2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist


Many thanks to everyone that entered the 2020 First Chapter Competition. Louise Walters and I have read a lot of novel openings to make the longlist decision. We received 308 entries and have a longlist of 36, which we’ll now be choosing a shortlist of 10 from to go to our final judge, Carrie Plitt, literary agent with Felicity Bryan Associates.

Congratulations to all the writers who stories are listed below. We’re still reading anonymously at this stage so please don’t let anymore know what your story is called if you’ve made it through!


2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist

  1. A Charm To Mend Lost Causes
  2. A Whisper In The Woods
  3. Boy Nightingale
  4. Brantwood
  5. Down Came A Blackbird
  6. Flatfoot In Fleece
  7. Girls Like Us
  8. Hush
  9. In Our Father’s House
  10. Iris Vine Remembers
  11. Jack
  12. Level 44
  13. Life After The End Of The World
  14. Love
  15. Love The Dark Days
  16. Motor City Resolve
  17. No Woman Is An Island
  18. Passing Through Fire
  19. Static
  20. Summers With My Father
  21. Swimming Lesson
  22. The Book Of Gates
  23. The Candidate’s Husband
  24. The Circle
  25. The Cuckoo Clock
  26. The History And Remarkable Life Of Octavia Swallow
  27. The Inquisitor’s Papers
  28. The Katie Experiment
  29. The Orchid Child
  30. The Pearls, The Lake, And Yoshio
  31. The Slighting Of Livia Rathbone
  32. The Slow Knife
  33. The Sunday Painters
  34. We Make Dreams
  35. Words We Shoud’ve Said
  36. Your Sorrows Rise


We’ll be re-reading these chapters now and will have the shortlist in the first week of April.

We asked our members and followers about who they would like to see judging the 2021 competition and the unanimous decision was for it to be an indie publisher. So we’ve got a very exciting one lined up, which we’ll be announcing when the new competition details go live later this year.

We’re also very excited to have partnered with Casa Ana Retreats for the 2021 competition. Find out more about Casa Ana here. I’m lucky enough to be their guest mentor for a 2-week retreat later this year, so if you fancy some writing time in the mountains in southern Spain with 1-1 support to develop your novel, short/flash fiction or memoir, then come join me!


March 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

Thank you to Gail Aldwin for providing this month’s prompt. Gail is a Dorset-based writer of fiction and poetry. Her short fiction collection Paisley Shirt was longlisted in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018 and her novel The String Games, about a child lost on a holiday in France, is available through her website, gailaldwin.com.

We received 117 entries and so the winner will receive £234, in addition to a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. The runner-up will get a free entry too, plus both stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website.

The final ten will be published next Monday with public voting opening at the same time.

All readings and votes are anonymous so writers if you are on this longlist, please do not tell anyone which story is yours.

Thank you to all who submitted and congrats if you made the longlist!


  • After the Great Mutation
  • An Afternoon’s Drive in Aftermath Town
  • Berlin 1936
  • Beyond the Amusement Park
  • Candy Floss
  • Carousel
  • Daffodil Yellow
  • Fairground Attraction
  • Feral
  • First & Last Date
  • Floating Away
  • From the Top of the Ferris Wheel, I Can See Chernobyl
  • I’ve Got You In My Sights Hayley Pringle
  • Learning to Drive
  • Luck
  • Neglected
  • non-Reactor 4
  • Reclamation
  • Scrap Heaps and Forgotten Places
  • Selective Memory
  • ‘Ten Years After the Pandemic’ Symposium – The findings of the first trip into the outside world
  • The fun in funfair
  • The girl who ran away with the fair
  • The Lies Of Summer
  • The Moon That Saw Him Buried
  • The Skirt
  • The Year I Got My Braces Off
  • Under the Willows
  • Waiting for Lucy
  • When the Rot Sets In
  • Why we don’t talk about the theme park
  • Wrapped in rust
  • Wreck
  • Yellow Skeletons
  • Zap! Zoom!

