A Joyous Cat with Five Tails by Alison Gardiner

Alison Gardiner entered our January Slush Pile Challenge set by Gemma Cooper (The Bent Agency).  

Alison was one of the winners of this challenge with a chapter from her book Alchemy and she tells us why she has five tails now and it is purrfect.

Joyous is a cat with two tails. I feel as if I’ve now got five since becoming joint winner (with Jo Thomas) of the January SCBWI Slushpile Challenge. The mental vision of multiple waving tails is a beautiful one: pleasing, soothing, purrfect. 
I don't enter many competitions, owing partly to time being irritatingly finite and non-stretchy, partly to the ‘Yeah, right. Like they’d choose me’ effect, but one from such a fantastic organisation like SCBWI was too much to resist. So I didn’t. 

Does everyone feel buttock-clenching fear as they press the send button?

My precious book was floating off into the ether, either to return home with the prize of Gemma Cooper attached or drop into a black hole. 

Finding out that I'd won was a brilliant moment, a tail sprouter, although the Hooray! bit came after an eon of disbelief on seeing my own name on the computer screen. 

Gemma contacted me very rapidly and when I found her nestled in my inbox, I began to believe that the next email would come winging in from the Easter Bunny or Santa.

Winning Gemma Cooper as a prize was totally fabulous. I first assumed that she’d be dropped on my doorstep wrapped in brown paper, head sticking out of the parcel, stamp on left ear, but soon discovered that the rather more convenient modern mode of communication, a phone, was to be used. 

Our talk was supposed to be for half an hour, but she is so fantastic and friendly, full of all sorts of wonderful, useful advice that we ended up yakking for an hour. This was despite her having freezing feet. If I'd known this in advance, I could have sent her my cat; his raison d'être is to create a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Gemma was charm itself, very sweetly saying that she would be delighted to read the rest of my manuscript.

This gave rise to polarised emotions: joy that such an agent wants to read it; panic that she may find a higher than acceptable adverb count. 

My nightly fun is now Strunk and White, my daily editing is tying up any looseness.

I have to be absolutely black-and-white. This has to be the best manuscript I can produce, uber-slick; there’s no room for shades of grey (despite the tying).

It would be wonderful if the ordinary Microsoft grammar check would point out redundant phases and grammatical crassness. But it might start overreaching itself:  ‘Look, that sentence has got a spliced adverbial subjunctive passive interjection right in the middle. Can't have such idiocy. Delete.’ What? Me or the offending sentence?

So I’m enjoying wrestling my manuscript into flawlessness, or at least quasi-perfection. It’s fun and good for me, distinctly healthier than the accompanying caffeine river.

If anyone is in the doldrums, having doubts over whether to enter next time, my advice is to go for it. Soon you too might have five tails and be feline better.

Aw, thanks Alison. We wish you the very best in polishing your manuscript and tying up the loose ends with your five tails. 

Good luck with the submission and hope to come to your book signing one day.


  1. Congratulations, and good luck with the polishing and so on!

  2. Fabulous! Very lovely to read about your win. All the very best for the edit :-)

  3. Thank you both. It's all very exciting. also terrific to know that people are rooting for you- much appreciated. :)


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