Winner – Best Novella Saboteur Awards 2021
Kara’s father died at sea – or did he? She has spent her teenage years struggling with grief and searching for answers. When she accepts her art tutor’s offer to attend a summer school on a Greek island, she discovers once again that everything is not what it seems, and on her return she faces several uncomfortable truths. Could Jake, a local trawlerman, be the key to uncovering the past, and will Kara embrace the possibilities her future offers or turn back to the sea?
Other Titles by Amanda Huggins
Brightly Coloured Horses by Mandy Huggins | Waterstones
Crossing the Lines – Victorina Press
Separated From The Sea by Huggins Amanda | Waterstones
The Collective Nouns for Birds by Amanda Huggins | Waterstones
Amanda Huggins is the author of four collections of short fiction – Brightly Coloured Horses, Separated From the Sea, Scratched Enamel Heart and An Unfamiliar Landscape. She has also published a poetry collection, The Collective Nouns for Birds, which won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet.
She has been placed or listed in numerous competitions including Fish, Bridport, Bath, and the Alpine Fellowship Award, and she has been awarded the H E Bates Short Story Prize and the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award. In 2018 her story ‘Red’ was a finalist in the Costa Short Story Award. Her travel writing has also won several prizes, notably the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year in 2014, and she has twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides New Travel Writer Award.
Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.
Troutie McFish Tales – Author Blog
Gail Aldwin –
All Our Squandered Beauty is a coming-of-age novella set in the 1970s where the protagonist, Kara, a fisherman’s daughter struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father. She rejects the prospect of early marriage that her best friend settles for and focuses instead on future studies in London. During the summer she spends time on a Greek island where she learns more about herself and her relationships with others. Kara can’t see that she’s fragile but gradually she learns some mistakes can be rectified while others she has to live with. The sea provides a backdrop to the narrative, sometimes powerful ‘to see the water change from grey to ink and the sky deepen to fire’ and at other times benign, ‘millpond calm, a deep deep blue.’ This is a wonderful read filled with tenderness, charm and hope.
Sarah Linley –
A stunning debut novella from an award-winning writer.
All Our Squandered Beauty is a beautifully told coming-of-age tale. Kara is 17 and has her whole life ahead of her, but will she choose the bright lights of London or the familiar call of the sea?
With exquisite prose, Huggins perfectly captures that transition to womanhood as Kara moves from her parochial seaside town to spend the summer in Greece with her art tutor and his bohemian friends.
The novella is full of evocative descriptions which transport the reader to a different time and place. The poignant ending is perfectly pitched.
Reminiscent of Bonjour Tristesse, this is a story which will capture your heart and deserves to be a classic.
Tracy Fells –
‘All our squandered beauty’ is the wonderful new novella by Amanda Huggins and my only wish is that I could have kept on reading as I didn’t want it to end. Huggins writes with heart, intuition and a genuine understanding of what makes her characters tick. Her prose is fluid and compelling, woven through with passages of such lyrical beauty that this often felt like a love letter to the North Yorkshire coast (where the author grew up). Kara is seventeen in 1978, a talented artist who is struggling to cope with the aftermath of her beloved dad’s death. His fishing boat was found deserted at sea, his body never recovered, so Kara is stuck in the nightmare stage of her grief, believing he’s not dead but simply lost, or worse he’s abandoned her. These thoughts are damaging her relationships with her mum, best friend and boyfriends.
The Yorkshire coastal setting, and the Greek island, are enigmatically brought to life by Huggins’ skillful imagery. I particularly enjoyed how local folklore and legends were integral to Kara’s inner world and the significance of beach pebbles and glass became almost magical. Immersed in Kara’s 1978 of cheesecloth and flares I felt completely at home, and didn’t want to leave. She finds passion and romance in Greece, then maybe real love and understanding when she returns to Yorkshire. It’s through the love and kindness of others that Kara finally begins to heal and realise how to balance loss and love, and still achieve her ambitions. For me, the ending was mesmerising and magical, making this a truly fulfilling read.
