Abandoned: Themed Flash Winners

The results are in for the Abandoned themed flash competition. Thank you to Gaynor Jones — award-winning writer and part of Retreat West’s publishing team — for judging this month’s entries.  As ever, the quality of submissions was very high — so massive congratulations to our winner and runners up:

Winner: It Was the Horse That Killed Her by Matt Kendrick

Gaynor says: I think I can safely say that no one else could have written this story, as it is utterly unique! At first, I was struck by the voice; a sort of clipped mish-mash of quaint language, child speak and slang. I didn’t even clock the character names in my first read, but when I got to the final line I thought, ‘what?!’ and then I went right back to the title, and started again at the beginning, half-laughing at myself. It’s such a fun idea for a story, but it’s also a story with many shifts in it — sinister, funny, inventive, unusual. I’ve read it over and over and I’m still enjoying it.

Read It Was The Horse That Killed Her here.

Author bio: Matt Kendrick is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published in Bending Genres, Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Fiction, Spelk, Storgy, FlashBack Fiction and the BFFA Anthology.

Twitter: @MkenWrites

First runner up: Space Raiders by Jess Moody

Gaynor says: I was immediately taken with this piece when I read it for the first time, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t falling for an unusual structure (a form I’m particularly fond of). I read it and re-read it and it still pinged something inside me each time. And it is the words as much as the structure; the story it tells in these fragments of a person’s life — the people and past-times they have abandoned along the way. It’s bitter while also nostalgic and it just spoke to me.

Read Space Raiders here.

Author bio: Jess Moody is a Wulfrunian in London, who likes her words and worlds on the weird side. Fiction in Lunate, Reflex, Storgy and Ellipsis.

Twitter: @jessmoodhe

Second Runner Up 2: She Didn’t Look Back by Gail Warwick Cox

 Gaynor says: I hope the author won’t mind me saying that this is a fairly simple narrative, but when simple is so well done, it’s incredibly effective, as is the case here. There’s such a strong sense of era, of time and place in these words. It only takes a few minutes to read, but in those few minutes I am taken out of my own life and home and planted firmly in another. There’s real storytelling skill here.

Read She Didn’t Look Back here.

Author bio: Gail Warrick Cox enjoys writing flash fiction and the particular conciseness it commands. She has twice been shortlisted at the Mere Literary Festival and has previously won a micro fiction competition. Gail lives in sunny Bournemouth with her husband.

Well done again to our winner and runners up — and to everyone who entered!
Head over to our Flash Fiction section to read their pieces. Plus: the next themed flash deadline is 28th June and the judge, FJ Morris, has chosen the theme: music. So get writing! FJ Morris’ debut flash fiction collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published by Retreat West Books in November 2018, and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019. Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.

Why Black Swans Make for Great Stories

In 1696, Willem de Vlamingh, a skipper for the Dutch East India Co., was sent from his native Holland to Australia to look for survivors of a ship thought to have been wrecked on the continent’s west coast. Despite all his efforts, he never found the vessel or any of its crew but he did come across something else: the presence of black swans.  Many strange and exotic species were being discovered in these uncharted territories at the time but this sighting was of particular importance, for up to this point in history it was thought that only white swans existed. So adamant was this belief that a popular proverb had circulated in Europe since the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in 82 AD : rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno ( a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan). This term was used ironically, in the same way that today we talk of pigs flying or pink elephants. The black swan was a metaphor for all that could not exist, until of course, due to an intrepid sailor, the impossible became possible. Once this happened the term’s meaning transformed: the black swan became a symbol of the improbable. In these times Corona Virus is seen as a black swan.

But what has this got to do with writing Flash Fiction? Well, quite a lot actually. The improbable, the random, the unexpected are what drive stories. If we followed a character that went about his or her daily business without a deflection of any kind we wouldn’t muster much narrative tension or impetus but when we lift that character out of certainty, introduce a glitch, a challenge to the status quo, then we assert enough pressure on them to reveal something insightful to the reader.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and his subsequent books, his latest being Skin in the Game explores this idea by looking at how society deals with seemingly random happenings and suggests ways to make our world black-swan-robust, in other words a society where we reduce the impact of events such as the market crash of 1987, or CV-19 and exploit the positive ones such as the internet.

