SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE April 2020 Winner Corrina Campbell

Corrina Campbell, winner of the April 2020 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Megan Carroll, of Watson, Little Ltd. 

Corrina won this challenge by submitting the following: 

A non-rhyming text of no more than 700 words that took place in an interesting and unusual setting (not commonly seen in a picture book) that featured either human or animal characters. The characters needed to be compelling and appealing to children, of course, but the setting also needed to play a part in the story. 

Megan chose THE PUFFIN FROM PLASTIC ISLAND by Corrina Campbell as it is “a big issue book with lots of heart and a brilliant and striking setting about a puffin who is struggling to find fish to eat and travels to the humans for help. It’s got a lovely, clear message that manages to not be too didactic and I enjoyed the clear writing and strong voice. There’s great visual potential here too, which is so important for a picture book text. I love stories that tackle the big issues in a child friendly way and this was certainly that, well done!” 


I had never entered a writing competition until I saw the SCBWI Slush Pile Challenge. A combination of the brief, the agent (Megan Carroll; Watson Little) and a small amount of creative energy gave me the confidence and the motivation I needed to enter. 

It was April 2020 and I had found myself home with all three of my children, one of whom had just arrived in March(!). We were recently ‘locked-down’ due to the pandemic. Not the usual circumstances I find myself in, or indeed the circumstances that are particularly conducive to writing. However, on reading the brief for the competition I recalled a picture book idea that had been inspired by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. Having heard about animals living on a ‘plastic island’ I knew I wanted to write a story about this. It was one of those ideas that I felt had potential but, at that time, I hadn’t managed to bring it to life so it had been buried with the other abandoned ideas. Re-visiting ideas for picture books is not something that happens often for me unless there is a trigger. This was one of those moments. On reading the brief, my mind immediately returned to this story idea, so I dug it out and had another look. 

On re-reading my work I did the usual ‘urgh',  as I mulled over how terrible it was and had a good 20-30 minutes of imposter syndrome before I started anything. However, having not had an ounce of creative energy since the beginning of Lockdown the Slush Pile Challenge had sparked something and my creative energy had returned so off we went, the idea and me! 

I had always wanted to write a story about a puffin ever since I visited ‘Puffin Island’, formally known as Fidra, in East Lothian. Puffins are such beautiful birds with bags of personality and colour – which, as a dabbling doodler, I love. So The Puffin from Plastic Island was born with a great beginning and a happy ending but sadly no middle! This is where I did the majority of the work before submitting to the Slushpile Challenge. 

It was June when I received the news that I had won the Slush Pile Challenge. It was three months into the pandemic and it was the positive news I needed. Sadly, it did mean that I wouldn’t be able to meet Megan Carroll in person, but it did give me the nudge to set up ZOOM (this would be the first time I would use ZOOM but unsurprisingly not the last!) and arrange a call. As a new writer I like to take full advantage of any and every opportunity that presents itself. Unfortunately for Megan that meant I decided to chance it and send her a couple of other story ideas for feedback - I am used to being told ‘no’ so decided I had nothing to lose! 

In typical 2020 fashion I found my best ‘upper half’ clothes and successfully hid the yogurt stained ‘mum trousers’ and slippers out of sight – ZOOM has some advantages! The call started as most do these days “Hello, can you hear me?” but from one end of the country (London) to the other (me in the North of Scotland) the internet and indeed technology didn’t let us down. We spoke about my work and had a great and informative chat about the stories I had submitted. It was brilliant to speak with someone willing to give me completely unfiltered feedback. We also spoke about the publishing process, trends in the market and I gleaned any and as much inside information that I could! The call was hugely helpful and to be honest, it was just so lovely to speak to someone about books, writing and stories and not the Corona Virus! I was very grateful for her time, help and feedback. 

So what now? Well, I am still working on The Puffin from Plastic Island. There is something missing that I am keen to get right before taking it another step forward. Sadly, I think this could be the last time I re-visit the story for a while so you’ll either find it on a bookshelf soon or back, buried inside a drawer, waiting for another opportunity to come out. 

Photo: Corrina Campbell 

A special thanks to Megan Carroll, of Watson, Little Ltd for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Corrina.
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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