Sunday, 4 August 2019

Splash Of Ink

InkTears have published a new flash collection, Splash of Ink, containing all the winning and commended stories from ten years of their flash fiction contest. I'm proud to say I have four stories in this anthology - a feat only matched by the brilliant Ingrid Jendrzejewski! You can buy a copy here


InkTears, run by Anthony Howcroft, holds a special place in my heart, as their short story and flash contests were two of the first places I had success with my writing. I was also lucky enough to be approached by Anthony to be part of the showcase anthology, Death of a Superhero, where several of my longer stories were published in a gorgeous hardback alongside the work of Chris Fielden, Brindley Hallm Dennis and Kaya Ra Edwards. 





Thursday, 27 June 2019

Summer Reading Reviews


Three great books here from indie presses - I really enjoyed them all.

Don't Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge - Louise Walters Books (Published September 2019) 

Order a copy here

1960s New York, and Emma Bowden seems to have it all  a glamorous Manhattan apartment, a loving husband, and a successful writing career. But while Emma and her husband Jonathan are on vacation at the Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma. As her picture-perfect life spirals out of control, and old wounds resurface, a persistent and monotonous voice in Emma’s head threatens to destroy all that she has worked for... 

Taut, elegant and mesmerising, Don’t Think a Single Thought lays bare a marriage, and a woman, and examines the decisions – and mistakes – that shape all of our lives. 

My review:

Elegantly written, an engaging and beguiling novel centred around Emma, the most unreliable of narrators, a woman struggling with life and the effects of a complicated childhood, full of mystery and unanswered questions. Throughout the novel I felt a little distanced from Emma, yet at the same time I was totally hooked and keen to unravel her troubled past and discover the truth.

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Finer Things by David Wharton - Sandstone Press


Buy a copy here

London: 1963. The lives of a professional shoplifter, and a young art student collide. Delia needs to atone for a terrible mistake; Tess is desperate to convince herself she really is an artist.


Elsewhere in London, the Krays are on the rise and a gang war is in the offing.
 

Tess’s relationship with her gay best friend grows unexpectedly complicated, and Delia falls for a man she’s been paid to betray. At last, the two women find a resolution together – a performance that is both Delia’s goodbye to crime and Tess’s one genuine work of art.

"Vibrant, absorbing and bursting with the unexpected, Finer Things is a sideways look at 1960s London, in which art school bohemia meets the gangster underworld. It is full of spot-on observations about the subtle power play in human interaction. I was immediately drawn into its vivid world." --Catherine Simpson

"An evocative portrait of two women navigating 1960's London."--Mahsuda Snaith

"David Wharton's novel unfolds with all the style, pace and drama of a British New Wave movie. It is a very fine thing indeed." --Jonathan Taylor 


My review:

Captivating, lively, stylish, and beautifully written, full of wonderful insights into the human psyche. David Wharton has created a layered, nuanced and totally believable world, and a lovely portrait of two young women whose different worlds collide. Delia, in particular, is a fabulous character!


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The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan - V Press

Buy a copy here 

"The Neverlands, a virtuoso mosaic of microfictions, tells the story of Nuala, a child caught in the crossfire of her parents' troubled marriage. This is a family epic in flash form, masterfully and movingly distilled, both devastating and hopeful. A gorgeous debut." Kathy Fish 

"The Neverlands is a heart-tugger of a collection. In pitch-perfect colloquial prose, Damhnait Monaghan waltzes us through the sorrows of a poverty-stricken Irish family, who struggle to love each other well. Funny, clever, warm and sad, this is a beautiful book." Nuala O'Connor.

My review:

Such beautiful writing, so skilfully executed. This wonderful novella-in-flash is achingly sad, yet ends with hope. It deserves to be read more than once. Such a layered and complex insight into the human condition - Mammy and Nuala will stay inside my head for a long time to come.

Review of Soul Etchings by Sandra Arnold



Sandra Arnold's flash fiction collection is out today from Retreat West Books, and it's fabulous!

