Photo Flash Challenge #4: Finalists Announced

Photo Flash Challenge #4: Finalists


Update: Winner announced!

With Christmas fast approaching, thanks and well done, to everyone who managed to submit an entry or vote! Congratulations to the overall winner, Jan Brown, with her story, Press Send. You’ll receive a £25 gift voucher and one free entry into a Quarterly Themed Flash Competition.

Names and bios of all five finalists have been added below.

Happy Christmas and good luck with all your writing goals next year!

A). The Pin-up Girl by Caleb Eriksson

The phone buzzed before eight. It was my manager, Charlene. Her tone saturated in desperation. One of her trusted girls had dropped out of a job. She explained these guys were regulars and I’d have to do a ‘girlfriend experience’.

My face slacked, limbs groaned, and eyes dropped closed against the morning sun. I was still recovering from a late night with some clients and was deciding whether I had it in me to gaze a strange man with the fervent, timid, curiosity that would sell a first date girlfriend. Then rethought, this profession pays for men to sap the glow of youth from your bones, and offers no retirement package.

I met my boyfriend for the afternoon on the corner of Second Boulevard. He took my hand, gently caressed his thumb down the ridges of my knuckles. There was a warm clamminess between us as we wandered away from traffic and into the park, passing mummy strollers and retired readers.

I peeked glances at the man, something that I wouldn’t usually do. It was a job, best not to remember people. He was handsome, a chiselled nose and strong jaw, a head of thick brown hair but it was something beyond that. His eyes glowed with a humbleness I hadn’t felt since I left home.

Detouring to a waiting cart. He returned a minute later with two cones in hand. I played my part: doe-eyed, dolly faced, fluttering mistletoe eyelashes and sensuously licking the cream.

There was a succession of clicking. Dave exclaimed, “That’s a wrap.” Rolling his finger in the air. “Nice shoot, Mia, your cheque will be left with Charlene.”

Turning back to Second Boulevard, back to the blustery of traffic, my hands cooled where he had touched and I left love where it should be- photographed.


Author Bio: Caleb is a writer and training librarian from Australia.


B). In Future, Strawberry, Please by Isabel Flynn

Our love was fresh, sweet, vanilla flavoured.
At first, we were tentative, with gentle nibbles around the edges.
We licked our tongues. Each other’s.
Quickening excitedly, we moved from just sampling what we enjoyed to experiencing deep and rich sensations.
With our tastebuds tantalised, the thrill spread through our bodies and we quickly became addicted.
Our eyes could see nothing else but the beauty and joy we shared. We wanted it to last forever.
Holding on tightly, we devoured with lust when savouring should have kept us sated.
Our equilibrium was unbalanced; how could homeostasis ever be regained?
The first drop fell on deaf ears, the second dripped harder but was brushed away.
For a while we could ignore the disappearing softness, focusing on the strong exterior.
But we had become careless, distracted and messy. Our lives would be left with stains.
The blissful experience had transformed to become a picture in our minds.
Discomfort now brought drastic consequences
It was time to wash our hands and move on.


Author Bio: Isabel is new to writing and loving it to the point of seeing an easy addiction taking over.


C). To every other question by Eilise Norris

Park near Beckley Insurance just before 1 pm. Shutter down. Hold the music until the signal.

Over the phone, the young man’s heart had been a bouncing ball that his throat kept catching. Fidgety yeahs and thank yous punctuated by more questions and double-checking. Could you wait any longer, just in case? What about sherbet, do you have sherbet? Can you play any song on the sound system?

I wanted to tell him nothing needs to be so perfect. People say yes in thousands of ways that aren’t planned or recorded.

When the woods were bleary with rain, my love moved both our car seats back, draped the picnic blanket over us and said, “How about it, Lou?” I laughed until my mouth was busy. He brought home his late mother’s sun-bleached curtains for our front room, which I cleaned with white vinegar and kept a little open always. We wanted a business; something so that he could be home earlier and we could plan for the future. He suggested an ice cream van.

My phone rings. Time to raise the shutter and start the music of choice: Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Romance and nostalgia aren’t so different, are they? The freezer rumbles through my feet up to my stomach as I stand ready at the window. Workers heading back from lunch look up from their phones, hopefully. I shake my head: private hire, sorry. And there she is, pointing out the van with her free hand; the other hand swings in his. He’s leading her away from the ocean-glass office, towards me. Her smile is full hammock. She hasn’t realised this is for her yet, and she’s going to say yes. My love, she’s sure as sure can be.


