Interview with Amanda Huggins – Separated From the Sea
Separated From the Sea is Amanda Huggins' latest collection, one of two she has out this year! Mandy is also this year's judge of the I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition. The deadline for the competition is July 31.
I Must Be Off!: First, Mandy, thank you so much for judging I Must Be Off’s Travel Writing Competition this year—a very busy year for you with two books out there. How are you coping?
Amanda Huggins: Thank you for asking me to judge the competition! I can’t wait to read the shortlisted entries -- if previous years are anything to go by, there’s going to be some great writing coming my way.
And yes, it’s a very busy year for me. Having two collections published is exciting, but it's not for the faint-hearted! Promoting your own work is time-consuming, and when you’ve just asked everyone you know to buy your book, it’s very difficult to ask them all over again only a few months later!
However, the positives more than make up for it. Receiving feedback from readers is very special. If someone tells you they love your work, then that's the best reward of all. I was overwhelmed by the response to my flash collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, and I’m getting some great reviews for Separated From the Sea.
IMBO: Separated From the Sea is so beautifully written. Can you give us an idea of how the collection came together?
Huggins: Prior to 2017 I had only submitted my collection to a couple of publishers, as in my heart I knew it wasn’t ready, and that there were at least half a dozen weak stories that didn’t deserve their place in the book.
However, after a further edit at the beginning of last year, I submitted it to another publisher. This time it made the next round, and was sent out to readers. The response was very positive, yet in the end it was a no – they felt it still needed more work. They made suggestions for improvements, and as well as making all the changes, I wrote five new stories in a very short space of time that turned out to be some of the best I’ve written. (This is unusual for me, as I’m a very slow writer!) So I was finally able to ditch the weakest stories, re-title the collection and get it back out there.
I made it my writing goal for 2018 to get Separated From the Sea published, and I was delighted when it was accepted by Amanda Saint at Retreat West Books in January. I’m very proud to be RWB’s first single collection author!
IMBO: The stories are set in various places, from Cuba to Italy, NYC to Paris. Several take place in Japan. You seem to have a particular connection to Japan. A couple of your I Must Be Off! pieces—“Straight in the Eye” and “A Thousand Cranes” are about Japan. Can you tell us a bit more about how this country has influenced your writing?
Huggins: Japan is one of my favourite places, and I’m already looking forward to going back there next spring. You’re right in saying that I feel a particular connection to Japan, even though I would struggle to define it -- it’s a spiritual thing in a way, a feeling of being at home. There are so many different things to see and experience; it’s a country of constant surprises and crazy juxtapositions -- both quirky and beautiful. The people are friendly and welcoming and, even though their culture and psyche sometimes feel impenetrable, I always feel at ease there.
I think Japanese literature and films have definitely influenced my own fiction. I particularly admire the domestic dramas made in the 1950s by Yasujiro Ozu. His films are poignant, poetic, and deceptively simple, and I love the elemental humanity of his work. He evokes a strong sense of the melancholy in everyday life, and the films all unfold at a contemplative, considered pace. Japanese fiction is poetic in a similar way -- there is a sparse, clean, yet lyrical feel to the writing, that I love.
IMBO: In Separated From the Sea there is the recurring theme of the father lost at sea, but also lots of women narrators leafing through men to answer some existential question about themselves. Is that a good way of putting it?
Huggins: My stories never start out with a conscious theme, or with any notion of them needing to fit in alongside other work. However, various recurring themes do weave their way through the narrative without me noticing, and your description is apt.
Similar themes run through both collections -- betrayal and loss, a sense of yearning, of not quite belonging, of not being sure that things are what you thought they were, of searching for redemption or atonement and being constantly disappointed, of seeking approval or belonging by sleeping with unsuitable men! They are stories imbued with pathos and irony, but there’s also hope.
IMBO: What question has no one asked you about the collection?
Huggins: I often get asked if I have a favourite story in the collection, yet I’ve never been asked if I have a favourite character.
I actually have more than one. I’m very fond of Hitoshi in ‘The last of Michiko’, who copes with impossible grief and who deserves a happy ending! And I was always rooting for feisty Eleanor in ‘All Stations to Edgware’, despite her over-fondness for drink, and the mistakes she’s made in her life. I love the strength and vulnerability of my younger characters too: my fishermen’s daughters in particular, as well as Marnie in ‘Sardine Herding’ and Sandra in ‘Pink Knickers.’ I know them all inside out, and each of them contains a small part of me.
Amanda Huggins was brought up in Scarborough, where her parents taught her the importance of kindness, stories, travel and good wine. She moved to London in the 1990s and now lives in West Yorkshire.
Her short stories, travel writing and feature articles have been published in a number of literary journals, textbooks, guidebooks and small press anthologies, as well as in the magazines and newspapers such as The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Reader's Digest, Mslexia, Traveller, Wanderlust and Writers' Forum.
She has won a number of writing competitions and been placed and shortlisted in numerous others, including Bare Fiction, InkTears, Bradt Travel Guides, Cinnamon Press, Retreat West, New Writer, Fish, English Pen, Flash500, Words with Jam, and Writers' Forum. In 2014 she won the British Guild of Travel Writers New Travel Writer Award.
She appeared on BBC radio in 2012 after submitting a piece for the Your Desert Island Discs programme, and her written feature was one of three chosen for the BBC website.
In 2017 a selection of her short fiction appeared in the InkTears showcase anthology, Death of a Superhero, alongside the work of three other writers.