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Retreat Blog

The latest in what's interesting

June 2016 First Chapter Results

September 27, 2016
The 10 chapters have been read and re-read by Jenny Savill and she has made her decision! Congratulations to …   WINNER: Caroline Waterer for MY SUMMER AS BRITANNIA There was a lightness of touch to this, and a deftness when it came to imparting information that I really admired. It’s so hard to give a sense of period without overdoing it, and the author has managed this well. Also a wry and intelligent humour coming through. I’m intrigued to read the whole manuscript. RUNNER UP: Rachael Dunlop for START WEARING PURPLE FOR ME NOW The tension builds well and the author has made a very good job of rendering a potentially unlikeable character, likeable. There’s a lovely rhythm to the prose, which serves to enhance the main character’s thought process. A joy to read. RUNNER UP: John Taylor for A POLICY ON KISSING A potential modern-day ROMEO AND JULIET. The writing makes it easy to engage with the characters and their predicament, and while great intensity of feeling is conveyed, there are laugh out loud moments too. Loving the distinct voices and the wry observations on bureaucracy and box-ticking. SHORTLISTED: REFUGE by Ruth Crow This had a great sense of place and setting, and a strong voice. On occasion, where dialogue is reported, I think the author could show it. I liked the intriguing twist at the end. THE CHANTEUSE FROM CAPE TOWN by John Constable Such a smooth, thriller-like tone. Precise, clean lines both in the description and the execution – almost architectural. This knows exactly what it is and who it is for. An intriguingly dry main character. Feels accomplished. THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME by Britta Jensen Very nice world building here – we enter a familiar yet definitely “other” world. The writing is well-pitched for a YA audience. I love how the writer makes the reader work to understand what’s going on – and rewards them for the effort. Also a clever premise. THE FLESH by Bev Morris Such a refreshing and unusual premise. I love how the writer has taken some of today’s concerns and stretched them to their logical conclusion, then set them in a recognisable world of tomorrow. It’s a really clever – and disturbing – idea, well told. THE LENS YOU LOOK THROUGH by Sue Cooper An action-packed beginning, full of intrigue. The author tells us a great deal over relatively small page space. I would suggest slowing down, showing us a bit more, and working also on your main character – helping the reader get to know her more. THE ZAK SCARAMOUCHE FAN CLUB by Christina Pishiris This has a contemporary feel, with snappy dialogue and lots of laughs. I sense a big, funny, romantic comedy. There is a great insider-authenticity to it. I would cut the initial explanation of what the fan club is and put it in later – entice the reader in with the promise of an explanation. THE WAY BACK by Catherine Morris The exploration of grief

Guest author: Tom Hocknell on researching historical fiction

September 21, 2016
Welcome to my latest guest author, Tom Hocknell, whose debut novel The Life Assistance Agency, is published on 22nd September 2016. Good luck with the book, Tom, it sounds fascinating… Writing a novel is hard enough, without needing to know which side of bed 15th century London Ferryman slept on. After ‘don’t write from the POV of a cat’, the best writing advice is ‘don’t write historical fiction,’ which is presumably why I ignored it. I have kept it to a minimum – 4 sections of a diary – but it still presented the perfect opportunity to avoid writing by doing research. I’m not using period dialogue either, nor chasing authenticity by writing in a quill. Another warning. Establishing historical characters is the easy part. Problems arise when they want to know things. Unlike contemporary protagonists, who can cut your word count by 5000 words via a Google search, historical characters have to actually meet people, or spend half their lives reading books – after learning to bloody read first, which doesn’t necessarily make scintillating fiction. . Of course nothing tells you that you’ve finished a novel involving a historical figure such as Dr Dee like an exhaustive exhibition on him being announced; of the sort you had prayed for when starting your research. It’s like finding everything you’ve Googled in the flesh, well, perhaps not everything. In light of my recent searches for a used car, garden compost and cheap flights, not to mention the OCCASIONAL search for more intimate distraction, this is for the best. Of course the most frustrating thing is to discover that your fascinating 16th century alchemist and angel-caller isn’t your historical figure, but other people’s too. A memo must have gone out a few years ago, because Damon Albarn wrote an opera on Dr Dee, Peter Ackroyd a book, and Random House eventually declined my novel because they had already signed a trilogy of novels involving, yup, you guessed it. Dr Dee. I got to the party late, but at least I got there. My delaying a visit to the Dr. Dee exhibition at London’s Royal College of Physicians is the stuff legends are made of, were legends compiled of illness, train cancellations and chicken-pocked childcare. However, facing another day of children’s TV spent wondering how, when, or indeed why, Noddy got his helicopter flying licence, while looking for a specific Lego figure last seen a year ago, I wrapped up the 2-year old amidst promises of ‘going on a choo choo train’ and actually left the house. On arrival at London’s Royal College, the 2-year old was chuffed with his lanyard like only someone can be who has yet to spend his life required to wear it. He frowned as I purred at the exhibition of glass cabinets containing what appeared to be neatly labelled 400 year old recycling. It’s the reunification of Dr. Dee’s library, the largest collection of 1500s England. He returned from Europe in 1586 to find it ransacked; as you do if you’ve chosen the wrong house sitter. The exhibition was thrilling, although the sort of thing my teenage self would be aghast at my attending, but these days I get excited by shutting my eyes for 5 minutes. Like Dr. Dee’s, I hope my belongings are collated one day, even if they provoke little else than: ‘what’s this pile of crap?’ ‘How many broken hole punches is it necessary to own?’ And