Allison Symes –
All Our Squandered Beauty is a deeply moving story about a girl, Kara, trying to come to terms with the loss of her beloved Da. Kara manages to break a heart in the process, angers her dearest friend, upsets her mother who is trying to make a new life herself, and has her own heart broken, before coming to a conclusion that is right for her. You just know at this point Kara’s life will take a new turn. Grief, while not gone (how can it ever be?), will not hold her back the way it has done until this point. There is also a determination by Kara to put things right as much as she can so the story ends on a hopeful note.
A book dealing with grief (especially long term grief where closure is not easy to come to) is never easy to write but AOSB is written with a delicate touch. You are taken straight into Kara’s head, understand how she is feeling and why. I did find myself becoming exasperated with her at times (a kind of why did you do that, silly girl type response) but it is always great when a character makes you react like that. It means they’re unforgettable and that is a wonderful thing to achieve.
The sensory descriptions in this book are beautifully done. Squabble of seagulls is just one example of that and it is so appropriate. For me, this conjured up sound and imagery in three simple words. Excellently done and just one example of wonderful writing. A hugely enjoyable read, though I would like to take Kara one side and have a good mother to daughter chat with her, not that she would welcome it!
Alyson Rhodes –
This is a beautifully written novella from talented writer Amanda Huggins, from Victorina Press. It is a coming of age story, set in 1978, (wonderfully evoked) set in a North Yorkshire seaside town where Kara, the 17 year old protagonist, is still dealing with her grief after the disappearance at sea of her fisherman father (presumed dead) and her own teenage angst and a romance with a local lad, who doesn’t share her vivid imaginative inner life but is kind and steady. Perhaps early marriage and a family is the way out? However, instead she becomes entwined in her older (married) art teacher’s web, joining him on an art painting holiday on a Greek island, but there she learns tough life lessons about love, truth and lies. Huggins contrasts the Greek island and its coastline with the British seaside town Kara grew up in and blends in folklore and myths of the coast and sailors’ tales too. There are a lot of layers to this slimish book of 120 pages- and the characters, especially Kara, her art tutor and Jake, the trawler skipper, burst to life and hold you. There is some luscious language used to describe the scenery, and the emotions. You can see the poet under the novelist’s skin with Huggins in her skilful and confident use of language.
Ali Thurm –
This seems like a title for our times but in fact is the title of a short novel by the very talented Amanda Huggins. I really enjoy Amanda’s writing and have reviewed both her fiction and poetry on my blog… when I can keep up with her! She has already published three collections of short stories and was a finalist in 2018 for the Costa Short Story Award. In 2020 she won the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award, and in the same year her poetry collection The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet.
In this short coming of age novel, set on the Yorkshire coast, but also on a Greek island, Kara is seventeen and life is opening up for her. She plans to go to university to study English, but she’s also a talented artist and Leo, her 6th form art tutor, has taken her under his wing. Kara is also pulled in the direction of safety by her more conventional boyfriend, but when she finds out that he hopes their one night of unprotected sex will lead to her becoming pregnant she is (understandably) horrified. Growing up in the 70s, she is a feminist, keen to make her own way in life and not to settle for the traditional role of stay-at-home wife and mum. A trip to London inspires her sense of freedom but a holiday art trip to Greece, organised by Leo is not what it seems.
The main emotional heft of the novel however comes from Kara’s relationship with her father, lost in an accident at sea. There’s always been uncertainty about whether he died, as his body was never found, and Kara suspects he went away to start a new life with the elusive Lola.
There are many interwoven strands to this well-written novella, so many that it could easily have developed into a longer work. I’m sure Amanda has the potential to write a full length novel when she want to and I’d love to read it. As in previous short stories and poems, she tackles themes of loss, young love and the sea and all its attendant myths.
