Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday MMWAUP offer

Okay, so, the thing is, I find it much easier to promote and gush about other people's books rather than my own (I'm working on that, I feel another blog post coming on) but if you did fancy buying a copy of My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions for this holiday season, I have a special offer for you: for just the cover price (£9.99) + postage, I will not only sign the book for you, I will handwrite an extra 57th story (not about Heinz beans...) into the book! How does that sound?

If you'd like to take up this time-limited offer (see, I'm getting into the sales lingo), you've got til Twelfth Night, January 5th... All you need to do is email me at and a unique copy will be winging its way to you, your loved one or someone you are taking revenge on through very short fictions... Okay? Right. Job done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bookish Gift Ideas...

So, I've been immensely honoured over the past few years to be asked to contribute an endorsement to a range of wonderful books. I take the task of blurbing very seriously, it takes me a long time, for me a blurb is almost a story in itself, and as I've seen from the amazing  blurbs I was lucky enough to get, they can really give a great impression of what is in the book. So, if you're looking for presents to buy this festive season, here are all the books - in no particular order - that I've blurbed, with my blurbs - I highly recommend them all!

Dot Dash by Jon Pinnock
In these wonderful short, very short and very very short stories, Jonathan Pinnock takes aim at all the foibles and vanities we think we succeed in hiding. Not content to just pull back the curtain, Pinnock sets fire to it and chuckles as it blazes. Yet he also executes something of a conjuring trick, making us laugh, but also making us feel, think. Like Nana, whose granddaughter recreates Cairo in her bedroom for her before she dies, we fabricate our own reality: we see and hear what we want and ignore what we don't. Dot Dash is sending us a message, and yes, it may be through yellow plastic ducks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen. 

Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen
Berit Ellingsen is no ordinary wordsmith but a weaver of silken tapestories, lush and burning with both ancient ache and postmodern playfulness. Mixing myth and astronomy, desire and other appetites, and dancing on the thread that slips between poetry and prose, Ellingsen stitches every word in perfect service to her utterly beautiful and dreamlike stories.
The Baghdad Fixer by Ilene Prusher
A journalist's fixer is a go-between in so many senses: linguistic, cultural. The fixer straddles borders and boundaries, helping each try to communicate with the Other. Ilene Prusher conjurs this so beautifully in her stunning, thrilling debut, as Nabil, an Iraqi English teacher with a poetic soul, is drawn into the unfamiliar, learning as much about his own country and people as about the world in which Samarra, the American journalist who has hired him, moves so easily. A unique novel, The Baghdad Fixer's compelling plot is combined with poignant and difficult insights into the life and tragedies of ordinary Iraqis during the war. This is not just a wonderful read, it is an important book for helping us, too, to begin to understand the Other.
Fakakt: Melissa Morris and The Meaning of Sex by Jasmine Schwartz
I love Melissa Morris. The most unlikely heroine of a murder mystery, she's insecure, worried about her failing love life, her job prospects and her fashion sense. Yet when, on a trip to Rome in pursuit of errant boyfriend Colin, she is wrongfully arrested for murder, does she sit in a cell, weeping? She does not. She promptly escapes to track down the real murderer and clear her name. In a city she's not familiar with and a language she doesn't speak. That's more than plucky, and it makes for the unputdownable story of an amateur detective who could be any one of us, stumbling around atmospheric Italian streets trying to piece the plot together. I dare you not to fall in love with Jasmine Schwartz's Melissa Morris too. She may believe she's "fakakt" but I think she's fabulous!
Enough by Valerie O'Riordan
Valerie O'Riordan puts to shame the puffed-up and the oversized with her beautiful, brief and brutal fictions. Each word is worth a hundredweight, each story a full world. O'Riordan is a true original, fierce and fearless, she will travel anywhere for a great story. I can't wait for more!
Storm Warning by Vanessa Gebbie
Both haunted and haunting, Vanessa Gebbie's protagonists in these unsettling stories move through the present but remain always tethered to the past. No war stories these, but explorations of what it means to “survive” the conflicts and horrors created by humans across centuries and continents. Like Pat Barker, Gebbie gives voice to those who cannot forget, even decades later, who was taken and and what was lost in the blood and mud. Gebbie's strength lies in her poetic and poignant combination of reality and dream, the weaving together of outer experience and inner turbulence, and the small sparks of hope even in the darkest corners.
Hot Kitchen Snow by Susannah Rickards
The stories in this quietly powerful collection are populated by characters you care about from the opening sentence, children and adults whose lives you slip into in the midst of action. For Rickards, action is something as ordinary as a mother wondering whether to leave her children alone for five minutes or a dog-food salesman looking for meaning in his life; as magical as the father who kidnaps the moon for his daughter; or as quirky as the overweight dance administrator persuaded to put on a sari and take an Indian dance class. Whatever the context, Rickards’ stories grip and flow onwards, tiny twists and revelations exposing the undersides of life, both glowing and dark. This book will entertain, provoke, shock and surprise you in all the ways a great short story collection should.
In the Spirit of Phineas McLata by Lauri Kubuitsile
Lauri Kubuitsile's stories are sweet, salty, colourful, hot, and unforgettable. Botswana-flavoured and pregnant with atmosphere, Kubuitsile's writing slips easily between the real and the magical, between death and life, love and sex, humour and darkness, friendship and family. Just as McPhineas Lata wove his seductive spell on the village women, so too will these stories bewitch and enchant.
Housewife With A Half Life by Alison Wells
AB Wells is not only a supremely talented writer but also something of an alchemist. Housewife With a Half Life is wondrously original and imaginative, combining the travails of domesticity with glorious scientific allusions and illusions in a fast-paced and sparkling tale of a wife and mother who discovers she is losing herself, and the stranger from another dimension who turns up as she's cleaning the bathroom to make sure it doesn't happen. A wild ride, this nuclear fusion of a novel is, underneath it all, the story of relationships, of family, of what it means to be a mother, a wife, a woman, and, ultimately, a human being. Move over H.G., A B Wells has written the time-travelling tale for the 21st century!
Veronica Britton by Niall Boyce
I could say that Niall Boyce's fiction is X meets Y meets Z, but that would be doing it a severe injustice because it is a fabulously imaginative and unique combination of elements. Here we have historical fiction meets science fiction meets fantasy with a dash of philosophy and a sprinkling of feminism. I was captivated by chronic detective Veronica Britton and her sidekick, superheroines in every sense of the word, saving the world time and again, in and out of time. I was only sorry when I turned the last page and had to leave their exploits. Am eagerly awaiting the next one!

