OPENING LINES Results from Hannah Featherstone


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 the chance to get professional feedback so you can fine-tune your submissions. This month there were a total of 13 entries and Hannah Featherstone gave her feedback on three randomly selected submissions. 

Hannah Featherstone – An Introduction

Hannah is a children’s book editor with over fifteen years of publishing experience. For six of those years she was an editor at David Fickling Books, where she learned a huge amount about recognising talented writers and developing strong stories.

As a freelance fiction editor she works on a range of fiction titles for a number of different children’s publishers, including Head of Zeus, Pushkin Press, Hot Key Books and Usborne.

She lives in a lovely village in Warwickshire, balancing editing with looking after three small children. Obviously they are all bookworms in the making!

Submission #1

TITLE The Room at the Edge of the World


Gran is the centre of Eve's world in their house on the edge of the cliff, so when Gran dies unexpectedly, Eve struggles to cope. She thinks that maybe if she keeps all Gran's things close to her, Gran will still feel close too, but it seems impossible to stop the rest of her family from interfering with her plan. Will Gran's memory just drift further and further away, like driftwood on the tide?


This pitch firmly establishes your story’s theme of grief which is great, but I would like to see a stronger focus on the external plot. Can you tell us about what is going to happen in the story? Is there a specific reason why it’s important for Eve to keep her memory of Gran alive? Perhaps Gran had a particular role that must now be taken on by her granddaughter. Give us an idea of what Eve will need to do to succeed, the actions she will take, and what she is up against.


Ten days and one hour before.

The gull swoops down, its wide wings shading my eyes from the sun as it hovers above our heads, dipping its neck for just long enough to snatch the bread crust that Gran throws to it, before whooshing back up into the cloudless sky. 

Gran laughs and waves as the bird wheels away. It lands on the wire fence that separates the garden from the cliff edge, perching there for just long enough to swallow its bread, and then pushes off again, flapping its way out to sea to join a cloud of gulls circling above a herring boat.


There’s some gorgeous scene setting here and I love the clifftop location and the glorious sense of space and freedom. You give the reader a wonderful first glimpse of Gran and her delight in the bird. I wonder if introducing a hint of foreboding would be good – a sense that life on the edge of the cliff is precarious, drawing the reader’s eye to the steep drop and the danger it poses?

Submission #2

TITLE Disability Roolz


Tom is forced to look after Alex after school every day. When Tom suddenly becomes ill he is the giver and receiver of support from his heart twin, Emma.


I was immediately drawn to the idea of a ‘heart twin’ and I wonder if you could explain what you mean by this and also tell us a little more about why Alex needs looking after. I would like to understand Tom’s goal – is this a story about him winning his freedom, or about him accepting his responsibilities, or about finding a balance between the two? It would also be good to establish who wants him to fail and what he stands to lose.


“I hate you!” yells Alex.

“Not as much as I hate you!” screams back Tom, “if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be stuck looking after you every day after school!”

“S’not my fault that you have to… I’m old enough to look after myself!”

“That’s not what Dad thinks… I could be out with my friends, but no, I’m stuck with you every damn day!  I have to look after you while Dad’s at work.  If it wasn’t for you, I could have a life of my own and Dad wouldn’t force me to look after you!” yells Tom.


Beginning with conflict is a great way to draw your reader in. Watch out for using dialogue to tell the story, as this can feel a little forced and unnatural. It would be great to see some of Tom’s internal thought process on the page so that we can begin to understand his character and empathise with him. Can you give the reader a sense of how Alex’s words make Tom feel, and of how he feels about his own words – guilt, or perhaps relief at finally saying out loud all the things he’s been thinking for so long?


Submission #3

TITLE Liberty Rift


A disabled fairy fights to uncover the truth behind the revolution which left her race banished to Idle Rift, an island of garbage, while humans enjoy their spoils on Liberty Rift, the island they once all shared.


This is a nice tight pitch and I like the concept of a disabled fairy who is unable to fly. Can you include a stronger sense of who or what Bailey’s up against and what is at stake? I think you could up the drama by introducing a particular antagonist and establishing some clear peril! Authenticity is important here and I think agents would want to know that the writer has their own personal experience of living with a disability – this doesn’t need to be included in the pitch, but perhaps in your covering letter.


Bailey Nightwillow unbuckled the wing-confining leather strap, letting it fall to the ground. Eyes closed, she imagined blood coursing through the veins, swelling her wings to full bloom, but they clung to her back like wilted leaves – wing-withering, they called it. She cursed inwardly.

Picking up a mirror shard, she stared at her reflection; knotted dark hair, pale blemished skin, ripped sacking dress.

‘At least you’re alive,’ she said. ‘And you still have your decrepit wings.’

‘Which is more than some,’ said Nac, handing her The Daily Rift.

‘Twenty-four fairies face wing removal after flying rebellion.’ Bailey grinned wickedly. ‘War!’


What an engaging and intriguing opening! The reader is pulled straight into Bailey’s feelings of frustration and injustice, and phrases like ‘cursing inwardly’ and ‘smiling wickedly’ quickly give us a sense of her strong and spirited character. There’s some gorgeous flower imagery here and it’s used with real dramatic effect. The last few lines make Bailey seem a little unsympathetic – while she might embrace rebellion, shouldn’t she be shocked and saddened by the news of fairies facing wing removal? The reader needs to warm to your main character and be rooting for her from the off.


Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in March 2022!

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.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article. I am very nervous about approaching agents. I feel like I have one shot, I can't mess it up which makes me NOT approach them until I am totally sure that I get it right. This is very helpful for people like me.


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