Jan Kaneen: Why Retreat West?

Why Retreat West?

As part of our week behind the scenes at Retreat West, today Jan Kaneen shares her journey from starting out, with a creative writing course way back in 2014, to her forthcoming debut memoir-in-flash. And thank you so much Jan! Your kind words about Retreat West are very much appreciated and make all the hard work worthwhile! Over to Jan.

I started creative writing in 2014 to help manage my anxiety. I found it really helped, and so enrolled on an Open University creative writing course to see where it would take me. The following year, armed with a distinction for my coursework and a bit more confidence, I started subbing, which is when I found Retreat West. I won one of their flash fiction comps and the positivity I felt was affirming and confidence-building.

In 2016, I enrolled on the OU’s two-year Creative Writing MA and one of the exercises was researching potential publishers for a work-in-progress, then drafting bespoke submission letters. Retreat West, by now, had established their publishing arm. I bought the wonderful Separated from the Sea, by Amanda Huggins, and Retreat West founder Amanda Saint’s brilliant, As if I Were a River, and felt a connection. I decided that if I ever did this for real, Retreat West would be top of my list.

In Spring 2018, the taught part of my MA was over, and I was worried my old anxiety would resurface, so by way of pre-empting trouble, I joined Retreat West writer’s community. As I polished the first 15k words of the novel I was writing for the final MA assessment, I found the weekly prompts excellent at providing regular inspiration for short blasts of non-MA writing, and the Facebook group a supportive background burble.

The MA deadline came and went, and as I waited for the result (due December 2018), I curated the hotchpotch of flash fictions I’d written over the previous four years. I was gobsmacked to realise they were themed and autobiographical. When the MA results were published and I’d gained a distinction, I gathered my courage, sequenced the themed flashes, entitled the resulting memoir-in-flash, The Naming of Bones, and entered it into Ellipse Magazine’s Flash Collection competition. It won second prize.

As part of the writer’s membership package at Retreat West, you get an e-copy of all their books, so by now, I’d read, admired and felt a writerly affinity with absolutely everything they’d published. I truly felt my quirky memoir that examines life, love, grief and growing-up through a surreal and lyrical filter, fitted. I submitted it and, six nail-biting weeks later, my strange tale had found its perfect home.

So you won’t be surprised when I say I love Retreat West – its ethos, the ethical way it does business, the opportunities it offers writers, the fun comps, the gorgeousness of the books. Next January I’m doing their Plot, People & Place writers retreat, the first retreat I’ve ever done. I’m hoping that with a bit of expert guidance and some time and space I can get the novel I started doing on the MA, back on track. I cannot wait. I love writing. More than love it. It’s necessary for my mental health and well-being, and my writing journey has been so enriched and enabled by my involvement with Retreat West. I couldn’t be more grateful. True story.


Jan Kaneen’s stories have won prizes in places like Scribble, InkTears, Molotov Cocktail, Horror Scribes and Retreat West. Her most recent stories can be found at Flashback Fiction, Ellipsis and Molotov Cocktail and her debut memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones will be published by Retreat West Books in 2021. She tweets @jankaneen1 and blogs.

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