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.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Very few! I do tend to complete most of the pieces I start, so there are only a handful of short stories that are hanging around unfinished.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count? How many hours in a day do you write?
I’m currently furloughed, so technically I should have a lot of time to work on my novella. However I’m writing a course for Retreat West at the moment, so that’s taking up some of those extra hours. In normal circumstances I try to write for a couple of hours a day. I’m usually working on a short story or poem at any given time, plus my novella. I never set a word count – I’ve adopted Hemingway’s practice of stopping when I still know what’s going to happen next. That way I can start writing again straight away the following day.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I submitted my first short story collection, Separated From the Sea, to Retreat West under a pseudonym! I’d met Amanda Saint in real life and I wanted her to read my work blind. I totally fooled her – she googled the pseudonym to try and find out more about me!
How do you select the names of your characters and do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I select names very quickly and without much thought – and surprisingly I hardly ever change them! I avoid using the names of anyone I know, however I recently named a character Janet without thinking. I have two close friends called Janet – and a mother-in-law! However the character in my novella is nothing like any of them so I don’t think I’ll be in trouble!
I’ve just written a tutorial about character development, so of course I should say that I know everything about mine before I start writing. However I admit I often don’t – especially in shorter pieces. Do as I say, not as I do 😉
What was your hardest scene to write?
I wrote a flash fiction piece about my dad after he died, and another when I lost my mum. I have written a lot about grief over the years, but those two stories were the hardest to write. I tend not to write about close personal experiences, but I recently read a very powerful fictional piece about an abusive relationship which made me re-think. It was so utterly authentic that I can’t imagine the author hadn’t been in that situation themselves, and it totally chimed with my own past experiences. It made me decide that I should make bolder choices in my writing.
How long on average does it take you to write a book, story or poem?
I’m a slow writer. It takes me several months to write the first draft of a 30k word novella, and a few more months to finish it. A short story or poem takes at least a few weeks. I edit as I go and then again and again and again! I’m never happy with my work and I tend not to read it when it’s in print as I always want to completely re-write it even then!
Thank you so much for joining me here, and sharing the lovely cake together. We really must do this again soon, Amanda.
Scratched Enamel Heart is available here:
The Collective Nouns for Birds can be purchased here:
Amanda Huggins is the author of the forthcoming novella All Our Squandered Beauty, as well as four collections of short fiction and poetry. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018 and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’, features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. In 2020 she won the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.