Friday, 26 June 2015

UV 2016 - Killer Opening Lines Quiz!

Edge Author Katie Dale on the competition that launched her own writing career, and how to write that killer opening line

Submissions for Undiscovered Voices 2016 open NEXT WEEK! 
Undiscovered Voices is an amazing biennial writing competition that has launched the careers of many authors and illustrators - including 5 members of The Edge (Sara Grant, Dave Cousins, Bryony Pearce, Paula Rawsthorne and myself) - and the winners have collectively had over 120 books published! It's FREE to enter, but you need to be a member of the SCBWI (well worth it) and whilst they'd like you to submit the first 4000 words of your novel, you must have completed the whole novel before submitting (I entered in the first year it was running and HADN'T finished my novel - oops! BIG MISTAKE - as you can read about on my blog!)
Full submission guidelines can be found on the UV website

At the recent launch event at Foyles, this year's judges gave valuable advice to prospective entrants. As the submissions are judged purely on the first 4000 words, the main advice was to polish the opening of your story as much as possible - and to start it as late as possible. One editor even advised cutting your first three chapters(!) to get into the action asap. All the judges talked about wanting a hook - a killer opening line that will intrigue and excite them, take them out of their everyday lives, and compel them to keep reading.

So what makes a killer opening line? Now on the UV team, Sara Grant blogged about an experiment she conducted during the last contest.  Having heard editors and agents say that they could tell from the opening paragraph whether the manuscript had promise, she made a note - based on the opening lines alone - on whether she thought that submission would make it to the next stage. Usually, these judgements proved to be right.

So let's have some fun - with a Killer Opening Lines Quiz! Can you identify each of the following opening lines from YA books? Bonus points if you can identify the four books by previous Undiscovered Voices winners...

1) "My name is Vivian Divine. I have a secret. I know how I'm going to die."

2) "The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage."

3) "I would rather die than face them all again. Die horribly. In a messy, fleshy, blood'n'guts kind of way. It is a total no-brainer."

4) "She'd never get used to beheadings. No matter what Pa said."

5) "Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster." 

6) "Sitting half in and half out of my bedroom window, a foot resting on the fire escape, I checked myself over one last time. Phone. Oystercard. Keys. Mace. Paint."

7) "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure." 

8) "Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love."

So...which opening lines made you want to read on most?

Could you identify them all?

Answers at the bottom of the page.

Good luck with your own killer opening lines - especially if you're entering UV 2016! (Go on, what have you got to lose?!)

Katie Dale is the award-winning author of YA titles SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE and LITTLE WHITE LIES 
Simon & Schuster UK
Delacorte Press USA & Canada

1) Vivian Divine Is Dead - Lauren Sabel (UV)
2) Going Bovine - Libba Bray
3) Undead - Kirsty McKay (UV)
4) The Executioner's Daughter - Jane Hardstaff (UV)
5) Severed Heads, Broken Hearts - Robyn Schneider
6) Skulk - Rosie Best (UV)
7) Delirium - Lauren Oliver
8) The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater

Friday, 12 June 2015

Top Ten Best Book Covers by Edge Author Dave Cousins

There is a saying that you should never judge a book by its cover, but I suspect it's something we all do. What's on the jacket has a huge impact on how many potential readers will pick a book off the shelf, (or click for more information). While I own many books with artwork I don't particularly like, I'm fairly certain I would never have picked them up, had I not already been a fan of the author. It makes me wonder how many great stories I've ignored because the cover didn't grab me.

I've spoken to school librarians who offer students "book blind dates"—covering the jackets with brown paper, so the reader has no preconceptions or prejudice against what might be inside. It sounds like a great idea, and places focus back on the content, rather than the smoke and mirrors of packaging and marketing hype! 

I recently received the cover roughs for my next young adult novel (due out next year). I was delighted—the artwork perfectly captured the mood of the story, and had the right balance of intrigue and information. I'm afraid I can't share it with you just yet—the book itself is still in progress! Instead, I thought I'd put together a top ten of favourite covers from my bookshelves. 

Simple eye-catching design that
captures the essence of the story.
Humans are drawn to faces. The eyes in this
seek you out across the bookshop. Brilliant.
The spoof diary cover has been popular.
I think this one works really well.
The book is filled with atmosphere and
a great sense of time and location.
This cover captures it perfectly.
Dated by the furniture perhaps, but I like the way the
kids look like real kids, unlike the airbrushed models
appearing on many current young adult novels.
Another retro cover, but one of
my favourites. Eye-catching, and sums
up the mood and subject of the story.
A classic cover for a classic adventure story.
Great piece of design this, plus there's something
about maps and pins that screams adventure!
A great cover for a brilliant book.
The point where all the elements meet
and cut the lizard in two draws your eye.
I love the simplicity of this.
Exactly the right shade of yellow too.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, so please do leave a comment below.

