SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE July 2020 Winner David Barker

David Barker

David Barker, winner of the July 2020 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why he entered the competition and about his experience of discussing his submission with Jo Williamson, of Antony Harwood.

David won this challenge by submitting the following:

A synopsis and first chapter of something which would make Jo Williamson cackle with laughter and snort out her cup of tea. Situational/observational humour, dark humour, slapstick comedy, the surreal, the odd-ball … anything that would give her a big, fat belly laugh! She was looking for books aimed at 5-7, 7-9, 8-12 or YA but not picture books at this time.

Jo chose The Chronicles of Charlie H. by David Barker as it “really stood out to me because Charlie is such a well-rounded character with a really strong voice from the get go. There was a nice domestic set up with the older sister, school struggles and parents who don’t quite understand, juxtaposed with the more extraordinary story of mind control, clever technology and attempts to take over the country. I think this one has huge potential!”



When I saw the criteria for the July Slush Pile Challenge – Jo Willamson wanted to see something that would make her laugh – I was delighted. I’d just started working on a new piece with a main character who’s a cross between Calvin & Hobbes and Walter Mitty. Most of the MCs in my first attempts at MG adventures had been quite serious characters, so this was a break from the norm for me and perfectly timed. I had seen (with some envy!) the success of a brilliant buddy in the SCBWI Wokingham crit group earlier in the year following the January Slush Pile Challenge, inspiring me to have a go at this one.

It was great to try something new. I would urge everyone to have a go at writing in a style that you don’t usually use. First, because it’s good practice, like those yoga/pilates exercises that nobody enjoys but are great for the muscle groups we neglect. Second, because you never know, it might turn out to be exactly the right style for you and you just never realised!

Once I had entered the competition, like most others, I had a long nervous wait. It was announced that Jo had kindly agreed to read every single entry (over 50). Hoorah! But I couldn’t sit there twiddling my thumbs. I realised that Jo had asked for submissions relating to completed manuscripts. So just in case I did win, and Jo asked to see the full ms, I had to make sure it was finished in time! The summer holidays (such as they were this year) were spent trying to write one chapter every morning (usually before anyone else in the Barker household was awake.)

On the weekend the results were announced, I woke up early and discovered that the hard-working Elaine Cline had already been busy – she’d sent me the congratulations e-mail at 7am!!! I woke up my wife to tell her the amazing news and then tried not to blab about it before the results were officially announced the following day. A crazy volume of congratulatory messages filled my Twitter and Facebook timeline once the news was out, which helped remind me (as if I needed it) of just how supportive everyone is within the SCBWI family.

As predicted, Jo contacted me shortly afterwards to set up a date for our meeting and to ask for the full manuscript. Agghh!! I couldn’t resist one more round of edits, with the help of my Wokingham SCBWI rapid-response friends (who are amazing in case you hadn’t guessed). And then I pressed send and crossed every toe and finger available.

The meeting itself was conducted on Zoom – a sign of the times – and after a brief chat about my writing to date and the state of publishing in general, Jo launched into some very helpful comments on my manuscript. I couldn’t disagree with any of her suggestions for areas that needed more work. She very kindly said she’d look at it again once I’ve taken on board her comments. So now comes another round of editing, a chance to improve my story and who knows, maybe something more...

Massive thanks to Elaine for organising the competition, to everyone involved in putting together Words & Pictures, and of course to Jo for selecting my story. Good luck to everyone entering the next Slush Pile Challenge. Have a go, you never know where it might take you.

* Photo Credit: David Barker

A special thanks to Jo Williamson, of Antony Harwood Ltd for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to David. 

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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