Retreat West Community Writer-in-Residence Programme

We are excited to launch the new Writer-in-Residence Programme for the Retreat West Community!

What does the residency entail?

It’s a 6-month programme for writers of fiction who want to develop their teaching skills alongside their writing and be part of a friendly and welcoming online community. It’s open to all writers around the world as long as they are fluent speaking and writing in English. We welcome applications from all regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

During the 6-month period you will:

  • Teach two 1-hour Zoom workshops for community members on topics to be agreed with Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint. These will take place at 7pm UK time on a weekday evening so if you are in a different timezone please ensure this is doable for you.
  • Host four 1-hour Zoom feedback sessions for community members to get feedback on their flash fictions. These will take place at 3pm UK time on a weekday afternoon so if you are in a different timezone please ensure this is doable for you.
  • Write 3 craft development blog posts for the community site on topics to be agreed.
  • Be an active member of the online community – starting conversations and responding to other members’ posts.

In return you will get a benefits package with a value of approx. £1275

  • A monthly stipend of £50, which will be paid once a month for the 6-month period. You will need to invoice for this. Value: £300 for the 6-month period
  • One year’s Community Collaborator membership to the Retreat West community. Value: £35
  • Tickets to all events we host, including the Flash Fiction Festival and our Saturday workshop series, during the year of membership. If you can’t attend live you can get the recordings for them all. Approx. value of package: £405 (based on us running 3 Zoom workshops a month and 2 Flash Fest a year)
  • Monthly Zoom mentoring chats with Amanda Saint to help you further develop your writing and teaching skills; and learn about running a creative venture if this is also of interest to you. Value: £450
  • The email courses of Experiments in FlashThe Five Elements of Fiction and The Mindful Fiction Course to work through in your own time, at your own pace. Value: £120

You will need:

  • A publication history in fiction – this can be novels, short stories, or flash/micro fictions – and have been published in the past 2 years. You will need to provide links to demonstrate this.
  • To have taught at least 1 creative writing workshop previously and be able to provide either a link to watch a snippet of you teaching, or a recommendation from someone who has taken a workshop with you.

When does it start?

It is a rolling programme starting every 6 months.

Next start date: 1st September 2023 – 29th February 2024

Application deadline: 23rd July 2023

Application processing fee: £10

How to apply

  • Applications are via Submittable only and must be submitted by 23.59 (UK time) on the deadline date.
  • Send a 1-page writer CV and a 1-page covering letter detailing why you’d like to be the Writer-in-Residence and give a brief summary of a workshop you’d deliver and a craft article you’d write. Please include these in one document.
  • Links to publication history in the past 2 years.
  • A link to a video of you teaching, or you can include a recommendation from someone who has taken a workshop with you.

Meet The Writer – Nora Nadjarian

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Nora Nadjarian, who will be leading a zoom workshop for us in February – Making The Ordinary Extraordinary. What is it that transforms the everyday? It’s a different way of looking at things, a shift in consciousness, a change in language. Sometimes a single word will make a difference. In this workshop we’ll read micros and flash which deal with everyday subjects, and you will be prompted to write your own, making the ordinary extraordinary through words. BUY TICKETS HERE.

What made you choose this particular topic for your session?

There should always be an element of surprise in writing which draws you and your reader in, and the surprise that comes from what you thought was ‘ordinary’ is all the more powerful because it is unexpected. Don’t discount the ordinary. Don’t be afraid to make your characters do seemingly ordinary things. No matter how banal or mundane you think a subject is, you can make it come to life. It is up to you as a writer to spring the surprise, to reveal the extraordinary, through your writing. 

What do you hope participants will get out of it?

They will be introduced to selected flash and micros, which we will read and discuss as a group, and there will be guided writing in response to prompts. Participants will come away with lots of new ideas and with drafts of two or three out-of-the-ordinary stories.

Do you have a favourite piece of writing that reflects this topic? Either your own or someone else’s.

