Opening Lines Contest Winners

Congratulations again to all of the writers who were shortlisted and longlisted in the Opening Lines contest. We enjoyed reading the beginnings of all of these novels.

It’s been a hard choice indeed to pick the 5 winners from the shortlist and all of the shortlisted novels have got so much to recommend them. Our winners are the ones that connected us to a narrator, lingered in the mind the most and set up questions that just had to be answered. So well done to our five winning writers!

The Winners

  • Blue Is Not A Colour by Laura McNeil
  • Lifesaver by Natalie McMath
  • Scott/Shackleton by Rod Cookson
  • Split Fortune by Sharon Boyle
  • The Embrace by Stephen Gallagher

All five writers win a full manuscript review from Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint.

FOREST themed flash winners

Well done to all who were shortlisted in our themed flash contest and many congratulations to our winners, as chosen by Jeanette Sheppard.

Judge’s report

Thank you to everyone who entered and to the Retreat West readers for creating the shortlist. I read everyone’s work more than once and in a different order each time — I’m always mindful that mood can influence a reading. Around a third of the entries interpreted the theme through setting, where the magical, mysterious, or other-worldly featured in some way. A few entries focused on the magically real. Other flashes were rooted in the everyday, with a forest, or something associated with it, acting as a metaphor for emotional states or relationships. Some writers used language or images related to the theme to drive the narrative. In the end, I chose stories that made me feel something. Each one immersed me in their world through specific details and provided a satisfying ending.

First Place: Fern-seed by Sarah Royston

I loved everything about this flash. This coming-of-age story was a clear winner from the start, growing on me more and more. I was moved by the narrator’s attempts to create a path through a literal and metaphorical forest. I also admired the way the fern-seed of the title is dropped into a conversation between friends, then grows in significance. People, place, and relationships are all evoked through wonderful detailing, a highlight being the friends ‘Shouting for echoes in the mouths of old mines.’ The change in the central friendship is captured perfectly when the young narrator tells us her friend, Becca, has ‘brought actual boys’ to the forest. A fitting and beautifully pitched final paragraph sealed its winning position – past, present, and future coalesce as the narrator approaches the mine in a fern-seed hallucinogenic state. Congratulations to the writer. I enjoyed reading this over and over.

Runner-up: Disenchantment in Three Dishes by Emily Macdonald

The only flash that created a forest from Broccoli! I enjoyed the whimsy/dark humour blend here. What a visual feast this is: ‘brown rice forest floor — blended with eggs, mint, garlic, dill, and cheese — turned to sludge, and the broccoli canopy slid sideways and discoloured as if the dish was hit by a mudslide and felling at the same time.’ The switch to darker humour is neatly done as the narrator becomes a secretly malevolent force, reaping revenge on her pretentious Instagram foodie friends by duping them with her style-over-substance dinner parties. A terrific ending as the narrator attempts to escape a food forest nightmare, only to leave a breadcrumb trail behind. An inventive take on the theme.

Third Place: The Point of Disappearance by Stephanie Percival

A dramatic shift in tone from the previous flash, this is a moving, dark, and compelling modern day fairy tale. A forest glade offers peace despite what ‘they’ say about a witches’ meet and a spirited away girl. The subversion of expectations is handled nicely in this story, particularly the traditional wicked witch in the forest trope. When the narrator runs away at night into the forest to escape her brutalised life, only to be snatched away, we fear the worst. However, the woman with ‘arms scarred and pocked like bark’ turns out to be someone who reflects the narrator’s own experiences and offers a sense of hope. The ending is there all along but is well hidden.

Congratulations everyone! Sarah wins £200 and Emily and Stephanie win £100 each.

The next themed flash deadline is fast approaching! Get all the info here.

This is the final year of this contest and in 2023 we are launching a new online journal, WestWord, instead. Submissions will be open for the month of January for publication in April 2023. We have decided to make this edition a themed one and the theme is VISION.

We want short stories, flashes and micros on the theme and all writers selected will receive a share of submission fees. Get all the submission info here.

2022 Opening Lines Comp Shortlist

Well done again to all who made it to the longlist. It has been a hard decision to make at this stage as there is so much to recommend about all of the novel openings that were longlisted.

So huge congrats to the authors of our 10 shortlisted novels.


  • And Then She Fell
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry
  • Blue Is Not A Colour
  • Dog’s Cottage
  • Earth In The Sky
  • Lifesaver
  • Scott/Shackleton
  • Split Fortune
  • The Embrace
  • The Picasso Puzzle

We’ll be re-reading again and announcing the results as soon as we can! Good luck to all – no telling which is yours though as we’re still reading anonymously!

May Monthly Micro Winners

Congratulations again to the writers of our shortlisted stories. Here are the results!

First Prize Winner: The Secret to a Maze is to Keep Turning Left by Keely O’Shaughnessy

Why we chose it: We loved the rhythm, the energy and the imagery. It really encapsulates both friendship and a snapshot of a moment in someone’s life and there was a sense of hope at the end that this summer, although over now,  would be an important, lasting memory.

Second Prize Winner: How to Catch and Keep a Kiss by Steph Percival

Why we chose it: We loved how vividly these characters were brought to life. Fantastic images of kisses like fireflies in the jar then fluttering around. How it ends gave such a sense of happiness and hope despite even though the kisser was dead.

People’s Prize Winner: Catch of the Day by Anne Soilleux

The People’s Prize was a very close run race this month with the two leads swapping right until the last minute, so we would also to extend a special mention to Iqbal Hussain for his story Always Playing Catch-Up.

Shortlisted Stories

Always Playing Catch-Up by Iqbal Hussain – Read it here

Anti-gravity by Paddy Gillies – Read it here

The Lock Box by Alva Holland – Read it here

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lipstick But Were Too Afraid to Ask by Dreena Collins – Read it here

Rainbow by Stephanie Fluckey – Read it here

CATCH by PJ Town – Read it here

Catch the Drips by Lily Peters – Read it here

Keely and Steph win the cash prizes, and Anne wins feedback on a flash story up to 1000 words.

Well done to everyone!

We’ll be back with the next Monthly Micro prompt on 6th June.

Opening Lines Comp Longlist

Many thanks to all who sent in the start of their novel for our Opening Lines contest. There are so many fab novels being written!

We have our longlist – congrats to all who made it and commiserations to those who didn’t!

  • A Doorway in Venice
  • An Inconvenient Human
  • And Then She Fell
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry
  • Blue Is Not A Colour
  • Blessed Women
  • Deadboy
  • Death in Miniature
  • Dog’s Cottage
  • Earth In The Sky
  • Evermore
  • Leaf And Sky
  • Lifesaver
  • My Name Is Perry
  • Scott/Shackleton
  • She Lost The Sun
  • So Fairly Bound
  • Split Fortune
  • Sunblock
  • The Embrace
  • The Gospel of Eve
  • The Life Of Our Times
  • The Paper Saint
  • The Picasso Puzzle
  • The Smell of Pearls
  • The Scattering

We’ll have the shortlist and results in June – good luck everyone!

Forest Themed Flash Shortlist

Well done to all who went through to the longlist and congratulations to the 9 shortlisted writers of the following stories!

Shortlisted Stories

  • Disenchantment in Three Dishes
  • Fern-Seed
  • Forest Fritillaries, chequered
  • Goatfoot
  • The Gamekeeper’s Party
  • The Point of Disappearance
  • The Right Conditions for Fire
  • The Wild Self
  • Your Tasting Notes

Good luck for the final round! Our judge will make the final decision and we’ll have the results as soon we can.

In the meantime, get writing for the next theme: MARGINS — the deadline is 26th June 2022.