2020 Retreat West Awards – the shortlists!

We are so excited to reveal the shortlisted stories and writers in our first ever Retreat West Awards! We’ve re-read all the flash and micro stories we’ve published online and in our anthologies between August 2020 and July 2021 to choose our winners from.

We’ll be announcing the winners and runners-up in each category at our first Online Flash Fest in September. They’ll get a lovely prize too!

But in the meantime, well done to the writers who appear here! And good luck for the final round of judging.

Best Micro Fiction Title Shortlist

  • ‘If You’re Trying This Hard to Salvage Your Marriage Should You Call it a Crusade?’ By Fiona McKay
  • ‘Pieces of Our Boy’ by Kay Rae Chomic
  • ‘Sad Song of the Backwards Selkie’ by Becky Tipper
  • ‘The Only Way I Can Make Sense of the Word Recovery is to Smash It
    Into Pieces’ by James Montgomery
  • ‘The Significance of Horses in the Dreams of Young Girls’ by Rosie

Best Flash Fiction Title Shortlist

  • ‘Diadem Through the Eyes of the Bear’ by Donna L Greenwood in
    The Impossibility of Wings (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘Drowning Hazards in the Traditional Irish Kitchen’ by Tom O’Brien
    in Homemade Weather (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘Love is Many Things, None of Them Logical’ by Hannah Storm (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)
  • ‘Manslaughter is Muddy Water You Cannot Wash Your Hands With’
    by Ian O’Brien in What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘My Year of Useless Miracles’ by Tom O’Brien in Homemade Weather (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘On the Tideline, A Piano’ by Sam Payne
  • ‘Wormholes, Mushrooms, Silverfish’ by Timothy Boudreau (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)

Best Micro Fiction Opening Line

  • ‘Marianne awoke to find she’d turned into a washing machine.’ Domestic Appliance by S.A. Greene
  • ‘Afterwards, all Matt could do was smash everything he and Sam had built together.’ The Boy Who Only Ever Wanted to Build Bridges by Anne Howkins
  • ‘Grit on Sonny’s hands conspires with sweat to create tiny diamonds,
    glittering under the prison lighting.’ Bird in Flight by A.Joseph Black
  • ‘A rich man hires me to prevent ghosts from haunting him.’ Ghost Blocker by Andrew Boulton
  • ‘She feels pretty in her sister’s dress, but her father’s look is ugly.’ The
    Weight of Blue by Karen Mitani
  • ‘While my neighbours are at work, I climb the fence and slash their artificial lawn into latticed piecrust.’ How to Sow a Wildflower Meadow March by Keely O’Shaughnessy
  • ‘A still small voice whispered “it’s time to feel wild again”, so I hiked to a
    secluded spot I knew.’ A Still Small Voice by Anna Grimmett
  • ‘Now Tiff won’t stop talking about that bit in Jurassic Park where they
    extract the dinosaur DNA from the insect trapped in amber and I think if
    mama was here she’d tut and say that girl’s got a gob on her.’ Last Week I
    Was Bitten by a Mosquito by Sam Payne
  • ‘At the zoo, my daughter informs me she knows why vampires are so mean, and returns to her ice cream without further comment.’ Without / Without by Nathan Sindelar
  • ‘The border stopping dreams from passing into reality is not as clear-cut as the Dover Lorry Border Patrol.’ Lest We Perish by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris

Best Flash Fiction Opening Line

  • ‘We go to the river, stand on the bank like true girls of summer, our bare legs exposed in bikinis as red as our mother’s lips, our long hair flowing like gypsies.’ Girls of Summer by Sara Hills
  • ‘She ask you if you want to make another baby, taking your left hand and pushing it down the front of her pyjama shorts.’ Buried by Emily Harrison, (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)
  • ‘My father doesn’t shout, but his voice hurts my head.’ From Loud in
    Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘He read somewhere that when trees prepare for the winter, they drain the leaves of their nutrients, store them in their roots.’ From The Places We Go When the Winds Blow Cold by Ian O’Brien in What the Fox Brings in its Jaw. (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘The hyenas came for my mother when I was ten years old.’ From In the Night They Will Come For Me by Donna L Greenwood in The Impossibility of Wings. (Homemade Weather anthology)
  • ‘I can see music.’ The Shapes of Sound by Poppy Lyle
  • ‘In Venice I dreamt I was vomiting glass.’ Glass by Louise Watts.

