Saturday, April 27, 2013

More permission...

Following on from the previous post about permission & taking risks, two things have occurred in the past two days that I want to talk about in terms of where I get permission from. Now, I did stop for a moment and wonder about writing this, since it may just come off as boastful self-promotion, but it's an important part of my writing life and my career as an author, and that's what this blog is supposed to be all about, so I decided to do it.

What occurred were two absolutely amazing reviews of My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fiction, published both published on Friday. Before I go into that, I want to first say that even now, after quite a few years of having short stories and other work published in literary magazines, after having two collections published, I still think it's quite miraculous that the result of the bizarre workings of my mind, the combination of words I've put on a page, in any way connects or speaks to anyone else, anyone outside of my mind. And, as I mentioned in the previous post, thanks to the permission gifted to me by other writers' work, I have been taking more risks in my own, and to me my stories have been getting odder and odder.  (My mother is in the habit now, when I send her a new story, of saying "Darling, I really enjoyed it, even though I had no idea what was going on.") Even more surprising then that anyone "gets" what I think I may have been trying to do (which I don't always know, either).

So, you can imagine that the fact that these two reviewers did is incredibly moving to me. Here is Martin Macaulay writing for Sabotage Reviews, who shortlisted my book for their Saboteur awards short story collection category:
Hershman writes with a lyrical precision that slices apart what it is to be human... My Mother was an Upright Piano is more than the sum of its parts. The book is structured into seven groups of six and two groups of seven, bonding this collection together as tightly as a chemical compound. It’s a solid, unbreakable and inspiring collection. Hershman creates worlds with depth and heart. She shows us lives soaked in loss; some with glimpses of hope, others dystopian.

And here is Kerry Shadid in her review in World Literature Today:
Her presentation of the tragedy and the oddity of our human lives is the typed equivalent of a performance artist at MOMA: strange, unfamiliar, captivating. ...The universe’s dark energy palpitates on Hershman’s pages; she gives emptiness form. Characters struggle to communicate, to make themselves known to others. Hopes for the world to be other than it is are met with silence. Longing blankets the text. Sentences stop before they reach their conclusion, words omitted by the author in sympathy with the reticence of her fictional creations. The unsaid contains both dagger and salve, and Hershman’s silences both break and heal the heart. 

It's hard to tell you how I feel just re-reading these two excerpts. It's like I've been heard, at a very deep level. It feels like a blessing, to be read so closely. And what's also wonderful is that they both feel that the book - whose stories were all written with no thought of being collected - works as a whole, somehow.

I had said to myself when the book came out that this time I wouldn't read reviews. Because whatever they say, they stick in your mind. Generally the less positive bits! But I couldn't help myself because I think, with these stories more than those in The White Road, I didn't always know myself what it was I was writing about, I had let go of that knowing, thanks to permission from others. And so I was curious to see what others think they are about.

I didn't think that these and other reviews would give me permission to keep doing this - and to take it further. But they do. Especially references to things I consider very odd, like leaving sentences unfinished. That's okay, says this review. And not only that, it actually means something.

Of course, there is the flipside to this, because there is no guarantee that every review will be favourable. I was delighted to be reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, thrilled beyond belief, but the reviewer seemed to be telling me what my stories are not, and I wasn't entirely sure what to make of that.

Right now, though, I am feeling very "permitted", these two reviewers have given me a great gift, an unexpected gift. I want to thank them, and everyone else who takes the time to read my book and share their thoughts. I don't take that for granted. I will never take that for granted. Thank you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Risky Business

I was asked by the wonderful folk at Writers & Artists (yes, the people behind the excellent Yearbook) to write a blog post about taking risks in writing, following comments I made when awarding the prizes in their short story competition last month. The article, Risky Business, is here, and here is a snippet:
....Why should writers take risks? Well, I would argue that it's not just for the benefit of a reader or a competition judge. What are we doing this for, this writing thing? For me, it's about trying to make sense of the world in some way, and uncertainty is an inherent quality of existence...
There is no comment facility on the article but I'd love to hear about your experiences of permission and risk, do leave a comment here!

Friday, April 19, 2013

News roundup

What's been going on around here? Excellent question. First, I have a brand new flash story, Freshening, published today in Flash Flood, alongside a veritable deluge of excellent flash fictions! Second, some poetry - two published in the new issue of Obsessed with Pipework (such a great name, eh?), and another accepted for publication in the second issue of the excellent new mag, Butcher's Dog, whose first issue knocked my socks off, so that's immensely thrilling. Third, news coming soon about two new writing competitions I am involved in, places to send your wonderful words.

Finally, I have been beautifully interviewed by wonderful author Ramola D in the second issue of the brand new writers-interviewing-writers-and-filmakers online journal the Delphi Quarterly. It's the greatest honour for a writer, in my opinion, when anyone who is not your mother engages deeply with your words, really reads them closely, and Ramola's questions made it clear that she has done this. They allowed me to express something about my writing I don't think I have express before, even to myself. Here is an extract:

RD: Like the fictions of Clarice Lispector or Lydia Davis or Janet Kaufman, these vignettes seem to slant in to a character’s depths—the surreal focus on the moment, the sort of free-floatingness of the character nevertheless slices into the psyche of self in relationship or self alone with insight. Do you set out to use time in close-focus while aiming to mine psychological depth, or how do you approach that kind of excavation of character?

TH: I am incredibly honored to have my fictions mentioned alongside Clarice Lispector and Lydia Davis—and must seek out Janet Kaufman’s work! I really don’t set out with any aims at all, I just try and get something down the way I hear it in my head. I often write very fast, which for me seems to dampen down my inhibitions and allows me to write in a more surreal fashion. If it works, if something actually emerges from this that speaks to even one other person, I consider that a miracle.

RD: In the delicacy of the language and the almost-constant use of present tense, and compelling syntax too, I seem to hear echoes of Helene Cixous, Marguerite Duras—are you drawn to language-centered writers like those, do you look to translations or to other languages to shake up syntax or rhythm, to experiment with language?

TH: Interestingly, I have never read anything by those two writers, but I feel that yes, I am quite obsessed with writers who have a deep love for language, that is vital for me. I am increasingly drawn to writers like Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett, who use language for something other than its accepted meaning, for its rhythms, for some other kinds of significance. I adore reading fiction in translation—the short stories of Georges-Olivier Chateareynaud and Cees Noteboom, for example—I hate being so English-centered, I wish I could read in other languages...

There are also interviews with Gretchen E. Henderson, who writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, writer and writing coach Minal Hajratwala, and writer and publisher Dan Cafaro of Atticus Books. Read them all here - and have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Upcoming deadlines etc..

I had a fantastic time leading a writing workshop on Sunday for Spread the Word on "Art breathes through containment, suffocates from containment", as Leonardo da Vinci said. We experimented with many different kinds of restrictions to see what opened us up. I will be writing a blog about this sort of thing for Writers & Artists shortly... when I have sorted out everything in my head!

In the meantime, it's been a while since I've done one of my "writers service announcement" blog posts with lots of places that want your writing, so here goes. The first place to point to has to be Paul McVeigh's excellent blog, which over the past few months has become an invaluable resource, with links to competitions and calls for submissions as well as interviews with writers and writing folk. Add that to your "must read" list!

And here are a few handpicked upcoming deadlines:

April 20th Litro Short Story Competition: Poland and Bruno Shultz

"In preparation for our Polish issue in June and in association with the Polish Cultural Institute London, we are running a short story competition inspired by Polish writer Bruno Schulz and his book The Street of Crocodiles. The winner’s work will be published in the June issue of Litro Magazine and showcased at a London Underground Station. The theme is “Poland,” with particular reference Schulz’s short story collection, The Street of Crocodiles. For inspiration, check out the Brothers Quay’s eerie 1980’s stop-motion animation of the same name or Jonathan Safron Foer’s adaptation, Tree of Codes on the Litro site" 300 words max, no entry fee, one entry per person.

