OPENING LINES Results from Kate Foster

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’.

OPENING LINES gives you chance to get professional feedback so you can fine-tune your submissions. Kate Foster has very generously given her time to offer feedback on three randomly chosen entries.

Kate Foster – An Introduction

Reading and writing has been a passion for Kate from an early age, but this was mostly done secretly as she was convinced only rich ‘chosen ones’ could become authors. She worked in a variety of jobs before finally nurturing this passion through mentoring new writers, and has worked successfully as a freelance editor for many years. Being able to work alongside writers and watch their skills and voices develop is a dream come true and she is now continuing this as Associate Literary Agent at Storm.  

Kate combines this role with raising three sons with her husband and two rescue dogs in the stunning Gold Coast in Australia, having moved from her home town in southeast England. Kate is also a children's author.

Kate is open to submissions and is focused on works of fiction only: mainly middle grade at the moment, but she will consider a select few YA and chapter books. Kate falls for voice and characters before plot. Top of her list are funny books, but she is also seeking sports and adventure stories (e.g. a modern Goonies) as well as creepy horror, twisty mysteries and clever fantasies grounded in our world. She wants stories with strong friendships, body positivity, characters with a wicked sense of humour and nerdy kids with a passion for, and knowledge of, science, in particular the weather. Most importantly, Kate wants to build a diverse list of underrepresented voices from all over the world, and very much welcomes submissions from disabled and neurodivergent authors, authors of colour, LGBTQI authors and authors who battle mental health issues. 

Kate is happy to receive submissions via email and can be found on Twitter @kfosterauthor.

Submission #1


The Boggle Spotter


The Boggle Spotter is a funny, Lower Middle Grade romp in which self-styled detective, Jess, finds a sleep-weaving Boggle living in an old air raid shelter underneath her garden. Will Jess leave the Boggle to get on with its work – or will she be unable to stop herself from interfering, and end up causing havoc for the whole family…?


If you were to look carefully around your garden you might see a snail, a bird’s nest or a spider’s web, but if you had really sharp eyes, you might – if you were extremely lucky – see something else…

Jess’s eyes were pretty sharp. Some people thought that she was nosy, but her mum said that she was the most observant eleven year old she knew, and was very handy to have about the house as she always knew where the car keys were. Jess was pretty sure that when she was older, she would make a fantastic detective – the finest and sharpest-eyed detective ever known. But being good at spotting things didn’t just mean that she had a really good chance of getting her dream job. It also led to something else. It led to her spotting The Boggle.


It was a Friday afternoon after school, and Jess was striding down the path that led to the back door, when she heard a clinking noise. She stopped. Clinking noises are always interesting to detectives. It could be the sound of a pile of Spanish gold being spilt by thieves as they desperately tried to escape the clutches of the law, or a bagful of diamond tiaras, hurled over the hedge by jail-breaking baddies as the net closed around them.

But – this time, at least – it wasn’t either of those things. It was a coin that had fallen out of Jess’s pocket and was rapidly rolling away – an old foreign coin, a Dutch Guilder that she’d picked up off the pavement a few days before, just in case it turned out to be an important clue to a mystery. You never knew.

She chased it down the side of the house, until finally it hit the corner of a wonky paving stone and flipped into a pile of dead leaves that had gathered on the decking. She dropped to her knees and started pushing the leaves out of the way. But there was nothing there. Just a slightly damp and very dirty wooden surface. She stared at it. Where had it gone?


I love this title! The pitch is super fun and has plenty of intriguing elements to lure in a reader. What is a sleep-weaving Boggle; could you maybe include a hint? Are they dangerous or elusive? Have they not been seen for centuries? Is Jess interested in myths and legends like the Boggle? We could also learn a little more about Jess’s conflict, goals and what’s at stake in this pitch, so we immediately make a connection and start to care about her. What does she want more than anything, what’s stopping her getting it, and how might the Boggle be a part of her journey? 

Although the first three paragraphs have a mysterious air, my personal feeling is that these details would work better on the back cover copy. Maybe open chapter one with Jess on her way home. It’s straight into the action, we see Jess in her natural surroundings, and we get to know her and her quirky personality right off the bat. I would also suggest shifting and merging a few sentences too, to both avoid any telling and to better capture a young reader’s attention. So, maybe open with something like:


Jess paused midway on the uneven path that wound its way to her back door, and shielded her eyes from the Friday afternoon sun.

