Friday, 23 October 2020

All Our Squandered Beauty - Review by Allison Symes

 Another lovely advance review on Goodreads for All Our Squandered Beauty!


By Allison Symes:

All Our Squandered Beauty is a deeply moving story about a girl, Kara, trying to come to terms with the loss of her beloved Da. Kara manages to break a heart in the process, angers her dearest friend, upsets her mother who is trying to make a new life herself, and has her own heart broken, before coming to a conclusion that is right for her.

You just know at this point Kara’s life will take a new turn. Grief, while not gone (how can it ever be?), will not hold her back the way it has done until this point. There is also a determination by Kara to put things right as much as she can so the story ends on a hopeful note.

A book dealing with grief (especially long term grief where closure is not easy to come to) is never easy to write but AOSB is written with a delicate touch. You are taken straight into Kara’s head, understand how she is feeling and why.

I did find myself becoming exasperated with her at times (a kind of why did you do that, silly girl type response) but it is always great when a character makes you react like that. It means they’re unforgettable and that is a wonderful thing to achieve.

The sensory descriptions in this book are beautifully done. Squabble of seagulls is just one example of that and it is so appropriate. For me, this conjured up sound and imagery in three simple words. Excellently done and just one example of wonderful writing.

A hugely enjoyable read, though I would like to take Kara one side and have a good mother to daughter chat with her, not that she would welcome it!

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Book Review - In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton


A moving and honest portrait of a marriage, set against the backdrop of the wide sweep of Morecambe Bay. Cath Barton expertly captures the vagaries of the human condition in this insightful tale of love, loyalty and longing, of lost opportunities, of a relationship worn down at the heel by everyday life. Beautifully written, gentle and thoughtful, this slender novella is a must-read.

 Out November from Louise Walters Books. You can pre-order here

Review of The Collective Nouns for Birds


A great review for my collection over on The Lake today, courtesy of the brilliant Hannah Stone. Here's an excerpt:

"Here is a narrative voice moving not just from one location to another but from the aspirations and romantic imaginings of adolescence to the disillusionment of adult life. The enthusiasm of youth is portrayed with a kindly retrospective, with vivid imagery capturing the period and place. Teenage girls playing the fruit machines at a North Yorkshire coastal resort are ‘two stranded mermaids/killing time’ (‘Out Chasing Boys’), or ‘Two homespun girls turned restless moths’ who ‘know for one brief moment of teenage clarity,/that life will be good and worth the wait.’ (‘The New Knowing’). They wore ’patched-up pale-sky jeans/embroidered with all our rockstar dreams.’ (‘Dizzy with it’)."

You can read the full review here

I'm giving away a copy on Twitter - so please follow @troutiemcfish and retweet by midnight Friday if you want your name to go in the 'hat'! 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Advance Reviews for All Our Squandered Beauty

Thrilled to bits that the first feedback I've received for my debut novella is positive. I was a little scared - as always! - about sending it out into the big bad world, so it's very encouraging that people are enjoying it.

A stunning debut novella from an award-winning writer.

All Our Squandered Beauty is a beautifully told coming-of-age tale. Kara is 17 and has her whole life ahead of her, but will she choose the bright lights of London or the familiar call of the sea?

With exquisite prose, Huggins perfectly captures that transition to womanhood as Kara moves from her parochial seaside town to spend the summer in Greece with her art tutor and his bohemian friends. 

The novella is full of evocative descriptions which transport the reader to a different time and place. The poignant ending is perfectly pitched.

Reminiscent of Bonjour Tristesse, this is a story which will capture your heart and deserves to be a classic. 

Sarah Linley, author of The Trip

All Our Squandered Beauty is a coming-of-age novella set in the 1970s where the protagonist, Kara, a fisherman’s daughter struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father. She rejects the prospect of early marriage that her best friend settles for and focuses instead on future studies in London. During the summer she spends time on a Greek island where she learns more about herself and her relationships with others. Kara can’t see that she’s fragile but gradually she learns some mistakes can be rectified while others she has to live with. The sea provides a backdrop to the narrative, sometimes powerful ‘to see the water change from grey to ink and the sky deepen to fire’ and at other times benign, ‘millpond calm, a deep deep blue.’ This is a wonderful read filled with tenderness, charm and hope.