ABOUT SOUL ETCHINGS

Death, motherhood, the nature of reality, and the gender expectations of cultural conditioning are woven through these biting little stories in Sandra Arnold's debut flash fiction collection. Sometimes sad, surreal and sinister, they're also shot through with love and a deep understanding of humanity.


In gorgeous, spare prose that paints a very vivid picture, Sandra Arnold gives voice to characters that are often unheard. From Daisy in Fireworks Night, willing to do whatever it takes to protect her little sister; to Martha in The Girl With Green Hair who has her body in the world we live in and her mind in the one that not many people see; and Ruby in Don't Mess With Vikings who finds strength in a diagnosis of illness to stand up to bullies. With the stories in this collection, Sandra Arnold etches marks on your soul that will last.

MY REVIEW

Sandra Arnold takes us into a different world in these vivid and haunting stories. She leads us through a landscape we think we know and recognise, but it proves to be a world that is slightly off-kilter and faintly surreal. The prose is both sparse and beautiful, yet there is nothing instant here - no quick, fleeting reward. These tales don't fizz and die like fireworks, they are slow burning tapers, fires that burn through the night. They are stories that creep up on you from behind, and once they sink their teeth in they don't let go. A crowd of images remains in wait at the edge of your vision, popping up in your mind when you least expect it. Sandra Arnold has a deep understanding of the human condition and her writing gets under your skin and stays there.  


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Summer Reading

The book post has been very kind to me this last couple of weeks, and I've enjoyed all three of these fabulous books - reviews to follow shortly!

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society

I'm delighted to have a poem in this anthology alongside Simon Armitage, Alison Lock and many other great poets. The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society will be launched in September as part of the Marsden Walking Festival.

Image may contain: text

Friday, 14 June 2019

National Flash Fiction Day




It's National Flash Fiction Day tomorrow, and I've shared my thoughts on reading and writing flash with Cath Holland as part of Wrapped Up In Books on the Getintothis website, along with many other writers such as Sarah Hilary, Sandra Arnold and F J Morris.


You can read the full article here




AMANDA HUGGINS

‘Flash fiction is perfectly suited to the pace of the twenty-first century, and I love the way you can dip in and out, returning to certain stories time after time as you would with a poetry collection.
I know some readers say they don’t read shorts because they can’t lose themselves in the story the way they can in a novel, yet a cracking flash will leave you with something to think about for days after you’ve read it. Writing flash is both a challenge and a joy.
It’s an opportunity to try and create something as perfect as it can possibly be. When you only have a few hundred words, your language needs to be specific, concise, sparing, lean. When you impose restrictions it can often result in something surprising. I have read flash fiction that has made me cry in the space of two minutes, and stories that have made me hold my breath until I reached the end.
In flash pieces, what isn’t said is as important as what is, and I have a favourite Hemingway quote that sums it up perfectly: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things … and the reader … will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”’ – Amanda HugginsCosta Short Story Award 2018 -3rd Prize for Red; author of Separated From the Sea-Special Mention, Saboteur Awards 2019. New collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, Spring 2020.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Guest Post - Gail Aldwin - Writing & Running

Gail Aldwin's new novel, The String Games, has just been launched by Victorina Press, and I'm pleased to welcome Gail back to my blog to talk about the connection between running and the creative process.




'When four-year-old Josh is abducted and murdered during a family holiday in France, Nim, aged ten, becomes an only child. To cope with the tragedy, Nim reinvents herself but continues to carry a burden of unresolved grief. As an adult she returns to France determined to find out more about the circumstances of Josh’s death. How will she deal with this new information and what are the implications for her future?'

