Thursday, 26 July 2012


Author Tania Hershman’s latest book is a collection of short short stories called My Mother Was an Upright Piano. Tania runs The Short Review which exclusively reviews short fiction collections, new and old. After making a living for 13 years as a science journalist, writing for publications such as WIRED and NewScientist, Tania gave it all up to write fiction. Lucky for us :)

Accompanying the reviews in The Short Review, there is often an author interview and it struck me that Tania had never been asked the questions. So she is here today, answering her own questions, on Women Rule Writer. Enjoy!

1) How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Wow, it is very strange to finally be having to answer the same questions I've been asking authors for the past 4.5 years for The Short Review but never thought I'd be asking myself! Anyway, the fictions in my book were all written between 2007 and early 2012.

2) Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

No, not at all. For a long time I wasn't convinced that a collection of very short fictions worked. I thought perhaps so many stories would be too much for a reader all together - I'd not really read any successful examples of such collections. But then I read both Stefanie Freele's Feeding Strays and David Gaffney's The Half Life of Songs, and saw how it could be done, and done so well. So I started contemplating, but the stories were all written with no thought of collection.

3) How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

I had over 150 that I'd written during that period and so - in contrast to my first collection, which contained basically everything I'd written up to that point  - I got to pick my favourites, the ones I really love, the Top 56, you could say. That's a really nice and different feeling. I can never put my own stories in order - my fabulous publisher, Richard, at Tangent Books, did it for me. We didn't want any conscious thought of ordering by theme so he tried as much as possible to mix them up - but then you read them and things jump out at you. Like how many times trees appear. And certain images I clearly like to use, that I'd ever seen before!

4) What does the word "story" mean to you?

Oh god, I always admired our interviewees' answers to this question, I never knew how to answer it. I think, for me, it means anything that transports me, however briefly, outside my own skin, into another world. Not just short stories but any stories - films, TV, novels.

5) Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

I write to amuse myself, to move myself. I write to express things I wonder about. I don't write with any thought of a reader, I am always, always amazed that anybody who isn't in my head ever connects to anything I've written. And doubly amazed when they see things I didn't know were in there. Having readers is a miraculous thing, I think.

6) Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

These tiny fictions were written with no thought of a collection, of a book. Do they work together, are they somehow in conversation with each other, despite that?

7) How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?

The second time around, it is a different feeling. The first book was elation mixed with terrified trepidation. This time it's more pride, that I've actually managed a second book, that I kept on going and someone had enough faith in me to publish another one. I will never take it for granted - the publications or the fact that people spend money to buy my books. I would like to give them away (sorry, Richard) but am learning to deal with the fact that I do need people to actually purchase them. I am very grateful for anyone who does that, and I really love the idea of my book being on someone's shelf, in their house, in different countries. It feels like a little piece of me is in all these places.

8) What are you working on now?

Right now, an idea for a biomedically-inspired screenplay, as well as a science-inspired radio play. I am also co-editor of a new textbook on writing short stories, forthcoming in 2014 from the Arvon Foundation, so about to start work on that with my wonderful co-editor, Courttia Newland. I am also toying with the idea of a collection of science-inspired fictions, a collection that I conceive of as a book from the outset. I have a number of stories written, but I am also wondering about the future of publishing and what a collection means for a short story writer, what will it mean in a few years? Not sure. I'm always writing pieces which might be called flash fiction or might be prose poems, who knows?

9) What are the last three short story collections you read?

The Weight of a Human Heart, by Ryan O'Neill, his third collection - I just met him at a conference and am loving this new book! Revenge of the Lawn, by Richard Brautigan, a collection of 62 ultra-short stories first published in 1972 and which make me so happy I've taken to carrying the book around with me. And This Cake is for the Party, by Sarah Selecky, which was recommended to me by Ali Smith and which I greatly enjoyed and reviewed for The Short Review.

Tania is teaching the flash fiction workshop at this year's Cork Short Story Festival. Go here for details and to book.


Rachel Fenton said...

That was lovely - so funny Tania got to answer herself - great stuff!

Unknown said...

Great answers:) I love that Tania uses her science background in her fiction. It's something that has never occurred to me to try as I've somehow compartmentalised the two areas in my own mind. Thanks for inspiring me to think about ways I might combine them:)

Tania Hershman said...

Rae - it was lovely to finally do it! I would never run a review of my own book on The Short Review because how could I commission a review from someone I didn't know? So, this was a great thing to be asked to do!

Johanna, I am so so delighted if in some way this interview has inspired you to use science, do let us know what happens. By the way, I will be teaching an Arvon Foundation course in writing & science in Devon in August 2013, come join us!

Unknown said...

Tania, I'm a great fan of Arvon - have been twice - and would love to join you but I live in Malaysia and my kids' summer break ends at the start of August, so a logistical impossibility I think.

Anonymous said...

Good answer from Tanya - a story is "anything that transports me, however briefly, outside my own skin, into another world. Not just short stories but any stories - films, TV, novels"....

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Lovely to read this - thanks both for a great interview. x

@parridhlantern said...

great Q&A from a wonderful writer, who I discovered through Lee Rourke's A Brief History of Fables.

Tania Hershman said...

Johanna - what a shame! But malaysia, wow, must be very interesting!

Lane, thanks, I never ever wanted to have to answer that question, glad I did okay!

V - thank you!

PL - very nice to meet you, I'm really happy to hear that you found me through Lee Rourke's book!

chillcat said...

So funny to read Tania answering her own questions! I also feel like giving my novel away - but it is very wrong!!