Launching: brand new short story course

We’re proud to announce our latest course launch: The Heart of The Short Story, by tutor and award-winning author, Amanda Huggins. We caught up with her to talk about the course, and how it helps students to make their short fiction shine.

Find out more about the course, and how to sign up, here.

  • The Heart of the Short Story launches this week – congratulations! What inspired you to put this course together, and how long has it been in the pipeline?

Thank you Rosie! I’ve been planning this course for a while, but up until April I had a full-time job in engineering as well as my writing and freelance work, so there were never enough free hours to put something together.

When I was furloughed at the beginning of the first lockdown, Amanda Saint approached me to ask if I was interested in writing and tutoring a course for Retreat West. I jumped at the opportunity to create The Heart of the Short Story, and right from the start, my aim was to create the kind of course I’d love to enrol on myself. As the title suggests, I wanted to get to the very heart of why we write stories, to cover specific areas of study which would hone students’ skills in such a way that they would discover the deeper meaning in their work. 

  • Could you tell us a little about the course – what it includes, how long it runs and options for flexibility?

The group course – which will run for the first time in January 2021 – lasts for six weeks, and the tutorials are designed to equip students with the tools and building blocks they need to ensure their short stories resonate with readers and have a life after the last line. Prompts, readings, ideas, exercises and examples will show them how to create memorable characters and settings which stand out, and how to write prose that makes their stories shine.

The group course also includes an online forum where students can chat with both myself and their course mates, sharing responses to exercises for feedback and encouragement. After the course has ended they will then be able to submit two short stories of up to 2500 words each and receive a detailed critique highlighting strengths and suggesting areas for further development.

If students prefer working alone at their own pace, they can enrol on the course as an individual at any time, and will then be given three months to access the tutorials. In either case, students can send in their completed submission stories up to a month after the course has ended.

  • What are the key areas of study that students will cover in the course?

The course focuses in detail on six specific elements of short story writing. Here’s a quick summary: 

What’s the point?: The questions you need to ask about your story before you begin. How to ensure readers will care about the story you have decided to write – the search for deeper meaning. 

Grab and anchor: Grabbing the reader with a great opening paragraph and anchoring the story with a brilliant last line. Effective ways to begin your story and different types of ending.

She’s a real character: Creating and developing relatable, memorable characters. Understanding psychic distance and psychology of character, techniques to create deep point of view.

Putting your story in its place: Exploring the power of stories to transport us to another world. How location can affect your character’s decisions, motivation, and how they act and feel. The ways in which a strong sense of place will immerse the reader and make your stories feel real and believable.

The way you tell it: The importance of the beauty, rhythm and sound of words. How to use language effectively and employ techniques to make your prose style both economical and lyrical. Understanding active voice and sentence pace, how to create rhythm and realistic dialogue.

Life beyond the last line: Reviewing your overall story arc, the events which have triggered a shift in your character’s view of the world, the consequences of their actions. Checking that every sentence develops character, explores your theme or enhances the plot. Techniques to ensure your language is precise and ruthlessly pruned, that the story has the reading rhythm it needs.

  • What do you feel sets your course apart; what can students be particularly excited to gain from working through The Heart of the Short Story?

I think one reason this course works really well is because the tutorials concentrate on developing specific aspects of short story writing rather than encompassing a wider, and therefore more general, area of study.

When deciding on the content, I approached it from a writer’s viewpoint as well as from a tutor’s, and I considered the questions I’m often asked about writing short fiction. Secondly, the course focuses on the three topics I am passionate about, which are also the things that have made my own stories successful.

For example, as an experienced travel writer I have always been interested in creating stories which transport the reader to different worlds, as well as being acutely aware of the powerful effects our surroundings have on psyche. Similarly, since training as a counsellor in the late 1980s I’ve been interested in psychology and motivation, and have explored the complexities of the human condition through relatable characters in my fiction. And as a poet as well as a prose writer, I have always aimed to create work which celebrates the beauty and rhythm of language.

But most of all I want my writing to be empathetic and authentic; I want it to evoke an emotional response. Writing in the short story form isn’t about complex plotting and creating over-detailed profiles for every single character; it’s all about feeling and finding the key emotion in your work. These are the things I am passionate about and hope to share – I can’t wait to get started!

Find out more about the course, and how to sign up, here.

More about Amanda:

Amanda Huggins is the award-winning author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. Her work has also been widely published in newspapers, magazines, journals and anthologies, and broadcast on BBC radio. 

In 2020 she won the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award, and her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds, won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet. 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

She has been placed and listed in numerous other competitions, including Fish, Bridport, Bath and the Alpine Fellowship Writing Award. Her debut novella, All Our Squandered Beauty, was shortlisted for the Best Opening Chapter Competition at York Festival of Writing in 2019, and will be published in January 2021 by Victorina Press. Amanda’s travel writing has also won several awards, 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.  She works as a freelance editor and tutor, and is currently writing her third novel as well as working on a new collection of short stories and flash fiction.