SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE Big Summer Slush Pile Challenge 2019 Winner Anita Loughrey

Anita Loughrey, winner of the Big Summer Slush Pile Challenge 2019, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Ben Illis, of The BIA.

Anita won this challenge by submitting the following:

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.

Ben chose Rocket Women by Anita Loughrey as it "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."


The competition

When I saw the BIG SUMMER SLUSHPILE CHALLENGE was to write a narrative non-fiction text, I was over the moon. As a freelance writer this is what I spend most of my days doing. But I am usually given the subject matter and a very tight brief of what the publisher would like written. I have written over 100 books for a wide variety of traditional publishers this way. All of them written without an agent.

Over the years I’ve stacked up several ideas for narrative non-fiction books of my own that I have wanted to write. All I needed was a good reason to get to the keyboard and write them. The difficult part was choosing the idea I wanted to write about first.

Rocket Women was based on an idea I had been playing around with for a while, which has grown and developed in my head over several years. It was like fate. Now was the time to write it. So using the format Ben specified as my brief, I got to work. I even had the deadline.

Working to a brief

My first step was to check I was eligible and all the competition rules. I was careful to follow them to the letter. I started my submission with a book outline, which included a very brief chapter breakdown, what the book was about in one sentence and why a book like this would be popular in the current climate.

Next, I had to do some market research to see what was out there already in a similar subject matter and in a similar style. This involved online searching on Hive, Foyles and of course Amazon; going to book shops and browsing the shelves, talking to the book shop owner about what she was aware of; going to the library and talking to the librarian who was immensely helpful. I found there were books out there that touched on space and women involved in space but none that had the same idea as me of presenting it as a graphic novel and none were very detailed at all. I listed the similar books and said how they were the same and how they were different.

After this, I had to think about the target readership of my book. I was aiming it at the 7+ age range and as it was a book about women in space it met a lot of the National Curriculum and the programmes of study for both Science and History and also STEM targets. As my background is teaching I have a very good knowledge of the primary curriculum and all that it entails so was able to do this section justice.

The hardest part was writing, ‘Why I was the best person to write the book’. I always find this difficult. My problem is I am very good at selling other people but when it comes to myself I have no idea. It took me a while to write this and Ben in the feedback (previously published in Words & Pictures) said it was ‘spot on’ so I must have got it right. 😊

Next came actually writing the manuscript. This took several weeks. I wanted it to be perfect and had set myself some very high expectations. I found the graphic novel format fairly easy to write. I have written plays before and it is very similar. I have also had to research and present image ideas. I am a very visual person and largely think in pictures, so it was basically describing what I was seeing in my head. I loved writing it. I was in my element and again all my hard work paid off.

Being one of the winners

I was pleasantly surprised with the feedback although it didn’t really tell me much other than everything about the idea and the way it was presented and written was ‘ace’. Even so, it was fantastic to have someone acknowledge me a good writer and to be called a ‘rare thing’ still brings a smile to my face. I must have grown about six feet tall and the amount of people I told I was one of a kind (which mostly got a lot of sarcastic comments) is unbelievable. In fact, I felt as if I had rocketed out to space myself.

Actually pinning Ben down to speak to him for my one-to-one proved to be quite a problem. Between illness, book fairs, other projects, travelling into London and other things we had to cancel and reschedule several times. In the end we decided to do the one-to-one via Skype rather than meeting in person else we may be still trying to schedule getting together.

Talking with Ben

I was a bit over-excited when I finally managed to have my Skype chat with Ben. I decided to try not to say too much and just listen. After all, it was Ben’s feedback I wanted. I kind of wanted something more specific than the manuscript was ‘ace’. Ben I and I spoke for over an hour and unfortunately most of it is actually a blur.

He told me pretty early on in the conversation that he was not going to represent me, as he has someone else who writes similar things, which was disappointing. When I started my writing career at the turn of the century, agents were not that interested in educational writers and more to the point educational publishers didn’t like working with agents and I could have lost quite a few commissions if I had one. Things have changed and I’ve secretly wanted an agent for a while. I have a thirst for feedback and to be working in partnership on a project and believe I have reached a point in my career where I could benefit from having an agent. 

Ben kindly said he would take a look at my new format for my idea and give me advice on my new submission package with a view to introducing me to an agent friend who might be interested in taking a look. I am very excited about this. Not only has it given me a goal to work toward but it is also another fantastic opportunity to get representation. Fingers crossed!

I would like to give a big thank you to Ben Illis from the BIA and everyone involved in the Slushpile Challenge competition, especially Elaine Cline for her excellent organisation and patience. Thank you ALL for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Photo: Anita Loughrey

A special thanks to Ben Illis, of The BIA for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Anita.

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over six years and loves to write picture books, middle-grade and teen books. She lives by the sea and has one dog and one cat. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.

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