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Creative Writing Retreats

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

 

Online Creative Writing Courses

Get writing with the online courses.

Competitions

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

Books

Discover great new authors and read great stories with Retreat West Books.

Creating complex characters: Dolores in She’s Come Undone

July 20, 2018
Creating complex characters: Dolores in She’s Come Undone   This week it’s Dolores Price’s turn in the complex characters spotlight. Dolores is the star of Wally Lamb’s debut novel, She’s Come Undone. She’s a character that I use often in the workshops and courses that I deliver as she is amazing. Written by a 40-something man but one of the strongest and most memorable female narrators I have ever come across. The story follows her from childhood to middle-age and although, as the novel title suggests, she goes through some really hard times I never found the book hard-going. It was compelling, heartbreaking, funny, poignant and ultimately uplifting (without having a shmaltzy ending) even though it covers themes such as sexual abuse, adultery, abandonment, mental health breakdowns and obsession. We start with a young Dolores having a brutal introduction to the ways of the world when her beloved father leaves the family home as he’s having an affair, and never really bothers with Dolores again. Setting in motion a life for her that’s filled with mistrust, low-self-esteem, and a burning desire to be in control of people and situations, which ultimately leads to more heartache but with moments of joy and love along the way. So why is Dolores so memorable? She’s one of the most complex and contradictory characters I’ve come across and also one of the most consistent (the 3Cs of character). She’s surly, angry, manipulative and a liar. She’s funny, self-deprecating, vulnerable and desperate for someone to love her. She consistently behaves in ways that are really out of order but you find yourself rooting for her. She also consistently treats herself badly, physically and mentally, and you want to shake her when she looks like she’s finally having some moments of self-realisation only to slip back into the behaviours she’s always relied on, even though they are clearly harming her. What makes her so memorable is that we’ve all been there. We’ve all done thing we know are bad for us, we’ve all shied away from dealing with the things that are making us sad. Dolores goes too far in her attempt to control things and I don’t think there’s many of us that will have done lots of what she gets up to. I’m not going to tell you what she does – go read the book if you haven’t already. It’s a brilliant book and a brilliant learning tool for us as writers. Writing exercise Create a character that shares the traits I’ve listed above for Dolores. Play around and find a voice for them by writing for 20 minutes from the sentence starter: I wish I could… Then write a scene where they are doing something most people would think is a terrible thing to do but that will keep the reader on their side anyway.   If you’re feeling brave, post your scene in the comments below as we’d love to read it!    

Flash writing tips from Kathy Fish

July 10, 2018
Flash fiction writing tips from Kathy Fish Delighted to welcome Kathy Fish to the blog for the first time today. Kathy is judging the 2018 RW Flash Fiction Prize and I got to ask her all about what she loves about flashing. Kathy, thanks for coming. As an award-winning flash fiction writer yourself, what’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the form? Read a lot of flash fiction. There’s a wealth of excellent flash fiction online. Read such journals as Wigleaf, Pidgeonholes, Jellyfish Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Whiskey Paper, and more. Read Best Small Fictions. I also think my Fast Flash Workshop is a great, fun, supportive place for flash experts and beginners alike. What kinds of stories do you hope to see when reading the shortlist for the RW Flash Fiction Prize? I am most drawn to stories that move me without being maudlin. I’m a sucker for a mix of sad and funny. I love innovation and experimentation, but the story must also have a strong emotional core to really win me over. What makes a story stand out for you when you receive the shortlist to read? Freshness of language and approach. A powerful, emotionally resonant ending. What flash fiction story do you wish you’d written and why? Most recently, “Dear David” by Yael van der Wouden in Longleaf Review. I love it so much. That flash is to me, everything I mentioned above. It’s so strange and unexpectedly tender. And it’s completely new. I’m still thinking about it. Which flash fiction writers writing today do you admire and why? I’m asked that question so often. And there are so many! I’d say right now it’s the newer writers of flash that are really impressing me. The new work is more daring, more hybrid, more unexpected in the best possible ways. *** Thanks so much, Kathy. I just read Dear David and it really is fantastic. So, flash writers get writing and submitting your stories for Kathy to read. The deadline is 28th october and there is £755 in cash prizes available, plus all winning and shortlisted writers get published in the anthology by Retreat West Books. If you’d like to hone your flash skills alongside other writers we’re running 3 online flash workshops this Autumn where you’ll get to create up 42 new stories in two intensive weeks. Or there’s 1 space left to join us at the Flash Fiction Retreat we’re running in November.

