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Creative Writing Retreats

Up your word count and learn with great authors on residential writing retreats.

 

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Get your work read by top literary agents, win cash prizes and get published in the creative writing competitions.

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Author Helen Young on the inspiration behind her new novel, Breakfast in Bogotá

November 6, 2018
Author Helen Young on the inspiration behind her new novel, Breakfast in Bogotá Set in 1940s Colombia, Helen is actively crowdfunding her novel with Unbound. Here, she opens up about bringing a forgotten city to life and travelling thousands of miles in search of character.   Thanks for coming on the blog, Helen. So tell us the all important bit…what’s the book about? Breakfast in Bogotá is about a broken architect trying to build something new. Firstly, for himself, but then for a nation – or so he thinks. The story begins in post-war Colombia – 1947 to be exact. It wasn’t that much different to Europe then. Everyday people were still reeling from hyper-inflated food and fuel prices, whilst the rich thrived. The novel opens with Luke Vosey, an architect, witnessing something horrific over breakfast in a central city cantina. Luke has fled his life in Europe and a woman known only as Catherine. He thinks he’s safe in Colombia and out of it, but that’s far from true. He meets a young journalist, Camilo and a draughtswoman called Felisa. Through them, he sees that more people are broken in Colombia than in Europe. Events come to a head with the assassination of the leader of the liberal party on the streets of the capital. Following this, the people tear the city to shreds. That’s a real turning point for Bogotá, and for Luke. Things go full circle for him then. It’s a novel of redemption and learning to look back to move forwards – if he can. Why Colombia? I wanted to blow the lid off stereotype and show what came before the drug cartels. About three years ago I was in an area called La Merced in Bogotá and started to pay attention to the mock-Tudor architecture there. It was extraordinary – how high on this Andean plateau someone in the 1930s had decided to build these red brick Elizabethan-style houses. I thought there was something in that. I found the contrast fascinating and it got me thinking about the kind of city that came before the one we have today. Nowadays, the city is polluted and full of high-rise apartment blocks. In many places the past has been erased. It’s a cautious city now – most people still live behind barbed wire fences and with 24-hour security; when you look back at the 30s and 40s, these same streets are sweeping wide avenues with houses and low-level apartment blocks. The assassination of Gaitán on its streets and what this did to the people, how their grief manifested itself (in Bogotá’s destruction), fascinated me. What did you find when you went looking? I managed to get hold of some fantastic resources published by the national library in Bogotá. Maps and aerial-photography which show the city before the riots and after. It really helped me to build up a detailed plan of the city in the late 1940s. I really enjoyed laying the tram route (tram cars were set on fire and the lines destroyed by the rioting in ’48) over the modern day road plan and reinstating the grand railway stations and lines (also now lost). All these things exist only as scars on top of the modern city now. Those aerial-photographs enabled me to track the progress of the riots too – to see how far

Protest themed flash shortlist

October 31, 2018
Many thanks to all that entered this competition. The theme didn’t seem so popular this time around and we received less than half the number of entries we normally do. Any feedback on the themes would be great so do drop us a line at news@retreatwest.co.uk to let us know what you think of them. So we have gone straight to a shortlist this time. But the standard of stories that we did receive was as high as ever so well done to our shortlist. I’ll be re-reading them all and will have results in November. Readings are still anonymous at this stage so please don’t let us know the name of your story if it appears here. We received more than one just called Protest so that one could belong to a few people! Protest themed flash shortlist Dice of Life FAB Iconoclast Orangutan I Just Want To Say Lumpen No Nazis On Our Streets No Thin Blue Line Protest Summation Ted, Sylvia The Candidate The Protest   The next theme is Running Away and the deadline is 30th December. There’s £400 in prizes available and publication on the website. Get all the info here.   
Books Insights People

