SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE Zoё Armstrong April 2018 Winner

Zoё Armstrong
 Zoё Armstrong winner of the April 2018 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about discussing her submission with Peter Marley,
Senior Commissioning Editor, Picture Books at Oxford University Press.

Zoё won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to write a picture book that starred an irresistible central character that would instantly appeal to children and look great on a book cover, and be something that the picture-book readership and their parents could relate to.

Peter chose Zoё's WHEN THE HUGGALUMPH HULLABALLOOED because it was a story featuring an enchanting character, a magical setting, and a reassuring message for children whose innocent behaviour (in this case, a tendency to be very loud indeed) might cause friction with others and lead to feelings of isolation.  


"I was lucky with the brief.  I’d recently written a story called When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed, which seemed the right fit. It had an appealing central character and revolved around themes that children and parents could identify with.
An earlier version of the text had won the SCBWI Duelling Illustrators Manuscript Contest in Bologna, and I’d worked on it since then, so I felt (hoped) it was in good shape. But still, I thought, what are the chances?
A month later and I’m flying around the flat at 6.30 on a Saturday morning, powered by butterflies of excitement. “Show me the email. Show me the email!” my seven-year-old is saying.
Peter Marley has read all ninety-seven entries, and somehow mine has been chosen as the winner.
“The premise of this story is unique and drew me in, the voice is bold and distinctive, the language is musical and lyrical, there is tension throughout, and the story contains meaning that young children will be able to relate to,” he has commented.
I can’t quite believe it.
It’s a hot day near the end of June. Peter Marley has invited me to meet him at the OUP offices in Oxford. After taking my daughter to school in Brighton, I race to the station. I’m nervous but Peter’s emails have been friendly and encouraging, so that is helping.
The walk from the train to OUP is familiar. I grew up in Oxford, and many teenage nights out unfolded in the Jericho neighbourhood, where OUP is situated. The imposing building, with its enormous gates, had seemed unreachable then.
It still feels a little unreachable now, but here I am.
Inside, the whole place buzzes with creativity and life. There are cafés, bookstalls, an exhibition of illustrator Tim Hopgood’s work, and there are lots and lots of people. If someone had told me the building had its own ecosystem, I might have believed it.
Peter Marley immediately puts me at ease. We grab drinks and decide to talk in the sunshine on the terrace.
Peter is incredibly encouraging and generous with his time. He goes through my text in great detail, and is careful and thoughtful with his comments. We chat about how, as somewhat tired parents of young children, we can relate to the premise of the story.
Issues surrounding its potential for co-editions come up – the text is in rhyme and makes use of nonsense words at times too. Peter is wholeheartedly supportive but cautions that others may feel it would lose something in translation.
He encourages me to share more of my work with him, and I leave with a sense that I have a genuinely supportive ally.
Nine days later I’m giving a reading of When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed to my fellow Eggs at the GEA summer social. Perhaps my Slush Pile Challenge win was the reason I was invited to share the story, I don’t know. But I’m eternally grateful to Peter Marley, the SCBWI and to the Golden Egg Academy, because this was the day I first met Alice Williams, who has now become my agent.
Thank you."

Feature photo: Zoё Armstrong


Thanks, Zoё. The Words & Pictures editorial team wish Zoё all the best with polishing her manuscript. A special thanks to Peter Marley, Senior Commissioning Editor, Picture Books at
Oxford University Press for setting the competition, judging it, and providing such valuable feedback to Zoё.


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. Exciting times! Congratulations on your competition win and agent signing - 'When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed' sounds great!

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer! And you know the feeling too, after your Winchester win! X


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