6 Reasons to Write (Even if You’re Not Getting Published)

Today we welcome Dawn Siofra North to our blog. Dawn is one of the prize-winning authors in our latest novelette-in-flash anthology which you can buy HERE

Whenever I find myself feeling disheartened, sluggish, or foolish about my writing practice, I need to remind myself why I write. Of course, having a piece accepted for publication feels validating. But I find it’s also important to keep in mind the many other benefits I get from creative writing. Ones like these…

A place to play 

My notebook is a private space where I’m allowed to play, away from judging eyes, like kids do when they make up role-play games. It’s also where I experience the creative joy of finding just the right words, like pieces of a puzzle. ‘Hard fun’ is how the educator Seymour Papert described this delight in challenging ourselves.

The pleasure of learning 

When I give myself permission to experiment, I can enjoy the very process of developing my writing skills. In focussing on ‘process not product’, I can discover surprising things about how I like to write, and remember that learning rarely happens without making mistakes. Just like an infant beginning to walk, I often take the biggest leap forward after falling flat on my arse.

Fostering mindfulness 

I first started writing creatively as an extension of my mindfulness practice. It can feel daunting to access an embodied state via meditation, but writing offers another way in. When I’m feeling mentally scattered, writing helps me to gather my fractured attention, to become embodied and rooted in my senses, by having to find precise descriptions for sensation-based experience. This is sometimes practised aloud in mindfulness classes; we writers just do it in private!

Emotional growth 

Immersing myself in a character’s life deepens my understanding of what it is to be human. While drafting, I often ask ‘what is this story teaching me about life, about other people, about myself?’ Whether I get a shift in perspective or a metaphorical piece of guidance, it’s as if the stories are delivering life lessons that I’m only able to receive because they arrive in imaginative packaging. 

Writing as a positive resource 

I wrote my novelette The Girl Who Survived during a very stressful period, and I discovered that writing offers me a refuge. During that time, the act of writing felt just as supportive as my meditation practice. The difficult conditions, while uncomfortable, ended up shaping the work in a way that I couldn’t have imposed by design.

Imaginative joy 

Writing stories gives me a chance to spend time in the imaginal realm that I knew so intimately as a child. Sometimes I forget that getting words on paper is only one aspect of writing: my stories also tend to need some incubation time, in a place where image and sensation are just as strong as language. If I let go of trying to control the narrative, I get to inhabit the adventure and mystery of an unfolding story.

When I remind myself of these reasons, it’s usually enough to persuade me to make a brew and write for twenty minutes. Or just hang out with my imaginative self, and see what happens. 

Dawn Siofra North is part of a home-educating family, an occasional mindfulness teacher and a writer of tiny stories. Her work has been shared in Legerdemain (National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021) and on the Free Flash Fiction website. Her novelette The Girl Who Survived won third prize in the Retreat West 2021 Novelette-In-Flash Prize. She is inspired by story-based learning and imaginative meditation. You can find her online at https://dawnsiofranorth.wordpress.com/

The Lighthouse

Delighted to welcome Ali Thurm to the blog today to share some reflections on one of the central images of her 2020 Retreat West novel, One Scheme of Happiness – the lighthouse.

When I was a child, we lived for five years on the coast in a small seaside town called Withernsea, in what was then the East Riding of Yorkshire. So close to the sea, my family spent hours playing on the beach and, because I hadn’t learned to swim, paddling in the sea. Here, south of the rocky cliffs of Flamborough head, the land is very flat, and constantly being eroded; so, the lighthouse was built inland, actually in the town itself. Of course, this made living here unique, and to add to it, the house where we lived on Arthur Street was so close to the lighthouse that at night the beam swept into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, and (probably) into our dreams.

A lighthouse is such an iconic landmark, steeped in mystery and romance that it won’t come as a surprise then that I chose the town as the setting for my debut novel, One Scheme of Happiness. The area north of Hull is known as Holderness and, because I wanted to be able to adapt the setting for the needs of the novel, I changed Withernsea to Holdersea. And, because I’ve not been back for forty years, the town is really based on childhood memories with the generous support of Google Earth and the lighthouse webcam.

At the beginning of the novel Helen remembers the day the lighthouse was turned off, symbolising a change that everyone had to get used to, just as she has to adapt to life without her mother. Now, no longer in use, Withernsea lighthouse is a museum to the history of the town and the RNLI, as well as to celebrated actor, Kay Kendall who was born in the town. 

To coincide with the publication of my novel in 2020, I got in touch with the museum and they very enthusiastically suggested I could give a reading in the lighthouse garden at their summer fete, and sell some books. That was 2020 so, as you’ll know, a month after publication, we were in lockdown and the event was cancelled.

Throughout the novel Helen’s relationship with the lighthouse changes. From a phallic symbol when she is having a relationship, to a stick of rock, or to a finger beckoning her to return when she is really desperate to leave the town. ‘This is where you belong.’

