Pitch to Win 2022 Winners

Thanks so much to everyone who sent us their pitches for the novels they’d like to write with help from our courses and mentoring. There really are a lot of brilliant novels being written.

We’ve had a difficult choice to make picking the three winners from our shortlist. All of the pitches had so much that was great about them. So well done to all and congratulations to our winners!

First Prize: The Time It Takes To Paint A Picture by Claire Schön

Claire’s winning pitch:

Becky and Lisa rekindle their friendship online after twenty-five years. Encouraged by Lisa, Becky changes her life, only to discover Lisa died some time ago.

Why we chose it: Instantly connects us to the characters, sets up huge scope for conflict and poses so many questions! Who is pretending to be Lisa and why have they targeted Becky? What has Becky done to change her life and what does she do when she finds out the truth? We want to know! Really looking forward to working with Claire to develop this novel.

Claire wins a place on our year-long, online Novel Creator Course.

Second Prize: The Death Of Doris Dainty by Anne Hamilton

Anne’s winning pitch:

For sixty years, twins and ex-Magdalene Laundry girls, Annie and Zeta, planned the perfect murder. Except now it’s all spoiled – because they haven’t been caught…

Why we chose it: Stories with twins always have so much scope for intrigue and mystery and one with a perfect murder at the heart of it instantly sets our minds off on loads of different paths. And the fact that these women want to get caught is so intriguing. Can’t wait to find out more!

Anne wins the Start Your Novel online course with a mentoring session.

Third Prize: Duty of Care by Sally Curtis

Sally’s winning pitch:

When multiple scandals rock a school, the Principal’s own lawless secrets face exposure. Murder is the only option, but someone is watching her every move.

Why we chose it: Multiple scandals, a murdering school principle and someone who suspects what she’s up to give us so much conflict. Plus there’s the added layer of the murderer being someone who should be looking after the kids in her school.

Sally wins two mentoring sessions: a Structure & Plot Surgery with C.M. Taylor and a Character Clinic with Amanda Saint.

Well done to everyone who was shortlisted, longlisted and sent a pitch!

The 2022-23 Novel Creator Course starts in September if you’d like to write, or revise, a draft with 1-1 mentoring, support and motivation all the way through!

Micro Fiction Course Competition Winners

Many thanks to everyone that entered this competition to write a 150 word story from this photo prompt; and to all our shortlisted writers for their patience waiting for the results. Mary-Jane and I have read them over and over again and there was so much to recommend in them all. But we had to choose three winners and they are…

First prize winner: Dark and Light by Lucy Hooft

Why we chose it: Beautiful imagery and the play of dark and light is done so deftly throughout. Love the last lines and the sense of ambiguity it leaves you with.

Second prize winner: Ghost Blocker by Andrew Boulton

Why we chose it: Great humour to this one yet it still manages to pose lots of questions and keep you wondering what’s really going on with the ghosts as the narrator realises he shouldn’t have let the promise of riches sway him.

Third prize winner: The Quickening by Abi Hennig

Why we chose it: Strong images and great use of language and we loved how the past and present weave together and how the last line is so open to interpretation.

Many congratulations to our winners. Lucy wins a place on the Micro Fiction Month Course in November 2020; Andrew wins a place on the work-alone, start anytime Micro Fiction Course; and Abi win a year’s Bronze Flash membership.

Announcing: new launches added to the Retreat West course collection

Looking for expert guidance to hone your writing skills during lockdown? You’ve come to the right place. We’re launching a range of brand-new courses, as well as celebrating our long-running favourites. Whether you’ve been writing for years or are just starting out, our comprehensive courses are designed to help you take your fiction to the next level.

Explore the Retreat West course collection here, or take a look at what’s on offer below:

  • Find out how flash-fiction techniques can help you draft your novel with this free, one-week course: Develop Your Novel in a Flash.
  • Finding your feet with fiction, and looking to learn the basics of great storytelling? The new Fiction Fundamentals course is the one for you.
  • The ever-popular Fantastic Flashing course will polish your flash skills, and support you in writing your own complete collection of micro-fiction stories.
  • Get ready to upgrade your storytelling with the Flash Weekender, another firm favourite with students. It’s now available to start anytime ⁠— and will also still be running as a group course through the year, too.
  • Transform memories into beautiful memoir with the Flash Memoir course. It’s running as a group course, or you can choose the start-anytime solo option instead if you choose.
  • Jump into the Micro Fiction Month this June: it’s all about creating short, submission-ready stories.
  • Finally, announcing The Novel Creator: A Mentored Course. With one-to-one mentor guidance and in-depth modules exploring every aspect of novel writing, this year-long course has everything you need to complete a professionally edited manuscript. Applications are now open.

