Spotlight on Stories

It’s been seven years since Amanda started Retreat West and two years since she began Retreat West Books. In that time more than fifty authors have seen their work published on our website and more than one hundred and twenty in print. That’s an amazing feat(!) and it’s equally rewarding to see each submission process attract a more thrilling selection of writing.

So, since it’s our birthday, and we’re always looking for opportunities to shout about the brilliant authors we’ve published, we thought it only fitting that we use the occasion to shout-out about just a few of the authors and stories published so far.




She told herself she would be happy here this time. The cottage she’d found was down a narrow lane off the coastal road, hunched between sycamore trees in the grounds of a large Victorian house that had been converted into a nursing home. And it came with its own transport – a hulk of a pushbike that had been left in the outhouse by an artist who had lived there before her.
Enough by Amanda Huggins

   Amazon  ebook

Amanda’s writing is immersive. Sentences are concise and yet communicate so much detail it can take a moment for your brain to catch up. Whether it’s an observation of a refurbished hotel already curling at the edges (eventually the salt air claims everything back) or the central character, Evie, using a bandages tin from her childhood to keep spare money, every detail in Enough reveals something about Evie, and so we feel we are viewing a complete life.




When Connor was ten years old he hid under his bedcovers while his parents argued downstairs, and read science fiction magazines and advertisements for X-Ray spectacles and jet packs. His favourite was a drawing of a boy strapping on a pair of ankle boots with rocket tubes and coiled springs built into the soles.
Connor and His Amazing Ejector Boots by James Ellis

   Amazon  ebook

As someone who sent off for a pair of ‘X-Ray specs’ as a child (and waited for the postman every day until they came) an ejector-booted adventure holds great appeal. A clever use of repetition establishes the central character, Connor, setting the journey off with a pow! And then it progresses so quickly it leaves you breathless. It’s an incredibly touching story and I reread it immediately to appreciate the craft of its storytelling.




What a stupid name Minnie is though. She said it’s short for Minnesota, because that’s where her parents told her she was conceived. He said this was cute but it’s gross that her parents told her that, and even grosser that she told him. However, it’s funny that a lot of his friends call him Mickey, so this is a date for Mickey and Minnie. He’ll use this joke tonight.
When Mickey Met Minnie by Matt Batsman

   Amazon  ebook

When Mickey Met Minnie takes us on a Tinder date at Purity, a new age eco restaurant where the waiters choose the food for its patrons. It’s both hilarious and filled with infectious joy, as we see the contrast between two drastically different characters of whom I would happily spend an entire novel in the company of.




Soon after moving in I learned that I could never rely on the house to maintain its equilibrium. Some days it was petulant beyond belief. As long as I made it the centre of my world it gave me its best. But whenever I tried to introduce change, for example, the time I brought the kitten home, it sulked. Light bulbs blew. The windows stuck. The washing machine broke down. In the end it was easier to comply.
House Rules by Sandra Arnold

   Amazon  ebook

Sandra’s writing is humorous, strange, poetic and often dark. This one reminds me a little of the writings of Shirley Jackson and gripped me from the start as a jealous house grows increasingly possessive of its owner’s attention. What struck me about this story, is the ease and speed in which it brings you into the fantasy and then like a whirlwind, carries you along, putting you right there in the house, instilling you with a sense of claustrophobia.




Nights have been the hardest since Jim passed, but Tony always seemed to be awake and happy to chat online. We had so much in common. Soon we were messaging daily. Long streams of conversations. We clicked.
Gristle by Angela Clarke

   Amazon  ebook

Angela’s story plays with expectation masterfully, dropping glaring warning signs that has the reader shouting at the page while frantically reading on. The recently widowed protagonist embarks on a new love affair and we spend the story waiting for the impending doom as she carries out the sale of the family business and makes plans to emigrate to America with her unlikely lover. To say any more would be to spoil the fun but there is plenty to be had in this engrossing caper.




