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…


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.

2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist


Many thanks to everyone that entered the 2020 First Chapter Competition. Louise Walters and I have read a lot of novel openings to make the longlist decision. We received 308 entries and have a longlist of 36, which we’ll now be choosing a shortlist of 10 from to go to our final judge, Carrie Plitt, literary agent with Felicity Bryan Associates.

Congratulations to all the writers who stories are listed below. We’re still reading anonymously at this stage so please don’t let anymore know what your story is called if you’ve made it through!


2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist

  1. A Charm To Mend Lost Causes
  2. A Whisper In The Woods
  3. Boy Nightingale
  4. Brantwood
  5. Down Came A Blackbird
  6. Flatfoot In Fleece
  7. Girls Like Us
  8. Hush
  9. In Our Father’s House
  10. Iris Vine Remembers
  11. Jack
  12. Level 44
  13. Life After The End Of The World
  14. Love
  15. Love The Dark Days
  16. Motor City Resolve
  17. No Woman Is An Island
  18. Passing Through Fire
  19. Static
  20. Summers With My Father
  21. Swimming Lesson
  22. The Book Of Gates
  23. The Candidate’s Husband
  24. The Circle
  25. The Cuckoo Clock
  26. The History And Remarkable Life Of Octavia Swallow
  27. The Inquisitor’s Papers
  28. The Katie Experiment
  29. The Orchid Child
  30. The Pearls, The Lake, And Yoshio
  31. The Slighting Of Livia Rathbone
  32. The Slow Knife
  33. The Sunday Painters
  34. We Make Dreams
  35. Words We Shoud’ve Said
  36. Your Sorrows Rise


We’ll be re-reading these chapters now and will have the shortlist in the first week of April.

We asked our members and followers about who they would like to see judging the 2021 competition and the unanimous decision was for it to be an indie publisher. So we’ve got a very exciting one lined up, which we’ll be announcing when the new competition details go live later this year.

We’re also very excited to have partnered with Casa Ana Retreats for the 2021 competition. Find out more about Casa Ana here. I’m lucky enough to be their guest mentor for a 2-week retreat later this year, so if you fancy some writing time in the mountains in southern Spain with 1-1 support to develop your novel, short/flash fiction or memoir, then come join me!


2019 Novel Prize Shortlist

It’s been another busy year(!) and I’m happy to be ending 2019 sharing these ten shortlisted authors and their novel titles. Thanks once again to all 90 who submitted and well done to those listed below. Additionally, well done to anyone who had success in our various competitions during the year. It’s been uplifting to follow your successes on social media so thank you to those sharing your ups (and downs)! Wishing everyone in the Retreat West community a happy and successful 2020!


  1. Aftershocks – Claire Jenkins
  2. Driverless – Sally Dickson
  3. Fixing Pete Hamilton – Sophie Kirkwood
  4. Sam – Anna Rivers
  5. Some Like It Cold – Vanessa Edwards
  6. T-Day – Christie Grimes
  7. The Kindness of Strangers – Elena Casas
  8. The Farmhouse – Dawn Miller
  9. The Miraculous Music of Clara Martinelli – Peter Howard
  10. The Street Sweeper – Bren Gosling

Well done to all of the above writers! We’ll be getting to work, reading the ten novels in January, so watch out on social media for updates, alternatively, subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an announcement.

2019 Novel Prize Longlist

Many thanks to all of the writers who sent in your novel openings for the second annual Retreat West Novel Prize. It has been great to read all 90 entries. After a lot of deliberation, 22 titles have been longlisted for further re-reading over the coming weeks.

All the entries are being read anonymously at this stage so if your story is listed below, by all means shout out about it on social media but please don’t let us know which story is yours just yet! Good luck with the next stage!


  1. Aftershocks
  2. Angelville
  3. Children of the Revolution
  4. Driverless
  5. Fifty Pence for the Hallelujah Tree
  6. Fixing Pete Hamilton
  7. Hard and Bright
  8. In the Outlines of Nothing
  9. Rona Rats
  10. Sam
  11. Signs of Amelia
  12. Sin Bin
  13. Some Like it Cold
  14. T-Day
  15. The Auspice
  16. The Butcher’s Daughter
  17. The Farmhouse
  18. The Geneticist’s Daughter
  19. The Miraculous Music of Clara Martinelli
  20. The Sound of One Hand Clapping
  21. The Street Sweeper
  22. The Unbordered Selma

Well done to all of these writers! We’ll announce the shortlist on social media over the coming weeks, alternatively, subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an announcement.

