OPENING LINES Results from Rachel Hamilton

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. This month Rachel Hamilton very kindly read all the submissions and gave her feedback on her chosen three.

Rachel Hamilton – An Introduction

Rachel’s journey to agenting has been a twisty-turny one, through ad agencies, a men’s prison, a building site, a secondary school and lots of lit fests. She fell in love with storytelling as an English teacher – perhaps because it was the easiest way to get students to stop talking and listen to her – and has written six books, published by Simon & Schuster, OUP and Scholastic. While promoting her own books, she discovered she preferred talking about other people's stories, so she trained as a moderator to chat with writing heroes like Alexander McCall Smith, Jasper Fforde and Esi Edugyan and began working as a freelance editor and consultant.

Rachel recently made the move into agenting at The BIA, where she's currently enjoying building her own list. She loves books with humour, particularly if it's edgy and smart and triggered by characters' actions, flaws and foibles. She is also a sucker for strong-voiced action stories that make you fall in love with a character and then plunge them into peril, pushing the 'what if' premise to extremes.

Submission #1

TITLE The Game


Enticed by the £25,000 prize money and persuaded by her desperate to be famous best friend, 16-year-old Kass Kennedy takes part in a reality TV show based on the popular party game MAFIA. To win, the housemates must identify the killers hidden amongst them, before being killed off one by one. But when the contestants start dying for real, Kass realises that this is no game. To escape she must uncover the guilty before she becomes their next victim.


1 - The girl code.

I get it.

I’m a crap friend.

I violated the girl code.

I’ve apologised till my throat hurts.

Kissing your best friend’s ex is a crappy thing to do.

I deserve to be punished, hundred percent.

But is it really worth killing me over?

Staring into Thea’s eyes, I beg her to judge me for the person deep-down she knows I am, not on what she thinks of me right now. Desperation oozes from every pore as my last minutes tick by at an alarming rate.


This is a high-octane pitch that raises the stakes of a murder mystery by setting it in the world of reality TV. I can hear the theme tune already. It promises tension and drama and should appeal to an audience brought up on the voyeurism and intrigue of shows like Love Island, First Dates and Made in Chelsea. It might be worth rephrasing slightly to clarify Kass’s expectations vs reality, as it currently reads as if she enters a game in which the contestants will be killed off, then is surprised when the contestants are killed off. I’d like to be told how many housemates there are and how the murder mechanic works. Are they all trapped in a house together, a la Ben Elton’s Dead Famous, or are they going about their normal lives and then leaping out at each other in murderous ways? Overall, it sounds like it could be a spine-tingling read with a strong female lead and the fact that her motivation is helping out a friend, rather than the short-lived fame or the £25,000 makes her more relatable and appealing as a character. I’m in!

This is an intriguing introduction with a strong voice that works well in first person. I like that we open on a clearly flawed main character with her best friend as victim, and then flip that completely on its head in the eighth line. The short, snappy sentences are effective, although I’d suggest writing them as a paragraph rather than a list. I’d like a bit more detail to tether the story in place. Perhaps, as her last minutes tick by, we could get more of a sense of setting. I’m wondering if this is serving as a prologue, as I’m hoping we get to know Kass and Thea a bit better before launching straight into murder!

Submission #2

TITLE Eddie Harp and the Knife of Akkara


When twelve-year-old Eddie is expelled from high school, absentmindedly eats the washing machine door and witnesses one of her aunts transform herself into a hyena, it’s safe to say her ordinary life in Manchester is over. Not only must Eddie deal with being not-quite-human, but after a shake-up at the Outer Realms Education Bureau she is the only girl in history to be offered a place at Brobbleworth Tock’s stuffy old Alchemy Academy in one of the seven Outer Realms. But when her guardians are framed for murder she must uncover the truth before her only family are sentenced to death, leaving her alone in a strange and dangerous realm.

Unfortunately for Eddie, proving their innocence when best friends with a demon and prone to expulsion, could be (according to an ancient portends) inconveniently apocalyptic.


Hagbeth, the sixteenth sister, was about to eat the baby.

“Don’t want no brother,” she announced, snatching the gurgling little demon from his crib of dead ravens and holding him by a grey foot no bigger than a custard cream.

