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.
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: