Friday, 10 May 2019

Popshot Magazine

I'm thrilled that a story from my flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, has made it into the Escape issue of Popshot magazine. Not only is Popshot a beautiful magazine, it is full of fabulous stories and poetry, and is available in some stunning bookshops worldwide. I recently spotted it in Tokyo, and last year in Lisbon. It's a lovely feeling to know that my work will be there in those bookshops!





Traveller's Tales: A writer's love affair with Japan

I'm over on the Inside Japan website today, talking about why I love Japan.

Fuji - Copyright M Wharton

After becoming interested in Japan as a child, award-winning short story and travel writer Amanda Huggins fell hook, line and sinker for the country as an adult. But what is it about Japan that captured her imagination?

Japan: Where it all began

Spring in Kanazawa
Kanazawa - Copyright A Huggins

Whenever I return to Japan it feels like an emotional homecoming, and I’m both relieved and excited to be back. Yet I’ve always struggled to explain or define this strong connection, or to pin down exactly why I love the country so much. Perhaps the words remain elusive because the reasons are more spiritual than tangible.
Cherry blossom in Kobe
Kobe - Copyright A Huggins

I learnt my first word of Japanese when I was a child. The word – which I couldn’t pronounce correctly – was yurushite, meaning ‘I beg your forgiveness’, and it appeared on the box lid of my Sorry! game – a souped-up form of Ludo. The board itself was decorated with elegant Japanese gardens: cherry blossom, stone lanterns, autumn maple trees, waterfalls and distant mountains. The beautiful board, and the evocative description of Japan as ‘the land of politeness’, were enough to instil a faint yearning that I didn’t understand, a yearning that was cemented by the amateur production of The Mikado that my mother took me to see. The white makeup and scarlet lips, the intricate hair decorations, the beautiful colours and patterns of the kimonos, all seemed magical.


You can read the full article here

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Interview with Amanda Saint

Today, I'm welcoming Amanda Saint to my blog to talk about her new novel, Remember Tomorrow.  

Amanda's debut novel, As If I Were A River, was selected as a NetGalley Top 10 Book of the Month, longlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker Prize, and chosen as a Top 20 Book of 2016 by the Book Magnet Blog. 

Amanda is also an award-winning short story writer, and works as a freelance journalist writing features for international magazines about environmental sustainability. She has her own creative writing business, Retreat West, through which she runs writing retreats, courses and competitions; and an independent publishing house, Retreat West Books - which has just been shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher.   You can vote here!


 REMEMBER TOMORROW:

 "A chilling descent into the chaos that lies in the hearts of men. A searing portrait of a dystopian future where civilisation's thin veneer has been ripped away, and it is women who suffer most as a result. Excellent." Paul Hardisty, author of Absolution

 
You can buy a copy here!

Hello, Amanda, and welcome to Troutie McFish Tales! When you’re not writing fiction you write features and news articles about renewable energy, climate change and sustainability. So presumably you already had a wealth of knowledge in a number of areas that would have helped with the research needed to write Remember Tomorrow. Did you still find you needed to do additional research, and if so did you find out anything new that surprised or shocked you?
 
I did have a wealth of knowledge to draw on for this novel, so I didn’t really do much research at all for the environmental side of the story. The future I have imagined is based on everything I’ve written about for the past 20 years or so. Sadly, there is not much that shocks me anymore after watching the steady decline of the natural world alongside the continued growth of consumerism. The fact that despite the climate agreements that countries keep making, greenhouse gas emissions are still on the rise, as is the global temperature. 


I suppose the thing that shocks me the most is that people still just carry on buying cheap clothes, cheap meat, and cheap homewares without ever stopping to think about what the manufacture of these items is doing to the planet, and the communities where they are produced. Climate change issues are not something that we are going to have to face when they come along in the future, they are happening now, and will only get worse, if we carry on the same path. 


The area where I had to do the most research for this novel was around herbalism and the beliefs of green witchcraft, and about the witch hunts of the past. Although, witch hunts never actually went away, they just morphed into something else. You only have to look at tabloid journalism and online trolling to see the modern day version in action. I also researched activism and read a lot about the psychology of people driven to take action, I spoke to activists, and thought a lot about the different ways in which people try to make a change. Some take to the streets, some are violent, others withdraw, while others teach. So I tried to bring all of those elements into Evie’s world.  


You are a staunch environmentalist yourself - how important is this novel to you on a personal level? Is it a story you’ve been waiting to tell for a long time, or an idea that appeared overnight?
 
