Ben Illis of The BIA set July's challenge.

Ben wanted to see a submission for a narrative non-fiction book aimed at any of the following demographics: 7-9; 9-12; 13-15 (teen, broadly) or 16+ (YA).

Entrant's submission had to include:

  • Outline of the book, including why you think there is space for it out there
  • Some market research on competing titles in the market-place, which might include publisher, pub date etc
  • Target readership, including (if applicable) any syllabus/key stage tie-in
  • Why you are the writer to tell this story
  • A sample of up to 2500 words of text (give or take) from your proposed narrative non-fiction title.

The proposal could have been a biography/history/story of a person, place, event, concept, hobby, inanimate object, animal(s) or geographical feature, even. Ben thought entrants may have a gazillion FAR more interesting ideas than those. 

Ben Illis

We received fifteen entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Ben read all of the submissions. This is what Ben told us when announcing the results:

“Hellooooo Scoobs!

Before I start, I just wanted to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to craft such a fascinating and diverse range of submissions. You’ve taken me on journeys across the High Seas; aboard the ill-fated Titanic and on a trip to Legoland. I’ve met pioneering female jockeys and footballers; and learned about knights of old and undercover cops. I’ve taken a fascinating journey into etymology and met a host of truly inspiring people on the Autistic Spectrum, as well as exploring the theatre and meeting William Shakespeare himself.

It’s been both an honour and an incredibly hard task to sift through such a wealth of wonderful proposals and reach a decision and in doing so my team and I almost came to blows, but – and believe me, this took spreadsheets and very nearly even flow charts – a decision has been reached.

We have two runners-up:

House of Wisdom (puzzles from the Golden era of Islam), by Eiman Munro is a wonderful concept and with a little more work on the eventual shape of the book could easily have been a winning contender. We all felt it needed a little more of a narrative shape to carry it and, perhaps, could even have sacrificed a puzzle or two to make room for that. We’d love to have known more about the overall length and shape of the proposed book and to hear more about how the author sees it being presented in terms of illustration. That said, it really was a very strong concept, which very nearly carried it through to the final.

Revolting Rats by Susanna White was another very strong concept indeed. We loved that the proposal is for a graphic approach, and LOVED the idea of telling the story from the rat’s POV. That said, we were a little concerned it might tread a little close to material already covered so well in Horrible Histories, albeit with a refreshingly different take in the POV. We also wondered if it would be stronger if this were just one story from history, told from the POV of the animals involved in it – WW1 trenches from the POV of a carrier pigeon or a war horse, for example, or some aspects of Ancient Egypt as seen by its sacred cats?

And that brings us on to the winner. Well, does it? After much deliberation, we were unable to split two entries and so first place in this month’s Slushpile Challenge is shared between – drum roll please.... Tell Me a Story about Medicine and Rocket Women.

We all felt that Tell Me a Story about Medicine by Claire Watts was a very clear and well-crafted proposal. It dealt with the vagaries and probablies of handling ancient facts very well and was honestly absolutely fascinating and perfect for any budding medic. It was meticulously researched and clearly laid out by an author who both knows their stuff and knows exactly how to convey this information in just the right tone and with just the right depth. Very excited to hear more about this one and we have lots of ideas to share with the author too. Excellent stuff!

Rocket Women by Anita Loughrey was that rare thing – an ace title for an ace subject, presented in a way that’s just, well, ace. We felt that the author’s biography was spot on for this project and loved that unlike other books on this subject, this author wanted to present a deeper account of these inspiring women who got us into space and to the moon and to do their achievements real justice. We also loved the idea of presenting this in a graphic package and are very excited to hear more about the author’s vision.

So congratulations to our two winners and to our two runners-up, but congratulations too to all of you who perhaps didn’t get a mention this time round. Please don’t be disheartened and do keep on writing. And lastly, we’d welcome submissions from any and all of you via The BIA website. Our fiction requirements are well known, but do feel free to keep coming at us with non-fiction submissions too!”

Congratulations to Claire Watts and Anita Loughrey from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope you are well on your way towards getting your writing published.

Well done to Eiman Munro and Susanna White for being placed as runners-up.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Keep writing and we hope you will be encouraged to try your hand at appropriate competitions.

Ben Illis has been lucky enough to work in many guises in the publishing industry over more than two decades. As part of the branch management team of Books Etc, he bought kids and YA books in stores across the whole of London. He was a co-founder of Old Street Publishing. He has been both sales director and marketing director of small publishers. He has acquired, commissioned and edited; done picture research and ghost-written, all ahead of turning his hand to agenting. He is a published writer in his own right and has had the experience of working with agents both good and bad from the other (your) side of the fence.

After two years working in-house at AM Heath, Ben established The BIA in 2013 to offer specialist literary representation, focussing on writers of children's, young adult and crossover fiction, and select clients who also write for adults. The team at The BIA works directly with publishers around the world, both directly and via a network of sub-agents and scouts.

As a small agency, with a small team, The BIA can offer a personal service, working more closely with their clients to build their work into as commercial a prospect as possible. They are in constant contact with editors at UK and international houses  both large and small  as well as, of course, the Film and TV world  and pride themselves on finding the right home on the right list for the right book.

Ben is looking to be transported. He looks for the sorts of stories that make him want to stay up late under the covers with a torch, squeezing in just one more chapter before he falls sleep. 

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over five years and loves to write picture books, junior fiction and middle-grade. She loves writing about food. She lives by the sea and has one soft and silly cat. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge for writers.

Connect with Elaine on Twitter: @elaineclineuk

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