Joanna Moult of Skylark Literary set the April 2021 Slush Pile Challenge.



Joanna wanted an “irresistible intro” and to be hooked from the first few sentences. She requested a maximum of 750 words of the opening of your novel (for any age group) that was so engaging that it made her want to close her email inbox and read all day long! It could have been funny, powerful, high-concept, voice-driven, fantasy, realistic contemporary or a mix of any of those, just as long as it gave her that MUST READ MORE feeling. No synopsis needed and the manuscript didn’t need to be finished.



We received 154 entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Joanna read all of the submissions. This is what Joanna told us when announcing the results:



“I was overwhelmed by the response to this Slush Pile Challenge, not least because the quality of the entries was so high. There were so many wonderful and compelling beginnings it was really quite tricky to pick out my favourites. What a joy, though! Given how many there were, I initially whittled the entries down to a shortlist of eight. I felt that all of these openings were compelling in very different ways. Either the writing was beautiful and absorbing, the opening lines were punchy and dramatic or the intrigue of the situation captured my attention from the outset. A great set of introductions!



The Shortlist:



THE HANGING TREE by Michal Cail – so many question marks over the main character’s father’s mysterious death.



ANGER TO ASHES by Katia Novet Saint-Lot – Stunning scene-setting on the Indian train, with intrigue about the circumstances of the journey.



YOUSEF AND THE GIANT FRANKENBOGEY by Ruth Griffiths – Lovely light voice, with a really relatable main character. His excitement is infectious and the chapter ends with a bang!



THE OPPOSITE OF ENCHANTED by Chloe Nicoll – Gorgeous YA voice, lovely scene-setting with a fascinating paranormal element.



ESCAPE FROM NOWHERE by Marie Day – a great ‘how did I get here?’ memory loss opening. Well written and warm.



WHEN WE WATCH THE WORLD BURN by Jenny Ireland – see below



THE PHOENIX CHILD by Laura Warminger – see below



ROAM by Alex Ivey – see below



Of these, I have decided that my joint winners are WHEN WE WATCH THE WORLD BURN by Jenny Ireland and THE PHOENIX CHILD by Laura Warminger, with a special mention for ROAM by Alex Ivey.



Joint Winner: WHEN WE WATCH THE WORLD BURN by Jenny Ireland. This opening was so powerful! The drama of the opening scene – the end of the world – made me feel that I HAD to know how we had got here. The voice was intriguing too, especially as it became clear that all was not as it seemed and the chapter ended with a real punch. All the ingredients of a fantastic start. The author hooked me with so many questions, I felt I just had to keep reading to get to the bottom of it all!



Joint Winner: THE PHOENIX CHILD by Laura Warminger. This story began with a lovely captivating mystery. A main character with some fabulous secret skills (what child doesn’t want to have the ability to make fire?!) and a really readable and charming opening came together to make me feel really engaged and keen to immerse myself in Soleme’s world and find out more!



Special Mention: ROAM by Alex Ivey. This had an initially quite quiet opening scene but the relationship between the main character and her sister was so beautiful, I absolutely fell in love. Between the creation of this gorgeous sisterly love, the author has scattered many questions for the reader – where are these children from? Where are they going? What is going to happen next?! It also demonstrated that books don’t have to start with an explosion of activity or drama to really captivate the reader.”



Congratulations to Jenny Ireland and Laura Warminger from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope you are well on your way towards getting your writing published.



Well done to Alex Ivey for gaining a special mention. Also, well done to Michal Cail, Katia Novet Saint-Lot, Ruth Griffiths, Chloe Nicoll and Marie Day for making the shortlist.



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




Joanna is co-founder of Skylark Literary Limited, a specialist Children’s and YA literary agency. She represents many talented authors including Nizrana Farook and Simon James Green. Before setting up Skylark Literary, Joanna was Editorial Director for Children’s Fiction at Mulcahy Conway Associates, discovering and nurturing new talent. Joanna began her publishing career at Hodder Children’s Books, where she edited authors such as Cressida Cowell and Kes Gray. She then moved to become Senior Commissioning Editor at Simon & Schuster, managing the children’s fiction list and editing Sophie McKenzie, among other great writers.


You can follow Joanna on Twitter at @JoannaMoult and Skylark Literary at @SkylarkLit.



Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over six 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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