the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Scratched Enamel Heart, Amanda Huggins

Here’s a treat for you. Amanda Huggins joins The Writer is a Lonely Hunter to answer a few questions about her latest (fabulous) short story collection Scratched Enamel Heart.

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About Scratched Enamel Heart

A lonely woman spends a perfect night with a stranger, yet is their connection enough to make her realise life is worth living? Maya, a refugee, wears a bracelet strung with charms that are a lifeline to her past; when the past catches up with her, she has a difficult decision to make. Rowe’s life on the Yorkshire coast is already mapped out for him, but when there is an accident at the steelworks he knows he has to flee from an intolerable future. In the Costa prize-winning ‘Red’, Mollie is desperate to leave Oakridge Farm and her abusive stepfather, to walk free with the stray dog she has named Hal.

These are stories filled with yearning and hope, the search for connection and the longing to escape. They transport the reader from India to Japan, from mid-west America to the north-east coast of England, from New York to London. Battered, bruised, jaded or jilted, the human heart somehow endures.

About Amanda

Amanda Huggins is the author of the short story collection, Separated From the Sea, which received a Special Mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards, and a second collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, which features ‘Red’, her prize-winning story from the 2018 Costa Short Story Award. She has also published a flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses and a poetry collection, The Collective Nouns for Birds, which is currently shortlisted for  a Saboteur Award.

She has been placed and listed in numerous competitions including Fish, Bridport, Bath, InkTears, the Alpine Fellowship Writing Award and the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award. Her travel writing has also won several awards, notably the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year in 2014, and she has twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides New Travel Writer Award.

Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.

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Questions for Amanda

Your stories in Scratched Enamel Heart are set in different countries and locations. How do you decide on a setting for your story. What is the importance of the place in the development of your story?

It has always been important to me that my fiction has a strong sense of place – something I’ve carried over from my travel writing. Sometimes an idea for the setting comes first, and the story that follows is inspired and shaped by certain aspects of the location. The landscapes and cities in which the stories are set became important characters in their own right. They can reflect emotions or influence characters’ behaviour – such as the way the wait for the monsoon rains affects Maggie’s decisions in ‘A Longing for Clouds’, and the heat and desert landscape have an effect on Miranda in ‘Distant Fires’ – two stories set in the sensory overload of India. Closer to home, a snow-filled London becomes a major character in ‘A Brightness To It’, forming a soft-edged cocoon around the main characters. Two strangers bond in a soulless hotel room after a chance encounter, and are protected from the reality of the outside world by the beauty of their snow-changed environment – yet the city is only temporarily altered, and this reflects their own fragile situation. In ‘Red’, Mollie is trapped on Oakridge Farm with her mother and violent stepfather, and the vast spaces and relentless red dust of the American mid-west are a contrast to her confinement. The open plains and the endless highway offer freedom, yet the landscape is also hostile and bleak, holding up a mirror to her predicament. One of my favourite locations is Japan. My stories are often about displacement and alienation, trying to find connection, about lost characters in big cities. This can go hand in hand with the notion of things never being exactly as they seem, of them being a little off-centre, misunderstood, or lost in translation – and Japan is the perfect backdrop to reflect that.

The stories in Scratched Enamel Heart range in length from a single side to several pages. How do you decide the length of each story?

It’s not often that I set out to write a piece of fiction of a particular length. I’m usually exploring an idea without knowing where it will take me – it could end up being 300 words or 3000 words. Sometimes, when a longer story isn’t working, I find it can be pared right down to a one-page story that works much better. However, I am writing longer stories most of the time right now, and in doing so I seem to be going against the trend. As more writers are turning towards short flash pieces, I find I’m leaning towards longer fiction!

Congratulations on signing with Victorina Press for the publication of your novella. It’s good to have you onboard as a fellow Victorina Press author. You’ve also had a collection of poetry recently published, the wonderful The Collective Nouns For Birds. What’s it like being a writer of short fiction, long fiction and poetry? How do you manage your time?

Thanks, Gail! I’m already enjoying working with the Victorina team – and it’s lovely to share a publisher with writers I know, such as yourself and Chris Fielden. All our Squandered Beauty is my first novella, and is based around the title story from my first short story collection, Separated From the Sea.

The Collective Nouns for Birds began to take shape when I was snowed-in at a cottage in the North Pennines. I didn’t plan to write a collection – I was just feeling my way at first, as I hadn’t written any poetry since my late teens. However, I discovered I really enjoyed writing it, and the poems started to come together as a loosely themed body of work. A review by Amanda McLeod sums it up better than I can:  “Huggins explores…all the ways in which we lose things, the clarity and sometimes sadness that retrospection can bring. There is the transition from childhood to adulthood, the parting of lovers and friends, loss of life, of special places.”

