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Retreat Blog

The latest in what's interesting

Results: Win a place at the self-edit retreat comp

July 26, 2016
Many thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win a place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat in November. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries and I’m delighted to announce that the winner is…Justine Kilkerr for her 500 word novel opening written to the prompt ‘A holiday at the beach’, entitled Sea Fret (read it below). Congratulations Justine. A beautiful piece of writing that immediately drew me in and left me wanting more. Look forward to meeting you at the retreat. Well done to all on the shortlist as well. Some great responses to the prompt and strong writing. Sea Fret It was a day muted by mist, unlike the sweltering days before, the morning she found the beached dolphin rolling in the surf and decided she would never go back. Kittiwakes ghosted above her on the updrafts, patrolling the crumbling cliff face. She watched a gannet hurl itself, bullet-quick, arrow-sharp, into the waves. It few underwater for a while, zigzagging after fsh, then bobbed to the surface like a cork and launched itself into the sky. She held the stone and traced its knuckled edges with a sandy thumb. It was the size of an apple and nestled, warming, in her balled fst. Her bare toes had found the ammonite in the sand as she had walked naked into the waves hours before, intent on never coming out. She allowed herself a smile that felt like a gift. Strange, how high and happy the morning had felt when she decided to walk into the ocean and not come out again. How simple this day had seemed then. But she had hissed at the pain in her stubbed toes and somehow forgotten her long-planned march into the waves. She had bent instead to scrape at the sand. The fossil came up in her cold fingers, its stone curves cradling millennia, and something had changed. She had put the stone to her lips, licked the salt and turned back to the beach, paddling herself through the water with her hands. Had struggled, shivering, into her shorts, damp T-shirt, jacket. Had walked towards the cliff along a high water line sketched out in black seaweed and broken shells, until she noticed the humped side of the dolphin, moving back and forth as the waves nudged it, gently, gently. The dolphin was dead. The beach lay heavy beneath its grey body and she sat down cross-legged on the wet sand there and hugged herself. The taste of brine on her tongue. The whispering of the waves. The animal gone into itself. She sat a while, she didn’t know how long. I will never go back. The road out was flooded. It was a spring tide, after all, and the tarmac held its breath below the milk-pale water; she couldn’t go back if she wanted to. Which she didn’t. Which meant that they would be coming to look for her as soon as the waters receded. She would not wait for them to come. So

Guest author: Amanda James – Do You Believe in Psychic Powers?

July 20, 2016
A big welcome to fellow Urbane author, Amanda James, today and very happy to be the last stop on her blog tour for her latest novel, Summer in Tintagel. This is Amanda’s fifth novel but her first with Urbane… I thought I’d have a chat to you about my novel that’s just out, Summer in Tintagel, and also about one of the main threads weaving the story together. I have always wanted to visit Tintagel and so went with my husband one cold but sunny winter’s day, not too long after we moved to Cornwall. It is known for being a place of magic and mystery; so of course, the writer in me immediately woke up and started taking mental notes. As we climbed the very steep and precarious hundred or so steps up the cliff edge to the ruined castle, surrounded by the myths and legend of King Arthur and his sidekick Merlin, the sun came out and a beautiful rainbow arched across the ocean. The title for my book came to me then, as did the bare bones of the story, though it was a bit sketchy to say the least. I was working on another book at the time, so put Summer in Tintagel on the back burner for a while. We went back to Tintagel in June and visited the ancient church on the headland and then everything fell into place, the beginning, the middle and the end. I don’t believe in any organised religion, but I am a spiritual person. I do think there is something beyond the flesh blood and bone of a person – something ‘otherworldly’ that not all of us can tap into perhaps? Or is it because we don’t have time to contemplate those ideas, as we’re so caught up in our busy day-to- day lives? Now, I’m not saying I have the gift of tapping into otherworldly things … but I once met a woman who did. A few years ago I went with my daughter to see a psychic. It wasn’t the first time I’d done this over the years, but this experience topped them all and certainly gave me something to think about. We sat across a table from each other, in the very ordinary sitting room of a very ordinary house, while the psychic, Maureen shuffled a Tarot pack and then I chose a selection of cards. She turned the cards and said random things that could really apply to anybody, then she started telling me the names of members of my family. By this stage I was trying not to let my mouth gape open, just nodded here and there, not really trusting my voice. Maureen also told me that I had some lovely vegetables growing in my garden and commented on which ones. She said, ‘Ooh, you’ve some lovely tomatoes and cucumbers there.’ I managed to nod. Then she said, ‘You like to feel the earth under your bare feet while tending them too, don’t you?’ I often did walk around the garden without shoes, still do. As you can imagine, I was gobsmacked to say the least. I asked her

