often very funny in places which, again, helps to add another dimension to the attractively offbeat goings on. Once or twice, some of the punctuation surrounding the dialogue felt a bit ‘off’ (eg Mr Unusually cleared his throat [full-stop not comma as not preceded by a dialogue tag] ‘Yes, but I have money…’ ‘No [full-stop not comma as not followed by a dialogue tag]' He did not know what to say next… ‘You’re not my mother,’ Ruby said frowning [full-stop not comma as the next line of dialogue is a separate sentence] ‘Where’s my mother?’) but that’s an easy fix should you choose to do so.

The characterisation is superb. The various cast members feel three-dimensional and distinct (terrific use of weird and wonderful names/traits/mannerisms etc) and work well off each other. Ruby comes across as an extremely likeable, vulnerable, kind-hearted, resourceful, attractively flawed main character, someone readers – especially younger readers – can instantly identify with and root for.

The chapters feel very well structured with a good blend of action, dialogue, character introspection etc and nicely underplayed climactic plot hooks to encourage the reader to read on. The plot as a whole sounds inventive and original and, with its mix of adventure, mystery, humour, escapism etc, should appeal to a broad cross-section of readers, adult and child alike.

Above all, tho, it’s the quality of writing that really marks MUCOD as something special. This really is an impressively original, beautifully crafted piece of work, Sharda. For once, a kids’ book adults shouldn't be embarrassed to be seen reading on the train!!

Thanks and best of luck with this. You deserve every success. All the best. P

CJT wrote 828 days ago

Sharda, I'm so glad I took the time to read through your first three chapters. You are clearly a careful, thoughtful, nuanced writer. Your writing exudes authority and confidence, and that produces a story that's extremely easy on the eyes.

What an enviable, gripping start. Right away, and throughout my read, I was constantly reminded of John Irving. You and he share similar styles: very likable and quirky characters, unique settings, and the feel of an epic-scale story--having the potential to span several decades or even a lifetime (in an enjoyable way).

I very much like your phrasing and imagery:
- "sharp shadow on canvas"--excellent, slightly random image one might store away in a panicked moment before death
- "firework smell" of the gunpowder

Other strong points worth mentioning:

- The tragic beginning of baby Ruby's life. I want to follow what is to become of her.
- How you adeptly handle not only several characters in a scene, but also multiple characters and two extremely animated chimps--nicely done! Loved it.
- How the major problem in the book is created by Mr. Unusually himself--by deliberately removing his major money-making star acts from his barely surviving circus.
- Your ability to honestly convey a character's ongoing tumult of emotions, and relay the very human inability to completely direct one's own thoughts (for example, Mr. Unusually trying to dream-up a new kind of circus, but reverting back to thoughts Tara's tragic death).
- The description of the circus' decrepitude and how it contrasts with the ideal world of wonder they are tasked with presenting.
- How naturally the story unfolds, such as the way Mr. Unusually discovers the knife throwers.

Will happily read on. High stars.

Maevesleibhin wrote 830 days ago

I have read the first eleven chapters.
I love circus stories. I love the eerie oddness of the ambience, and the intense pathos of the characters. So much tragedy in lives dedicated to entertainment, such intensity for an existence whose purpose is to move others out of their worries and into triviality.
This book, so far, is a wonderful sample. It brings to life the odd world of the circus while making the characters very real. It is subtle in its oddness, and does not abuse the power that its ambiance engenders. I am enjoying it very much.  I am giving it top stars and will give it a spin on my shelf in a future shuffle. 
Hook and Plot- what a great, sad, weird start. I found myself instantly hooked by Tara's death and the sadness of Mr Unusually and the circus. From this fabulous first paragraph hook, the ambiance and fantastic characters moved me forward until I got to Ruby and Julia. At this point, the obvious magnet of the circus and the tension between Julia and Ruby, along with the triple flip subplot, carry the day. This is brilliant hook and plot development. Subtle, but engaging, one theme passing on to another like the trapeze artists you describe.
Character development. I am would go gushy on praise here, so I will spare you . 
Just read the book, you people. It is worth it.
Except for the very awkward name of your ring leader, which always made me pause, I was absolutely taken by each and every one of them. I loved Ms Ma, the knife-throwing sisters, the chimp trainer, Don ... even Julia. You describe these characters masterfully. I am most impressed with Julia, as a matter of fact. The is something slightly easier about developing mad characters, or characters that are odd. But what is great about Julia is how banal she is. I found your story of her getting the job handing out tickets on the bus during the war captivating, as was her eerie room in the attic. She is a fabulous evil aunt.
Ruby is also exceptional. But all of them are. I love the care with which you develop the characters, like the ringleader as father and lover and boss, the trapeze artist as war veteran, the knife throwers as rebellious teenagers and loving sisters...
I could go on, but it is late...
Lastly, atmosphere, is fab. I have never been behind the stage of a circus, but I don't want it to be different. This fulfils the curiosity perfectly.
I am afraid I do not have any helpful crits.  I will read on after I tend to other return reads, and will enjoy watching the inevitable ascent of this book to the desk.
Best luck with it,

