Results - Slush Pile Challenge April 2014

This challenge was set by Penny Holroyde from the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency  


was to make Penny laugh out loud with a first chapter.

We sent 15 anonymous entries to Penny Holroyde, chosen randomly. Penny read them and asked if she could read all entries and not just the 15.
BUT HOUSTON! We have a problem...
Penny says: "There were some close calls in this Slushpile challenge but I’m afraid I wasn’t able to pick a winner this time around.  

The entry that came closest to making me laugh was called 'ASKING FOR IT'. 

The author has a good voice for this age group (a girl embarking on her sixth form career with all the self-doubt and image consciousness that goes along with it) but, although there were some funny quips, I feel this novel was shaping up to be a quite serious coming of age novel dealing with some quite serious issues and so ultimately I couldn’t really shelve it as a ‘funny’ book.

Funny is of course a subjective concept and I think that I am quite readily made to laugh.

However, I felt that a lot of the entries fell back too easily on what the authors think is funny for children rather than what perhaps is funny for children. It’s quite interesting, reading 15 in one go, how many authors go for perceived tried and tested sure-fire funnies. 

Here’s a list:

Something being stinky
Eggy or cabbagy farts

Overuse of superlatives: 
reeeeeeeeeeally eggy fart, R-E-A-L-L-Y stinky feet, waaaaaaaaaaay too stinky, etc.
A hatred of school

Goo, Poo, More poo
Dads getting fired or quitting their jobs
Girls who don’t like dresses
Old-fashioned language, e.g. ‘poppycock’
Sterotypical parents: why do parents in funny books have to either be buffoons or dictators?

References to current fads which come across to me as overtrying: I read about a flyPhone and an App called Grumpy Pigeons. 

Try to avoid references that may too easily date.

I think a lot of the entries felt like they were trying too hard to tell the reader THIS IS A FUNNY BOOK. Children are smart and don’t react well to be told what to get out of a book. 

I think dialogue is the easiest way to be funny. 

Expositional set up is a much harder context for portraying humour and so I think all the authors need to work on developing dialogue that has verisimilitude for modern children."

Wait, we have some good news!

"I’m pleased to report, though, that all of the entries used age-appropriate language which is a mistake I often see in our submissions pile so all of the authors have clearly read published books in their target age group. 

I found some of the contexts also very promising – a boy who is born (in a grave!)  the heir to a funeral parlour, a boy who takes his pathologically lying grandmother to Show and Tell. These were very promising ideas but I just felt they needed a bit of work with their execution. 

I’d like to ask all the submitting authors to just relax once a funny idea hits and it may make the writing come across as just a little more confident.

Again, sorry not have picked a winner but I do hope these notes help."

While we are all disappointed that we didn't get a winner for this challenge, as writers we understand that honest feedback is very useful to improve our craft. Writing funny perhaps is the hardest thing out there and the advice from Penny would be very useful to all of us.

Penny has promised to come back and do another challenge for us next year. So sharpen those pencils and the wit and next time let's make her roll on the floor laughing!

Chitra has published over 20 books in Singapore, UK, USA and India. She loves writing picture books and retelling folktales. She's also working on fiction for 7+ . Chitra is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.


  1. The next challenge will be announced in July. So do not forget to check the website for more details first week of July!

  2. Humour is so subjective, isn't it? It's a shame that Penny couldn't find a winner this time, but I hope the entrants don't feel too dejected. If you submitted a 7-9 extract, why not send the first 500 words to the Chalkface Challenge? Maybe the kids will have a different opinion...

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  4. I didn't enter but will look out for the next one. I think there are some very useful comments here, thanks Penny. :-)


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