Join in Jan

Join in Jan

Happy new year to you! 2018 was a great year for Retreat West and our growing community. It’s been a joy to see so much excellent writing make its way to us, so thank you! With lots planned for 2019, it promises to be another outstanding year and we will continue providing encouragement and support as well as opportunities to get your writing published.

With the new year, we’ve brought some changes to Author Membership. First, there is the addition of two new membership tiers (Diamond and Platinum), making it easier than ever to find the option that meets your writing needs! We’ve also updated the benefits, adding manuscript feedback. So make sure you check the complete list of benefits in the Author Membership section before deciding the right tier for you!

Amanda will be starting a new group Start Your Novel course for up to 12 writers at the end of January. And to kick things off in style, we’re offering the course for
half price to new and old members
alike! In the six-week online course, starting on 31st January 2019, you’ll plan, plot and outline your novel, while getting to know your characters and the world they live in. Making the writing of your first draft quicker and easier. Find out lots more here.

To complete our Join in Jan offer, we’ll also be awarding random prizes to new signups! They include:

To be in with a chance of winning one of these prizes, all you have to do is sign up for a new membership by 31st January 2019.

Thank you to everyone in our writing community and here’s to another great year!

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!



Adventures in Flashing

Retreat West’s first ‘Fantastic Flashing’ course ran in September. Today, I want to share some thoughts on flash fiction writing and my experience taking the new online course.

Readers of flash fiction will know there is something slightly magical about the format. The word constraint forces the writer to breathe life into every word. The slightest wrong turn and it can fall flat. However, get it right, and it can be a transformative experience for the reader. That’s how I feel about it anyway!

Despite being a fan of the genre, prior to the course, I had written only a few pieces less than one thousand words and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I began with the simple goal of writing as much as possible over the two-week period in which the course runs.

In terms of the course format, each day, a different topic of the genre is tackled, with a short piece of flash to read for inspiration and some prompts to get you writing. I found the daily email contained enough information to get me thinking but very manageable, so didn’t take up valuable writing time.

Over the first few days, I managed to write three or four pieces per day and was surprised at how freeing it was. I came up with plenty of new ideas but also managed to get down some old ones that I’d felt too changeling to grabble with in longer form… The beauty of the format is that very little time is required before you have a sense of whether a piece is working or not. If it’s not working, start over, move on, or try a different prompt.

Writers on the course have access to a private Facebook group to share their work. It was extremely valuable to see what others were coming up with using the same prompts. My fellow writers were very helpful and supportive too, providing encouragement and useful feedback. This gave me a little extra push to write something I was happy to share each day. Particularly on some of the more challenging days.

By the end of the two weeks, I’d written countless flash fictions and even come up with a few short story ideas to develop further. I would recommend this course especially to anyone interested in flash fiction or short story writing. It’s been invaluable in generating new ideas and learning quite a bit about structure and other writing techniques.

There are two more Fantastic Flashing courses scheduled to run in October and November. October’s starts next Monday (15th)! Find out more details here.

Win a How To Write a Page Turner Course

Win a How To Write a Page Turner Course

We love comps that get you writing more! Our latest one is to win our new online course from Rose McGinty – How To Write a Page Turner. Something we all need to know! There are four prizes up for grabs.

The course will teach you about injecting urgency into your stories to keep your readers hooked, as well as how to create great characters, unforgettable dialogue and play with time to up the suspense. What you learn can be used to develop your short stories and novels.

So what do you have to do to win? Write a novel opening from the prompt…

Competition Prompt

Write a 200 word novel opening starting with this sentence: I read it in a book…

1st Prize (two available)

A 6-week online How To Write a Page Turner course with feedback from Rose on the story you create.

2nd Prize (two available)

A 6-week online How To Write a Page Turner course without feedback.

Entry Fee: £5

Deadline: 17th September 2018


Competition Rules

  • Submit novel openings written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.59 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included).
  • Do not include your name on the document or submission title but provide a short bio in the body of the email. All entries are read anonymously so any submissions showing the author’s name will be automatically disqualified.
  • Your story must not exceed 200 words. Entries that exceed the word count will be automatically disqualified.
  • The story must be based on the prompt and not have been published online or in print, or have won any other competitions.
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction and erotica. YA is allowed.
  • You can enter as many times as you like but all entries must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • There are no alternative prizes.
  • Winners will be announced in October 2018.

Winners of the Fantastic Flashing comp

Winners of the Fantastic Flashing comp

Many thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win a free or discounted place on the Fantastic Flashing course that’s running in September. I really enjoyed reading all of the stories prompted by the F word. I look forward to working with the four winning writers detailed below during the course and congratulations to them and all of the writers whose stories made the shortlist.


Winner: It Starts Here by Dave Murray

Love the feeling of this and how even in such a tiny word count repetition has been used to great effect. Great capturing of the end of a love affair.

Read it here



Winner: The Dare by Helen Chambers

Such an unexpected twist that works really well. So hard to pull off in a flash fiction. Great use of F words flowing all the way through.

Read it here



Runner-up: She Called It ‘Mauve’ by Jeanette Everson

Beautiful imagery and so much emotion is imbued in every line without ever tipping over into sentimentality. Felt so much bigger than just 200 words.

Read it here



Runner-up: Friday in the Firelight by Sally Zigmond

A real feeling of joy in this tiny story despite it being about a marriage break up and dementia. I felt transported to this tiny world.

Read it here




  • Frog Love by Sherry Morris
  • Little Fawn by Heather Walker
  • Past The Image by Abigail Rowe
  • The Flea, The Frog and the Fish by Rosaleen Lynch
  • White Picket Fence by Claire Jenkins