Author Bio: Eilise Norris writes flash fiction, poetry and short stories from above a pub in Oxfordshire, UK. She is on Twitter.


D). Press Send by Jan Brown

Not all holiday romances are doomed. That picture of Ben and me is proof positive. I don’t want to brag but I think it’s kind of perfect. Ideal height ratios. See how even our clothes complement each other? Totally absorbed in each other, oblivious to everything else. You look at it and see the epitome of love. Simple as that.

That’s how it is. We met. We clicked instantly. We knew we belonged together. It’s not just physical; we even complete each other’s sentences.

We didn’t know there was a picture. Some old woman came up to us later in the hotel bar.

Apologised. Said she couldn’t resist at the time and was so glad she hadn’t because it was a beautiful photograph and would we like a copy? Well yes, obviously. We used it as our wallpaper for months.

Well, I say we. I do. I can’t speak for Ben. We belong together but getting together has proved a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Jobs, flats, commitments… always something preventing that final step. Would I move down to Bristol or should he move up to Manchester? I was happy enough to give up family, friends, work, anything so we could share our life in Bristol if that’s what he wanted.

Then up would come another obstacle.

Ok, I was naïve. He’s married. Two kids. Leaving would “destroy his family.” We’ll see about that, Ben. I have it all in hand. I’ve befriended Wife on Facebook. We follow each other on Twitter.

Snapchat, Instagram – she’s such a social media junkie. The photo is uploaded and, at the touch of a button, she’ll see a picture I call ‘Destiny.’ Maybe it’ll be humiliating but this is true love. Needs must. He’s mine.

So why haven’t I pressed Send?


Author Bio: Jan Brown lives in Yorkshire. She’s still enjoying working on improving her flash fiction skills.


E). Broken by Margaret Garrod

He’d slammed the front door with such force that it caused a photo frame to fall to the ground, the glass shattering on impact with the stone floor. As with so many of their recent arguments, what had started as a petty quarrel had quickly escalated into a full-blown row. But this time things had been said from which there was no going back. She’d finally voiced her suspicions about him seeing an old girlfriend and he’d shrugged in that annoying way he had, calling her needy and paranoid. No sooner had she made the accusation, than she recalled one of her mum’s favourite sayings, ‘Least said, soonest mended.’ Well she never had been one to heed advice, particularly where relationships were concerned.

She bent down to survey the damage, noting the photo itself was unscathed. She eased it out of the twisted frame and recalled the day it had been taken; an unseasonably warm day in early April with hardly a cloud in the sky. They’d walked hand in hand along the Brighton seafront until they’d found an ice cream vendor. As it was early in the season, there wasn’t a lot of choice, but they were more than content with their identical cones of vanilla. Rory had asked a passer-by to capture the moment on the camera she’d bought him for his birthday and she’d been so pleased with the photo that she’d got him to make a print that she could frame. Every picture tells a story she thought, and now it was just a painful reminder of how loved up they had once been. She selected one of the larger shards of glass and began repeatedly stabbing the photo until Rory’s image was entirely obliterated.


Author Bio: Margaret Garrod lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has been retired for three years. She enjoys writing short stories and hopes that practice makes perfect.


Winners of the Protest themed flash competition

Thanks again to everyone that sent stories for this competition. And thanks to all the shortlisted writers for their patience while I made the decision. It was great to see so many different takes on the protest theme.

Winner: Lumpen by Jennifer Riddalls

Why I chose it: This is beautifully written and despite the harrowing subject matter, filled with hope. The narrator’s voice perfectly blends despair with the underlying belief that things will change for the better. As it recreates the building of the wall between East and West Germany in 1961, the story shines a light on the ways societies today are being led down the same divisive path, while also leaving us with the message that there will always be those who protest against it and spread a message of togetherness, peace and love.

Read it here


Runner-Up: The Candidate by Hilary Ayshford

Why I chose it: Firstly because of the strong voice coming though and because the protest was one that most people would never find out about but a major turning point in the narrator’s life. It shines a light on the absurdity of job recruitment and the way that businesses feel they have rights over their employees lives and minds way beyond the job they are paying them to do. Great stuff and a protest I’m sure that most of us have wanted to make at some point.