Best Overall Micro Fiction

  • ‘In Which my Botanist Father Becomes a Tree’ by Jo Withers
  • ‘Martha Takes Her First Drive in Frank’s Car’ by Alison Wassell
  • ‘Otoch’ by Fannie Gray
  • ‘Rewilding’ by Alison Wassell
  • ‘Sanctuary’ by Annie Soilleux
  • ‘The Significance of Horses in the Dreams of Young Girls’ by Rosie

Best Overall Flash Fiction

  • ‘Buried’ by Emily Harrison (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)
  • ‘Girls of Summer’ by Sara Hills
  • ‘Glass’ by Louise Watts
  • ‘Riverwater Cistern by Niamh MacCabe (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)
  • ‘Python Parlari’ by Kathy Hoyle
  • ‘Shapes of Sound’ by Poppy Lyle
  • ‘The Quickening’ by Abi Henning
  • ‘Wormholes, Mushrooms, Silverfish’ by Timothy Boudreau (How to Hold an Umbrella anthology)

The Uncanny themed flash longlist

We have had such fun reading these Uncanny stories! Many weird, tense, and creepy hours have been spent getting our 120 entries down to this longlist of 27 stories.

Many thanks to everyone who entered and well done to the writers of the stories below. As always, no telling which is yours!


  • Along for Another Night Flight
  • Balm of Hurt Minds
  • Cracks in the Pavement
  • Cravings
  • Drawn by the Muralist
  • Edging
  • How I Learnt to Cook
  • How to Become a Wallflower
  • Lilith Comes to Me After I Pray for Wholeness
  • Morag, in her garden
  • Mr Piège’s Doll Emporium
  • My lopsided stepson
  • Nesting
  • Our Mary
  • Push/Pull
  • Reflections
  • Sister of the Jilted Bride
  • The Brians
  • The Carnival of Charms and Heidi’s House of Mirrors
  • The Cloakroom
  • The Nail Technician
  • The Outsiders
  • The Search for Oretha Wells
  • The Six
  • Totally Fit
  • Unholy Liberties
  • Vanishing Twin

Good luck everyone! We’ll have the shortlist in August!

Winners: July 2021 Monthly Micro Competition

Congratulations again to all of our writers who made the shortlist. We’ve read them over and over again to get to our winners and found something new in all of them each time.


  • Blue Mars by Kinneson Lalor
  • How to Transport Desert Flowers into Cooler Climates by Jo Withers
  • Kandinsky by Stephen Gallagher
  • Little Pilgrim by Gillian O’Shaugnessy
  • No. 6: War Veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering. by Sarah Barnett
  • Otoch by Fannie Gray
  • Regifting by Emily Macdonald
  • Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms by Kate Simblet
  • The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane
  • The Weight of Blue by Karen Mitani

First Place: Regifting by Emily Macdonald

Why we chose it: We love the highly original take on the theme and all of the things that were left unsaid. Plus the images of the re-given gifts and the disapproving boyfriend/husband are so vivid.

Second Place: Little Pilgrim by Gillian O’Shaughnessy

Why we chose it: For the brilliant imagery and also for managing to touch the reader without melodrama or self-pity.

Special Mention

We’d also like to give a special mention to The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane as it very nearly had a winning place. It was so close between these 3 stories this month in our voting.

People’s Prize Winner: The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane

Congratulations to our Special Mention story! We’re so happy that the Princess won the public vote.

Many congratulations to our winners!

Emily wins £180 and Gillian wins £120. Martha wins 1-year’s Community Collaborator membership to our friendly and lively online writing community.

The next Monthly Micro Fiction competition opens on Monday 2nd August so keep your eyes peeled for the new prompt!

July 21 Monthly Micro Shortlist

We’ve had such a lovely time reading all these BLOOM stories this month. So many takes on the theme and so many good stories on our longlist, evidenced by the number that got at least one vote for the shortlist from our reading panel.

So well done to all of the writers who were longlisted and congrats if you’ve made our shortlist! We’re reading again now to decide our winners and it’s over to you to choose the winner of the People’s Prize.

Voting closes on Monday 26th July. Good luck everyone!

Blue Mars

On Mars, she eats blue-green algae blooms. She gets thirty-nine minutes more of each day, double-long seasons, but only eats cyanobacteria. One-quarter carbohydrate, one-third protein. May cause ALS. The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Even in the desert. Qatar crusts killed soldiers’ neurons, muscles darkening to Greek island blue. Mykonos. Her tie to Earth blooming red on the sheets behind the cornflower door. Thélisi tou Theoú, the cleaner said. God’s will. Now she eats blue bacteria. Eight percent fat. She waits for the snow to stop, converts sunlight to electricity in blue Petri. The first Martians, her children bloom.

