The Kelpies Prize

Kelpies Prize 2019

Shortlist Announced

Firstly, a whole-hearted thank you to all the talented writers who entered this year’s new format Kelpies Prize. We received a record number of entries at an incredibly high standard – and as a result our judging team made the decision to increase the shortlist from three to six for the first time!

If you didn’t make the shortlist this year (or even if you did…) we strongly encourage you to enter the Kelpies Prize 2020. Entries will open in late August following the announcement of this year’s winner – watch this space and follow our social media channels for details.

Entrants to this year’s prize were asked to submit three writing samples along with synopses for two different children’s books. Read on to meet the shortlist for the Kelpies Prize 2019 (in alphabetical order):

Bobby Finn

Bobby FinnBobby Finn is a radio producer by trade and has written scripts for some of the biggest names in comedy including Fred MacAulay, Rich Hall and Mel Giedroyc. He has also written for TV, including scripting the third series of BAFTA award-winning CBBC show The Dog Ate My Homework. Bobby is one of the 2019 recipients of the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Awards and is currently working on a series of Scottish re-tellings of the classic fairytales including ‘The Pied Piper Of Hamilton’, ‘Snaw White and the Seven Wee Fellas’ and ‘Jock and The Beanstalk’.

The judges enjoyed the laugh-out-loud tone of this entry, and noted the author’s flair for creating original and imaginative comic concepts.

This is the opening of his comic story for young readers, Buddy Blue and the Difficult Sandwich:

Alan Smith did not have 300 teeth. He could not play the glockenspiel with a potato, he was not the inventor of the hedgehog and there was nothing particularly exciting about his trousers. He was quite simply a very ordinary little boy. 

He was called Alan Smith for a start.

Obviously Alan is a lovely name in its own right and Smith is dead easy to say, but when you put them together they’re about as thrilling as a cardboard sandwich. It didn’t help that nearly everyone else had interesting names these days. You couldn’t walk down the street without meeting some kid with an exciting name like Gladstone or Shoebox or Riceface. But Alan was just Alan Smith from Dumphie.

Karen Hussain

Karen Hussain Karen Hussain was born in East Kilbride, near Glasgow. Though she studied French and Italian at University, she now spends her time correcting other people’s English as an editor for large multinational organisations. She has been secretly addicted to writing children’s fiction for many years and is ready to come clean about her habit. She lives in Glasgow in a recently emptied nest with her lovely husband Nasir and an attention-seeking cat.

The judges noted her entry’s amusing, quirky tone, and a capacity to write engagingly for middle grade readers of both fiction and non-fiction.

The following is from First-Hand Histories; a series of ten short stories accompanied by a modern, light-hearted narrative that weaves the stories together and explains Scotland’s 18th Century as a whole.

I have a confession to make. And it’s an important one, especially from a Narrator of a Scottish history book.

When I was younger, I got Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie confused.

You see, they both had three-barrelled names, they were both Scottish royalty with claims to the throne and they both had definitely creative ways of dealing with failure. Robert the Bruce consulted spiders in a cave and Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped capture by dressing up as a woman.

The fact that they were running around the Highlands of Scotland almost 500 years apart was a mere detail that passed me by. It is the equivalent of confusing our present Queen Elizabeth II, she of the fetching hats and cheery wave, (still bustling through 2019) with Queen Elizabeth I, she of the chopping block and fearsome hair (busting heads in 1559).

History can be so confusing, can’t it?

Helen MacKenzie

Helen MacKenzie

Helen MacKenzie is a freelance copywriter for law firms and other businesses, and is based in West Lothian. She decided to focus seriously on writing children’s fiction in 2014, and has since won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ Award for Children and Young Adult Fiction, as well as being shortlisted for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition (twice!), and longlisted in the Bath Children’s Novel Award. When she is not writing, Helen volunteers at her local museum. She also loves walking and cycling – especially if it involves coffee and cake.

The judges found her entry involving and atmospheric, with intriguing characters, a confident voice and an accomplished writing style for both middle grade and teen.