** April 30th Bristol Short Story Prize
The brilliant short story competition based here in bristol, open to writers worldwide! Max word count 4000 words, NO MINIMUM. Entry Fee: £8. First prize is £1,000, 2nd prize £700, 3rd prize £400 and 17 runners up receive £100. 20 stories will be published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 6. The winning story will, also, be published in Bristol Review of Books magazine. The 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize awards ceremony will be held as part of the 2013 Bristol Festival of Literature in October 2013. Enter now!

April 30th And We Were Hungry: Flying Elephants Short Story Prize
Judged by Edwige Danticat, no length restrictions, but longer manuscripts (8,000–10,000 words) or shorter manuscripts (less than 2,000 words) will have to be truly exceptional to be shortlisted. Entry Fee: None. Eligibility: Writers must eighteen-years of age or older, and short stories must be original and previously unpublished. Theme or Prompt: “And we were hungry…,” or “Hunger.” Grand Prize Theme: Consideration for the grand prize is reserved for stories that connect the theme with nature or the natural world. You may submit two short stories. Prizes: One grand prize winner ($2,000 + publication ), three finalists ($1,000 each + publication) and eight runners-ups (publication only).

April 30th Treehouse Unusual Lit Competition
"We’re interested in prose that does unusual stuff. In the past we’ve published stories in the form of to-do lists, invisible text with footnotes, survival guides, landlord-tenant correspondence, recipes, and also all kinds of inventive work that was linguistically, but not necessarily structurally, experimental. So if you think your story, essay, prose poem, or genrebender fits the bill, send it our way. (Sorry, no poetry with line breaks for this one.) Entries are to be a maximum of 750 words." No submission fee. Prize is set of subscriptions to a wonderful array of lit mags as well as books by Indie publishers, because, say the editors "One of the main things we’re trying to communicate with this contest is that literature is a community. We picked out the journals and publishing houses we’re most excited about because we wanted to share them with you—our favorite readers.". Open to all.

May 15th Paper Darts Short Fiction Award
"$800 for 800 words. Plus, the winning story will appear fully illustrated, all beautified and sexy on its very own custom website." Entry fee $6. Love this magazine.

30th April Lightship One-Page Prize
300 words max, £8 per entry, judged by Flash Fiction Day pioneer Calum Kerr!

30th June Lightship Flash Fiction Prize
1500 words max, £10 per entry, judged by Etgar Keret (yes, really).

30th June Booktown Short Story Competition
1. short stories between 1,000 and 3,000 words, submit online or by post, £5 for one entry, £9 for two entries and £13 for three entries, 14. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed authors will receive £200, £100 and £50 respectively and their work will be published on the Booktown Writers Website and in the Booktown Writers’ Anthology. Judge: Sam Kelly - Head of Creative Writing MA, Edinburgh Napier

30th June Scottish Short Story Competition
500-2000 words in length, entry free £10, stories can be any genre but must be Scotland-related,£300 First Prize, Inclusion in eBook Anthology of ten selected stories

That's all for the moment, enough to be going on with? I am off to do a little submitting myself. Happy writing!

Monday, April 01, 2013

April Starts Well....

It's always nice when the first of the month brings some good news! And this came after 12 so it's not a joke... but it seems that My Mother Was An Upright Piano has been shortlisted in the Best Story Collection section of Sabotage's  Saboteur's Indie Lit awards. I had no idea it had even been entered, so that's doubly exciting! MMWAUP faces stiff competition from Ashley Stokes, Laury A. Egan, Tony Williams, and Superbard, but just getting to the shortlist is delight enough. It is decided by public vote, so click here to find out more. I am not the sort of author who asks people to vote for her book, that doesn't really sit well with me. But if you fancy joining in, then a vote for any indie lit book is a good thing! I haven't heard of several of these collections so will be checking them out myself. Thank you, whoever nominated MMWAUP, you've made my April!