SLUSH PILE winner Meredith Vigh



Meredith Vigh, winner of the January 2022 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of having feedback from Christabel McKinley.    


Christabel of David Higham Associates set a challenge of "Writing on the theme of New World. She had a real yearning for adventure (probably from being cooped up so much over the last two years!) so wanted to receive a picture book text that showed the magic of discovering the world is bigger than you think. Entrants could interpret ‘world’ in a literal, metaphorical or figurative sense – she just wanted to feel the surprise and delight of discovery in it. Maximum of 800 words."


Christabel stated: "After careful consideration of all your texts, the one that lingered most strongly in my mind was JINGLES ALL THE WAY by Meredith Vigh, in which an ambitiously considerate elf decides to take on the task of spreading Christmas cheer to children throughout the galaxy. Seasonal texts are always a bit of a gamble, given how difficult it is to sell them for three out of four seasons of the year, but the message at the heart of this story touched me deeply. Particularly coming from a mixed faith background myself, I don’t think I can recall seeing another text that celebrated the beauty and validity of all types of celebration, without needing to choose one over the other. In the ever more diverse cultural landscape we live in, this message rings warm and true – and the vibrant, fun-filled rhyming adventure it comes wrapped in just makes it all the better!”




As far as nicknames go, ‘Near-Miss Queen’ isn’t one I particularly wanted to be known by. Unfortunately, for a long time it was a nickname that fit. When the January Slush Pile Challenge was announced, I wasn’t exactly feeling hopeful. The past few years had been rough, and I was ‘having a break’ as a result. I almost hadn’t renewed my SCBWI membership the previous October thinking there wasn’t any point, but at the last minute decided to give it ‘one more year.’ When I read the criteria, I immediately knew I had a story which fit the bill. But it was a Christmas story, and I was hesitant. I had been told many times seasonal stories don’t fly for debuts. Was it even worth entering?


The thing is, I’d been telling myself that instead of running around trying to make things happen, I would wait for opportunities to find me. And an opportunity was staring me in the face. I had something which ticked the box, I’d come runner-up years before with a different Christmas story, and the agent judging the competition also happened to have ‘christmasbell’ as her twitter handle! Was this a sign? Well, sign or not, you’ve got to be in to win, so I sent it off and forgot about it. No point in holding my breath when I was up against 80 other entries.


I had written, Jingles All the Way in January 2020, exactly two years earlier. It had been sent out on submission the following November, and I was gutted when it didn’t receive a single comment from anyone. Both my former agent and I had thought it was a fun, unique story with a strong hook, though in retrospect given everything that was going on in the world and within children’s publishing at that time maybe it simply wasn’t the right moment to be sending out debut texts, especially rhyming, seasonal ones. When the email arrived saying I’d won, I was honestly stunned. I had to read it a few times to make sure it did say I was the winner and not something else! But as a bunch of tweens were about to descend upon my house for a birthday party sleepover, I didn’t have time to be excited.


The past few years had been rough, and I was ‘having a break’ as a result. I almost hadn’t renewed my SCBWI membership thinking there wasn’t any point, but decided to give it ‘one more year’ 

When the announcement was made the following day, I was able to take a moment to be pleased about what was a much-needed boost to my confidence. Christabel’s comment, “I don’t think I can recall seeing another text that celebrated the beauty and validity of all types of celebration, without needing to choose one over the other,” made it clear she completely understood what I had been trying to say with my story. I was extremely overwhelmed by how many lovely and supportive messages I got from the online writing community regarding my win.


With book fair season about to start, I wasn’t expecting to hear from Christabel anytime soon. But she got in touch promptly and asked me to send further stories — those I was proudest of and which I thought represented my style. As I’ve been writing for many years I had quite a few to choose from. This called for an emergency meeting with the more local members of my fabulous critique group! We mulled the likely contenders over a veggie chilli and a bottle of wine - but the consensus was for sending the same stories I had been thinking of sending myself. Job done!


I was impressed Christabel was able to find time for a Zoom chat right between two busy book fairs. She was fully prepared, with insightful comments on the stories I’d sent. She is also extremely lovely, and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with her about my writing and about children’s publishing in general. We also talked a lot about timing. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that so much of a person’s success really does come down to good timing and luck, both of which I hadn’t had much of in the past. But Christabel’s enthusiasm for my work was uplifting and I went away feeling excited about my craft again.

I had to step away, let go, and focus on finding joy in other areas of my life before I started seeing improvements again 

I immediately got to work revising, based on Christabel’s excellent feedback and was pleasantly surprised to find the enjoyment I used to feel when writing — but which I’d lost in recent years — was returning. Still, when sending the stories back for a second look, I tried to let go of any expectations. I’m delighted to say Christabel loved the changes and is now my agent! Once again, I was overwhelmed by the response from the writing community to this — it was amazing to see so many people cheering me on.


To think I very nearly didn’t bother entering this competition. We all know that current times have been tougher than ever for authors, especially debuts. I know from personal experience that the well-meant, ‘keep going - perseverance is key,’ is not always the most helpful or even wanted advice. This industry is tough. It often makes zero sense as to who/what gets published, and who/what doesn’t. If you find submitting is becoming detrimental to your mental health, then I would encourage you to do what you need to do to fix that as your mental health is of the upmost importance. I had to step away, let go, and focus on finding joy in other areas of my life before I started seeing improvements again. I am truly grateful to both Christabel and SCBWI-BI for this incredible opportunity.


* A special thanks to Christabel McKinley for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Meredith.


*Header photo: Meredith Vigh



Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over eight 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.
Twitter: @elaineccline



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