Enjoying our Flash Fiction comps? Check out our new Flash Fiction Memberships, tailored to suit the flashing enthusiast. And as an added bonus, sign up in January and you will receive our entire back catalogue in ebook free of charge!

Earth Themed Flash Competition Winners

Earth Themed Flash Competition Winners

Many thanks to all of the writers who entered the final themed flash competition of 2019; and to all of the shortlisted writers for their patience while I read and re-read the stories to make my decision. It was a tough one as there was so much to recommend about all of the stories on the shortlist. I’m really glad that we have guest judges for this year’s competition so that I don’t have to make these hard decisions for a while!

Huge congratulations to our winning writer and 2 runners-up. Your stories really stuck with me long after reading.


Winner: The Five Stages of Hopelessness by Louise Mangos

Why I chose it: I loved how the last line of this story completely changed it into something else, without it seeming like a punchline or an unnatural ending. That line gave me the chills then it made me laugh out loud. The use of language is gorgeous and the whole tone of it made it seem that this tale of the five stages of a relationship was heading into a familiar theme seen in flash. So I was really surprised by the last line, in a very good way.

Read it here


Runner-up: Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte by Ruth Brandt

Why I chose it: There are so many questions left unanswered in this story yet it has a feeling of completeness. There’s a real sense of mystery about who the narrator really is and what they’re doing in the cave. But despite the fact that they start and end the story alone there’s a sense that they are at peace with this life they have chosen. It does what great flash does and hints at a much bigger story.

Read it here


Runner-up: Terra by JC McKinley

Why I chose it: Gorgeous imagery and I felt swept and swirled away into the desert girl’s world and passion for all the things that make up the earth. There’s an epic feeling to this, making it seem much larger than it is, and as our planet falters under the weight of all that we take from it, this story had the feeling of a being a love song to our beleaguered home. One that left me filled with a feeling of hope.

Read it here



Our next themed flash competition closes on 29th March 2020 and is being judged by Gaynor Jones, who chose the theme of ABANDONED. So get writing and send us your stories to be in with a chance of seeing your work published on the website and winning cash prizes up to £400.

If you regularly enter our competitions, then check out out membership options which include multiple entries as part of the subscription fee.


February 2020 Micro Fiction Comp Results

February 2020 Micro Fiction Comp Results

Thank you to everyone who continues to support our Monthly Micro Fiction competition, whether it’s entering, voting or commenting on social media!

Thank you to Ali Thurm for providing our lighthouse prompt and inspiring so many brilliant stories! Retreat West Books will publish Ali’s debut novel One Scheme of Happiness this Thursday! You can get your copy here or find out more on our website here.

We received 324 votes this month. The winner will receive £260.

Once again, thank you to everyone who entered and congrats to the writers long or shortlisted.


First place winner: Goodbye to all that by Dan Thomas

Read Goodbye to all that

Second place: Significant Notes on Lighthouses by Joanne Withers

Read Significant Notes on Lighthouses


March’s competition launches next week on Monday, 2nd.

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

We’re very excited to announce the winners of the 2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction prizes. Many thanks to our judges for taking on the tough job of choosing the winners from the shortlisted stories. Angela Readman picked our winning short stories and Meg Pokrass our flash fictions.

Well done to all of the writers who made our long and shortlists and a HUGE congratulations to the winners of the top 3 spots.

2019 RW Short Story Prize Winners

I was delighted to judge this competition; of all the competitions I’ve worked on this was the closest. Any of the stories in the shortlist would have been worthy winners, the standard was exceptional. Each story varied in subject and style, but was impeccably structured. I read each story in the shortlist a few times, and my top five even more. I took my time, and ultimately chose the stories I couldn’t forget even after a few days had passed. I’d like to congratulate all the writers who made the shortlist and want them to know they all wrote stories I am certain will find a place in the world and be read for years. It was difficult to choose only three out of so many wonderful stories, but, in the end, I had to choose the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about.

