Thursday, 12 July 2018

Five Scents in Connectedness by Sandra Danby

Today I'd like to welcome the author Sandra Danby to my blog. Sandra is talking about how she uses the sense of smell in her work, both to denote a sense of place, and to evoke memories and emotions.

Sandra is the author of the 'Identity Detective' books, and I reviewed her second book, Connectedness, in a recent post, and talked about my own experience of adoption, the main theme in the 'Identity Detective' series:

Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.

Five scents in Connectedness

Authors from Shakespeare to Dickens have written evocatively about scents and smells, fragrant and disgusting, from Hamlet scenting the morning air to Dickens’ portrayal of the Great Stink. But describing scent is probably the most taxing of the five senses for writers to use. Each of the five senses – taste, sight, touch, smell, sound – can add to a scene or a character’s emotional state, but finding the right words to describe scent is the biggest challenge. So in Connectedness I decided to reserve it for powerful emotional reactions, to stimulate the reader’s imagination, rather than simply have a character dab of few drops of Chanel Number 5 behind her ears.

First, I used smell to denote a sense of place. Artist Justine Tree grows up beside the Yorkshire coast and, though she moves away as a student, she longs for the sea salt smell of the seashore.

She closed her eyes and pretended that the dull hum of traffic was really the waves breaking on the East Yorkshire shore, pretended she was walking Danes Dyke, the ancient defensive cutting that slashed across Flamborough Head almost severing it from the mainland in the shape of an unwanted nose. A Roman nose. Thin chalky soil beneath her feet, the scent of salt. She imagined the large sky above and the wide acres of ploughed fields stretching far beyond her sight.”

Instead she is in London, a place with thick, gritty air, somehow viscous compared with the fresh sea breezes she remembers from home. When she goes to art college in Spain she finds again the sea salt air at the beach but also the tang of orange blossom from the fruit trees lining the streets. As the novel starts, Justine returns from Japan to Yorkshire for the funeral of her mother. When she received the news she was in Tokyo, and the scent of green tea comes to represent grief in her sub-conscious.

The two moments of strongest emotion for Justine are expressed by scent. After a traumatic experience, she hates the scent of lavender and cannot bear the scent from anything lavender-scent, whether flowers, shampoo or shower gel. It produces a guttural reaction, of fear and disgust. The second example is a pleasant one, a memory of love and happy times in Málaga, of a gift of orange marmalade. So strong is this memory that almost thirty years later, the opening of a jar at breakfast-time makes her relive her emotions as a student, producing a feeling of intense longing.

Finally, here are some of my favourite ‘smell quotes’ from fiction:-

“Our foyer has a funny smell that doesn't smell like anyplace else. I don't know what the hell it is. It isn't cauliflower and it isn't perfume—I don't know what the hell it is—but you always know you're home.” JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.” Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Slimy gaps and causeways, winding among old wooden piles, with a sickly substance clinging to the latter, like green hair, and the rags of last year's handbills offering rewards for drowned men fluttering above high-water mark, led down through the ooze and slush to the ebb-tide. “ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Miles of close wells and pits of houses, where the inhabitants gasped for air, stretched far away towards every point of the compass. Through the heart of the town a deadly sewer ebbed and flowed, in the place of a fine fresh river.” Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit
“O! my offence is rank, it smells to heaven.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet

About Connectedness


Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.

An extract from Connectedness


London, September 2009

The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.

Yorkshire, May 2010

The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.

Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.

Will I be buried here?

It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.

The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?


She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.

In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.

Author Photo by Ion Paciu

Author Bio

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.

Author Links

‘Connectedness’ at Amazon:
‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon
Author website:
Twitter: @SandraDanby

Photos [all © Sandra Danby unless otherwise stated]:-

Author Photo - Ion Paciu
Five scents in Connectedness - orange blossom, photo Wikipedia

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Up North!