Clinking sounds were always interesting to detectives.’

And so on. Something along these lines naturally blends in the setting and the time of day without telling a reader anything. Otherwise, I think this is a wonderful start! 

Submission #2


Endless Earth


When Jakob learns of a deadly disease called the Hollowing, he must find the inner strength to confront Pilot Margot and discover a cure before she sacrifices half their spaceship to the disease. 


It was the eve of planetdown and I was certain we were going to die. 

"I should stay home," I told Mam. "Something’s not right." 

My guts sloshed like liquid junk as I stared down at my dinner of greasy labmeat. When had I last eaten something green?


The pitch certainly has some interesting and all-important ingredients, but perhaps it could be longer to give the reader just that little bit more information. Start by thinking about Jakob and the personal journey he is about to undertake: What is it that Jakob wants and what’s stopping him from getting it? What exactly is it that’s stopped him having that important inner strength so far in his life? An overbearing family, a crushing moment in his past that he’s never overcome? I love that the setting is a spaceship, but perhaps indicate this earlier on in the pitch or offer some extra information. Does Jakob work on the spaceship on some kind of mission with his family, or does he live on one permanently? Finally, how does Jakob learn of the disease – through mischievous behaviour or by accident, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because he’s usually ignored and overhears a discussion? These are just ideas, of course, but a few carefully placed hints will add another level of temptation.

The opening lines are well written and include some cleverly placed hints at how different life is for Jakob compared to the reader’s life. They also contain that immediate hook through Jakob’s perspective, and encourage the reader to ask questions. This is definitely what an author wants to do as it forces a reader to continue and find out the answers. What is planetdown and why on earth does Jakob think they’re going to die? Wonderful start. 

Submission #3


Scansion Mansion


Young ghost Twitch arrives at magical reform school Scansion Mansion, but remains determined to avoid scaring. Twitch’s mismatched friends: a nerdy academic, a transporter girl and a little werewolf, work to reverse a hex cast by the librarian. Twitch realises he must go against his nature and scare one of his friends to save the school and his friends. 


Twitch stole a quick glance over his shoulder as he moved with the sole purpose of finding some escape from the chaos; terrified shrieks and angry howls punctuated the air over the pulsating base thrum of the generator. He saw two ghost hunters struggling to seal up some metal cylinders before placing them in sectioned crates; newly sealed cylinders spun and rattled in futile protest. Dry mouthed with terror, Twitch puffed aloud. “Farewell friends. I tried to warn you of the dangers, but you kept on scaring. You laughed at my youth and now you’re all gone. Every last one of you.” His voice caught at the significance; he was all alone. 

A metallic clang from a dropped container broke his thoughts as vapour hissed from a pinhole in the side. Without pausing to see who was escaping, Twitch redoubled his efforts to find a hiding place near the old cathedral. He could hear something sparking behind him and an acrid smell tickled his nose. 

A wavery smile played on his face. 

“At least I had the foresight to charge myself up before everything went wrong.”   


This pitch is amusing and lively and introduces us to the protagonist and his conflict well, not to mention his eccentric group of new friends. I do feel there is room here to rearrange the structure a little and take it to the next level to really draw in the reader. First, maybe include why Twitch doesn’t like scaring people? It seems that this makes him different to other ghosts, so what’s made him this way? Where does this determination come from? Was he scared once and hated it so much he refuses to make others feel this way? Perhaps then add a clue as to what this hex is exactly, and how it’s directly linked to Twitch and his inability to scare others. 


The opening lines are action packed and offer an immediate immersion into Twitch’s changing situation. My main thought is to maybe rewind the scene even more, and show Twitch’s normal just before the ghost hunters arrive. It would allow an opportunity to develop Twitch’s voice that bit more. Maybe we could see Twitch avoiding his duties and a hint at why, another ghost mocking him and how Twitch reacts, and then a short display of how the ghosts scare people. A reader then has a moment to understand the normal before being launched into the chaos. They’d be able to feel and share Twitch’s escape and his panic, that way making for a more powerful connection. This sounds like a wonderful story that young readers are sure to love.

Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in the New Year!

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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