Best Opening Page Winners

I have found this decision a very tough one to make as all of the 10 shortlisted opening pages had so much that was great about them. So a huge congratulations to all of the writers who made the shortlist, and to those who were longlisted and entered the competition too. It has not been an easy year to focus on creativity.

The biggest congratulations go to our winners.

First place winner: We Were Furies by Victoria Richards

This is a difficult subject that’s been dealt with in a compelling, original voice; along with some fantastic imagery and descriptive writing that is creating a strong atmosphere right from the start while foreshadowing the story to come. Really great writing and a strong ending that gripped me. 

Second place winner: Places I Find My Mother by Cari Oleskewicz

Loved the opening to this memoir, which instantly posed so many questions in my mind. Great introduction to the narrator’s world through the character in action and I felt completely immersed in it instantly and all my senses were engaged. 

Third place winner: Things I Want Back from You by Elizabeth Stix

Great narrative voice which reveals so much about the character so deftly with just a few lines. Love the set up of the lists to show us this character’s world as it unfolds. Clever stuff how each list item reveals more about the narrator that makes you want to see what she’s going to ask for next.


Between the Sea and Shore by Stephanie Percival

Lovely imagery and great use of the senses with a great hook in the final line of the opening. Great atmosphere developing, a strong narrative voice and I wanted to know what happens next.

My Father is a Rougarou by William Hawkins

Captivating, direct narrative voice. Instantly intriguing with questions posed as to what a rougarou is and why/how the father turns into one. Great final line that sets up a clear, compelling narrative drive to compel the story on.

The Voyagers by Meg Charlton

Great set up of the potentially unreliable narration from Alex because of the fallibility of memories and intrigue from the fact he and his sister had gone missing. I’d have like to have more set up of this though rather than ending with the mother.

Devil-Girl by Ian Spiegel-Blum

Well-written and hooky and with some really stand-out lines and images. Good narrative voice but wanted a clearer idea of what the narrator wanted to achieve in the story.

The Last Will and Testament of Peter Pan by Chris Huntington

Great premise and stong narrative voice introducing an interesting and original concept of a man meeting Peter Pan in a prison cell. I wanted to have a stronger sense of what was at stake for the narrator though. 

Unclean by Esther Mizraki

An intriguing opening to a memoir with great use of the senses. I’d have liked the opening to give more of an idea of what the author was going to write about the community and why she wanted to do it. 

Gone Viral by Carolyn Sanderson

Fantastic world-building here and I could really see where the action was taking place. Good narrative voice but I wanted more about the narrator’s place in the story.

Victoria wins a free week’s writing retreat at Casa Ana in Spain; Cari wins a half price retreat; and Elizabeth receives detailed feedback on her opening page. Congratulations!

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.


Winner of Complex Characters Retreat

Thanks to everyone that sent in stories to win a place at the Creating Complex Characters Retreat taking place in Devon in March 2018. There were a surprising number of stories that had the same storyline about teenage pregnancy so Devon must have a reputation that I knew nothing about! The winner really stood out for taking a different approach, it’s humour, lightness of touch and the strength of the narrator’s voice.

Congratulations go to to Alexis Wolfe for her winning story, Target Weight, which you can read below.

I loved the way food imagery was layered throughout the whole piece to describe everything from the Devon countryside to fingers and shoes. Devon’s food and how we all envision the county as a place of picture perfect villages where everyone’s eating cream teas was nicely done. It really captured how we often aim for the wrong target to make us happy and I liked how the ending left me wondering if the narrator’s new target would be the right one or if she was seeking happiness in the wrong place again.

Target Weight by Alexis Wolfe

Stepping onto the scales, I’m hoping none of my ladies will arrive early and catch me in the act. I glance down at the numbers, leaping off again before they burn my eyes. That sticky toffee pudding last night was a big mistake.

I’m 9lbs over target now and according to Slender Seekers terms & conditions, should disclose this to Headquarters. But I’d risk losing my classes and there aren’t many jobs round here for slightly overweight fifty-something ladies.

Besides my classes are popular. The girls find me inspiring. Honiton was already sewn up by Beverley Brewer, diet coach when I lost five stone, so I make do with the out-of-town spots, villages with names like Ottery St Mary or Newtown Poppleford, quiet little places full of fuller figure ladies needing to shed a few pounds. Fridays, I travel down to Sidmouth on the coast, where there are plenty of folks who need to ease up on the fish and chips.