The East Riding was an amazing place to spend part of my childhood. I think all children long to live by the sea, don’t they? So, it became a great place to set a novel that deals with memory, desire and dreams. I plan to go back one day soon, and to climb up into the lighthouse at long last.

Buy One Scheme of Happiness HERE


About the author: Ali Thurm is a novelist, poet and teacher. Her first novel, One Scheme of Happiness was published by Retreat West Books in February 2020. Set on the isolated Yorkshire coast, it is a dark tale of delusion, dressing-up and Jane Austen.

Ali is currently working on a new novel, The River Brings the Sea, a story of survival in a flooded Britain where religious extremists have taken over. In 2019 it was placed third in the First Novel Prize (Daniel Goldsmith Associates) and described by the judges as ‘haunting’.

Born in Tynemouth, Newcastle, Ali came to London for a short time thirty years ago and has been there ever since. 

You can follow her on Twitter @alithurm

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. 


“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 

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.

Indie publishing – the good, the bad and the future

When I first started Retreat West in 2012, I had no idea what would happen and that it would still be going 8 years later. I especially didn’t envisage that I would become an indie publisher as I initially started it all as I needed to learn more about writing and couldn’t afford to do courses. So I started running the residential writing retreats and inviting the authors I wanted to learn from to teach at them.

But 5 years after it all began, Retreat West Books started in 2017 with the publication of the first anthology of winning stories in the annual Short Short Story and Flash Fiction Prizes we run, What Was Left. Next month we are publishing the fourth anthology, How to Hold an Umbrella, and very much looking forward to bringing you these fantastic stories.

In the three years since What Was Left launched we have also published four novels, a memoir, four short story collections and three charity anthologies that have raised thousands of pounds for social and environmental causes. We won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher, were shortlisted in the 2019 awards, and lots of our titles made the shortlists in other categories and received special mentions both years too. All of this is fantastic and we are so proud of every story we’ve had the privilege to publish.

Despite all of this, we are having to close the door on open submissions and will no longer be directly commissioning any more books. After Jan Kaneen’s gorgeous memoir-in-flash, The Naming of Bones, launches in Spring 2021, we will only be publishing books featuring work that comes through the competitions. 

Selling books is really hard and I have been financially supporting the publications with income from my work as a freelance journalist and from the teaching I do at literary events and retreats. When the lockdown was implemented in March, I lost all my teaching work booked in up to September this year. My freelance journalism commissions fell by a significant amount and I realised how unsustainable it was for me to continue publishing, no matter how much I wanted to carry on. I simply cannot afford it. 

I love what I do at Retreat West and really enjoy running the courses and competitions, which make just enough income for me to justify continuing to do this side of things. But what’s happened this year has really made me stop and think about it all and how much time and headspace I give to everyone else’s writing at the expense of my own.

So while everything, bar the direct commissioning of work to publish, is going to carry on, I am taking some of my time and headspace back. So there will be fewer group flash courses running and hopefully people will do the work-alone options more often instead, as the focus is on generating lots of new work to edit and sub out, and you will still get feedback on stories you create just not the forum option. So the Micro Fiction Month in November is going to be the last flash course with a forum for a good while. 

I’ll be taking on less editorial work too, but am putting together a great team of editors that can do this work instead. So there will still be lots of opportunities to get help to develop your work and get it published through our competitions.

Thanks as always for being a part of our reading and writing community. If you enjoy what we do and would like to support us, please buy one of our books, take out a membership, do a course, or buy me a coffee! It really will make a difference.

Amanda x

Spotlight on Stories

It’s been seven years since Amanda started Retreat West and two years since she began Retreat West Books. In that time more than fifty authors have seen their work published on our website and more than one hundred and twenty in print. That’s an amazing feat(!) and it’s equally rewarding to see each submission process attract a more thrilling selection of writing.

So, since it’s our birthday, and we’re always looking for opportunities to shout about the brilliant authors we’ve published, we thought it only fitting that we use the occasion to shout-out about just a few of the authors and stories published so far.




She told herself she would be happy here this time. The cottage she’d found was down a narrow lane off the coastal road, hunched between sycamore trees in the grounds of a large Victorian house that had been converted into a nursing home. And it came with its own transport – a hulk of a pushbike that had been left in the outhouse by an artist who had lived there before her.
Enough by Amanda Huggins

   Amazon  ebook

Amanda’s writing is immersive. Sentences are concise and yet communicate so much detail it can take a moment for your brain to catch up. Whether it’s an observation of a refurbished hotel already curling at the edges (eventually the salt air claims everything back) or the central character, Evie, using a bandages tin from her childhood to keep spare money, every detail in Enough reveals something about Evie, and so we feel we are viewing a complete life.