How to Transplant Desert Flowers into Cooler Climes

Uproot seedlings swiftly – We reach the border under darkness, twist our parents’ hands and wait for ‘Uncle’s truck’. Finally, it arrives, slows without stopping. Men pull us up, throw us amongst the crowd.

Sow in fresh soil – We sit in silent rows at school, terrified we’ll be sent back. The bell sounds and we bolt beneath our desks, memories of air raid sirens screeching in our ears.

Establish roots – People are kind, we tell our stories, make friends. Mother makes Basbousa, invites the neighbourhood. We pray before eating, thanks for new life, hope for those still trapped in barren lands.


Dylan began his work in his bedroom as a teenager, sitting and mixing colours on paper, running his fingers along it searching for the perfect texture, the exact consistency. His work had a certain liminal quality, a certain bloom, like a spring flower.

These days his reputation preceded him, this was not always a good thing, strangers asking him personal questions. Kandinsky he replied when the detectives asked him his name. It starts becoming art when it stops being about money, he thought, stacking batches of fifty Euro notes into a suitcase as if they were miniature Van Gogh’s.

Little Pilgrim

Your cousin sees it first. Look. There’s sauce on your dress. You twist round, see a crimson bloom flood the white cotton, the colour of roses in grandma’s garden, their heavy scent, the flowers you use to pin in your doll’s hair or gather for vases. At night when he creeps in for goodnight kisses, he presses his mouth down hard on yours like you’ve seen cowboys do on Saturday movies. Well, he says, before he turns off the light, you’re a woman now. You curl up small, think about John Wayne and how you hate the smell of roses.

No 6: War veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering

No 21: Young men. Laughter. Drinking. Friendship.

Billy’s eyes. Staring beyond. Too late. Bullet-riddled. In my arms.

No 15: Lets her kids run riot. Eyes glued to her phone.

Just children. Playing. Shrapnel-shattered dreams.

No 13: Brute. Wiesel. Know his type. I hear them. She stays. She should run.

Punches. In the barracks. The bully. I showed him.

No 10: Alone. Kind smile. Stops to sniff a rose on the bush by the entrance…Love…

Marianne. Dimples. Breathless after a kiss. Rose-petal scented hair. She didn’t wait.

No 10. Should I knock? Bring roses? ‘Hello, I’m Harry from no 6.’


I dream in mango. Lush. Cleft and the juices run; my face christened on a Caribe morning. Months, I yearned for the land where my tongue crawls upon arrival; by the second day, it dances upon syllables, rolling Rs, undulating them. My words hips in a Bollywood movie. Sun so piercing it sears your soul, claiming you.

Reality is a little more complicated. Sargassum, sulfuric and ubiquitous. Palm fronds, like broken spines of the prehistoric, Styrofoam cups, insoles. The tide is foul brown, laps at the refuse.

Nevertheless, like baybean, like spiderlillies, I root in the sand and bloom.


For my twenty-fifth birthday, Nana gives me a Coco Channel lipstick. Re-packaged neatly in the black and gold case. I laugh. The tip is blunt, the pink waxy surface imprinted with lines from her bottom lip.

“Unhygienic,” my boyfriend grimaces. “The colour makes you look sick”.

My husband receives a tin of Valrhona Jivara chocolate. Disgusted, he sees one layer is missing, and the chocolates bloom with white powdery film. It’s the same tin, wrapped festively for Nana, the Christmas before.

In my forties I prune the withering husband, using the life savings Nana leaves me. Along with her secateurs.

Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms

You led me down to this bruise of a sea. ‘Imagine,’ you said. ‘Billions of hands held underwater, creating a canopy so complex it shuts out the sun.’

Your fingers left shadows on my wrist. Was it the devil’s glint I saw in your shades when I sang I have hidden depths too?

You marvelled at the artistry. This lurid gash of iridescence, phosphates feeding phosphorescence. I drew you to me, whispered softly,

‘Look deep beneath the surface, marvel at this toxic harvest, relish all the organisms.’

Picnicking in my kelp forest, you ignored fish rottening, lungs gasping for air.

The Jellyfish Princess

I told Izzy Mum was the Jellyfish Queen, that they’d carried her off on their gummy-bear backs. Every night, under scrunched covers, I whispered stories of fish-scale freckles, seaweed plaits, her crown of seashells and pearls. I whispered the rules of the Jellyfish Kingdom, that once you were Queen you couldn’t return.

