Welcome, Amanda!

Today I am delighted to welcome fellow Maytree poet – and award-winning short story writer – Amanda Huggins, whose first poetry collection is published this month.

Welcome Amanda, tell us about your forthcoming poetry collection, The Collective Nouns For Birds.

Thank you for inviting me, Tim!

All the poems in The Collective Nouns for Birds were written over the last two years. I didn’t plan to write a collection when I started – I was just feeling my way, as I haven’t written poetry since my late teens. I wrote fifty or so poems in the two year period, and it soon became apparent that they were taking me on a nostalgic journey through life: glimpses of teenage dreams, lost loves, chance encounters and what-might-have-beens. My poetry is a mixture of fiction and memoir, and although there is a certain melancholy longing throughout the collection, there is also hope, and the beauty of the natural world.   

One of the pre-publication reviews by Amanda McLeod sums it up well:  “Huggins explores . . . all the ways in which we lose things, the clarity and sometimes sadness that retrospection can bring. There is the transition from childhood to adulthood, the parting of lovers and friends, loss of life, of special places.”

You’ve previously won awards for your short stories. What is the essence of a good short story?

A short story should plunge straight in with no preamble, should have a killer ending, a limited cast of characters, and every single word should count. (If only I’d stick to these rules myself!) Something bad or sad needs to happen – if everyone’s happy then there’s no story to tell. And there does need to be a beginning, a middle and an end – though not necessarily in that order. The forgettable stories are the ones which read like anecdotes and fizzle out. A short story should demand our attention, stir our emotions, strike a chord, show us something new – or something old in a new way. The really good stories stay in your head for a long time.

How do you find writing poetry different from writing stories?

I don’t think poetry and short fiction are always that different from each other. My prose style leans towards the lyrical/poetical, and I tend to write narrative poetry – so for me there is a real crossover between the two forms.

What else should the readers know about you?

As well as writing poetry and short stories, I’m also a keen travel writer. I’ve won a number of awards for my travel pieces, including the Telegraph’s Just Back competition and the Skyscanner Award. I won the British Guild of Travel Writers New Writer of the Year Award in 2014, and I’ve twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides Travel Writer Award.

And I’ve just completed two novellas – hopefully there’ll be more news about them soon!

Finally, would you like to share a poem with us?

THE NEW KNOWING

We sit side by side on the playground swings
and talk of the shine in a distant city.
Two homespun girls turned restless moths,
dancing around these northern lights,
cleaved by hope to this one-trick town      
that keeps hearts and wings from heading south. 
 
Yet there’s a softness to the air tonight,
as though we’ve made it somewhere else—
a place more gentle, where boys whisper in Italian,
and the put-put of scooters can be heard
on a distant coastal road.
 
Then everything falls silent, and we know,
know for one brief moment of teenage clarity,
that life will be good and worth the wait.
We each hold the new knowing close to our ribs
and don’t speak of it, just in case it isn’t true.

Forthcoming Readings

The Collective Nouns for Birds is out on 28th February, and my first poetry guest spot is at The Red Shed, Wakefield at 7.30pm on March 5th, followed by Later at the Library at Denby Dale Library on 27th March, where I’ll be talking about my work and reading both short fiction and poetry.

I also have my third short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, coming out in May from Retreat West Books – and I’ll be reading from that at Northern Writers Reading, Marsden Library on June 10th, alongside novelist Sarah Linley.

Links to advance reviews for The Collective Nouns for Birds:

https://amandamcleodwrites.com/2020/02/09/book-review-the-collective-nouns-for-birds-by-amanda-huggins/  AMANDA MCLEOD

https://alithurm.com/2020/02/06/the-collective-nouns-for-birds-a-review/ ALI THURM

Twitter:         @troutiemcfish

Blog:             https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

In Memoriam

Writing has been on hold for a while since the passing of my mother, Edna Taylor (nee Hambleton) on 13 January, aged 92. I take comfort from the fact that she didn’t suffer, but Mum leaves behind her a hole that I don’t think will ever be filled.

I thought I would share a poem that I read at her funeral. I wrote it a while ago, at the time not about anyone in particular, but it sums up my feelings now better than anything else I could come up with. 

Light Years
                                                                    
What trace of you is left on this blue earth?
You went from us in fire,
your carbon food for roses
long since plucked and thrown away.
 
I kept safe pictures, objects
and revered them, in the hope
they might retain some distillate of you.
In time I came to realise,
that what they hold is part of me.
 
What’s left, it seems, is space.
The gaps within this life,
this time, these places
that somehow keep the shape of you.
 
And space itself must hold you still:
on clear nights I scan the sky
and wish myself upon some distant world
where I might yet receive a dot of light
that found its way from you.

Where to next?

Happy new year, everyone!