Taleb defines the phenomena as something that:

  1. is a surprise to the observer,
  2. has an impact on their life,
  3. but with hindsight could have been expected.

These three criteria mirror closely the ingredients that a story moves through – conflict (surprise), deflection (impact) and resolution. The last condition is particularly interesting; this idea that the event was predictable. From the relative privilege of retrospection, we can work out the reason why wars start, why empires collapse, why economies crash. Often, the mark of a successful story is how, when looking back over the series of actions and choices the character has undergone, the outcome feels inevitable. With hindsight we say ‘of course!’ rather than ‘where did that come from’?

Whereas in the real world we strive to reduce the impact of negative black swan events, as writers we want to harness their power. Of course, this is Flash and whatever surprise we present the observer/character, it has to be kept to scale so here’s an exercise[1] in Black Swan generation:

Start with a character immersed in their daily routine and have them find a physical object which threatens their status quo either physically or emotionally. Keep the setting small – a room, the car, the garden shed, a cupboard. The object should create a strong reaction in the character, strong enough to change the course of their trajectory within the scene you have placed them in and act as a conduit to reveal something meaningful to both the protagonist and the reader. For example, a woman racked with remorse for an affair she had years ago, finds an earring in her husband’s sock drawer. And of course the outcome needs to fit within the whole; however slight or subtle, every twist and turn of the action must support the ending.

This idea of randomness and uncertainty can help in the creative process of writing itself. Much of the art of storytelling involves making connections between details that don’t seem to have any link. It is the tension created in this process that causes the reader to think “I must know how this is resolved.” If you are struggling for inspiration try developing a story combining a character from one of your story ideas with a predicament or setting from another. This may be enough to produce that single and interesting rare action that will push your character and story deeper. If you are at a loss for a seed idea, use a plot generator site (there are a variety of them on the web) for the same reason.

And remember that creativity thrives in the impossible. What you might think is difficult to achieve today will no-doubt become possible in the future and that includes producing a crafted and original work of flash fiction. So persist and you too will create your own positive Black Swan.

Join Amanda and myself for a weekend of interactive, supportive flash writing April 17th -19th. Then we have a 2 weekend memoir-in-flash course May 8th – 10th and May 15th – 17th. We then have a month of wonderful prompts for the whole month of June! More details here: https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/online-writing-courses/

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 2019. A twice nominated Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia prizes, and International Bedford Poetry competition as well as being shortlisted and commended for many more including the Beverley International Prize for Literature 2020, The Troubadour and Oxford Brookes Poetry prize. She was long-listed for the National Poetry Prize this year. 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

[1] Adapted from Michelle Brook’s Rattlesnake In The Drawer writing exercise


Courses for low income writers

Courses for low income writers

A huge thank you to everyone who kindly donated to Amanda’s Go Fund Me campaign! It’s wonderful to see writers helping other writers in these challenging times! We’re now accepting applications, here’s what’s available and what you need to do to apply. Best of luck!

Amanda Saint has been running a fundraiser to help low-income writers access the courses and retreats that we run. It closes at the end of this month and although the goal hasn’t been reached we’ve raised £520 so far, which is enough money to give away lots of free courses to low-income writers. Rather than use the funds to give just one writer a retreat, we thought it was better to give more writers the chance to get help developing their writing. So, we are now accepting applications for the Start Your Novel Course and the Fantastic Flashing Course. Both of these courses are online and you work alone but will get feedback from Amanda on work created during the course.

We are giving away 10 of each course at the moment. More will be added if we receive any more donations during the final week. To apply, email us letting us know which course you want, why you qualify and why you would like to take part in the course. Tell us a little bit about you and your writing too!

July 19 Micro Fiction Comp Results

July 19 Micro Fiction Comp Results

We received 226 votes this time around and it has been a really close contest. The stories in the top 3 spots have been constantly changing but voting is now closed and we have our winners. Congratulations to these writers and everyone that made the long and shortlists.


Winner: Summer by Charlie Swailes

Charlie wins the £234 cash prize and a free entry to the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize.

Read 'Summer' here


Runner-up: The Problem with Seven by Sally Doherty

Sally wins a free entry to the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize.