The idea for the novel came to me several years ago, around 2012 when I was still writing my first novel. At that time, all I knew was that it was set in a future that was more like the past where medieval superstitions had resurfaced. That my main character, Evie, was a herbalist being accused of witchcraft.


I’d moved from London to Exmoor and when I came back to London for a book launch after being gone for several months, the contrasts were stark. The unsustainability of it all really hits you when you go to a city after spending most of your time in nature. That’s when I started to really develop the idea about how Evie had ended up in that world. But I was a long way from getting started then. It was after spending some time in Southeast Asia in early 2015 and witnessing some truly alarming environmental and social issues, that I came home and started planning the novel. 


Amanda Saint
 As you say, you started writing Remember Tomorrow in 2015, long before the Brexit referendum, yet there is a disturbing reflection of our current fears for the future in Evie’s world. The novel feels like a warning, filled with unsettling undercurrents that are far too close to the conceivable to make it comfortable reading. How scared are you that your novel is a prediction of England’s tomorrow?
 
Terrified! It has been a strange experience indeed to be writing this novel and seeing many of the things that I have predicted for our near future already coming true. I completed the first draft in early 2016 and then when Brexit happened that summer, I realised that my novel had inadvertently become a kind of prediction. Now, it’s publishing in early March 2019 just before we leave the EU in a spectacularly disastrous fashion, when the social issues I’d predicted, the segregation and removing vital support networks for people deemed of no economic value, have been escalating for years now. 


Floods, droughts, soaring temperatures, extreme weather patterns of all kinds, food shortages, all are now a part of our every day life. But it’s all been normalised by the media, TV and films, so people are just accepting of it. 



Remember Tomorrow is gripping and fast-paced, and I found myself staying up later than I should because I wanted to know what happened next. You’ve lived with Evie for three years or more now - is finishing the novel like losing an old friend?  


It isn’t, no, as the novel characters you write, never really leave you. I still think of the characters in my first novel quite often, and I believe that Evie is now in my head forever and will pop up now and then to let me know something. I often find myself imagining what has happened to her after that closing scene.  




If this was a Netflix series, there’d definitely be a Season Two! Is there going to be a sequel, or do you already have completely different ideas forming for your next novel?
 
I live in hope that the Netflix scout will come across the book! I have an agent that is managing international and audio rights for me but am yet to find a screen rights agent to work with. But I have long thought that Evie’s tale is the first in a trilogy. Writing novels is intense though, so I’m taking some time off of that for now to focus on my short fiction writing instead.   




As well as your freelance journalism, Retreat West and Retreat West Books are going from strength to strength.  What projects are you juggling right now? Has it become all-consuming, or are you still managing to find time to write fiction?

In 2018, I was on a steep learning curve as that was my first full year running a publishing press, and at the same time the number of people taking part in the courses and competitions I run were growing as well. So yes, it was pretty much all consuming. In the whole of 2018 I wrote just one new short story, for the A Thousand Word Photos charity project, and focused on finishing the edits of Remember Tomorrow. In total, I probably only spent a few weeks writing and editing my own fiction in the whole year.

But I learned a lot in 2018 that means I can now manage it all better so that I have time for my writing as well as other peoples. So maybe the next instalment in Evie’s story will come along sooner than I thought. Or maybe I’ll write another novel entirely – I have notes and ideas for several. 


Retreat West Books




 ABOUT REMEMBER TOMORROW
 "A dystopian future that echoes the present times. A reflection of society in a stark, unforgiving mirror. Unsettling, honest and unputdownable." Susmita Bhattacharya, author of The Normal State of Mind

"A chilling descent into the chaos that lies in the hearts of men. A searing portrait of a dystopian future where civilisation's thin veneer has been ripped away, and it is women who suffer most as a result. Excellent." Paul Hardisty, author of Absolution

England, 2073. The UK has been cut off from the rest of the world and ravaged by environmental disasters. Small pockets of survivors live in isolated communities with no electricity, communications or transportation, eating only what they can hunt and grow.

Evie is a herbalist, living in a future that’s more like the past, and she’s fighting for her life. The young people of this post-apocalyptic world have cobbled together a new religion, based on medieval superstitions, and they are convinced she’s a witch. Their leader? Evie’s own grandson.