I have too many favourites to list here but “Leftover” by Glen Pourciau beautifully illustrates how a seemingly innocuous, quite ordinary visit can tell us so much about the fraught relationship and tension between two people. Dialogue is used to great effect and we are left with a vivid sense of the main character’s desperation and loneliness.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just completed a novella-in-flash, so I’m taking a short break before embarking on my next project. I am also editing a collection of flashes and micros. As well as short fiction I also write poetry, and a full collection is being published by Broken Sleep Books later this year – so I’m very busy!

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

My writing news and links to my writing are on my website,, where you will also find details of the writing workshops I am leading this year.

I am also on Twitter @NoraNadj

Nora Nadjarian is a poet and writer from Cyprus. She has been commended or placed in numerous competitions, including the Live Canon International Poetry Competition 2020 and the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021. Her work was included in Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Stony Thursday Book (Ireland, 2018) and Europa 28 (Comma Press, 2020). She represented Cyprus in the Hay Festival’s Europa28: Visions for the Future in 2020. Her short fiction has appeared, among others, in Sand Journal, FRiGG, MoonPark Review and Lunate and was chosen for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2022 (selected by Kathy Fish). She has led successful creative writing workshops for the Flash Fiction Festival (2019 and 2022), the Wirral Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (2021), the Crow Collective and Retreat West (2022).

Meet the Writer – Martha Lane

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Martha Lane, who will be leading a zoom workshop for us in February – The Age of Innocence. We all love to tell tales of strife, of heartbreak, and of conflict. We look for those inner truths of adult lives to make our stories feel meaningful and reflective. Join Martha Lane as she makes you look at these same stories through the eyes of a child narrator. How can a narrator with limited understanding of the world affect the stories you tell? Can it add humour? Or perhaps a deeper level of poignancy? Lots to explore as we take a wide-eyed look at the world of grown ups. BUY TICKETS HERE.

What made you choose this particular topic for your session?

Because I write for both adults and children the lines between the two sometimes blur and I really enjoy using a child’s perspective to filter the adult world.

What do you hope participants will get out of it?

I hope participants go away with a new idea they’re really excited about.

Do you have a favourite piece of writing that reflects this topic? Either your own or someone else’s.

I absolutely love the novel I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti which was the first adult novel I ever read in a child’s POV and it really stuck with me. In fact, quite a few of my favourite novels are written this way; To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, The Book Thief, The Kite Runner.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a Northern coming of age novel at the minute. Where all those lines between childhood and adulthood blur then come into focus.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

Most of my published stories can be found on my website,

Martha Lane is a prose writer living in the blustery North East. She writes about class, nature, grief and all things unrequited, her flash fiction has been widely published and most of her stories can be found online at She often writes from the perspective of children, prehaps because she has two of her own (an endless source of inspiration when they aren’t squabbling over the TV remote).

Course Concept Test


Hello everyone, I am looking for 15 people to take part in a test course with me so that I can work out the concept of a new course with your feedback. The course is going to be 10 weeks long and focused on writing longer short stories (3,000 words plus) inspired by different chapters of the Tao Te Ching, which is a huge interest of mine!

Will be great for those of you who want to write longer stories and if you have any interest in finding out more about Daoism and how its philosophy can help us write stories with real depth and resonance that talk to some of the most important issues of our current times.

You’ll get detailed developmental feedback on 5 of the 10 stories you’ll create and short feedback on the course forum on the other 5. I’ll also ask you to take part in feedback surveys to help me develop the course further for the final version. You don’t need to write 3,000 words every week but there will be a writing prompt each week, which you can share your response to in the course forum, even if you’ve only written a couple of hundred words. The same goes for the stories you can send after the course, they can be any word count but the course is focused on ending up with longer short stories and the examples I’ll be using in the course will be longer.

As it is a test, the price is just £100. We will start on the first Monday in December (there will be a break for the festive season) and the course will run on our community platform within a private forum space (if you’re not already a member you’ll have full access to the wider community for the duration of the course too.

Content will be posted weekly, with a break for festive season, and it will be accessible 24/7 so you can work through it at any time that suits you best.

Really looking forward to it and I hope you’ll join me!

You can book on this link: and I will send more info.

Amanda x

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:

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

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


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.