Opening Lines welcomes back Davinia Andrew-Lynch of ANDLYN


What grabs the reader's attention? 

What immediately draws you in and makes you want to read on? 

We are excited to welcome back Davinia Andrew-Lynch from ANDLYN Literary Agency to Opening Lines this month. 

Davinia has taken time out of her busy schedule to offer professional feedback on the opening lines submitted by our brave SCBWIs. 
Davinia set up Andlyn at the beginning of 2015. Specialising in children's and YA fiction and content, the goal is to find writers and illustrators whose material works both on the page and beyond. 

Previously, Davinia was an associate film/tv agent whilst simultaneously working as a freelance editor and reader for a number of established publishers (including Atom, OUP and Egmont), agents, consultancies and scouts. 

Davinia is actively on the look out for new MG and YA talent, and although submissions for Picture Books is currently closed, due check out ANDLYN for news and updates! 

Submission #1

Title: The Princess in Me 

Pitch: ‘The Princess in Me’ is a humorous, middle grade novel aimed at 8 – 12 year olds. Thirteen-year-old Amber is taken over by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian princess called Tia. This leads to problems and embarrassing moments at home and at school. When the two girls learn to communicate with one another, Amber is horrified to find out that, in order to help Tia find her way back to the Afterlife, she has to find and conquer Seth, the red god of chaos and evil. 

Feedback from Davinia:

In honesty, I wasn’t wholly keen on your title - however I found your pitch to be a very enjoyable surprise. This is certainly not a possession story I’ve seen before! 
You succinctly establish your market, genre, and premise, and immediately the reader is looking forward to finding out the bizarre and awkwardly funny situations in which Amber will, no doubt, find herself. Your pitch is inviting and that’s what matters! 
I would note however, this seems to be a novel of two very different halves. What begins as a reality based comedy of errors pivoting around an isolated supernatural event, turns into a fully blown fantasy adventure. 
My concern would be that these two plot-lines are not fully entwined and the novel could feel disjointed. If you could slightly rearrange the paragraph so that it indicates how Amber is having to balance the inconveniences of her situation in her day to day life, with her epic race against time, then you could have a much stronger pitch. 

Opening Lines

It all began six months ago when a letter and a package addressed to Dad, arrived from a firm of solicitors in London. The letter said that his Great Uncle Septimus had passed away suddenly at the age of 97 and that he had left all his wealth and belongings to Nathaniel Jones, my dad. Great-Great-Uncle Septimus clearly had a sense of humour because, enclosed with the letter was a cheque for £12.79, a rusty key and directions to a bank in London. 
As we got on the train the next day, Dad’s eyes were shining. 
“He must have stashed his fortune in a safety deposit box,” he said, “to avoid paying Inheritance Tax.” 
“Don’t build your hopes up, dear,” said Mum. “Your mother says he never had a penny to his name.” 
“Oh, piffle,” said Dad, “she didn’t even know him.” 
“She did,” I said, “she went to see him with Granddad when they were on holiday in Egypt. Don’t you remember? She told us they did a day trip to the Valley of the Queens at Luxor where he was excavating.” 
“Oh, yes,” said Dad, stroking his chin, “I do remember now. She showed us photographs of him and his team. What was that assistant of his called? The one that took a shine to Mum.”
“She never said what his name was,” said Mum. “But I bet he’s wondering why Septimus left everything to you.” 

Feedback from Davinia:

Usually, I’m wary of manuscripts beginning with ‘It all began...’ however, I like your opening paragraph here. Amber’s narrative voice is strong and clear and the mystery of the inheritance is intriguing. I do feel the dialogue is quite heavy handed however, particularly towards the end of the extract. The information given feels forced and overly convenient and the pace slows as you off-load elements of the back story. Ultimately, this idea has potential and I would be open to reading more. 

Submission #2 

Title: Skip’s Bedtime Story 

Pitch: A bedtime story in which Skip, the baby kangaroo, writes his own bedtime story. Skip loves bedtime stories so much that he wants to write his own. Skip’s quest takes him to the story factory, where he meets Storymaker. He convinces a reluctant Storymaker to help him, and he learns about the Bag of Ideas. Skip uses the Bag of Ideas to write his own story.

There are a couple of interesting things about this story. 
1. There are two stories in this one story. The first story is the challenges that Skip’s must overcome if he is write his own story. The second story is the story that Skip creates. 
2. It shows children a simple and powerful way for creating their own stories. 