Creating Complex Characters: Cassie in As Far As You Can Go

July 5, 2018
The third in this blog series, which is looking at memorable narrators and how we as writers can create them, is Cassie in As Far As You Can Go by Lesley Glaister. Everything about this novel is memorable even though how the plot would eventually play out was quite predictable. The oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere and how the Australian landscape is portrayed is stunning. The creeping sense of menace and paranoia, and the not being quite sure what exactly is going on even when you think you do. There are four main characters, Cassie, an organic gardener wanting more out of life than she’s  got – mainly an adventure, a family, a commitment from her adulterous boyfriend, Graham. In trying to get all of these things she signs them both up for a year-long job as housekeepers/companions on a remote sheep ranch in Australia. Here they meet obese Mara who they are to care for – she’s got some serious mental health issues, lives in a shed, and takes a lot of meds. Then there’s Larry, Mara’s partner and the person Cassie met in London to get the job. And that’s it. Just these four people stuck a very long way from anybody else, apart from next door neighbour Fred who lives miles away and a man in an old bus in the middle of the outback several hours walk away. As soon as they arrive it becomes clear that things are not quite how they were led to believe. There’s no phone, no computer but there is a lot of sexual tension. Larry makes it clear he wants Cassie and Graham suddenly believes in monogamy. Mara likes to wander around nude and lure Graham into her shed at every opportunity. Cassie has convinced Graham they should try for a baby. And it’s very very hot. The clever thing about how Cassie has been written is that initially she doesn’t appear complex at all. She seems, if anything, rather dim and gullible. As if there’s not much beneath the surface at all. She’s self-absorbed to a startling degree and all of the things that should be setting alarm bells ringing in her head, don’t. As she’s too busy worrying about what Cassie wants. But at other times, she’s nurturing and caring, sympathetic and insightful, trying to see the good in things no matter how bad they might be. Glimmers of a different Cassie hiding beneath the narcissistic surface. My feelings about her veered from complete frustration to sympathy to disbelief to wanting to give her a hug and back and round and back and around again. For a writer to play with your emotions repeatedly like that, they have definitely created a complex character. Writing exercise Create a character that is completely self-absorbed and put them in a dangerous situation that they can’t recognise because of their self-absorption. What makes them see the danger and finally take them out of their own head into the real world? How do they

The Word For Freedom Anthology Contributors

July 3, 2018
The Word For Freedom Anthology Contributors   We have now made a decision on the stories that came through the open submissions process for The Word For Freedom charity anthology, which is raising funds for Hestia; and are also delighted to reveal the fantastic cover donated by Jennie Rawlings at Serafim Design. Out thanks go to Isabel Costello for donating her story, The Word For Freedom, which was chosen as the title of the collection as it sums up the ethos of it so perfectly. I want to thank all of the writers who sent in an story for consideration. We really appreciate your generosity in being willing to donate your words to this anthology. Sadly we can’t include them all, and many of the stories that have not been selected are great and we’re sure they will find a home elsewhere. The decision about what to include has not just been guided by the quality of the story but also by the feel of the anthology as a whole. We have included a wide range of stories with different premises and themes to ensure that the collection has a good balance in content, tone, style, word count, etc. We are delighted to include the following writers and stories in this collection: Brick by Rachel Rivett Cover Their Bright Faces by Abigail Rowe Counting For England by Christine Powell Enid Is Going On A Journey by David Cook My Mother Left Me For A Tree by Rosaleen Lynch The Servitude Of The Sudaarp by Taria Karillion Not Our Kind Of Girl by Anne Hamilton One Woman, One Vote by Sallie Anderson Out Of Office by Emily Kerr Relevant by Anna Orridge Sayyida by Katherine Blessan The Colour Of Sunflowers by Kate Vine The Mermaiden by Dane Divine Those Who Trespass Against Us by Julie Bull Women Don’t Kill Animals by Carolyn Sanderson These stories join donated ones donated from several authors: Tiny Valentines by Angela Readman Below the Line by Victoria Richards The Second Brain by Cath Bore Myopia by Sophie Duffy We have more stories to come from Angela Clarke, Anna Mazzola, Helen Irene Young and Karen Hamilton. Delighted too (actually hugely overexcited!) that the amazing author, Marian Keyes, has also agreed to read an advance copy and provide an endorsement for us. We’re very excited about these stories and the wonderful collection we’re putting together to support Hestia. Keep an eye out for more details of the anthology itself and bookish events we’ll be doing with Hestia both live and on podcast.