Guest author: Nemma Wollenfang and Masked Hearts

Today Nemma Wollenfang, a previous winner of Retreat West’s First Chapter Competition, is here as a guest author to talk about ‘Masked Hearts’ – a sweet fantasy romance anthology recently released by Roane Publishing which includes her newest novella, Dragon Law, alongside four other fantasy tales from other authors.

It’s about, as you’ve probably guessed, dragons! Which don’t tend to appear very often on the Retreat West blog!


Dragon Law by Nemma Wollenfang

The kingdom of Baelin is under attack. A terrifying dragon rains fire down on the capital city, burning all in his path. The people’s one hope lies with the Princess Draxa, who – in accordance with an ancient rite – must willingly sacrifice her future to sate the beast’s wrath.

For her kingdom, Draxa will do it. She will leave Andre, the fierce soldier she loves with all of her heart, don her red cloak, and make the treacherous trip into the heart of the mountain, to face the monstrous Lord Siouxlian in his lair.  


Here is what she has to say about it: ‘The original call for Masked Hearts asked for stories to go along with the book’s beautiful cover image. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to write something. Already a plot had started to unravel in my head. You know the way a story grips you and you can’t let it go? Well, that’s what happened. It was going to be about a girl and a dragon and a knight… but not in the traditional sense. I wanted to rewrite the classic knight-in-shinning-armour-saves-damsel-in-distress trope with a brand new twist, I wanted to create a tale where the princess does not get saved in the way she expects. Dragon Law is what I came up with. For those of you who fancy taking a look, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for having me, Retreat West!’


Here is an excerpt:

Her eyes whipped to the cavern opening… nothing but blackness, then… a rumble, quiet at first. One, then another. The ground shook until each rumble became a boom. Tiny pebbles quaked, Draxa’s breathing shallowed. Could she see something there? Uncoiling in the darkness? Something vast and powerful and deadly?

“The flag, you fool!” the high priest commanded, flapping his arm at another guard. “Put up the flag!”

No sooner had he spoken than a white flag rose up, waving about.

Andre’s mien had grown stony now and tense. Ready to fight, ready to protect. Draxa wanted to reach out, to take his hand, even in view of the priest and guards. But that would not help him fight so she stayed the urge, clasping her hands together beneath her red robe.

Then, as if some ghastly apparition from her most terrifying nightmares had come to life, a gigantic form slithered from the shadows, larger even than any of her imaginings.

Oh, sweet heavens… Sharp black horns jutted back on his head, his hide was an array of ruby scales, and his eyes were of a black so deep that no abyss could compare.

In a tremulous voice, the high priest called out, “Oh Great and P-powerful Siouxlian! M-mighty Dragon Lord. We come here under a banner of t-truce!”


Already the collection has garnered a number of 5-star reviews.

For more on ‘Masked Hearts’ and the other stories it contains, read this blog from the publisher

Want a copy? You can get one on the following websites?



Nemma is an MSc Postgraduate and prize-winning steampunk short story writer who lives in Northern England. Generally she adheres to Science Fiction – perhaps as a result of years in the laboratory cackling like a mad scientist – but she has been known to branch out, especially if there is a romantic twist to be had. Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including: A Bleak New World (RIP), Come Into the House (Corazon Books), and Flame Tree’s Science Fiction Short Stories, as well as magazines. Two of her unpublished novels have now been shortlisted in, or won, competitions too. So if you’re wondering what she’s doing right now she’s probably editing.

Also, as of August, Nemma has recently sold a second sweet romance novella to Roane Publishing. It is called ‘Amidst the Strawberry Fields’ and will be appearing in Love Under the Harvest Moon later this year.

You can keep up to date with her writing and other news on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


Thanks for coming, Nemma, and good luck with the many different writing projects you have on the go!


First Chapter Comp Results

The wait is over for all of those writers whose chapters went to literary agent, Susan Armstrong, to read. She’s given feedback on all of the chapters, as well as choosing a winner and two runners-up. Congratulations to everyone! And huge thanks to Susan for being the judge this time around.

Immediately gripping, a strong voice, original sense of place and plot, and fantastic characters. What’s not to love?! This one really stood out for me and I definitely wanted to read more. A clear winner.


Runner-up: ASHES OF ROSES by Anne O’Connor
I love that there’s a distinct voice here. It took a while to get to the point so I’d trim the very opening and give the reader a stronger sense of secrets hidden/family trying to find them out before it’s too late to increase the intrigue but a memorable chapter.


Runner-up: HUNDREDS OF BUTTERFLIES by Melissa Addy
The set up and voice caught my attention and I got a nice hint of things playing in the background, to come out later, so I was drawn in. I’d have liked more of a sense of threat in terms of what it means to be chosen/not chosen so there felt more to be at stake. A good first chapter.


Shortlisted: BALANCING EGGS by Penny Stanton
Atmospheric writing and I love the idea of a wife just taking off. It took a while to get into and I couldn’t quite picture that opening scene, which I felt should have been more amusing but strong potential.


Shortlisted: THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY by Felicia Yap
There’s an interesting concept here, which needs more than the first chapter to explore but I was intrigued (though the first couple of pages did remind me too much of BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson). The murder was a great early hook but the husband perhaps acts too suspiciously and I did find myself wondering how the the concept would actually work as the novel progressed – but that’s to be seen! And I’d change the title to something fresher.


Shortlisted: GRIEVANCE by Sarah Linley
Interesting premise and powerful opening paragraph as it immediately makes the reader think – what would I do? I’d like to feel the impact of what’s happened more deeply so maybe supplement some of the time she spends describing where she’s going to showing us her reaction/behaviour, for example expanding on her stealing things.


Shortlisted: DISARRAY by Jo Carlowe
Good intriguing hook in the opening but I’d suggest amending the structure as rather than a first chapter it felt like each scene was just being attached on to the last so it felt a little jumbled. Also, I’d push the first diary entry back a bit so we can get our feet with Luke first, and appreciate a bit more what this diary means to him.


Shortlisted: ALMOST FLYING by Vicky Grut
The story started immediately, which I loved but then it did become a little rushed so I’d give a little more air to that initial interaction between the characters. Also, their voices felt younger than their age so unless that’s intentional I’d take a look at that.


Shortlisted: HIS PATH OF COLOUR by Cathie De Frietas
I liked the tone of this one, it felt quite different to the others and so stood out. The ‘you’ that the narrator addresses is part of what made it stand out but I felt it was used too much and began to grate a little particularly alongside the numerous introspective/rhetorical questions so I’ll pull back on both and allow your lovely prose to come through more. Also, I’d love an early sense of where this is going/what sort of story it was going to be.


Shortlisted: THE MOUNTAINS OF INSTEAD by Michele Savidge
There are some lovely drops of suggestion in this one that made me curious to read on. I did feel though that some points you want to make are too heavily hammered home. For instance, you can show me from a couple of lines that she’s hot, can’t sleep and is anxious but we’re told this again and again so I’d trim that. The mention of a decision she has to make is intriguing and I think you could expand on that a little so we are properly hooked to find out what that decision is.


Nemma will now get her submission package reviewed by Susan while Anne and Melissa get theirs reviewed by me.  The next competition closes in June and the judge is the lovely, Jenny Savill. Find out more here.