All the Bananas I've Never Eaten by Tony Williams
Tony Williams has a special talent for assembling the magical out of the mundane - whether that be pub carpets, satnavs, mattresses or bananas. These short short stories often deal in pain, in death, in loss and loneliness, in absence, in anger and in shame, but Williams always makes sure that fragments of hope emerge, like the music of an oboe, that short burst of happiness that lights up the dark.

I hope I haven't forgotten anyone! Right, that's your lot, something there for everyone, I think!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Book Stops Here Tomorrow Night!

I am so excited about reading at The Book Stops Here tomorrow night in London - because alongside me (or rather, above me) on the bill is ALI SMITH. Ali Smith, author of many award winning short story collections and novels... and one of the two main reasons I started writing short stories in the first place. Her stories and Roald Dahl's. That was what did it for me. Roald Dahl's stories when I was a child showed me the power of what can be done in a few pages, to shock and surprise. Then, years later, Ali Smith showed me the more intimate side of the short stories, ones that don't need blood, murder and policemen in order to be just as powerful, often as shocking. 

She has also been personally very supportive - I was taught by her and Toby Litt on an Arvon course in 2006 and she basically said what you would imagine in your wildest dreams that one of your gurus would say to you: "You are a writer. You can do this". Talking about permissions in an earlier post - what could be a greater permission than that - not just permission, but instruction!

Anyway, I am blogging about this in advance to try and reduce the chances of me being all fangirl-ish tomorrow night, must remain professional. Ha! Also on the bill are Joe Stretch and Essie Fox, whose writings I am not yet familiar with, I can't wait. Do come! Here are the full details
On Monday, December 10 we’ll be bringing you a very special festive* episode of The Book Stops Here (*readings may or may not actually be festive).
ALI SMITH, whose latest book Artful is part essay, part lecture, part genre-bending fiction and a loving ode to everything from Oliver Twist to Wislawa Szymborska. Daniel Hahn in the Independent on Sunday raved that it’s “Smart, allusive, informal, playful, audacious. (It’s true. I think I am in love with Ali Smith.)” Join the club, Dan. Join the club.
JOE STRETCH, reading from The Adult, which is part hilarious novel, part ode to a 90s childhood – “I knew from the first page that this was going to be a very funny book, but I didn’t realise it would have so much heart and be so beautiful” says TBSH favourite Evie Wyld.
TANIA HERSHMAN, a contributor to the STILL anthology and the latest issue of Five Dials, reading from her new collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano – praised last week by the TLS for its “quirky, often funny focus on small-scale human oddities, anxieties and misunderstandings.”
And ESSIE FOX, the brains behind the Virtual Victorian blog and author of two Victorian novels, The Somnambulist and her most recent, Elijah’s Mermaid, which the Guardian compares to Wilkie Collins AND early Sarah Waters and says “the glee with which Fox approaches her material is infectious.” So get ready to be infected!
With books and holiday spirit. 7.30pm for drinks, 8pm for the good stuff, on Monday, December 10 at the Alley Cat bar, 4 Denmark Street.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Jon Pinnock on Writing & Place

I'm delighted to welcome the excellent and talented Jon Pinnock to the blog today. Jon is the author of one of the few books that has ever had me laughing out loud, Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens, a hilarious (and erudite) mashup of, well, Jane Austen and extraterrestrials! Jon and I chatted about that book here. Today, Jon is here because he has a brand new book, his first short story collection, Dot Dash (Salt Publishing). Congratulations! 

I was honoured that Jon asked me to provide a "blurb" for the book, and here's what I said:

In these wonderful short, very short and very very short stories, Jonathan Pinnock takes aim at all the foibles and vanities we think we succeed in hiding. Not content to just pull back the curtain, Pinnock sets fire to it and chuckles as it blazes. Yet he also executes something of a conjuring trick, making us laugh, but also making us feel, think. Like Nana, whose granddaughter recreates Cairo in her bedroom for her before she dies, we fabricate our own reality: we see and hear what we want and ignore what we don't. Dot Dash is sending us a message, and yes, it may be through yellow plastic ducks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen.
I recommend this collection highly, as you can tell. Very highly. I thought as part of Jon's virtual book tour, I'd ask him my Writing& Place questionnaire, and he could use that to tell us a bit more about his writing. Here goes:

View from Jon's Window
Tania: Where are you? 
Jon: I live in a converted windmill in deepest Somerset. On a good day, I can just about see Glastonbury Tor from my office window. On other days, I just, like, feel the vibes.


T: How long have you been there?
J: We moved here about six months ago after a long and sustained campaign by my wife to get me to realise the merits of living in the country. Having finally made the move, my only regret is that I didn't give in years ago.

T: What do you write? 
J: I mainly write short stories and poems, and my first short story collection, "Dot Dash", was published by Salt in November. A couple of years ago, I did also somehow manage to complete a novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, and that was published by Proxima in September 2011. I've also recently completed an offbeat non-fiction memoir-type thing that is currently out on submission. As a writer, I'll try my hand at almost anything, mainly just to see if I can. Among the various projects languishing at the back of an old sock drawer are a very strange ultra-short radio play that earned me an interview in Broadcasting House in 1992 (which I completely failed to capitalise on), as well as several failed attempts at kids' books from the same period. One of these days, I'll find one thing to do and give it 100% focus. Although it will almost certainly turn out to be the wrong thing.