Gail Aldwin, author of The String Games

Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2019-20

I'm a little bit stunned that my story, 'Sparrow Steps' which won second prize in the Writers in Kyoto Annual Competition earlier this year, has now made the 'BIFFY50' - ie the Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2019-2020. Thanks to TSS Publishing and all the editors!

There's some great stories on the list - have a read here


TSS Publishing is excited to present our list of the very best fifty British and Irish Flash Fiction (BIFFY50) 2019-2020.

With enormous thanks to our four editors who have worked tirelessly to bring this list about:

Emily Devane, Damhnait Monaghan, Cristopher M. Drew, and Karen Jones.

Each editor read widely across the last twelve months and collectively they have spent hundreds of hours arriving at their final decisions.

The list comprises:
50 flash fiction
50 authors
30+ journals

We’re delighted to support the thriving Flash Fiction community and look forward to launching BIFFY50 again later in the year.

Once again, we extend our thanks to the four editors – please buy them a drink when you next seem them,

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Book Reviews - The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda & Grab a Snake by the Tail by Leonardo Padura

I rarely read crime or mystery novels, but I’m a huge fan of Japanese literature and have enjoyed the few crime novels I’ve read by Japanese authors. The Aosawa Murders is about the mass poisoning of an entire household, told several decades later by those connected in some way. It is intelligently written and well translated, and the slight distance created by the observant tone suits the novel well. The story is a slow-burner, but nevertheless compelling, revealed through the narrative strands of several different characters. These different accounts are often written as though they are interviews, however we never hear the questioning voice, only the responses. An unusual and clever novel from Bitter Lemon Press.

The other book I was sent to review by Bitter Lemon Press was Grab a Snake by the Tail, a detective novella by Cuban's leading crime author, Leonardo Padura. I'm not familiar with Padura's work, but I am familiar with (and love reading about) Havana, and this is a spin-off from his popular Havana Quartet. His die-hard fans seem to be in unanimous agreement that this novella is not a patch on his other work – and I have to say I'm relieved! I enjoyed it for what it was – for the gritty noir portrayal of dimly-lit Havana evenings, for the black humour and the smoky, sensual atmosphere. But I found the story a little far-fetched and patchily executed. As others have commented, this is clearly a short story-turned-novella, but I'm not sure it had the legs to go the distance. Still an enjoyable romp through Havana's underbelly.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Review of Scratched Enamel Heart by Juliette van der Molen

Here's a taster of Juliette van der Molen's generous review of my latest short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. You can read the full review here

Book Review: Scratched Enamel Heart by Amanda Huggins

Scratched Enamel Heart, by Amanda Huggins, is a collection of short stories that takes the reader on a physical and unforgettable emotional journey. This second collection is full of twists and turns and each story gives us the opportunity to reflect on our own travels and how they have shape human existence.

Flight Mode: The Possibility of Escape

“Mollie watched it change colour from blush to the darkest ink, and wondered if Daddy and Angel were watching the same piece of sky five states east.”
-Red, Amanda Huggins, Scratched Enamel Heart
Throughout this collection of stories we are treated to the slow build of carefully crafted characters who jump off the page and into our hearts. Mollie was one of these characters for me. In the story “Red”, Mollie and her mother are living with an abusive stepfather and surviving life on a dusty red farm called “Oakridge”.
Huggins describes the red dust as transforming into a thick paste in the rain, the kind that ‘stained your skin like henna.’ This foreshadows the trauma held deep in the centre of this story. Because abuse is often like that dust that clings to everything and stains the deepest parts of the human psyche.
Still, there is so much hope. Though the author does not get deeply into the details of abuse (this isn’t necessary and perhaps is the best way to handle it), we are told enough to read with an urgency that hopes for Mollie’s escape. What I found to be so poignant from the quote above, is that even in the midst of an ugly life, Mollie is able to look at the sky and notice the beauty in it. As someone that has experienced long term abuse, I know it was moments like these that padded the resilience of my heart and reminded me that there are better things out there. Her longing for her brother and father is especially felt in this moment and it points to her understanding of the wider world and the possibilities it could contain.

