So here we go – episode one of my regular blog post for Victorina Press! I’ll be talking about all things writerly and readerly, and more besides.

And we’re kicking off in the birthday week of the late great George Eliot, who was born on 22nd November 1819, and who understood that you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Eliot, George. (1871–1872). Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life

What’s been happening at McFish Towers…

It’s been a busy time for me at McFish Towers – a mad whirl of the usual combination of working, writing, reading, submitting, chatting, and learning Japanese . . . oh, and sorting out Christmas. If any of your family and friends like receiving BOOKS as gifts – and who doesn’t? – then the VP shop is the place to go right now. The 40 FOR 30 sale started last Friday. That’s 40% off all titles for 30 days – including my own two novellas, Crossing the Lines and All Our Squandered Beauty.

Last week was the week that saw the cover reveal of my forthcoming poetry collection – talk to me about when we were perfect – which is of course what this week’s first illustration is all about. I’ve received the proofs and they look stunning. There are illustrations as well as poetry and the whole thing is looking rather special. There’s a beautiful collage by the very talented Suzanne Conboy-Hill, as well as my own artwork and photographs, and another cracking cover designed by Triona Walsh. It will be out next March from Victorina Press.

In other personal writing news, a rather lovely podcast has been made of one of my stories. Katy Maw reads ‘In the Time it Takes to Make a Risotto’ on the Casket of Fictional Delights. The story won the H E Bates Short Story Prize last year and can be found in my new collection, An Unfamiliar Landscape (Valley Press). You can listen here – just click on the ‘HEAR’ button:

News and Gossip…

The winners of the Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize have been announced: First prize was awarded to Imogen Fox for her submission ‘Missy Starling’, while second and third place went to ‘Tipping’ by Giovanna Iozzi and ‘In Translation’ by Emily Gaywood-James.

I also noticed that it’s Word of the Year time again. The Collins Word of the Year is permacrisis. The Cambridge Dictionary team have chosen homer, which was widely searched after being a Wordle answer! Neither of them are doing it for me. I’m a big fan of the Oxford Dictionary’s choice from 2012 – omnishambles.

I’ve no gossip for you today, but I hope to change that soon! Most writers love a good gossip. This probably has a lot to do with our interest in character, stories and language, but equally I think it’s because of our solitary working lives. Gossip (of the friendly variety!) makes us feel connected to each other and to the world at large.

Writing Tips…

In every blog post I’ll be sharing writing tips and prompts taken from my Retreat West short story course The Heart of the Short Story, and sharing the wisdom of famous authors.

So let’s get started by talking about getting started!

Each time you start to write something new, you need to ask yourself several questions. The first thing to consider is why you are writing this particular story. Does it need to be told? What exactly are you trying to say?

In other words, what’s the point?

Then you need to ask these specific questions of the story itself:

1: Whose story is it, why are they telling it now – or at all?

2: Readers want to see people in trouble and find out what they do about it. Most stories are about someone or something being in the wrong place. Ask yourself if your main character is in a wrong enough place for there to be a real story?

3: What exactly is at stake?

4: Can you sum up the story in one sentence?

5: What do you want the reader to care about?

6: Can you identify the key emotion in your story?

7: What is the deeper meaning, the heart of the matter – is your story shining a light on a particular aspect of the human condition?

(From The Heart of the Short Story ©Amanda Huggins 2020)

Books and Events…

Last week saw the launch of Mary Valentine Williams new novel, Losing It, at Market Drayton Library, which is a novel I had the pleasure of editing. Well I say ‘pleasure’, but that’s probably not the right word, as this isn’t an easy read for many reasons. Don’t let that put you off for a second though. Here are a couple of early reviews:

Losing it by Valentine Williams

“I knew before I started reading that it was unlikely there would be a happy ending, but I still found it a gripping novel. Jane has been detained in a secure psychiatric unit for killing her children, and Losing It tells the story of her confrontation with a troubled past following intervention from a well-meaning doctor. The conclusion is perhaps inevitable, yet it is nevertheless shocking and thought-provoking.” Flo Knox

Losing It creates a sense of daily life on a small ward for profoundly disturbed and dangerous patients that is deeply engaging. Layered on top of that is a first-person narrative by Jane – incarcerated forever for killing her two children – which is riveting. Strong feelings of sympathy for Jane and for those who care for her on the ward build as the story develops. It’s a real page turner whose conclusion seems as natural as it is inevitable.” John Hargreaves

Here are four upcoming events and theatre dates for your diary:

The first is shameless self-promotion! I will be reading at the monthly Later at the Library event – 7.30 p.m. this Friday (25th) at Denby Dale Community Library. It’s two for the price of one, as I am joined by crime writer Sarah Linley, author of The Trip and The Wedding Murders.

Sarah and I will be reading from our recent titles, chatting about the importance of place in fiction, the differences and similarities in our work and writing processes, and more. In fact, you won’t be able to shut us up!

On 2nd December at 2 p.m. you can join Victorina Press for the launch of Erica Crompton’s memoir The Mind Surfer at Newcastle-Under-Lyme Library.

The Mind Surfer is journalist Erica Crompton’s memoir, a collection of first-person prose and journalism that explores exactly what psychosis is and how she learned to manage it in her late teens to mid-thirties. This book is aimed at all people, young or old, whose lives have been touched by psychosis: themselves, their loved ones and their caregivers.

‘The Mind Surfer’ by Erica Crompton

On 5th December at 7 p.m. you can join our author Rhiannon Lewis at the Wales Book of the Year 2022 celebration event. Rhiannon’s short story collection, I Am the Mask Maker, was shortlisted for the English-language fiction category of the award, and along with two other shortlisted writers, she will appear at the London Welsh Centre, Gray’s Inn Road, London, to read and discuss her work. It’s a free event, and you can register for tickets here:

And last, but very much not least, is a theatrical premiere from Kendal Community Theatre. A Christmas Carol for Kendal is being staged on 8th December in Kendal Town Hall. A new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ghost story, it  is written by professional directors Ginny Moss and Chris Taylor to include material specific to Kendal – anyone heard of ‘barring out’?

Scrooge is a Kendalian by birth and our poster is a print of Kendal by Jamie Barnes, printmaker.

There’s a lot of Kendal in A Christmas Carol for Kendal!

But you need to get your skates on, as it’s booking up fast and there aren’t many tickets left!

Before I Go…

…here are a couple more of my favourite words:

Beija-flor (Portuguese)
This combines the words ‘kiss’ and ‘flower’ to form the beautiful Portuguese name for the hummingbird.

Attraversiamo (Italian) for ‘let’s cross’
Yes, it’s the famous one from Eat, Pray, Love, but it rolls around the mouth so beautifully that it always deserves a fresh outing. (My other favourite Italian word to say aloud is Montepulciano.)

See you next time!



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