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Retreat Blog

The latest in what's interesting

Guest blog: Mason Ball’s The Dutch Wives

May 27, 2016
It’s great to have Mason Ball here today talking about his new novel that crowdfunding publisher, Unbound, have picked up. I love the sound of it and can’t wait to get my copy delivered to my Kindle once he reaches his funding target. Thanks for coming, Mason, and over to you… Let me open by thanking Amanda for giving me this avenue with which to hawk my wares, so to speak, no one knows more than another writer just how difficult reaching an audience or getting published can be! My latest book, The Dutch Wives, or The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths Of Cumberland County, is set in the dying years of America’s great depression, specifically Cumberland County in the state of Maine, and taking the real life medical record entries of a Doctor John M. Bischoffberger as its inspiration (examples of which are reproduced throughout the book) it weaves them into a fictional, strange and unsettling narrative of faith versus reason, of the pitfalls of magical thinking, and how we deal with life in the shadow of mortality. It’s 1934, John Bischoffberger has moved to the relative wilds of Naples, Maine, has married and set up medical practise. Part of his role is as medical examiner is to document all the deaths he deals with, to note the date, the name of the deceased and the circumstances under which they died. However, still somewhat shaken by his experiences during the first world war, John has lost his religious faith and struggles with the mundanity and common-or-garden tragedy of the deaths he comes into contact with. The years go by, and against his better judgement, and despite all evidence to the contrary, he becomes convinced that every death he deals with is in fact murder; a series of impossible murders committed by three strange characters living in the woods. He becomes convinced that an uneasy alliance of three itinerants is going about the county, killing. A stoic and hard-edged old woman, a vicious and spiteful little girl and a timorous thin man with bandaged hands and feet are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, drowning, suffocating, hanging and the like, men, women and children; each of the three harbouring a profound distrust of the other two, yet still this queer confederacy press on with their murderous work. As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost. The book itself has been in my head in one form or another literally for decades, in configurations both too abstract and too literal, swinging wildly between horror and fantasy, different approaches, tones and styles coming and going, false starts faltering on blank pages; until that is I read the medical records of Doctor Bischoffberger. But allow me to explain how I came to do so… Some years ago, on my thirtieth birthday, my then girlfriend (now wife) decided that I should collect something and

Matchbook Stories

May 24, 2016
Today I’m chatting with Ioanna Mavrou, co-founder of the independent press, Book Ex Machina, and writer of flash fictions. I came across their beautiful publications recently and wanted to find out more about them. Their Matchbook Stories series are tiny, beautifully formed literary magazines featuring tiny, beautifully formed stories. Book Ex Machina is basically two people: Thodoris Tzalavras and me. We are lucky to have a lot of wonderful creative book people support us, but when it comes down to it, it’s just the two of us running everything, wearing our many different hats. We started out by publishing Thodoris’s first book, in 2010, Nicosia in Dark and White, (a photography book that went on to win first finalist of an award that lots of big big publishers were short-listed for), and in the process we discovered how much we loved making books. We wanted to do a really high caliber photography book and there weren’t any publishers in Cyprus that do this so we decided to start our own. There was always the sense of doing cool projects—well made, with handcrafted elements, fun bookish things that maybe didn’t exist in the world before, and Matchbook Stories was kind of perfect for that. I love reading and writing flash fiction so I was playing around with different ideas on how to publish it in a new format. When people responded to it, we showed it to some of our favorite writers and took off from there! The best way to find out what we like is to read the stories we published. We don’t always know what we’re looking for before it finds us. We are selective but read with open hearts. We love it when writers surprise us with their stories, doing so much in so few words. We want stories that we’ll love, stories that will take our breath away. No pressure or anything. We don’t have a fixed dated for our next Matchbook Stories yet, but we do plan to open submissions again—the best way to find out when would be to subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media. We promise, we’re not spammy, we’ll only send you emails once in a while. We are working on a super cool bookish item right now—we are really excited about it and we’ll announce it in the next month or so. We also have another photo book that’s been in the works for a while, and a couple of nice literary projects, in addition to another Matchbook Stories, and who knows what else we’ll come up with along the way. For a tiny publishing house, that’s a lot! *** Thanks for coming, Ioanna, and sharing your story of starting your own publishing house. Best of luck with all your projects. You can follow Book Ex Machina on Twitter and sign up for the newsletter on their website. I for one shall be waiting to find out when submissions open as I’d love to have a story included in

Year of Indie Debuts: Skyjacked by Shirley Golden

May 19, 2016
A big welcome to author, Shirley Golden, who’s debut science fiction novel, Skyjacked, is published today. Congratulations and happy publication day, Shirley! As well as being a debut novelist, Shirley has been a winner in the Retreat West short story and flash fiction competitions more than once and she is a very impressive and versatile writer. I really enjoyed Skyjacked and I never usually read this kind of science fiction, which is actually rather strange as I watch films like it often, and I think Shirley may have converted me to read more of this genre. Shirley, your cast of characters are all very distinct and very real, how difficult was it for you to create so many different voices at once? It wasn’t something I was conscious of doing in the first draft. I was very much led by my main character, Corvus, whose voice was strong in my head. Once the interactions began with the other characters, I went whichever way the dialogue took me. I like to allow the first draft to come out in whatever way it will. Originally, I had three perspectives. But then I spent a great deal of time in later edits, swapping viewpoints and trying first or third person, until I decided to alternate between Corvus and Janelle in close third person viewpoint, as they underwent the most change, and I felt their internal monologues were distinct from each other. I honed the other characters’ ‘voices’ as I developed their backstories, and adjusted the dialogue, highlighting individual nuances. It wasn’t easy, and took many months of editing once the initial draft was written, but it’s the part of writing I enjoy the most. Your main character Corvus is given a great opportunity to change his selfish ways – do you think he’ll make the most of it? Mm, well, I think he’ll try. He’s nothing if not a trier! But it’ll perhaps be all too easy to slip into old habits. I think intentions to change are often hard to maintain long-term or when placed under pressure. I have written a first draft of a sequel so have a rough plan as to how far he will transform. But that could change quite dramatically over subsequent edits, so even I’m not sure at the moment. You explore the concept of AI robots having real human emotions and relationships – do you think this is something that could become a reality? I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of consciousness and how it comes into being. I believe that given the right amount of connections and experience, consciousness has the potential to develop in any living creature. It’s therefore not such a leap to imagine it would be possible for entities that mimic organisms capable of consciousness to develop in similar ways. I’m not so certain it would work if parameters are fixed within the systems, but think it’d be feasible if the systems are able to adapt. For me, a really strong