I'm over in New Zealand this morning (I wish!), on Up North, talking to the lovely poet and writer, Kim Martins, about my two story collections, and my writing influences. There's also a light-hearted list of ten things that you might not know about me! The picture below is a clue to one of them ;-)

Here's an excerpt :

Do you have any tips for flash fiction or short story writers?

Write a first draft quickly, without editing, and don’t return to it until the next day.

Don’t be in a rush. Hone your work until it’s as good as it can be – edit and proofread over and over again before sending it out into the world.

Begin the story in the middle.

Don’t worry if your first draft is 1000 words, and you need the story to be 500 words – it’s amazing how easy it is to ditch those other 500.

Try to look at over-worn themes from a new angle.

Don’t start with the weather (unless it’s crucial to the story).

Enjoy what you’re writing, but don’t get complacent – try to push yourself beyond the edge of your comfort zone.

I Must Be off!

Just a reminder that I'm judging this year's I Must Be off! Travel Writing Competition. If you want an idea of the previous work that caught the judge's eye then you can read pieces by the winners and finalists over on Chris Allen's website. There's still plenty of time to enter, as it closes July 31st.  

In the meanwhile you can read my chat with Chris, where I talk about how much Japan has influenced my fiction, and how I got my two collections of short stories together, as well as other writery things! You can find it here!


Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Poem of the North

Utterly thrilled that my poem, Northern Light, will be part of this brilliant work. You can read more about it here

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Separated From the Sea Art Competition!

Retreat West are offering this beautiful one-of-a-kind photographic print, plus a signed copy of Brightly Coloured Horses, as prizes in their competition. Check it out below!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

My guest post on The Literary Pig

A lovely review from Tracy Fells for Separated From the Sea on The Literary Pig blog:

"All 26 stories are incredibly poignant and will linger with you long after reading. Huggins’ prose is both beautiful and heart breaking; she exquisitely captures those delicate moments where a relationship is about to experience a pivotal change (good or bad). The characters are as diverse and colourful as the settings; we peer into the miniature worlds of her characters as they cope with grief, failed love affairs and seeking their dreams. We travel all across the globe (US, Paris, Italy, Japan etc) and I particularly enjoyed the stories set in Japan, where Huggins’ lyrical writing really seems to take off. My own special favourites include: The last of Michiko, The Shadow Architect, No Longer Charlotte and well I could go on …"

I'm over on Tracy's blog talking about my route to publication and where I get my writing inspiration. Read the full post here

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Connectedness by Sandra Danby

Today I’m reviewing Sandra Danby’s second novel, Connectedness. 
Sandra will be here on Troutie McFish Tales on 12th July, talking about Connectedness, and how she writes evocatively about scents and smells in the novel. But first, a little more about the book, and a little more about my own experience of the book's theme.
Danby’s novels are about adoption, which is a subject of great personal interest as I was adopted myself. Therefore, before I review the book, I'd like to share my own story.
I was taken home by my adoptive parents when I was just ten days’ old, and they told me I was adopted as soon as they thought I could understand.
I actually feel uncomfortable using the term ‘adoptive parents’, as my parents were my parents, full stop, and using the word ‘adoptive’ seems to imply some kind of impermanence or substitution. I believe that your parents are the people who bring you up, who lavish you with love and time, and who make sacrifices for you. I'm very proud and thankful to have had the wonderful parents I did.
However, happy childhood or not, most people have a curiosity about where they came from - to find out who they are, to see a face that has similarities to their own. I'm no exception, and when I was a stroppy teenager, I fantasised about the different life I might have led if I'd been brought up by my birth parents!
My birth mother, who I'll call Carly, was fifteen when I was born, and I have never blamed her for giving me up. I traced her fairly easily when I was in my early thirties, but I didn't tell my mother and father, as I didn't want to upset them by making them feel that they somehow weren't enough. Carly and I met twice, and then lost touch – it was a little awkward as she lived a long way from me, and her husband still doesn’t know of my existence. However she now lives in a different town - somewhere I visit regularly - and we do see each other quite often. I think my biggest fear when I was looking for her was that I’d find out I was the product of a one night stand – or worse. But my birth father – who I met once before he died – was Carly's first love. For some reason that was very important to me.
Life is complicated, and so are people. Carly and I get on well, and we are similar in many ways - but different in many others. We do tell each other we love each other, and I find myself feeling automatically protective of her, yet I don’t think of her as my ‘mother’ in any proper sense. She was there for me when my mother died, and offered much needed practical support at a very difficult time, and I hope she knows she could rely on me for help too.