Win a 4 night Character is Destiny writing retreat

September 19, 2016
The first writing retreat we have booked in for 2017 is the Character is Destiny Retreat featuring masterclasses with novelist and screenwriter, CM Taylor. If you were at the 2016 Festival of Writing in York you may have seen Craig in action delivering workshops based on this. The classes at the retreat will be an expanded version that will teach you to tie in your themes and characters’ emotional transformation and behaviour to your overall plot. The retreat is taking place in West Bay, Dorset from 24-28 March 2017 and you can get all of the info on it here. The prize is to get your own room at the retreat for 4 nights, take part in all of the workshops, and all food and drink is included too. How can you win a place? As always, it’s by writing! As this retreat is all about character then we want to hear from your characters. Write a letter (up to 500 words) from one of your characters to another telling them something that they’ve never told anyone before. Think theme, description that works hard, voice and emotional arc as you write! Deadline: 30th October 2016 Entry Fee: £15 Competition Details Submit stories written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.45 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included) Maximum word count is 500 but there is no minimum Do not include your name on the story but provide a short bio in the body of the email Stories must be your own original work and not have been published online or in print By entering the competition you agree to your story being published on the Retreat West website and to attend the writing retreat Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction You can enter as many times as you like but each entry must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time The prize is a place at the writing retreat as detailed and is not transferable and there is no cash alternative The judge’s decision is final

Themed Flash Results: June and July 2016

September 19, 2016
Firstly, sorry for being so late with the June and July results. The number of entries received for the First Chapter comp that ended in June was more than double received in previous competitions and took a long time to process! Then summer holidays came along but finally the results are: June 2016 Only one story made the grade for this month.  I’m afraid we felt that the rest of the entries all lacked any real emotional depth or humour and either relied on punchline endings, just sort of petered out, or felt like they were part of something bigger and weren’t a complete story in their own right. Have a read of David Gaffney’s blog about writing flash that has an impact to really try and master the form. The winner is: Cath Barton for How to be a winner Congrats Cath – very apt title it turns out! We loved the humour in the voice and the off-kilter feeling of it and were never quite sure if it was an unreliable narrator or not. We’re still undecided now.   July 2016 Shortlist Dancing Partners, Diane Simmons Flight of an Eagle, Sally Lane Mortal Envy, Michelle Scowcroft Sister of the Dead Girl, Annie Dawid Two-Faced, Boo Singh The Locked Box in my Cupboard, Annie Dawid The Power of Prayer, Gwenda Major The winner is: Michelle Scowcroft for Mortal Envy A very different take on the theme that surprised us right from the start. Great use of imagery and language.   The runner up is: Sally Lane for Flight of an Eagle Nice sense of dread, claustrophobia and suspense with a great ending that left us wondering.   Congrats to the winners and shortlisted writers. August results will be posted in the next couple of weeks. There’s 3 more deadlines to enter for 2016 then for 2017 there will be slight change and there will be fewer deadlines. Instead of monthly, the comp will have 6 deadlines a year so every 2 months instead of every month. Themes will be online in December 2016. If you’d like to learn more about flash fiction writing then there is a new online flash fiction course coming in November 2016. More info on that very soon.

How to be a winner by Cath Barton

September 19, 2016
On the day I won the lottery I put on my sparkly four-inch heels. Bad decision, because I tripped on a kerb outside the restaurant where I was going on a hot date. My first thought as my face slammed into the plate-glass window was that I wouldn’t now be able to eat the soft-shelled crab that I’d been looking forward to. Correction, my first thought was for my spectacles and camera. Only after I’d checked that they were unbroken did I think about the crab. And then I looked around for my date. There was a lot of blood and screaming. It wasn’t me screaming but my date was embarrassed. My dress had been ripped by shards of glass. I wanted to cry – it was my favourite dress – but then I remembered my lottery win. What was I complaining about?! I smiled at my date, or tried to. The contortion of my rapidly-swelling face must have looked like a grimace. He started backing away. Thought: he had not yet heard about my lottery win. Cynical thought: he had nothing to stick around for. Well, if that was the way he saw things he was clearly not going to be life-partner material. Better to find that out now, though I was still sorry about the crab. This was supposed to be the best place to eat it in London. People were crowding round, asking me if I was okay. In my confused state I waved away all offers of help and set off down the road. The pain in my right ankle was nothing compared to the throbbing in my face. The next thing I knew I couldn’t move my arms. They were pinned down by a sheet and there was an antiseptic smell in my nose. So I was in hospital. That much I could work out. But my mind was fuzzy. I’d had a dream about winning the lottery. No! I had actually won it –the ticket was in my coat pocket. Shit! Where was my coat? The nurse had a kindly face, but she didn’t understand, thought I was asking for a comb. Not that I was making it easy. Forming words is tricky with a broken jaw. “Aha,” she said after I’d spluttered at her for a bit. “You want your coat! No, no, my lovely. You won’t be needing your coat for a while yet. Try not to talk.” I pulled my arms out from under the sheet and gestured turning the coat pockets inside out. In the end she brought my coat to shut me up. I searched in one pocket, then the other, then both again. Nothing, nothing, nothing! That was when I did start screaming, big time. The lottery ticket never turned up. My winning ticket. But my jaw and ankle got fixed. Every day I count my blessings. I don’t wear those crazy heels. I’m careful on kerbs. And I narrowly avoided a very bad choice of life-partner. I’m