As she dangled him above wide, lethal jaws, their mother continued to eat her meal at the head of the long table in the dimness of the castle dining hall, tearing raw flesh from the bloodied bone like she hadn’t eaten for weeks.


There’s a lot happening here! I love the sheer bonkersness, and the creativity and imagination at play – it sounds like a Mancunian Sabrina the Teenage Witch set in Outer-Realm Hogwarts. I’d like more detail as to why Eddie was expelled and how she ended up in the Outer Realms, and I’m curious how the two are connected. At the moment it’s presented as two separate stories: Eddie’s journey of self-discovery as a not-quite-human, and a murder mystery to solve to save her guardians. Can you connect them right from the beginning? Is Aunt Hyena one of Eddie’s guardians? Did they contribute to her discovery that she’s different? In terms of language, the grammar/ punctuation could be tightened up slightly, but the tone and word choices create a joyful sense of chaos that made me keen to read the opening.

Weird details are always a good hook. Moments like the clock striking thirteen at the start of 1984, and Gregor waking up as a monstrous insect in Metamorphosis, and now Hagbeth almost eating a baby, create a wonderful sensation of being pulled into a magical universe. The playful language and imagery appeal – I like the custard cream simile as it immediately suggests an overlap with the real world and contrasts beautifully with the ruthless brutality of a ‘crib of dead ravens’ and a mother ‘tearing raw flesh from the bloodied bone'. I’m intrigued by the matriarchal set up; with sixteen sisters and a fate that lies somewhere between being gobbled up and dropped back onto raven corpses awaiting the only boy in the scene, this world looks like it will have surprises in store. My only slight niggle is that we don’t open with Eddie’s perspective as the pitch suggests she’s the main protagonist. So, I want to know her connection to Hagbeth and whether this means there are going to be multiple narrative voices. However, I’m hooked and would read on to find out the answer – and to see if anyone stops Hagbeth eating the baby!

Submission #3

TITLE Whispers


Unlock the door

Let me get in

I need to find

My second skin

Eilidh’s no selkie, she can’t even swim and now she’s taken Big Tam’s daft dare to walk the dangerous harbour wall. But who is she really and what are the secrets her family are hiding from her? Even her best friend, the country music crazy Luce, seems to have a secret from her and why are the biggest band in Scotland, The Whispers coming to tiny Inverbruach for the Midsummer Night’s Festival?


The Dare

‘Eilidh, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It’s only a stupid dare.’

But Eilidh was listening to the waves whispering in the wind.

‘Hey, Dreamer,’ Tam barked. ‘Are you gonnae do it?’

This time Eilidh turned, for a second she let her dark eyes rest on Luce before flicking to Tam. Like a gentle stream to his torrent, she spoke softly, ‘I’ll do the dare.’

‘El …, no …,’ Luce began.

Scrambling to her feet, Eilidh flashed her best friend a small smile, swung round and began to run.


I love the pitch’s opening quatrain, particularly the way it works with the title, to make ‘Whispers’ feel like a stage direction. The poetry gives the sense that this is going to be a lovely, lyrical read and suggests the theme of the book will be Eilidh’s search for her identity. You might want to clarify exactly what lies at the core of this. The pitch sets up that Eilidh lives in her own world, but I want to know how Tam and Luce are connected to her and where her journey is going to take her. There are four potential mysteries mentioned (a selkie mystery, a family mystery, a best friend mystery and a band mystery) but the stakes aren’t quite clear enough at the moment.

The opening lines match the poetry of the pitch. Phrases like the alliterative, assonant, onomatopoeic ‘listening to the waves whispering in the wind’ lure us in with seductive natural imagery. Eilidh’s nickname, ‘Dreamer’, offers a clue to her personality, and the line, ‘like a gentle stream to his torrent’ gives us an idea of the relationship between her and Tam. This kind of poetic flair suggests there will be atmospheric scenes to come, but it’s important to ensure the poetry feeds into the drama and the meaning is clear. The idea that ‘it’s only a stupid dare’, plays down the importance of this opening event– perhaps rephrase with more urgency, e.g. ‘Don’t do it, Eilidh. It’s not safe.’ And I’d like to get a sense of Eilidh’s mindset from the start. I want to connect with her, but by making her so removed/ distant, it’s actually easier to connect with Luce and Tam. However, the atmospheric writing means I’d take the time to find out more.


Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in June!

Natalie Yates  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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