Juliet Blaxland wrote 847 days ago

Any story that begins with a death-by-fierce-animal, and the humane dispatch of the offending furry eco-icon aided by a child with a rifle, with a nasty aunt not far away, must obviously be taken seriously from the outset... Mr. Unusually's Circus of Dreams is destined to become the default family film, on telly every Boxing Day for generations to come, and a welcome relief from the established sugary offerings. Saki aunts and the Monty Python team seem to have snatched the writer's pen at times, to refreshingly sharp and bonkers effect. This should definitely become a real book for the hammock, and a film to cheer the gloomiest days; it is an instant British National Treasure...

JoMount wrote 834 days ago

The title sold this to me: Mr Unusually's Circus of Dreams - pure magic. I thought it was for younger children but the first chapter corrected that assumption. Very shocking and so effective as an entry to the story. This book is so professionally presented. The storyline is quite unique and gripping. The characters are fascinating and the setting wonderful. As a read for older children or young adults, I couldn't imagine them putting the book down. As a (much) older adult I was rivetted. Excellent novel.

made wrote 651 days ago

its werid and strange which is perfect

spadge wrote 673 days ago

This is a CHIRG review
Hi Sharda,
I love your story, it's well written, moorish and a good tale. It has all the ingredients of a good children's story.
The settings are good, the characters are good and I was hooked. Well done.
'Merlin's Cave'

Becky Jenkins wrote 745 days ago

This story grabbed my attention right from the first sentence. You are an excellent writer!

mapleyther wrote 747 days ago

Belated read..6 circus story since Galliano!

mapleyther wrote 747 days ago

Belated read..6 circus story since Galliano!

Daniel de Molay-Wilson wrote 747 days ago

The jealous bear got my attention. Its one of those have-a-second-glance things, but could easily be true. The other thing was how one of the tags is that its magical, AND in the 1920's. So for me, I went into it with the cool, self-contained vibe I got from the Ed Norton film, The Illusionist; and the Christopher Nolan film, The Prestige.

They're subjects matter, collectively, that could easily sway to be Steampunk... or rather, a post-Steampunk world given its on the cusp of the Edwardian period your story occurs in.

What I liked most about this story is how is fatally Human the characters were. There was a tragic vulnerability that made them fragile. Thats what I got from it. And their existing in that circus-fringe reinforced it.

You know, it evoked that Heath Ledger film... uh... Doctor Parnassus. A Terry Gilliam film, and Ledger's last one before his untimely death; as again, for me, there a cool self-contained vibe there that in someway resonated with your story.

I enjoyed and appreciated it, and its as though this work would adapt well to the stage. I have diverse background in Theatre, and Acting/Perfomance experience too; and you find that the best stuff done is when people are pushed to take a risk and just do it; be it for lack of budget or something... But shop this around. I reckon it'd translate well. So seek out a drama group who'll give it a read-through...

Nice work, friend. And well done!

Inkysparrow wrote 750 days ago

I just love Ruby. She's a vibrant little girl that could not be put under her aunt Julia's basket. I'm looking forward to read more about Ruby's adventures.

panos wrote 759 days ago


panos wrote 759 days ago


Tod Schneider wrote 760 days ago

So glad this made it to the editor's desk! I am so curious to hear what they have to say! Congrats!

