SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE July 2021 winner Sarah Macdonald

Sarah Macdonald, winner of the July 2021 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Catherine Pellegrino, of Marjacq Scripts Ltd.


Sarah won this challenge set by Catherine Pellegrino:


“Catherine was looking for great new contemporary YA voices and wanted to meet a 'kick-ass girl' or 'bad boy'. She requested 500 words about the main character and a half page synopsis of the story. The manuscript didn’t need to be completed.


Catherine chose Mattie in The Day the Flies Died by Sarah Macdonald as “the voices of the characters, the quality of the prose and the world created with so few words were totally gripping and left me bereft that I couldn’t read on and spend more time with them. Interestingly, the reader learns most about the characters from those around them.


‘Didn’t know Mattie before. Wish I had. The things she’s seen. The things she’s – we’ve done, they change you.


–What things?


She wouldn’t like me talking to you. She keeps things deep. Say’s there’s no point giving a shit. But she does.’”


At first, I wasn’t going to enter. I had put The Day The Flies Died on hold as I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going, and it had become quite dark. But I kept thinking about the story and so I decided to draft a mock interview with the other characters in the book. I wanted Catherine to see my protagonist, Mattie, as others in the book saw her. She’s quite a complicated character and I felt this was not only thinking outside the box, but the best way to let her shine.


I ended up submitting with an hour to spare!


I was not expecting to win. I normally enter things and then forget about them as I find rejection quite hard.


When I received the email to say I had won, I scanned it to find the name of the winner. It was only when I read it properly, that I realised I had been chosen.


It took a while to sink in. I went from my heart racing with excitement, to complete panic.


I was nervous about speaking to Catherine as I had never done anything like it before.


Catherine was lovely and put me completely at ease. She was complimentary about my writing and excited to read the finished project. She asked me about my other writing and was very encouraging.


I was thrilled to discover that Catherine champions YA. I love the drama and angst of this age group and there’s plenty of it in, The Day The Flies Died.


Speaking to Catherine has reignited my interest and enthusiasm for this story. I hope to finish it very soon.


For anyone thinking of entering, I say go for it! What have you got to lose?


Finally, I would like to extend a very big thank you to Elaine for organising the competition. To Catherine, and all the other agents that give up their time and expertise to help us writers achieve our dream.



A special thanks to Catherine Pellegrino, of Marjacq Scripts Ltd for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Sarah.

* Photo Credit: Sarah Macdonald
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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