OPENING LINES Results from Jenny Savill


In Opening Lines, Chip 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 Jenny Savill of Andrew Nurnberg Associates.

This month we had a total of 10 entries. As promised, three entries were selected at random and forwarded to Jenny. You can read the entries and Jenny's feedback below.

Meet Jenny

Jenny Savill joined international literary agency Andrew Nurnberg Associates in 2002, starting out as assistant to Mr Nurnberg himself. But she brought with her a background in acting, writing and devising for children and young people so soon received the opportunity to channel that passion into starting the agency's Children's List. Among her first clients were YA award-winner Keren David, Undiscovered Voices author Dave Cousins and Undiscovered Voices founder Sara Grant, the latter two of whom were both Crystal Kite winners.

Jenny's knack for spotting and championing award-winning talent may well be related to her unwavering loyalty both to her clients and to her agency. Two decades on from joining as assistant to the Managing Director, she accepted the role of Managing Director and her list has grown to over 40 authors including Hana Tooke, Savita Kalhan and Yarrow Townsend. For evidence of the support Jenny generously lavishes upon those in the world of children's literature, you can follow her on Twitter via @JennySavill1.

In submissions Jenny is especially keen to hear from writers chronically underrepresented on the shelves. But her main criteria are a fresh voice, originality, depth and the ability to move and surprise. Would she find those in your work? Take special note of her advice below, and she just might...

Submission 1

Title: Orbitals

Pitch: Orb Protector Tilly secretly safeguards orbs against The Collector’s corruption. She flees with the last pure orbs, knowing they will subsume her. Her mother’s spirit strengthens Tilly until she defeats The Collector to deliver her orbs?


I kneel and lift one of the precious red buds from my basket; I am shocked to see less than a dozen remain. With my Dauber over the bowl of golden binding agent, I lean towards the Bush. An unknown male Being to my left clears his throat, I ignore him and do not respond. He does it again then stretches out his thin white hand to restrain mine; it radiates such icy coldness it is all I can do not to wrench my arm away in disgust. Even his quiet words, breathy on my neck, are cold..

Jenny says...

It's clear that there’s something important going on here – we have buds in a basket, a Dauber (fascinated to know what that is), a bowl containing binding agent, and a Bush with a capital ‘B’. It feels ceremonial. Spell-like. How does the narrator feel? Is she determined, nervous, scared? Why is it shocking that the number of buds is less than a dozen? Has someone been stealing them? What will it mean when they run out? I think a hint of jeopardy around the diminishing number of buds could serve to raise the stakes from the start.


It would be helpful to have a little context to set the scene – a sense of where this is happening. Is the narrator expecting an audience? It’s clearly important to say ‘Unknown male Being’ rather than ‘someone’, but this description, along with the objects, feels like a lot for the reader to take in all at once without a little context. The thin white hand and cold breath on the narrator’s neck are chilling.


Submission 2

Title: Red

Pitch: When wolf pack leader, Broen, is kidnapped by revenge-filled Red, his doubt-ridden eldest born, Griffa, unwillingly takes on his role. She must summon all her courage to travel through the Four Woods and rescue him from Red’s evil lair.


This is not once upon a time. This is now.

      We call her Red. It’s not her real name, no wolf knows what that is.

      I think the name suits her because she has my family’s blood on her hands, the same colour as the cloak that drapes around her neck. The cloak that is lined with the pelts from my fallen kin and the only thing that stops the sun’s rays from burning her centuries-old skin. It’s the only chink in her unstoppable armour and one we utilise every opportunity we can. The fear of her visits never leaves ...

Jenny says...

Great opening line. Immediately brings the reader into the moment on the page. It also says ‘This is not make-believe, not a fairy tale. This is real. This is serious.’ The narrative voice is clear. I like ‘We call her Red’ – the ‘we’ denoting, I assume, the wolf pack. ‘Fallen kin’ has something of Beowulf about it. Something epic and sad.


The surprise in these opening lines is twofold: that this Red is a danger to wolves, subverting the fairy tale, and that she has ‘centuries-old skin.’ Red sounds supernatural. She is ‘unstoppable’ so clearly a constant threat to the wolves, who I find myself rooting for. I am not sure what the chink is that the wolves exploit whenever possible – is it that if the cloak comes off, Red will die from the effects of the sun? Or is it something else about the cloak? A very strong opening. I sense momentum. And revenge…

Submission 3

Title: The In-Spectres

Pitch: The Ghosts of Avebury need help to stop an ancient treasure being stolen. Cal sees them, but no one believes her. She must overcome self-doubt, listen to the supernatural and become proud of being different. Fun, spooky, full of mystery.


I see things…

      Strange things.

            Things they say…

                  shouldn’t really be there.

      Most people think it’s all in my imagination - that I’m imagining these things.

      I AM NOT!

      I do see things…

      My name is Cally (everyone calls me Cal). I am ten years old, and I believe in the supernatural.

      My little sister Bo believes me.

      But then again, she believes in everything; unicorns, werewolves, unicorns, and more unicorns. Obsessed with them.

This time, what I saw, was the strangest of all. And as always, I was the only one who saw it.

Jenny says...

A very good title - and intriguing first lines. I think you could play around with them a little, possibly reordering/refining. I get the sense that Cally gets frustrated when people don’t believe her. What about starting with ‘My name is Cally. I am ten years old and I see things… strange things. Most people think it’s all in my imagination.’ The fact that everyone calls her Cal is possibly less important than her ability to see things. I wonder if you can get that over by having her say what Bo says to her when she reassures her that she believes her, e.g. "I believe you, Cal."


Maybe try adding a little context – some examples of what she sees, e.g. "Like the time when…" "Then there was the time…" This way, when she says that what she saw this time was the strangest of all, the reader has something to measure that against – a sort of 'strange-ometer' – and will be intrigued to read on and find out what this super strange thing was.

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

Our next Opening Lines opportunity will be in September – so get preparing your submissions!

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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