SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE Steve Howson October 2017 Winner

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Steve Howson, winner of the October 2017 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why he entered the competition and about his experience of discussing his submission with Emily Lamm, Commissioning Picture Book Editor at Orchard Books 

Steve won this challenge by demonstrating he was able to produce a story with a 'twist in the tale'! Emily was looking for a fantastic picture book story with one or more really original twists. The story could involve characters who don't act quite as we'd expect. Perhaps magic yields unexpected results, or a well-known tale takes a surprising turn. The story could be funny, thoughtful, or downright surreal, and the twist could be cleverly subtle or hilariously over-the-top. She was looking for 600 words maximum, with strong visual possibilities and a whole lot of flair. Emily chose Steve's The Princess and the Flea because she loved the fairy-tale mash-up, and this one was brilliantly funny and original. The verse was pacy and the scansion was flawless. Emily stated that she is always drawn to stories where there is plenty of tension, lots of great dialogue, and bags of visual potential. 


Steve:

When I saw that the October Slush Pile Challenge was looking for picture book stories, I jumped at the chance. I’d written a story called The Princess and the Flea which fitted the brief for a tale with a twist. It’s a story I had developed with the help of feedback from the lovely SCBWI group in York. An earlier version of the story had won the Winchester Writers’ Festival Picture Book Prize in May, and the judges at Little Tiger Press had given me some great feedback and ideas for improvement. They decided not to take the story any further, so I made the changes they suggested and was ready to start submitting it again, when the October Slush Pile challenge came along.

The first bit of good news came when we heard that the competition judge, Emily Lamm at Orchard, was going to read every entry, rather than just a selection. And I could not believe my inbox when I got the email to say I’d won.

I knew I wanted to meet up with Emily in person, rather than getting my feedback over the phone – chances to meet experienced editors one-to-one are too rare to pass up – and thankfully Emily was happy to oblige. She even asked me to send her some more of my stories to read ahead of our meeting, which was more than I expected. I quickly sent off four slightly less polished picture book stories and booked my train.

The meeting was arranged for the week before Christmas. I felt slightly daunted as I approached Hachette’s swanky Thameside offices in the December gloom, but the welcome inside could not have been warmer. I was whisked up to the Hachette Children’s department on the third floor for the meeting, and Emily was extremely generous with her time and expertise.

Essentially, what she liked most about The Princess and the Flea was the humour and the rhyming style. It was interesting to hear which areas she thought could be tweaked to broaden the appeal of the story, which gave me a real insight into the editorial mindset of a large publisher.

The other stories I’d sent to her were written in a variety of styles, some rhyming, some funny, and some neither of these. The one she particularly liked was another funny, rhyming story. She recommended that I focus on this style as it was a strength of my writing, rather than trying to master lots of different styles. Her advice was to write in this style to develop my ‘brand’ as an author, and create a distinctive identity that would appeal to agents.

Emily promised to send me a list of agents that she felt would like this style of story (which she did the next day), and introduced me to the art director and fiction editor at Orchard. As if that wasn’t enough, I was even treated to a festive lunch in Hachette’s pride and joy: its rooftop café, with a terrace overlooking the Thames. It was far too cold to eat outside, but the views were fabulous nonetheless.

I went away with a head full of ideas and inspiration, feeling encouraged and cautiously optimistic about the future.

I can’t thank Emily enough for her time, insights, and advice, which went far beyond the obligations of the competition prize. And thanks to SCBWI for organising competitions like this, which provide such valuable opportunities for us budding authors. Thank you.

Feature photo: Steve Howson



Thanks, Steve. The Words & Pictures editorial team wish Steve all the best with polishing his manuscript. A special thanks to Emily Lamm, Commissioning Picture Book Editor at Orchard Books for setting the competition, judging it, and providing such valuable feedback to Steve. 






Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over 4 years and loves to write picture books, middle-grade and teen books. She lives by the sea and has two soft and silly cats.



Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge. 

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