As 2020 begins, I thought now would be a good time to review the future direction of this blog for the coming year and beyond. I’d very much welcome any views from readers regarding which way it should go.

At the moment, I tend to post about three times a month on average, a mix of:

news of recent or forthcoming events, publications, etc (sometimes including a poem, if poetry-related).

poems or short prose pieces (sometimes humorous) of my own.

guest posts from other authors, usually including a poem or short prose piece.

miscellaneous others, such as invitations for guest posts, reblogs of other people’s posts, etc .

I am wondering whether to continue the mix as before, or change it, and I’d particularly welcome readers’ views on this. Is there anything in this mix that you think I should drop? Anything I don’t do now that I should consider doing in the future?

Another point on which I’d welcome views is frequency. Is three or so posts a month about right? Too many? Not enough? I’m somewhat leaning towards reducing it to one or two posts a month, but I’m not sure. What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this. You can comment on this post, or e-mail me on tim.e.taylor@talk21.com

Dementia Choir

A poignant guest poem today from (soon to be) fellow Maytree poet Aziz Dixon.

Dementia choir
  
 Who you are
 I cannot say
 nor why we came
 to sing today
  
 but I was ten
 when I joined the choir.
 I felt the music breathe
 through me.
  
 Today I cannot find
 my words
 but still
 the music sings in me.
  
 I know we came
 to sing today
 because you care
 for me.

Aziz Dixon draws on local Pennine and Welsh landscapes and his sufi experience. He has been published locally and online in the north of England, Wales and internationally. His work featured in Best of Bolton, November 2017 and Burnley Creative, September 2019. His first pamphlet is forthcoming with Maytree Press.

Walking with Wolves

A winter’s tale today from my good friend Anne Veron (a.k.a.) Steward, fellow member of Holmfirth and Meltham writers’ groups (and with whom I also share a publisher: Maytree Press). A surprise encounter in the forest ….

******


The sky faded from ice blue to silver with fine brush strokes of grey vapour
echoed by the body-warmed billows of breath from the sturdy ex-bus driver, Steve and his eight year old granddaughter, Emma. They were rustling through the crisp carpet of leaves under giant beech
trees on their familiar Sunday walk in between a mighty lunch and a teatime spread.

“Can we take some of those holly leaves home, Grandad?” asked Emma. “We made some like these dipping them in glitter at school,” she added.

Steve laughed. The glossy leaves were edged by frost, “Those wouldn’t be frosted for long in Grandma’s house,” he said.

“Shall we take some magic cobwebs, too? They would be lovely on the
Christmas tree.” said Emma, pointing at the great filigree cobwebs stretching among the bushes. She knew really, but they did like to pretend.

“And bottle some dragon’s breath?” she said, breathing out a massive cloud into the so-still air.

“There’s no dragons here,” Steve said, “but it is one of those days… The air smells of wolves.”

“Wolves, Grandad?” asked Emma. She couldn’t help peering into the misty edges of their path to the fragile outlines of the silver birch standing knee deep in crisped bracken. She thought she saw a swift shape threading its way into nothingness. She pointed but Grandad was lost in memories.

“Oh yes, Laurie Lee wrote that. Cider with Rosie. ‘The air smells of
wolves’…You’ll read it one day. That was about 100 years ago when people
still had memories of wolves. Just this sort of day, I think. We don’t get them
often these days, but …yes, sniff hard.” He made a deep inbreathing and then a noisy outletting … “Ahhhh. Yes, definitely the air smells of wolves today.”

Emma played the game. Her breath drew in and noisily out, her eyes shut. Her eyes opened to huge, “It does, it does. I can smell… something… grey… and a bit hairy.”

“Yes, that’s it! You got it first time,” he said, “I got a trace of deep cave.
That’s where they live, of course.”

There was a high keening that drifted into the woods. There was no way that anyone could tell how far the sound had travelled in that thin-air day. Steve looked at his granddaughter’s startled face and reached for her redmittened hand, “The dogs in the boarding kennels are a bit noisy tonight,” he said, a little too forcefully.

“I thought I saw… a something …back there,” Emma said, pointing the way they had come.

“Someone walking their dog, I expect,” said Steve, but they started to stride out a little bit faster. There was a rustle and deep throaty coughing call that made them stop in their tracks. An elegant bracken-coloured deer picked its way through the trees ahead, followed by another and then another, their ears turning and flicking, their nostrils wide, tasting the air.

They were gone in an instant. Steve and Emma just looked at each other. Beyond speech.

“Guess what was in the woods, Grandma?” said Emma as she unwound her fluffy scarf in the toasty warm kitchen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said staring an accusation at her husband, “that wolf story again. He gave your mum bad dreams with that one.”

“No…well…yes,” said Emma, “but we saw deer in the woods. Really!”