Weaving between Evie’s current world and her activist past, her tumultuous relationships and the terrifying events that led to the demise of civilised life, Remember Tomorrow is a beautifully written, disturbing and deeply moving portrait of an all-too-possible dystopian world, with a chilling warning at its heart.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Popshot Magazine

Delighted that a short story of mine has been accepted for the Escape Issue of Popshot! Was admiring it last week on the shelves of a fabulous bookshop in Tokyo, and now my story will grace the same shelves - and many more! Thank you, Popshot!
Image may contain: text

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Guest Post - Gail Aldwin


I'm pleased to welcome fellow Chapeltown author, Gail Aldwin to my blog today to talk about her journey as a writer, and the way she has used different forms to improve her fiction skills. Gail is launching her first poetry pamphlet today, adversaries/comrades (Wordsmith_HQ).

'The relationship between siblings is explored in adversaries/comrades. From the games, jokes and confusions of childhood, to the rivalries and tensions of growing up and the secrets and confidences shared between adults. Siblings often enjoy longstanding relationships that are frequently enduring. This pamphlet celebrates the tenacity of siblings.'

My Review:

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.

Now over to Gail...

I started writing in 2009 as an aspiring novelist. Drawing on my experiences of living in different parts of the world, I wrote a manuscript thinly disguised as fiction. Although the first novel was completed within seven weeks (writing one thousand words each day) it took another nine years to build the skills necessary to write a publishable novel. The String Games is the result of that long apprenticeship and will be published by Victorina Press on 28 May 2019.

Over the years of writing novels, I turned to other forms of writing to address weaknesses in my manuscripts. Short fiction is a great medium to hone editing skills and enable each word on the page to earn its place. I turned to script writing to improve my ability to effectively capture dialogue. And poetry, I came to poetry late, penning my first poem in 2016 and surprisingly winning the National Poetry Day Competition in Bournemouth that year. The skills I’ve learnt from poetry relate to the quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge who defined prose as ‘words in the best order’ and poetry as ‘the best words in the best order’.

Now, with a range of writing skills at my disposal, when I get an idea, I decide which form of writing best represents that idea. If I want to capture a moment, a glimpsed image, an engaging thought, I turn to poetry. Where there is an evident story arc I write short fiction. For scriptwriting, I depend on ideas sparked by my writing collaborators and as for novels, I now plan to the nth degree to prevent years of rewriting.

During the summer of 2018, I entered a poetry competition run by Wordsmith_HQ. To my delight, I was awarded joint first place and offered a contract to write a poetry pamphlet on the theme of siblings. I’d never written poetry to a theme before and I found huge pleasure in putting together poems to celebrate this relationship.  adversaries/comrades is the title of the pamphlet which I think reflects this longstanding and enduring relationship. 


About Gail 




Settled in Dorset since 2006, Gail Aldwin has lived in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Spain. Her work includes a collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt which was longlisted in the Saboteur Awards 2018. Her debut novel, The String Games will be published by Victorina Press in May 2019. As chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, Gail works with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. She supports undergraduates on the Creative Writing BA (Hons) at Art University Bournemouth as a visiting tutor. adversaries/comrades is her debut poetry pamphlet. 


You can buy adversaries/comrades here



And The String Games can be pre-ordered here, from Victorina Press

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Guest Post on Sandra Danby's blog - Talking All Things Short Story

I'm over on Sandra Danby's blog today, talking all things short story. Here's an excerpt:

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! Amanda Huggins“There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018 The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row.
“It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.”
Amanda Huggins
Four books on Amanda’s ‘To Read’ pile
“As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different set of skills to novel writing, and the former should never be seen as practice for the latter — a short story isn’t a miniature novel any more than a novel is a protracted short story. Although short fiction is suited to the pace and attention span of the modern world, some readers say they don’t read shorts because they can’t lose themselves in the story the way they can in a novel. It is true that they demand your fine-tuned focus, they seek to be read straight through, and every sentence weighs in heavy because it has to earn its place. Yet all these things bring their own rewards. A cracking story will repay your time and attention by leaving you with something to think about for days after you’ve read it.
“When I’ve finished reading a novel I often pass it on, however I usually keep short story collections and return to them over the years in the same way that I do with poetry. I have countless favourites, many by established authors, but also a growing number by emerging short story writers. The collections on my shelves include books by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, Helen Simpson, Helen Dunmore, Raymond Carver, AL Kennedy, Wells Tower, Stuart Evers, Miranda July, Yoko Ogawa, KJ Orr, Ernest Hemingway, Taeko Kono, Haruki Murakami, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, Annie Proulx, Isaac Babel, Angela Readman, and AM Homes.”
If you'd like to read the full post, you can find it HERE
Amanda Huggins