She always aimed for the fresh snow, to be the one to make the first impression. Her platforms lifted her above it, and I followed in the marks she made. I wanted to be in all of her steps. The snow kept coming but it had no idea where it was going. It was as if pieces from a blank canvas from the past had come to settle in the present, lost, mistaken. In the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bunbury snow days by FJ Morris

   Amazon  ebook

I’ve heard Freya’s writing described as being like popping candy in your mouth. It’s visceral and like Bowie himself, unique and authentic. Bunbury Snow Days captures the poetry, strangeness and longing that Freya uses as her building blocks. Seek her writing out for its unique voice.




Within a year they were gone, abandoning all that remained. It was an act of betrayal for which Hannah has never been able to forgive herself.
An Entry in the Yellow Book by Dianne Bown-Wilson

   Amazon  ebook

The story begins by presenting the reader with a mystery. What secret is the narrator (Hannah) keeping from her friends, husband and children? As Hannah makes plans to carry out her secret mission, the story builds suspense, revealing a major event in her life matter-of-factly but with great impact. Then as we finally uncover the mystery, it takes a delicious turn and you’re left with one of my favourite feelings as a reader: wow, how did they do that?




If her husband couldn’t send money next month, if Johnny didn’t recover, if it didn’t rain soon…
Thirst by Lorraine Wilson

   Amazon  ebook

Thirst is a story of desperation and what you will and won’t do to protect your family. All too familiar struggles are presented, such as dealing with an unsympathetic official, following rules designed to make sure the people most in need of help can’t get it, neighbours abandoning homes, people chasing rumours of work almost as hungrily as they’re chasing the rain and refugees lost in their own land. It’s alarming and compelling story.




‘When he was young, Abraham Lincoln described himself as ‘a piece of floating driftwood.’
I’m like that all the time.
Ten Things I Can Tell You About Abraham Lincoln by Veronica Bright

   Amazon  ebook

Two things in particular stand out about this story of a schoolgirl studying Abraham Lincoln. The first is how expertly each snippet of information about Lincoln reveals something about the central character, whether about her life or the world she inhabits. The second is how the story slowly reveals information about her family situation. We learn she’s taking care of ‘little ones’ before discovering they are her step-sisters, and she likes her stepfather but there are hints that he’s not the perfect father figure. Great storytelling!



Did you enjoy our journey through some of our published works to date? If so, check out the full stories and support an independent publisher. And please share this on social media, if we sell some books, we’d love to turn this blog into a series and get the opportunity to talk even more about our brilliant writers and their work!

Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin – my review

A Paisley shirt.

I can’t say that I read a lot for short stories, as all too often I find them unsatisfying, a canapé when I’m starving for a roast dinner. I do have a theory that the best film adaptions for books or stories are always of short stories, precisely because their brevity leaves room for the film maker to expand, where as with a novel, any adaption is by it’s nature an act of sever editing and so pretty much always unsatisfying, so I confess I do tend to read short stories as if they are always a prelude to something else, a foundation rather than a completed thing.

A Paisley shirt is different again, as this is a collection of stories so short that to begin with, I was rather bemused by it. The stories seemed to flicker past me so rapidly it was as if a collection of flip books has been shuffled together, and images from unrelated stories were jumping and flashing at me without connecting. People came in, conversations were overheard, one even seemed to be a page taken from an out of date breastfeeding advice book, but I couldn’t seem to get hold of any of it in my head.

Then I think I realised about half go the way through, that my entire approach to the issue was wrong, that it was indeed not them, but me. I’m so used to devouring big chunks of writing, of pushing the tiny window I get these days for reading, that I was galloping when I should have been slowing down to take a better look. It was as if I was reading for a deadline, treating the stories as if they were part of a whole, where as of course the opposite is true.

