Writing tips from Paul McVeigh

Writing tips from Paul McVeigh

Very happy to welcome Paul McVeigh to the blog today. Paul previously taught short story writing on a Retreat with Amanda and his debut novel The Good Son won the Polari Prize and the McCrea Literary Award. Paul is judging the 2018 RW Short Story Prize and Amanda got to ask him what he loves about the short story form.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the short form?

Read. Read the authors they love. Read like a writer – how did they make me tense, sad, surprised? Read authors you don’t like – what am I not seeing that others do? What can I learn for this?

What kinds of stories do you hope to see when reading the shortlist for the RW Short Story Prize?

I like to feel something when I read. I like to laugh too. Neither of these reactions are easy to achieve. Too often attempts are cringe-making – too bald or inorganic. Get it right and they win prizes. Though a fab of raw hyper-realism, I also like unusual stories and unnerving mysteries and sci-fi.

What short story do you wish you’d written and why?

I don’t think like that but I’ll play along and choose one of my favourite short stories – Foster by Claire Keegan. So moving and yet not sentimental at all – in fact it’s often brutal. It gets me every time.

Which short story writers writing today do you admire and why?

Claire Keegan for her class and skill and Carmen Maria Machado for her imagination.


Thanks so much, Paul.

You can follow Paul on Twitter and find out more about him via his website.

Now… Short story writers get writing and submitting your stories for Paul to read. The deadline is 28th October 2018. There is £820 in cash prizes available, and all winning and shortlisted stories will be published in the annual anthology by Retreat West Books.

You can find the previous anthologies What Was Left and (forthcoming) Impermanent Facts on Amazon. They’ll give you a great idea what we’re looking for and perhaps a little inspiration!

Join our author community and get lots of great stuff, including free copies of Retreat West Books as they are published. Join here.


8 Flash Fiction Writing Tips


8 Flash Fiction Writing Tips

I’ve been writing flash fictions for about six years now and reading tons of them, both for fun and for the entries into the competitions we run at Retreat West. Through the reading that I do for the competitions, I’ve come to understand a lot about what makes a flash work, and to recognise why it doesn’t.

So many of the stories that don’t make it through the first judging round are trying to fit too much in, which leads me to my first piece of advice.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #1

Identify the point of the story and really think about what needs to be in there to, subtly, get that point across.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #2

Keep your cast small. Too many characters spoil the flow.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #3

Think about what you leave unsaid. This is often where the impact of a story really lies.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #4

Focus on making the reader feel something. It’s the stories that do this that resonate.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #5

Play with language. Such a small word count means you must choose the right ones to convey what you mean. Often the first word you choose won’t be the right one.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #6

Read a lot of flash fictions. Consume them daily.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #7

Use prompts to hone your skills and try writing to different word counts.


Flash Fiction Writing Tip #8

Leave them to sit. Just because they’re short doesn’t mean they are ready straight away. Go back and edit. Leave to sit for a while then edit again.


Just like a flash, these tips are short and sweet but if you use them to develop your flash fiction writing they will have an impact.

Join us to read and create lots more flash fictions on our Fantastic Flashing course.