Connectedness is the second novel by Sandra Danby in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, yet it can easily be read as a standalone novel. The books in the series all feature Rose Haldane, who helps to reunite adopted children and their birth families, and who was adopted herself. Connectedness centres around the artist, Justine King, whose life is a tangle of lies and secrets.
I really enjoyed Danby’s first book, Ignoring Gravity, and so I was looking forward to reading Connectedness. It certainly didn’t disappoint. I found this novel more engaging than the last – as Hope Sloper said, ‘Sandra Danby does it again, only this time I felt she did it better.’

This is a beautifully written novel, exploring themes of love and regret, betrayal and impossible choices, grief and loss, and of course, adoption. It is a compelling and believable story, and the characters are well-defined, sympathetic and rounded. Danby brings the settings to life, and carries you there with the characters, using all the senses to evoke the vivid sounds, scents and sights of Spain, Yorkshire and London.
The book is well-researched, and art plays a huge part in the story. I really enjoyed the close and fascinating detail about the art world, and the way that Justine’s art is woven into her very being, the way she subconsciously and consciously uses it to express her hopes, fears, pain, and vulnerability.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Last Day of My Blog Tour!

I just have to share the final review for Separated From the Sea on Jan's Book Buzz. It made me cry!
"Huggins has an almost hypnotic style of writing that kept me mesmerised. Whereas some might some might find a book of short stories easy to put on the back burner, keeping it as something to return to in between other books, or something to skim through, choosing which stories to read, and which to skip, I found that as I finished each story, I couldn’t wait to get to the next one to see what secrets would be revealed! It was as if each one was an oyster and I was anxious to open it and reveal the precious pearl within!
Most of the stories are much shorter than more conventional short stories, but rather than finding this to be a deterrent I found it to be advantageous. Huggins’ writing is beautiful and her stories vary from ones of poignant loss, yearning and longing, to those of hope and optimism. The thread running through most of them is the theme of the sea or a nearness to it, and a love of it; a desire to return to it and an appreciation for the role it plays in the lives of the protagonists.

Huggins shows a deep understanding of human frailty and failing and of our desperation to find favour with those who we admire and wish to please, whether they deserve it or not. I loved this collection and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I believe that everyone will find a little bit of themselves here."

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The First Week!

It's almost a week since the launch of Separated From the Sea, and the official blog tour is gathering momentum.

I've had some wonderful reviews from a variety of book bloggers, and on Amazon and Goodreads too - I'll return to those later. 


Receiving feedback from readers is very special. If someone likes your work - or better still, if someone loves your work! - then that's the best reward of all. I was overwhelmed by the response to my flash collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, but that didn't stop me being terrified that no one would enjoy Separated From the Sea!

I'm truly grateful to everyone who has bought (or who is intending to buy ;-) ) a copy of either of my books. I'm lucky to know a supportive bunch of people, and I'm very thankful for my online writing 'friends', and my core team of real-life friends - both writers and non-writers. 

Marketing is hard work, and often thankless. I recently shared an article by Tom McAllister, from his blog,

It perfectly sums up the post-publication journey, when you start to realise that the majority of your friends and family - the very people you thought would buy your book come what may - are just not interested at all. Sadly, no one is as excited by your book as you are yourself and, to be fair, people just don't have the time to read every book that is paraded in front of them. We all promise to read books that we never get around to buying.

