The Whys, Wherefores and What Nexts?

Contributor George Kirk talks about her Slush Pile Challenge Prize including her project Manfred.


January didn’t start well for me. It was the month where my exciting Undiscovered Voices ride came to a premature halt. I stepped down from the train, clutching my Manfred Cat manuscript, and stood in a steaming heap of, ‘Now what?’

Not for long though because Words and Pictures announced the January slush pile challenge. The clouds cleared, a ray of sunshine broke through and shone down on the words ‘think about a character that would work for the 7-9 year old market.’ It was a hallelujah moment.

This is my favourite age group to write for and it centred on the heart of my story, its characters.

I’ve been working on Manfred for over three years now. It began as a short story and quickly evolved through various drafts of a 7-9 year olds' novel. Recently I have wondered if it is really worth yet another draft. Maybe it’s time to put it down and move on? But I can’t.

I love my characters too much. Now here was the perfect opportunity for me to tell the world why.

“Manfred! I called, “I know where we’re going next.”

“Do I have to come?” he grumbled, “I need a nap.”

Okay, he’s not exactly likeable and he’s certainly not helpful, but he does have a way of slinking under your skin and curling up there. So, just like his friends, I’ll do anything for him.

 Manfred likes to nap on the job.


The news came through in March that we had won. I was hugely excited, Manfred was hugely drowsy.

Luckily, I could tell from the lovely e-mails from Clare Whitson of OUP that she already had the measure of Manfred yet still couldn’t wait to meet him. Another victim of his mysterious ginger charms.

Manfred was underwhelmed by his trip

Standing by the entrance to Oxford University press I felt like a  Man U fan arriving at Old Trafford. To an aspiring writer like me that iconic gateway represents a deeply held dream. I put on my best hat, my most winning smile and stepped through ready to impress. I was immediately outshone by Manfred who made friends with everyone despite not putting one whisker of effort into it.

Clare took us out to lunch and, while Manfred sampled a very tasty haddock risotto, she helped me navigate my pinball brain around the character development process.

We spent time looking at the current market for 7-9 year old fiction, especially at the books that are doing well. What format do they take? How are they presented? How do images and text styles add to the story?

From there we spent time looking at examples of books that had similar characters to mine. What was the same about them and more importantly what was different? How could Manfred and his friends be set apart and bring something new to the market? Would these characters appeal to a world wide audience and possibly bring in foreign rights?

Then came my favourite part of the meeting. How could the stories be developed? What adventures and mishaps could Manfred and his friends get up to? There is no better conversation to have than with one with another person who gets your character so much they know just what they would say or do in a situation. Or even what hairstyle a toad would choose given the chance.

That’s the moment when the characters really begin to breathe, come alive and, like all living things, grow.

The chat continued all the way back to OUP, where there was time to have a look at the famous quadrangle and the offices. Then, possibly most exciting of all, a sneak peak at my most anticipated book of the year. I’m not saying too much but there are plenty of cakes in a galactic setting. I can’t wait!

What Next?

The meeting may be over, but the journey definitely isn’t. It’s just time to board a new train and not just the one that took me back to Manchester. Clare has kindly kept my manuscript and is going to give me further feedback. Meanwhile I have a head pin-balling all around with fresh ideas and possibilities.

I have characters that I know so much better now and I have some that maybe I never knew at all. They need re-writing and that’s fine because I can see how much they will add to the story if I do. I also have new and exciting ideas for possible plot lines and adventures and the knowledge that there will be many, many more drafts before I ever consider parting company with these characters again.

So thank you Clare Whitston and Oxford University Press for your time, support and belief.

“C’mon Manfred, there’s work to be done.”

“Do I have to? Just let me finish this nap first.”


George Kirk is the winner of the January 2014 Slush Pile Challenge set by Clare Whitston of OUP.


  1. Brilliant account of what sounds like a very exciting and thought provoking day, George. As you know, I'm a Manfred fan too and what a fantastic prize Chitra came up with. Well done you.

  2. Thanks for sharing your day with us, George. It sounds like you had a real insight into what happens at OUP. Much luck for the rest of the year to you and Manfred.

  3. Wow - it all sounds very rewarding and totally amazing, well done George and Manfred. :)

  4. Thanks George for telling us about your very well deserved prize. So much good luck for Manfred!

  5. An inspiration for everyone who has a manuscript doing the rounds.

  6. This is great, Goerge. It sounds like you're enjoying the ride and learning a lot on the way. Good luck!

  7. How exciting. Good luck to you and Manfred!

  8. I have that same hat you're wearing in the photo! And I love it too. Well done... sounds like the start of an exciting journey for you and Manfred! (Catherine Jacob)

  9. Great stuff. OUP needs you, Manfred! (even if you'd rather snooze)

  10. What a journey! Looking forward to the next steps that you and Manfred take.

  11. Well done George. I think I'm in love with Manfred and that's just from the photos! Can't wait to read him in (in)action. :)

  12. However, writers must be careful with what they read; at least three to five sources of information is good enough for individuals to grasp the idea on the article that they are rewriting.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.