Read it here


Runner-Up: Ted, Sylvia by Jason Jackson

Why I chose it: Great take on the theme and the writing crackles and zings with life. I like how it’s not clear if the narrator is unreliable or not. Is her actor husband having an affair with his leading lady, or is it all in her head? The ending is great, leaving you to make up your own mind for how things play out for these characters.

Read it here


Congratulations to our winning writers!


If you’d to be in with a chance of winning up to £400 in cash prizes and getting published on the website then the next themed flash competition closes on 30th December. The theme is Running Away. Get all the info on how to enter here. 


Photo Flash Challenge #4

Photo Flash Challenge #4


We’ve had lots going on in recent weeks, so apologies for the delay in running the latest challenge. As promised, this time we have a lighter prompt. That said, feel free to interpret the picture in any way you wish!

Challenge: Write a short story based on the photo provided. It must be no more than 300 words (excluding the title, and fewer words is fine). You can write on any theme/genre but no children’s stories and nothing explicit please.

Send your entries to by 23:59 on Sunday, 9th December.  Include your story entry, the story title, any social media details you wish to share and a brief author bio in the body of the email.  One entry will be accepted per person.

Finalists: Up to five finalists will be selected and made available for public vote on Tuesday, 11th December.

Voting will be open for one week (the last vote to be counted must be posted by 23:59 on Monday, 17th December).  Anyone signed up to Retreat West will be able to vote by leaving a comment with the title of their favourite story.

Prize:  The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, 18th December and will receive a Retreat West £25 Gift Card which can be used against the cost of courses and critiques. The winner will also receive one free entry into a Quarterly Themed Flash Competition. In addition, the story will be published on the Retreat West website.

You can read previous winners and finalists entries here:

Challenge 1
Challenge 2
Challenge 3

Protest themed flash shortlist

Many thanks to all that entered this competition. The theme didn’t seem so popular this time around and we received less than half the number of entries we normally do. Any feedback on the themes would be great so do drop us a line at to let us know what you think of them. So we have gone straight to a shortlist this time.

But the standard of stories that we did receive was as high as ever so well done to our shortlist. I’ll be re-reading them all and will have results in November. Readings are still anonymous at this stage so please don’t let us know the name of your story if it appears here. We received more than one just called Protest so that one could belong to a few people!

Protest themed flash shortlist

  1. Dice of Life
  2. FAB
  3. Iconoclast Orangutan
  4. I Just Want To Say
  5. Lumpen
  6. No Nazis On Our Streets
  7. No Thin Blue Line
  8. Protest
  9. Summation
  10. Ted, Sylvia
  11. The Candidate
  12. The Protest


The next theme is Running Away and the deadline is 30th December. There’s £400 in prizes available and publication on the website. Get all the info here. 


Winners of the Page Turner Course

After a lot of reading and re-reading of her shortlisted entries, Rose has chosen the winners of the How To Write a Page Turner course. The two first place winners get the course with feedback option and the two runners-up get the no feedback version, which is exactly the same course content but, you guessed it, doesn’t get the feedback from Rose at the end!

Congratulations to our winners and all of the writers that made the shortlist too, which you can see here. The challenge was to write a novel opening up to 200 words from the sentence starter ‘I read it in a book…’


Winner: The Names of Rivers by Julia Robinson

Rose saidThis story is beautifully atmospheric, both the setting and characters become real and captivating through the sensual descriptions. The reader is also instantly immersed in the mystery and the promise of a deeply intriguing tale.

I read it in a book, the origin of Mary’s new name, ‘Rivers’. Mary Harlow had recently married Jack Popa Rivers, a blues guitarist and old white dog, first brought to New Orleans on board a merchant ship. Born in Liverpool, England, he had visited every port in the world.

We were on Mary’s houseboat, the Mississippi stretched before us, long and coiled, like a jewelled serpent. Mary’s red hair was tousled about her shoulders, her mouth curved in a close-lip smile. She was trying to avoid my gaze.

“It’s derived from the same Latin root as rival. Rivers have always been contested and fought over, in the same way as territory. And there are so many other meanings attached to rivers. Up the river – sent to prison. Down the river – betrayed,” I said.

Mary sucked in the air and turned her head to look me right in the eyes.

“And what is the origin of your name Lucy Pearl?”

I reflected. Jack Popa once told me that a Pearl is a thing of beauty. I licked my lips, tasting the salty tang of the river.

“A Pearl is opaque and hides its meaning under smooth, iridescent skin,” I said.