In this short extract from Hagstone, a magical realism story for young teens, Sam discovers something unusual in his late Grandad’s art studio:

I look at the paint-box. Put the tube back in place. And I wonder if there’s any way that Dad will let me have it, when all this is done. It’s gorgeous, after all. Well-used but loved, and it’s even got a second layer, hidden under the first.

I pick up the top tray and check out underneath, but it’s just a mess of brushes and scrapers and something odd – a stone. I can’t figure out why there’s a stone in a paint-box, so I pull it closer with my finger and pick it up. It’s bigger than I thought, filling my palm almost completely. It’s an unusual shape too: a wonky grey triangle, about as thick as my thumb, with a perfect round hole in the middle.

It feels solid in my hand. Almost warm. And I can’t help but lift it to my eye and look through the hole.

Orange light. Flickers of red. It’s hot, hot – scorching hot.

‘Fire!’ I yell and drop the stone, staring out across the room. Except there’s nothing there. Just the walls and the worktop and the window to the side. I could have sworn…

Christopher Mackie

Christopher MackieChristopher Mackie grew up in a quiet village outside of Glasgow and first learnt the art of storytelling when he convinced his parents he had nothing to do with that stain on the carpet. Since then, he’s grown up very little, learnt even less, and now works as a dentist in Forth Valley, despite living in Edinburgh, because no dentist should ever live within ten miles of their patients. Chris spends his free time writing or pestering his family and long-suffering girlfriend to read whatever he’s working on. He’d love to do a bit more writing and a bit less gum gardening, but he’s become accustomed to a roof over his head, so he’s prepared to compromise on that front. Chris has no writing qualifications whatsoever, but his mum thinks his stories are “quite good”. This is the first time he’s ever been shortlisted for any prize that didn’t include the word ‘participation’, so he’s quite excited about that too.

The judges enjoyed Chris’ insightful characterisation, his powerful, engaging narrative voice, and skilful writing for older readers.

Here’s Nathan, who shows early signs of schizophrenia, in the opening scene of The Birdcathcher of Blythswood Square:

I go to open the back door again, but not before a familiar, unwelcome tingling passes down my fingertips. “Not now,” I mutter, “please. Not with all these people…”

But pleading with the sensation never helps, never speeds its passing. Obsessive compulsion is as unreasonable, unseasonable and unfeasible as Scottish weather. It cannot be bargained with or implored upon. It comes when it wishes and departs when it alone sees fit.

My fingers find the cold metal of the handle and pull down. Then push up. Down. Up. Down. Up. The latch clicks, releasing then relocking, as my hand twists back and forth, a perpetual motion machine that opens and closes the door twelve times.

“Let. It. Go!” I tell my disobedient hand, as tears begin condensing.

Catalogued Emotion #1: Frustration
A feeling of upset or annoyance at not being able to change something.

Tears of frustration, that’s why I’m crying. It has nothing to do with Stuart; it’s just that my tics are especially disruptive today. I file this emotion into the banks of my mind, nestling it amidst the others, a fragile egg in an unstable nest.

Emma Mason

Emma MasonEmma Mason was born in Germany but has lived in Edinburgh most of her life. She wrote her first “book” together with a friend at age ten, and spent her teenage years writing fan fiction online. She spent her gap year volunteering at a nursery for visually impaired children in Germany, and is now studying English and American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent. She loves anything creative, second-hand bookshops, and thinks life would be incredibly boring if she wasn’t always writing stories.

The judges enjoyed this entry’s realistically drawn characters and relationships, natural writing flow, and strong range of concepts for middle grade and teen.

In the following extract from teen thriller Missing, Mairi discovers that her former best friend has disappeared:

Now, seeing Mum’s face, I suddenly remember Hanna’s sunshine smiles. I wonder when I last saw one of them. Not for a while, actually. It’s weird; I hadn’t really noticed they’d stopped.

I sit down silently, like Mum told me to, wondering what could possibly be the matter with Hanna. I really, really don’t want to know.