I don’t think poetry and short fiction are always that different from each other. My prose style leans towards the lyrical/poetical, and I tend to write narrative poetry, so for me there is a real crossover between the two forms. Sometimes a poem will morph into a short story and vice versa – there are a couple of poems in my collection which also feature as flash pieces in Scratched Enamel Heart.

Longer fiction is a relatively new direction for me, and once again it’s something that has come about by accident rather than by design. Both my novellas have developed from short stories, and in each case it was because several readers wanted to know what happened next after those original stories had ended.

I sometimes find it difficult to manage my time – especially as I have a day job four days a week – but once I’m committed to a project then I always finish it before moving on to the next thing. I already have a ‘next thing’ in sight actually – and it may well turn out to be the longest writing project I’ve undertaken to date!

Wow, Amanda. You are so prolific. Good luck with your next project!

If you’re interested in learning more about Amanda, you can read a previous interview here.

Where to find Amanda

@troutiemcfish

https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

Where to purchase Scratched Enamel Heart

Available from 27 May from Amazon 

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My review of Scratched Enamel Heart

This short fiction collection contains twenty-four emotionally-charged stories that take readers on a journey to households and communities in a range of countries. Through these stories, Amanda Huggins cleverly shows us the commonality of emotional experience. That feelings of isolation, love, grief, loss and regret occur in different backgrounds and cultures. And equally, that hope and the promise of a fresh start is possible. Amanda Huggins writes in a beautiful and empathetic way to immerse readers in the challenges and dilemmas she presents to her characters. As readers we care about these characters and learn from them. This is a truthful, authentic and essential read.

 

 

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Launch for ‘adversaries/comrades’

It’s over a week ago that the launch for my debut poetry pamphlet was held at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. The bookshop is a splendid venue for such a occasion and I was pleased to welcome readers, poets, family and friends to the launch.

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The evening started with mingling, drinks and canapés.

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Next there was a Q & A where Sophie my publisher at Wordsmith_HQ posed a range of questions and following this I shared some of my poems from adversaries/comrades.

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Magdalena Atkinson, my former colleague from Dorset County Council, played some exquisite songs to accompany the theme of siblings which informed my poetry pamphlet.

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This is the official photo to mark the end of the formal proceedings with Sophie and me in the foreground.

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The evening finished with more mingling.

Writing is a strange occupation but it does follow a pattern. First you spend hours working away, improving your writing process and practice. Some of us are fortunate to have our work valued by a publisher who agrees to launch the product. Others have self-belief and publish as indies to enable their work to reach an audience. Whatever route is taken, it’s important to celebrate the publication with an event so that the written product is given a public presentation.

adversaries/comrades has received some wonderful reviews from poets I admire:

Gail Aldwin’s pamphlet, adversaries/comrades, shows us a family world of dodgy deals, discord and sibling rivalry; and love. No family member is exempt; conflict is a fact of family life. Extraordinary, though, is the lack of cynicism showing through the emotion. This is honest, and above all witty, alive with imagery and very moving.

Amanda Oosthuizen, poetry publisher at Words for the Wild

 

This engaging collection of poems draws the reader into moments many of us recognise from family life. They reveal a clarity of vision and memory when put under the poet’s microscope…There is a sense of delight in the choosing of each word of this assured collection.

Alison Lock, poet and writer

 

Gail’s poetry is sharp, astute, playful, wry, yet never sentimental. Every word has earned its place, and the imagery is as clear as a bell. This is a poet who takes her craft seriously, yet isn’t afraid to play with words as well as work with them. An accomplished debut pamphlet.”

Amanda Huggins, Author of Separated From the Sea 

 

It is polished and surprising, exploring the tenderness of complex family relationships but with a narrative voice that is not afraid to touch upon a sub-text of bruises, scars and painful childhood moments. The tenderness of the writing is showcased in the opening poem, ‘Birthday’. I really enjoyed the variety of technique in this collection, as it moves from prose poems to shorter lyric pieces and concrete poetry.

Anne Caldwell, Freelance Writer & Poet, and Associate Lecturer at Open University

 

Thank you to everyone who came to the launch and for all the good wishes I received from those who couldn’t make it. If you would like to purchase a copy of adversaries/comrades the pamphlet is stocked at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester, or it can be purchased through Wordsmith_HQ.

 

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Visiting Troutie McFish

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I’m pleased to join fellow Chapeltown author, Mandy Huggins, on Troutie McFish Tales today. You can read about my experience of writing about place and how I create characters. Do pop over and have a read.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Paisley Shirt and you live in Dorset, Serendip in Lyme Regis and The Swanage Bookshop hold copies and I’m in negotiations with Gullivers in Wimborne, The Book Shop in Bridport and Waterstones in Dorchester to stock Paisley Shirt, too. You can also find Paisley Shirt in October Books,  Southampton.

 

For those who prefer ordering online, Amazon continues to show an ‘out of stock’ message so try ordering through the Book Depository  or another online retailer such as Waterstones. Any good bookshop will be able to order a copy if you quote the  ISBN  9781910542293.

