Winners: Pitch to Win Competition

We’re excited to reveal the winners of our Pitch to Win the Novel Creator Course competition! It has been really hard to choose between our shortlisted pitches as the ideas behind these novels and the pitches are all fantastic. 

Congratulations to the 15 writers who made it through to the shortlist, and all of the writers who were longlisted too.

Shortlisted Pitches

  1. Carousel  by Eibhlís Carcione
  2. Deception by Hannah Redding
  3. Every Colour of Light by Laura McNeil Namazi 
  4. EXXHIBIT by Penelope Creighton
  5. Inside by Gemma Allen
  6. Mohammed’s Radio by Robert Booth
  7. Paper Windows by Kristen Loesch
  8. Peter Heggarty Wants to Get Off by Mark Stocker
  9. Redundant Care by Rachel Canwell
  10. The 13 Month Diary by Jackie Morrison
  11. The Baby in the Box by Anne Hamilton
  12. The Clayridge Chronicles by Sam Payne
  13. These Leaves of Mine by Faye Brinsmead
  14. Timid Eyes Seeking Food by Georgina Evans
  15. Unholy Liberties by Gautam Das

Well done to our winners! We can’t wait to help you develop these exciting ideas. We found it too hard to choose between two pitches for the third prize place so have awarded it to two writers! They’ll both get a call to chat through their novel idea.

First Prize Winner: Paper Windows by Kristen Loesch

1951 Hong Kong: Mei makes traditional Chinese paper cuts with a distinctive design. A dead body is found, the back delicately carved – into her design.

Why we chose it: Kristen has given us a pitch that instantly placed us in a time that has great scope for a dramatic and atmospheric setting. There’s mystery, intrigue and we are connected to a narrator who is thrown into conflict. We want to know who’s dead, why they’re dead, how they died, and what the design, and Mei, have to do with it all.

Kristen wins a place on our year-long Novel Creator Course to write this novel with us!

Second Prize Winner: The Clayridge Chronicles by Sam Payne 

Contemporary gothic novel about the unravelling of a small town community when a touring theatre company perform a sequence of plays depicting their darkest secrets. 

Why we chose it: Sam has given us pitch that stipulates genre and instantly invokes appropriate tone and atmosphere. Conflicts are implied with the clever use of ‘unravelling’ and we were instantly picturing all kinds of sinister scenes that had our imaginations racing. The pitch leaves you desperate to know who the company are, how they know, and what they are up to.

Sam wins a place on our work-alone Start Your Novel Course, which is a condensed version of the Novel Creator Course.

Third Prize Winner: EXXHIBIT by Penelope Creighton

Mina is a museum exhibit; one of the last living Homo Sapiens. Then a modern human claims to be her brother – but men are extinct.

Why we chose it: We’re instantly connected to a narrator who is a living museum exhibit so all sorts of questions arise about what kind of world this is. Then the following line introduces conflict and even more mystery – why are men extinct?!

Penelope wins a 30-minute Zoom session or telephone call with Amanda to chat through her plan for this novel.

Third Prize Winner: Mohammed’s Radio by Robert Booth

A Jewish scout discovers a talented Palestinian rock thrower in Gaza, then overcomes family and political obstacles to make him a famous Big League pitcher.

Why we chose it: Amazing setting with huge potential and instant connection to two characters who shouldn’t be together. Plus it lets us know the fish out of water journey this novel will take us on. Part Slumdog, part Rocky.

Robert wins a 30-minute Zoom session or telephone call with Craig to chat through his plan for this novel.

Huge congratulation to our winners. We wish we could’ve given prizes to every writer here on our shortlist as the standard of pitches we received, and the imagination behind the ideas, is phenomenal! 

Homemade Weather

We catch up with one of our newest authors Tom O’Brien to discuss his novel, learn about his writing process and find out how the brilliant Homemade Weather came to be.


Homemade Weather started life as a short story that I was never quite able to land and so put aside for years, but kept feeling pulled back to as I felt the core of it was good.

There are many ways of writing a novella-in-flash, and this book is an example of a few of them. It was a partially a deconstruction and rebuilding of a longer piece. As I explored more of Celia’s life, her story opened out. The more I rummaged, the more I found these nuggets I could shape into flash. In some cases, these had an element of story in them, in others I had to work some movement into a vignette. And of course, many couldn’t stand alone at all and had to be folded into other stories or cut. In the end, the original story became the spine of Book 3 of Homemade Weather, while the first two little Books grew on their own.

