SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE January 2021 Results


Emily Talbot of United Agents set the January 2021 Slush Pile Challenge.



Emily wanted to see “a non-rhyming picture book text that incorporated a STEM theme or idea and did so in a fun, accessible and commercial way. It could have been realistic or fantastical and could feature human or animal characters so there was scope to play around with it, but what she was mostly looking for was a way of presenting this tricky topic with originality, and a desire to make it feel aspirational. Text length should have been between 400-750 words approx and paginated into 12 spreads. Best of luck!”



We received 72 entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Emily read all of the submissions. This is what Emily told us when announcing the results:



“The great thing about STEM is that it incorporates a number of topics and can therefore be interpreted in many different ways. This fact was abundantly clear in this selection of stories I had the pleasure of reading over the last few weeks. I was so impressed by the way that each entrant took the theme and really made it their own. There was such a variety and some interesting and unusual ideas were explored, with entrants clearly taking risks to try and come up with something original. It was really great to see!


I’m delighted to announce that my winner is The Hole Story by Helen Mackenzie. It’s a tale of the power of friendship and the fact it can help us find our place in the world. I loved the simplicity of this text and the fact the message was strong but not over told or didactic. The prose were tight and clear and it was a text I could visualise immediately, with illustrations perhaps having a paired back, minimalist style to match the tone of the writing. Wilbur’s struggles and his fear of the outside felt real and relatable without needing to be over explained, rather it was inferred from the action and I really enjoyed this.


As well as this, I’d like to give special mention to Stop Counting Carter by Becky Hamilton. This text took a counting theme, which could be interpreted as educational, and combined it with a perilous journey full of twists and turns, which elevated it into something unexpectedly exciting. It was very cleverly done!


A second special mention goes to Double Trouble by Jenny Caddy. I loved the straightforward, hooky idea of this one and the way the author exploited that idea using bags of humour – it really made me chuckle. It also had at its heart an unlikely duo who helped expound a message about sharing which came through strongly. It was great to see an emphasis on voice and characterisation in this text.


What struck me when looking at the selection of stories as a whole was the amount of examples that felt overwritten. Though most stuck to the imposed word limit, a lot of stories still felt unnecessarily long or over-told. It’s important to remember that the illustrations will be doing an equal amount of the work when it comes to telling a story. The words are there to compliment the pictures and perhaps even, where appropriate, give a slightly different perspective to what we might see on the page. Lots of texts relied too heavily on describing what would be in the pictures which doesn’t make for as much of a satisfying overall reading experience I don’t feel.


In relation to this, I also felt that the theme sometimes overtook the storytelling, so that the aim became one of shoehorning in facts rather than creating a solid, commercial narrative. Sometimes the content strayed towards the nonfiction end of picture books which has its place in the market, but is a different thing altogether and therefore requires a different approach.


A huge thanks for everyone who took part and for letting me consider your work, it’s been a great experience and I wish you all the best with your writing.”



Congratulations to Helen Mackenzie from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope they are well on your way towards getting their writing published.


Well done to Becky Hamilton and Jenny Caddy for gaining an honourable mention.


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



Emily Talbot is an Associate Agent in the office of Jodie Hodges, and represents children's illustrators and authors of picture books, middle grade, teenage and YA.


Emily started working at United Agents in 2013 in the foreign rights department, representing the overseas rights for United Agent's children's authors and illustrators, before moving over to primary agenting in 2015. Before this she worked in a primary school reading books with children every single day and discovering exactly what they like to read.


She loves books that touch on the gritty realisms of life such as the writing of Louise O'Neill and Holly Bourne. She’s also on the lookout for middle grade of any kind; everything from authentic and emotive to humorous adventure. Above all she has a passion for great characterisation and is on the hunt for a distinctive, new voice in children’s literature, whatever age group that may find itself in.


She’s also looking for picture book authors and illustrators. Her favourite picture books are those with an off-the-wall, irreverent humour. Not Now Bernard frames many a childhood memory for her for example. On the illustration side, if you’re looking for representation, the most important thing you can do is find your own voice and adapt a style that is unique to you.


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



Connect with Elaine on Twitter: @elaineccline

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