 

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Welcome: Mandy Huggins

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Chapeltown Books author Mandy Huggins to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. She is a prolific writer whose name appears frequently as a winner or runner-up in a range of competitions and her stories are widely published on websites and in print anthologies. Brightly Coloured Horses, her collection of flash fiction has received rave reviews and I’m keen to learn more about Mandy.

 

 

What do you do for a day job? How does working in a different context affect your writing?

I work in engineering, so it’s a completely different world to writing. I enjoy getting out and talking to people every day, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so it actually makes for a good mix. The only real way my day job affects my writing is by severely restricting the time I have to actually write! I have a half hour walk to work, which is useful thinking time, so I’m often jotting down notes as soon as I arrive.

You’re widely known as the writer Mandy Huggins, but you’re also called Amanda and Troutie McFish. How are your different personas distinguished?

Troutie McFish is a nickname that was given to me by a colleague when I lived in London, and it became my Twitter handle and blog name long before I was promoting my writing. It always raises a smile when I tell people my email address!

I recently made a decision to use the name Amanda for my forthcoming short story collection, Separated From the Sea. All my family, friends and work colleagues know me as Mandy, but it feels like the right moment in my writing career to start using my full name as my author name. I just hope I don’t confuse everyone!

You’ve enjoyed considerable success with travel writing and short fiction. Do you think there is elitism attached to different types of writing?

Yes, sadly I think there is elitism attached to different types of writing, and genre fiction such as horror and fantasy is often perceived to be less ‘worthy’ than contemporary literary fiction. However, I think things have changed in the poetry world. The new wave of performance poets has led to a sudden upsurge in sales of poetry collections, and I think this is one form of writing that is becoming much less elitist.

Do you have ambition to be published in any particular journal or anthology? Where are your favourite places to be published? Do you have any recommendations for platforms to seek publication or particular resources?

I dream of having a short story published in The New Yorker, and it would be lovely to be included in Salt’s Best British Short Stories. However, I’m lucky to have been published in an interesting mix of journals, websites, newspapers and anthologies, and I’m grateful to every editor that has ever liked my work enough to have me!

The main resources I use for competition listings and publication opportunities are the Competition Guide supplement that comes twice-yearly with Writing Magazine, Mslexia’s Indie Press Guide, and the writer Paul Mcveigh’s wonderful blog.

Do you ever get jealous of the success of other writers?

No, not at all. I’m always delighted when writers I know are published or win an award.

Brightly Coloured Horses, your newly published collection of flash fiction has consistently received 5* reviews. What were the challenges in putting the collection together?

I selected the stories I wanted to include in Brightly Coloured Horses from around 50 pieces of flash fiction I’ve written in the last five years or so. In the end it wasn’t that difficult to choose. The 27 stories that made it were the ones that just seemed to fit together naturally as a cohesive collection. I’m a very slow writer, and a lot of work had already gone into honing every story.

What’s next for you, Mandy?

I’m thrilled to say that I have another book coming out in June – my first full-length short story collection, Separated From the Sea. I’m currently working on the final edits with Amanda Saint at Retreat West Books, and the cover reveal is imminent! Two books coming out in the same year is wonderful, but it’s not for the faint-hearted! The promotional side of things is hard work and time-consuming, as you know, and I’m finding I have no time left over to write anything new. The third book could be a long way off!

Thank you for joining me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, Mandy. What an exciting year you have ahead.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/troutiemcfish

Blog: http://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.co.uk/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brightly-Coloured-Horses-Mandy-Huggins/dp/1910542199

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Gorgeous covers

Here are all the current titles in the short fiction series published by Chapeltown Books. A group of good looking covers with enticing stories inside.

My collection Paisley Shirt is available as a Kindle Edition through Amazon and paperback copies can now be purchased from all good bookshops. Recommended bookshops in Dorset include Serendip, Lyme Regis; The Book Shop, Bridport; Winstone’s, Sherborne; Gullivers, Wimborne Minster; Westbourne Book Shop, Bournemouth; and Waterstones, Dorchester.

4* and 5* reviews of Paisley Shirt can be found on goodreads. If you do decide to purchase a copy of Paisley Shirt, further reviews are very welcome.

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Paisley Shirt Kindle Edition OUT NOW

Very pleased to say that the Kindle Edition of Paisley Shirt is now available to download from Amazon. The paperback will follow shortly and I’ll be giving details of my book launch then.

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I’m delighted to be in good company at Chapeltown Books with other short fiction writers who have publications in the same series. Here is the cover for Badlands,a collection by Alyson Faye which includes short fiction inspired by ghost stories, old movies, derelict buildings and real life issues.

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And another by Allison Symes, From Light to Dark and Back Again a collection of very short stories to suit every mood.

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I’m very much looking forward to the publication of Amanda Huggin’s collection Brightly Coloured Horses. The cover image is also by Amanda, what creative talent!

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