Saturday, November 29, 2008

No, I can't

I was going to blog about how wonderful it is to be home again after almost a month away. I was going to blog about the highlights of the last week of my trip - finally meeting the wonderful Sue Guiney, going to the Momaya Press awards ceremony, seeing a great French film with my mother that reminded me of a perfectly-crafted short story (Let's Talk About the Rain). I was going to write a few words of cautionary advice for anyone planning on going to a writing retreat. I was going to blog about what I might be up to this week.

But I can't. I am so distressed by what happened in Mumbai - and what is still happening, because we here know from bitter experience that just because the bombs have stopped exploded, the guns have stopped firing, the terrorists have been killed or detained, this isn't the end of anything. Hundreds of families and friends of the killed and wounded will never be the same, the city will never recover, nor will the country. I know that appalling atrocities are happening everywhere, all the time. Why has this one affected me so much? I don't know.

So, I can't. I can't find a reason to talk about myself, can't find a reason to cheerfully waffle on about short stories, can't find any answer to the question of why, can't see this answer in fiction, in writing fiction, in talking about fiction.

So I will be quiet for a while. I don't want to talk about myself here right now. My virtual book tour continues, and that is making me contemplate and dig deep for the answers to the questions. That will be it for the moment. A moment of silence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Virtual Book Tour Stop 5: Tim Jones' Books in Trees

The fifth stop on my round-the-world virtual book tour is New Zealand author Tim Jones' blog, Books in the Trees. We're chatting about interstitital fiction, fiction which falls between genres... as well as books, trees, and the number 27! A taster:

Tim: If we consider interstitial fiction as being fiction that crosses, or falls between, genre boundaries, do you regard all or some of the stories in The White Road and Other Stories as being interstitial fiction, and if so, do you feel a kinship with other writers of interstitial fiction?

Tania: Well, strictly speaking, interstitial fiction only exists if you believe in the genre boundaries in the first place. But since we haven't reached a genre-less state yet, I will answer your question. When I wrote the stories in The White Road, I had no thought of genre, of where they might “fit”. Plaits is a story where a woman talks to her knees; in The White Road the main character sets up a cafe in Antarctica; the protagonist of Rainstiffness is temporarily paralyzed every time it rains; the main character of Self Raising makes “scientific” cakes. I don't know where this places my stories!.

Read more here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leaving France & Second Review of The White Road

I am leaving France today after my three week stay and so I thought I would write a little more about my experiences. I had high expectations, extraordinarily high, due to having been spoiled - twice - by my stays at the Anam Cara writers retreat. Compared to Anam Cara I would describe La Muse, which is in a beautiful setting, very isolated, amazing views, more as "self-catering accomodation for writers and artists", which is different from a cushioned and all-catered retreat. It's not a place where you can think only of your writing, your characters, your plot knots and tangles - there are fires to be lit to keep warm, and three meals a day to be thought out. I didn't "do" all the work I thought I wanted to, but I did sleep a lot, and meet four wonderful people, Cynthia, Adrian, Susan and S, and we five conjured up that magical space of creativity, inspiration, writing and reading, sharing and eating that is what this is all about! Thank you, all four of you, for co-creating this space, in which we cooked together, read to each other, did flash-writing sessions, laughed a lot, drank quite a bit (I introduced them to some great Israeli wine!), and gave the Scrabble board a strenuous workout! A retreat really is only as good as your fellow retreaters, and this really was a wonderful group.
Today I am leaving, and looking forward to reuniting with J, and to going to the Momaya Press short story awards in London tomorrow, and to meeting Sue Guiney on Wednesday, and to finding myself a cupcake, and to hanging out with my family members, and then, then, to be going home, via a convoluted flight plan which involves three take-offs and landings, but will be fine.
To speed me on my way, a second and cheek-reddeningly glowing review for The White Road and Other Stories, from John Lloyd at The BookBag.A little snippet:
There are small links and connections between some of the stories that can be found, if one wants to look for them, but on the whole the book is tempered by the author's excellent ability to bring the global down to a personal level. What is life but for us responding to human biology, the weather, the spirit and energy of the world? That's exactly what Hershman has done, and what she makes her characters do...this collection is one of those rare instances of a sustained brilliance, introducing to me a true artist with a high degree of quality control. I will be eagerly looking for more published works from her – of any length.
Read the rest of the review here on the The BookBag.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Source of Lit

Taking my inspiration from the wonderful Emerging Writers Network, I thought I'd mention just a few of the sources of great writing I've been enjoying recently:

Flash fiction:

The Deadline by Stefanie Freele in the newly launched Gander Press Review

The Table by David Erlewine in Smokelong Quarterly

The Collector of Shiny by Sara Crowley in Every Day Fiction

Going to be Like Miss Marple by Frances Gapper in Wigleaf

Two Minute Silence
by Sarah Hilary in Smokelong

Short Stories

Used to be by Elizabeth Baines in Carve


A Stone for Your Shoe by Vanessa Gebbie in Every Day Poets

Three Poems by Harvey Molloy (thanks to Tim Jones!)


Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney - I had been looking forward to reading this for ages, and was most certainly not disappointed, with its perfect blend of physics, family dynamics and wonderful writing! I will post a proper review soon.

Absent Kisses by Frances Gapper - a wonderful collection of fabulous, funny, odd and moving flash stories.

by A L Kennedy - am half way through and I am blown away by this book, the prose, the characters. Unbelievable.

The Scent of Cinnamon: and Other Stories (Salt Modern Fiction) by Charles Lambert. I've only read a few stories but am loving this collection, it is surprising, dark, witty.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Video Killed the Radio Star

If you'd like to see me reading two of my stories from The White Road at the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival in Ireland in September, here they are, thanks to the wonderful James and his camera! (It's kind of odd to watch and listen to myself... I don't think it looks much like me!)

Also: a short interview with me on Fictionaut, a great new site for writers. Pop along.

'Plaits' by Tania Hershman on Vimeo.

'North Cold' by Tania Hershman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stop 4 on the Walking the White Road Virtual Book Tour: Let's Talk Religion

Today I am hosted by the wonderful Sue Guiney on her blog, and we're talking about fiction and religion, something I had never thought about before she asked me her thought-provoking questions. A taster:

In a way, the fiction writer's “What if...?” that he or she asks himself is similar to the Talmudic rabbis, who discussed and pondered every possible permutation that occurred to them, every possible behaviour or situation that someone might come up against, in order to formulate a Jewish answer – or more than one! I have studied a little bit of Talmud and find it fascinating, the rabbis were often highly imaginative in the scenarios they thought up and in the ways they formulated solutions to problems.
For the rest of the interview, click here.
For more details about my Virtual Book Tour, visit

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back online, in several ways

I have been Internet-less for the past few days, it was wonderful to get back online today and find 21 comments waiting for me, thank you all for your congratulations, it means so much to me. Must pay in that cheque...

(Just a note: all the links in this blog post open in a new window, so feel free to click without fear of missing anything here!)

In other nice news: I heard about Eyeshot last week through the Literary rejections on display blog, which was talking about the editor, Lee Klein's, legendary and lengthy rejection letters. I thought to myself, Well, let's get me one of those great rejections, and I sent off a new and strange flash story.

Instead, two days later, I got this:
I get so many purportedly "flash fiction" things - short pieces that try to do what you've done here - and although, content-wise, they don't really deliver much less than this piece, formally they don't suspend distraction as well or focus attention for a moment -- a quick, sharp look into a world, which this one does. Thus, I'd like to post it, definitely.
So incredibly nice. The story is now up on Eyeshot. And I am delighted to be there. Thanks, Lee!

Second, I have tried and failed for a long time to get anything accepted by online flash fiction journal Smokelong Quarterly. Finally, to my great delight, I was asked by one of the editors to submit several flash stories. That is a first for me, but I know that being solicited by a magazine is no guarantee of acceptance, so I was doubly thrilled that today they accepted one of the flash stories, Coat and Shoes. It will be published in the next issue, in December, along with an interview with me, I believe.

I'm back in France on the writers retreat now, after all the hubbub of the past few days, between awards ceremonies and the funeral of a dear, dear man, JB. It's nice to be back in the silence, I am determined to "make the most" of this last week of retreating, but not in a way that puts great pressure on me to "do" and "produce". Resting, thinking, contemplating how it will be when I get home; all these will also be "making the most". Here's wishing you all a wonderful week.

PS Next stop on the Walking the White Road virtual book tour: Sue Guiney's Blog, Tues Nov 18th, for a discussion on fiction and religion!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finally... I can tell you what I won!

I've been keeping it in for three months and now, finally, I can announce: I am the European regional winner of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's short story competition. I went to the awards ceremony tonight, it was wonderful, in a beautiful historic building in London, on Pall Mall.

There are more details on the website and you can download an audio version of my very short story, Straight Up, read by a professional actor. I still can't quite believe it...very very thrilling!

