2020 Retreat West First Chapter Competition Winners
Many thanks to Carrie Plitt of Felicity Bryan Associates for being our judge this year; we were delighted to have had her on board.
Congratulations to everyone who made our shortlist, and huge congratulations to our two winners who’ll each have their submission packages reviewed. The writer in first place will receive their review from Carrie, and the writer in second place will receive theirs from Amanda Saint — founder of Retreat West and commissioning editor and publisher at Retreat West Books. Carrie has also kindly provided short feedback on each of the ten shortlisted chapters.
First place: THE KATIE EXPERIMENT by Rosie Smith
Carrie said: This is a very short first chapter, but it does a lot in a short space of time, doling out just the right amount of information with tight and intriguing prose. The descriptions are evocative, and sometimes surprising: I love the way the delicate sheets of the girl’s hair blowing in the wind provoke disgust in the narrator. By the end I was desperate to know more about the narrator and her relationship with the girl who sits next to her on the bench. This is the kind of chapter that makes me want to read on immediately.
Second place: GIRLS LIKE US by Julie Bull
Carrie said: This was a very intriguing chapter, managing to establish a mystery with economy and style, and giving enough backstory while still keeping the reader guessing. There’s some lovely writing here too, like the paragraph that describes the names of the girls on the wall. I love how it ends with the image of Pam getting in the car.
Well done to Rosie and Julie!
And to our shortlisted writers…
PASSING THROUGH FIRE by Diane Miller
Carrie said: I like the way this chapter immediately thrusts the reader into the action, and gives enough details to make us realise gradually that we’re in some kind of dystopian world, without explaining too much. The writing is very solid, too. Maybe it didn’t need quite so much foreshadowing about what this moment will mean for the narrator’s future.
BRANTWOOD by Victoria MacKenzie
Carrie said: I enjoyed being in the Victorian world of John Ruskin in this chapter – it’s very well evoked from the first sentence and seems believable. I do wonder if you are trying to impart too much information about Ruskin and his life over the course of the dinner party. I think this could wear its research more lightly, and do more of showing rather than telling.
DOWN CAME A BLACKBIRD by Julie Holden
Carrie said: I like the way this chapter sets up the relationship with the neighbour upstairs and the mystery of the letter. It also had a great ending. I know the narrator herself is confused, but I felt quite discombobulated by the imagery of the bird and her dead mother, and thought perhaps this didn’t quite strike the right balance between withholding information and making sense. A smaller grammatical note is that I think you could cut out a lot of your commas; many of them seemed unnecessary and they broke up the reading experience.
LOVE by Kate Tregaskis
Carrie said: This is an intriguing premise and the last paragraph is great. I do wonder whether you need the lists, as they can break up the reading experience and I’m not sure how much they add to the narrative. The pace here also felt a little slow – could you cut out some of the backstory / telling and get more quickly to the phone call?
SWIMMING LESSON by Rebecca Garnett Haris
Carrie said: I like the plot you set up here, but I wasn’t totally convinced by the voice. It’s really tough to write a novel in dialect! Maybe think about whether this novel definitely needs it.
LIFE AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD by Sydnye White
Carrie said: This is a great set-up and I love the first sentence. The pace feels a little slow, though, and I think you could cut out some of the contemplation about the narrator’s situation.
WE MAKE DREAMS by Angela Wipperman
Carrie said: I like the opening paragraph a lot. I think you’re doing a little too much telling in the opening chapter, though. Can some of the backstory come out in the conversation with the journalist in the next chapter instead?
WORDS WE SHOULD’VE SAID by Allison Secker
Carrie said: There are some lovely bits of description here and the idea of a missing twin is intriguing. However, the pace feels a little slow and I think you could tighten and focus this chapter, showing only what is necessary to set the scene.
Again, well done to all of the writers above — and to everyone who entered. Thank you for sharing your work with me; it was a pleasure to read so many great first chapters.
We’ve got another great judge lined up for the First Chapter Competition 2021: Sam Jordison (@samjordison), founder of and publisher at Galley Beggar Press. The 2021 competition is also being run in partnership with Casa Ana Writing Writing Retreat. We’re very excited to have him working with both Sam and Casa Ana, and look forward to opening the competition for entries in June. See you then…