T: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write? 
Another view from Jon's window
J: Very good question. Usually I would say that most of my writing process goes on in my head, uninfluenced by my surroundings. However, over the last six months, the fact of having moved house has had a massive effect on my writing, in that I've spent an inordinate time unpacked boxes and sorting out stuff INSTEAD of writing. However, once everything's nice and settled, I'm hoping that the fact that we're surrounded by fields will provide ample opportunities for taking long walks and getting inspired by Mother Nature. Alternatively, it may simply provide ample opportunities for taking long walks instead of writing. Basically, the jury's still out.

Thank you so much, Jon, what a view! Dot Dash, was published by Salt in November - buy the paperback here, find out more on the book's website and more about Jon on his. And if you are of the ebook persuasion, Dot Dash is available for only 0.77p for your Kindle today! And you can read other authors' Writing & Place interviews here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Congratulations, Vanessa!

I can't resist talking about my very talented friend, especially since she is offline right now at a writing retreat... so it's up to me to say


to Vanessa Gebbie, already a prize-winning short story writer and novelist, for winning FIRST PRIZE in the Troubadour Poetry Competition! Is there no end to her talents? I suspect there isn't! I'm so proud of her, she's only been writing poetry for a few years, and this prize comes with a very nice cheque for £2,500, which will buy quite a bit of cake when she and I next meet for a writerly chat! She's a true inspiration, I'm raising a glass! Cheers! Read her winning poem here.

Here's the full list of prizewinners, congratulations to all!

  • First Prize, £2500: ‘Immensi Tremor Oceani’, Vanessa Gebbie, East Sussex
  • Second Prize, £500: The Teenage Existential, Paul Stephenson, London
  • Third Prize, £250: Explaining the Plot of ‘Blade Runner’ to my Mother who has Alzheimer’s: C.J. Allen, Notts
and, with prizes of £20 each:
  • Horse As Accordion, Nicky Arscott, Powys
  • A Tale from the Town Maze, Mike Barlow, Lancaster
  • East 17th Street or How I Met My Husband, Mara Bergman, Tunbridge Wells
  • The Third Umpire, Judy Brown, London
  • The Ledge, Miles Cain, York
  • Brood, Claudia Daventry, St. Andrews
  • The Language of Memory (The Bees), Gerrie Fellows, Glasgow
  • Lost, Rebecca Goss, Liverpool
  • When Jesus Played the Piano, David H.W. Grubb, Henley-on-Thames
  • Woman on a Cliff, Peter Gruffydd, Bristol
  • X-Ray Vision, Alex Josephy, London
  • Woolpit Child, Gillian Laker, Kent
  • October 1962, Shelley McAlister, Yarmouth
  • Burning the Clocks, John McCullough, East Sussex
  • HazMat, Dawn McGuire, Orinda, California
  • A Psalm for the Scaffolders, Kim Moore, Barrow in Furness
  • The Mercedes, Helen Overell, Surrey
  • The Scarlet Lizard, Caroline Smith, Rickmansworth
  • Underworld, Judi Sutherland, Berkshire
  • Peter Doig’s Studio, Betty Thomson, Co. Wexford

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The White Review Launches Short Story Prize

Really good to hear about a new UK short story prize for writers who have yet to secure a publishing deal - it's open for entries now, good luck to all! Here's the announcement:
supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation 
We are delighted to announce the inauguration of the annual White Review Short Story Prize, judged by a panel including Booker Prize-shortlisted author Deborah Levy and awarded by Tom McCarthy.

Made possible by the generous support of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, the prize awards £2,500 to the best piece of short fiction by an unpublished writer resident in Great Britain and Ireland. The competition will open for submissions on 1 December 2012. The deadline is 1 March 2013. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in March 2013. 
The judges will be looking for short stories that explore and expand the possibilities of the form. We encourage submissions from all literary genres, and there are no restrictions on theme or subject matter. The only emphasis is on ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches to creative writing. We hope that the award will demonstrate the vitality of a form too often neglected in Great Britain and Ireland.
Novelist Tom McCarthy, author of Men in Space, Remainder and the Man Booker-shortlisted C, will announce the winner at a prize-giving ceremony in London in April 2013. In addition to the £2,500 prize, the winner will be published in a quarterly print issue of The White Review. The winner will also have a chance to meet with Karolina Sutton, Senior Agent at Curtis Brown, to discuss their writing, plans for future work and possible routes to publication. Up to six shortlisted writers will have their work published online and receive feedback from the editors of The White Review.

For more information, please contact editors Jacques Testard and Benjamin Eastham on  

Deborah Levy writes fiction, plays and poetry. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and she is the author of highly praised novels including Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography and Billy and Girl. Her latest novel Swimming Home was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

Alex Bowler is editorial director at Jonathan Cape. He has edited Tom McCarthy, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Audrey Niffenegger, Kevin Barry and Grant Morrison.

Karolina Sutton is a senior agent at Curtis Brown. She notably represents Siri Hustvedt, Haruki Murakami and D. W. Wilson.

The Jerwood Charitable Foundation is dedicated to imaginative and responsible revenue funding of the arts, supporting artists to develop and grow at formative stages in their careers. They work with artists across art forms, from dance and theatre to literature, music and the visual arts. For more information on the Jerwood Charitable Foundation visit:

The White Review is now a registered charity (Charity Number: 1148690). It is devoted to promoting the arts and literature for the benefit of the public by the publication of an arts and literary journal and the organisation of artistic and literary events specialising in artistically or educationally meritorious works of new or emerging artists and writers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Arvon and Permissions

I just got back from the most wonderful week tutoring a short story course, together with the fabulous Adam Marek, at the Arvon Foundation's heavenly Totleigh Barton centre! There is always something magical about an Arvon course - after so many years they just have the formula right, the combination of a small group, a focussed five days of workshops and one-to-one meetings, the constant supply of food, including dinner cooked by a different quartet of participants each night, and the remote setting with gorgeous views!

