Kate Poels West - Winner of October 2016 Slush Pile Challenge

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Kate Poels West

Kate Poels entered our October 2016 Slush Pile Challenge set by Hellie Ogden from Janklow and Nesbit UK.

Kate won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to produce a first chapter and synopsis of a story that left Hellie crying out to read more.  Hellie was open to any ideas and genres but was looking for something fresh with a crazy original voice and plenty of heart. 

Kate tells us why she entered the competition and all about her experience of discussing her submission with Hellie.

Joining SCBWI was something recommended to me by the brilliantly talented author Mo O'Hara when I told her my dream to become a children's author.  I had never heard of the Society and had no idea what it did but Mo seemed to think it was a must so I signed up.  

That was two years ago and it has been the singularly most useful and inspiring thing I have done in the world of children's writing. As well as the wonderful network of like-minded people and the support that comes with it, I also discovered a thing called the Slush Pile Challenge.   

I entered a couple of various texts in previous challenges and, although unsuccessful, I found it a great experience.

Reading comments from previous agent judges about their chosen winners helped me to reassess and grow my own writing. 

It felt a bit like exercise for the story muscles and that can't be a bad thing! 

When I entered the competition in October set by Hellie Ogden I decided to go for a brand new work in progress that was unfinished and very raw. It was the first time I had written a synopsis for an unfinished piece of writing and this was another really useful exercise as it forced me to think about exactly where the story was going and what I wanted the punch points to be.    

I was nervous sending something off so soon into the writing process as usually I like to edit until I can no longer bear to look at it before I think it's ready for anyone else to see.  

I read and re-read the guidelines on the website to see what Hellie was looking for and I kept trying to tell myself that my writing could perhaps fit the bill. 

I almost changed my mind and swapped for a more complete submission but something kept dragging me back to the new one and so I closed my eyes, held my breath and hit SEND! As soon as I did I doubted myself, isn't this the first rule of submission, don't send anything you haven't worked on and perfected as much as you can?

This all coincided with me joining an online SCBWI critique group as well as setting up a new group in my home town as there was a bit of a gap on the SCBWI map around Reading. Another fabulous string to my armoury. I had three critiques online which I was hugely grateful for and it showed me areas I could do with sharpening. The three lovely new friends who joined my embryonic local group were also fabulous and looked at my opening chapters to give me their thoughts.  

I was beginning to feel as though I might be about ready to submit when I found out something that literally sent me skipping around the kitchen causing my family to spill porridge and coffee all over the breakfast table. I had won! Hellie Ogden had chosen my story 'Mima Malone and the Mad Bad Professor' as her Slush Pile winner. I rang my Mum and Dad who said, 'That's wonderful, clever you ... what's a Slush PIle again?' 

Hellie and I arranged to meet once the Christmas bonkersness had passed and she very kindly said she'd read the new and improved version of the opening chapters I had been working on. And so to a very windy January day in Notting Hill that fortunately fell in between the tube strikes and rail chaos. The day had arrived and I was actually sitting having a drink with Hellie Ogden! I don't know if I'm the only one, but literary agents to me are the same as Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift to my eleven-year old daughter. Is it absolutely uncool to admit I was nervous and even a little starstruck!?

In the time it took us to walk from Hellie's office to the coffee shop around the corner though, she had put me at ease. And when we were sitting, chatting about books the nerves had gone completely. I had such a fabulous time talking about her role as an agent and listening to insights into the industry that I almost forgot I was there to tell her about my own writing! Hellie gave me so much of her time asking about the story I had written as well as other projects of mine., I was given feedback and ideas and she even took away opening chapters and synopses of two of my other stories which was lovely of her.   

I am waiting to hear from her but, whichever way her decision goes, the meeting was everything I had hoped for and more. I had thought I should attack it as I would a job interview. (I had heard somewhere that was the thing to do.) I ended up having a fantastic time with someone who shared my passion for good books. 

To come away with great feedback and a door still open ajar was an added bonus.   

All in all, I am so pleased I took a gamble with something new and I am looking forward to using Hellie's feedback to polish it further and see how far Mima and I can go!

Huge thanks to Hellie, and the SCBWI team for creating this opportunity. 

Thanks Kate.  The Words and Pictures editorial team wish Kate all the best with polishing her manuscript.  A special thanks to Hellie Ogden at Janklow and Nesbit UK. (www.janklowandnesbit.co.uk) for setting, judging and providing such valuable feedback to Kate. 

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