Winner: Duplicity by Jac Harmon

Rose saidThis story was chosen as a winning entry because the tension in it crackled like the fluorescent strip lighting in the police interview room where it is set. The imagery used is striking and memorable, haunting. The final reveal is an intriguing twist and makes you want to turn the page.

I read it in a book …’ I shape the words with care.

He cuts in.

‘And you remember it exactly?’

Given who he’s talking to it’s an unnecessary question. I shrug.

He lounges back in his chair, tapping at his teeth with a biro. It makes me squirm and he knows it. I close my eyes. The lighting is harsh for such a small room. Fluorescent tubes pulse above and I think of the jellyfish in the seafront aquarium. Thin, utilitarian jellyfish. My head aches. I breathe slowly. In. Out. He’s waiting for me to fill the silence. I don’t. It’s an old tactic.

‘So …’

I open my eyes. He’s leaning forward on sharp elbows. One foot taps beneath the table.

‘You read it in a book.’

Statement not question. Another slow breath. In. Out.

‘As I said, it was written in the margin.’

‘On page 96?’

I don’t respond. He knows the answer. In my mind I see the words again, scratched deep into the yellowing paper. A black waterfall of ill-formed, skeletal letters written with the sharp nib of a cheap fountain pen.

The Detective Inspector raises an eyebrow. Our mother would be proud of him.


Runner-up: The Truth and the Lies by Lucinda Hart

Rose said: This story opening punches from the first to the last moment with a great hook and a final reveal that makes you want to know more about the narrator and their dark secret.

I read it in a book. The lie.

One of those gruesome-tales-about-your-county books that somehow my hand was drawn to, spinning on the carousel in the bookshop. It was only time before someone wrote about Rosie Barnes. Her bloodied and naked body abandoned in the woodland beside the main road fifteen years ago. How her boyfriend was found with blood on his clothes and a motive in his heart. How he shouted his innocence in Court, and then wept that same innocence as they took him down.

He didn’t last long inside. Killed in an incident, they said. But I think he took his own life, escaped to join his Rosie wherever she’d gone. To follow her.

And now the story, the legend, is printed in a slim volume for sale in my local town. Where people remember.

They remember what they heard at the time, but they do not know the truth. They do not know that what’s in the book is lies.

They do not know that when Rosie Barnes’ boyfriend cried his innocence, in his bloody shirt, that he was telling the truth.

How do I know this? you ask.

Because he didn’t kill her.

I did.


Runner-up: The Book of Future Past by Stephanie Percival

Rose saidThe concept of this story is arresting and creepy and as a reader I am instantly drawn to the main character and concerned about the peril she faces. I want to read on!

I read it in a book. Not one of the hundreds which surround me in the bookshop, but the one in my back pack, weighing it down. I came here because it usually calms me. Not today.

I race upstairs to the café taking the steps two at a time, my feet in Doc Martens clumsy on the treads, so I nearly collide with a man descending, who swears at me. I need coffee and then perhaps I can open the book, consider the words again.

A mug of black coffee in front of me, and mumbling conversation around me, I take the book out. A musty smell leaks out with it. The book feels old; it has a leathery green cover. Ordinarily, I’d never select a book like this.

On the title page is an inscription, written in brown ink. Fading and blurred, as if written long ago. It reads:

Celina Delaney April 1st 1999 – Sept 17th 2018

My mouth is dry, my fingers clammy, because I am Celina Delaney. Nineteen years old, and my birth date is All Fool’s Day. Tomorrow is the seventeenth of September 2018.

More disturbing are the 3 letters which follow.



Shortlist for the comp to win our How To Write a Page Turner Course

Thanks to everyone that sent in stories for this. Rose and I have really enjoyed reading them all. We have got 10 shortlisted stories, detailed below, and now Rose will read them all again to choose the four winners. Well done to everyone on the list.

Shortlisted stories

  • All The Pieces by Jennifer Riddalls
  • Duplicity by Jac Harmon
  • Forbidden Words by Ninette Hartley
  • Forbidding Words by Matt Lucas
  • Marginalia by Stu Croskell
  • Screams Can Be Silent by Andrea Emblin
  • The Book of Future Past by Stephanie Percival
  • The Names of Rivers by Julia Robinson
  • The Suicide of Charlotte Dovedale by Jane Badrock
  • The Truth and The Lies by Lucinda Hart


Results will be announced soon. Good luck everyone!