The Tarney Scalp – Zoe Gilbert

Spotlight 2012

This year’s winner was Zoe Gilbert with a young adult novel.

When a mermaid scalp goes missing from his friend’s beach hut, fourteen-year-old James Maggs begins a quest to track it down that leads him into a murky underworld of myths, drug dealing and hidden violence in an adult world where nobody tells the truth, not even his own family.

Zoe Gilbert writes poetry, short fiction and journalism. In 2012, The Tarney Scalp was longlisted for The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition and the Cinnamon Press Novel Award. She applied for the Spotlight competition in the hope of receiving some professional input that would push her the extra distance and enable her to get her first novel into print.


The Tarney Scalp has a strong and evocative title, an appealing seaside setting and some good descriptive passages. We recommended further research into genre (realism v. fantasy), age group (middle grade readers v. young adults) and plot. (In both children’s and YA fiction, the young protagonists lead the way with adults remaining in the background.)

Zoe’s mentor was Miriam Halahmy.

Read Zoe’s blog post on the mentoring process. 

Zoe’s feedback

“As part of the enormous learning curve that is being a writer, Adventures in Fiction really bumped me up.

The combination of the clear remit (making something more publishable, not just better in some vague way) combined with the structure really opened my eyes… Miriam’s suggestions were practical and made such good sense, I found I could not stop once I started re-plotting.

I’m excited by the ideas she helped me generate for improving the story and giving the book some more ‘oomph,’ and have lost my fear of making major changes. I plan on a rewrite that will strengthen the original story, get rid of the noise, and hopefully make my novel into something nobody can put down.”

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