LittleWhiteWolf wrote 760 days ago

The first chapter is brilliant--gripping and horrifying, tragic and frightening. It's a perfect length, too, for drawing your readers in and teasing them to read on. I've read the first couple of chapters and I'm eager for more!

Sharda D wrote 762 days ago

sorry you feel this way. I am a vegetarian and have been an active animal rights activist since I was a teenager. The first chapter (set in 1920) is intended to show how even the 'best' circus care was still sadly lacking. I feel very strongly that circuses should not use animals and Mr Unusually makes the same decision in the book. But I also admire the trainers who did their best, under extreme circumstances to look after the animals in their care. Later on there is an elephant in the story, but his keeper is adamant that no harm should come to him and defends his well-being at all costs.

Loathing or contempt. I cannot quite decide which emotion best describes my reaction to the opening of this book. The polar bear is one of the most magnificent creatures on this planet. It is also an endangered species. To depict it in this shamefully antiquated way is disgusting and says a lot about the writer and those who applaud her and indeed this whole website. A fool’s paradise, if ever there was one. I was already heading for the exit, but this settles it.

Jan Bee Landman

janbeelandman wrote 762 days ago

Loathing or contempt. I cannot quite decide which emotion best describes my reaction to the opening of this book. The polar bear is one of the most magnificent creatures on this planet. It is also an endangered species. To depict it in this shamefully antiquated way is disgusting and says a lot about the writer and those who applaud her and indeed this whole website. A fool’s paradise, if ever there was one. I was already heading for the exit, but this settles it.

Jan Bee Landman

Shelvis wrote 768 days ago

Your style is graceful and engaging. I was deep into the second chapter before I realized it--I forgot I was reading! This is absolutely wonderful writing, and I'm delighted to support you with a spot on my shelf.

~ Shelley
Sea of Jasmine

JeffBilman wrote 768 days ago

Hi Sharda

This is wonderful. Three chapters in - a book I'd be happy to have my 8.5 year old son read, and one I'd gladly read myself. It's so rich and has so much depth, and captures the era and the feel of the circus. Another reason to convince my wife we need to get an iPad or some such (even better if it gets published in hardcopy). I know it doesn't need to be backed since it should make it to the desk this month, but I have to on principle.


stoatsnest wrote 769 days ago

What a good first chapter.

Steph Merrix wrote 772 days ago

Hi Sharda
Sorry it has taken me a while to get to you - this is a fanstastic piece , I really enjoyed it and it was something completely different and orginial , the characters were realstic and well drawn , the plot and descriptions were effective and engaging , making you want to read on more
Highly starred and on my watchlist

Hannah Jennings wrote 772 days ago

I've only read the first few chapters so far but I'm really looking forward to reading some more. Your descriptive phrases are excellent and the idea is original.
I wish you all the best and good luck with any other ideas
Hannah Jennings

Kristen Lusk wrote 772 days ago

Hey Sharda! I've made it to Chapter 5, and I am really enjoying your story! You describe your characters very well. Ruby seems like such a sweet and innocent child, and Julia just doesn't seem to realize it yet. I love how the settings switch between 'normal' life and the circus. I'm definitely going to keep reading because I'm anxious to find out what will happen next. Your book was already on my WL, but after what I've read so far, I have gone ahead and backed it! Excellent writing. :)

P.S. Thank you for your patience. I have been super busy these last few weeks, and finding the time to read has unfortunately taken a while. Once I read more, I will send you some more of my thoughts, but so far SO GOOD!!

Linus Jones wrote 773 days ago

Hi Sharda,

I read the first four chapters and loved every word of it. I will delay reading the rest until I can buy the published and printed finished version - for my 12 year old daughter, obviously, aherm. Actually this works on many levels and for a readership of any age.

One of your great strengths is to set the story a hundred years ago and still have it read as if it was today. It appeared effortless.

I love the Aunt Julia character. Kind enough to provide a home to Ruby but detached enough to be a believable villain.

There is nothing, nothing, I could suggest to improve your work. Wonderful.