Comp results: April 16 Themed Flash

May 18, 2016
Many thanks to everyone that submitted stories on the theme of Danger. I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling tense recently while I’ve been reading them! Congratulations to the winners and all on the shortlist. The creeping sense of dread here was so well done. Wondering what the next dare was going to be and knowing that the danger levels of each were going to keep escalating had me completely gripped. Really lovely imagery and great use of the senses. The use of second person narrative really drew me in as well and gave it such a sense of immediacy. The author: Jude Higgins converted to flash fiction a few years ago after trying her hand at a novel on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA. She’s had pieces published in the Fish Prize Anthology, 2014, Landmarks anthology for National Flash Fiction Day, Flash Frontier, Visual Verse and forthcoming in Halo Literary Magazine and Severine literary magazine. She organises the Bath Flash Fiction Award and blogs at judehiggins.com The contrast of the child’s voice and the danger that I thought was coming is very effective. I loved that the danger didn’t turn out to be what I thought it was and that the ending is so open to interpretation. The author: Jan Kaneen is a mum, wife, sister and pug servant who recently got a distinction on the OU’s course A215 in Creative Writing. She loves flash fiction and writing short stories and is learning as much as she can about teeny tales to get match fit as she writes her first novel. The Shortlist Debris by Diane Simmons Fire Ants by Ali Forbes Out of Bounds by Jude Higgins Pear by Helen Young Red Things by JC Winter Rough Wine by Cath Barton Synthflowers by Robert Grossmith We’re Going to Pick Up Daddy by Jan Kaneen *** The next Themed Flash Competition deadline is 31st May 2016 and the theme is Riches. Winner and runner-up stories get published on the website and there’s cash prizes too. Find out more here. The annual RW Flash Fiction Prize has substantial cash prizes and the winning and shortlisted entries all get published in the annual anthology with innovative new indie press, Urbane Publications. This year’s judge is the esteemed flash writer, and novelist, David Gaffney. Read his tips on writing flash with an impact before you submit. The deadline for entries is 30th September 2016. Get more info here.

We’re Going to Pick Daddy Up by Jan Kaneen

May 18, 2016
The car seat’s all sticky on my legs. They make a squishy-squishy noise when I move them. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Mummy doesn’t say anything. I don’t think she can hear me so I ask my Moominmamma. She’s got smiley eyes and an apron and a big handbag. My Mummy’s exactly like Moominmamma – kind and looks after people. The only time my Mummy isn’t exactly like Moominmamma is when Daddy comes home from the army. When Moominpappa accidentally breaks a plate, Moominmamma says, ‘I’m glad it’s broken, it was pretty ugly.’ When Daddy breaks a plate, Mummy cries and runs upstairs until he’s gone to the pub then comes down and clears up the sharpy bits so we don’t get them in our feet. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ I ask Moominmamma really loud, squishing my legs. ‘Flippin eck Jessie,’ shouts Pauly, ‘can’t you see she’s driving?’ Pauly thinks I’m talking to Mummy. ‘She can’t listen Jessie because she’s concentrating and we’ve only been going twenty minutes and will you please stop doing that flamin thing with your stupid legs.’ Mummy looks into her little mirror. ‘Alright Pauly,’ she says then, ‘No Jessie love, we’re ages away. Why don’t you two play a game of I-spy to pass the time? This traffic’s awful and I need to concentrate.’ ‘I’m not playing with her,’ says Pauly. ‘She doesn’t even know the alphabet.’ ‘Come on Pauly love,’ says Mummy, ‘be kind to your little sister. She’ll never learn if we don’t teach her how.’ I do my special smile at Pauly, the one that’s like sticking your tongue out and we play I-spy for a bit. ‘Bugger,’ shouts Mummy and the car starts stopping on the little road next to the big one. Mummy puts her head on the steering wheel breathing all heavy like she’s been skipping. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘the engine’s overheated that’s all. It’s probably all the stopping and starting.’ She gets out and opens the front of the car. All smoke comes out and I say, ‘Look Pauly, it’s on fire.’ ‘It’s steam stupid,’ he says shaking his head, ‘don’t you know anything?’ He’s very clever our Pauly but he’s not always kind. Mummy gets back in and turns the key two or ten times. It makes a clicky noise. Baby Charlie wakes up. She’s in the front in her baby seat. Mummy looks at her then turns to us, ‘I think Rusty’s had it this time kids.’ Our car’s called Rusty because it’s knackered. ‘I’m going to have to telephone for someone to come and rescue us. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. There’s emergency phones every mile down the motorway. You two must stay in the car. I’ll take Baby Charlie in the sling.’ She’s very serious now, looking right at us. ‘Paul, I’m relying on you to look after your little sister.’ Lorries swoosh past as she walks away. ‘Pauly,’ I say, squishing my legs really fast, ‘I need a wee.’ ***