Writing Chat with Paula R C Readman

I'm over on Paula Readman's blog today, chatting about my writing. Here's a taster:


Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
It’s lovely to have you here for a chat today, Amanda. It looks as though we timed it just right as the Clubhouse Tearoom is quiet. 

Thank you for inviting me over for coffee, Paula! It’s great to see you again, and it’s always lovely to get the chance to have a chat about writing.

Let’s get started I know you’re a busy lady, so tell us a little about your latest writing project.  Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?

I’ve just started writing my third novella, An Unfamiliar Landscape. I’ve been mulling it over for some time, as it’s based on a previous short story of mine. It follows the life of a young woman called Sophia after she moves to Tokyo. Sophia and her husband have recently lost their child and their relationship is suffering. In an attempt to move on they relocate to Japan when her husband is offered a post there. This new location serves as a vehicle to reveal the true extent of Sophia’s grief and isolation. Left to her own devices, knowing no one in Tokyo, her sense of disconnection and loneliness is reinforced, amplified by the noise of the city and the legacy of her complicated past. Her life is examined in the context of this alien and transformative environment, where everything is slightly off-centre, unsettling, not quite as it seems. The city eventually pulls her under its skin and in the new noise she finds her silence.
When you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre? 

Travel writing was the first genre I chose, as I love exploring the world and learning about other cultures. I soon started writing short stories as well, and a strong sense of place has always been as important as character and plot in my fiction. My work is set all over the world in the cities and landscapes I have lived in and traveled around – settings as diverse as Cuba and India, mid-west America and the North Yorkshire coast, Japan and Russia, Paris and New York.

You can read the full interview here

Monday, 10 August 2020

Cover Reveal! All our Squandered Beauty

Although it's still a few months to the launch of my debut novella, All Our Squandered Beauty, I have just received the hard copies of the uncorrected proof from my publisher, Victorina Press. It's looking great - I love the cover!

I gave the designer, Triona Walsh, a couple of completely different ideas and she came up with a fabulous cover that encapsulated both of them. The sky in the final cover is actually taken from an original painting of my own, Inside the Sea, and the linocut elements are Triona's own work. Triona is lovely to work with - I first got to know her when she designed the cover for Retreat West for my short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, and so I suggested using her when Victorina Press's usual designer was mowed out with work.

Book Review: Inside the Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock

Inside the Beautiful Inside is based on the astonishing true story of James Norris, an American marine who ended up chained to a metal stake in Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) for fourteen years at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The conditions of Norris’s diminished life are grim and harrowing, yet although Bedlam steals his liberty, nobody can purloin his thoughts, dreams and memories. We are taken on a journey inside the wave of his madness, travelling on the high seas, experiencing his joys as well as his tragedies. We hear the stories of his family and friends, of the commission he didn’t take, of the one true love of his life, a shy prostitute named Ruth who betrayed him with Fletcher Christian. I found myself caring deeply for Norris, rooting for him from the very start, reading with my heart in my mouth, desperately hoping for his release even though I already knew how many years he would be chained up.

Inside the Beautiful Inside explores themes of sanity and rebellion, freedom and love, captivity and compassion in gorgeous lyrical prose. Emily Bullock is a wonderful writer, and in this superbly crafted novel she doesn’t waste a single word as she hurls us headlong through a swirling maze of madness that leads us to the very heart of James Norris.         

Published 24h September by Everything With Words Read more here

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Book Review - A Song Inside by Gill Mann

A Song Inside spills over with love, so that although Gill Mann’s memoir about her son is filled with heartbreak, denial, grief and anger, it is nevertheless imbued with inspiration and hope. The story of Sam’s brief and turbulent life is told partly through diary entries, partly as a journey into the family’s past and partly as a conversation with Sam, a young man tragically unaware of his own devastating and destructive illness. Sam burns brightly throughout, full of contradiction and colour, exasperating and captivating in equal parts.

Gill Mann’s poignant and beautifully written memoir is as much about the impact of Sam’s life as it is about the impact of his death, as much about family as it is about one young man. It overflows with enduring love and will resonate with anyone who has ever grieved.

All Our Squandered Beauty - Review by Allison Symes

 Another lovely advance review on Goodreads for All Our Squandered Beauty!   By Allison Symes: All Our Squandered Beauty is a deeply moving...