But this time there was an extra special dash of fairy dust - maybe something to do with the group being particularly serene, creative, curious and willing to do any of the crazy things Adam and I asked of them! Many many new stories were begun last week, by the two of us too. And the staff - Claire, Olly, Steph, Eliza, Bridget, Caroline, Huxley - making us feel so at home. And the luminous Helen Dunmore, our special guest, talking to us so candidly about her life and work.


Adam's written a brilliant blow-by-pasty account of our week here, (how did I miss the pasties?) so I won't go over that, but I wanted to talk about one concept that kept coming up during the course: Permission. Permission to write about anything you want, in any style you want. And where does that permission come from? 

I have seen this in my own writing career - I can almost pinpoint other people's work that has opened my eyes and allowed me to try something I'd never tried before. Never thought of before.(All Over, a short story collection by Roy Kesey, was a revalation in 2007).

And it really hit home to me, how important this is - and, thus, how vital it is to read everything you can get hold of - when I was talking to undergraduates at Bath Spa Uni, my old alma mater, recently. I talked, of course, about using science as inspiration for fiction. Someone put their hand up and said, "So, do you think it's okay to use anything as inspiration, science, or maybe history?" I said Yes, I do, I think everything is up for grabs, and it wasn't until afterwards that I realised that perhaps I had just given that questioner permission he might have needed, that he hadn't just taken it as a given that a fiction writer can scavenge from anywhere. That really made me think.

This came up in an article in this weekend's Guardian review, a profile of Gerard Woodward:
At the same time, he was encountering the two authors whose work would mold the tone and temper of his own. "I was reading Updike and Nabokov for the first time. Updike showed me it was possible to write in a realist way, with a poetic approach. I'd never come across his blend of poetic sensibility and prosaic imagination in realist fiction before. Nabokov blew me away for the same reasons; not quite as down to earth, but he has the same qualities of poetry and playfulness. I found reading them both incredibly liberating, and permission-giving for what I wanted to do. They were the presiding spirits when I was writing August [the first novel in the trilogy]. Everything fell into place, after years of struggling both with novels and autobiography in poetry. I thought, at last I've found a way of writing about autobiographical material that works for me."
[Read the full article here.]
What has given you permission in your writing? Care to share? A person? A book? A film? A TV show? I'd love to have a discussion about it! The flipside of permission is taboo, and I planted this thought in our Arvon participants' minds on Day One: What wouldn't you write about, whether it's something that society considers taboo or it's personal? And what might be a taboo for you in how you write? No writing from the opposite sex, for example, or the 3rd person plural?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reviewed in the TLS, oh my!

So, after some scouring of newsagents in North Devon - where we are currently located for a bit of peace and quiet - we finally tracked down a copy of the new issue of the Times Literary Supplement with the review of My Mother Was An Upright Piano. I was pretty nervous, I made J read it while I watched his facial expressions. I had so many worst case scenarios running through my head. It's the TLS, for goodness sake!

Turns out the worst case didn't happen. Firstly, I am delighted that the reviewer at the TLS to whom I sent the book (after he'd briefly mentioned me positively in a review of Lee Rourke's A Brief History of Fables, which features a few of my flash stories) didn't just toss it aside, but took the time to seriously engage with my writing, even putting it into historical context. He must have so many books he might review, that to be singled out is an immense honour. It's worth saying again, that for a short story writer with no literary agent, published by a small press, to be noticed is immensely heartening. And a note to all your unagented writers published by small presses - I took the initiative here, so don't be shy, just do it, give reviewers a chance to consider your work! (Yes, it turned out to be fairly scary, but worth it!)

OK, so here's the review. Your thoughts? Can you read it?If you right-click on View Image, then you can zoom in, I hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some bits of news...

First, Happy National Short Story Week! Check out their website for what's going on this week.

So, a little catch-up: if you'd still like to hear me, in the amazing company of Don Paterson, Tony Harrison, Laura Barber and the Lakeside Poets, on Radio 3's The Verb, it is available as a podcast, which should, I believe, be still there even after tomorrow night's new episode, maybe? It was a real thrill listening to it again, what fun!

Book news:
There's a lovely review of MMWAUP in The Bookbag this week: " It's said that the art of short-story writing is totally different from that of novels as the writer only has ten or so pages to accomplish what others do in two to three hundred. Imagine, therefore, telling an entire story in prose conveying depth and meaning in fewer words than this review. It may be difficult but, apparently, not downright impossible as Tania Hershman has nailed it with honours." You can read Ani Johnson's full review here.

Slightly scary book news:
And so it turns out that MMWAUP will receive a second review this week - in the Times Literary Supplement! Gulp. I don't know what the review says, but I see from the newly-released contents page for tomorrow's edition that it's sandwiched between reviews of Rose Tremain and JK Rowling! As an unagented author published by a very small (and wonderful) press, I think that's worth celebrating on its own, regardless of the content of the review - may it pave the way for many more such books!

Overheard anthology

Talking of wonderful small presses, my first publisher, Salt, has just brought out a fantastic anthology, Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, edited by Jonathan Taylor. I have a very short story in the anthology, where I am in the excellent company of, among others, Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Louis De Bernières, Adele Parks, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Michelene Wandor, Vanessa Gebbie, Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, David Belbin, Panos Karnezis, Jane Holland, Gemma Seltzer, Ailsa Cox and Will Buckingham. As it says on the tin, it's all about "reconnecting storytelling with its oral and performative roots. There are stories here for performance, stories which play with sound, stories which dramatise conflicting voices, and stories which are musical in style."  I can't wait for my contributor's copy!

And finally, I am delighted to announce that The Short Review is back! With a new look and a new format,  but the same high quality reviews of short story collections and anthology and author interviews that you've come to love over the five years (this month) of our existence. Go check out the new reviews and let us know what you think! Also on Twitter and Facebook, of course.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Verb - Tonight!

The episode of Radio 3's The Verb that was recorded at the BBC's Freethinking Festival last Saturday night - and on which I am reading two brand new flash stories on the subject of editing - will be broadcast on Radio 3 tonight, at 10pm UK time. It will also be available online through the iPlayer for 7 days afterwards. I think it was a fantastic programme - with poets Don Paterson and Tony Harrison, Granta editor Laura Barber, and music from The Lakeside Poets! Do tune in, let me know whether my "editing" stories chime with your experiences ;) More information here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Radio 3!