First Prize: Sal by Emma Hutton

Reading Sal gave me goose bumps. The title is deceptively simple, yet the originality of the character took this coming of age story to a whole other level. The writing shone. The tension between men, women, and social expectations is palpable. I found that the more I read the story the more layers it revealed. This is a story that just keeps on giving. It deserves to be read more than once. Every word earned its place as the winner.

Second Prize: Whale Watching by Louise Farr

A delightful story of how we become who we are and the ways that we cope with loss. I was impressed with the use of childhood impressions that made the disappointments of daily life almost magical. The voice leapt off the page and continued to surprise me throughout. Funny, sad, strange and moving, it was impossible not to place this story. I know it will stick with me for a long time, the character is so compelling I felt I could hear her heartbeat.

Third Prize: Mess of Love by Jason Jackson

A fascinating exploration of the dynamics of a relationship and what strength really means. I was submerged in this story by the sensory opening and was impressed with how details are used to convey character. However flawed these people may be, the use of touch in this story made their relationship utterly convincing. The mess of their love seemed incredibly real.

2019 Flash Fiction Prize Winners

First Prize: Treating the Stains and Strains of Marriage by Sherry Morris

Treating the Stains and Strains of a Marriage is a story about the fading colours of a marriage. With brilliant sensory flourishes, startling use of metaphor and internal rhyme, this darkly funny story tackles the world of domestic drudgery and whips it into something deliciously unsettling and surreal.This story’s originality and jaunty confidence won me over! I have never read anything else like it.

Second Prize: Riverwater Cistern by Niamh MacCabe

Riverwater Cistern is an enchanting story about early love and friendship, and the magical world of childhood. Filled with gorgeous use of poetic language and finely tuned emotional detail—a visceral reading experience that made me remember (with longing) what it was like to be that young, and intensely alive.

Third Prize: Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish by Timothy Boudreau

Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish is a fresh and original coming-of-age story, shown through a sensory-rich lens. I admire the way this author trusts the reader, and the masterful way they express the gritty emotions of teenage isolation without being gloomy, or overtelling.
These stories and all of the shortlisted stories in both categories will be published in the winner’s anthology later this year so be sure to snap up a copy then!
Many thanks to all of the writers who submitted stories for the 2019 prizes, we enjoyed reading them all. We’ll be announcing the details of the 2020 judges and prizes next month…

February 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

February 2020 Micro Fiction Competition Shortlist

Once again, thank you to everyone who submitted to our lighthouse-themed comp and well done if you made the longlist! We received our highest ever number of entries, so the prize fund for the winner is a spectacular £260!

And thank you to Ali Thurm for providing our prompt! Retreat West Books will publish Ali’s debut novel One Scheme of Happiness on 27th February. You can pre-order your copy here or find out more about her unsettling tale of uneasy friendships on our website here.

Voting is anonymous so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.

Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 24th February. Winners will be announced on Tuesday 25th.

Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.

A Warning to Those at Sea

You saw me, in my element, dancing in the waves. Those body rolls, you said, hands skimming down my curves, pausing again at that place where scales met skin. I shivered, wanting more.

If you loved me, you would, you said, as I undulated back into my briny loneliness.

And so, one day, I did.

People say the rocks are sharp as daggers. But that’s nothing to the vicious bite of new-hewn feet on land. To the agony of your betrayal.

You cast off from the shore again, so here I am.

Bleeding, crawling, climbing.

To put out the light.

An Unusual Holiday Let Opportunity

Your holiday will begin with an exciting boat ride to the island.

  • Ignore the mermaid tails embedded in the rocks.
  • Take care whilst treading the desiccated bones of sailors and bairns.
  • Avoid the cobwebbed corpse of the keeper yawning in the dust.
  • Don’t touch the selkie skins or the skull of the Stoor Worm.

The management confirms these will eventually disappear.

The lighthouse, being operational, has an electronic fog signal. Guests can use the ear plugs provided to mute the sounds of the ghost pipers, the siren songs and the monster Modernity as it rolls and crushes, rolls and crushes.


Change, Rising Fair

‘Ten years?’ I say.

His face is passive, he’s survived tempests, my temper is nothing.