Huge congratulations to Julie Curwin, the overall winner, who came over from Canada, and all the other regional winners and highly commended writers, some of whom I had the privilege of meeting tonight. I can't wait to listen to everyone's stories. A great and wonderful celebration of the short story!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Routine inquiries: what goes into a writing 'process'?

A very timely blog on the Guardian today made me laugh and added to my sense that a writing routine, especially for a short story writer, doesn't really work. Now this is a great idea:
The best thing I discovered was the fake commute, recommended by a (non-famous) writer friend: aping one of his own heroes, he gets up every morning, gets dressed, walks around the block several times, and goes home to work. I have adapted this practice by riding my bicycle in a circuitous route through rush-hour traffic, which makes me feel much more serious when I return to write at the table where I've just had breakfast.
Routine inquiries: what goes into a writing 'process'? | Books |
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Retreating is hard

Isn't it gorgeous? This is a rooftop in the small village I am staying in for the writers' retreat. I finally went out of the house yesterday and went for a long, long walk, down the mountainside, along winding roads, to another stunning village where I wandered along the stream and cleared my head.
I have been here for just over a week and I have found it incredibly hard to settle down and "do" anything. I had grand plans for all the projects I was going to work on, but just haven't been able to do any of them. I have been missing home, missing James, missing the cats, missing my favourite cafes, missing all the distractions. Unsettled, I have been carrying on with my normal "routine" of checking email, playing Scrabble, Facebook, etc...I was so desperate for this month, craving it, but now I am here, it's just not quite what I imagined for myself.

But, during my walk yesterday, I realised that I have been retreating. First, I have been sleeping. A lot. And that's not something I had been doing much of since the White Road came out. Two months of almost constant head-spinning, that's how it has felt. Two months of sudden, "Must sell my book" pressure, with confusion over what I am supposed to be doing, how a "published" author behaves, who should I contact to get it out there, so many questions.

So: sleep. Very important. Very welcome. I can do that.

Second, I have made some decisions about what I am not going to do. I am not going to rush into a second book, a collection of flash fiction. I just don't need to. And I am not at all convinced that my flashes would work in a book by themselves, without longer stories interspersed. Not convinced. So, no rush.

Third, this morning I gathered a set of prompts and four of us did a wonderful flash-writing session, where we all wrote for 20 minutes using the same set of prompts and then read out what we had written. Magic. It's always magical, seeing what each person makes of the same fragments of sentences (which I "liberated" from various poems I found online). It's a renewal of faith in that creative process, the one in which there is no story and then, 20 minutes later, here are characters, willed into existence, with lives, loves, desires, pain. We are going to do more of this!

Part of why I am unsettled has to do with the fact that I am leaving the retreat tomorrow for a quick trip to London for an awards ceremony (details will be available Thursday night), so knowing I was going has perhaps stopped me from truly immersing myself. But then I think to myself - would I have immersed? Immersed into what?

I need to let go, let go of the need to "do", and as Cynthia so aptly reminded me this morning, by sending me the link to this blog post: How Getting Nothing Done can Make You More Productive. Yes. Ok. I think I will try that. It's hard.

Perhaps I should have done as Vanessa has on her blog today, set out some goals for her upcoming retreat in Ireland (have a wonderful time!). Perhaps I was unprepared. But I am here now, and must do what I must do - including not pressuring myself to do anything.

On a brighter note, my fellow Salt author Charles Lambert sets off on his own "Something Rich and Strange" Virtual Book Tour with his first appearance, on fellow author and blogger Elizabeth Baines' blog. Do check it out, it's well worth the read, as is his collection. Bon (virtual) voyage, Charles!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Stop 3 on the Walking the White Road virtual book tour

Today I'm visiting Vanessa Gebbie's blog for a discussion about magical realism. Here's a taster:

"Only some of the stories in my book would be called magical realist, and that this isn't something I set out consciously to do. Much like you, I imagine, I just follow where the story leads me. If, as happened with the story Rainstiffness, I hear the first line in my head: “When it rains, she stiffens”, I just go with it and am not put off, made nervous by the fact that actually my main character is semi-paralyzed during rainstorms, something I have not heard of happening in “real life”. Many of my stories are far more realist, whatever that means, some are perhaps more in the science fiction realm – not realist enough to be even magical realism. What I am trying to say is that I believe in doing whatever serves a particular story, rather than setting out to write a piece of magical realism."

