OPENING LINES Feedback from Lina Langlee

In Opening Lines, Natalie Yates gets expert advice from top literary agents to help you tune up your concept, pitch, and opening lines to create the strongest ‘hook’.

Lina Langlee - An Introduction

Originally from Sweden, Lina moved to Scotland in 2008 to study and graduated with a First from University of Glasgow and an MLitt (Distinction) in Publishing Studies from Stirling University. She then worked in publishing for several years before becoming a literary agent in 2018. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the RNA ‘Agent of the Year’ award. She recently moved to the North Literary Agency. 

Lina is looking for books across genres: commercial fiction with a great hook, literary fiction, twisty thrillers and crime fiction with a difference, speculative or high concept books that remain very readable, fun and moving Middle Grade and any genre of Young Adult. She is also on the lookout for specialist non-fiction and has a special interest in Scottish writing and anything with a Scandinavian angle.

When Lina isn’t reading, she enjoys live music, wine, being outdoors, and cooking. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two cats, Björn and Benny.

Submission #1


Mari - Goddess (In Training)


A reluctant hero, MARI, has her world turned upside down when she finds out her old grandmother is a Celtic warrior, and that she, Mari, is one in a line of shapeshifters destined to keep the world safe from the evil Gwytheryn. Joining other Celtic warriors at the sacred training groves, Mari has to sacrifice her old life, and step up to find the fighter within her. Can she do it or are the prophesies wrong? This is the first story in a series of four that weaves current ecological concerns, with Celtic mythology, around a strong central female character.


On the floor of the old woman’s living room, a creature peeled itself out from beneath folds of skin and clothing. It raked its clawed nails through long tangled hair, moving the matted mass from out of its fierce yellow eyes. Shaking itself like a giant dog, it reared up on its hind legs. Coarse ginger fur bristled over its skin. The top of its head brushed against the ceiling, forcing it to stoop slightly.

A girl’s limp form slumped across the sofa. The creature plucked at the girl clumsily with its elongated claws, then picked her up and threw her across its shoulder, whacking her head against the light fitting in the process. Then, stooping low, it sloped into the kitchen, flung the back door open and strode out into the late afternoon sun…


This is a good pitch and concept. Mari is clearly ‘chosen’ and the call for action/adventure is evident in your opening line. I like the mixing of the past and mythology with the present. This, combined with having a strong female lead and a plan for a series, ticks a lot of boxes.
Is this middle grade or YA? Consider being explicit about the target reading age, or including the age of Mari as an indication.
I would also be keen to know more about the ‘evil Gwytheryn’. Is this a person, a people, a goddess…? And what threat do they pose? Comparing the title to your pitch, I am left wondering whether Mari is a goddess, a warrior, or a shapeshifter.
If you can think of any comparative titles, they are a good way to convey where a book sits. My interest is definitely piqued. The opening is more fantastical in setting than I was expecting but enjoyable. I have a feeling this introduction is almost like a prologue and I would hope that it is fairly brief and that it effectively introduces themes relevant to the plot. I want to meet Mari, and get a sense of who she is, what her voice is, as soon as possible. Giving the readers a character to identify as the main character early is particularly important when writing for younger readers.

Submission #2


Whispers and Light 


After the accident Ava is drawn to the underground tunnels where she meets Jackson, a desperate soul who needs help. Together they must uncover a century-old mystery, bring justice to paranormal criminals and sabotage the mayor's re-election before time runs out for Ava to return to her life above ground.  


Daylight streaks through cracks in the pavement revealing the start of a brand-new day for Jackson and Sid. Well, that and the sound of Sid’s tiny feet scurrying here and there in search of breakfast. “What have you got there, Sid?” asked Jackson. The rat looked up, squeaked and held out a paw offering his friend a dead fly. 


You are certainly managing to convey a lot of information quickly here, but I’d prefer you to expand a bit for clarity. Is Ava drawn underground by force or by interest? What are these paranormal criminals? Why is the mayor bad? Why is there a time limit for Ava to return above ground? Are Ava and Jackson the same age – species?
 Mention what age this written for, e.g. middle grade, either specifically or by indicating it with your main characters’ ages. The title is a bit vague and doesn’t indicate the reading age at all (in fact, it could be the title of a Hillary Mantel book). Try and convey the sense of adventure and the setting.
 Overall, it is an interesting concept, and I like that the story features both a female and male character.
I really like this opening. The daylight coming through the pavement is a nice and subtle clue that we’re not where we might expect to be. I like the conversational tone of the narrator, and that you get a sense of the friendship between Jackson and his rat immediately. Everyone likes an animal side-kick, so why not a rat?
 Your pitch made me think Ava is our ‘main’ protagonist’ so I would expect to be introduced to her shortly and that Jackson and Ava meeting is the catalyst for the story. 

Submission #3


A Seafarer's Map to Mountains 


The Greek myth of Persephone meets Scottish folklore's tale of Queen Beira, as teenager Persie is enlisted by a Seafarer from a far off land to save her Scottish island home after a climate event. But there's more to the Seafarer's story than it seems, and when Persie finds herself holding the fate of their worlds in her hands, she will face a choice that threatens her freedom. 


The Seafarer first visited when Persie was eleven years old. Four years after the Rise took her Ma. Four years before the end of her world. 


I am interested in Greek mythology and it’s based in Scotland, so I find this concept appealing. I do think you are a little bit vague with details here, though. What is the world – fantasy, alternative or futuristic? Who is this Seafarer? What is it about Persie that makes her the chosen one? What is the choice, and how come Persie has all this power?
 I like the title though I worry that it could also be the name of a non-fiction book. Do you have any comparative titles or authors that you could mention?
This is a very short opening but it still invokes intrigue as it makes us wonder what the Rise is. Your last sentence is very impactful.
It is difficult to say much more based on such a short sample but it feels slightly confusing to make us think of Persie as 11 years old, and four years younger than that, when we’re expecting a teenager.
I’d expect this world building and background to be a short expository section and that you’d introduce us to the teenage Persie as soon as possible. I’d hope she’s sparky to offset the bleak opening.

Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in June 2020!


Natalie has been a SCBWI member since 2015 and is Networks Coordinator for the North East. When she is not working as a Teaching Assistant for a local secondary school, she spends her time writing for YA and sometimes😉 on Instagram or Twitter.

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