Friday, 22 May 2020

Scratched Enamel Heart - Review by Ali Thurm


Another lovely review for my new short story collection from Ali Thurm. Here's a taster:

"In 2018 I reviewed Amanda Huggins' very enjoyable first collection of short stories, Separated from the Sea, and here I am again only two years later reviewing her second. And what a great collection it is, even better than the first. Beautifully nuanced writing that will surprise and move you and includes her award-winning story, Red, third in the Costa Short Story Award, 2018. No word is wasted and it’s clear from the quality of the writing that Amanda is a fine poet too.

Many of these stories have themes of escape – appropriate for our present situation of social-isolation and lock-down. In Where the Sky Starts, life is closing in for Rowe; he’s coming to terms with a bleak choice: a job on a fishing boat like his dead father, or going down the pit like his brother. Like Billy Casper in Kes he seeks refuge in the natural world. This is a subtle, beautifully-written story that I found very moving each time I read it."

You can read the full review here

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Saboteur Awards 2020

Utterly thrilled that The Collective Nouns for Birds has won the 2020 Saboteur Award for best poetry collection! It was lovely to meet everyone at the online awards ceremony - and to see my publisher, Retreat West, win the award for most innovative publisher.

You can buy The Collective Nouns for Birds here

My Review of Sky Light Rain by Judy Darley

Judy Darley’s short story collection, Sky Light Rain (Valley Press), looks up to the sky while digging deep down into the heart of what it means to be human. Darley has a distinctive voice, and her characters inhabit a place which is out of step with the world, in tales steeped in folklore, anchored by a deep connection to the natural world, embroidered with misunderstandings and mistakes. The writing is haunting and multi-layered, the imagery deft and original. And although these are stories exploring the fragility and fallibility of the human condition, we witness transformations and glimpses of new beginnings, making this richly textured collection resonate with hope. 

Judy Darley was born in 1977 and grew up in Thornbury, near Bristol. Her short stories, flash fiction and poems have been widely published, and read by the author on BBC radio, in pubs, caves, and a disused church, as well as at literary festivals and charity events. Her debut short story collection Remember Me to the Bees was published in 2013.

You can buy Sky Light Rain here

Friday, 15 May 2020

Everybody's Reviewing

A lovely review for Scratched Enamel Heart on 'Everybody's Reviewing' from Kathy Hoyle.

"This beautiful collection from Amanda Huggins is a lyrical journey of delicate devastation. Each story is told in exquisite detail, sparking the senses so the reader really feels the ‘soft rabbit-skinned’ gloves in 'Violet Flint and the Softest Blue,' tastes the bitterness of the bourbon in 'A Brightness to It,'  and sees with startling clarity the stray dog, Hal, with his paw aloft silhouetted against the dawn sky in 'Red.'

Huggins effortlessly carries the reader from the North coast of England to the heat of India, from a farmhouse in small town USA to the bustling streets of London and yet, despite the many varied settings, the themes remain universal and instantly recognisable. Each story resonates with the reader because Huggins writes with such compelling precision about grief, hope, loss, yearning, fear and love in all its complexities."

You can read the full review here

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Interview on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Many thanks to Gail Aldwin for this interview with me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter.

A taster:

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.

You can read the full interview here

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Review by Judy Darley

Another lovely advance review today for Scratched Enamel Heart from Judy Darley.

Here's a preview:

There’s a conciseness to Amanda Huggins’ writing that makes me think of a stitch being drawn taut – her words pull the core of you to the core of a story until you gasp for breath.

Her Costa Short Story Award shortlisted tale ‘Red’ uses crimson dust to create a vivid, slightly melancholy landscape where a lone stray dog provides the hope, and a memory of better times provide the drive to reach like a scrawny sapling for light. Like Rowe, the protagonist of the preceding story “Where The Sky Starts’, Mollie needs to leave the place she’s supposed to call home or risk being trapped in a life that could suck her beyond sight of all hope, drive and light.

Huggins has a vivid mastery of words that whips up a setting you can virtually walk into, and uses that mastery to construct scenery that weaves the story’s mood around you: “Mollie hated the dark, brooding weight of the house, the trees so dense they held a part of the night’s heart within them even when the sun shone.”

