Creating the Writing Retreat I Wanted
by Amanda Saint
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t all started when I went a bit mad. London life had got to me. Insomnia for two long years, extortionate rent, no proper darkness, endless noise. So when I flipped out one day over a minor issue–we’re talking wailing, screaming, throwing and kicking things (very unlike me)–my husband and I decided it was time to make a change. Six weeks later we were living in an old farmhouse in the middle of Exmoor.
As lovely as it was to be able to sleep (14 hours straight through the night we arrived) and not have to fret so much about money all the time, this meant no more Sundays locked away with my writing at the Urban Writer’s Retreat, where I had written a big chunk of the first draft of my first novel. As I work at home writing for magazines and businesses, I really need to go somewhere else sometimes to write my fiction – to create a different headspace, get away from thoughts of work.
So when I couldn’t find anything like the one-day retreats I’d been going to, I started my own writing retreat, with Retreat West. First was a trial day in Bristol – although several people came along, it was just too far to travel, so I found a new spot in Exeter. From late 2012, I started running monthly events at a co-working space in the city centre, where I met the writer who would later critique my novel and spot something that would transform it.
So when I couldn’t find anything like the one-day retreats I’d been going to, I started my own writing retreat, with Retreat West.
Next came the short story competitions, which were judged by top authors. As well as wanting to engage more with the writing community and give people a chance to get published, I also wanted to improve my own short story writing. Reading the entries for the long and shortlists helped me to really understand what it is that makes a story work, or not. Just six months after launching the competitions, my first short story was accepted by a charity anthology that raises money for the housing and homelessness charity shelter.
I started to run a flash fiction competition alongside the short story competition, and there are two e-book anthologies published of the winners from the 2013 and 2014 competitions. The royalties from both of these are going to the Beanstalk charity, which provides help for school children struggling with reading. In 2015 came the First Chapter Competition. The winners had their work reviewed by top literary agents and received detailed feedback on their submission package.
My latest endeavor is in partnership with Urbane Publications, the exciting new indie press and publisher of my own debut novel released this year. Together, we’ve launched the new annual RW Short Story Prize and RW Flash Fiction Prize. In addition to receiving cash prizes, all winners, as well as the entire shortlist, will have their work published in both paperback and ebook editions of an Urbane anthology. For this first year, I’m proud to have Vanessa Gebbie and David Gaffney as the judges, and I’m hoping in subsequent years to attract equally competent and talented judges, as well as intensify the competition with an even higher quality of entries.
…the most amazing thing about starting Retreat West from scratch is the growth of a great little creative community…
In addition to these competitions, I’ve been running several residential writing retreats a year, featuring masterclasses with various authors, on different genres and aspects of writing. But perhaps what’s been the most amazing thing about starting Retreat West from scratch is the growth of a great little creative community. Hundreds of readers and writers have signed up to the mailing list. And there are writers who repeatedly attend our retreats, enter the competitions regularly, and chat with me online. For any writers considering entering the competitions, signing up for a course, or joining me on one of our retreats for the first time, you can find more information on our website.