Just a very quick blog post as I pause for a moment on my travels to say that I will be live in Gateshead tomorrow night at the BBC's Freethinking Festival, reading two newly-commissioned flash stories on the subject of editing on The Verb - in the exalted company of Don Paterson, Tony Harrison and Laura Barber of Granta. Am a little nervous... I believe the program will be streamed live on the Internet from the event, and then broadcast on Radio 3 next Friday night, Nov 9th, The Verb's regular slot. I am really looking forward to meeting the host, Ian McMillan - last time I was on, in July, I did it from a distance, from Bristol. I loved hearing him say "My Mother Was An Upright Piano" in that wonderful voice of his, can't wait for a second one! Wish me luck... 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

George Saunders on short stories

I just read a short story by one of my favourite authors, George Saunders -  the sublime The Semplica-Girl Diaries in the New Yorker, and am now reading an interview with George (I hope it's okay to call you George, George!) and I really love what he says about writing:

One thing I always feel in the midst of trying to talk coherently about a story I’ve finished is that, you know, ninety per cent of it was intuitive, done at-speed, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, except in the “A felt better than B” way. All these choices add up, and make the surface of the story, and, of course, the thematics and all that—but I’m not usually thinking about any of that too much, or too overtly. It’s more feeling than thinking—or a combination of the two, with feeling being in charge, and thinking sort of running around behind, making overly literal suggestions, and those feelings being sounded out and exercised and manifested via heavy editing and rewriting (as opposed to, say, planning and deciding). The important part of the writing process, for me, is trying to make choices that push the story in the most interesting direction, by which I mean the direction that causes the story to give off the most light. The story’s goal is to be fascinating and stimulating and irreducible; the writer’s job is to micromanage the text to make this happen.
Isn't that lovely, "the direction that causes the story to give off the most light"! I am going to remember that and read that out to people when I run workshops.  Do go and read the story first, then read the rest of the interview, which gives away a lot of the plot! George has a new collection out very early in 2013 and there are rumours he's coming to do events in the UK. Can't wait!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Recent Trip to the WW1 Battlefields of the Somme and Arras

My friend and fellow writer Vanessa Gebbie recently invited me to join her and a few other friends - mostly writers too - on a weekend trip to the World War 1 battlefields in France, along the Western Front. This isn't something I ever thought I'd want to do. But it was an immensely powerful experience, something I don't think I've even begun to process. We were guided by Jeremy Banning, an immensely talented military historian who has written an excellent and detailed blog on our trip here. Vanessa has blogged about her thoughts here, with wonderful pictures, and poet Caroline Davies wrote several blog posts about our trip here. I can't add to that yet so I invite you to read their blogs. Sorry for the cop-out. I am hoping life will slow down soon and I will have time to blog properly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Live lit & other news

Just a very quick post, so much going on, it's hard to know where to start! Well, firstly, I am reading at Ragged Stone tomorrow night (Tues 16th) in Portishead - come, sign up for the open mic and read too! I'm also reading at the Bristol Lit Fest Flash open mic on Saturday 20th at 4pm at the Hooper House cafe, in the excellent company of Sarah Hilary, Valerie O'Riordan, Kevlin Henney and more...! Then, a few hours later that same day, you've got me reading again (different stuff, I promise) at the Unputdownable Speakeasy, with  Nikesh Shukla, Valerie O’Riordan, Sanjida O’Connell, Miles Chambers & Maria McCann. Do come if you're in the area, it'll be a great party!

Next Tues Oct 23rd, I'm delighted to be one of the two guest writers - along with Kerry Hudson, who I interviewed on my blog here - at Stories Aloud in Oxford. Actors will be reading our work and then we'll be answering questions, probably about what our favourite fonts are! If you need to know, then come along.

In other news, I'm thrilled beyond words to have been shortlisted for the poetry section of the 2012 Bridport prize - my first time entering a poem! The full shortlists are here, great to see so many familiar names, congrats to: Martha Williams, Jon Pinnock, Roshi Fernando, Josephine Corcoran, Afric McGlinchey, Joanna Campbell, Kay Sexton, Cassandra Parkin, Kerry Hood, Dave Swann and Barbara Leahy! And my friend Sandra Jensen, who was highly commended in the short story section!

Sorry about all the exclamation marks. Overexcited.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sarah Salway on Writing & Place

I am delighted to be hosting Sarah Salway on the blog today - poet, short story writer, novelist, writing teacher, blogger extraordinaire and a provider of inspiration in so many ways! Not one to stand still, Sarah has just launched a new website, Stories from the Garden: "This is a website for garden visiting with a difference. Instead of collecting plants, my garden visits are all about collecting stories – those contained within the garden, those told about the garden and those written in the garden." And you can catch Sarah talking all about "A Garden Journey" at the Canterbury Festival next Wednesday, October 17th, at 8pm (see here for more info). 

It seemed appropriate then, given that her new venture is about stories in different places, to ask Sarah my writing & place questionnaire. Here are her answers!

Where are you?

I live in Tunbridge Wells in a very old house that was once Beau Nash’s illegal gaming rooms. The builders we had swore there are ghosts here, but if there are, they feel very happy to me. I like to think of them playing poker.

We moved as a family from Edinburgh when my husband got a job in London. We had no idea where to live and so I was travelling round Southern England looking for places we might call home – a surreal experience.

Tunbridge Wells wasn’t even on the map for us, but on one of my ‘tours’ of Kent, I met up for lunch with two writer friends there and fell in love with it. Out of interest, I called in at an estate agent that afternoon and found the house we moved into just three months later.

Interestingly, one of my lunch companions, Dan Rhodes, moved to Edinburgh about a year later so you could say, we swapped.

How long have you been there?

Ten years. Whether we’ll stay here for ever, I have no idea.

Now our children have left home and we’re not tied to schools etc, I fancy moving far out into the country and becoming a hermit with chickens and pigs.