Author interview: Alison Moore on Death and the Seaside

July 14, 2016
If you’ve been reading the Retreat West blog for a while, or been on a retreat with me, you’ll know that I am a big fan of Alison Moore’s work and especially loved her debut novel, The Lighthouse. Recently, I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of her latest novel, Death and the Seaside, which comes out with Salt Publishing on 1st August 2016, and then got to ask her some questions about it…   Alison, I found the whole novel to have a very surreal and dreamlike quality – is this dreamy heading into nightmarish atmosphere you’ve created a direct reflection of Bonnie’s state of mind? Throughout the novel, there’s a question of what can be trusted, what is real: there’s a story within Bonnie’s story, which in a sense is a story within the ‘real’ story, but they’re both stories; there’s the question of what is real within these storyworlds; there are references to dreams, whose worlds can feel completely real while we’re in them, and in a sense dreams are real experiences. So there’s this rather blurred boundary between what is ‘real’ and what is not, and I think that’s where that surreal/dreamlike/nightmarish atmosphere comes from.   The stories that Bonnie starts but never finishes all seem to be about her about her but she doesn’t seem to notice this, or accept it when Sylvia points it out. Do you think subconsciously she was trying to write a life story that she would really want to have, which is why she didn’t know how to end them as she didn’t know what she wanted? I think Bonnie’s stories, like her dreams, are a strange translation and exploration of experiences and possibilities, and the inclusion of autobiography in fiction can be a subconscious process – I know I’ve had moments where a piece of writing has been completed and even published before I’ve realised the connection between what I’ve written and something in my own life. Bonnie is so defensive about the parallels between herself and her protagonist that in fact I think this shows us how dangerously close she is to being this ‘fictional’ character.   For me, the strong themes of suggestibility, mind control and alienation also worked as a metaphor for what modern life in Britain is like. Is that something you intended? I have drawn on aspects of the contemporary world with respect to influence, which is a key theme in the book and includes the influence of advertising etc, which is related to suggestibility and so on, and Bonnie is deliberately written to be particularly responsive to the various messages with which she is bombarded.   Just like Futh and Lewis before her, Bonnie is a character that has no real friends to speak of. What draws you to write about people like this? What interests me is the dynamic between this quiet personality type – someone who is pootling through life – and what I call a disrupter, e.g. Sydney in

Guest author: Helen MacKinven – The Naming Game

July 9, 2016
Delighted to have Helen Mackinven back on the blog today for the launch of her new novel, Buy Buy Baby. It’s a great read and raised many ethical questions in my mind. Thanks for coming, Helen, over to you…   My latest novel is called Buy Buy Baby, and the naming of my new ‘baby’ is something that took a long time to get right. The title of a novel is important. Often I’ve heard of writers having very little control over the title of their novel although I’m lucky never to have experienced this scenario, not yet. When I wrote my debut novel, Talk of the Toun, the title remained the same from the submitted manuscript until the final publication. Except for one very important letter, which was ‘o’, as my original title was, Talk of the Toon. This caused a debate with my publisher and we even posed the question on social media, ‘Should it be ‘toon’ or ‘toun’? I was adamant that the spelling should be with an ‘o’ as that’s the right context for the urban Scots dialect of the book but my publisher felt ‘toon’ is associated with Newcastle football team. In the end, the publisher always has the final say and that’s that. With Buy Buy Baby, the title is very different from my original choice which was The Angel’s Bench. The novel is a dual narrative and throughout the story both characters, Julia and Carol, use a specific bench in a woodland area to rest and reflect. It’s a key meeting point and some of the most significant scenes are played out the bench. The reference to ‘Angel’ in the title becomes clear when Carol uses her time at the bench to remember her dead son whom she believes is now an angel in heaven. The original title made sense to me but when I secured a literary agent, she felt that it didn’t sell the book to readers and could lead them to think it had a spiritual theme. The key theme in the book is motherhood and how far two women will go achieve their goal of becoming pregnant. This results in a moral dilemma of whether or not the women are willing to pay the price on every level – financially, emotionally and psychologically. After many suggestions which bounced back and forth between my agent and me, we finally agreed on Buy Buy Baby as the right title. There’s also a reference to the Bay City Rollers song, Bye Bye Baby in the book so it worked on several levels. I’m also a sucker for alliteration. Long story short, I no longer have a literary agent but I still have the title and it’s one that my publisher felt ticked all the right boxes without changing a single letter! *** I have to say that I agree with the former agent that Buy Buy Baby is the better title! You can get a copy of Buy Buy Baby here and keep up to date with Helen’s writing news on her website and by connecting with her on Twitter.

Comp results: May 16 Themed Flash

July 5, 2016
Sorry these are so late but June was a very busy month and July is proving to be the same! Thanks to everyone that entered. The winning stories are…   Winner: Slime by Tamsin Macdonald Loved the metaphor and imagery in this story and the brilliant use of language to really evoke the sliminess of the world. The author: Tamsin Macdonald is a Manchester-based secondary school teacher by trade who is in the process of earning her writing stripes. Recently, she was a finalist in the Storgy short story competition and one of her short stories is published by World Weaver Press in an anthology of sirens-themed fiction. She writes at great length (novels) and short length (flash fiction, short stories, poetry) and enjoys performing at spoken word nights in Manchester.   Runner-Up: Milk Chocolate Bride by Christopher Stanley Great descriptions and imagery and I could really picture everything the narrator was seeing and dreaming and also feel the cloying chocolate in my mouth. The author: Christopher Stanley lives on a hill with three sons who share the same birthday but aren’t triplets. He writes to stay sane and has been mostly successful so far. The Shortlist Broken Pennies by Angela Dacre Crown by Josie Turner Dungeons by Andrew Wills Easily Parted by Sally Davies Milk Chocolate Bride by Christopher Stanley My Tatelah by Annie Dawid Slime by Tamsin Macdonald Winter Sun by Clare Isla *** The next Themed Flash Competition deadline is 31st July 2016 and the theme is Envy. 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 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.