It’s poetically precise and powerful.

You can read the full review here

Writers in Kyoto Annual Writing Competition

 Thrilled to have been placed in the 2020 Writers In Kyoto competition!

Second Prize:
“Sparrow Steps” by Amanda Huggins 

This was a lovely depiction of a flickering relationship whose end was nigh, although one of the couple did not realize it yet. The overall sadness of the piece tugged at the judges’ heartstrings. Though it might have taken place in any setting, it was the “skeleton of a dry cherry leaf” and autumn showing that “death could be beautiful” that belied a more than passing acquaintance with Japanese literature. The judges also felt that the contrast depicted between the evanescence of sparrows compared to their steps caught forever in cement had a particular “Kyoto flavor”.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Review by Amanda McLeod

Absolutely delighted to share a lovely review of Scratched Enamel Heart by Amanda McLeod.

Here's a taster:

Amanda’s characters ask again and again: is the price of belonging worth the cost of freedom? And how do we make those impossible choices, and live with the consequences? The notion is captured so perfectly in this single image:

Yet the lights which entice me are the porch lamps that shine outside the houses high up the hillside. They’re the quiet lights that beckon me towards another unknown life, and yet they’re also the ones that make me feel so utterly alone.

Huggins enters and departs each story at the right moment, often leaving the reader in a moment of quiet contemplation. Ends may not always be neatly tied but her trust in the reader to do this for themselves, and the ease with which it can be done, is a testament to the quality of Amanda’s writing. 

Amanda Huggins has created a masterclass in short fiction with Scratched Enamel Heart. Whether the story is one page or ten, every one is an exemplar of the craft. Readers will be left thinking about choice and freedom, love and grief, sacrifice and self-preservation; and the book stands up exceptionally well to repeated reading. Huggins is definitely an author to watch.

Scratched Enamel Heart releases May 27th from Retreat West Books.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Review of Sea Without a Shore by Tim Taylor

Tim Taylor’s debut poetry collection from Maytree Press takes us on a journey through our universe, from the rugged Yorkshire moors to outer space; a journey strewn with pot plants and pharaohs, hill farmers, castles and lovers.

‘Mountain Man’ is a glorious portrait of a sheep farmer and the wild landscape that has shaped “the ridge and dale of him”, his eyes at sunset revealing his secret:

“this place does not bind him
as towns will tether other men”

The collection’s title comes from the poem ‘Pioneer’ – another favourite. This is a poem told from the viewpoint of the the Pioneer spacecraft:

“Obedient, I spied on giants,
sent my postcards home”

Yet the Pioneer is now free from human masters, hurtling through the void, 11 billion miles from earth, free to “navigate this sea without a shore”.

I also love the achingly beautiful poem, “The Old Couple”; a mature love story:

“time has smothered their curves and hollows,
sanded them to fit each other
like pebbles rubbed together by the sea.”

This debut collection is a really enjoyable read – accessible, immersive and innovative.

You can buy Sea Without a Shore here

Review by Gail Aldwin

Aother lovely review for Scratched Enamel Heart today from Gail Aldwin, author of The String Games:

"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."

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Two Lovely Reviews!

Two lovely reviews of my work today. The first from Angela Readman for Scratched Enamel Heart:

"Reading Amanda Huggins is like taking a journey around the world. Her stories are so beautifully written we forget where we are. Japan, Russia, Paris, London, the States, we are drawn into a series of fascinating lives. Hearts are broken but survive, scuffed and painted bright colours, people never fail to keep trying. These are stories we need to read."  Angela Readman 
And a great review for The Collective Nouns for Birds from Hannah Ruth Retallick:
 "A wonderful poetry collection. A range of human experience expressed with such empathy. One of my favourite poems was ‘No Doubt’; I strongly related to it, even though I’ve not been in the exact situation. That’s powerful writing! A beautifully produced book too, with thick pages and lovely cover art, which makes it feel extra special."

Scratched Enamel Heart - Review by Ali Thurm

    Another lovely review for my new short story collection from Ali Thurm. Here's a taster: "In 2018 I reviewed Amanda Huggi...