However, I also fancy moving into the centre of a really busy city and going to the theatre every night. Not sure the two are compatible!

What do you write?

I write in several genres.

I trained as a journalist straight from school, and I still love doing features and interviews – that chance to dip in and out of a subject and ask all the questions you want without seeming too nosy!

Then I did a creative writing drop-in class at Edinburgh University and fell in love with fiction. I started with the short story (perhaps because it felt the same shape as a feature?) and I was lucky enough to be asked to expand one of my short stories into what turned out to be my first novel, Something Beginning With.

I’ve now written and published two collections of short stories (one with Lynne Rees) and three novels, and this year, I’ve published my first poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book.

Sometimes I worry that I’m just distracted writing so many different things, but mostly I feel lucky to be able to follow what I feel passionate about.

At the moment, through my role as Canterbury Laureate, I am working on my first piece of public site-specific writing, doing what we’re calling ‘interventions’ in four of the public parks in Canterbury – changing the municipal signs, recording monologues of park users, turning one space into a meditative spot for letter writing. It’s been a totally amazing opportunity and I think it may have changed my writing practice for ever. I have been so used to thinking of writing as something that appears between the covers of a book that I only just got over asking if this is something I’m allowed to do!

However, for the first time in several years, I do have a novel in my head that is starting to shout that it needs to be written. I’m getting rather excited about disappearing into that fictional world.

How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?

That’s a really interesting question. I am originally from the Fens and recently, I have discovered that several authors I really enjoy – Trollope and the much more contemporary, Sonia Overall and Katherine Pierpoint for example – are also ‘flatlanders’. However, this isn’t made obvious in their books themselves so I wonder if it’s something in the atmosphere, or language, that I’m picking up. It’s something I’d love to look into more.

I have done three writing fellowships in America now, one in Iowa and two in Virginia, and I can spot the American influence on the work that I’ve produced there, not in terms of content, but as one friend said, ‘they’re more spacious’ than my ‘normal work’. Again, it could be all the flat lands and the skies!

I think I’m more influenced by the landscape than the people, certainly. And by the everyday more than the spectacular. Although I’ve done some epic walks, including up Kilimanjaro, they don’t appeal to me as a topic to write about. The walks I go on around town during the day though, peering into people’s houses, overhearing conversations, or just being on my own in the streets, fill my notebook.

I do write in cafes, but I love writing in libraries more. I once had a week’s ‘holiday’ writing in a different London library every day – the one at the V&A, the Wellcome Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects. Anyone can walk in and get a day ticket, and it was absolutely fantastic. I guess my favourite travel will always be on the page! 

Thank you, Sarah! Invite me round for tea, I need to see the illegal gaming rooms! Check out Sarah's new website, Stories from the Garden, and if you are near Canterbury (or willing to travel, which will be worth it!) go and hear Sarah talking all about "A Garden Journey" at the Canterbury Festival next Wednesday, October 17th, at 8pm (see here for more info).

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Story Fridays in Bath Wants You!

I got this email from the wonderful Clare Reddaway and she asked me to pass on the following:

It's that time again! I'm looking for stories! Story Fridays at the Museum went well, with interesting and varied stories on The Fall. We had a new venue, and I'm pleased to say that the Museum is happy to host us again for the next Story Friday on November 16th.
November's theme is Sparks, and I am looking for writer-performers and their stories. Please interpret the theme any way you like - emotional sparks are as good as physical ones! As always, I am looking for short stories or monologues, fact or fiction (but mainly fiction) that would be 15 minutes or under when read, so absolute maximum 2,300 words. That is a maximum though - we had some lovely flash fiction last time, that was much appreciated by the audience.
The event will be held on Friday 16th November. Please do bear this in mind before you submit as you need to be available and willing to read your piece if it is selected. If I haven't worked with you before, I would like to rehearse your piece with you before the event.
The deadline is 5th November - a perfect inspiration for a sparky piece of story telling? At the moment, this is an unpaid opportunity. Do email me at or give me a ring on 01225 428 469 or go to the website if you'd like any more information.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Reviews and other news

First, one of the fictions from My Mother Was An Upright Piano, Manoeuvres (which I can never spell!) is included in a new echapbook anthology, "Found" from Wordrunner, alongside authors Susan Meyers, Tania Hershman, Mary McCluskey, Jeff Haas, and Lucille Shulklapper and poets Sara Toruno-Conley, Angela Corbet, Bianca Diaz and Victor Perez.Read it all here.

I am also very lucky that MMWAUP is getting some great reviews:

In her review in the new issue (No. 80) of the Frogmore Papers, Alexandra Loske says: " It seems that Hershman has achieved two things here: She has perfected the art of the very short short story, making it appear utterly appealing and perhaps one of the most appropriate forms of creative writing of our age. She has also managed to form a bridge between poetry and prose. At times it feels as if one is reading a very well constructed, witty, moving long poem, without the boring bits. Excellent." 

On the Thresholds Short Story Forum, Vicki Heath writes: "every word is perfectly placed as she explores the offbeat world we live in." Read the full review here

And my friend Jon Pinnock calls MMWAUP " the work of a grown-up writer who has gained the confidence to let her muse off the leash and to follow it wherever it goes, however unexpected that turns out to be. " Read his review here.

Three of the fictions from My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions are featured on the excellent book review site bookoxygen, which describes the book as "56 short, strange fictions which arrive out of left field, bringing warmth, wit and a deliciously off-beat perspective." Read them here.

Sally Zigmund reviews the book on her blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room, saying: "I am sure that everyone who reads this collection will see different colours, shapes and meanings from the ones I have discovered. But isn't that the point? These stories are what the reader brings to them. Reading Tania's fiction is like a being overwhelmed by wave on a deserted January beach that takes you to places you never imagined.  Stunning." Read her full review here.

