Sunday 2 October 2022

Amanda Huggins, "An Unfamiliar Landscape"


Amanda Huggins is the author of All Our Squandered Beauty and Crossing the Lines – both of which won a Saboteur Award for Best Novella – as well as four collections of short stories and a poetry chapbook. Amanda's fiction and travel writing have appeared in publications such as Mslexia, Popshot, Tokyo Weekender, The Telegraph, Traveller, Wanderlust and the Guardian. Three of her flash fiction stories have also been broadcast on BBC radio.

She has won numerous awards, including the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award, the H. E. Bates Short Story Prize and the British Guild of Travel Writers New Travel Writer of the Year. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award and the Fish Short Story Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Flash Prize, The Alpine Fellowship Award and many others. 

Amanda lives in Yorkshire and works as an editor and publishing assistant. Her first full-length poetry collection will be published by Victorina Press in 2023.

About An Unfamiliar Landscape

Stories from the city, the sea, the forest; stories from places where everything is not always as it first appears … 

From a rain-soaked Berlin to a neon-lit Tokyo, the midwest of North America to the Parisian backstreets, a suburban London kitchen to a fishing village on the Yorkshire coast, wherever these characters are travelling from or to, they are all navigating unfamiliar ground in search of answers.

In ‘The Names of the Missing,’ Kara walks the streets of Berlin, photographing the homeless and the displaced while looking for her own missing boys. Sam and Isla’s familiar world is irrevocably altered ‘In the Time It Takes to Make a Risotto,’ and in ‘Waiting to Fall’ Gina is unsettled by the wild landscape when she stays at remote Ragwood Hall. In ‘Something in the Night,’ an urban forest plays tricks on Anna’s perception of reality, and in the title story, Sophia moves through Tokyo almost unseen; simultaneously freed and trapped by her apparent invisibility. 

These are stories of the yearning to belong and the urge to escape; tales of grief and alienation, loss and betrayal, love and truth, change and hope.

You can read more about An Unfamiliar Landscape on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories, 'Aleksandr.' 

From An Unfamiliar Landscape, by Amanda Huggins


I watch Alex through the kitchen window. He turns his collar up against the salt-licked wind, walks past without looking up, his wool cap pulled low. 

The room is quiet and hollow now he’s gone, the mantel clock widening the emptiness as it strikes the hour. Alex said it would be fine, my mother taking the baby for a few days, he said it would do me good to have a break. But I miss the wee boy already, the straightforward way he fills each day with the mundane, the way he tangles me up in his needs, sweeps me up with his smile. He shows me the best of myself, leaves no room for the dark doubt underneath.

I say my husband’s name out loud. Aleksandr. I try to pronounce it the way his mother does, turning it over in my mouth. The sharp bite of the ‘k’ followed by the soft hiss of the ‘s,’ then the sigh of the fall and the short uptick of the finish. 

Aleksandr, Aleksandr, Aleksandr. 

When I first met him – first craved him – I thrilled to hear his mother say it, pronouncing it in her beautiful Russian accent. The anticipation made me dizzy. I mouthed ‘Aleksandr’ at my reflection in the mirror, conscious of the way the word was formed by my lips, my tongue, my teeth. It raced down my spine in a way I knew it never would again after the first time we made love. His name was a precious gift, a gift I still hold tightly to my ribs, never daring to call him it for fear it will shatter. To everyone other than his mother he is always Alex. 

I stack the bowls and plates on the shelf, turn back to the window, pause for a moment when I see him in the distance outside the herring shed. I clutch the edge of the sink until the door swings shut behind him, then I let go of my breath, watch it curl around the room like sea mist.

If Alex were to get his job back on the trawlers then perhaps he would walk tall again, north wind or no wind, no longer cowed by the weight of his needless guilt. It follows him around the house, a monkey clinging to his back, and when he leaves for work he carries it with him in his knapsack. At night it lies between us in the bed, and he turns away from it, scratches his arms as though he can feel its fingers tapping. 

He says he only wants the best for me, for our baby, and I tell him we already have the best. I chose this life. I always understood it would be hard, realised that new clothes and expensive dinners would be rare. I’d seen the damp patches on the parlour walls, knew I would be dragging buckets of coal from the cellar and struggling to keep the Aga alight, that I would be fighting the rain and the wind to carry washing out to the scullery in the winter. This is exactly the life I expected when I made my choice, and it’s a good life, an honest life, a solid life. 

But this morning I’m temporarily uprooted, drifting, trying to float above the high wall that bricks me in a little further every day. My comforting mantra no longer rings true; I’m unsure that anything can make Alex walk tall again.

No comments:

Post a Comment