2021 Retreat West Prize Results

Many thank to our judges, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Elvy and Tim Craig, who had to make the final choices between the 10 shortlisted stories in each category. Our reading team are glad they can hand over this final decision!

All 30 stories are excellent and will be published together in the anthology later this year. We can’t wait to bring them all to you.

2021 Short Story Prize Results


  • A Trip to the Island, One Last Time by Catherine Ogston
  • An Open Garden by James Mason
  • Grit by Jess Moody
  • Self-archaeology by Juana Riepenhausen
  • Stuck for Words by Iqbal Hussain
  • The Jellyfish at the Traffic Lights by Susan Swan
  • The Leonids by Paul Jackson
  • The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife by Helen Chambers
  • The Visitor by Emma Naismith
  • Yet Another ‘Missing Children’ Poster Adorns the Lampposts of a North-East Fishing Village by Kathy Hoyle

Judge’s Comment: It was a joy to read all the shortlisted stories. I loved the strong, vivid visuals and building sense of dread in ‘Stuck For Words’;  the desperate melancholy and unusual use of time in ‘An Open Garden’; the steady build and new take on urban fantasy in ‘Grit’; the fast pace and emotional complexity of ‘Self-archaeology; the readability and retro Twilight Zone feel of ‘The Leonids’; the vivid world-building and a killer last line of ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife’; and the unusual use of a child’s point-of-view and the strong sensory detail (particularly sound) in ‘Yet Another Missing Children Poster’.

First Prize Winner: The Jellyfish at the Traffic Lights by Susan Swan

Kirsty said: I loved this quiet apocalypse, with its sense of forbearance and inevitability mixed with wonder and hope.

Second Prize Winner: The Visitor by Emma Naismith

Kirsty said: This is effective and clever storytelling; I appreciated the rising tension, strong characters, and beautiful mix of fantastical and mundane worlds.

Third Prize Winner: A Trip to the Island, One Last Time by Catherine Ogston

Kirsty said: This was a delight and a surprise, mixing a growing sense of mystery with wry humour.

2021 Flash Fiction Prize Results


  • A Cast of Crabs by Bernadette Stott
  • Button Bus by Chris Cottom
  • Deep Secrets by Brendan Praniewicz
  • Hands by Gillian Brown
  • Paper by Elle Symonds
  • The Buttero by Christopher Santantasio
  • The Five Stages of Grief by Anita Goodfellow
  • The Turning Point by Richard Hooton
  • The Weathering by Martha Lane
  • What My Therapist Calls Grounding To Calm My Triggered Body by Rosaleen Lynch

Judge’s comment: A diverse batch of small stories, each one unique in the way it goes about telling a story. As I was reading, I was glad to see the way writers played with form and voice, the way they used one idea to create a framework for telling a more subtle story. Such skill makes judging a competition very difficult, for there is something commendable about every one of these flash fictions.

Each of them had something that I kept coming back to, and the decision-making took time. There were more than three contenders for the top places, as I was pulled in by imagery, language and suspense. These are all big stories, dealing with grief and dreams, dramas large and small, relationships that are teetering or possibly mending. There was real mystery between the lines, and also good humour – which we can all use these days!

Thank you to all the writers for sharing your stories – it was a pleasure to read them and to keep coming back to their hidden treasures over these recent weeks.

First Prize Winner: Button Bus by Chris Cottom

Michelle said: A surprising story in all the best ways! ‘Button Bus’ is inventive and clever. It’s also well written – not a word out of place. The writer’s careful attention to detail makes it a stand-out piece of writing. It may seem, at first, to be a fun story – something nice, yes. Perhaps even cute. But it’s more than that. The characters are real on the page: we learn some of their background without being told too much; we see character development as the story evolves. The mood develops and shifts with each ride – there is even suspense as we start to wonder what will happen each time the old woman boards the bus. The narrative voice is steady and the writing is confident, moving between longer descriptions (that coral reef of buttons!) and dialogue that keeps the pace moving along: ‘My life savings,’ she says. ‘I’m off on my holidays.’ / ‘Lovely jubbly. Where’re you going?’ In the end, this is a story with heart – ultimately about the connection between two strangers, and these small but essential moments of intersection. And in the case of flash fiction, this is precisely what works: here we have a whole world in a small space.