Writing an Award Winning Novella-in-Flash

Somewhere between the linear narrative and the post-postmodern fracturing of narrative, there might be a third way, dependent on its brevity as its primary descriptor… Rusty Barnes

As we know, the short form is a great medium to experiment with as it has the art of brevity and flexibility on its side. What might become insistent or annoying in longer forms – multiple perspectives, unusual point-of-view, poetic language – in small doses can be refreshing and entertaining.  Techniques such as collage, association, counterpointing are all devices that really come into their own when putting together a novella-in-flash and I think the opening of Meg Pokrass’s essay in The Rose Metal Press publication (2014) My Very End of the Universe focusing on the study of the form is excellent in illustrating the process of writing in this genre:

‘If you ask an artist who creates crazy quilts how they come up with their designs, that artist will likely tell you that each finished project originates from an emotional place. Each quilt is different because it is made of many found scraps and pieces of cloth in different sizes with no regular colour or pattern—the sleeves of an old work shirt, perhaps, or the skirt of a wedding dress. Similarly, the writing of a novella-in-flash involves working with flash fiction fragments and stories by linking them together to form a layered, narrative arc. Working in both art forms demands an improvisational spirit. regarding the creation of both content and structure. A novella-in-flash writer and a crazy quilt artist both become familiar with navigating incompletion and juxtaposition. Both art forms involve delving into the most unlikely places and finding pieces which, when put together, create an untraditional whole’.


Meg talks about reviving and re-visioning narratives that were gathering dust in a ‘metaphorical scrap bag’ and this seems to be something that many novella-in-flash-writers start out doing – taking pieces that haven’t worked out on their own and finding that they were all along, part of a bigger picture. Moral of this – never throw any writing away! In my case, I started out with a clear plan of what I wanted to do but thought it would be a simple short story about a stonemason who fell off a church steeple and the consequences of this accident for his family. This was a true story about my neighbour and I quickly wrote myself into a corner with it, due perhaps to trying to cling to the biographical details which is always a risk.

When we try to stay ‘true’ to the facts we tend to not see what the story needs. Luckily Flash was there to help me. As an exercise, I stepped out of his narrative arc and imagined all the other people involved, collating little stories about them and experimenting with point of view. It soon came to light that the story wasn’t about the father, but the daughter and interestingly although she became the protagonist, the story arc changed depending on what flash was placed next to another flash.

This idea of juxtaposition is interesting and I soon learnt that in a work of art everything is laden with affect, and whenever you put two of anything together, a third thing emerges. Importantly, the things that logic would normally try to keep separate the writer brings together. It is very liberating to work in this way and was a sort of epiphany for me. It is my belief that there are two components necessary for our growth as writers. The first is our ability to access the unconscious, and the second is our willingness to take risks. Risk taking and experimentation allow us to bring something fresh to our practice, preventing us writing the same thing over and over again – pushing the boundaries of our craft and the richness of our stories.

So here is a little exercise you can do to try out your novella-in-flash muscles and to give you an idea of how fun it can be to make a patchwork flash. I can’t take credit for it – this is an exercise created by that great Flash Maker, Randall Brown.


Preparing for Counterpointed Flash


  1. Take the structure – A-B-A-B-A-B Choose how many short pieces you want. Here I suggest 6 each of 250 words.
  2. A (one thing) / B (another thing)
  3. Options are unlimited for As and Bs
  4. A is fiction; B is nonfiction (or vice-versa); both are fiction/cnf; parallel events; and so on.
  5. Dissimilarity adds tension (how will these two things ever come together is a question that will raise expectation for the reader)

Try this:

  1. Images/words from A begin to seep into B, more and more
  2. The final section might be AB
  3. Where this juxtaposition of A/B leads us becomes “shattering”
  4. We would not have arrived there with A alone or B alone
  5. A surprising, profound meaning has been figured out by the end.


Join Amanda and myself for a weekend of interactive, supportive flash writing on the Flash Weekender from April 17th -19th. Then we have a 2 weekend Memoir-in-Flash course from May 8th – 10th and May 15th – 17th. We then have a month of wonderful prompts for the whole of June in our first Micro Fiction Month!

Mary-Jane Holmes has work included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Her microfiction has recently been included in Best Microfictions 2020. A twice nominated Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won The Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize 2020, the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash Fiction prize, plus the  International Bedford Poetry competition.

She has been shortlisted and commended for many more including the Beverley International Prize for Literature 2020, The Troubadour and Oxford Brookes Poetry prize 2019. She was long-listed for the National Poetry Prize in 2020. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. She enjoys teaching creative writing both online and in person (when possible) around the world. She holds an Mst (distinction) in Creative Writing from Kellogg College Oxford and is currently working on a PhD at Newcastle University. @emjayinthedale  www.mary-janeholmes.com


New comp: Win flash writing courses and writing maps

It’s been a while since we had a one-off comp to win a place on our courses so here we are with a new one! We’ve also got some gorgeous Writing Maps as a prize too.