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Book Stewards Blog

I'm over on The Book Stewards blog today, talking to Teika Bellamy about writing and submitting short stories. Here's an excerpt:-


Q&A with short story writer Amanda Huggins

By Teika
As I was recently emailed a request for advice about the short story submission process and how to decide which path to take to publication, I thought it would be great to hear from some of the most talented short story writers I know. The multiple prize-winning writer Amanda Huggins was kind enough to take part in this Q&A and I am very grateful to her for sharing her knowledge. (You can read her powerful story ‘Red’ – which was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award here.)


1. What kind of short stories do you write and how long have you been writing in that genre and form?
I started writing short stories around 2011, mainly contemporary literary fiction, dealing with relationships and the human condition. Each story is as long as it needs to be, which means that most end up being between 1500-2500 words. However, I also write a lot of flash fiction under 500 words.

2. What’s your writing process (from idea to polished and ready-to-submit piece)? How long does this take on average?
Some stories tumble out of my head fully-formed, and some have to be dragged out! I’m not much of a planner, so as soon as an idea appears then I tend to throw it straight down. Having said that, I am a very slow writer. I’m never happy with what I’ve written, even after it’s been published, and despite editing as I go, I still revise and revise and revise. I can tweak for England, and I work on most of my longer stories for weeks. My collection, Separated From the Sea, was really the result of five years’ work. In my defence, I did have a lot of family commitments in that period, and I do have a full-time day job in engineering!

3. How do you go about finding the right publishing home for a story?
I’m glad you posed the question that way round, and didn’t ask how I go about writing a story to suit a publisher/competition. Because the truth is, I never do. I always write what I want to write and then look for the right competition or publication for the story. I’ve been entering competitions since I started writing, and I always read previous winning stories and check out the judges. However, as we all know, it’s a very subjective thing, and sometimes you just have to wing it. With literary journals you should always read a copy first to see if your work would be a good fit. Publishers advise this all the time, yet writers still don’t realise how important it is.
 If you'd lke to read the rest of the interview, you can find it HERE

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Fictions of Every Kind - Wharf Chambers Leeds 30th April 2019

Fictions of Every Kind is a non-profit writers' social, which aims to support and encourage anybody engaged in the lonely act of writing. Our April event is themed FIERCE.
Our invited speakers in April are:
CHERIE TAYLOR BATTISTE was born in London in 1976. After graduating from SOAS University of London, she worked as a TV researcher before moving on to acting, winning the Norman Beaton Fellowship, joining the BBC Radio Drama Company and gaining various parts on stage and screen. Alongside this, she facilitated workshops in prisons and schools, going on to project manage the embedding of creative learning in schools with CapeUK.
Finding herself a lone parent of two, as austerity hit, she returned to poetry, her first means of expression during her challenging childhood. She saw poetry as freedom, a rare opportunity to have an uncensored cultural voice, and a way of sharing her unique set of experiences. Her first collection, Lioness, will be published by Valley Press in spring 2019.
AMANDA HUGGINS is the author of the short story collection, Separated From the Sea, and the flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses. She was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, and has been shortlisted and placed in numerous other competitions, including the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and the Bath, Bridport and Fish flash fiction prizes. She is also a published poet and award-winning travel writer, and is currently shortlisted for this year’s Bradt Guides New Travel Writer of the Year Award, the results of which will be announced on February 28th at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards event in London.
Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s and now lives in West Yorkshire. She works full-time in engineering and is currently struggling with her debut novella.
As ever, there will be our House Band and a writers' open mic, at which flash fiction, short fiction, true stories, and exceprts of larger works are invited. Please keep your contributions at 5 minutes or under. Don't make us ring our bell at you! Please note: much as we love music and singing, our open mic is not the place for them. Our open mic is for words and stories only, and please, if you do read at our open mic, make the opportunity to listen to our contributors too.
Entry is £4. However, we also offer free entry for carers, and we won't turn anybody away who wants to come but can't afford £4. Please email us if you want to ask anything: northernshortstoryfestival at gmail.com.
Please note: Wharf Chambers is a members' club, and you must be a member, or guest of a member, to attend an event here. Joining costs £1 and takes a minimum of 48 hours to take effect. To join, see www.wharfchambers.org/membership
TUE, 30 APR AT 19:30

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Free Author Memberships for low-income writers!