Feedback from Davinia: 

The wonder of storytelling is very much at the heart of your idea, but I think you need to go further in clarifying your world and story. There is a beauty to the imagination and it is this you must tap into. 
You shouldn’t need to point out the ‘interesting’ elements of your tale. They should be immediately apparent in the telling of your idea. Instead try to focus on further bringing your story to life: hint at the drama, the conflict and the heart of your story. 

Opening Lines:

Spread 1 

Mum was about to read Skip a bedtime story when he stretched his arm out. “I love stories this much,” he said. “I want write my own.”
Skip bounced up and down. “Teach me. Teach me.” 
“I can’t,” said Mum. “I don’t know how.” 
Skips’ ears drooped down. 

Spread 2 

Then Skip had an idea. His ear flicked up. “I’ll ask Storymaker.” 
“Good idea,” said Mum. 
Skip looked in the story shop. But Storymaker wasn’t there. He looked in the story school. But Storymaker wasn’t there. 

Spread 3 

Skip looked in the story factory. 
“Yippee!” he yelled. 
Storymaker stopped writing, and she looked up. “Who are you? What do you want?” 
“I’m Skip. I want write my own stories. Will you teach me?” 
“Not today. I have too much writing to do.” 
“I’ll wait.” 
“It will take a long time,” said Storymaker, and she walked Skip out of the factory. 
Skip’s ears drooped down. 

Feedback from Davinia:

I’m finding the story a little disconnected at the moment. At first Skip is being read a bed time story and then suddenly he’s off to the story shop to meet Storymaker. Has Skip drifted into a dream and ultimately this is a metaphor for the use of imagination? If so it is very vague, and whilst children are perceptive, I think you may be asking a bit much of them here. 
Also, is the Story Shop a book shop effectively; how does it differ to the factory exactly? We need to have a clear understanding of these creations of your world, as will your illustrator.

Really push the boundaries of your imagination - you are celebrating just that. 

Submission #3 

Title: Captain Zoc’s Choc. (Picture Book) 

Elevator Pitch: Disaster strikes for Captain Zoc and his crew, when they run out of chocolate. IB, his trusted First Mate, is on the case and sends them earthwards. But he’s not happy to just take the chocolate, and suggests they give a little something back. 

Feedback from Davinia:

More information please! This is quite a wacky idea, however, once you go beyond the aliens’ random love of chocolate, the necessary ‘zaniness’ of your story doesn’t quite come across. I’d say don’t be afraid to let loose and embrace the illogical. This could be full of lots of barmy gags but at its heart still celebrate the idea of giving and learning not to be greedy or selfish. 

Opening Lines: 

Illo: Quiet space scene - alien spaceship in view. 
All was going well on Zoc-o-late 1, when suddenly, there was a wail from the Captain…  

‘Argghhhhhh! Where has all the chocolate gone?!’
The crew quickly wiped their faces and hurried away. 
Everyone, that was, except IB - the Captain’s Information Boffin and trusted First Mate. 
‘I’ll check the emergency supplies, Sir,’ said IB. 
‘There’s no point,’ groaned Captain Zoc, slumping to the ground, an empty chocolate wrapper in his hand. ‘They’re all gone.’ 

Illo: The screen shows the aliens sneaking chocolate out, while the astronaut’s on a spacewalk. 
‘Our records show that the last batch came from an earthling spacecraft,’ said IB pointing to the big screen. 
‘I hope we left them some,’ IB added, but the Captain was too busy drooling to hear him. 
‘That’s it IB, you’re a genius. Get us to earth, tooth sweet,’ said Captain Zoc. ‘That’s French for quickly, you know!’ 

Feedback from Davinia:

I think the Captain’s character could be drawn out further, especially in contrast to IB’s conscientious ways. Your pitch gives the impression that the Captain is initially selfish; show us this. Let the reader see his behaviour first hand. The wailing is a good start but you could do more. 
You’ve given a couple of Illustration Notes, but these in particular were unnecessary - they explained the obvious. On the other hand, the crew wiping their faces to hide their chocolate guzzling ways? That could have been a nice visual joke rather than simply written out. 
This kind of Illustration Note would be more beneficial: it shows you have more of an understanding of how text and illustration can work together to expand a story. It also gives us a clearer idea of your picture book’s tone. Don’t forget the illustrator is a storyteller as well, allow them space to do just that.

Thank you Davinia for your time and professional feedback! 

This is a great exercise in open writing, for those who have received personal feedback through the article, and for all of us who want to learn what makes those killer lines. If you'd like to contribute to 'Opening Lines', please email an 'elevator pitch' and opening lines to Lou at 

Lou Minns is the (joint) Features Editor for Words & Pictures SCBWI BI and also the new Social Media Co-ordinator for SCBWI San Francisco North & East Bay.


Follow: @LMMinns

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