Results - Slush Pile Challenge January 2015

This challenge was set by Gemma Cooper from the Bent Agency. 


 Submit the opening or scene of a novel aimed at the middle-grade (8-12) audience, where your main character is doing something new or tackling a new challenge. 

We received a whopping 40 entries and we sent them all to Gemma anonymously. She was so paranoid of missing out on a masterpiece that she wanted to read all 40 instead of a random selection of 15.

Over to you Gemma...

Thank you to everyone who took part in this month's Slushpile Challenge, where I asked writers to submit an opening or scene of a novel where your main character was doing something new.  I had such fun reading through all of your entries, and a really hard time choosing the winner. 

Because I hate to miss out, I did read all the entries and that meant I had to whittle them down to a shortlist before picking my winner – so I just wanted to shout out to the following extracts that all made the shortlist:

  • CARE KID (Kate Mallinder)
  • STRANGE TIMES IN PARIS (Elizabeth Joseph-Brahy)

These samples all showed wonderful middle-grade voices and set up intriguing concepts. 

And now for my winners! And yes, that is winners – I couldn’t pick between two very different but both fantastic submissions. So drumroll, please...

Congratulations to ALCHEMY (Alison Gardiner) and BETSY BEEBLE HAS NO BEARD! (Joanna Thomas).

I chose ALCHEMY as it is written with such confidence. It’s a fantasy novel, but the writer hasn’t fallen into the trap of over-explaining, and so the reader (and the main character) just cling on and enjoy the ride.

There is also some lovely characterisation, especially from a talking hamster, and some magic thrown in for good measure. Really opened with a bang! 

I chose BETSY BEEBLE HAS NO BEARD because of the perfectly pitched young middle-grade voice, and the opening of a girl and a dog in an unusual setting, which will always grab my attention. Betsy’s parents are also nicely drawn and

it felt like a family I would want to spend a whole book with. 
As for advice to those authors whose samples I didn’t choose, with openings it can often be a case of 'less is more.' Don’t tell the reader too much information up front, and try to avoid dialogue that is just for the sake of the reader.
For example:

“You remember that time when we all visited Mrs. Cooper, and she made cookies.”

“Yes, such a shame she died before telling us the recipe.”

In addition, be careful of laundry-list character descriptions, and make sure your scene actually moves the plot forward. 

Thanks for being brave and submitting your work, and best of luck with your writing in future. And congratulations to both winning authors! I look forward to finding out more about your books and chatting to you soon.

Chitra has published over 20 books in Singapore, UK, USA and India. She loves writing picture books and retelling folktales. Her picture book Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market was released in India in November 2014 and she is currently working on a 7+ book for Walker Books. 

You can find out more at Chitra is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.


  1. Wonderful! Thank you, Chitra and Gemma - brilliant to see you read all of the entries, just in case...And congratulations to the winners, the shortlisted writers - and equally importantly to all those who entered. By actually getting on and writing and submitting. Well done!

  2. Oh my goodness! I've just seen this! Gobsmacked doesn't begin to cover it. Thank you so much Gemma, and huge well done to everyone. Massive thanks also to SCBWI and Chitra for organising - you're awesome :)

  3. Thanks to Gemma and Chitra for a fun challenge/opportunity. Yay MG writers!

  4. Thanks, Gemma! How lovely of you to read so many entries, and thanks for your comments. And of course, thanks Chitra for all your hard work organising the Challenge :)

  5. Wonderful! Thank you, Chitra and Gemma - brilliant to see you read all of the entries, just in case...And congratulations to the winners, the shortlisted writers - and equally importantly to all those who entered. By actually getting on and writing and submitting. Well done!

  6. Congratulations, all of you, and fabulous that all got read too! Love the titles, will we see any extracts?

  7. A big thank you to Gemma and Chitra and congratulations to Joanna and Alison :)

  8. A big thank you to both Gemma and Chitra and many congratulations to Alison and Joanna :)

  9. Well done all - and thanks Gemma for beign part of a great competition (again! You're a star)

  10. Hi Celia, unfortunately we don't post extracts anymore... we used a long time ago - due to a lot of reluctant winners but also the myriad of digital publishing copyright stuff.

  11. Thanks to everyone who took part - and I hope that you'll think of submitting to me in future!

  12. Thank you Gemma and Chitra. I've just seen I was on the short list and if this hadn't been organised and if Gemma hadn't read them all I wouldn't be feeling so encouraged right now:) Many thanks and congratulations to Alison and Joanna.

  13. Thanks Gemma, I'm really thrilled to have been shortlisted. Will definitely submit in the future (and actually being very cheeky but one of my picture book stories was submitted to Susan Hawk recently!!!). Thanks Chitra for organising x


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