Yet Tom's blog post is positive too - here are a couple of my favourite parts:

"Many people close to you will disappoint you. But there are people who will come through, and they will keep coming through, and sometimes you’ll be surprised who falls into which category. I’ve learned to cherish those friends and family members who are always there, or even sometimes there. It takes real sacrifice on their part to support this weird thing I do. It takes money and time for them to seek the book out, to ask their local shops and libraries to carry it, to share it on social media."

"People will read your book. Almost certainly not as many people as you wish. But sometimes a friend from high school or a former teacher will surprise you by showing up to a reading, or posting a review online. Sometimes a stranger will email you out of the blue and say they loved it, and in those moments it will feel like you’ve accomplished something impossible. It will feel better than you ever thought it could."

Before I go, I'd like to say a big thank you to all the bloggers and reviewers that have taken time to post something about Separated From the Sea. Here's a selection of my favourite bits:

"...a book to be treasured. ...these stories may not be long but they are powerful."

Linda Green

"There are many destinations that I felt transported to and it did give me a longing to get out of the city. I like that the book features some of the same characters in other stories, gives the stories more of a connection and makes it feel more considered.
It’s quite difficult to narrow down to just a few favourites because there are so many gems in this collection but if pressed I would have to say Enough, Sea Glass, The Last Of Michiko and Michael Secker’s Last Day. 

It was a pleasure to read this collection and I would definitely pick up another book by Amanda Huggins."

Kate Avery

"Overall this is a brilliant collection of stories, which I highly recommend."
Simon J Leonard
"Separated From the Sea is a collection of short stories, some are short and sweet, others are slightly longer but all are written in Amanda’s gentle almost poetic writing style.
Sometimes melancholy but always thought provoking and deep.A beautiful collection of stories to dip in and out of at leisure."
@Bookaddiction / Wrong Side of Forty
"It takes a truly great writer to make you fall in love with a character in such a small amount of words! Thoroughly recommended!"
Amazon Review
"Having previously read and enjoyed Amanda Huggins’ flash fiction collection ‘Brightly Coloured Horses’, I was anticipating her new collection of short stories, ‘Separated From the Sea’, published by Retreat West, with the relish you bring to a gourmet meal. I was not disappointed.
Each story is a brilliant jewel, superbly crafted by a word smith who plies her trade and is at the top of her game.
Each story delicately draws the reader in, spinning its web of word magic, evoking emotions and pinning down the crucial moments of change. There is a world within each tale and each is complete in itself.
They all can be and should be reread, for it takes more than one reading to unpeel the layers of emotion and revelations. The last lines often ring like a bell, remaining in your memory and making you think beyond the story’s conclusion."
Amazon Review - Aly Rhodes

"Amanda Huggins writing has an endearing style which draws you into each story and whether or not you desire it, includes you in the plot. She takes the reader around the world although never far from the sea or its influences. Whilst describing settings she leaves some space for you to react to her characters...She delivers endings which will not go away, leaving either a smile or a shiver.
I read a lot of short fiction and am prepared to swear that this is amongst the three best that I have read in many years.This is a collection to be bought, and treasured, to be read now and in ten years time."
Amazon Review

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Launch Day!

It was a great day at the Northern Short Story Festival in Leeds! I sold a few books, and spent the day in great company, with illustrator Si Smith, and Jamie from Valley Press. Spent my book takings on MORE BOOKS - of course!

Friday, 1 June 2018

Launch Day for Separated From the Sea

Well it's here - or it will be tomorrow! The launch of Separated From the Sea! I'll be sat behind a table at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds, signing and selling books (I hope!) as part of the Northern Short Story Festival.

There's lots of great workshops and events - Read more here!

I attended a fringe event last week for the launch of May You, the Walter Swan Prize Anthology, in which my story, Already Formed, appears. We had a lovely evening!

Five Scents in Connectedness by Sandra Danby

Today I'd like to welcome the author Sandra Danby to my blog. Sandra is talking about how she uses the sense of smell in her work, bot...