Izzy believed every word.

Dad said I mustn’t blame myself when Izzy was dragged from the water, her body a lionfish now. She’d spotted the bloom from our perch on the rocks. Said they would take her to Mum. Smiling, dived in.

I should’ve whispered that tentacles sting.

The Weight of Blue

She feels pretty in her sister’s dress, but her father’s look is ugly.

“Boys don’t wear dresses.”

His words like hands on her shoulders, pressing, heavy.

Bound in a suit at her aunt’s wedding, she carries the ring but wants to throw the flowers.

She tells her parents she’s a girl. Confusion, then denial. Her insistence leads to anger, then spanking.

She gives in. Wears blue. Says her prayers.

She prays to be with Jesus in Heaven.

The weight she feels, they finally feel, too.

Herself at last, she soars in her flowery dress, a petal on the wind.

Vote using the form below, or if you have any issues using it you can vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/UewoRI

July 21 Monthly Micro Longlist

Many thanks and well done to everyone who sent a story for this month’s BLOOM prompt from Ian O’Brien. We received 120 entries so the cash prize for 1st place is £180 and for 2nd place is £120. As always the People’s Prize will be revealed along with the winners.

Congratulations to all the writers who made the longlist. No telling which story is yours though as everything MUST remain anonymous! Shortlist will be online on Monday when voting will open for you to decide the winner of the People’s Prize!


  • Airborne
  • Bedazzled
  • Betty’s Begonia
  • Bloomer
  • Blue Mars
  • Coma
  • Coming of Age
  • Cover-Up
  • Flowers and a Promise
  • Grace
  • How to Make a Spring Posy
  • How to Transport Desert Flowers into Cooler Climes
  • I am not a Sunflower
  • Isabella Gaines
  • Kandinsky
  • Little Pilgrim
  • Nearly Famous
  • No 6: War veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering.
  • Otoch
  • Pièce de Résistance
  • Pink Lemonade
  • Red-letter Day
  • Remember Daddy Loves You
  • Regifting
  • Say it with Flowers
  • Seed, Root, Shoot
  • Shaken Petals
  • Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms
  • Sugar Bloom
  • Ten Steps for Growth
  • The Bearded Iris in all its Glory
  • The Brochure Featured Young Women with Thick Hair and Thin Waistlines and That Should Have Been a Clue
  • The Ephemeral Nature of Flower Crown Euphoria
  • The Jellyfish Princess
  • The Weight of Blue
  • There Are Two Ways To Tell This Story
  • Why shouldn’t a rose lament its ruination?
  • Will-power

Good luck everyone!

June 21 Monthly Micro Winners

Well this has been an exciting month for the People’s Prize vote! All the way through there were just a couple of votes in it and the story in the top spot kept changing all the time. The final winner was almost in our Top 2 as well – maybe one day we’ll all choose the same story!

Well done to everyone who was shortlisted. Fab stories and unique takes on the theme.

Shortlisted Stories

  • A Pine Regrets by E.E. Rhodes
  • Diary of an Indignant Nine-Year Old by Suzanne Bajor
  • Her Five Layers, Whittled by James Montgomery
  • His DNA in the Dust by Dettra Rose
  • Hold the Sword Aloft to get into Character by Alexis Wolfe
  • If You’re Trying This Hard to Salvage Your Marriage Should You Call It a Crusade? by Fiona McKay
  • In Which My Botanist Father Becomes A Tree by Jo Withers
  • Prayer to Maria Goretti, patron saint of inmates and rape victims by Cheryl Markosky
  • Sanctuary by Anne Soilleux
  • That’s What You Get by Kathryn Crowley

First Prize Winner: Sanctuary by Anne Soilleux

Why we chose it: We love the rhythm, the understated description that invokes such a vivid picture of the characters of this unhappily married couple, and the ending is so moving.

Second Prize Winner: If You’re Trying This Hard to Salvage Your Marriage Should You Call It a Crusade? by Fiona McKay

Why we chose it: Great response to the image and both sorrow and despair are so delicately conveyed via the action and the last line is beautiful. Fab title too!

People’s Prize Winner: His DNA in the Dust by Dettra Rose

We loved this one too for the way it transports you through the senses and the sense of complete story in so few words.

Many congratulations Anne, Fiona and Dettra!

Anne wins £120 for first prize and Fiona wins £80 for second prize.

This month’s People’s Prize for Dettra is editorial feedback on 2,000 words of flash fictions, a short story, or a novel extract.