But while it was partially a job of deconstruction, there was quite a lot of new build too. As I ventured into other areas of Celia’s life, I met characters who didn’t exist in the original story or who were not developed and so on. These characters, and Celia’s relationships with them spurred new stories and/or needed to find ways to be expressed. It was during these processes that Homemade Weather came to life in the way that any piece has to at some point.

That process of deconstruction/rebuilding, as well as making pieces of flash to fill a story need are only a few of the approaches for writing a novella-in-flash. Building out from a single piece of flash, starting a story from scratch, attending to a theme, an idea or an emotion are only a few of the other options available, and in fact the form can be much looser than that.

I tried a similar technique to how I approached Homemade Weather for another novella-in-flash based in this world but this time joining two stories and intertwining them. It was interesting that this next piece refused to take a similar shape to Homemade Weather but still did respond to being broken down into flash-sized pieces. 

If there is a lesson, other than that every story is different, it might be that the more options you give yourself, the more chance you have to allow the story to find the shape it wants to be.


About the author: 

Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been nominated for Pushcart and Best Microfictions consideration and has flash fiction in Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Reflex, Blink-Ink and many more. His novella-in-flash Straw Gods is published by Reflex Press. 

Reviews:

“A beautifully written, deeply satisfying novelette-in-flash that revealed more depth with each read. A master class in both resonance and the use of white space. I could not get this story out of my head. A deserved winner.” – Damhnait Monaghan, novelette-in-flash judge on Homemade Weather 

June 21 Monthly Micro Fiction Shortlist

Well done to all who entered, to our longlisted writers and congratulations to the shortlisted writers of the stories below. No telling which is yours though!

Voting for the People’s Prize winner is now open until 23.59 (UK time) on Monday 28th June and the winners will be announced on Tuesday 29th. Good luck for the final round everyone!


A Pine Regrets

At the launch for the book that everyone is talking about – the one with the carving of ‘The Black Knight’ on the cover, hewn from a storm broken sycamore, or ash, maybe

(yeah, she’s my second cousin, but we’re not that close, so)

– his fans stand around chattering, with glasses of wine and canapés, aka finger food

(yeah, what about me? what about every branch and bough he’s sacrificed for the paper? books are simply wood-pulp cannibalism)

and someone says he’s bound to win an award as

(wait for it)

the intensely eco-sensitive

(!!!!)

author of ‘The Guardian of The Trees’.


Diary of an Indignant Nine Year Old

He’s dead tall and lanky my brother. Today, he called me ‘our fat’. He thought he was hilarious. Me mam and dad didn’t stop him. He’s eleven our Jack and he plays with toy soldiers. He hides them in the garden – from the enemy he said. So, I called him weird. Mam told me off. Also, do you know what else? There’re hardly any photos of me as a baby. But there’s loads of him isn’t there. Mam says I wouldn’t sit still for photos. I bet that’s not true. I bet they just couldn’t be bothered taking any.


Her Five Layers, Whittled

The woods had walked her out, and she’d snapped. Her (bark) is worse, he tells their friends with a laugh that whittles.

whit-whit-whit-whit-whit

Her (inner bark) nearly bites back.

whit-whit-whit-whit

Breaking a branch, he lectures on (cambium), putting that botany degree to good use. A formative layer giving rise to new growth, he says to them all. But really, to her.

whit-whit-whit

She sees herself. A headful of mud, face of splinters. The kind that’s hard to love. Someone only a (sapwood).

whit-whit

Would she want more? At the core, she hears the reply. Yes, it says.

whit

Her (heartwood).


His DNA in the Dust

Luke grows up with a heart-shaped family who cuddle him, but they’re chunky and freckly not gangly and earthy-brown. When he asks why, their gentleness wills him on.

He hunts, discovers an aunt, then a cousin. Across the sky, Tunisia smells of heat and mandarins. He locates the tiny town and graveyard, walks through ordered rows of stones. His heart moves towards a cedar tree, crumples beneath its evergreen.

Twilight, moonlight and sunrise, these words squeeze breath from his chest: ‘Proud Young Father, Beloved Mother’.

