OPENING LINES Results from Bella Pearson


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 polish your submissions. This month there were a total of 39 entries and Bella Pearson gave her feedback on three randomly selected submissions. 

Bella Pearson - An Introduction

Bella has worked in children’s publishing for over twenty years, seventeen of those spent in a variety of guises at David Fickling Books in Oxford. DFB was started from David’s kitchen table in 2001 – and Bella is thrilled to be at her own kitchen table building up an eclectic and entertaining list of books for children with her own publishing company, Guppy Books.

She has won the Branford Boase Award once and been shortlisted five times, and spent three years working as a mentor at The Golden Egg Academy, as well as editing for many children’s publishers, including Puffin, Chicken House and Oxford University Press

Guppy Books is on the regional shortlist for the Small Press Award at the British Book Awards, and many of their titles have recently been listed for several prizes.

Submission #1

TITLE Plain Jane


Plain Jane is one of a collection of short stories titled Collection of Keys that I have written for young adults who have a family member in prison. They touch on some of the dangers that can befall young people today. I was asked to write this collection, following a workshop I volunteered at HMP LEEDS.


Really interesting concept. I like the title very much. 

I’m interested that you were asked to write a collection for young adults with family members in prison – what’s the background to this? And is this a collection that aims to prevent them from falling into trouble and potentially ending up in the same situation – i.e. in prison? Or is it a collection to support kids who have family in prison? It isn’t quite clear from the pitch. 

On this note, I perhaps would be wary of saying something along the ‘dangers that befall young people today’ – this is slightly distancing and perhaps a little educational in tone – is that really what you want to project? Or do it by stealth as it were…? Providing entertaining stories with a message embedded?


The mobile vibrated in her skirt pocket. She felt a delicious thrill as she took a quick look.

"Hi Gorgeous, how's my beautiful babe today? xxx"

"Jane Patterson, bring up that mobile," the teacher shouted. "Collect it later."

"But Sir," Jane blushed and stammered.

"Whatever is the matter with you, Jane? You seem to be in a world of your own."

"Sir, Jane's in love," a girl's voice sniggered.

"Robbo tells me, I'm his princess, and he's my prince charming."

His first gift, a bouquet of flowers arrived.


This is intriguing and clearly a worrying situation for Jane to be in. 

I would make it more direct in some ways – actually name the teacher and the girl who sniggers – after all, she’d know their names and you’re telling the story through Jane’s eyes even if it is third person. Also, who is Jane speaking to when she says ‘Robbo tells me I’m his princess…etc’? Her friend? The class? Or someone else? 

I like the directness and the immediacy of action here, but there needs to be a little more context. It’s a little confusing – it seems she’s in the classroom at the start but then a bouquet of flowers arrives – presumably to her home? This isn’t quite clear. Perhaps it would be an idea to set the scene a little more. 

Minor points: I would set the text speak in a different way from speech – i.e. no quote marks, perhaps a different font. I also don’t think you need to talk about pseudonyms at this point of submission. That’s something for later!

An interesting and important concept! Needs more context and specific scene-creation. 

Submission #2

TITLE The Vital Life of Jonty Whale 


Amateur fingerprint sleuth Jonty Whale has six days to solve a locked-room murder mystery on the world’s remotest island populated with rockhopper penguins and curious folk.


Intriguing! I was a little confused by the addition of ‘fingerprint’ – would amateur sleuth be enough? And I would say the same again for locked-room murder mystery – would murder mystery be enough? So many descriptive words can be mind-boggling rather than intriguing! My other query is – what are curious folk? People who are curious? It’s a little foggy, in my view – are they islanders? Or mythical creatures? Perhaps more specific detail would be useful.  

I like the time-frame of six days – important to mention that this has a time limit and will therefore be a race against it…



Setting foot on Vital Island, Jonty Whale had no grounds to suspect he would be sharing a room with a corpse. A corpse is not the worst roommate an eleven-year-old could ask for – they don’t snore, don’t break your toys and don’t fart in the middle of the night. Yes, after a while, there is the smell, but Jonty suffered from sporadic anosmia, which meant he lost his sense of smell now and again.


My first query would be: who is this for? It seems quite dark for the age I think this is intended for (middle-grade) – the visceral nature of sharing a room with a corpse and the smell etc is pretty hard-going… 

However, I do like the info that’s imparted in these few sentences – that he’s 11, he has sporadic anosmia (which I presume is then relevant to the plot? If not, get rid of it!)

One thing about the very beginning – could ‘Setting foot on Vital Island’ be more specifically descriptive? It’s quite vague at the moment. Stepping out of a boat? How is he setting foot on VI? Perhaps this paragraph would be stronger with a little more action rather than simply telling?

A fun-sounding mystery – perhaps needs a little more context and specific detail. 


Submission #3

TITLE Living the Game


Trapped inside a fantasy-based gaming world with no memory, Jack must lead a ragtag group through quests and more soul searching than he’s comfortable with before he can escape the Realm and stop Damon from wiping millions of gamers’ minds. 



Interesting concept from the start. I would just make sure it doesn’t suggest the game has no memory (I assume it’s Jack who doesn’t? Not quite clear here). 

What is a ‘ragtag group’? Perhaps be more specific here. Not sure ‘more soul searching than he’s comfortable with’ is necessary in this pitch though it definitely gives Jack an emotional depth which is interesting. And I wonder if being specific about what/who ‘Damon’ is would be more intriguing? Is he a person playing? Or a character in the game? Either way, raises lots of questions which is good! 


Jack had been screaming for so long he wasn’t sure what hurt the most, his throat or his ears. Tears raced up his forehead into his tangled mess of hair. Still screaming, he took another peek over his varnished clogs. In the countryside below, he couldn’t quite identify the animals roaming the fields. From this height, they appeared no larger than spots – like a rash spreading over a sickly green patient. Though at the meteoric speed Jack was plummeting, he’d soon be close enough to see their eye colour. Right before slamming into the ground. 


This is interesting, but a little confusing to the reader. I was muddled by the tears racing up his forehead, then him looking over his clogs which suggests he is looking down? (I’m also interested as to why he’s wearing varnished clogs – just make sure that detail is essential in such a scene of high action.) Then finally you say he’s plummeting – but I can’t quite visualise how – is he head first or feet first, or indeed side on? And the final sentence – do you mean he slammed into the ground? I’d make sure that this very dramatic opening (it’s very exciting!) is as clearly and directly told as possible, with only information that’s absolutely essential. After all, you have a reader who is new to your entire world so needs clarity from the start. 

Action-based and exciting! Perhaps needs more clarity. 


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


Natalie Yates has been a SCBWI member since 2015. When she is not working as a Teaching Assistant for a local secondary school, she writes for the YA audience. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, Bella. Super helpful. Gavin


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