“When was the last time you saw Hanna?” Mum asks.

The knot in my stomach starts hammering. Anything but this; she can’t be asking this.

“I don’t know…” my voice is way too light, on edge; it takes all my effort to stop it from crumbling at the edges. “A-a couple of days ago, I guess…” I can’t look at her, and I have to. Otherwise she’ll know.

“And how did she seem to you?” Mum sounds way too gentle.

Shit; shit, shit, shit. This, whatever’s wrong with Hanna… I’m part of it. And Mum knows.

I don’t know what to say.

“I don’t know…” my brain says again, on autopilot, trying to keep me seeming normal while the rest of me stands on edge. “N-normal, I think…”

She can’t know. Not right now. Because this, whatever it is, it’s bad. I just know it.

“Why?” I ask.

Shouldn’t have asked that, Mairi. What are you thinking?

“Well…” Mum pauses, putting her words together. Still so gentle, cautious. It makes my hair stand on edge.

“The thing is…” she goes on, “I had a phone call from Mrs Sharif this morning.” That’s Hanna’s mother. Mum pauses.

“Mairi, this is really serious.”


“The thing is, Mrs Sharif said… Hanna didn’t come home last night. Mairi, Hanna’s missing.”

And my world changes.

Libby Valentine

Libby ValentineLibby Valentine is a happy full-time mum from Fife. In her past life as an advertising copywriter, she wrote about everything from airlines to shortbread biscuits, but all she ever really wanted to do was write for children. As a child, Libby felt that reading was some sort of “in joke” she just didn’t get, and now she writes for those children. She also enjoys building Lego creations, fixing toy cars and doing all the voices when she reads stories to her son.

The judges noted this entry’s crystal-clear concepts and wry but natural humour, well-pitched for younger readers.

The following extract is from the opening of her comedy crime caper for young readers, The Snatchitts Save the Day:

When Nick Snatchitt and his trusty guard dog, Derek, got home from school, everything seemed normal enough. Gran was practising on her climbing wall in the hall, Dad was probably out in the shed, polishing his crowbar. And Mum was in the kitchen getting Dad’s supper ready before he went out for a hard night’s robbing. But nothing was normal for Nick. Everything had changed for Nick.

“Hello, son,” Gran shouted from up near the ceiling. She was hanging from the wall by one hand, without a helmet.

Gran Snatchitt used to be a cat-burglar, the best in the business. Some people said she could have scaled a wall of sheet glass. But all those years of climbing in windows on damp nights had given her rheumatism, and she couldn’t climb like she used to. Eventually, she had to retire because the clicking of her rheumatic knees kept waking up guard dogs. No use being a cat burglar if you’ve got noisy knees. So now she just practised on the climbing walls at home.

“Good day at Miss Felon’s?” she asked.

Miss Felon’s Academy is the name of Nick’s school. Its proper name is Miss Felon’s Academy for the Cultivation of Wayward Children (Making bad children badder since 1876).

You see, being dishonest is what the Snatchitts did best. They were like the Royal Family of burglars. They always stuck by The Code, they never took anything that somebody needed more than they did, and they never ever robbed from anyone who couldn’t afford to lose what they were swiping. They’d been robbing and generally being a bad lot for as long as anyone can remember – until Nick came along, that is. You see, no matter how hard he tries to make his family proud of him, Nick is just no good at being bad.

The Prize

We’ve put together a prize package designed to help the Kelpies Prize-winner grow and develop as a children’s writer, consisting of:

  • A £1,000 cash prize
  • One year of mentoring by an experienced editorial team
  • A publishing contract with Floris Books
  • A week-long writing retreat at Moniack Mhor, plus £100 towards expenses

You’ll find full details of what’s on offer in our Terms & Conditions.

History of the Kelpies Prize

The Kelpies Prize was launched in 2005 to find the best new Scottish writing for children. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with many of the winners and shortlisters going on to have sparkling writing careers. Find out more about our past Kelpies Prize winners.