'Gail Aldwin’s The String Games takes hold of the reader and the juncture of the head and the heart and simply does not let go. With courage and tenderness, and an unblinking eye, Gail Aldwin explores the ways in which the loss of a child explodes a family. Treat yourself and read this one.' Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean

And this is what the book bloggers have been saying so far:

'A story with an astute and lucid understanding of what it means to be a female growing up in a world of adversity and loss.' Linda Hill, Linda’s Book Bag

'The author writes really well and the attention to detail and the authentic feel to the narrative make this a compelling and thought provoking read.' Jo Barton, Jaffa Reads Too

'It’s ultimately a story of hope and forgiveness, fresh starts and new beginnings: it’s quite beautifully written, and I enjoyed it very much.' Anne Williams, Being Anne

'You you can tell from the start it’s going to be something special.' Jennifer Rainbow, Bookworm Jen

'A stunning piece of literature that is devastating and truly heartbreaking, with hope all rolled into one!' Laura Turner, PageTurnersNook



WRITING & RUNNING 
by Gail Aldwin


In October 2016, I met a friend from London in Salisbury. Our trip happened to coincide with the Salisbury half marathon and my friend spent the whole day trying to persuade me to sign up for the next year. Although I had never run before, not even to catch a bus, by the end of the day I had agreed to it! I spent the next November and December wondering how I could get out of this promise but in January 2017, I started ten months training that led to the completion of my first half marathon in two hours and fifty minutes.


I felt absolutely dreadful once I was over the finish line: didn’t know whether to stand up or sit down. The medal was too heavy to wear and I couldn’t eat or drink a thing … but I had done it. Forward another two years to March 2019, when I completed my second half marathon in Weymouth. This took two hours and thirty-two minutes to complete and I felt brilliant at the end.


Entering the Weymouth half, I decided to follow the recommended advice for an endurance run and cross train by swimming and walking alongside running practice. This helps to build stamina by exercising different muscles. It seems to me that tackling the creative endurance task of writing a novel requires the same approach. I’ve always written short fiction and poetry alongside novel writing and I certainly believe this exercises different creative muscles and builds stamina to complete the creative endurance task of writing a novel.


It took five years to complete my debut novel The String Games, which is published by Victorina Press today. Along this journey, I’ve also had Paisley Shirt  a collection of short fiction published by Chapeltown Books, and adversaries/comrades a poetry pamphlet published by Wordsmith_HQ. As a result, I can certainly recommend the practice of cross creative training and running isn’t bad for the creative brain either.




Social Media Links:

Gail Aldwin

Thursday, 23 May 2019

My New Short Story Collection!

I'm delighted to announce that my new short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, will be published by Retreat West Books in Spring 2020! Here's what RWB had to say:-

Enamel_heart-Image

AMANDA HUGGINS SIGNED FOR SECOND SHORT STORY COLLECTION

We are delighted that Amanda Huggins, the first author signed to Retreat West Books, has signed with us again for her short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart.
The stories in this collection show the strength and resilience of the human condition. Tales of hearts that are broken, won, mended and lost, tales of young hearts, jaded hearts, hearts that grieve deeply and soar with joy. 
Alongside new work that has not yet been published, Scratched Enamel Heart contains the story, Red, for which Amanda won third prize in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award.
Amanda Saint, publisher and commissioning editor at Retreat West Books, said:  “Amanda’s writing is beautiful and we are proud to be publishing it, and delighted that she has chosen to stay with us for her new collection of stories.”
Scratched Enamel Heart will be launched in Spring 2020.
Amanda said: “I was immensely proud to be the first writer signed by Retreat West Books, and I’m thrilled that they will be publishing my second collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, next Spring. It’s really exciting to be a part of the growing Retreat West family, and I’ll always be grateful to Amanda Saint for believing in my writing. 
She has achieved so much in such a short time – including her well-deserved shortlisting in the 2019 Saboteur Awards for most innovative publisher. I was pretty chuffed that my first collection, Separated From the Sea, received a special mention in the short story category as well, along with fellow RWB author, FJ Morris, and the charity anthology, Nothing Is As It Was. Not a bad achievement for a fledgling indie publisher!”

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.

Splash Of Ink

InkTears have published a new flash collection, Splash of Ink , containing all the winning and commended stories from ten years of their fla...