SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE Winner Stephanie Cotela



Stephanie Cotela, winner of the July 2022 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of having feedback from Lorna Hemingway, of Bell Lomax Moreton Literary Agency.



Stephanie won this challenge set by Bell Lomax Moreton Literary Agency:


Lorna wanted “one OR two picture book texts with a summary paragraph to describe each text (including comps to books on the market/or films!)”


Lorna stated: I came to the conclusion of selecting Poka Paka’s Colour Quest by Stephanie Cotela.


Poka Paka, the polar bear explores the vast white landscape to find the colours from Mama’s bedtime stories. When the dark arctic winter arrives, he retreats to his den worried there will be no more colour. Until his curiosity leads him to the Northern Lights. This text was stunningly written with plenty of beautiful descriptions and warm poignant moments of dialogue. This text also managed to find room to teach young children about colours/the rainbow in a playful manner while not being didactic! This submission however really caught my eye from the start where Stephanie used some wonderful comps: For fans of The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel by Tracey Corderoy and The Rainbow Bear by Michael Morpurgo – This instantly grabbed my attention and painted the picture for what I was about to read!


Stephanie: Poka Paka’s Colour Quest is a result of years of revision, critique and resilience. I first imagined my colour-loving polar bear while on holiday in Toronto, Canada. In June! It's not completely off the wall for me to envisage all things arctic at summertime, I'm not a fan of the heat, but in this case, two very specific things sparked Poka Paka's creation. 

The first was the fluffy white, faux fur, rug in my hotel room, overlooking Lake Ontario, and the second was an Inuit sculpture exhibition, held at a small gallery in the Distillery District, which I nipped into solely to avoid the rain.  

That was 2019 when my eldest son was in Reception. (He’s now in Year 5!).


Poka Paka's story was much different back then. It featured a journey to the tropics on the back of a Beluga whale, a snarky walrus, a fun-loving spider-monkey and a missing jewel. This was the version presented to my son's classmates during world book week, accompanied by a sort of puppet show consisting of soft toys and my purple crystal Swarovski necklace. 

As cringeworthy as it sounds now, it was fun at the time. The children enjoyed the characters, but the plot structure was a mess. I knew nothing of word count limits, spreads or lyrical flow. But thanks to critique groups, SCBWI events and workshops and lots of industry feedback, Poka Paka evolved into a length-appropriate, reasonably polished picture book text.


Winning the July Slush Pile Challenge was a wonderfully unexpected surprise, major confidence boost and reminder of why we should never give up.


Someone, somewhere will eventually love your story!


I have written several picture book manuscripts since Poka Paka, but this one remains close to my heart, not only because it was the first, but for its connection to the planet, its inhabitants and the beauty that surrounds us, which too often goes unnoticed. 


I tapped into my experience as an art historian to bring colour and aesthetic to the forefront of the story alongside themes of hope, family and personal triumph, which (hopefully) makes Poka Paka an interesting character for readers both young and old(er).


Lorna suggested minor changes and offered advice to improve my story. She encouraged me to resubmit following revisions and also requested additional picture book manuscripts. This was above and beyond my expectations, as the competition prize was simply an agent 1-1.


Lorna’s kind, bubbly personality and enthusiasm was contagious. I am feeling positive and eager to jump back into the submission trenches with renewed optimism.


I am truly grateful to both Lorna and SCBWI-BI for this incredible opportunity.


                            Photo: Stephanie Cotela


A special thanks to Lorna Hemingway of Bell Lomax Moreton for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Stephanie.




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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