What can you win?

  • 1st Prize: A place on the group online Fantastic Flashing Course (3-16th June 2019)
  • 2nd Prize: The start anytime work alone online Fantastic Flashing Course
  • 3rd Prize: 2 Writing Maps – The Description Writing Map and The Voice and Point of View Writing Map
  • All winning stories get published on the website.


Who chooses the winner?

Amanda Saint – novelist, short fiction writer, creative writing tutor and publisher at Retreat West.

How do you win?

You write something of course! Send us your flash stories from the prompt.

What is the prompt?

This picture:










What’s the word limit?

Max 300 words. No minimum.

What’s the deadline?

23.59 on 28th April 2019

What’s the entry fee?


How do you enter?

Through Submittable using this button:

Enter the comp


We look forward to reading your submissions!


Resilient Thinking & Live Flashing

Retreat West held two workshops at London Bridge Hive on 23rd March. Today, I want to share my thoughts on attending the sessions.

Morning session: Resilient Thinking for Writers with Isabel Costello and Voula Tsoflias

When it comes to the subject of writerly self-care I tend to fall into the category of bottle it up inside until it all comes tumbling out at the worst possible moment. With this in mind I was a little hesitant for the first of two workshops at London Bridge. However, Voula Tsoflias’ psychology experience and being a fan of Isabel Costello’s excellent blog Literary Sofa was enough to grab my interest.

As was pointed out during the session, the ‘Resilient Thinking’ workshop could just as easily be called ‘Rational Thinking’, which is something else I can struggle with! Following a brief introduction, Voula Tsoflias provides a dissection of cognitive behavioural habits, which as well as being a fascinating subject, also provides a way into understanding our insecurities and bad practices. Knowing that there is a basis for our irrational thoughts allows us to take an objective view and apply the resilient thinking skills taught in the workshop to our own experience.

With a better understanding of what’s going on under the bonnet, Isabel Costello, then takes us through her experiences, how setbacks initially affected her, and how she was able to come through them, gaining a better perspective on her writing and even becoming a better writer on the other side.

It’s easy to minimise rejections and struggles as part of what a writer must go through but I came away from the session realising that rather than merely having to face such difficulties, you can learn to handle them better and even use them to fuel the writer’s life.


Afternoon session: Fantastic Flashing Live with Amanda Saint

I enjoyed Amanda’s online Fantastic Flashing course last year and so had a better idea of what to expect for the afternoon workshop. This is an intense three-hour session whereas the online course takes place over two weeks. Like the online course, the workshop provides plenty of flash fiction insights in a simple, easy to understand way, in between creating your own flash pieces to a range of prompts.

Writers are able to read their work to the group (if they wish). The focus is very much on drawing positives and there was no pressure to come up with a spontaneous masterpiece, although it was surprising how freeing the experience can be, the prompts and time limitation providing excellent motivation!



I enjoyed and benefited from both workshops, the relaxed atmosphere and structured sessions made the most from the time. Getting to share common experiences with other writers was an added pleasure. Thanks so much to all three tutors for a pleasurable day and excellent learning experience!

Resilient Thinking for Writers will run again at the Mslexicon Festival on 12th-14th July.
Amanda will be running the Fantastic Flashing Live workshop again in the autum and you can find out more about her Fantastic Flashing online course here.


Isabel Costello is a novelist and short story writer with a background in marketing and communications. Her debut novel Paris Mon Amour was first published in eBook by Canelo and later in paperback under a new Literary Sofa imprint named after her influential blog. Isabel’s candid posts on her challenging and unusual journey to publication have attracted a wide audience, inspiring her to become involved with the WoMentoring Project and to develop the Resilient Thinking for Writers workshop in partnership with Voula Tsoflias.

Voula Tsoflias is an author and corporate psychologist who specialises in helping business people to excel and succeed. She is an expert in the current hot topic in her field: the development of the skills of psychological resilience. Voula’s debut novel Honor’s Shadow was published by Karnac in 2011. She is a contributing author to The Psychology Book, published by DK in 2012 and winner of the British Psychology Society Book of the Year award.

Amanda Saint is a novelist, short writer and the founder of Retreat West. She is also the commissioning editor and publisher at Retreat West Books. Her debut novel, As If I Were A River, was a NetGalley Top 10 Book of the Month and a Book Magnet Blog Top 20 Book of 2016. Her new novel, Remember Tomorrow, is available now and her short story collection, Flashes of Colour, in 2020. Amanda designed and teaches several online creative writing courses and teaches live fiction writing workshops at literary festivals and writing retreats. Her short stories have been widely published and longlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Prize and the Ink Tears Short Story Prize. She has been designing and judging flash fiction competitions for several years.