Over on Goodreads, Berit Ellingsen says: "there is no doubt that Hershman is an expert of the very short story. The themes in the collection are nicely cohesive and the voice and narrative structure well varied. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of these stories in their individual publication, but reading them all together for a full impression of the author’s warm voice and deft descriptions, was even better."
Read the full review. And Roxane Gay says  "The stories that were great ... were truly great. I particularly liked how she was able to warp reality and time in different ways. Hershman is not lacking in imagination and this is definitely a book worth reading." Read the full review. And Annemarie Neary says: "This is a beautifully produced book with an open, elegant feel. The fictions themselves are extraordinary - compact, resonant and highly original." Read the full review.

Thank you to all of the above for taking the time not just to read my book but to express your thoughts and opinions. It is much appreciated.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Plymouth & Cork...

I'm not a very good blogger these days, I am sorry. If you take a look at the previous post you'll see what's keeping me busy - and there are other things i'm doing that aren't on the list too, a bit of a whirlwind time right now. But frankly, it's all writing-related, and it's ALL good! Last week I had the honour of having my own event at the brand-new Plymouth International Book Festival, in its first of what I hope will be many many years.... I chatted for about an hour, interspersed with reading some of the stories from MMWAUP, and I did worry that I was talking about myself too much. (A worry I have often). But the audience were just lovely, asked some great questions, and then came and chatted to me afterwards and bought books. It was great to talk to people, find out if they're writers, readers, what they're writing. It gives me such a boost, doing events like this, talking about the short story without anyone asking me to "defend" it, because I don't believe the short story needs defending...!

The next day I rushed straight off to Cork for the heavenly short story festival, my fourth time at the festival, a highlight of my calendar. This time, though, I was being worked very hard - teaching a 4-day flash fiction workshop, for three hours each morning, then reading from my new book, together with the wonderful and fellow flash-brained Nick Parker, author of The Exploding Boy and Other Tiny Tales (see left). Nick, my great mate Nuala Ni Chonchiur and I were then invited onto a panel entitled, somewhat controversially in our opinion, "Is Flash Fiction a True Literary Form or Just Something for Chancers" - luckily the large audience in Cork library seemed to agree with us that it didn't matter at all what a piece of writing is labelled as or how long or short it is. Phew!

I had the enormous honour of being the one to introduce and moderate the session with two new and instant favourite writers: the inimitable Canadian author Zsuzsi Gartner, author of two collections (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives and All the Anxious Girls on Earth) and the excellent English author Sarah Hall, whose first collection (finally, after four award-winning novels!) is The Beautiful Indifference. I was nervous about introducing them properly, because at first glance you might superficially assign their stories to very different genres, labels... But their stories are unlabel-able both because they are unique and because they have a lot in common, despite very different styles. I hope I did them justice - go and read their books, their stories will slay you. I love being slayed by a short story.

And then... yes, there's more! Later that night, much later, I was the first to read at a brand new event for the Cork fest, the Flash Fiction Rapid Fire, where writers literally queued on the stage and read their tiny stories, 500 words max, in quick succession! I was extremely proud that 7 of my 10 workshoppers read that night, many of them for the first time ever. I felt quite parental!

The next day was our last workshop day, and then an afternoon of events including the sublime Lydia Davis, certainly proving that word length has no bearing on story substance ... and then the final day of the festival we listened, spellbound, to Frank O'Connor award-winner Nathan Englander reading one of his stories and talking so wisely and enthusiastically about writing. A real real treat and a worthy winner!

To get back to the workshop, I felt like I learned so much from spending 4 days talking, reading and writing flash fiction with my group. I experimented on them and they were so receptive, no-one refused to do anything, and I think we all had a lot of fun. We batted around thoughts of what flash fiction might be, then let go of the need for definitions and just got on and did it. A fantastic group, they shared their work, and it was all so great, I expect to see their names gracing the pages of lit mags and competition shortlists very soon. 

If you fancy trying your hand at some flash fiction for the reduced time commitment of only 2 hours (!), there are still some spaces left on my workshop at Mr B's Emporium in Bath on October 11th. Visit Writing Events Bath to book.

Nuala is a much better blogger than me, she deserves her shortlisting for the Blog Awards Ireland - she has a lengthy blog post about the festival, with pictures. Read all about it here! Also, the phenomenal lit magazine Five Dials has put together a special Cork-festival-themed issue with contributions from many of the authors who were there. It's so big it's been split into two! Read Part 1 here, with stories by Lydia Davis, Kevin Barry, Nuala, Joe Dunthorne and more - I have a new short story (over 2000 words long!) coming in Part 2.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Around and About for the Next 8 weeks

By the time this blog post goes up I will be in Plymouth for my event tonight at the Central Library as part of the first Plymouth International Book Fest - do come if you are in the area, we kick off at 6.30pm!

I am around and about a lot over the next 8 weeks and I wanted to list all my events here, and if any of you can come to something, it would be great to meet you. But before that, if you're in the vicinity of Bath this Friday, head over to Story Friday from 7pm to hear my friend Sarah Hilary and five other writers read their short stories inspired by The Fall. Wish I could be there but I will be...

Sept 19-22nd: running four flash fiction workshops, Cork International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, and reading from my new collection. Booking now open

Wednesday 26 Sept reading at the launch of the STILL anthology, Foyles, London, Event Facebook page, 6.30pm

Thursday 11 Oct running flash fiction workshop for Writing Events in Bath, at Mr B's bookshop, Bath, 6.30pm-8.30pm. Booking now open

Saturday 13 Oct Interviewing novelist James Long about his long-awaited sequel to Ferney at Unputdownable Bristol Festival of Literature, Waterstones, Bristol Booking now open

Tuesday 16 Oct reading at Ragged Stone, monthly open mic night, Portishead

Saturday 20 Oct Reading alongside Nikesh Shukla, Valerie O’Riordan, Sanjida O’Connell, Miles Chambers & Maria McCann at Unputdownable Bristol Festival of Literature, Left Bank, Bristol. Booking now open

Tuesday 23 Oct guest author, with Kerry Hudson, at Stories Aloud, Oxford

Thursday 25 Oct Doing workshop for creative writing undergrads, Bath Spa University, Bath

Saturday 27 Oct taking part in the Lit Up Write Now! one-day conference, Bournemouth. Booking now open

Monday 29 Oct reading at the Bristol University Staff Creative Writing Club, Bristol.