Free Author Membership for low-income writers

I was the first author signed to Retreat West Books back in early 2018, and I'm now really pleased to be able to sponsor two free Bronze Author Memberships for writers on low incomes.
Benefits enjoyed by bronze members include:
  • Weekly emails with a mix of writing prompts, exercises, readings, podcasts, videos and tips for writing short stories, flashes and novels
  • 1 entry to the quarterly themed flash comps (£400 in prizes available)
  • Ebook editions of all Retreat West Books titles as they are published
  • 5% discount on our online creative writing courses
You can find more about Author Membership here, including the other membership levels available and the general membership T&Cs.
To apply for a free membership, simply email me a short note. No need to say why you are applying - all applications will be accepted in good faith. The writers that receive the two memberships will be chosen at random after the application process closes at 23:59 GMT on Sunday, 17th February 2019.
**********************************************************************************
My short story collection Separated From The Sea was published through Retreat West Books last June and I was recently awarded third place in the Costa Short Story Award for my story Red.  You can read and listen to my Costa Short Story here!

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Dry January

Well I did Dry January - almost! The champagne at the Costa Books Awards was a temptation too far, and I confess that I made up for the other thirty days of abstention with several glasses, and then several more.


It was a fabulous evening at Quaglino's, and I was delighted to be awarded third prize in the Costa Short Story Award. It was wonderful to meet my fellow shortlistees as well as many other talented writers. 

L to R - The CSSA winner Caroline Ward Vine, CSSA judge, Kit de Waal, CSSA runner-up Sophie Wellstood, and myself

What with the all the publicity material in the room, and the huge picture of me up on the stage screen, I think I've had my fifteen minutes of fame now!


There was a respectful hush when the Costa Book of the Year was announced - a unanimous decision by the judges. The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es was a worthy winner, and the emotion in the room was palpable.

 Bart van Es, writer of The Cut Out Girl, with Lien de Jong, the subject of his book, at the Costa Awards on Tuesday evening

'The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es, professor of English at Oxford University, tells the story of Lien de Jong, who as a young Jewish girl was sheltered by the author’s grandparents in Nazi-occupied the Netherlands during the Second World War. Lien later became estranged from the van Es family, and the author set out to find out why.'

So that's January over already, and I have to admit it was much more interesting than the average drab January - even without alcohol (mostly!). February's not shaping up too shabby either, as my publisher, Retreat West Books, has nominated one of my short stories, 'Barefoot Girls & Corner Boys' for Sonder Press's Best Short Fictions. 

And today I was thrilled to see my short story collection, Separated From the Sea, displayed on the counter of The Book Corner in Halifax, a beautiful bookshop in the restored Piece Hall building.








 


 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson - Review

The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson 

THE BLURB:

Once upon a time Gabrielle Price wrote and published an extraordinary novel.

But twenty years on her literary star has dimmed, her "work of genius" is all but forgotten, and no further novels have materialized. She now lives an unremarkable life: middle-aged, living alone in the sleepy village she grew up in, and working as a housekeeper for the local vicar. Her lonely existence is dominated by memories of her best friend Madeleine, who died young, in tragic and mysterious circumstances.

Gabrielle’s quiet world is turned upside down when she meets and befriends Simon – young, attractive, a would-be writer, and enthusiastic fan of the astonishing novel that Gabrielle published all those years ago. Charmed and flattered, she recklessly invites him into her home and her heart. But Simon is mysterious and manipulative, and it’s not long before he forces Gabrielle to confront the demons in her past. Gabrielle’s obsession begins to destroy her carefully cultivated life, and she comes to feel increasingly threatened by Simon’s presence. Who is he? Why did he seek her out? And what does he really want?
 

MY REVIEW:

This is a beautifully written novel - quiet, yet deceptively complex, and offering as many twists as a thriller. It is both dark and comic, and imbued with a sense of growing unease as the story unfolds. It is a literary novel, evocatively descriptive, yet pacy enough to hold the reader’s interest to the final denouement. As the story unfolds we are not always sure who is in control; the balance of power shifts at every turn. At the heart of the novel are themes of loneliness, mind games and the damaging effect of secrets.

It’s also a beautiful book - with a fabulous cover. A writer and a publisher to watch.

This is my unbiased review in return for an advance copy.

Popshot Magazine

I'm thrilled that a story from my flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses , has made it into the Escape issue of Popshot maga...