It’s been seven years now since my ‘vanishing’, the great disappearance of Elaine, prompted by the not-so-great disappearance of Gerald. But it’s getting harder to maintain. The weight creeps back on. Must be careful, else before long it will be bulging and pooling in my crevices, forming new creases.

I smooth down my floral dress. I aim for achievable glamour, but this dress, without tights, is pushing it for September. The Village Hall feels a little chilly. I check my displays, leaflets and Slender Seekers branded snacks. ‘Almond Fakewell’ is Ian’s favourite. Some of the Best Before dates are getting dangerously close, must make a concerted effort to flog those today.

Two regulars, Anita and Sharon shuffle in. Anita’s first in the weighing booth. Three pounds lost, she squeals. Smug cow. I give her congratulations and my brightest false smile.

Sharon’s full of disclaimers, her son’s wedding, her auntie’s birthday dinner at River Cottage. She hides her face behind her hands.

“Oh dear, a little set back Sharon, love” I say gently, my smile genuine.

“How bad is it Elaine?” She still can’t look. Her earrings dangle like bunches of grapes.

“Twelve stone five, love”

Sharon winces. “I knew it would be bad.”

It’s almost constant then, the stream of ladies, the losses and the gains. Giving encouraging squeezes to doughy upper arms. Legs shaped like twiglets, celery sticks, french sticks and drumsticks stepping on and off the scales until all verdicts have been delivered.

Time for my presentation. But still no sign of Ian. I glance at the two rows of chairs. Not a great turnout, usually we need three rows. I see the expectant faces of keen newbies and the less eager stalwarts chatting amongst themselves.

I cough loudly. “If I can have your attention, ladies?”

The room falls silent. ‘Snacks: The Alternatives’ is an easy speech, repeated often. I know it like the back of my hand. Three regulars slip out quietly. To be honest, Joyce probably should have stayed but I won’t judge.

Where is he? I think as I’m reeling off the healthy snacks ABC. His presence had become a stimulant, making my consultant speeches fizzle. Without him in my audience things feel flat. I list the benefits of the fruit and seed bars, hoping I might get shot of the last few. After a soul destroying Q&A – these women do not listen to a single thing I say – it’s over. In a flurry of hugs and waves the ladies vanish. I wait fifteen minutes extra, packing away slowly, giving him one last chance to show up. Nothing. The Pilates class start to arrive, I usually avoid seeing the teacher’s lithe body in her little pink leg warmers, it’s all rather dispiriting.

I clunk storage boxes into my purple Fiat and drive. Pausing at the village traffic lights, I wonder if Slender Seekers is ticking my boxes these days. I don’t need the money. The point was to maintain target and meet people after Gerald died. But I’m doing neither. These women aren’t my friends. They lose weight and leave, of course lots of them come back again. But we aren’t friends. And this crush – this Ian thing – is madness. I’m just starved of male company. Apparently his wife lost three stone and ran off with her personal trainer. Poor bloke. He’s not even my type, with his bad dress sense and those awful shoes, shaped like big Cornish pasties. But still, the heart feels what it feels.

The lights change and I pass the Jubilee clock in the village, 2.30pm, early for going home but I’ve forgotten my library books and already taken a ready-meal out to defrost so no reason to visit the supermarket.

The sign swings in the breeze as I descend the hill. I’ve passed this farm, on the outskirts of another quaint village, plenty of times before but the red and white cream teas sign has never been so tempting. Usually I keep my eyes on the road and ignore it. But today my willpower is already round my ankles, like a big pair of tummy toning knickers waiting to be kicked off towards the laundry basket. I pull into the car park but don’t climb out, resolving to have a sensible word with myself.

In the distance sheep dot the green hillside like sprinkles on a cupcake. The sun is high and glinting through the bramble hedgerow just beyond my window. It’s heavy with September fruit, within my grasp if I were to reach out. Plump juicy blackberries, colour of midnight, ripe for the picking. I think about sprinkling a few berries atop a low-fat yogurt and my recipe for a cheese-less cheesecake.

