OPENING LINES Results from Imogen Cooper


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 there were a total of 33 entries and Imogen Cooper gave her feedback on three randomly selected submissions. 

Imogen Cooper - An Introduction

Award-winning editor Imogen Cooper, AKA Mother Goose, was previously editorial director at Chicken House Books. She started the Golden Egg Academy at her kitchen table in 2014 whilst working for Chicken House MD Barry Cunningham, the first publisher of Harry Potter. 

In 2015 Golden Egg became her main focus and since then she and her experienced team of children's book editors have helped over 70 children’s writers, including M.G. Leonard, Annaliese Avery, Vanessa Harbour, Jennifer Killick, James Nicol and Vashti Hardy, gain agents or publishing contracts. 

Golden Egg runs selective and non-selective courses for writers of children's fiction and picture books; mentors writers through to submission to agents and publishers; and runs a community - the Golden Egg Club - for anyone interested in children's writing. Golden Egg now also offers four places per year to underrepresented writers through its Golden Egg Award.

Submission #1

TITLE Lark Bentley and the Great World Clock 


Lark Bentley is a time wrangler. But he doesn’t know that yet. Or that he’s going to have to save the world.  


This is a tight pitch and shows the problem/ hurdle that Lark has to overcome very nicely. I would also like to get a little more of a sense of Lark. The central character is so important and a couple of words added to show his vulnerability or his flaw would enable an agent to see that they could connect with the main protagonist.


Lark Bentley sat on the roof of the northern wing of the Parochial House admiring the view. He loved this time of day. When the chimneys were just black outlines against the rising sun, the smoke issuing from them rising straight up in the air like a pencil and the Aurean Sea a sliver of silver light between the hills. With a jangle of bells, the city clocks struck six, signalling the end of that night’s curfew. Lark sighed and blinked. A pigeon that had been paused in mid-flight suddenly dropped like a stone. It recovered itself and flew away, a surprised look on its face.


Lovely first lines. We get a sense of Lark and that he appreciates the natural world/sunrise, and a sense of the world in which he lives. There’s careful word choice to enable the reader to quickly see that they are not in the world they know. I would like to see the reaction to the pigeon dropping like a stone. I assume the reaction will come in the next sentence. This feels like MG fantasy, which is an over published area at the moment, but the opening certainly feels strong.

Submission #2

TITLE The Enemy Within 


Yorkshire, June 1940. After her no-good father dies at Dunkirk, 14-year-old Connie plans to start a new life in the military, even if it means lying to do it. But before she can go, Connie and her new friends are caught in a race to save two innocent people from the gallows and stop the real traitor from carrying out their deadly mission. 


Lots of good stuff, but the second sentence feels like the story, so I think it would be better to concentrate on that in the pitch. Reduce the first sentence as much as you can – obviously we still need to know this is a WWII story so you’ll need to keep a bit of it, but concentrate on what we absolutely have to know. The focus needs to be on the race to save the innocents going to the gallows and the traitor’s deadly mission. Those are great ingredients, so I just think you need to refocus this pitch a bit.


I wish I hadn’t answered the door that day. I wish I hadn’t been home at all. But mum was collecting our meat rations and Harry was down the fields with his mates. It was June but I had my coat and boots on; the rain was pelting down and I didn’t want to be wet through at the pictures. 

But, of course, it wouldn’t have changed anything – being in I mean, not the fact I was wearing a coat. Because death, well, you can’t escape from it, especially now. And there’s never a good way to hear that news...


A really powerful opening! So intriguing. It makes my insides lurch immediately wanting to know who has died. Great first line as it instantly gets the reader asking questions. I would just be careful of getting a bit wordy and the humour in the second paragraph doesn’t quite ring for me as the focus is so strongly on the emotions and I would think about cutting ‘– being in I mean, not the fact I was wearing a coat.’ Also, do you need to explain about Mum being out right in that first para ‘But mum was collecting our meat rations and Harry was down the fields with his mates.’. Could that come later? It might be more punchy and focussed without it. 

Submission #3

TITLE The Riddle of Stanbridge Hall


Ghost-boy Tom is desperate to prove his brother’s innocence.

Little Person Pip longs to show her parents she can reach her goals.

Meanwhile, all raven Nyx wants is to add to her shiny collection.

Together, they form the strangest detective agency in the world and strive to clear Tom’s family name, save Pip from homelessness and beat a thief to a missing diamond before Tom fades from existence forever. For readers of Potkin and Stubbs and Elsetime.


This is good, but a bit long. Definitely some lovely ingredients, especially the raven! Definitely more raven! I might be tempted to shorten the beginning to something like: 

Ghost-boy Tom, Little Person Pip and Nyx, a kleptomaniac raven, are the strangest detective trio in the world. But only they can clear Tom’s family name, save Pip from homelessness and beat a thief to a missing diamond before Tom fades from existence forever. Squark!


This was the sixty-two thousand, eight hundred and twenty-third time Tom had died. He sighed as he tumbled by the same old tree roots, thinking perhaps he wouldn’t mind so much if only it varied from time to time. Just the occasional change. But no, the sky was as dark as ever, the hill just as steep and there he was, hurtling past the exact same rocks as usual.

Same, same, always the same. Although, there had been that one occasion when he surprised a rabbit.


What a great first line! This instantly makes the reader ask questions. It’s so intriguing. In fact it’s an absolute stunner of a beginning. I would just add a note that you need to bring in Nyx and Pip really quickly after this opening as well as a subtle indication that they could be a detective trio in the first few pages so that we get the right impression that this is the story about a detective trio. Really important to set up the expectations of the reader.


Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in September!

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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