the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Regular followers of this blog must be very aware that The String Games is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize. I’ve written several posts about this competition and have encouraged you to vote for my debut. Thanks to you, The String Games is now a finalist in the fiction category 2020 but in order to become a winner, I need you to vote again.

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Why is this competition important?

For a debut novelist published by a small press, The People’s Book Prize offers an opportunity for The String Games to reach a wider audience. The theme of this coming-of-age novel is about resilience: how it’s possible to overcome barriers in life and embrace fresh starts and new beginnings. The novel shares important messages and that’s why I’m so keen for The String Games to do well.

By entering The String Games into The People’s Book Prize, Victorina Press have shown their commitment and confidence in my work. When a small press receives the accolade of publishing a winning novel in a national competition, this provides a platform to showcase other important books such as One Woman’s Struggle in Iran by Nasrin Parvaz.

For a healthy publishing ecosystem, it’s important that small presses do well and have their place in the sun. Without small presses, there would be less diversity in publishing and less choice of books for readers.

Why vote for The String Games in The People’s Book Prize?

The People’s Book Prize is a unique literary competition which aims to find, support and promote new and undiscovered works. Winners are decided exclusively by the public. Watch this video produced by The People’s Book Prize for more information.

 

Voting is easy. Just pop across the The People’s Book Prize and give The String Games your support. The competition closes on 30 May 2020.

Thank you!

 

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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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The String Games is released today!

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The journey to the release of my debut novel The String Games has included many pitfalls and high points. Today, I celebrate the support I have received along the way.

Thank you to my fellow students at the University of South Wales who offered support and advice through workshop sessions. Also to my supervisors who gave feedback and guidance which enabled me to submit The String Games alongside an academic thesis to receive the award of PhD.

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I’m grateful to Carol McGrath, Sue Stephenson and Denise Barnes for the wonderful feedback during memorable writing retreats in Port Isaac and other locations overseas.

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Dorset is a wonderful place to live and write. I’ve gained so much from supportive groups including Wimborne Writing led by Sarah Barr, the Vivo Gang, the RNA Dorset chapter and the Dorset Writers Network. Also thank you to the organisers of open mic nights including Apothecary.

For giving The String Games a good home, I’d like to thank all the lovely people who work for Victorina Press and also my fellow Victorina authors who celebrate diversity in publishing.

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A special mention for the authors who endorsed my novel Jacquelyn Mitchard, Nina Kilham, Elizabeth Reeder, and Sara Gethin.

Where would any author be without readers? The continued support of the Cerne Abbas Readers is much appreciated along with the amazing work of many wonderful book bloggers including Anne Williams and Jessie Cahalin.

I’ve loved being part of online communities including the Women Writers Network and thank everyone there.

I’ve grown in confidence and experience due to publication of my earlier work. Thanks to  Gill James at Chapeltown Books for publishing Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction, and to Sophie-Louise Hyde at Wordsmith_HQ for publishing adversaries/comrades a poetry pamphlet.

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Lastly I must thank my supportive family who understand my need to write when I could be spending time with them.

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The String Games is released today and can be purchased online from Foyles, Waterstones and Victorina Press.

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Jacob’s Ladder: how to reach for a better future

This is the third of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier posts, click the links to read part one and part two.

The third part of The String Games deals with the legacy of loss for the protagonist as an adult. Following manipulation as a teenager, she reinvents herself by returning to her given name, Imogen. Still swamped by issues of unresolved grief over the murder of her younger brother when she was ten, Imogen decides to return to the place in France where she last saw Josh in order to get to the truth of what really happened. This part of the novel is called Jacob’s Ladder.

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This illustration of Jacob’s Ladder by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part three of The String Games

Jacob’s Ladder is a string figure made by a single player that produces an intricate pattern of crossed strings. Used to name the final part of the novel, Jacob’s Ladder illustrates the way Imogen is able to reorder her life, with greater understanding and confidence, by re-engaging with aspects of her earlier years. The pleasing pattern of linked diamonds represents how Imogen is able to pull the threads of her personal history together creating a ladder to a better future. Thus, the metaphor of string continues to the final page of the novel.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games but it is available to pre-order from Victorina Press, Waterstones and Foyles. Alternatively, if you fancy dipping into my debut poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades (based on the theme of siblings), this is available next week. Do come along to the launch to celebrate my first step into the world of published poetry.

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The String Games has found a good home

I’m delighted to share the news that my contemporary novel The String Games has been accepted for publication by the lovely people at Victorina Press. It’s been a long journey to reach this point which has involved all sorts of creative and academic diversions. Little did I know that when I started writing the novel, I would end up being awarded a PhD in creative writing!