Then I remember brambling with Grandma, filling the circular indents inside an old egg box, how she made apple and blackberry crumble piled high with caramelised topping which would never have met Slender Seeker’s criteria for a healthy dessert. I think about blackberry jam, then raspberry jam. Inevitably strawberry jam and scones aren’t far behind. Every path, leading right here.

I choose the largest scone on the platter, but decline the clotted cream. It wasn’t necessary anyway, not with a 5mm thick wedge of real butter. A scone half is heading mouthward when I hear his voice behind me.

“That looks good”

I swing round. “Ian?!” What is he doing here?

“Hello Elaine! Mmmm, I’ll have one of those” he wanders over to the counter, the waitress looks up from scrolling her phone.

I quickly compose myself, wiping crumbs from my lap. He returns with two scones, jam and clotted cream. Naughty. “Been busy today?” I ask “Missed you at weigh-in.”

“Ahh, yes” Ian mutters “well, thing is… ” he pulls out the chair opposite me. “Okay to join you?”

I nod, watching him manoeuvre into the seat, he’s wearing a neatly ironed polo with shorts. Optimistic. Brown leather sandals with thick straps, in a lattice pattern, like the top of a pie.

“I planned to come …” Ian continued “but got cold feet” “Literally?” I laugh, tilting my head sideways to look under the table and pointing at his sandals. He chuckles. “I weighed myself at home this morning.”

I groan. “Ian! What do I always say?! What do I tell you all every week?” I knew it. No one takes any notice. “Only my scales can be relied on for accuracy! It’s best not to …”

“I know! I know!” he concedes “but anyway, I’d gained and just couldn’t face the tea and sympathy.”

I knew exactly what he meant. “So feeding your sorrows a Devonshire afternoon tea?” I tease.

“Exactly! And what’s your excuse?”

Our eyes meet. He looks away first. I raise my hands. “You got me” I smile. Then I tell him I’ve gained too. The words come tumbling out, unplanned. But now they are out on the table – like appetisers waiting to be picked over – I feel relieved. People like to be let into a secret, don’t they.

“So you gained a little Elaine” he shrugged.

“I’m the leader! I can’t be gaining, I’m supposed to be a role model.”

“Awww Elaine, come on, you’re human! Besides you still look lovely to me.”

There’s a brief silence.

“Perhaps it’s time I did something new?” I wonder aloud.

“What are you doing for the rest of the day?”

I shrug, it’s not worth mentioning the library or the ready-meal for one.

“We could walk off the scone, perhaps see a film?” he says.

“I’d love to!”

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I imagine his arm resting on the cinema seat behind me. The two of us sharing a large popcorn together. Maybe it’s not slenderness that I’m seeking. I notice he still wears his wedding ring and see how he twists it round nervously, fingers fat like sausages. I’ll get that ring off his finger, eventually.

I think I just found my new target.


About the author: Alexis Wolfe is a former TV Production Manager and Mum to three boys. She lives in Berkshire, England and is working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travelling and reading. Alexis was recently shortlisted in a Winchester Writers Festival contest and a runner-up in the Writers & Artists / Retreat West short story competition.


Congratulations again, Alexis. I look forward to meeting you at the retreat.

If you’d like to join us at the retreat to focus on creating characters that readers never forget then the early-bird booking rate is in place until 14th November 2017. Get all the info on the retreat here. 

Win a place at the Creating Complex Characters Retreat

The Creating Complex Characters Retreat

12-16 March 2018, Sheepwash, Devon

You could win a free place at this writing retreat, which has 3 character-focused masterclasses and a 1-1 with author and Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint. Get all the retreat info here.

All you have to do to enter is write a short story up to 1500 words set in the Devon countryside in which you make us see, hear, smell and feel your characters. Make them come alive for us.

Prize: The winner gets 4 nights in their own room with all food, drink, classes and 1-1 included.

