SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE - Alex Gibson January 2018 Winner

Alex Gibson winner of the January 2018 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Thérèse Coen, Rights Director and Agent at Hardman and Swainson.

Alex won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to write a one-line pitch, blurb and first chapter of a middle grade fantasy or sci-fi adventure with either friendship or family at its heart.

Thérèse chose Alex's Blue because it had captivating writing, and a quirky sense of humour which really resonated with her as well as a smart, audacious protagonist with a great mind of his own, a very original setting and intriguing plot.


I could say that it felt like destiny when I saw that the January Slush Pile Challenge was not only looking for a middle grade adventure story with ‘friendship or family at its heart’ – that’s just how I would describe my book, Blue – but also set by Thérèse Coen, an agent whom I had heard wonderful things about and was dying to meet.

Of course, at the time, with all the other fantastic aspiring SCBWI writers out there, I didn’t think I had a chance of winning. In fact, when I woke up on a snowy Saturday morning to find an e-mail in my inbox telling me that I was one of two winners, I honestly thought there must have been a mistake.

Once I had read and re-read the e-mail enough times to convince myself that Thérèse really had picked my book out and said such nice things about it, I had the difficult task of not shouting the news to the world for twenty-four hours – until the announcement appeared on the Words & Pictures website. I had to content myself with frolicking about in the snow with my children by way of celebration.

The very next day after the announcement, I had a lovely e-mail from Thérèse, congratulating me on my win and offering to read more of Blue before our meeting. She didn’t need to ask twice; after a quick polish, I fired off the entire manuscript.

Our meeting was arranged for a Thursday morning just before Easter, and I was more than pleased to have an excuse to head into London. I had already had a brief chat with Thérèse at the Industry Insiders panel event at the beginning of the month, so I wasn’t feeling too jittery – I knew that, no matter what she thought of the book, she was certain to be friendly and nice about it.

Thérèse’s agency, Hardman & Swainson, has its office in Somerset House, and I had a pleasant walk from Blackfriars station: the hustle and bustle of the city a welcome change from my usual rural village surroundings. Somerset House itself is beautiful, but slightly confusing, and I enjoyed the clip-clop sound my new boots made on its floors as I wandered about the hallways.

When I eventually found Reception, Thérèse came down from her office to meet me, and we went into the coffee bar to have our chat. Thérèse had read the whole book, which was exciting in itself, and had made notes ready to give me feedback. Much of her feedback had to do with developing the characters and setting further – at 38 000 words, my book is at the low end for middle grade, so there is space to flesh things out. We talked about my ideas for a series, as well as the other middle-grade books I’ve been working on. It was fascinating to hear Thérèse talk about the book industry.

It felt as if our conversation was going very well, but it still took me completely by surprise when Thérèse told me that she loved Blue and would be interested in representing me - an offer I was delighted to accept!

It really does feel as if entering the Slush Pile Challenge was destiny, and I could not be more thrilled. Many, many thanks to Thérèse Coen for setting and judging the challenge and for being so generous with her time, and a huge thank you to Elaine and the SCBWI team for organising the competition – it’s been fantastic!

Feature photo: Alex Gibson


Thanks, Alex. The Words & Pictures editorial team wish Alex all the best with polishing her manuscript. A special thanks to Thérèse Coen, Rights Director and Agent at Hardman and Swainson for setting the competition, judging it, and providing such valuable feedback to Alex.


Thérèse chose two winners.

Penny Wilcox, the other winner has also written about her experience and this will appear on the Words and Pictures website next Sunday - Sunday, 13th May, 2018


Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over 5 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.


  1. Many congratulations Alex!!! (I think we met at the Winchester conference)

    1. Yes we did! Thank you Imogen!


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