Meet The Writer – Finnian Burnett

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Finnian Burnett, who is a contributor to our final competition anthology, Swan Song

Can you tell us a little about your story in the Swan Song anthology?

I actually wrote this story in a Retreat West workshop. It sort of fell out in five minutes and I loved it but I felt it needed some work. I took it to Matt Kendrick’s Writing Beyond the Lightbulb class and he gave me some excellent feedback. I loved the final version and I knew I wanted to send it somewhere I care about. Since it started with RW, it made sense to send it there first.

What draws you to entering writing contests?

I like to do a very few contests during a year – mainly ones that publish longlists and shortlists in anthologies. There’s such a thrill in celebrating with other people, sharing the joy and sometimes commiseration that comes with contest announcements.

Can you share some of your favourite writing influences with us?

I thrive in writing workshops. Something about writing in a group spurs my creativity and some of my best stories have come while listening to the click of other people’s keyboards. Beyond that, I read a ton of short fiction. Two of my favorite short story writers are Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemison. Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress is probably the greatest example of masterful POV in the first three stories in that collection.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

6 Reasons to Write (Even if You’re Not Getting Published)

Today we welcome Dawn Siofra North to our blog. Dawn is one of the prize-winning authors in our latest novelette-in-flash anthology which you can buy HERE

Whenever I find myself feeling disheartened, sluggish, or foolish about my writing practice, I need to remind myself why I write. Of course, having a piece accepted for publication feels validating. But I find it’s also important to keep in mind the many other benefits I get from creative writing. Ones like these…

A place to play 

My notebook is a private space where I’m allowed to play, away from judging eyes, like kids do when they make up role-play games. It’s also where I experience the creative joy of finding just the right words, like pieces of a puzzle. ‘Hard fun’ is how the educator Seymour Papert described this delight in challenging ourselves.

The pleasure of learning 

When I give myself permission to experiment, I can enjoy the very process of developing my writing skills. In focussing on ‘process not product’, I can discover surprising things about how I like to write, and remember that learning rarely happens without making mistakes. Just like an infant beginning to walk, I often take the biggest leap forward after falling flat on my arse.

Fostering mindfulness 

I first started writing creatively as an extension of my mindfulness practice. It can feel daunting to access an embodied state via meditation, but writing offers another way in. When I’m feeling mentally scattered, writing helps me to gather my fractured attention, to become embodied and rooted in my senses, by having to find precise descriptions for sensation-based experience. This is sometimes practised aloud in mindfulness classes; we writers just do it in private!

Emotional growth 

Immersing myself in a character’s life deepens my understanding of what it is to be human. While drafting, I often ask ‘what is this story teaching me about life, about other people, about myself?’ Whether I get a shift in perspective or a metaphorical piece of guidance, it’s as if the stories are delivering life lessons that I’m only able to receive because they arrive in imaginative packaging. 

Writing as a positive resource 

I wrote my novelette The Girl Who Survived during a very stressful period, and I discovered that writing offers me a refuge. During that time, the act of writing felt just as supportive as my meditation practice. The difficult conditions, while uncomfortable, ended up shaping the work in a way that I couldn’t have imposed by design.

Imaginative joy 

Writing stories gives me a chance to spend time in the imaginal realm that I knew so intimately as a child. Sometimes I forget that getting words on paper is only one aspect of writing: my stories also tend to need some incubation time, in a place where image and sensation are just as strong as language. If I let go of trying to control the narrative, I get to inhabit the adventure and mystery of an unfolding story.

When I remind myself of these reasons, it’s usually enough to persuade me to make a brew and write for twenty minutes. Or just hang out with my imaginative self, and see what happens. 

Dawn Siofra North is part of a home-educating family, an occasional mindfulness teacher and a writer of tiny stories. Her work has been shared in Legerdemain (National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021) and on the Free Flash Fiction website. Her novelette The Girl Who Survived won third prize in the Retreat West 2021 Novelette-In-Flash Prize. She is inspired by story-based learning and imaginative meditation. You can find her online at

The Lighthouse

Delighted to welcome Ali Thurm to the blog today to share some reflections on one of the central images of her 2020 Retreat West novel, One Scheme of Happiness – the lighthouse.

When I was a child, we lived for five years on the coast in a small seaside town called Withernsea, in what was then the East Riding of Yorkshire. So close to the sea, my family spent hours playing on the beach and, because I hadn’t learned to swim, paddling in the sea. Here, south of the rocky cliffs of Flamborough head, the land is very flat, and constantly being eroded; so, the lighthouse was built inland, actually in the town itself. Of course, this made living here unique, and to add to it, the house where we lived on Arthur Street was so close to the lighthouse that at night the beam swept into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, and (probably) into our dreams.

A lighthouse is such an iconic landmark, steeped in mystery and romance that it won’t come as a surprise then that I chose the town as the setting for my debut novel, One Scheme of Happiness. The area north of Hull is known as Holderness and, because I wanted to be able to adapt the setting for the needs of the novel, I changed Withernsea to Holdersea. And, because I’ve not been back for forty years, the town is really based on childhood memories with the generous support of Google Earth and the lighthouse webcam.

At the beginning of the novel Helen remembers the day the lighthouse was turned off, symbolising a change that everyone had to get used to, just as she has to adapt to life without her mother. Now, no longer in use, Withernsea lighthouse is a museum to the history of the town and the RNLI, as well as to celebrated actor, Kay Kendall who was born in the town. 

To coincide with the publication of my novel in 2020, I got in touch with the museum and they very enthusiastically suggested I could give a reading in the lighthouse garden at their summer fete, and sell some books. That was 2020 so, as you’ll know, a month after publication, we were in lockdown and the event was cancelled.