His penknife blunts scratching dust and rubble off the headstones, filling his pockets and socks.


Hold the Sword Aloft to get into Character

‘It’s still acting,’ I tell her. Mum isn’t impressed by the palace or the drizzle, never mind the chainmail tunic and tights. This costume’s only justifiable if I’d landed a Shakespeare. Or Panto at a big regional.

Instead I’m Knight Three, defender of the right-hand turret. I embellish my role: ‘Kids storytelling sessions, facilitating sword drills.’

‘All that money on drama school,’ she scowls. I prod her stomach with my plastic dagger. ‘Even got pensions.’ I say and she narrows her eyes, eyes that hoped to see Broadway’s bright lights reflected in them by now. Eyes dark auditoriums of disappointment.


If You’re Trying This Hard to Salvage Your Marriage Should You Call It a Crusade?

A woodpecker could have made the hole in the tree, but there are none here and I’ve only seen them in cartoons.

We made this expedition – a sort of date-night by day – sitting beside each other in the car, facing forward, all the better to talk, but we don’t.

We don’t read the guide, wandering through the sculpture garden in the wrong direction, like prophets, or drunks.

I lie awake thinking how to spin this for the therapist. Is it communication? Forgiveness?

You sleep with your hands folded on your chest, holding love like a shield or maybe a sword.


In Which My Botanist Father Becomes a Tree

He used to know the Latin name for every flower and plant, Thymus – Thyme Creeping, Caragana Arborescens -Weeping Pea. Could tell every detail of a species from a single petal sample.

Now he calls them all ‘flower’, says the word slowly, giving it four syllables.

He resides in the nursing home, though it should be called the waiting home. He is planted outside every day, for air, for nature, for convenience.

He sits, wooden and wordless, gnarled limbs twisted, slippered feet deliberately dipping into cold earth, willing it to take him, wishing his rotten roots were shredded into soil.


Prayer to Maria Goretti, patron saint of inmates and rape victims

First, they came for the gnomes. Then the taste laws forbid all statuary.

Bone-sad, she stuffs Saint Maria in a sack and grooms her burial chamber next to a pixie clutching a fishing rod. Next to broken fairies, shattered infants and long-ago apparitions.

Her Terracotta Army could save the world. Defying the enemies of doilies, chunky-knit slippers and flamingo solar garden lights.

The saint is in lotus position, acquiring detachment through good deeds in previous lives. Oblivious to the damaged remains.

Please forgive me for my sins, she laments. Help me to be a better person. Amen.


Sanctuary

She moves her cotton pyjamas and her book out of their bedroom whilst he is at work. She is done with the suffocating heat of his body, the snoring and the pawing, his stale morning breath and the ritual scratching of his balls.

Fine, he spits. But don’t expect me to live like a monk. The front door slams.

Her book lies beside a glass of water on the nightstand. The white sheets on the spare bed are slab-smooth and cool, inviting her to lie back and contemplate the silence. Later she sleeps and dreams of wombs and welcoming cloisters.


That’s What You Get

Even after I encase him in armour, I keep him near me. He was a hero, but when he stole my maidenhood he needed to pay. My servants wonder at the frivolity of entombing my plaything in my favourite tree. Now my knight is hidden in plain sight. I sneer at him on my daily walk through the gardens, sometimes I stroke his long sword to test if I get a reaction. Nothing. Even when I put my arms around his throat, like he put his around mine, he doesn’t gasp for air. He doesn’t move – and I move on.


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Shortlist – Pitch to Win The Novel Creator Course competition

We have been blown away by the quality of pitches we received in this competition! Our longlist of 36 has now been trimmed down to 15 – we told you they were all great pitches!

Well done to everyone who made the longlist – your ideas all sound great! It’s been really hard choosing this shortlist. Huge congratulations to the writers of the following shortlisted novels. No telling which is yours yet though as we’re reading anonymously!

Shortlist

  • Carousel
  • Deception
  • Every Colour of Light
  • EXXHIBIT
  • Inside
  • Mohammed’s Radio
  • Paper Windows
  • Peter Heggarty Wants to Get Off
  • Redundant Care
  • Timid Eyes Seeking Food
  • The 13 Month Diary
  • The Baby in the Box
  • The Clayridge Chronicles
  • These Leaves of Mine
  • Unholy Liberties

Winners will be announced next week on Thursday 24th June…good luck everyone!

