OPENING LINES Feedback from Laura West

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’.

Laura West – An Introduction

After reading English Literature at Sussex University and Oregon State University, Laura joined David Higham, first in the Media Department before moving over to Books. She previously worked at Waterstones and the Brighton outpost of The Lamb Bookshop as well as in numerous pubs in Brighton and Kettering.

Laura is on the lookout for all kinds of writing for children – fiction and non-fiction for young readers, middle grade, teen and YA audiences. She is incredibly keen to find brilliant new voices that explore environmental and social themes. She would also like to find a knock-out story of first love, full of joy and longing. She is happy to receive submissions via email and you can find her on Twitter @LozWesty.

Submission #1


Forgetting Charlie


Know-it-all teenager Ewan McKinnon thinks he has the world all figured out. When he collides head-first with the beautiful and flighty Charlie Parker at a cross-schools hockey match, Ewan is forced to question everything he believed about life, love and himself. What starts out as an innocent schoolboy crush soon becomes a dangerous and damaging obsession – and the deeper Ewan falls, the more he must learn that the true cost of devotion is sacrifice.


YORK, 1997

Ewan had never told anyone how anxious he felt. Some nights, he couldn't get to sleep because he was turning thoughts over in his mind. He had nothing to worry about: he lived in a nice house, with nice parents who loved him, and he went to a good school, with good friends. Still, some days there was an animal inside him, wild and dormant, fighting to get out.

This pitch has an engaging and lively tone and I love the promise of a love story that turns into something quite different. But it could tell us a lot more about the story and our characters. What happens to trigger Ewan’s dangerous obsession and how does it change him? Is it a story about stalking? What does it mean for Ewan to question everything? What kind of kid is he? Perhaps add something about his anxiety and how that juxtaposes with his outward know-it-all character? We really do get a different Ewan in the opening lines and I was shocked! It would also help to know how old these kids are so that we can tell immediately the target market.

The opening is great. It gives us an immediate and clear sense of our protagonist as well as introducing the idea of anxiety, which is something a lot of readers will relate to in the current climate. However, I was slightly confused by the wild animal imagery in relation to anxiety so really think about what image you’re creating in the mind of your reader.

Submission #2


Abi's Trek


When Abi, 17, is stranded at the top of a mountain in Peru with an injured guide and two teenage boys, she must battle her demons to survive, knowing she may never see her father again.


Drop from here and I'm dead. My legs are running yet I'm going nowhere, hooked by my backpack to the snowy mountain, dangling like a useless puppet. My head's swimming and I feel sick. I'm panting, desperate for more oxygen, but the thin air's not giving me much. Another mistake, facing out rather than in to the cliff. Why didn't I start the descent further over? A metre to the left and my chances of surviving a fall would triple.

I really don't want to die. Please, someone help me.

This is a punchy pitch and it sets the scene well. But is it too punchy? It raises a lot of questions – are the boys injured as well as the guide, what happened to them all, why does Abi have no way of contacting base camp or trekking back to get help? These seem to be the only characters in the story so we need to know more about them.
We also need to know more about Abi – why is she on a trek at 17, what demons does she have and why is her father so important to the story? It seems that Abi is going to be solo for much of the book so we need to get a strong sense of who she is to truly whet our appetite!
The opening is good. You can feel the tension of the situation we’re dropped into and I’m sure readers will be intrigued to know what happens to Abi and what happened that led to this moment. I love the image of her running whilst hanging from the mountain. You do have a lot of short sentences here though and I wonder if it might be an idea to break them with something longer to give us a stronger sense of place and show exactly what is happening.

Submission #3


The Umbrella Man


The Umbrella Man is a dark psychological thriller with a magical twist.

When a tall dark figure appears in the rain outside his home, grieving 14-year-old Ajay is scared witless. Is it a creepy stalker, his dead father, or maybe Death itself? Could it even be his mum's lovely new man from her weird church? Ajay must face his own demons to save his family from the sinister Umbrella Man.


The year me Dad died was the time of the blackberries down at the railway embankment, the missing girl and The Umbrella Man. I'm not going into the ins and outs of Dad's death right now. Let's just say me Mam was in a bad way. I remember her coming home one day, looking washed out, with her eyes red raw. She'd gone to the doctors and they gave her something that 'took the rough edges off', which had to be a good thing. Right?


Great to include the genre at the beginning so we know what to expect. Although you tease us with a magical twist that isn’t explored further – give us more on this please!
I love how the sinister stranger is introduced immediately, but you water down the intrigue when you describe him as a ‘tall dark figure’. Can you give us a more unique description here that tells us something different about this figure?
We do need a clearer idea of what the story will be as we’re left with a lot of questions – what are Ajay’s demons, why does he come up with each of the four suggestions for who the stranger is and why is the Umbrella Man a threat? Don’t be afraid to get specific.
The opening is brilliant! The voice is strong and the use of dialect and references to blackberry bushes and railway lines immediately gives us a strong sense of place. It’s nice that it’s not London or the South East, which is definitely something agents are looking for at the moment. It might be a good idea to make it clear from when in the future Ajay is telling the story. But all in all this is a very strong opening in terms of place and character.

Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in September 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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