Read more on Vanessa Gebbie's blog.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


The most ENORMOUS congratulations to my extremely talented, not to mention lovely, writer friend Elaine Chiew, who has scooped one of the biggest prizes in the short story world, the Bridport Prize, for her story, Face. I am so totally thrilled! What a joy, when a friend and a wonderful writer receives recognition for her work. Elaine, spend the money unwisely ;) !

Friday, November 07, 2008

In the Jewish Chronicle!

Thank you to the wonderful Anne Joseph for her article about me in this week's issue of the Jewish Chronicle, Britain's national Jewish newspaper. It's been many years since I appeared between these pages as a character in a local youth club's production of... of...? Oops, forgotten. But this, well this is different (they have called me "triple-award-winning" - quite a build up!)

A taster:
"It seems trendy currently to talk about the death of the short story and it's simply not true. There is a huge amount of activity going on, both in magazines and online. Podcasts are another exciting medium and may well be a way to get short stories across to more people."
Full article here. Someone save me a print copy??

PS More exciting news coming next Thursday, something I haven't been able to talk about yet.... Just thought I'd start building suspense....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

God says Yes

Thank you, thank you to Sarah for bringing this wonderful poem to my attention. It spoke to me so clearly about what I am doing here, on this retreat. (I took the word "short" in the third line to be about the length of the stories I am writing!). May we be inspired, on this exciting day of great potential and change:

God Says Yes to Me
by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

Walking the White Road: Stop 2: LiteraryMinded in Australia

The world certainly seems to be a different place to wake up to this morning, excitement and change in the air. For me, I may be in France, but I am also appearing in Australia today, the second leg of my Walking the White Road virtual book tour! A small taster from LiteraryMinded blog author Angela Meyer:
"Tania Hershman takes you on a series of short imaginative adventures in The White Road. Some stories are casual, tough, or laid-back, many are poetic. There are backwards unravellings, fantastical flights, speculated inventions, surprises, cleverness, humour, and scorn. The snapshots vary in tone, and explore possibilities - scientific, technological, emotional. The book is physically bag-sized and each story can be read in a sitting, but are all worthy of full attention."
I talk a bit about inspiration:
Other writers inspire me. Great writing inspires me. Bad writing inspires me. Films, plays, television programmes, magazines, conversations, inspiration comes from every corner.
...and a bit about two eleven-year-old boys. Head over to LiteraryMinded to find out more!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

La Muse: Day 1

I arrived at La Muse writers and artists retreat at midnight last night, so this could still be counted as day one. My journey took rather longer than expected, do to trains being stuck in tunnels between Spain and France, and then more trains not arriving, leaving me sitting for 3 hours on the floor of Narbonne Station, watching the last episode of Mad Men season two on my laptop!

I was a little distressed about it all, not used to being a lone traveller any more, especially not a long traveller with a stupidly heavy case on wheels, when French railway stations seem to pride themselves on their many and steep flights of stairs to get from Platform A to Platform B. Disabled access? A little lacking. But I was assisted by helping hands from behind on every staircase, kind French men who insisted on heaving up my stupidly heavy case for me! That made it all much more bearable. (I gave a free copy of my book to a lovely Austrian guy who went far beyond the call of duty and carried my bag up many many steps when we were forced, because of the stuck train, to get a lift by car from a wonderful French couple from Spain over the border to France to get to the next station. Thank you, A, if you are out there!)

OK. La Muse. Wow. Pictures (taken with new digital camera purchased specially for this purpose):
This is La Muse.
The view.
My living room - just one of the three rooms that are all mine - bathroom (with bath and shower), bedroom and enormous living room with a view of the wooded hills from four windows.

The bed. Large, and with what appears to be the fleece of several sheep to guard against the cold.

I met my fellow retreaters this morning, Susan Pogorzetski, a writer, and Cynthia Morris, writer and artist. (there is also Shahnaz, who was here for October and decided to stay on through La Muse's barter system). We have only met briefly, more later I hope.) We had a get-together with John, who runs La Muse together with his wife Kerry (who will appear tomorrow). Did we have any questions about the ten pages of "guidelines" we had been giving? Reading them at midnight last night was a little nerve-wracking, but ultimately they are about protecting us and making sure we can get as much work done, in peace and quiet, as possible, and that we respect the place and each other.

I do hope it's a productive, inspiring month for all of us. I am nervous I won't make the most of it, but those nerves, obviously, are completely self-destructive. Whatever I do, it's already good. I feel relaxed, the twitch under my eye that has been bugging me for two weeks has gone overnight. (So it wasn't the coffee, yippee!).

I will blog when I feel like it, which might be daily, might not. Not committing to anything!

I just stopped typing for a second and...

complete silence.