Tania Hershman Interview

I’ve mentioned Tania Hershman here before, and with good reason. She’s a lovely person, a good friend, great writer, top editor (at The Short Review) and, most importantly, the author of The White Road and Other Stories, which was published on Monday.
I am extremely pleased to interview her about the collection, right here on the blog. Here she is…

So Tania, tell us about the book.
Well, it’s my first collection, it’s called The White Road and Other Stories, and it’s published by Salt Publishing, a wonderful small press in the UK where “small” actually means dynamic, innovative, great lovers of writers and writing. It contains 27 stories, half of them “flash fiction”, less than 500 words long, and half of them “science-inspired” meaning that they took as their inspiration articles from New Scientist, the UK science magazine (see below for more about this).

It was published on September 1st. As of the time of writing this, I haven’t seen a copy yet, since I live in Israel and the postal service is appalling, but the publication date was, nevertheless, wonderful, a dream come true.

Why short stories?
The “short” answer is that I love short stories. I love the minimalism of a great story, how it fills the space it needs and no longer. I read both short stories and novels, I also love to immerse myself in a long read, but when it comes to writing, short stories are all I want to write. I won’t say I will never write anything longer, but I don’t have a story in my head that would warrant that kind of length, that kind of commitment.
Who would you say it’s for?

If you mean what is the book for, well that’s a very interesting question. I guess it’s for me, to get me to the next stage on this writing journey, the next step on the ladder (oh dear, cliché after cliché!). I suppose it must also be, in some way, for a reader, or, if I am fortunate, several readers. Publication is a necessary part of being a writer, hand in hand with the actual writing. Some might disagree with me, but having my work read by someone else – apart from my writing groups who help me immensely and from whom I learn – is a very special and intimate dialogue, even if they and I are not in touch. My stories are a small part of me that I am sending out into the world, and I can only hope they make some kind of contact with someone, somewhere.
If you mean, on the other hand, what kind of person am I aiming the stories at, well that’s much harder to answer. I don’t think about a reader when I am writing. It’s easier to say who is not aimed at: someone who likes plot-driven fiction, who isn’t interested in language and what can be done with it, who wants realistic fiction. I would say my writing is a little strange, odd, magical realist at times. Not traditional, I don’t think.
How long did it take you to write? How old is the oldest story in there?
The oldest story is from 2004, written when I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Most of the longer stories in the book – over 1000 words – were written during the MA. Most of the flash fiction, half the book, was written since then.
Do you address any particular themes in these stories, or does each stand on its own?
I don’t consciously address any themes in my writing, I just hear the characters’ voices in my head and follow where the stories lead me. I am sure that, when read all together, themes do emerge – there are several stories that deal with the weather in various ways, for example! – but I would rather leave that to the reader to decide what they are. I don’t believe in short stories as educational tools, trying to get across certain ideas or information. I believe that fiction should entertain, should move, should leave the reader changed by the reading experience. I only hope some of my stories might succeed in this aim.
Who, or what, have influenced these stories?

The half of the book that is longer stories are all what I called “science-inspired”: they take as their inspiration articles from New Scientist, the weekly UK science magazines, and then I let my imagination spin from there! I should stress that this is not science fiction, it’s science-inspired fiction. For example, the title story, The White Road, was inspired by a story about how the Americans are paving a “white road” through the snow to the South Pole in order to enable them to deliver supplies to the Pole when the weather is too bad for aeroplanes. My story is actually about a woman who, fleeing from tragedy, sets up a roadside cafe along the White Road. That’s the odd way my imagination works!

The other half of the book is flash fiction, short short stories only a page or two in length, and many of those were written during prompt-writing sessions in various online writing groups. I am quite new to flash fiction and have fallen wholeheartedly in love. There is something about the restrictions of such severe word limits (500 or much much less) that seems to work magic for me in my writing. You can write a complete flash story in one sitting, in 15 minutes. And often they need a tiny amount of tweaking before they are ready to be sent out somewhere. Whereas long stories are something I can work on for years – literally – trying different things, trying to get the voice right, trying to decide what to leave in and what to take out. A completely different process using a different part of my brain.

Did you use a fountain pen to write them?
Never! I can only write on a computer, on my laptop. My fingers moving across the keys seem to be part of the creative process for me.

Tell us something about you.

I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was 6, when I first attempted – and thankfully abandoned – a novel. I was distracted at school by a love for Maths and science and, because of the way the British school system was then, had to choose between science and literature. I chose science, and went on to study Maths and Physics at University, where it became very quickly apparent that I would never be a scientist! I just wasn’t shaped that way. I wrote articles for the university newspaper, then when I left, I moved to Israel, where I now live, and became a science and technology journalist.
After ten years or so, I started getting the itch to write fiction again and began going on short courses, in the US and the UK. On one of these courses six years ago, an Arvon course in Writing and Science – which I was astonished to find because it seemed tailor-made for me – I met my partner James. I went to England for a year to be with him, and did the MA in Creative Writing, and then there was no looking back. 18 months ago I gave up journalism to write fiction full time, and in June 2007 received the news I’d been waiting for since I was six: Salt wanted to publish my collection. It was a dream come true.
What’s next for you?
I am working on a collection of flash fiction, all the stories will be under 1000 words. I have quite a lot of stories already. There is also one character who appeared in one of my newer stories that is demanding I write more about her. Not a novel – but perhaps linked stories. I won a fellowship to the La Muse writing retreat in France to work on both these projects and will be there for the month of November, getting a lot of work done, I hope!
Anything you’d like to add?
I would like to say that I really only write for myself, I write what I would like to read, I write to move me, to make myself laugh or cry. I write, I think, to find out about the world, to get inside the skin of people whose experiences are different from my own, to learn things. I believe in writing what you don’t know, in letting the characters tell you their stories. My stories are not consciously about me, they are often set in places I have never been, and I don’t generally do any research to try and add “realism”. I believe in the power of the imagination, the power of story. Since my first story was accepted for publication, I am continually astonished that anyone else wants to read them, wants to publish them, connects with them in some way. I am both excited and nervous to hear what people think of the White Road and Other Stories. I appreciate honest feedback, I don’t want to hear just platitudes, so if you read the book, please email me through my website or leave a comment on my blog and let me know. Thank you.
And thank you Nik for interviewing me on your blog. I am always interested in finding out what I think!

Tania Hershman

And I can only apologise and chunner at Blogger for ignoring everything I do regarding line spacing.

0 Comments on “Tania Hershman Interview

  1.  by  Anonymous

    Great interview – i wish i could free my mind from the constraints of thinking about my reader.Best of success with the book.Casey

  2.  by  Douglas Bruton

    I really like Tania’s idea of finding inspiration in science… am not a scientist myself… passed through the arts channel… but having left science behind I feel the loss more and more these days… I am gonna get me a copy of New Scientist and see what’s in there.Neat interview. Thanks for this Nik, and Tania… it’s good to get some ‘flesh’ to the bones.Best D

  3.  by  Nik's Blog

    Hullo, Lane and Douglas. Glad you enjoyed it as well.The only thing I think I miss about science is not enjoying it at school; I like it now, I just don’t really understand it!

  4.  by  aoc gold

    The Arrow And The Song (1)I shot an arrow in the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; ;For so swiftly it flew, the sight Could not follow it in its flight. (2)I breathed a song into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For who has sight so keen and strong, That it can follow the flight of song? (3)Long, long afterward, in an oak I found the arrow still unbroke; And the song, from beginning to end, ,I found again in the heart of a friend. 。—–by aoc power leveling

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