2018 First Chapter Competition Results

2018 First Chapter Competition Results


Thanks to our judge, literary agent Diana Beaumont, for reading our ten shortlisted chapters and giving feedback on them all. We did promise the results would be announced in May but there has been a slight delay due to holidays and other competition announcements. Diana enjoyed reading all of the chapters and said: “I have judged a few things in my time and these were genuinely a cut above.  The standard of entries was impressive and I was delighted to judge it.”

So to all of our shortlisted writers, well done! And a huge congratulations to our winner and runners-up. So here are the results…


Ain’t you been Baptized by Rachel Daniels

I just loved the writing here – it’s incredibly accomplished and beautifully done with a vivid sense of place and a distinctive voice. Lenny’s dialogue – and the vagrant who attempts to rescue him – was pitch perfect with plenty of tension and an underlying dark humour that drew me in. I really wanted to know more about where Lenny has come from and where he goes next.


Looking For Me by Hilary Taylor

What a great opening paragraph: it disconcerts the reader and plunges us straight into Miriam’s world which is dripping with God and gore. It’s not always easy to pull off a child’s voice but this worked extremely well. The writing is so visceral and vivid that the trip to the butcher’s shop feels more like a horror movie with the blood and sawdust – not to mention the mother’s finger getting chopped off by mistake although there is a humour that offsets it. The author clearly has talent.

Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge

I really enjoyed this. It is polished, compelling writing and I was drawn in from the first paragraph. It reads like psychological suspense and I liked the way in which it is ambiguous as to what is real and what is imagined. The smart, Hamptons setting contrasts with the emotional darkness that underlies it. I also loved the descriptions of the meals, which were mouth wateringly delicious. I certainly wanted to read on.

Highly Commended

Gabriel by June Whitaker

There is a wonderful, timeless quality to the beginning of this novel set in Southern Spain, which is steeped in superstition and fear. A woman is about to give birth to a child on ‘Black Tuesday, which is considered to be accursed. The writing is atmospheric and I wanted to know what becomes of the little boy born on this fateful evening.


Freeze Frame by Dawn Michelle-Baude

The writing has an intense, oppressive feel as a seventeen-year-old girl and her mother visit a morgue to identify whether the dead body on the gurney there is her father. The second person viewpoint can be tricky but seems to work thus far. Make sure the first paragraph really pulls the reader in, keep up the pace at all times and watch for moments like the comment about trauma counsellors, which take us away from the story. It is, however, polished and compelling.

Kinesia Paradoxa by Dorothy Cornish

The writing style is confident and I was intrigued by the relationship between the siblings and the wider family but watch out that it doesn’t sound stilted on occasion although that may, in part, reflect the voice of the central protagonist. I like the Iceland setting and thought even more could be made of that. Make sure that the similes and metaphors chosen aren’t slightly laboured at times. I was genuinely shocked to read about Matt self-harming and his essay sounds fascinating. It might be worth rethinking the title.

Glide by Alison Lester

This has an intriguing and original opening as a strange man turns up at the house claiming to be his wife’s brother even though she has never mentioned him. The writing is accessible and easy to read although I would have liked a stronger sense of place which would add to the disconcerting feel of things – and remember to show not tell. I was certainly curious to know how events unfold.

Pettiver’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Thornton Rigg

The writing is accomplished and has plenty of charm especially when it comes to describing works of art.  Make sure that the pace is consistent so that are no langeurs and really draws the reader in from the outset. At times the dialogue, especially Ursula’s can be a little too clipped although that may reflect her role in a secretive organisation.

Ordinary Sacred by Holly Dawson

The prose is powerful, evocative and even poetic at times although watch out that the language isn’t a little laboured at times. And make sure that you propel the reader forward at all times. I was intrigued by the setting but wanted a little more indication about where the narrative is heading and what the heart of the story is.

The Immortalist by Tracy Fells

This has an imaginative, entertaining central premise as one of the immortals takes on human form in what feels like an action thriller rather than a fantasy novel. I wanted to know a little more about what compelled Esther to disguise herself as a mortal and come back down to earth. Also, make sure the writing is as tight as possible at all times.
Many congratulations to Rachel, who now gets to send her first three chapters, synopsis and covering letter to Diana for review.
If you weren’t ready to submit this year, there’s always next and the 2019 First Chapter Competition is now open for submissions. This time around the judge is literary agent, Sarah Manning, at The Bent Agency and a second-place prize has been added. Get all the details here.
If you become a Retreat West Gold Author Member you can get entry to this competition included as part of your benefits package, as well as whole host of other exciting stuff! Join here.