Garota wrote 774 days ago

Wonderful Circus story with a bright and lively main character. I want to follow Ruby's adventures further, so i will be looking forward to more :)

WritrWlf91 wrote 776 days ago


Here for our reading swap! I so far have only manged to get through the first 4 chapters but I wanted to comment on how great it is so far. I really love the way the characters interact with eachother and especially the first chapter with Julia and Ruby's short interaction. I enjoy the irony of how she will end up being involved with a circus.

Also I like that Aunt Julia is not quite the evil aunt, Ruby would have us believe but rather has just been through a lot and lost even more. The description you have is absolutely delightful! It really helps you to understand what the world around the character is, you paint a beautiful picture.

I give this book high marks :)

Can't wait to see what else the book has in store for me!

Bethany Rojsczyk
Shadow's Breath

joboxer wrote 776 days ago

Awesome story!

R.J. Blain wrote 777 days ago


I’ll start with this: I’m backing this book as soon as I’m done reading what I can (for now), just based off of the first chapter alone. (I have a huge list of books to read over, so I’m stopping at chapter 3 for now and I’ll be revisiting later once my queue isn’t so scary.)

You have a beautiful writing style, and you take the tragedy of the opening event and make it powerful. There are things that bothered me as I read, little nitpicks that I normally wouldn’t go into, but I think that this book has a great deal of potential. A little more polish, and I don’t think I would hesitate to purchase it from the opening scene alone.

The thing that stood out to me the most in the first scene was that there were times where I felt that there was a slight disconnect between the shift of perspectives, and a little unrealism in how much Tara was aware the moment the bear attacked. The polar bear got her by the neck and shook her. In these conditions, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t an instant death. Then the bear attacked her chest. If the snapped neck didn’t finish her off, the crushed chest would. Those bears aren’t babies, and they have a massive force when they maul something. I was able to get past it to continue reading, but this little bit of logic kept standing out to me.

Also, I was under the impression that polar bears weighed between 700-1,500 pounds as adults, with one of the genders being smaller (though I don’t remember which.)

400 pounds seems really, really small for a well-trained, adult polar bear.

(Nitpicks, I know, but your plot, characters, and general storytelling ability work very well, which leaves little technicalities. Now, granted, there are a few hiccups I noticed that I think could use fixed, but I think all of these things could be resolved just from reading out loud and listening to a recording of what was read.)

I love the quote, both in its use at the top of the section, and its use in the actual story itself. It is very poetic.

The first section is a prologue, but, for a rare time, I think it is a prologue that is done *correctly*. Very well done. I didn’t notice (or care) that it was more of a prologue in nature, which says a great deal about your skills and the execution of this piece.

Lost ::

Small nitpick; shouldn’t it be sweets shop? For some reason, this stuck out to me, and I’m not sure which way is right. It is actually bothering me a little! Could be my style and personal preference talking here.

Lovely first paragraph. It is a great showing of her situation, her life, and her desires as a child. It brought up questions, and enticed me to keep reading. The descriptions are spot on.

I feel like there are commas missing here and there as I’m reading through; nothing new in terms of comments and nitpicks that aren’t rehashes of things I’ve already mentioned. Your writing style, on a whole, is clean, concise, and very pleasant to read. You’re good at controlling the atmosphere, and you have a way with making characters pop off of the page.

I really like how the conflict of this story, and the tragedy of it, is woven cleanly throughout.

The Triple ::

My first reaction is disappointment that we aren’t staying with ruby. However, I’m glad to see how the boy from the prologue has come along since Tara’s death.

Same as with Lost, I really am enjoying your characters the best. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad piece of feedback, but it isn’t the actual writing of it that is appealing to me, but rather the fairly realistic people that are the characters. They have hopes, dreams, problems, conflicts, and hopes for the future. They have desires, even if some of them are very simple, like wanting to eat candy.

This book is well worth winning on the ED. Good luck.


MrsGray wrote 777 days ago


My only complaint is this: I stayed up far too late reading your story, and the next morning my coffee pot broke.
Ok, that's not really your fault. But seriously, I loved the characters, the setting, and the developing plot. Most of all, I enjoyed your writing style.
Your words flow like honey and carry me into the world you've created. I especially enjoyed the bit of caution Ruby employs with the mangle, so as to avoid the fate of the poor boy who rolled his arm flat. This bit of humor is exactly the way a child would think.