7 Nov guest at Swansea University creative writing seminar

19-24th Nov Co-tutoring an Arvon Foundation short story course with Adam Marek, and special guest Helen Dunmore, Totleigh Barton

After that...I will be having a rest!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flash fiction tours South Gloucestershire

I wanted to give a shout-out to my friend and writing colleague Pauline Masurel, who is doing the wonderful job of bringing more flash fiction to South Gloucestershhire over the autumn!  She has organised a display of flash fiction books to browse and borrow which will be doing a tour of a number of libraries in South Glos this autumn.  Its itinerary is as follows:   

Bradley Stoke Library  -  10-15 September    
Patchway Library  -  19-28 September    
Filton Library  -  29 September-9 October   
Emersons Green Library  -  11-23 October 
Winterbourne Library  - 26 October-3 November

Also, Pauline, an excellent writer of the short and very very short, will be running a couple of free, informal workshops to introduce flash fiction, share some of her own tiny and magical stories and invite participants to write their own.  These will be taking place:

7-8pm on Thursday 18 October @ Emersons Green Library  
6-7pm on Friday 2 November @ Winterbourne Library
(Please note that the event at Winterbourne requires booking, which can be done at

The display and workshops are part of South Gloucestershire Council's 'Discover Festival' and further details of all events in the festival can be found at:

If you are in the area, I highly recommend you checking out both the displays and Pauline's workshops, we could all do with more tiny fictions, something small and perfectly formed, in our lives, no?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On BBC Radio Bristol!

I was interviewed by the delightful Steve Yabsley - a fellow short story writer, it turns out! - on his show on BBC Radio Bristol yesterday. You can Listen Again to us chatting about short stories and me reading two from my collection on the show for another 6 days, til Friday 21st, here. I arrive 32 minutes in. Thanks to Steve for having me!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

STILL anthology launch & short story competition!

This gorgeous creature arrived in the post this morning - ain't it beautiful? Of course, STILL is an anthology of short stories inspired by Roelof Bakker's photographs, so aesthetics are to be expected!

I'm delighted to have a short short story in there, Switchgirls - and I'm in great company, alongside Richard Beard, Andrew Blackman, SJ Butler, Myriam Frey, SL Grey,  James Higgerson, Justin Hill, Nicholas Hogg, Ava Homa, Aamer Hussein, Nina Killham, Deborah Klaassen, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Claire Massey, Jan Van Mersbergen, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, James Miller, Mark Piggott, Mary Rechner, David Rose, Nicholas Royle, Preeta Samarasan, Jan Woolf, Evie Wyld and Xu Xi. I can't wait to read the anthology.

STILL will be launched at Foyles bookshop in London on Sept 26th - I will be reading my story, as will many of the other authors, so please do join us! Here's the event's Facebook page. Foyles will also be exhibiting the photographs with story excerpts.

Now, you too have a chance to be part of this wonderful enterprise - Foyles and Roelof are running a competition:  write a short short story of no more than 500 words inspired by Roelof's photograph here, deadline Oct 10th.

The winning story will be displayed in the Gallery at Foyles, a week after the competition closing date, alongside the exhibition, which runs from Monday 17th September until Tuesday 30th October, as well as on the Foyles and Negative Press London websites. In addition, the winner will receive a copy of Still, a signed 30 x 30cm print of the 'The Stage (Piano)' and copies of Nicholas Hogg's The Hummingbird and the Bear and Evie Wyld's After the Fire, A Still Small Voice. (The competition will be judged by Roelof, Nick, Evie and Foyles Local Marketing Manager, Lisa Bywater)

Find out more details on the Foyles website - the photograph that is your inspiration is just stunning, like all Roelof's images. Go for it - good luck! Hope to see you on Sept 26th.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A new "book trailer" for MMWAUP!

I have some lovely friends... here's the gorgeous "book trailer" my very talented pal, Ilene Prusher (whose excellent first novel, the Baghdad Fixer, is out in November) made for me. Cute, eh?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Waiting on our doormat

We just got back from holiday and here are all the goodies that were waiting on our doormat! So thrilling are they that I thought I'd give them all a shout out. So, we have...

Regular reads:
  • New Scientist with its intriguing cover promising "Food for thought"
  • The New Yorker, my staple weekend read, including a short story by Thomas McGuane
  • Poets and Writers magazine, which I love every few months, not just for the competition deadlines but great articles about many aspects of writing
  • Sentence, the annual journal of prose poetry, which I find enlightening and inspiring, sitting on the blurred boundary between prose and poetry. 
New arrivals:
  • The first issue of The Liner, a brand new transatlantic and very gorgeous lit mag from both London and Los Angeles. It features a poem by Blake Morrison, among a great roster
  • The first issue of Black & Blue magazine, also very good looking, and featuring a story by Angela Readman, so it's already impressing me!
  • The first pamphlet in my subscription to The Cupboard Pamphlets, which publishes a pamphlet of creative prose every quarter. It's a gorgeous tiny object: Our Commutual Mea Culpa by Chanelle Benz.
  • Crime and Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach - a collection of two collections of short stories by a German lawyer, bought because of Scott Pack's excellent review of one of the stories over at Me and My Big Mouth: Shorts.
  • Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt, the latest book in my subscription to And Other Stories, who supply me with fantastic literature every few months, including the stunning, Booker-longlisted, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. I trust that this book will similarly enthrall. 
  • Elsewhere, from Cargo Publishing - a volume of four collections which is  a joint production between the Scottish publisher and the fantastic McSweeneys, featuring 50 authors. Can't wait to get stuck inhere. 
 And finally, to entertain me when I need to give my eyes a rest from all this literary feasting... my new favourite find (thank you, BBC 6 Music!), Matthew E White's new album, Big Inner. So I will leave you with a treat, his song, Big Love. It's soooo good. Got to go, I've got reading to do!