This is not just a veiled excuse to my dear Amanda as to why it’s taken me so long to write this review – well, it is a bit – but it’s also my best advice to all my dear readers who want to give the collection a go also – slow down. Instead of ruddy treating the collection as if it was some overly wordy novel to get through looking for a punchline, I made myself read only one story a night and actually stop and think about it. Instead of a moment plucked from others, each one then crystallised into it’s own thing, it’s own little gem.  In doing slowing down, I was given the chance with each to glimpse something intricate and strange, a little world complete of an in it’s self. Some did leave me hanging, make me want to push back and rewind to find out more, but again, if you give the stories time, if you stop and think, thy do give you more.

The most effective was the little trio around a chocolate raisin, the first of which baffled me until I read the third two days after, when I was doubly chastened and chilled to the bone by it, heart breaking all together I was haunted by my own dismissiveness and made guilty by it. It deals with a dark subject, and I realised the intense cleverness behind the structure, one which made me initially dismiss what was happened as so many victims of abuse are to easily dismissed by people on the outside of their situations. It really pulled me up and made me think how clever it was that not only had the author told me a story, they had made me feel the story in a way I really wasn’t expecting.

So, please do give this collection a go, but I strongly suggest you treat it not as a packer of biscuits but a box of chocolates, allow yourself one a day, even the ones you’r not sure you’re going to like; then take a moment, savour and close the lid until tomorrow. You find, I hope, as I did, that the experience of each lingers much longer than some works ten times the length, and will hopefully agree with me that this is a beautiful collection of narrative haiku, repaying you three-fold the moments it take to read each one, both devastating and amusing in equal measure.


This is  link to Amazon, where you can buy your own copy of Paisley Shirt

Guest post: Inky Lemons champions young female voices

Delighted to welcome Helen Irene Young back to the blog today. She first visited as part of our Indie Debuts series talking about her novel, The May Queen (read it here) and today’s she’s talking about a great new project she’s been involved in. The Inky Lemons anthology, recently published by Vanguard Editions.

New anthology, Inky Lemons champions young female voices
By Helen Young

Ask yourself when you first felt confident enough to pick up a pen and write. Who encouraged you? Was it a teacher? A parent? A friend? Hounslow Action for Youth (HAY) is all these things and more to the young women living in the West London borough.

In 2017, HAY’s Mash-Up Memoir writing project was born out of a need to support school-age women who felt voiceless and creatively underrepresented. Under the supervision of Jacqueline Crooks (lead workshop facilitator, fundraiser and project developer) they’ve just published their first anthology – Inky Lemons – a blisteringly bold and original compendium of poetry, short stories, flash fiction and illustration.

‘What we’ve learned from this project is that creative writing engages socially excluded young women who don’t take part in other activities,’ said Jacqueline. ‘There is something powerful about helping them find their voice through literature. The young women have gone from a point of not believing they could write, to seeing their writing published alongside award-winning authors. Thanks to Arts Council England for funding this project and others like it.’

To prepare the anthology, over 70 young women living and studying in Hounslow took part in arts workshops run by female writers. Work was also submitted for review as part of a remote mentoring program. I was fortunate enough to lead one of these sessions in Hounslow with a group of fifteen school girls. At times shy and funny, yet all remarkable – Inky Lemons is the culmination of all of their efforts.

The anthology also includes contributions from some of the country’s best poets and novelists, including:

Mona Arshi is a poet and lawyer. Her début collection of poems, Small Hands, won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2015.

Helen Calcutt is a poet. Her pamphlet collection Sudden Rainfall was shortlisted for the PBS Pamphlet Choice Award.

Fran Lock is a poet. She is the author of three poetry collections, Dogtooth, The Mystic and the Pig Thief, and Flatrock. She won third prize in The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2014

Rose McGinty is a novelist. Electric Souk was published in March 2017.

Desiree Reynolds is a writer, DJ and workshop facilitator. Seduce was published in 2013 and she is working on a collection of short stories.

Kate Wakeling is a poet. Her first collection of poems for children, Moon Juice won the 2017 CLiPPA Prize and has been nominated for the 2018 Carnegie Medal.