Thank you for sharing,

April Gray
The Illusion

Cara Gold wrote 779 days ago

Chapter 3:
1) I’d say ‘’He heard the familiar patter and whirr of his father’s adding machine, figures banged in and printed out.’ → I think it’s simpler, not sure if you need the ‘as’ and ‘were’ in this instance? I’m a fan of cutting them out of unnecessary :P
2) ‘Bo was lovely’ feels a little disjointed as part of the same para. A new idea/focus shift… I’d put into a new para or else make a smoother transition
3) I’d say ‘Memory is fuzzy and sight blurs’ → vary up the way you use the language here, so you don’t have ‘are dreaming’ and ‘are fuzzy’ following consecutively
4) I’d say ‘he hated being interrupted from practice’ → emphasizes that he is being unwillingly called away, slight different way of portraying it
5) I’d say ‘Seething, Don climbed up the ladder to the trapeze platform.’→ simpler and more active?
6) full stop after ‘wiped the sweat from his face.’ As this is not a dialogue tag

Cara Gold wrote 779 days ago

Chapter 3:
1) I’d say ‘’He heard the familiar patter and whirr of his father’s adding machine, figures banged in and printed out.’ → I think it’s simpler, not sure if you need the ‘as’ and ‘were’ in this instance? I’m a fan of cutting them out of unnecessary :P
2) ‘Bo was lovely’ feels a little disjointed as part of the same para. A new idea/focus shift… I’d put into a new para or else make a smoother transition
3) I’d say ‘Memory is fuzzy and sight blurs’ → vary up the way you use the language here, so you don’t have ‘are dreaming’ and ‘are fuzzy’ following consecutively
4) I’d say ‘he hated being interrupted from practice’ → emphasizes that he is being unwillingly called away, slight different way of portraying it
5) I’d say ‘Seething, Don climbed up the ladder to the trapeze platform.’→ simpler and more active?
6) full stop after ‘wiped the sweat from his face.’ As this is not a dialogue tag

Cara Gold wrote 779 days ago

Chapter 2:
1) I’d say either ‘Ruby stood, staring through the window’ or else ‘Ruby stared through the window’ → I think comma needs to separate these verbs, or else you can just have one of them (it is sort of implicit she is standing… it is unlikely she would be sitting and staring)
2) Comma again to separate actions ‘hauled the bag of washing onto her shoulder, and crossed the road, ‘
3) I’d put new para at ‘Ruby heard the soapy bristle’ → we go from Ruby’s thoughts to her physical action of seeing, therefore slight focus change
4) I’d say ‘soaking her socks and shoes in the process’ → ‘getting soaked’ feels a little clumsy just imho

Cara Gold wrote 779 days ago

Chapter 1 edit suggestions:
1) the two sentences ‘Trust had to be built…’ and ‘Lillian was special’ for me the transition is not very smooth… This is something I’d be more inclined to say (along the lines of): ‘It couldn’t be done with just any polar bear; it had to be a special one, and trust had to be built hour by hour.’ (new para) ‘Lillian was that special bear; she was her friend and life.’
2) I’d put ‘Then she knew’ on a line of its own for emphasis (although that is of course extremely stylistic and it works fine as is!!)
3) ‘Mr Unusually strode towards Don’ → for me the transition again feels a little disjointed. We go from Don’s perspective as he is watching, then to Mr Unusually striding over… I think perhaps a new para here would address that?
4) ‘Don stood still’ and next sentence ‘still attached’ → still is repeated. I’d reword/put in synonym to eliminate repetition
5) I’d say ‘Ruby lay all stretched out’ (eliminate the was, so there is no repetitive feel with the ‘was there’ in next sentence)

Cara Gold wrote 779 days ago

{Mr Unusually’s Circus Of Dreams} – Sharda D
This is a lovely story!

The beginning is beautiful, describing the dance with a polar bear, which is then contrasted with the brutality of death. You establish mystery and intrigue, and captive the reader’s attention.

I eagerly continued reading, and overall am thoroughly enjoying. The two threads you establish work well, and the reader wonders how Ruby and Don’s stories will interlink.

