The Quiet Man Dave Prize

Today, in a special blog post, we hear from Retreat West community member Susan Wigmore on her experience of the ‘Quiet Man Dave Prize’. Named in honour of Dave Murray, a popular Manchester-based writer and critic, the Prize is run by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, in conjunction with Manchester School of Theatre. Gaynor and Amanda both knew Dave, and we are grateful to Susan for sharing this piece with us.

Dave Murray

I’d like to blow a big blast on a trumpet for the QuietManDave Prize, an award for short-form writing organised by the Manchester Writing School in conjunction with Manchester School of Theatre at MMU. I learned of it from Gaynor’s newsletter earlier this year and was intrigued by a prize in honour of a man called Dave, the much loved and respected Manchester writer, critic and polymath, Dave Murray, who died suddenly in 2019.

I loved that he liked to experience new things and write about them and how, like me, he’d come to writing later in life. I loved how he encouraged writers to test their boundaries. So I decided to enter a piece in the non-fiction category that had wormed its way under my skin and wouldn’t stop niggling. Inspired by a jackdaw in my garden one hot summer’s day, it looks at the interplay between past and present, teaching and learning, and the role of improvement and correction in our striving for an ideal whose definition shifts with each passing generation. It’s quirky in form and content and I couldn’t think what to do with it until Gaynor’s post and a wander around the QMD website. Worth a punt, I thought.

It certainly was. The award ceremony last Thursday was a joyous occasion, though such was the quality of the writing that tears were also shed in quiet sympathy with those who read heart-wrenching pieces. As one of the short-listed writers, I was invited to attend the ceremony, a writing first for me. And for the judges and organisers as it turned out as this biennial event was scuppered by Covid lockdowns in its inaugural year of 2020. It was wonderful to meet in person such an array of talented writers, several of whose work was the thread this newbie writer had been following through the maze of competition and magazine submissions. Faces were put to names, hugs shared and writing experiences recounted. There were moments that evening in such creative company when I caught myself thinking, you are actually a writer, you know. 

Do keep an eye open in 2024 for the QMD Prize, especially if you enjoy experimenting with form or voice and wonder at times where your work belongs. The organisers are hugely supportive and encouraging, even beyond the competition, and Vanda Murray is inspiring in her enthusiasm to foster Dave’s legacy. The power of words was at the heart of the award ceremony; that and the people there made it an unforgettable celebration of short-form writing. 

For more about the prize, visit: QMD Prize

Abandoned Themed Flash Longlist

Abandoned Themed Flash Longlist

Thank you to everyone that entered. We received 172 entries this time, and enjoyed reading each one.

Congratulations to everyone whose story appears on our longlist. If your story appears below, please don’t tell us as we’re still reading anonymously!

  1. A Space in my Heart
  2. An Alternative History of Curses and Serpents
  3. Cessation
  4. Connections
  5. Distant Sounds
  6. Dover Beach
  7. Echo
  8. Flight
  9. For Alfred
  10. Full Moon
  11. It’s My Skin
  12. It Was the Horse That Killed Her
  13. Learning to Count
  14. No More Towns or Mountains
  15. No Room for Error
  16. On the Way
  17. Sea Shanty
  18. She Didn’t Look Back
  19. Six Things I Abandoned by the Time I Was 31
  20. Skógafoss
  21. Space Raiders
  22. The Artist
  23. The Bunker
  24. The Disappearing Act
  25. The Dog With No Name
  26. The Foundling
  27. The Mortal Air
  28. The Rotting
  29. The Thoughts That Matter
  30. The Value of Things
  31. The Weight of Silence
  32. Two Selves


We’ll announce the shortlist by the end of May. In the meantime, for more flash fun, check out our upcoming quarterly flash competition here. The deadline’s 28th June, so there’s plenty of time to get writing!

2020 Retreat West First Chapter Competition Winners

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…

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.  

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.

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? 

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…


April 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

We received so many great stories this month so well done to everyone who got longlisted last week and an extra well done if you made the final ten. But also really well done for even writing and submitting something in such strange times.

Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – we have had a good debate about some!

We received 139 entries – the most ever – so the cash prize is £278, in addition to a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. The runner-up will get a free entry too, plus both stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website.

Voting is anonymous so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.

Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 27th April. We are trialling a new voting system that shows the number of votes each story is receiving as we thought this might add to the excitement – but the official results will still be announced on Tuesday 28th April.

Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.

A Nice Cup of Tea

Snick, snick, snick. A tiny sound as the slender stems break under her fingernail. Just the topmost leaves, the most delicate in flavour. Snick, snick. Only a few from each tree. Aged trees, older than her great-grandmother, and twice as gnarled. Stunted by generations of women picking their leaves.
Phut, phut, phut. A kettle bubbles in the darkness of a tumbledown hut. In the fug of warm milk and hot flames her rain-soaked, weary muscles ease. Phut, phut. There’s nothing delicate about this brew. Sweepings, twice stewed, and boiled with cardamom. Flavour drowned out by spice, bitterness shrouded by sugar.

Big Brother

From the fence, you told me that our hill was Mount Fuji, back when I hung off your every word. You told stories in pretend Japanese, with translations. You promised we would climb that mountain, one day. You said you would always protect me because that’s what big brothers do.
Here at the foot of the real mountain, with some of your ashes at my feet like clumps of cherry blossom, I am disappointed.
The real wonder was in your voice, your wide eyes, your expansive gestures. They never changed.
I needn’t have come here; you belong on our hill.


Dinosaurs and the Weary

Giant dinosaurs sleep on their bellies. Spiked armor on display to ward off enemies. I stand back and admire the great beasts that hide from the world to rest. They persist in their existence, despite a whole people who would call them extinct. I see their magnitude and gargantuan invisibility.
But why do they sleep, when they know we are afraid? Why do they let us say what we say about the asteroids and the great winter? Don’t they know that we fear something lonely, something beyond us. I beg them awake, to rub our heads in this dark night.


In the House of the Devil

Your pisco breath hot on my cheek, you push into me.
Through the window, I count the rooftops, until black swallows them, and I wonder how many other homes harbour secrets like magma.
Only tourists search the sky for the volcano here. The locals try to ignore it, though it tars the town, lake and everything in between with its name. In Mapuche, Villarica is Rucapillan, or devil’s house.
I should have listened to their warnings.
In the morning, my skin and the sheets are streaked with your eruption.
You lie dormant.
Lava comes from the Latin verb to wash.


Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain

Once pristine, the paper was smattered now with deep, grubby creases, each item struck through in turn, dark against pale. Until the last.
She stood looking out at the view, the blossom tinged air lifting the edges of her scarves as the scent of the sun caused her heart to ache.
He would have loved this.
Their tomorrow had swirled into rounds of poison pumped into tired veins, until, there was only yesterday and their home echoed with promises left unfulfilled.
She pulled the urn from her bag. Watched as he kissed the breeze and brushed the peak at last.


I must tell her what I see. The picture is postcard-sized, glossy, parted like bird’s wings in one corner, sky bending unnaturally.
A photograph.
My therapist tells me I must play along. There’s a woman in the foreground. Mountain shining through an endless mist.
Somewhere hot?
She nods. Flicks eraser scum off her notepad. I see a beautiful woman oozing confidence. Not dwarfed by what faces her, but humbled by its complexity. Familiar with every crack, new and old. Fiercely independent. Or hiding fears of a world she cannot fix?
Possibility, I say finally. I see no end of possibilities.


Sacrificial Lamb

The boy waited patiently, an invisible shadow. Spewing gravel, the jeep skidded to a halt beside him. Out they rolled: joking, braying, bleating, hoisting identical rucksacks onto broad shoulders, comparing altimeters on oversized watches.
Once they’d sauntered past the tree-line, the boy sprang to his toes, gentle as the soft gloaming, and fast as the foehn. Gliding past them, they thought he was the haar sweeping in.
Cloud lapping at his feet, the boy waited at the summit. Though all were guilty of desecrating the holy mountain, only one would pay the price by stepping into the watery cloud.



My father could climb mountains with one stride. His rucksack was heavy with a lifetime’s burdens, but once he smelled the foothills, it seemed to weigh nothing at all. For years, he set his foot against the incline and challenged gravity.
When I was tall enough, I joined him. My pack contained water, sandwiches and an empty space for burdens of my own. Yet, even without days to weigh me down, I struggled to keep up.
Next time will be easier, my father never said. He gave me scalding coffee from a flask and taught me the victory of inches.