“Well, I bet the wolves had chased them there. A winter treat for you, Emma,” said Steve.

Grandma threw a dishcloth at him.

The Caravan Beyond the Universe

Here’s a little bit of fun I wrote at Meltham Writers on Thursday. Harold and Mabel’s holiday is not turning out as they’d planned ….

****

Harold awoke and turned on the bedside light. On the wall opposite, the hands of the clock were spinning round at a remarkable speed – anti-clockwise.

                He nudged his wife. “Mabel, either we have encountered a discontinuity in the fabric of space-time, or the clock urgently needs some new batteries.”

                “What did you have to go and wake me up for? Of course it’s the batteries. It’s just like that time you told me the earth was being swallowed by a black hole, but it turned out a bulb had gone. It’s the middle of the night, Harold. Turn the light off.”

                “It’s not.”

                “Not what?”

                “It’s not the middle of the night. My watch, which appears to be functioning normally, tells me it’s quarter past nine. It should be broad daylight.”

                “But it’s pitch black outside. Ergo, Herbert, your watch is not functioning normally and it is, in fact, the middle of the night.”

                “Either that or I was right first time and we have gone through a rift in space-time. I think I’d better check – it could have a significant impact on the rest of our holiday. Have we got a torch?”

                “Oh, for Goodness sake!  It’s in the cupboard next to the sink.”

                Herbert walked into the kitchen area, retrieved the torch, and then opened the external door of their caravan.

                “Mabel.”

                “What is it. I’m trying to get to sleep.”

                “I think you’d better come here.”

                “Shut up, Harold. Come back to bed.”   

                “No, really, Mabel. I’m being serious. You need to see this for yourself or you’ll never believe me.”

                Mabel huffed and puffed and reluctantly put on her dressing gown.

                “This had better not be another one of your daft ideas, like that portaloo you thought was a Tardis.”

                “Don’t take my word for it,” replied Harold patiently. “Look for yourself”. He opened the door again and shone the torch beam around in all directions. “As you can see, there is nothing whatsoever visible outside. No other caravans, no trees, no ground, even. No nothing. Nor ….” He now switched off the torch “… are there any stars, or any moonlight, even though it was a full moon last night. Just blackness. There is literally nothing outside. Our caravan is now the entirety of the visible universe. All the rest is gone. So, incidentally …” he pointed the torch at where their Vauxhall Astra should have been “… is the car.”

                “Oh Harold, you’re getting carried away again, like when we got lost in Blackpool and you thought we were in a parallel world. It’s probably just foggy.”

                She took the torch from him and shone it around.

                “Hmm,” she said, seeing nothing to refute what her husband had said. “Must be very foggy indeed. Look, I’m going to sort this out once and for all.”

                She tightened her dressing grown around her and lowered herself out of the caravan and onto the first step, then the second, and the third, then … nothing. Her foot could find nowhere to plant itself. In desperation, she knelt on one knee on the bottom step, waving her free leg about beneath the caravan. Still nothing. Mabel returned to the caravan with a look of utter surprise on her face.

                “You see,” said Harold, with an air of quiet satisfaction, “We have passed through a rift in space-time. This caravan is our universe now. We are utterly alone.”

                “Oh well,” said Mabel. “Bingo will be off, then. Might as well go back to bed.”

News – and a poem

I’m delighted to announce that my next reading event will be on Friday 31 January, 7.30-8.30pm in Denby Dale Community Library, 364 Wakefield Road, Denby Dale HD8 8RT. I’ll be reading poems from Sea Without a Shore and also excerpts from my novel Revolution Day.

In other news, I’m pleased to have a poem, Crowdburst, in the current issue of Runcible Spoon poetry and prose webzine. You can read it here: https://www.runciblespoon.co.uk/crowdburst/4594753508

Finally, (since two bits of news doesn’t seem quite enough for a blog post!), here’s a random poem:

The Friend of Birds

She was akin to them:
precise and bobbing in her movement
– a broken hip had lent her walk a mallard’s totter –
knitted plumage out-displayed the boldest drake.
They loved her for it
– or was it for the crusts she scattered on their pond?
Too numerous to fight for:
not for them the hiss of battle
but contented quacks and clatterings of beaks.
 
For ducks – and enterprising doves –
she was the fountain-head of bread;
at home, for tits and finches,
a cornucopia of seeds,
greeted with ecstatic twittering.
They would envelop her in feathers,
grant her, with their perching feet
an honorary bird-ness of her own.
 
Age made her more birdlike:
bones grew hollow;
sallow skin took on an eggshell mottle.
Deep within, a fatal flutter,
as of tiny wings, took hold:
fulfilling, in a way, her wish
to slip – as her small friends could do so easily –
the irksome bonds that tethered her to earth. 

First published in Pennine Ink 40

pic (c) Brocken Inaglory 2009