You have an excellent handle on the children’s voice. The language is appropriate, but not too simplistic, making this enjoyable for older readers too. Some lovely images you paint – I particularly liked the scene of Ruby looking into the sweet shop, and also when she is in the loft. Your attention to detail makes readers feel engaged and involved in the story, and inside the heads of your characters.

I wish you the best of luck with this, although I don’t think you need luck! Six stars from me :) As you’re also likely to make the desk very soon, I’ve made some detailed nitpicks for the first four chapters that I hope you’ll find useful. They’re all just one person’s opinion of course, so feel free to agree/disagree/take or leave anything!

Thanks so much again for your review of ‘Dawn of Destruction’!

colin smith wrote 780 days ago

Hmm. I really wanted to like this more than I do. I suppose a lot of it is I'm not the target audience and struggle to appreciate it as a young adult would. And 12 (the age of the girl you mention in your pitch) is a young young adult! I should add before I say anything else that while I've read most of the Harry Potters I found the writing wearisome and unsophisticated and although I enjoyed Pullman's Dark Materials more, I was always aware that it was a children's book and regardless of the brilliant ideas, the actual writing was a bit bland and undemanding.
So my opinion here might be irrelevant since I may only be reacting against what the book is, rather than saying how it might be better! But here goes.

I did find the way the story unravels a little ho hum. Ruby's dream is too obviously the polar bear, the boy's guilt over the rifle seems forced, the harsh aunt a little cliched and everything just lacked the psychological complexity and nuances I want in a book. I would have liked after three chapters to still be trying to piece the different bits of the story together whereas I've got a pretty good idea where the story is going. I did wonder in chapter 2 whether the relationship between Ruby and her aunt could be done better as it seemed to vary without reason between hostility and resentment and something nearly quite loving. Of course, that may be their relationship but to run the whole gamut in one chapter seemed a bit much.
I will point out a couple of things that I think should be looked at. You have a habit of starting paragraphs with the character's name. In chap 3 I think you have 4 paras in a row start with 'Don.' I think it makes the prose a little flat and repetitive and suggest that once you have established whose perspective we're in the character's name could be dropped in favour of a simpler 'he/she' or you can go directly to what the character sees hears thinks without any filtering through the character. ie, just describe what the character hears, sees, does rather than saying that they hear, see and do. But then again, maybe it is convention in children's fiction to use the character's name more often than in adult fiction.
My second pick is a minor one and concerns the description of the desk in chapter 3. It occured to me that since its a caravan the desk would have to be cleared every time they moved whereas the description suggests a permanent untidiness. If you wanted to show the circus had been in one place for a length of time, it could work, but otherwise it felt slightly wrong for a travelling home.

Daniel Rider wrote 780 days ago

"Mr. Unusually's Circus of Dreams" is a wonderful story, one that, after three chapters, I certainly look forward to continuing to read, and to purchase when it is published.

What really grabs me about this story is the author's ability to create strong, three-dimensional, characters who manage to be completely real and believable. I came in to the story expecting something a little fantastical and quirky, and that is there, but what really engages me is how human and honest these characters are. Tara, the new mother who has just been attacked by the bear, even in her few brief opening paragraphs, is a real human being, as are Don, the trapeze artist who desperately wants to perform the very dangerous triple flip both for his own goals and as a monument to his mother, who died attempting the trick, and his father Mr. Unusually, the ringmaster who, now that his wife is gone, seems more interested in the business of the circus than the glory. The characters' motivations are crystal clear, their dialogue spot on and believable, and their troubles no more or less glorious and amazing, in the end, than their own. I wasn't expecting to find so many universal themes at the circus, but that is what I found.

Another really compelling factor in this novel is the beautiful twists and turns that author Sharda Dean provides for us, both in plot and character development. Look, for instance, at the very beginning: We meet Tara, a young woman who seems to be just starting out in her life. She's got a baby, and her relationship with the bear she acts with is strong; however, within the first three paragraphs, this idyllic image is completely destroyed as the bear attacks. This beginning had me hooked immediately, but there are other points in the beginning that leave me astounded, having to reevaluate whole situations and relationships: Don's horror at realizing he has left the gun out of reach, Julia's sudden and total transformation into an antagonist in Chapter Two (wow, she's suddenly so hateful and hateable), Mr. Unusually's admittance that he finds it hard to watch Don attempt the triple. This book is keeping me on my toes.

