SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE October 2020 Results

Kate Shaw of The Shaw Agency set the October 2020 Slush Pile Challenge.
Kate Shaw
Kate wanted to meet a middle grade or teen protagonist. She’d have loved them to make her laugh and/or get under her skin. The entrants could have used voice, personality, action, wit, humour and/or intrigue. Kate wanted entrants to sell her a story that would knock her socks off! She wanted 400-500 words about the main character - preferably from the beginning of the manuscript - and a 100-150-word pitch for the story.
We received 59 entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Kate read all of the submissions. This is what Kate told us when announcing the results: 


"Thank you all so much for entering this months’ challenge. I enjoyed reading the 59 entries and was tempted by many. 


I also did a bit of market research. I was interested to see what the balance was between MG submissions and teen/YA, and there were dramatically more MG (the ratio was 9:1), which no doubt reflects the widely reported tough climate for YA fiction in the UK and internationally. Meanwhile the submissions were equally balanced between fantasy and realism. I was pleased to see so much strong realism. The acquisitions market has been saturated by middle grade fantasy adventures in recent years. It's often the big middle grade fantasy acquisitions that are reported in the trade press, perhaps giving the impression that only MG fantasy is doing well. But in reality, books with realism as well as fantasy are selling and winning prizes, and in fact agents are pretty cautious about taking on MG fantasy debuts at the moment. They have to be super stand-out and original to tempt spoiled-for-choice publishers.  


Anyway, without further ado, I’m pleased to announce the two joint-winners:  


Congratulations to i-gran by Karen Walk - what an immediately eye-catching and apt title! The pitch was simple and strong: Billie and Steve Sparks have accidentally ‘erased’ gran when what they meant to do was upgrade her memory. They are going to be in so much trouble with mum, whose experimental memory app they were secretly using, but luckily she’s away at Techcon…or is she? The sample was charged with humour and tension, beautifully bringing alive the drama of the situation and the personalities of the twins. I really wanted to read more. 


And congratulations to the second, joint-winner: Sour Cherries and Spun Sugar! by Lesley Scriven. This contrasted hugely with i-gran, being set in 1920s Canada and steeped in period atmosphere. The extract gorgeously evokes time and place and introduces our heroine with warmth and wit. Headstrong Jessie bursts into the doctor’s surgery while he is treating a patient to demand he come help carnival worker, Mickey, who is 'loosenating'. The reader is left wanting to read more after this sweet taste of classic storytelling. 


I would also like to single out for particular praise the following entries: Dramas and Grandmas by Laura Wickham left me with such a vivid picture of Rosella, and who wouldn’t want to read about cooking, secret mafiosi grandmas and a beautiful Italian town, right now? The writing, characterisation and world-building in Raven by Rebekah Taylor were very strong and the reason I didn’t pick it as one of the winners is that there were overlaps with Vashti Hardy’s novels. I was also really intrigued by the pitch of Mirror Island by Caroline Murphy, and I much enjoyed the voice and character of Matty in My TV Dad by Stacey Taylor


Sorry if I didn’t mention you this time. In reality clients are selected on far more material than this, and what doesn’t captive in 650 words, may well grip me - or other agents - over a longer read. One piece of constructive feedback I’d like to give is that, while the vast majority of you met the criteria of my challenge, some of you didn’t quite e.g. some didn’t ‘state what ages your story is aimed at, whether your manuscript is complete and what length it is.’" 


Congratulations to Karen Walk and Lesley Scriven from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope you are well on your way towards getting your writing published. 


Well done to Laura Wickham, Rebekah Taylor, Caroline Murphy and Stacey Taylor for gaining special mentions. 


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

Kate Shaw has spent practically all her career in publishing, first as a publicist at Penguin Books and Fourth Estate, and then as an agent at Aitken Alexander Associates and The Viney Agency, before founding The Shaw Agency in 2019. 


During Kate’s career in books she has promoted Booker-shortlisted authors, discovered Sunday Times-bestselling writers and represented multiple award-winning books that have sold millions of copies worldwide in dozens of languages and been optioned for film & TV. She represents the winner of the 2020 Blue Peter Best Story Prize Vashti Hardy and 30 other brilliant writers including Holly Smale, Fleur Hitchcock, James Nicol and Serena Patel. 


Kate’s passions are stories that make her laugh or cry – preferably both. She loves adventure and world-building in children’s and teen books, and is always looking for strong new characters and great hooks.

Elaine Cline is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge for writers. Connect with Elaine on Twitter: @elaineccline


  1. Congratulations to the winners and honorary mentions. And, thanks to Kate for her time and Elaine and the other SCBWI volunteers. Thanks so much for your ongoing help and encouragement.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, David. It is much appreciated.


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