June 21 Micro Fiction Longlist

Our knight in a tree photo prompt had you all stumped this month! We received just 80 entries so the cash prizes are £120 for first place and £80 for second. Plus the surprise People’s Prize which will be revealed with the results. Despite the low number of entries the standard was high so our longlist is quite long!

Many thanks to all who entered. We enjoyed reading them all and congratulations to the writers of the following longlisted stories. No telling which is yours though!

Longlisted Stories

  • A Gaping Hole
  • A Pine Regrets
  • Blackbird Concerto
  • Clambering Up the Level Playing Field
  • Diary of an Indignant Nine-Year Old
  • Ephemeral Grace
  • Her Five Layers, Whittled
  • His DNA in the Dust
  • Hold the Sword Aloft to Get Into Character
  • How the Woodland Got Its Curse or Damn Pineapples!
  • If You’re Trying This Hard to Save Your Marriage Should You Call It a Crusade
  • In Which My Botanist Father Becomes a Tree
  • Iron-y
  • Madness of Mind
  • Mummy Says, Let’s Keep It a Secret From Daddy
  • None Shall Pass
  • Norman Conquest
  • Once a Knight is Never Enough
  • Prayer to Maria Goretti, Patron Saint of Inmates and Rape Victims
  • Reverb
  • Role Model
  • Sanctuary
  • That’s What You Get
  • The Heart of Joan Arc
  • The Knight Awaits
  • The Round Table Roundabout
  • Tree: An Unauthorised Biography
  • Tree Raider
  • Warrior
  • What We Are to Each Other, and What We Are Not

Best of luck to all – we’re busy reading again and the shortlist will be online on Monday! In the meantime, get writing for the lates Themed Flash Comp deadline which is in 12 days! Judge Ross Jeffrey wants your best stories on the theme of The Uncanny. Winner gets £200 cash and two runners-up get £100 each plus all stories are published on the website and get a professional recording from a voice and sound artist. Hear and read last month’s winners here.

Retreat West 10th Birthday Anthology

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but 2022 marks the 10th year since I, Amanda Saint, started Retreat West.

It all came about when I moved out of London to Exmoor and I needed to learn more about writing but couldn’t afford to do the few online novel courses that were around at the time. And there were no online flash fiction courses at all.

So I decided to run writing retreats in holiday homes and bring the writers I wanted to learn from to teach at them. I’d always wanted to do the Faber Academy course with Richard Skinner but it was way out of my league financially (still is!). So over the next few years I invited Richard to teach at several retreats, so I kind of did the course in the end. I brought other authors – including Alison Moore, Paul McVeigh, Vanessa Gebbie and Debi Alper – to other retreats as I loved their work and they taught me more about editing, characterisation, short story writing and flash fiction writing.

I started running flash competitions so that in reading all the submissions I would start to learn more about what worked, and what didn’t, in flash. I invited the flash fiction writers I admired to judge and pored over the feedback they gave to the shortlisted stories they read. And I wrote tons of flash fictions of my own.

When I started doing all of this back then, I never imagined that it would turn into what it is today. And I feel hugely privileged to be able to do this as my job and to be a part of other people’s writing life.

To celebrate the 10th birthday, I am going to publish an anthology of flash fictions in 2022 and submissions are now open. The theme of the anthology is TEN.

The anthology will feature stories from some of the Retreat West Books authors and winners of our competitions over the years: Amanda Huggins, Jan Kaneen, FJ Morris, Jude Higgins, Michael Loveday, Sara Hills and Matt Kendrick. But the majority of stories will come through open submissions.

The anthology will be celebrating all the different ways that flash has developed over the years and there’s room for traditional narrative style flashes alongside the more experimental. Each contributor will receive a paperback copy of the book when it is published and be eligible for consideration in the 2022 Retreat West Awards.

We can’t wait to read your stories and celebrate our milestone with you!

Submission Guidelines

  • Minimum word count: 100 (title not included)
  • Maximum word count: 500 (title not included)
  • Submission deadline: 28th November 2021
  • Submit stories written in English by 23.59 GMT on the deadline date.
  • Please include a word count on the story document.
  • Stories must be your own original work and not have been published online or in print.