OPENING LINES Results from Julia Churchill


In Opening LinesChip Colquhoun gets expert advice from top literary agents and editors to help you tune up your concept and your pitch, and create the strongest "hook". This month's advice comes from Julia Churchill of AM Heath Literary Agents.

This month we had a total of 21 entries. As promised, three entries were selected at random and forwarded to Julia. You can read the entries and Julia's feedback below.

Meet Julia

Julia Churchill joined AM Heath almost exactly a decade ago in 2013 – but almost exactly a decade before that she began building up the UK side of Greenhouse Literary Agency, a transatlantic agency specialising in children’s and YA books. After four years there, she spent six years with the Darley Anderson Agency to start their children’s list.

So it’s fair to say Julia has a wonderful wealth of experience and represents a rich range of writers – including inventive picture book penner Pip Jones, award-winning YA writer Joanna Nadin, and the co-author duo of an autistic teen alongside an assistant headteacher by the names of Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott. Her criteria for choosing the writers she wants to work with is simply that they are “fabulous!”

Julia recently hit Twitter (via @JuliaChurchill) to announce that she is on the lookout for a new writer who is ready to share their book with agents. So if you want to make sure that’s you, take special note of her advice below...

Submission 1

Title: Star Baby

Pitch: Stella is growing up in a frozen world, stuck within an eternal winter. Could Stella be the
answer to the planet’s crisis?

It was an icy cold day in early summer, when Stella’s train came to a thudding stop. Stella’s
forehead bashed painfully into the seat in front and Mummy Jo put her arm around Stella’s
     “Are you okay, darling?” Mummy Jo asked anxiously. Stella nodded.
     “I can see the station. It’s not far to walk,” said Mummy Jo, peering out the frost-streaked window.

Julia says...

This sets the scene and gives the reader a sense of the world starting to break down in small ways. It’s great to have that sewn through your first few lines, as well as that important relationship brought to life. I might even be inclined to open with ‘ATTENTION PASSENGERS…’ etc as that tells you as much as the first couple of lines do, and an arresting start.

Submission 2

Title: The Chronicle of Keys - A 'School for Mythological Creatures' Adventure

Pitch: The Chronicle of Keys is set in ancient Greece with enchantment, adventure and a family secret at the heart of the story. Petra Joandi, who has been living in hiding, forges friendships in the face of adversity. Will the magic gifts and the library’s secret be enough to save Petra and restore normality?


The beginning of autumn signifies the start of the school year. As the leaves on the trees change from a distinctive green to orange, red and yellow, the naiads journey from their fresh, watery homes: lakes, ponds, rivers and their surrounding areas. Their close cousins, the nereids, venture from the edges of the oceans and the seas, making some of their trip by boat. Nymphs of the woodlands and forests, the dryads and hamadryads, come in wooden carriages pulled by pairs of deer. Nocturnal nymphs, the hesperides, who come alive in the evening and study at night, arrived the previous evening ...

Julia says...

It’s a little hard to connect with this as a starting point. I feel removed. Ideally I want to make contact with the thread of the story/character in these early moments, and I’m not feeling that. If your character has been hiding, maybe her observing the change of seasons from her hiding place would give us this?

Submission 3

Title: Destination Happy

Pitch: When Birdie’s life goes off the rails, who can she trust? Mum’s engagement ring goes missing aboard the Trans-European and everyone comes under suspicion, even Birdie. Can she find the courage to ask for help and find the ring?


My phone buzzed next to a cute panda and the Great Wall of China. A message from Dad! I picked it up off Mum’s latest photo book and read.
      Keep the ring safe. Can’t wait to show you the Happy Blast!
What ring? What was a Happy Blast? Usually, he sent me funny cat GIFs or videos of weird experiments but this was different. Excitement fizzed through my fingers as I held the phone. He was inventing again!
      ‘Mum?’ She was typing on her laptop on the other side of the kitchen table, while Zayzay read out numbers.

Julia says...

I couldn’t easily get to grips with this one. There’s quite a bit being thrown at the reader, and I didn’t leave this paragraph with a feeling of connection or sense of direction of travel. It’s a breathless and heightened start. Maybe try leading the reader in more gently, while still giving them what’s important, and see how that works?

Thank you to everyone who submitted,
and a huge thank you to Julia for her time and feedback!

Our next Opening Lines opportunity will be courtesy of Jenny Savill from Andrew Nurnberg Associates, coming up in June – so follow this link to prepare by checking Jenny's wishlist!

To join SCBWI and take advantage of the many opportunities like this one to be supported in the development and pursuit of your craft – and also find advice on marketing your work, meet fellow writers and artists, and much much more – visit


If you've received feedback from Opening Lines, how did it help you? If it led to you finding an agent or a publisher, please contact us – we'd love to hear your story.




Chip Colquhoun

Chip began storytelling for children in 2007 and was asked to write the EU’s guidance on using stories in classrooms in 2015, but became a children’s writer when The History Press commissioned him in 2016 to write Cambridgeshire Folk Tales for Children. He’s since had 21 books published, most as part of the Fables & Fairy Tales series he co-produces with illustrator Korky Paul (published by Epic Tales). You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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