‘Time passes quickly up here.’ His eyes are on the horizon, I am no more distracting than the wheeling herring gulls outside. I try again.

‘You could’ve written. We thought you were dead.’

He turns away, pours water from a battered kettle into an equally distressed teapot. The familiar domesticity of his movements enrages me, but I take the cup when it’s offered. He peers at the brass barometer on the wall and frowns.

‘Change.’ He says. I put down the cup and hug him.



The lighthouse beam eclipses the smoky-faced moon, which is waxing gibbous tonight. Its dazzling ribbon floods the tormented sea, leaving the rocks in darkness, while I loiter here alone at the top of the steps.

I was guided to this place through the dreamscape, and from here I see it all – what has happened and what is still to come. As I listen to the gentle swoosh of the rotations, I count the eclipses till I run out of numbers. I can see things now as the ancients once saw them and the future is brimming brighter than ever.


Goodbye to all That

There are 4 of them. All dressed in shades of black except for Davy. Davy is in grey which matches the sky. They laugh at Jimmy because he says his suit is the colour of outer space.

“The salesman in the shop said so.” It’s the first time they have laughed today.

The lighthouse where they once played, hid, ran to, is boarded up now. Rust bleeding into plaster, the lamp long since extinguished.

“Ready?” says Graham. They nod in unison and watch as he scatters ashes on the wind and the ghosts of 60 years ago dance in the dust.



Low tide, and she hitches her skirts waist-high, wades through salt and bladderwrack. Linen petticoats begin to bloat; silt squashes between toes.

She reaches the iron tower on the rocks, its fire licking rainclouds.

The package between her breasts remains dry: nutmeg, mandrake.

She looks back. They begin to line the beach, armed with torches. But she will do as she pleases. She will lie beneath the tower’s heat, while her cunning, quick fingers conjure him, again, in an unholy prayer.

And she will stay here, with him, entranced – until the fire above her wanes into embers and ash.


Kopu Lighthouse

As we approach through the conifers, you say it is your mother. Solitary in starched skirt, rocky edges hewn cold and sharp, her beacon-face both warning and admonishment. And from that tiny barred window of a mouth: Watch you don’t turn out like your father.

I lean into you and say, “To me, it is a Dalek.”

Back home, while you sleep, I ease a sonic screwdriver under your pillow, with a note: For those tricky, maternal moments. And whisper that I know—with that same conviction with which tide lures ship to sandbank—you will never be like him.


Significant Notes on Lighthouses

There are 19,000 worldwide.

On maps they look like chess pieces.

Ornamental versions are popular in fish tanks.

You once said stars are lighthouses in space, guiding people onwards.

Aged six, I gained a C grade for my project describing how lighthouses protect ships from angry waves.

Aged eleven, I received an A grade for my poem depicting mothers as lighthouses and fathers as volatile waves.

After he left, we bought a boat and visited a different lighthouse every weekend.

In hospital, I hold your hand, crepey brown like a treasure map and wait for you to find your star.


Tending the Light

They bring a revolving night-light to your room and we watch its cool finger sweep the ceiling. Your breath slows to match its rhythm and I imagine your tinnitus whispering traveller’s tales in murmurs of the sea. Though I stare deep into the ebb tide of your ocean eyes, you drift beyond my reach.

Born under its beam, you ensured the light shone true. Now your own is fading.

Your absence aches in the grey dawn. Looking from the corridor window, the lighthouse stands sentinel. Through dissolving mist, its beam caresses me while it lights your way.


The Banshee’s Daughter

The air around the lighthouse is possessed of a new and fickle madness. The lamp’s beams dance across the shoulders of the rowing girl and touch her face: her expression a thundercloud of grief for the ancient betrayal of her sex. Around her, water, cold enough to crack human skin, licks the spines of sea-urchins who trace the shadows of her oars, watchful and ready.

As the girl’s boat shivers between the rocks, her laugh envelopes the grinding wind, like needles shrouded in silk: sharp enough to be mistaken for her mother’s wail, sincere enough to herald the same fate.



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