Torn Sky

A rip in the sky appears like a mountain shadow planted in the view. Pilgrims come to watch the heaven’s fault-line let our future in.
The aurora borealis, shooting stars and lightening, seep symptoms of our pain. At the edge of the world we stand, find the wound, peel back this second skin and let blood fall like rain on Chernobyl fires.
A goose with patchwork burns crosses the field, honking at break of day. We do not wear black. We put the sun back in the sky, sew the tear up and let our eyes mist with the view.

When Coffee is in Your DNA

Java was his idea.
Find your roots.
I don’t need to.
Aren’t you curious?
The sari was his idea.
You’ll look like a native.
I don’t need to.
It’ll keep beggars away.
It won’t.
The temple was his idea.
Explore your heritage.
I don’t need to.
You do, really.
I don’t.
Being alone was my idea.
Can’t I come?
I don’t want you to.
You do really.
I don’t.
Staying was my idea.
You know I can’t.
I’ve found my roots, it’s what you wanted.
It’s not.
He doesn’t drink coffee now, he says its taste is too bitter.

We think these are a fantastic selection and we hope you’ve enjoyed them too. Vote for your favourite below. If you are having trouble accessing the form below you can also vote on this link:


[poll id=”8925″]

April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist


Many thanks to everyone who sent in stories for this month’s micro fiction comp, and to Cath Barton for the inspiring prompt that generated the most entries we’ve had so far. Which means the winner will receive a cash prize of £278 as well as free entry to the annual Flash Fiction Prize.

Of the 139 entries we received we’ve got a longlist of 40 stories. All readings are anonymous until the final judging is completed so only the story titles are show here. If your story is listed please don’t let anyone know what it is called! Congrats to the 40 writers who made it through.

April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

  • Ancient Indonesian Tattoos, East of Java
  • A Ghost is Here
  • A Nice Cup of Tea
  • Big Brother
  • Carefully Crafted
  • Changes of Fortune
  • Dinosaurs and the Weary
  • Dormant Power
  • Elsie – The Love of my Life
  • Everything Left Behind
  • Garden Party Guidelines
  • Homecoming
  • How to Climb a Mountain
  • Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain
  • In the House of the Devil
  • Life and Death
  • Lost in Translation
  • Maesta
  • Nadia’s Mission
  • On Preparing to Climb a Mountain for the First Time: I Will Not Let You Stop Me
  • Paralysis
  • Possibility
  • Sacrificial Lamb
  • Search Continues for Missing Botanist in Roen
  • Strider
  • Ten Seconds Before the End of the World
  • The Ache
  • The Distance
  • The Grey Monolith
  • The Mountain
  • The Other Mountain was on Fire
  • Time to Sow
  • Torn Sky
  • Tristão
  • Up, Up and Away
  • Utopia
  • Walking on Chocolate
  • Working from the Top
  • When a Man is not a Mountain
  • When Coffee is in your DNA


We’re busy reading again and the shortlist of 10 stories will be online for public voting on Monday 20th April. Good luck everyone!

2020 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

Thanks again to everyone that sent us in their novel opening for this year’s First Chapter Competition. We received 308 submissions, which we had a longlist of 36 from and now we have the final shortlist of 10 chapters that are going to judge, Carrie Plitt, to read and make the final decision on.

Congratulations to everyone who entered and was longlisted and especially to these 10 shortlisted authors.

2020 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

  • Brantwood by Victoria MacKenzie
  • Down Came a Blackbird by Julie Holden
  • Girls Like Us by Julie Bull
  • Love by Kate Tregaskis
  • Life After The End Of The World by Sydnye White
  • Passing Through Fire by Diane Miller
  • Swimming Lesson by Rebecca Garnett Haris
  • The Katie Experiment by Rosie Smith
  • We Make Dreams by Angela Wipperman
  • Words We Should’ve Said by Allison Secker

We’ll have the final results soon and then we will announce the details of the 2021 competition, which will be judged by an indie publisher this time as that’s what most people said they wanted when we did a survey with our followers! We have got a great judge lined up and we’re looking forward to reading more novel openings soon.