Entry fee: £15

Deadline: 5th November 2017

Competition Rules

  • Submit stories written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.45 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included)
  • The maximum word count is 1500 but there is no minimum
  • Do not include your name on the story 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 disqualified.
  • Stories must be your own original work and not have been published online or in print, or have won any other competitions (longlisted and shortlisted places in other competitions is fine)
  • By entering the competition you agree to attend the retreat and your story being published on the Retreat West website
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed but if your story wins a prize or is published prior to the winner’s announcement your entry will become ineligible and entry fees will not be refunded
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction
  • You can enter as many times as you like but must pay the entry fee and make a separate submission each time
  • The judge’s decision is final
  • There is no cash alternative for the prize and the winner cannot transfer to a different retreat


Competition with Writers & Artists: Win a writing retreat

We’re delighted to be working with Writers & Artists, the annual Yearbook and website from Bloomsbury dedicated to helping writers learn and get published, to offer a free place at the Plotting Retreat in November, which takes place in a listed thatched cottage on the beautiful beach shown above.

You can get all of the competition details on the Writers & Artists website but in short, you need to write a story of up to 1,000 words set at the beach. Entry is free and the winner will get to join us at the Plotting Retreat where Richard Skinner, novelist and head of the Faber Academy Fiction Programme, and Amanda Saint, novelist, short story writer and Retreat West founder, will be teaching.  Two runners-up will get a book bundle.

The Writers & Artists team will choose a longlist from all entries, Amanda Saint will choose the shortlist; and Jane Elmor, novelist and Open University Creative Writing MA tutor, will choose the winning 3 stories from them.

Find out more and how to enter on the Writers & Artists website.

Get more info on the Plotting Retreat here.

Winner of the Crime Writing Retreat

Many thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win the place at the Crime Writing Retreat in June, where Angela Clarke will be teaching us about plotting, pacing and leaving clues for the reader.

Congratulations to the winner, Sally Harris, who has won the retreat with this brilliant piece of crime-themed flash fiction. Look forward to meeting you at the retreat, Sally!


Deafening Silence by Sally Harris

I’ve sat here too long on this wet bench, my sketchpad balanced on my knees. My numb fingers work the pencil. You glide onto the page.

‘A man is dead, Mrs Keeling. We need to ask you a few questions.’

I look up from the sketchpad into the DCI’s grey face. He looks as though he’s had less sleep than I have. Why doesn’t he listen to me? He doesn’t even get my name right. But then no one listens to me, do they? Not really. Silly to expect anyone would after all that’s happened. I look back at the page, at the outline of your face. At you.

‘Mrs Keeling?’ He’s a persistent man, the DCI.

‘Kate,’ I say again. River fog seeps through my boots, my clothing, into my bones. Everyone calls me Kate or Katherine, except you. You called me Katie, always, didn’t you?

‘This isn’t a negotiable situation, Mrs Keeling. Do you understand?’

The DCI misses nothing. The filth on my skin, the dark rim of blood under each fingernail. The blood I couldn’t wash away in the greening river water. I glance up at the lean-faced sergeant standing just behind the DCI. Would a woman understand me better? Listen to me? Help me out here but her expression is blank. She’s holding my bag. Has she searched through it? Through my stuff? She has my mobile, the bottle of diazepam. I guess she has.

The police cordoned off the towpath, a line of plastic tape strung across the muddy track, the blue and white stripes I’ve seen on the news and in countless police dramas. Two officers stand guard against a swelling throng of sightseers blurred into a solid mass by the fog. No one I recognise. No one I can ask for help. All the village has heard of this morning’s events. The Weldon grapevine is working well, it seems.

‘I’m asking you to come in voluntarily, Mrs Keeling. I’d prefer your cooperation.’

I look back at the DCI then down at the page. There you are. The pencil moves back and forth, doesn’t stop. The DCI is speaking again. His noise flows unending like the black river at his back. I can’t grasp his words, can’t stop them.

‘You do not have to say anything…’

More of you spills onto the page. The curve of your lips, the faint lines at the corners of each eye deepening as you smile. You haven’t changed, all of you is just the same.

‘…may harm your defence which you later rely on in court.’

I should have known you would understand. Forgive me.

‘Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

The DCI stops speaking. I stare up at him. Should I try again to explain? I can’t go with him, can I? Confusion curls through my brain like the fog swirling across the river. Why doesn’t he understand? But he’s not listening. No one is listening. The silence is heavy in the damp air. Faces behind the tape stare out of the fog.

I look back at the page. At you. Silly, Katie, you would say, why would anyone listen to you



If you’d like to join us at the beach for this retreat there are currently 2 rooms still available. Get info and book here.