Who We Are

In 2012, Amanda Saint launched Retreat West. Her aim: to make quality creative writing courses and opportunities accessible and affordable. At Retreat West, we welcome all writers; whether you’re starting out or have been honing your craft for years, we take your work as seriously as you do.

To help you find the guidance and connections you need to get ahead, we consistently work with big industry names. Through our competitions and tutored workshops, we’ve worked with writers including:

  • Alison Moore: Man-Booker Prize shortlisted author
  • Vanessa Gebbie: multi-award-winning short story writer
  • Paul McVeigh: Polari Prize winning-novelist and founder of the London Short Story Festival
  • Richard Skinner: head of the Faber Academy’s fiction programme, novelist and poet

Through our First Chapter competition, winners have received feedback on their opening chapter and synopsis from top literary agents, including:

  • Jo Unwin in association with Rogers, Coleridge & Wright
  • Susan Armstrong, at Conville & Walsh
  • Jenny Savill, at Andrew Nurnberg Associates
  • Laura Williams at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop;
  • Diana Beaumont at Marjacq 
  • Sarah Hornsley at The Bent Agency
  • Carrie Plitt at Felicity Bryan Associates

Our independent press, Retreat West Books, launched in 2017 and won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher (shortlisted 2019). We publish annual anthologies of the winning stories from Retreat West competitions, along with short story collections, novels and memoirs from emerging authors.

The Retreat West Team

Amanda Saint

Amanda started Retreat West in 2012 and expanded to include Retreat West Books in 2017. She has been designing and teaching online courses, and live workshops, for many years and has worked as an editor on hundreds of manuscripts. 

Her debut novel, As If I Were A River, was longlisted for the Guardian Not The Booker Prize, a NetGalley Top 10 Book of the Month and a Book Magnet Blog Top 20 Book of 2016. Her second novel, Remember Tomorrow, published in March 2019 to critical acclaim.

Amanda’s stories have been widely published; longlisted in the Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition, Fish Flash Fiction Prize, and Ink Tears Short Story Prize; shortlisted for the Flash 500; and won the Editor’s Choice Prize at 101 Words. Her collection, Flashes of Colour, is publishing in 2020, and she is now working on a novella-in-flash. 

Mary-Jane Holmes

Mary-Jane is passionate about writing, teaching and editing creative writing. A Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, the Bridport Poetry prize, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash prize as well as the Bedford Poetry competition. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Beverley International Prize for Literature and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Prize. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press.

Her work appears in anthologies including Best Small Fictions 2014/16/18  and Best Microfictions 2020 and in a variety of publications including Magma, Modern Poetry in Translation,  The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Tishman Review, Magma, Barren, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Firewords, Flashback Fiction, Mslexia, Fictive Dream, The Lonely Crowd, and Prole.

Her novella in Flash ‘Don’t Tell the Bees’, will be published later this year by Ad Hoc Fiction.

CM Taylor

Craig co-designed and co-teaches The Novel Creator course with Amanda. Craig’s novels Premiership Psycho (Corsair, 2011) and Group of Death (Corsair, 2012) form two-thirds of a satirical trilogy described as ‘Brilliant’ by The Sun, and ‘Horribly entertaining’ by The Mirror. They’ve been optioned for TV by Plan B, with Craig writing the pilot. He’s been nominated for the British Science Fiction book of the year, while his comedy drama Staying On (Duckworth, 2018) has been described as ‘a trademark sweet-and-sour Mike Leigh film in novel form’. He co-wrote the thriller film Writers Retreat which premiered at the Sitges International Film Festival and he continues to be commissioned to write scripts for TV and film.

Craig works as a freelance editor of fiction for a variety of publishers, and is a Senior Lecturer at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing. He has taught hundreds of creative writers, in one to one development settings, as well as in classes and workshops, including at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and at the British Library. His particular enthusiasm and passion is for helping writers develop their understanding of the underlying structures of narrative art.

Gaynor Jones

Gaynor works with Retreat West helping to promote the books we publish, and providing editorial and web support. She is an award winning writer known for her strange and surreal takes on life. In 2018 Gaynor won the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award at the Belfast Book Festival and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards.

In 2019 her flash fiction collection, Business As Usual, received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection. Her work has been widely published, including in The Forge, Barrelhouse, Ellipsis Zine and the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. She has won or been placed in several competitions and won first prize in the 12th round of the prestigious Bath Flash Fiction Award. She lives in Greater Manchester with her husband, dog, small child and a headful of weird ideas.

Emma Finlayson-Palmer

Emma manages the Facebook group and member group, and is a reader for competitions. She has been writing for most of her life, with her first publication at the age of 8 on the now ancient artefact known as CeeFax. She is represented by Laura West at the David Higham Agency, and mainly writes for children, but also writes short stories and flash fiction, with numerous pieces online, in magazines and anthologies.

An active member of multiple writing groups and organisations, including SCBWI and NAWG, Emma is also the creator and organiser of the fortnightly writing chat called #ukteenchat on Twitter. An active member of the online writing community, she can usually be found loitering on Twitter when she should be writing.

Emma lives in the West Midlands with her husband, a multitude of children, cats and chickens and hundred of notebooks!

Follow Emma on Twitter: @FinlaysonPalmer and Instagram: finlayson_palmer

Rosie Smith

Rosie is Retreat West’s resident content planner and creator. She’s a freelance senior copywriter, and is currently working on her first novel. Since graduating with distinction from Bath Spa University’s Creative Writing MA, her fiction has been shortlisted for prizes judged by publisher Little, Brown and literary agency Janklow & Nesbit.

Through her copywriting work, she’s written for many household names including Samsung, Lloyds, PureGym and Post Office. She was listed as a finalist for the Major Copywriter award at The Majors 2019; these annual awards are run by the UK’s biggest creative recruiter Major Players, in association with global media platform The Drum.

She has a background in journalism and has written regularly for national titles, as well as working as an editor and assistant editor at various regional magazines. Her entry into the ‘Lyrics Only’ category of the The UK Songwriting Contest (UKSC) received 4/5 stars and was listed as a Commended Entry. The UKSC is one of the world’s most popular songwriting events, run in association with The BRIT School and The Guild of International Songwriters and Composers. In short: if it’s wordsy, she’s into it.          

Helen Di Bella

Helen Di Bella is Retreat West’s Instagram manager. She is based in rural France. Helen works from home as a photographer, proofreader and a writer of flash fiction and short stories. She is currently working on her debut novel, a bittersweet story using delicate humour to explore one woman’s emotional challenges.

Helen thrives on creativity. She is a passionate vegan baker and chef. As well as her novel, Helen is also working on a plant-based food book. Helen believes life is about balance and keeping perspective; about being kind and seeking to appreciate the humorous side of things, which in turn influences her writing. She has travelled extensively and uses her experiences as a source of inspiration. She has been most affected by the wonderful people she’s been lucky enough to meet during these travels.

The environment and animal welfare are important issues and Helen uses her writing and photography to explore and encourage awareness. Open-minded and accepting of diverse cultures and lifestyles, Helen supports charities, especially the LGBT community. She promotes kindness, acceptance and freedom. Helen lives a simple life with her cat, yoga mat, camera and many notebooks. Her grown-up sons both inspire and fill her with pride and joy.

You can find Helen on Twitter @hpShortKey and @unabuonavita on Instagram. She has recently started blogging on: littlefrenchwonder.blogspot.com