Second Prize Winner: The Weathering by Martha Lane

Michelle said: A story that begins with a startling first line and continues to pull the reader through, each paragraph building suspense and worry and curiosity. Besides the overall conceit, the language and imagery are memorable: smiles that are ‘Picasso awkward’, laughter that is ‘Scooby-Doo nervous’. The pacing is taut but flowing; there is an urgency and a fluidity, like rushing water. We also can’t escape an increasing feeling of dread, and even if the story is imaginative and fantastical, there is a relatable reality of the unwanted guest (real and/ or metaphorical). Here we witness the sea, a forced intimacy and a power that is unstoppable. And after all, we are left with the lingering sense of Nature: indifferent to human response, always true to itself.

Third Prize Winner: A Cast of Crabs by Bernadette Stott

Michelle said: This story carries a strong voice from beginning to end. It’s an observational story: the first-person narrator watching action and movement that occurs in her close proximity. The writer balances a kind of distance (observing what’s happening just down the pier) with an intimacy that allows the reader to see into her life. In this small space we come to know the imperfections of human life: the struggle, the desire, the push and pull of winning and losing, the very idea that each day rolls in and out with the sea. There is a jaunty feel at times, layered underneath with a more ominous reality. The writing is a controlled clipped pace, but there is something lurking, more slow-moving under the surface. All this made me want to read this small scene again and again.

2021 Micro Fiction Prize Results


  • America by Sherri Turner
  • Body of Christ by Moira McGrath
  • Cornfields by Diane D. Gillette
  • I Am Sailing Very Far Away by S.A. Greene
  • It’s a Beautiful Day for a Picnic But You’re Not Invited by Laurie Marshall
  • No Rain by Di Spence
  • Robert by Kevin Sandefur
  • Scratch Art for Grown-Ups by Sally Curtis
  • Tom’s Toy Gun by Connie Boland
  • You Said You’d Always Wait For Me by Kate Simblet

Judge’s comment: If your micro made it to the shortlist, then you should congratulate yourself on its excellence. The standard was very high, which made it a genuinely difficult decision to select the top three. In the end the pieces that rose to the top were those which left some questions unanswered, some threads loose. Because life is messy and people are messy, I think we are drawn to stories which to some degree reflect that. I might add that the winners were probably not those I might have picked had the only judging criteria been ‘gorgeous’ or ‘sumptuous’ writing. But they are the ones which I felt landed the arrow closest to the bullseye of what it means to be human — something we all aim for as writers and look for as readers.

First Prize Winner: Scratch Art for Grown-Ups by Sally Curtis

Tim said: I was grabbed straight away by the title: the rhythm and music of it, the intrigue, and a whiff of humour too. All of which are carried through into the meat of the story itself. The idea of using scratch art as a basis for a micro feels very original, is wonderfully visual, and works well as a metaphor for the form itself. After all, scratching off the surface layer in pursuit of the multi-coloured meanings below is exactly what we do as readers. But what I particularly like about this piece – what makes it the clear winner for me – is how it resonates after reading. How, rather than providing easy answers, it sparks off a whole spectrum of further questions. Helping me — the reader — create my own pictures.

Second Prize Winner: America by Sherri Turner

Tim said: The simplicity of this micro is deceptive. There is so much more going on below the surface of the narrative. The drum beat of the repeated title word ‘America’ – six times in total — alerts us to the fact something is amiss; clearly, the word stands for so much more than just the name of the place in the narrator’s life, a hint of which – and only a hint – we get right at the end of the story. The breezy, optimistic tone also stands in powerful contrast to what is gradually revealed to us. We are left with a strong sense of the story continuing long after its ending.

Third Prize Winner: Body of Christ by Moira McGrath

Tim said: Although the dark, central theme in this micro is a familiar one, it is handled very deftly by the writer. The parallels drawn between the two ‘old fashioned ways’, directly linking ritual prayer and abuse, are the crux (pun intended) of this piece; the behaviour of the priest is not — we are given to believe — exceptional, but entirely orthodox. In the way of all the best endings, the last line of this micro is both a surprise and yet entirely suited to what precedes it.

HUGE congratulations to our winners and all of the shortlisted writers.

We’ve just launched the 2022 Prize and you can see all the info on judges and the deadline here.