I have found something to lament in relooking at the opening just now, and that is that Dean has taken out a wonderful line about the reason the bear attacks: it could smell Tara's milk, and attacked out of jealousy because its own cub had been taken from it. Wow! I LOVED that detail. Actually, it may be the single detail that started me loving this book. There's still much to love here, obviously, but I'm not sure why this was taken out. I did notice another commentor mentioning trouble with viewpoint and I can't remember if this detail might have been part of this, but perhaps one line at the end of Tara's opening to put in why the bear attacked would be a great move, as opposed to just saying "Suddenly she knew why the bear attacked." I don't think this one sentence is enough for the audience to get the same conclusion Tara did. (My two cents.)

Another point I'd like to see addressed before this book gets to the Editor's Desk is comma splices. "Mr. Unusually" is strong enough, perhaps, to win an editor's confidence even with this one grammar error (it's really your only grammatical issue), but I'd suggest fixing them to make your chances even better. I did notice another comment that said comma usage was really up to the author, which I think in some cases may be true, but for comma splices, that idea is definitely poppycock.

Here are comma splices I found in Chapters 1 and 3 that need to be fixed (probably by putting a period instead and making two sentences, maybe by putting a semicolon, but you've already done this a lot, so I'd recommend the former):

Ch. 1: She would get used to Tara having the baby, she just needed time.

Ch. 3: He knew his dad's caravan well, he had

Don got out and peeked out the window, he saw

He was too shy to ask a girl out, besides

Just holding on to the bar and swinging is harder than it looks, your weight

Finally, I do wonder why "Mr" isn't followed by a period, as in "Mr."

All in all, a terrific, well-written story, and one that I am backing whole-heartedly and giving high stars. For the moment, I'm giving five stars, but if the comma splices are fixed, I'll change that to six. Good luck at the ED, Sharda!

Daniel Rider
"Indian Summer"

Hell's Granny wrote 780 days ago

I'm not sure how a bear killing a mother on page one will go down with younger children but I was entranced by the sheer quality of writing. Very well done, Ms Dean, you have a new fan. HG

tawny owl wrote 781 days ago

As an ex primary school teacher, I still like to read children's literature from time to time. Having read the first three chapters so far (I'll certainly come back for more later). Your writing flows easily, without becoming simple text, and the different characters and their situations are introduced simply but effectively. I'm very impressed as I think the intended audience will be.
On a completely different tack, may I suggest having a look at 'Sanctuary' by Tina Cox; a completely different premise, but like yours an easy flowing text and believable characters.

azwrites wrote 781 days ago

Theres little I can add to the other comments other than this adds to the entire circus of the wicked way genre such as The Circus of Dr. Loa and even Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Good job and good luck. Backed of course.

Sarah Armin wrote 782 days ago

Mr Unusually's Circus of Dreams
Dear shard,
I read some parts of your story. I like it so much that I add it to my bookshelf, ok. I hope I can know your opinion about my story:
It is a fantasy for middle grade, word count 1620
I look forward for receive your comment as soon as possible.
With best wishes

Olivia wrote 783 days ago


You really deserve to be at the top of the rankings. Your writing is so clear, and your setting and characters are so evocative and engaging. My novel is also set in a circus (in India), so it was really interesting to see how someone else uses this type of setting in their work. I don't normally read teenage fiction, but I think your writing is appealing to any age group and I will endevour to read the rest as you are going on my bookshelf. I do wish you success with this. Please read Elastic Girl when you get a chance. Thks, Olivia

JamesRevoir wrote 784 days ago

Wow Sharda!

You had my attention from the very get-go and held onto it tightly! What an amazingly well-written story-so intriguing that it could easily be adapted to a movie script.

Well done!


LittleMiggy wrote 784 days ago

Hi Sharda thought I would just read a few chapters to start with, but hit the end of chapter 11 before i knew it. This is a great book, very engaging. I like the circus theme and seeing the character of Ruby coming more to life, what a joy for her. The rest of the characters and the plot enrich the story, and it makes me hope for a happy ending. I will return to read more. Great Work, well done. Little Miggy x

Su Dan wrote 784 days ago

Well written book= well worth its position.
read SEASONS...

