Guest Post: Amanda Huggins on Killer Short Stories

In the latest of my six-month series of guest posts from authors of new books, Amanda Huggins gives some tips for fledging short story writers.

If you want to write killer short stories, then one of the most important things to do is to read killer short stories. Lots of them. It sounds obvious, yet I often meet blank looks when I ask writers who are new to short fiction to name their favourite short story writers. Short stories aren’t novels-in-miniature, any more than novels are extended short stories. They are two different skill sets, and the best way to get started is to read the masters.

A great short story needs to plunge straight in with no preamble. It should have conflict, a strong ending, a limited cast of characters, and every word should count. (If only I stuck to those rules myself!)

I have countless favourite short story writers and the collections on my shelves include books by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, Helen Simpson, Helen Dunmore, A L Kennedy, Wells Tower, Stuart Evers, Miranda July, Yoko Ogawa, K J Orr, Ernest Hemingway, Taeko Kono, Haruki Murakami, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Annie Proulx, Isaac Babel, Angela Readman, and A M Homes.

A recent delight was Helen Dunmore’s posthumous collection, Girl Balancing, and I particularly loved the first section of the book, ‘The Nina Stories’. These stories are almost notes for a novel-in-waiting; a sequence of vignettes centred around a girl called Nina, set in the 60s/70s. They are painstakingly intense; attention is paid to Nina’s every moment and action, and there are some lovely period details that evoke a strong sense of place. The writing turns the mundane into something beautiful, and the final story soars. Seventeen-year-old Nina is left alone on Christmas Day in a house at the seaside. She goes roller skating along the seafront with her friend, Mal, and when the mood turns, she must outwit him. I’ll leave you to find out for yourself if she succeeds.

I’d also recommend having several pieces of work out there at any given time. If you only submit one story and then wait patiently for it to be rejected/accepted, when that rejection comes it will hit hard. If you have ten or twenty pieces out at any given time then the rejections won’t feel as bad.

Never forget that the opinions of editors and judges are subjective. So be persistent! My story ‘Red’ was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, but had already been rejected by a couple of magazines and failed to reach the longlist of three smaller competitions.

Sadly, despite an encouraging rise in sales of short story collections, it’s still difficult to get work published anywhere for hard cash. That’s why prizes and awards are so important to emerging short story writers, and why I still enter most of my stories into competitions first.

Lastly, really take note of feedback. It’s all too easy to reject criticism, yet in my experience the advice of a good editor is nearly always sound.

Amanda Huggins is the author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018, and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’, features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. Her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for poetry in 2020. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.

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

Twitter: @troutiemcfish

Amanda Huggins
Scratched Enamel Heart is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scratched-Enamel-Heart-Amanda-Huggins/dp/191606938X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=scratched+enamel&qid=1589632869&s=books&sr=1-1


Friday story: 9) Underneath the Stars

This is a little story which I started in Italy in May, in the wonderful flash fiction course with Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman and a bunch of other talented writers. Here’s the beautiful soundtrack which inspired it and from which it takes its title:

Underneath the Stars

Cath Barton

He still looks for her at the tail end of the day, our old grey cat, Merlin. Sitting at the top of the steps, outside our front door. Watching the bend in the road. Watching and waiting for her battered old Ford Fiesta to appear round the bend, her tooting and waving to tell us she’s home and calling out to me to put the kettle on because:

‘I’m dying for a cup of tea!’

That was Marie-Louise. She was greedy for life.

She brought cakes, always a little sweet something. But now the days of our feasting are done and it’s quiet day and night in Silverdale, in the quicksilver light of the moon and the rarely-now-golden light of the sun.

For they closed the road off.

Marie-Louise would not have wanted that, would have insisted that the va-et-vient should continue. For she loved the rush and fall of things.

Merlin’s still sitting looking, still hopeful, as the silvery sheen of his coat merges into the dusk. I call him and we go together into the back garden. We sit by side, noses twitching to catch the sinuous waft of night scents as, above us, the map of the heavens unrolls. There’s the whoosh of a train down in the cutting but Merlin doesn’t stir.

I point. ‘She’s up there,’ I whisper in his ear.

It’s a blind hope. I can’t read the night sky any more than I could read her mind or understand her crazy impulses.

Merlin’s ears prick now and he darts after some little creature invisible to me in the fading light. Something snuffles near the railway tracks. A fox maybe, or a badger. I call Merlin back from danger. He comes and he sits, quietly, close by me. And I nuzzle his soft back.

 

NEWS!  I’m going to include this story in a collection of short fiction and photographs which I’m putting together with my husband and fellow writer, Oliver Barton. It’s called Candyfloss III. Yes, it’s the third in a series, though there’s been a bit of a gap since the last one. You can still buy Candyfloss II here.

We hope to have Candyfloss III out in January. All profits will go to local charities where we live in Abergavenny. And it will be available to buy directly from us. You’ll hear about it here first.

 

 

My twelve days of Christmas – 11 – The short story

As a writer of shorter fiction I obviously hope that readers will want to buy and read short stories. I’m currently reading Elizabeth’s Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which you will see described as a novel but is actually made up of short stories. All feature the character Olive Kitteridge, but each can stand alone. I wonder if the book would have been so successful if it had been promoted as a collection of short stories rather than a novel!

Anyway, I look forward to reading new short stories in 2018. The longlist for the Galley Beggar short story prize has just been announced, and all are available to read here.

I also greatly look forward to the posthumous publication in June of a new book of short stories by Helen Dunmore:

Girl, Balancing and Other Stories

The Christmas season is nearly over, but  before you let it go enjoy Helen Dunmore’s story  A House by the Sea, published by The Independent in 2008.

Helen Dunmore story illustration.PNG