OPENING LINES Results from Abi Fellows

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 Nibbie shortlistee Abi Fellows of DHH Literary Agency.

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

Meet Abi

Abi Fellows began on the front lines of bookselling in 2001 with Blackwells and soon after joined the sales team of Faber & Faber. Thus armed with a keen awareness of the desires of both booksellers and book readers, she began her agenting career with Georgina Capel Associates in 2004, handling journalism and translation rights while also assisting the primary agents.

Abi sought to be the best she could be for the literary world, as exemplified by her seven-year stint at RR Ltd, in which she further furnished her skillset with the experience of scouting for TV, film, and overseas publishers. But her efforts were amplified in March this year when, after four years with The Good Literary Agency spent championing writers from traditionally marginalised backgrounds, she was shortlisted for Literary Agent of the Year at the British Book Awards (aka "the Nibbies"). When she recently joined DHH, she brought her authors with her. This included brain-injury survivor Thomas Leeds, Autism Awareness activist Lizzie Huxley-Jones, and black British Carnegie nominee Clare Weze.

But it's not just professional experience she draws upon to support her list of children's authors. As a school governor with a particular involvement in the school's literacy and SEND programmes, she has her finger on the pulse of both the interests and needs of today's young readers. Her passion for stories that broaden readers' horizons is evident in everything she does. Would your work excite her the same way? Take special note of her advice below, and it just might...

Submission 1

Title: Wolf Whisperer

Pitch: When her mother dies, 11-year-old Julija must travel to the village of her ancestors and find the only remaining family. Her only company on the journey is a pack of wolves.


When Julija was a few months old, she was found in the jaws of a wolf by the lake. As she was growing up, she heard the story repeated many times over but it was a while before she realised there were two differing stories that circled around the village. Her mother used to say that it was a she-wolf with her own litter of cubs following her. Julija, left on the bank while the village women, her mother among them, worked in the field, was a fussy baby. She must have wriggled about and rolled down the bank.

Abi says...

There is potential to make this pitch a bit clearer. Is the meaning her remaining family members, or the only family still living in the village? I wasn’t sure if these were one and the same thing, so I think a bit of clarity would be helpful here so that we understand the protagonist is going to find her surviving family members (if this is the intended meaning). Just a small tweak would make this scan better!


Onto the very start of your opening, and removing the words “by the lake” would make this sentence even more punchy and intriguing. You can go into detail about where this happened after you have hooked the reader in – such as writing, later on, “Julija, left on the bank of the lake…”


Beyond that, though, this is a great opening! It left me intrigued as to what the other story is. The strong, attention-grabbing first paragraph left me interested to know more about the protagonist, her village, her upbringing… and how she survived the wolf!


Submission 2

Title: Lobo

Pitch: Lobo the wolf won’t make Maisy’s mum better but can he help her face her fears? Will she emerge from the mist of anxiety in time to save Lobo from being shot and killed?


The great grey wolf lurked in the dense undergrowth. He crept through the half-light of the early morning and hid amongst the ferns and brambles. From his hiding place he watched the woodland. From his hiding place he sniffed the air. From his hiding place he listened as the world awoke.

In a small village, wrapped in ancient woodland and nestled in the centre of England, stood a ten-year old girl. Short for her age, Maisy stood on tiptoes to hang her bag on a peg outside the classroom. She was lost in thought. Lost in thought about her mum.

Abi says…

Your opening paragraph is wonderful and atmospheric, though it left me wondering if the wolf is somewhere remote, or whether this woodland is in close proximity to human life – a village etc. Is the awakening world that he hears the natural world around him, or the human world nearby? It might be an idea to give us a bit more scene setting here, particularly if this helps to make a connection between the wolf and Maisy; your later description of the village “wrapped in ancient woodland” helps clarify the proximity of the wolf, but I think you can still make it a little clearer for a young reader from the outset.


Using questions in a pitch is very effective for setting up the premise in an intriguing way, but I would love a little more before the end of your first 100 words. Are Maisy’s thoughts happy, anxious, sad? From your pitch I am guessing they are worried thoughts, so I think it would be effective to make this clearer to your reader. Can you give us a bit more insight so that this sets up the story? 

Submission 3

Title: Three for Truth

Pitch: On the island of Geaban, people can share their memories by projecting them from their eyes.  Tor and his friends would never think of deceiving folk with false news. It couldn't be done. Until now.


"Tavia, come back!"

      Tor Anam snatches a brand from the fire and runs out of the croft into the night. How could he let his twin slip away like this? No time to light a lantern. At all costs she mustn’t reach the sea. Swishing sounds tease their way through the gorse bushes towards him. Is Tavia close by? Or has she reached the dunes where the Vikings are likely to attack? Could the battle have already captured her in its grasp? 

      "Tavia, it isnae safe! Come here!" No reply. The flame from the brand begins to sputter.

Abi says...

Your opening line is great; it can be very effective to open with dialogue that conveys movement and drama in this way. I like how your clipped sentences go on to capture the urgency that your character is feeling, and questions are a good way to set up tension too. Mentioning the Vikings is a nice way to hint at the wider context without getting bogged down in scene setting at this stage – very effective.


All-in-all, this is a great opening – lots of intrigue and very vibrant. Well done.

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

Our next Opening Lines opportunity will be in March – 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. 

*Header image: by Ell Rose and Tita Berredo



Chip Colquhoun 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 published children’s writer in 2016 after The History Press commissioned him 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), but he's most excited about his new release out in January 2024: All the Better to READ You With: Stories & Lessons to Inspire Reading for Pleasure. You can find Chip on X and Facebook.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact

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