Dave Cousins writes books for children and young adults. For more information, you can find him on the web at

Friday, 5 June 2015

"Gripping...a book to counter bigotry." The Sunday Times Miriam Halahmy

This blog title is a quote from the review of my novel HIDDEN in The Sunday Times when Nicolette Jones made it Children' Book of the Week. HIDDEN was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted and longlisted for regional awards.

In two weeks time, a performance of the dramatisation of the book will be performed on stage in Paris.

So my book, published nearly three years ago, continues to speak to readers of all ages about it's central themes of human rights, the plight of asylum seekers and racism in Britain today.

This weekend my publishers, Albury Books,  are doing a free promotion on Amazon to raise the profile of HIDDEN  and the next two books in the Hayling cycle, ILLEGAL and STUFFED.

You can download HIDDEN for FREE here.

HIDDEN is a book which seems to have a life of its own and continues to engage readers including
teachers, librarians and anyone in fact who has any interest in these controversial and topical themes for our society today. One of the outcomes of writing this book is that I have been invited onto the Continent to run workshops on Peace and Tolerance with students at a Paris lycée.
I have blogged about this experience and included comments from the students and their writing from the workshops at this link.

Whole class sets of HIDDEN have been bought by a top independent school in South Africa, I have spoken at two schools in Germany and recently spoke at a conference in Oxford on 'Creativity as an Effective Tool for Social Change.'

I write because I have something to say and all my life I have written in notebooks, the backs of envelopes, on my hand if necessary, when I have needed to write and have been inspired to write. If you choose to download my novel this weekend. I hope you enjoy it and find something there to inspire you in your life as a citizen of the world.

Friday, 29 May 2015


For the past six weeks the Edge Writers have been sharing their writing tips. Here’s a brief run-down, but to get the full benefit of their wisdom, check out their blogs here on The Edge:

Bryony Pearce – Go be a DORK – as in Day-dream, Observe, Read, and Query, and most importantly to then Write.

Dave Cousins – Amongst his fifteen amazing writing tips, one of the most important is to ENJOY what you’re writing.

Katie Dale – People watch, listen, carry a notebook, enter writing competitions, and READ, READ, READ.

Miriam Halahmy – When you’re drained, take a complete break and do no writing at all until you’ve recharged your batteries. It’s a risk well worth taking.

Paula Rawsthorne - My tip would be to gather tips and ‘rules’ from the various writers that you admire (and some you don’t) and then see what works for you.

Sara Grant - My top writing tip – Buy LOTS AND LOTS of great books – and study them! The only creative writing teachers you will ever need are on bookstore and library shelves.

And now it’s my turn to share mine. Last year I blogged about Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley. “Nobody asked you to write that novel.” These words were said to her by a friend and they resonated with her in a way that they resonate with many writers, and have done so for me.

Writing is such a close and personal encounter with your imagination that to lay it out in the open for others to read, criticise, and, hopefully, enjoy is a major deal. But that’s what writers do. So bearing that in mind, I have only two writing tips to add to all the other great tips from the Edge authors.

Enjoy the process of writing regardless of the rewards. Don’t think about whether those rewards might involve getting a publishing contract, winning awards, receiving accolades, getting big advances, because you may be in for troubling times. The writing process itself can be hard work, all the more harder if you’re not enjoying what you’re writing, trying to write or rewriting for the seventh time!

Be patient and persevere. Being a writer also means being in for the long haul. The publishing industry is nothing if not slow and long-winded. Nothing happens today or tomorrow; nothing happens without several people in a publishing department being totally committed to your book, and then they have to get it past several other people in other departments such as Sales and Marketing. So bide your time and don't ever give up.

We hope you’ve all enjoyed our WRITING TIPS series. Please do come back to us if you have any questions or leave us your thoughts in the comments section below. 



Friday, 22 May 2015

WRITING TIPS #6 from EDGE Author Sara Grant

Welcome to Part Six of the EDGE WRITING TIPS series! Each week, a different EDGE author will offer a few pearls of writing wisdom. We hope you find them useful!

When I give workshops or teach classes – when I meet wannabe writers – I often ask: What are you reading? I hope they will respond with current books in the genre and for the age range they want to write. But all too often, teen writers admit that they don’t read books and adult writers confess they aren’t reading any children/teen fiction.


My heart breaks. My head throbs.

To be a writer you MUST be a reader.

Some of these unread writers will guiltily try to explain. The reason for their appalling behaviour? They are afraid if they read books in the same genre they will accidentally mimic other writers. If only! I wish that I only had to read Malorie Blackman, Sharon Creech, Sally Gardner, my fellow EDGE writers or other fabulous authors and Voila! I could write like they do. If that’s how it worked, I’d never stop reading their books. I’d sleep with them under my pillow. I devour their books because I DO want to write as beautifully and capture readers’ imaginations the way they do.