Diane60 wrote 784 days ago

wow! read all 46 and i was swept up into your world. Clever opening with Tara and the bear not going to spoil it for anyone.
characters and circumstance are so believable and natural. who wouldn't want to run away and join a circus?
charming delightful engaging with memorable characters
can you tell that i really liked it? many stars and i'll do my best to get you up on that shelf

Gao Zuojia wrote 784 days ago

It's easy to see why this has made it to the ED. It is engaging, well-written, and sensitive. I'm sorry it took me so long to find it. A great read and I hope it makes it to bookshelves everywhere. Five stars and shelved.
I hope that you will find time to read and comment on Kailai and the Dragon Prince. - Gao Zuojia a/k/a Patrick Hall

Nate p wrote 785 days ago

Every kid loves the circus, and you did a magnificent job describing it.
High stars and on my shelf

Chrissie B wrote 786 days ago

Quite a chilling start but beautifully written. I can certainly see why this is doing so well. Loads of stars from me.


Jack1761 wrote 787 days ago

Hi Sharda,
I have read the first eight chapters now, and I have to say that it is a very good read! The characters are very strong and likeable (even Aunt Julia). It's easy to get sucked into the story (I thought I'd read four, maybe five chapters...) and you have done an excellent job bringing the world around Ruby to life. Nothing I can criticise really ;o)
So I'll give you 5 stars, and I'll put your book on my shelf for a while. And I'll keep on reading, too!
All the best

ismene wrote 788 days ago

I really like this. I have read the opening chapters and your characters leap off the page. They are rounded and believable - and you don't waste words. Good luck - In hope this makes it into print - I would definately buy it for my children.

Sabastion wrote 788 days ago

CHIRG Review: MR Unusually's Circus of Dreams

Well what can i say but: A Wonderful Story!
Your pitch is great!
Your pace and characterization is spot on.
As you know, I have had you on my shelf for some time and this story will stay there until the ED.

I would say this is for 12 yo and up.
I cant find much to critique on that has not been covered, it is well polished.
Good luck and wish you all the best.

JJ Marro
Magic of the Frogs

iandsmith wrote 788 days ago

Six stars! ;->

Col_Fran wrote 789 days ago

Hello Sharda
I just read up to chapter ten, I'm not sure if you know this or not but three and four do not work, I just got an error message when trying to look at them. I have to admit I don't normally read books like this, but I found Ruby's story so compelling I had to keep going once I started. Each of the chapters was strong, but my favourite was number 10 when Mr Unusually and the audience back Ruby up in standing up to her Aunt. I like how you portrayed circus life from both sides, those that love the life or dream of being a part of it and those that dream of a better life or think the lifestyle is dangerous. I am curious as to what happens next and how the story will develop, so I am going to keep reading. You got me hooked hahaha.

Jordan Lees wrote 789 days ago

YARG review...

I've only read the opening two chapters but I have to say that you're one of the most readable writers that I've seen on here. You unravel the opening with a high level of quality and description, and I found I moved through the opening chapter without pausing for breath.

I love the way at the start you just move from everything being as its supposed to be to absolute disaster within the space of a couple of paragraphs- it's supposed to be like that, I think, just plunging straight into something shocking and ultimately hooking.

I'm struggling to find many problems with this.

What I would say is that, in the opening stages, the view-point is Tara's, but then after she is attacked it becomes a bit confusing. Are we still watching from Tara's eyes as she's on the floor, or is she already unconscious/dead? If it were me, I personally would view whole thing from the outside, possibly from somebody in the audience, but that's just a personal preference.

The thing about the bear attacking her because of baby-milk seems to defuse the drama, too, for a moment, and seems like you're trying to force a reason. Again, its totally subjective and down to the individual, but I would have left that out, and just let the audience wonder why the bear suddenly turned savage.

Have you read 'The Night Circus?' It's one of my favourite ever books and this reminds me of it a little, and I would certainly recommend it to anybody, but particulalry somebody writing about a circus (although, as I say, I haven't read enough of this yet, yours could be better for all I know).

This is going on my bookshelf I think :)

Good luck with it,