Guest post: Laura Laakso – Building Worlds with Words

October 29, 2018
Delighted to welcome Laura Laakso to the blog today as her debut novel, Fallible Justice, publishes. More delighted than usual as although it’s always great to have first time novelists featured on the blog, this novel was discovered by publisher, Louise Walters, through the Retreat West First Chapter Competition. You can read all about that here. But today is all about the wonderful world that Laura has created for Fallible Justice. I was completely gripped by this atmospheric novel and I wouldn’t usually be remotely interested in a novel that features magic. But after reading the first chapter in the competition, I knew that this was going to be a novel worth looking out for. So, over to Laura. Building Worlds with Words World-building is a little bit like Marmite; writers either love it or hate it. Those who love it can have the habit of going overboard with details. A friend of mine used to write detailed treatises on the economics and politics of a world in which he set his Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We, the players, were expected to read them, but I don’t think any of us did. Why? Because the information was only interesting to its creator. The above, I think, sums up perfectly world-building in novels, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, where the setting is not given. Every author has to find that balance between revealing enough to give the reader’s imagination wings and boring them to tears with the municipal facilities of a city the characters briefly visit. This is something I’ve been mindful of in recent years, given that my debut novel, Fallible Justice, begins a paranormal crime series Wilde Investigations. Unlike Marmite, I love world-building. I could spend all day imagining different races and settings without ever getting bored. In fact, I’ve done just that on many occasions. But when it comes to my current novel series, I view world-building as part of the overall puzzle rather than a separate element. It’s a thread woven through the story instead of the scenery in the background. When I began planning Fallible Justice, the original idea dictated the setting for the story. The plot hinged on otherworldly beings called the Heralds of Justice, who were capable of looking into a person’s soul to determine guilt or innocence, but also on modern technology. It made sense to settle for London, given that it is a city I know well. I never sat down to figure out the world as such, all the details grew organically from the plot. When I needed a group who were the keepers of peace and summoned the Heralds, it made sense to call them Paladins of Justice. I needed a degree of separation between the magical beings and humans, so the City of London borough became Old London, where the magic users live. The ruling class became Mages and my main character’s apprentice a Bird Shaman whom all pigeons adore. The term magical realism seems like a

Winners of the Page Turner Course

October 24, 2018
After a lot of reading and re-reading of her shortlisted entries, Rose has chosen the winners of the How To Write a Page Turner course. The two first place winners get the course with feedback option and the two runners-up get the no feedback version, which is exactly the same course content but, you guessed it, doesn’t get the feedback from Rose at the end! Congratulations to our winners and all of the writers that made the shortlist too, which you can see here. The challenge was to write a novel opening up to 200 words from the sentence starter ‘I read it in a book…’   Winner: The Names of Rivers by Julia Robinson Rose said: This story is beautifully atmospheric, both the setting and characters become real and captivating through the sensual descriptions. The reader is also instantly immersed in the mystery and the promise of a deeply intriguing tale. I read it in a book, the origin of Mary’s new name, ‘Rivers’. Mary Harlow had recently married Jack Popa Rivers, a blues guitarist and old white dog, first brought to New Orleans on board a merchant ship. Born in Liverpool, England, he had visited every port in the world. We were on Mary’s houseboat, the Mississippi stretched before us, long and coiled, like a jewelled serpent. Mary’s red hair was tousled about her shoulders, her mouth curved in a close-lip smile. She was trying to avoid my gaze. “It’s derived from the same Latin root as rival. Rivers have always been contested and fought over, in the same way as territory. And there are so many other meanings attached to rivers. Up the river – sent to prison. Down the river – betrayed,” I said. Mary sucked in the air and turned her head to look me right in the eyes. “And what is the origin of your name Lucy Pearl?” I reflected. Jack Popa once told me that a Pearl is a thing of beauty. I licked my lips, tasting the salty tang of the river. “A Pearl is opaque and hides its meaning under smooth, iridescent skin,” I said.   Winner: Duplicity by Jac Harmon Rose said: This story was chosen as a winning entry because the tension in it crackled like the fluorescent strip lighting in the police interview room where it is set. The imagery used is striking and memorable, haunting. The final reveal is an intriguing twist and makes you want to turn the page. I read it in a book …’ I shape the words with care. He cuts in. ‘And you remember it exactly?’ Given who he’s talking to it’s an unnecessary question. I shrug. He lounges back in his chair, tapping at his teeth with a biro. It makes me squirm and he knows it. I close my eyes. The lighting is harsh for such a small room. Fluorescent tubes pulse above and I think of the jellyfish in the seafront aquarium. Thin, utilitarian jellyfish. My head aches. I breathe slowly. In. Out. He’s waiting for me to fill the silence.