When Connor was ten years old he hid under his bedcovers while his parents argued downstairs, and read science fiction magazines and advertisements for X-Ray spectacles and jet packs. His favourite was a drawing of a boy strapping on a pair of ankle boots with rocket tubes and coiled springs built into the soles.
Connor and His Amazing Ejector Boots by James Ellis

   Amazon  ebook

As someone who sent off for a pair of ‘X-Ray specs’ as a child (and waited for the postman every day until they came) an ejector-booted adventure holds great appeal. A clever use of repetition establishes the central character, Connor, setting the journey off with a pow! And then it progresses so quickly it leaves you breathless. It’s an incredibly touching story and I reread it immediately to appreciate the craft of its storytelling.




What a stupid name Minnie is though. She said it’s short for Minnesota, because that’s where her parents told her she was conceived. He said this was cute but it’s gross that her parents told her that, and even grosser that she told him. However, it’s funny that a lot of his friends call him Mickey, so this is a date for Mickey and Minnie. He’ll use this joke tonight.
When Mickey Met Minnie by Matt Batsman

   Amazon  ebook

When Mickey Met Minnie takes us on a Tinder date at Purity, a new age eco restaurant where the waiters choose the food for its patrons. It’s both hilarious and filled with infectious joy, as we see the contrast between two drastically different characters of whom I would happily spend an entire novel in the company of.




Soon after moving in I learned that I could never rely on the house to maintain its equilibrium. Some days it was petulant beyond belief. As long as I made it the centre of my world it gave me its best. But whenever I tried to introduce change, for example, the time I brought the kitten home, it sulked. Light bulbs blew. The windows stuck. The washing machine broke down. In the end it was easier to comply.
House Rules by Sandra Arnold

   Amazon  ebook

Sandra’s writing is humorous, strange, poetic and often dark. This one reminds me a little of the writings of Shirley Jackson and gripped me from the start as a jealous house grows increasingly possessive of its owner’s attention. What struck me about this story, is the ease and speed in which it brings you into the fantasy and then like a whirlwind, carries you along, putting you right there in the house, instilling you with a sense of claustrophobia.




Nights have been the hardest since Jim passed, but Tony always seemed to be awake and happy to chat online. We had so much in common. Soon we were messaging daily. Long streams of conversations. We clicked.
Gristle by Angela Clarke

   Amazon  ebook

Angela’s story plays with expectation masterfully, dropping glaring warning signs that has the reader shouting at the page while frantically reading on. The recently widowed protagonist embarks on a new love affair and we spend the story waiting for the impending doom as she carries out the sale of the family business and makes plans to emigrate to America with her unlikely lover. To say any more would be to spoil the fun but there is plenty to be had in this engrossing caper.




She always aimed for the fresh snow, to be the one to make the first impression. Her platforms lifted her above it, and I followed in the marks she made. I wanted to be in all of her steps. The snow kept coming but it had no idea where it was going. It was as if pieces from a blank canvas from the past had come to settle in the present, lost, mistaken. In the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bunbury snow days by FJ Morris

   Amazon  ebook

I’ve heard Freya’s writing described as being like popping candy in your mouth. It’s visceral and like Bowie himself, unique and authentic. Bunbury Snow Days captures the poetry, strangeness and longing that Freya uses as her building blocks. Seek her writing out for its unique voice.




Within a year they were gone, abandoning all that remained. It was an act of betrayal for which Hannah has never been able to forgive herself.
An Entry in the Yellow Book by Dianne Bown-Wilson

   Amazon  ebook

The story begins by presenting the reader with a mystery. What secret is the narrator (Hannah) keeping from her friends, husband and children? As Hannah makes plans to carry out her secret mission, the story builds suspense, revealing a major event in her life matter-of-factly but with great impact. Then as we finally uncover the mystery, it takes a delicious turn and you’re left with one of my favourite feelings as a reader: wow, how did they do that?




If her husband couldn’t send money next month, if Johnny didn’t recover, if it didn’t rain soon…
Thirst by Lorraine Wilson

   Amazon  ebook

Thirst is a story of desperation and what you will and won’t do to protect your family. All too familiar struggles are presented, such as dealing with an unsympathetic official, following rules designed to make sure the people most in need of help can’t get it, neighbours abandoning homes, people chasing rumours of work almost as hungrily as they’re chasing the rain and refugees lost in their own land. It’s alarming and compelling story.




‘When he was young, Abraham Lincoln described himself as ‘a piece of floating driftwood.’
I’m like that all the time.
Ten Things I Can Tell You About Abraham Lincoln by Veronica Bright

   Amazon  ebook

Two things in particular stand out about this story of a schoolgirl studying Abraham Lincoln. The first is how expertly each snippet of information about Lincoln reveals something about the central character, whether about her life or the world she inhabits. The second is how the story slowly reveals information about her family situation. We learn she’s taking care of ‘little ones’ before discovering they are her step-sisters, and she likes her stepfather but there are hints that he’s not the perfect father figure. Great storytelling!



Did you enjoy our journey through some of our published works to date? If so, check out the full stories and support an independent publisher. And please share this on social media, if we sell some books, we’d love to turn this blog into a series and get the opportunity to talk even more about our brilliant writers and their work!