Studying Cormier and Horowitz for insight & inspiration for my new series.
The only creative writing teachers you will ever need are on bookstore and library shelves. Find the books you adore and wished you’d written and dissect them. What makes them tick? How did that author hook you and keep you turning the page? If you are having character problems? Find great characters and determine how the writer gave birth to them. Dodgy dialog? Study writers with effortless exchanges.

And I’ll take my advice one step further. BUY THE BOOK. Support the industry you hope will support you one day. There are fewer publishers out there and fewer bookshops. If we don’t support our industry – publishers, bookshops and our fellow writers and illustrators – then we are part of the problem!

My book purchases in May.
For the price of a Big Mac, fries and soda, I can purchase a paperback written by one of my fine, fellow EDGE authors. That’s hours of entertainment – and a much bigger bang for your buck than a movie. (Although you could argue the nearly 1,000 calories of a Big Mac meal will linger on my hips and clog my arteries for years to come. So I’m actually saving your life by advocating Books over Big Macs. But I digress…)

My husband thinks I am single-handedly trying to bolster the publishing industry. (This is a photo of
this month’s book purchases.) Yeah, I have a book buying problem. But there are so many amazing books being published – and much worse addictions.

Want to be a writer?

Want a book with your name on the spine?

My top writing tip – buy LOTS AND LOTS of great books – and study them!

Sara Grant has written two edgy teen novels -- Dark Parties and Half Lives -- and a funny series for young readers -- Magic TrixShe is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. For more information on Sara and her books, visit or follow her on Twitter @AuthorSaraGrant

Friday, 15 May 2015


It’s Week 5 of the EDGE WRITING TIPS series! Each week an Edge author shares tips that work for them.  We hope you find them useful!

This week ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’ author, Paula Rawsthorne shares her thoughts on finding what works for you.

First thing to say is that we’re offering tips not rules as there aren’t rules that all writers should follow.  One writer’s rules don’t fit all.  So my tip would be to gather tips and ‘rules’ from the various writers that you admire (and some you don’t) and then see what works for you.


Elmore Leonard

A few years ago ‘The Guardian’ ran a tremendous piece for writers.  Following Elmore Leonard’s ‘10 Rules of Writing’ (which are included), they asked a host of brilliant writers for their personal 10 rules.  Have a look at the results and be inspired.


The very process of deciding what tips and rules work for you can be thought-provoking, stimulating and productive.  It can help you work out how you, as an individual, write best. Your approach to writing maybe very much influenced by your personality, so, for example, if you’re an energetic type, you may produce your best writing whilst jogging around the park and plotting in your head.  If you are disciplined and thrive on routine, you may work best having undisturbed, set hours to write.  If the writing process feels like pulling teeth, maybe you need to take regular breaks to chill by watching ‘Homes Under the Hammer’!  

I recently stumbled upon a great programme on BBC Radio 4 – ‘The Invisible College’  Monday 4pm.  There are only three episodes in total and I recommend that you catch them all on iPlayerRadio.  These half hour, mini lectures by Dr. Cathy FitzGerald (who has a fabulously soothing voice) use advise from great writers and poets, dead and alive.  We hear, amongst others, Graham Greene, Maya Angelou and William Golding talking about how they develop character, style, plot etc.  It’s fascinating to learn about their different approaches to writing and their methods and attitudes towards their work.  As you listen, certain advice may chime with you whilst you may disagree with others- but that’s good.  It all helps.

Maya Angelou

If you’re looking for tips on whether you ought to plot your novel beforehand or just go with the flow, you’ll find plenty of writers arguing for one way or the other but you have to follow what works for you.  So, for instance, I’m not a writer who just starts the novel and sees where it takes me.  I write thrillers and by their very nature this genre tends to be tightly plotted, with intricate, twisting storylines.  That’s why I find plotting essential and, luckily, I enjoy this aspect of writing.  I’m a low tech kind of woman and I use a (real) cork board and revision cards to help work out my plot.  I think of it like a crime investigation; trying to piece the case, clues and evidence together.

I write the bones of each scene on a separate revision card and pin them onto the cork board in sequence.  I then spend time studying what’s on the board and seeing what works best; it can lead to shifting scenes around, discarding some, creating new ones, taking the plot in a different direction.  I think that a cork board full of scenes can be a useful tool no matter what genre you’re writing. 

However, even after I’ve plotted my story the beauty of creative writing is how the storyline and characters start to evolve once you get stuck into the writing. It’s exciting when you think you’ve got a scene sorted and then suddenly you realise there’s another, better route you can take it.

So, write as much as you can and work out what kind of writer you are and what approach and tips work for you.

If you’ve got any thoughts or questions please feel free to leave a comment below.  Good luck and keep writing.