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The String Games tells the story of the abduction and murder of a boy from the viewpoint of his older sister. Rather than a crime novel, The String Games focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist, as she moves from childhood to the teenage years and into adulthood. This three-part structure is rather like a triptych in that it allows the protagonist to look back on her younger self and struggle to recognise the child she once was. It is by engaging with her personal history that Imogen is able to address issues of unresolved grief and integrate the loss of her brother.

Here is the opening page to prick your curiosity:

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An idea strikes. Imogen turns around on the stairs wanting to hurry back, but strangers stand like prongs. She battles through to reach the office where she jostles for projects and promotions. Heaving the door open, she sprints to her desk. Heads turn but Imogen ignores her colleagues. Her fingers slip on the keyboard and she has to retype the password. Breath churns from deep in her lungs and her heart beats like a hammer. Why didn’t she think of this before? Turning the screen, she doesn’t want anyone to see what’s she’s doing.It’s a private matter. While she waits for the homepage to load, she glances through the rain-stained window and onto the Thames. Water rucked like a crinkled cloth brings to mind a recurring image from her childhood. A little boy with wet hair shivers, wearing only his trunks. She wants to reach for him, press her arms around his shoulders, draw Josh into a hug. A big sister should keep her brother safe.

Typing his name will bring up the usual lilac lettering that tells Imogen she’s used the same search term time and again. Her stomach clenches and is knotted like a ball of string. Gathering confidence she enters the name of the girl she used to be into the search bar: Nim Mashard. Clasping her hands, she waits to see whether this will locate new information about Josh’s case.

The String Games will be published in May 2019 and I look forward to working with Victorina Press to make this novel the best it can be.

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One Woman’s Struggle in Iran by Nasrin Parvaz

 

I was very interested to read this memoir particularly as I travelled through Iran in 1981 as part of an overland journey from London to Kathmandu. Just one year later, political activist Nasrin Parvaz and many other women were imprisoned by the Islamic state for demanding freedom and equality in Iran.

Nasrin and I are roughly the same age. I was twenty when I set out on my travels, she was arrested by the regime’s secret police at the age of twenty-one. My journey was one of culture and learning, hers was of torture, deprivation and hardship. But before I share my thoughts about Nasrin’s memoir, let me describe the situation for me at the time.

It was on 20 January 1981 that fifty-two American hostages were released from the US Embassy in Tehran. They had been held for 444 days by a group of Iranian college students who supported the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah.  None of our group of travellers held American passports but it was impossible to obtain transit visas in London, so we were advised to apply for them once in Paris. Again, no visas were issued. Without the ability to proceed through Iran, our journey would be curtailed. It was then decided that all passengers from the two buses travelling in convoy would hand our passports over to Doug, the bus company’s courier. We all chipped in to cover the cost of his flight to Delhi where visas we issued to us all. 

Nasrin, a member of a socialist party was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the Iranian regime’s secret police in 1982. She spent eight years in jail where she endured physical and mental torture and periods of solitary confinement. She was denied medical treatment and kept under the threat of execution. Throughout, she refused to recant and confess to charges against her as an infidel.

In order to drive through Iran, a revolutionary guard travelled on board the lead bus and directed the driver to pass through Tehran. Here people were friendly and waved to us through the windows. In country areas whenever our bus parked it was ambushed by angry mobs. They thought we were Americans. They pounded and rocked the bus until we moved on. It was only possible to go outside safely in unpopulated areas. This included climbing the desert lighthouse near Bam in Southern Iran.

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Although travelling through Iran was dangerous and scary, many of the places on our journey were remote and beautiful. These experiences contrast drastically with those of Nasrin, who was forced to wear a blindfold and chador in captivity.  She suffered numerous interrogations and episodes of torture but never gave away information relating to her comrades. In one of the most chilling descriptions of intimidation, the women were forced to sit in constructions that represented their own graves and not allowed to move. From Nasrim’s memoir, it seems that friendships  developed in prison enabled her to survive and glimpses of sky and other small gifts of nature brought joy.

Nasrin gives a frank account of her time in Iran’s prison system which has opened my eyes to the extremes that can be endured and overcome. It is a testament to her resilience and that of others who remained resolute and refused to recant their beliefs. Nasrin survived and I celebrate her ability to share these experiences from which we can all learn. I recommend this memoir to you.

I received an advance copy of One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, a prison memoir from Victorina Press to inform this post. The memoir is available to pre-order from Victorina Press and Waterstones.

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