SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE Cathy Bee April 2017 winner

Winner of our April 2017 Slush Pile Challenge Cathy Bee tells us why she entered the competition and all about her experience of discussing her submission with Jodie Hodges from United Agents.

I don’t really consider myself as someone who wins things.

True there was the under 11s photographic competition highly recommended back in 1971, a Puffin Book Club prize for something completely forgotten and the year I was two digits out from winning in the SCBWI agents party raffle, but being the actual winner? Nah. Not something that happens much. I am an optimist though but by January 2017, rejection was getting a bit repetitive. Fast forward to April. Hurrah! New shoots of hope appeared with the Slush Pile Challenge. I read on…

I would love to see a picture book text that features a human child or children at its heart (so, no animal protagonists). Any theme at all but a story that toddlers and/or pre-schoolers and their parents can read together that makes them laugh or cuddle (or both)
Jodie Hodges of United Agents. 

Having written nothing new for several months I looked back into my archive. Picture book challenges don't come along every month. I had to submit. But which one? The tortoise one? Not human enough. The space one? Not ready enough. Maybe ... this one?

“Where’s That Tiger?” started life in 2015 as an exercise at an Arvon picture book retreat. During a workshop on rhyming structures I’d scribbled some frankly painful couplets, but the kernel of an idea was there. Almost a year later I was at a SCBWI masterclass with Ellie Brough, which brought it back into focus so I’d worked on it again. A story written in rhyme isn’t my usual style but I’d finished it and felt it was in reasonable shape. One click later it had gone.

May 2nd 2017 

Hope dashed. My story wasn’t one of the 25 randomly selected ones to go to Jodie. Solace was found amongst my fabulous online critique group. “Sometimes they ask for more” we typed consolingly.

May 11th 2017 

Hope rises again. More stories are going forward! Mine is one of them…I am just a teensy bit excited.

June 3rd 2017 

Did I read that correctly?

I'm delighted to inform you that you've won.

And ... breathe. I sat in bed and read Jodie’s comments over again.

This entry had a fabulous, commercial, appealing central concept, a really strong rhyming voice, a great page turn moment from spreads 6 to 7 and the clever added bonus of the narrative slowly taking the protagonist and reader to bed. I always like a text to end with a twist, a cuddle or in bed!

An actual literary agent had said that? About my story? I was elated. There followed a really hard 24 hours of radio silence in which I had to ignore my critique group who were busy chatting about their “sorry you didn’t win” emails and wondering who had, then a flurry of congratulations and finally the prize itself: a meeting with Jodie Hodges to discuss my work.

In advance Jodie had asked if I wanted to share a couple of additional texts so I had sent her the tortoise one and the space one as a follow up. I spent nearly two hours in Jodie's book laden office discussing my writing and the whims of the publishing world. One of the things I struggle with is finding a killer title and Jodie was really helpful in showing me how the titles of successful books take the reader to the heart of the story itself. The rise of illustrated non-fiction was also something we explored in relation to some of my ideas.

With Jodie's wealth of experience she also gave me some insightful feedback on my own stories and how they could be developed to strengthen them as a piece of writing but also to increase their commercial appeal. I came away from the meeting with a head full of ideas and a real sense of positivity and encouragement to keep writing plus the offer of staying in touch when she returns from her impending maternity leave, which will certainly be taken up!

Thanks so much to the SCBWI team for organising this competition and to Jodie Hodges for her valuable feedback and positivity about my writing. It was a fabulous experience and a real milestone in my journey to publication one day. When the next challenge comes along, don't hesitate; press that send button!

Thanks, Cathy. The Words and Pictures editorial team wish Cathy all the best with polishing her manuscript. A special thanks to Jodie Hodges at United Agents for setting, judging and providing such valuable feedback to Cathy.

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