Read 'The Problem with Seven' here



I’d like to give a special mention as well to Nothing But the Rain by Lucinda Hart, which moved in and out of the top two spots all the way through the voting and missed out on second place by just 2 votes in the end.




That’s it for this month. The next Monthly Micro Fiction competition prompt will be live on the website on 5th August.


2018 Short Story Prize and Flash Fiction Prize shortlist

Drum roll…finally we have the shortlist. Thanks to all the writers on the longlist for their patience while Louise and I re-read the stories many times. We agreed on most of the stories below straight away but there were a few where we had to debate. Our final decision is below, and the names of the authors can now be revealed too. Congratulations to all on the shortlist below and well done to everyone who made the longlist too.

All of the following writers will receive a cash prize and have their story published in paperback and ebook by Retreat West Books.

The stories have now gone to the judges to read. Paul McVeigh will be choosing the top three for the short stories and Kathy Fish for the flash fictions. Results in February. This year’s prize will open in March and we have some great new judges lined up already.

2018 RW Short Story Prize Shortlist

  • Between The Times by Richard Buxton
  • Future Shock by Lorri Nicholson
  • I Visit My Dad Every Thursday by Dave Murray
  • Like A Dog by Rhys Timson
  • Something Else by Sophie Kirkwood
  • The Lost Letter by Lucy Duggan
  • The Stutter by Alexis Wolfe
  • The Tailor’s Shears by David Butler
  • Will You Go Out Tonight by Joanna Campbell
  • Satellite Presence by A.C. Koch

2018 RW Flash Fiction Prize Shortlist

  • A Beige Spot by Manisha Khemka
  • Broken Shackles At Her Feet by Dean Gessie
  • Burger Raid by David McVey
  • Connor And His Amazing Ejector Boots by James Ellis
  • Gold Band by Niamh McCabe
  • How to Friend Your Shadow by Frances Gapper
  • Let It Snow by Gwenda Major
  • Old Woman Cooking Eggs, Diego Valesquez 1618 by Fiona Mackintosh
  • Sticking Point by Sherry Morris
  • The Problem Is by Xanthi Barker


Best of luck to all of these writers for the final judging round.


Flash writing tips from Kathy Fish

Flash fiction writing tips from Kathy Fish

Delighted to welcome Kathy Fish to the blog for the first time today. Kathy is judging the 2018 RW Flash Fiction Prize and I got to ask her all about what she loves about flashing.

Kathy, thanks for coming. As an award-winning flash fiction writer yourself, what’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the form?

Read a lot of flash fiction. There’s a wealth of excellent flash fiction online. Read such journals as Wigleaf, Pidgeonholes, Jellyfish Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Whiskey Paper, and more. Read Best Small Fictions. I also think my Fast Flash Workshop is a great, fun, supportive place for flash experts and beginners alike.

What kinds of stories do you hope to see when reading the shortlist for the RW Flash Fiction Prize?

I am most drawn to stories that move me without being maudlin. I’m a sucker for a mix of sad and funny. I love innovation and experimentation, but the story must also have a strong emotional core to really win me over.

What makes a story stand out for you when you receive the shortlist to read?

Freshness of language and approach. A powerful, emotionally resonant ending.

What flash fiction story do you wish you’d written and why?

Most recently, “Dear David” by Yael van der Wouden in Longleaf Review. I love it so much. That flash is to me, everything I mentioned above. It’s so strange and unexpectedly tender. And it’s completely new. I’m still thinking about it.

Which flash fiction writers writing today do you admire and why?

I’m asked that question so often. And there are so many! I’d say right now it’s the newer writers of flash that are really impressing me. The new work is more daring, more hybrid, more unexpected in the best possible ways.


Thanks so much, Kathy. I just read Dear David and it really is fantastic.

So, flash writers get writing and submitting your stories for Kathy to read. The deadline is 28th october and there is £755 in cash prizes available, plus all winning and shortlisted writers get published in the anthology by Retreat West Books.

If you’d like to hone your flash skills alongside other writers we’re running 3 online flash workshops this Autumn where you’ll get to create up 42 new stories in two intensive weeks. Or there’s 1 space left to join us at the Flash Fiction Retreat we’re running in November.