The mystery of what really happened to Kara’s father and concerns over whether she is pregnant or not, are the hooks that kept drawing me into this novella. I would recommend it to any reader who enjoys a page turner, especially young adult readers. All Our Squandered Beauty asks the question: What kind of life do you want? and reminds us that we have the right to choose how we live and not be limited by social expectations and norms. Writing at a time of social upheaval, economic uncertainty and amid a climate emergency these questions have a particular resonance.
Jan Clark –
A wonderful debut novella by the very talented Amanda Huggins which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I loved the setting of the Yorkshire coast where much of the story takes place and I look forward to reading more from this engaging and creative writer.
Jan Clark –
This is a wonderful debut novella by the very talented Amanda Huggins which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I loved the setting of the Yorkshire coast where much of the story takes place and I look forward to reading more from this engaging and creative writer.
Juliette van der Molen –
All Our Squandered Beauty, by Amanda Huggins, is ultimately about the complexity of relationships. These are external relationships, such as Kara’s with her mother, her best friend Louise and the men in her life. But the most important relationship Huggins touches on is the relationships we have within ourselves. How do we define who we are, what we want and what we deserve? Sometimes, as women, we let others do that defining for us. There are societal expectations, narratives that run deep from patriarchal standards, rules for how to respond to grief and even well meaning friends and family that like to tell us what we can and can’t do as some way of strange encouragement.
We are the only ones who will have a sincerely intimate relationship with ourselves. I have been coming to that fact as I age and it appears that Kara is on the same road, as well. The past does not define me. Other people do not define me. The labels that society attaches to me do not define me. Only I can define myself, if I even think that’s an appropriate thing to do.
Kara uses her experiences and her grief to push aside the paths that others would encourage her to take. She struggles with her memories of her Da and even with the long held suspicion that maybe he didn’t die, but only disappeared and left her behind. Huggins uses memory and Kara’s relationship with her mother to propel Kara into forward movement. As she travels through the more painful experience of growth, we come to the end of a novel that promises the possibility of a better future.
Huggins does not wrap life up for Kara in a pretty bow and send us on our way. This author is balanced and thoughtful in a way that makes me feel that this story could be real. The best fiction does that for me, it is a window into a parallel universe. The title feels more appropriate as the book closes and I find myself thinking about all of the ways I have held myself back and how I don’t want to do that in the future. There is so much beauty in the world and in me and far too much of it has already been squandered.
Helen Mayes –
As I read the first page of ‘All Our Squandered Beauty’, I had to fight the desire to feast greedily on this novella and read it in one sitting, but I’m so glad that I exercised untypical restraint and, like a luxury box of chocolates, slowly unwrapped every image, savouring every word, and allowed it to melt slowly into my senses. I absolutely love Amanda Huggins’s short story collections and I admit that I had wondered how her beautiful descriptions, without a single unnecessary word, would translate into a longer format – whether a longer plot would get in the way of the sheer beauty of her writing – but I need not have worried.
Soaring alongside a plot that kept me hooked, Kara’s raw and vivid teenage emotions evoked such strong memories of my own, far distant, teenage years that I was transported in time and place. The pull of the sea runs strong in me also, and its wild and dangerous beauty is perfectly recreated. And the scents upon embarking onto a Greek runway assaulted my memory as well as my nostrils. I’ve already started to re-read it.
Quite simply, this novella is an absolute pleasure and delight to read. Amanda Huggins has done it again!
S.B. Borgersen –
What a book! What a story! What a cover! Amanda Huggins takes her readers on a journey that has such a familiarity, such an enlivening of the senses it can leave you breathless. And that’s how I felt as I sadly came to the last page. All Our Squandered Beauty is a page turner of a book that I didn’t want to end. The settings. The characters. The emotions. They are all there. Huggins’ talent is fresh. It is silvery smooth. AOSB is an absolute treat. There is no language complexity to trip this reader, this lover of plain English, this lover of Yorkshire and of Greek Islands. I felt as if she had written it just for me. And so I thank Amanda and Victorina Press for a job wonderfully done.