Throughout the novel Helen’s relationship with the lighthouse changes. From a phallic symbol when she is having a relationship, to a stick of rock, or to a finger beckoning her to return when she is really desperate to leave the town. ‘This is where you belong.’

The East Riding was an amazing place to spend part of my childhood. I think all children long to live by the sea, don’t they? So, it became a great place to set a novel that deals with memory, desire and dreams. I plan to go back one day soon, and to climb up into the lighthouse at long last.

Buy One Scheme of Happiness HERE


About the author: Ali Thurm is a novelist, poet and teacher. Her first novel, One Scheme of Happiness was published by Retreat West Books in February 2020. Set on the isolated Yorkshire coast, it is a dark tale of delusion, dressing-up and Jane Austen.

Ali is currently working on a new novel, The River Brings the Sea, a story of survival in a flooded Britain where religious extremists have taken over. In 2019 it was placed third in the First Novel Prize (Daniel Goldsmith Associates) and described by the judges as ‘haunting’.

Born in Tynemouth, Newcastle, Ali came to London for a short time thirty years ago and has been there ever since. 

You can follow her on Twitter @alithurm

Cli-F Anthology, ‘Nothing Is As It Was’, cover reveal

Once again, a big thank you goes out to all the contributors of the forthcoming Climate Fiction anthology. ‘Nothing Is As It Was‘ which will be published on Earth Day, 22nd April 2018.  The book will be available through online retailers in both paperback and ebook and proceeds raised from the book sales will be donated to support the work of the climate action group, Earth Day Network.

The launch party is taking place on 2nd May 2018 and all are welcome. It will be in Reading in the Library room at Great Expectations, which is a hotel, restaurant and bar, where Charles Dickens held public readings. A blog tour is also running for 8 days around the launch where some of the authors will be talking about the inspiration for their stories.

Jennie Rawlings provided the beautiful cover design, shown above.  Thank you, Jennie!  Her social media details are provided further down, if you’d like to tell her how much you like the cover or see some of her other fine work.

The contributors are:

  • The Window Box by Stephen Connolly
  • Nothing Is As It Was by Nick Wright
  • The Goodluck Camera by Kimberley Christensen
  • The Arctic Commandments by Cath Barton
  • Blue Planet Collection by Jane Roberts
  • Mirror Image by Anna Orridge
  • Graduation Day at the Fishmongers’ Institute by Anne Summerfield
  • Healing Athabasca by Keygan Sands
  • Ophelia Rising by Elaine Desmond
  • The Other Side of Me by Norman Coburn
  • Hasta la Vista, Baby by Fee Johnstone
  • Deluge by Susmita Bhattacharya
  • Come and Gone by Angelita Bradney
  • Up Above the World So High by Rose McGinty
  • Portal by Philip Sobell
  • Airpocalypse by Rachel Rivett
  • Warrior by F E Clark
  • Walking With the Weather by Rob Walton
  • Sun by Wiebo Grobler
  • Thirst by Lorraine Wilson
  • I Am Stealthy. I Am Swift by CJ Conrad
  • Where Lies the Line by Jennifer Tucker
  • New Moon by Dave Murray
  • No-car by David McVey
  • Me on the Mountain by Vicki Ridley
  • Plenty More Fish in the Sea by Luke Strachan
  • The Warming by Karen Morrow
  • New Shoes by Charlie Hill
  • Too Late by Ros Collins
  • Bottleneck 2047 by Neil MacDonald
  • Fireworks by David Barker
  • Like a Captain of Old, Going Down With the Ship by Fiona Morgan

Seven additional stories will be published online. Starting later this month, they will be published on a weekly basis to help promote the book and raise additional funds for Earth Day Network:

  • The Extinction of Bognor Regis by Louise Mangos
  • Spark by Jackie Taylor
  • The Grey Seal’s Lament by Bayveen O’Connell
  • The Triumvirate by Sumana Khan
  • Carla Loves Frank by Rebecca Johnson
  • Silver Ghosts by Kris Faatz
  • The Flood by Olivia Sandwell

The anthology was edited by Amanda Saint and Gillian Walker.

Contact Jennie Rawlings (the cover designer) on social media

Learn more about Earthday Network:

Retreat West Books wishlist

Last week I announced that Retreat West Books is now accepting submissions and launched the independent website for this new venture. I’m really excited to be expanding Retreat West in this way so thought I’d write a blog about the kinds of stories I’d like to publish.

It’s easy to see my tastes in short stories by reading the flash fictions published on the site and the anthology of winners from the 2016 prizes, What Was Left. But outside of the reading I do for Retreat West, some of my favourite short story writers are Kevin Barry, Tania Hershman, Graham Greene, Vanessa Gebbie, Alison Moore, Anita Desai and Angela Readman.

On the novel side of things, I have eclectic reading tastes and read across many different genres. Books that I love and re-read time and time again include The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood; The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey; Affinity by Sarah Waters; Dirt Music by Tim Winton; After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell; Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes; 1984 by George Orwell; The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell; and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Other writers whose work I really enjoy include Damon Galgut, Erin Kelly; Isabel Ashdown; Jane Harris; Deborah Levy; RJ Ellory; Stephen King; Claire Fuller; Patricia Highsmith.

What all of these writers have in common is the strength of the characters they create, as well as the great plots that their stories weave. So if anyone was to submit work that it in anyway has shades of these writer’s styles and sensitivities then I’d be very happy indeed.

For memoirs, I am really open. I enjoy all kinds of true stories – from dangerous endeavours and adventures to inspiring tales of overcoming adversity. Coming of age or changing your life stories.

Overall, what I’m looking for is great writing and great characters.

Hope to read some great submissions soon! You can get all submission info here: