SLUSH PILE Winner Natalie Rutherford


Natalie Rutherford


Natalie Rutherford, winner of the January 2023 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Molly Jamieson, Associate Literary Agent at United Agents.


Natalie won this challenge by submitting: “One picture book text (prose or rhyme), a maximum of 700 words and paginated into 12 spreads, on the theme of family.” Molly was particularly looking for “types of families that we might traditionally see represented in picture books” and requested a summary of the text in a paragraph beforehand.”


Molly chose Natalie’s entry as the winner: “My Slush Pile challenge winner is BUNNY BIRTHDAY by Natalie Rutherford. The tone was just right on the page, there are so many characters for an illustrator to sink their teeth into and for kids to look out for upon multiple re-reads, and the ending was lovely and satisfying. It brought to mind classic stories like Don’t Forget the Bacon (one of my all-time faves) and I liked that it foregrounded mum without losing the importance of the child characters.”





“I believe winning the Slush Pile Challenge might have been what they call ‘beginner’s luck’.


I had been meaning to join SCWBI for the longest time. I’ve been very tentatively dabbling in writing books for children for a while but only started to become aware of this whole world of amazing support out there in 2020. I live in rural west Cumbria and it’s fair to say I know absolutely no one ‘in real life’ who has anything whatsoever to do with publishing. But as the pandemic forced us all inside, I started to discover workshops and webinars, all online from the comfort of my own living room.


And on every Zoom call I joined, someone would invariably enthuse about how wonderful Scooby was, or how they’d found their critique group via Scooby, or how they couldn’t wait for the world to open up so they could go to Scooby events again. And as the mother of a seven-year-old who was absolutely obsessed with Scooby-Doo, I was baffled!


Eventually the penny dropped, and I realised Scooby was SCWBI. But it took me until early 2023 to get around to joining. I had started drafting a new MG story which I thought might actually have legs and I decided Undiscovered Voices was a suitable goal to aim for. So I paid my membership and then the very next Slush Pile Challenge, in April 2023, leapt off the screen at me. It was asking for a picture book on the theme of ‘family’ and one of my texts immediately sprang to mind.


Even so, I sent it off with absolutely no hope or expectation. I had kind of fallen out of love with all of my PB texts at that point, and was instead focussing on my new MG story.


So it was with absolute shock and delight that I received the email telling me my story had been chosen as the winner. I was in Japan at the time, and was having some rather crazy, jetlagged dreams, so there was a moment where I thought I had imagined it. But a few emails exchanged across time zones confirmed I was indeed the winner, and a date was set for my Zoom call with Molly a few weeks later when I was back in the UK.


I’d only ever had one agent 121 before and the call with Molly couldn’t have been more different. I was so nervous for my first one – partly because it was costing me a fair bit of my hard-earned cash and I wanted to maximise every second of it, and partly because it was only 15 minutes long.


The call with Molly was much more relaxed. She put me at my ease from the start and didn’t make me feel like she was in a rush to get off the call.


I think the other reason the call was relaxed was, as I say, I’d kind of fallen out of love with my picture book texts, so I didn’t feel the pressure I might have done if I was discussing a text I was desperate to succeed. Molly made a couple of small suggestions as to how the story could be improved but basically said she liked it, which was a huge boost to my confidence.


We chatted about our own favourite picture books, and Molly was happy to answer my questions about the world of publishing.


So if you’ve been thinking of entering the Slush Pile Challenge for a while and not thrown your hat in the ring yet – go for it. You might have beginner’s luck too.


And that new MG story I thought might have legs? It’s on the UV longlist. So I really am glad I joined the Scooby gang.”


A special thanks to Molly Jamieson, Associate Literary Agent at United Agents for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Natalie.



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. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.


Her twitter handle is: @elaineccline



  1. I congratulate and admire the Slush Pile winners but I took note of some of their experiences of previous rejections as those match my own, spanning a series of 4 picture books in well constructed verse that were trialed, refined and submitted through numerous websites. How revealing that one editor has loved and published a writer's work yet many others have disregarded the same text; where is the logic in that? The flood of submissions means that writers receive no feedback with rejections that could help in amending or encouraging future writing which leaves writers in publishing cul-de-sacs and very frustrated. Any helpful suggestions would be welcomed by us all!

    1. We are very pleased to hear you've found the article relatable and helpful. We often include tips for a more efficient and successful querying experience. We are in the process of putting together a guide with regard to submitting submissions for competitions and querying industry professionals and hopefully this will be on this website in due course.


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