SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE April 2021 Winner Jenny Ireland


Jenny Ireland, winner of the April 2021 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Joanna Moult, agent at Skylark Literary.

Jenny won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to write an 'irresistible intro', and hook Joanna Moult from the first few sentences. Joanna 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 Joanna that MUST READ MORE feeling. No synopsis needed and the manuscript didn’t need to be finished.

Joanna chose When We Watch The World Burn by Jenny Ireland because “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!”


The April 2021 Slush Pile Challenge was set by Joanna Moult, agent and co-founder of the Skylark Agency. She asked for an ‘irresistible intro.’


I had never entered the Slush Pile Challenge before, as my work at the time had never coincided with any of the challenges, but this one was different.


Ever since I had emergency brain surgery in 2019 I have had many almost hallucinatory dreams. They’re mostly horrific and feature insects on my face (others are more pleasant, like a mouse wearing a coat or wolves at a dinner party) but this one was special. I woke up ‘seeing’ the end of the world from my window over Belfast Lough, the sky ablaze and burning red.


Once I woke up properly and realised that the world was not in fact ending, I didn’t go back to sleep. I wrote the opening of my YA novel, ‘When we watch the world burn.


I was excited about this new idea. So excited I made my husband read what I’d written as soon as he woke up. After he’d stopped saying no to my literary advances, he read it, and said he really liked it too (which is very high praise coming from him).


As ecstatic as I was about this new idea, I had some doubts that it might be too weird to go anywhere. The voice is different, the structure is different, the characters are ‘different’. And I didn’t expect to hear anything at all.


When I got the email telling me that Joanna loved my opening and that I was a joint-winner, I was over the moon, exploding with the expletives my children are well used to hearing by now.


It wasn’t long before she contacted me to set up a meeting.


The meeting lasted half an hour, during which Joanna asked about my writing, my life and of course, the novel. Because I haven’t finished, I still don’t know exactly where it’s going (I’m not a planner) but I was able to ask Joanna if she thought certain things would work. Her advice was absolutely invaluable, her comments so kind and enthusiasm so contagious, that my passion for this story has been well and truly reignited, giving me the confidence to think that maybe it’s not ‘too weird’ at all.


I can’t wait to get back to this book, back to the characters and the intensity of their story to find out what this book really is and where it goes.


It was an absolutely invaluable experience and I would recommend entering this competition to anyone sitting on the fence, even if you have doubts yourself (and you think your book is too weird).


I’d love to thank Joanna Moult for choosing my work and for all of her kind words and of course Elaine Cline at SCBWI for all she does.


* Feature photo: Jenny Ireland


The Words & Pictures team wish Jenny all the best with polishing her manuscript. A special thanks to Joanna Moult, agent at Skylark Literary for setting the competition, judging it, and providing such valuable feedback to Jenny.    


Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over six years and loves to write picture books, chapter books and middle-grade books. She lives by the sea and has two soft and silly cats. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.


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