Inky Lemons (edited by Richard Skinner and published by Vanguard Editions Social Action) is available for £7.99 at

Author interview: Debi Alper and Stories for Homes 2

Today’s visitor to the blog, Debi Alper, has been here many times before as I have had the privilege of working with her on Retreat West competitions and retreats several times. But today she’s here talking to me about the wonderful Stories for Homes 2 anthology, which is once again raising funds for Shelter and helping to raise awareness of the homeless problem in the UK today.


Debi, can you tell us why you decided the time was right for SfH 2?

We always wanted to follow up on the success of SfH1 but struggled to find the time as it’s a huge commitment. It was clear that SfH1 had not only raised essential funds for Shelter but had also been the launchpad for several of our SfH1 authors. Mandy Berriman, for example, whose stunning short story A Home Without Moles was her first taste of being published, now has an agent and a publishing deal for the novel written in the same voice. Meanwhile, the housing crisis was becoming even more acute. Foodbank use was at an all-time high. Shoddy housing, unethical landlords, a lack of decent affordable housing – and all this before the Grenfell Tower tragedy – were impacting on more and more people. A few of our supporters were reminiscing on what a wonderful project SfH1 had been and, of course, Sally Swingewood, my co-editor, and I agreed. Before we knew it, we’d committed to doing it again.

What did you learn in producing SfH 1 that has helped to make the second anthology a more high-profile project?

The website has been spruced up by Rachael Dunlop, with lots of tabs added to make it a general resource on the housing crisis, as well as a source of promo for the anthology. We’ve also published a free story online every week over several months as part of an online anthology. This time, we had a lot of external help with the promotion, mainly thanks to Jacqueline Ward at Jel, who handled our social networking strategy, and we also had a multi-stop blog tour. High profile authors, Joanne Harris, Emma Darwin, Julie Cohen, Cally Taylor, Deborah Install and Tor Udall, gave us cover quotes. Thanks to the high standard we set with SfH1, many people were happy to endorse the new anthology, knowing the superb quality would be maintained. The cover, featuring original artwork by Sally, has been professionally produced by Head & Heart Publishing Services. And, of course, we had the same community of authors and supporters to help out with blogging, FaceBooking and tweeting, as well as all the practical work needed to produce a world-class anthology.

How did you choose the stories for the anthology and the running order?

With great difficulty! This is always the hardest part because, inevitably, we ended up rejecting some stories that were wonderfully written – many by published and/or award-wnning authors – but which we felt simply didn’t fit the anthology for a variety of reasons. We needed to establish a balance of light and dark (many of the ones we rejected tipped the balance into being too dark and we wanted the anthology to be entertaining, as well as thought-provoking). We also needed to ensure there were not too many that covered similar material. The original submssions were anonymised and once we’d made our first decisions and linked the stories with the authors, we decided we would only have one contribution per author.  We ended up with 55 stories out of 256 submissions. Deciding to have free stories on the website meant that we could use some of them there but that still meant saying no to some wonderful authors. We really hope those stories find homes elsewhere. With the running order, again we wanted a balance of light and dark, short and long, subject length, etc. We used index cards and smiley faces and spread them all out on the floor, moving them round until we felt we had the right shape for the book.

Do you see this as being an ongoing series to continue to raise money for Shelter for years to come?

I’d love to say I don’t think it will be neccesary but I doubt if anyone really believes that will be the case. We don’t have any concrete plans but I’m sure this won’t be the end of the SfH project.

Where can people find out about launch events and is there any other way they can support the project?

We have an events tab on our website: There’s a Facebook page and Twitter Please come to our events, like our page and follow us. There’s also a donate button on the website for people who want to give their money direct to Shelter. And, of course, buy the book and tell everyone about it! In fact, why not buy several copies as the perfect seasonal gift? People like you are invaluable in helping us to spread the word. Thank you!


Thanks for coming, Debi. I hope the book is the huge success it deserves to be. I’ve already got my copy and there are some truly stunning stories in there. Please help support Shelter this Christmas and buy all the readers in your life a copy. They won’t be disappointed!

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