Tania Hershman – Live Q and A

Tania Hershman, the prize-winning story writer, competition judge and editor will be joining us for our next Live Q&A session, scheduled for Thursday 17th February, at 7:30 p.m. UK time.

 Three of Tania’s stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and many others have been published in print and online journals.  Her  stories, plays, poetry and film scripts, have also won or been shortlisted for numerous prizes.

 Tania’s first short story collection The White Road and Other Stories was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, and in 2010, her story ‘Mother Was an Upright Piano’ was nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize.

 Tania is editor of The Short Review, an online journal specifically dedicated to reviewing short story collections and anthologies, and blogs about her experiences as a writer at TaniaWrites.

 What the reviewers say about The White Road and Other Stories…

 Dominique Wilson Wet Ink: This collection exemplifies everything that is best about the short story. Hershman extracts the very essence of a moment to reveal the poignant fragility of human relationships…

  Sunshine O’Donnell:  Incredibly lush, intelligent, seductive…Hershman possesses the rare scientific eye and accomplished literary sensibility of Bradbury, the wry clarity of Atwood. This collection is telescopic and rich, it puts down roots, it doesn’t leave you.

 You can read some of Tania’s stories HERE.

 All registered members are invited to take part in the Live Q&A session.


Tips and Hints for helping the session to run smoothly:

 1)   Please submit individual questions using the Comments Box, below.

2) For those unable to attend, questions can be submitted in advance.

3)  Use your REFRESH button occasionally throughout the session.



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54 thoughts on “Tania Hershman – Live Q and A

  1. Loree, thank you SO much for having me, I’ve never done anything like this before and it has been such fun. Excellent questions, thank you all!

    Dora, that sounds extremely professional, I wouldn’t worry too much. Yes, online forums can also be another temptation away from writing, but it’s all writing-related, and hopefully the critique and the support will be worthwhile. Best of luck with your writing!

  2. I will definitely check out the group you mentioned. If I’m permitted to say, the forum I joined is from the Writer’s Digest magazine. Everyone has been super nice and welcoming and I am learning a lot about the “publishing” business but I’ve also noticed that this gives me another excuse to neglect my writing. As with everything else, moderation is key.

  3. Tania! Phew! Hasn’t the time flown. Thank you VERY much for all the time you’ve spent with us this evening. It has been an EXCELLENT session and I know our readers will come back and look at all of your comments and learn from you’ve had to say tonight. I’m going to give (almost) the last word to Dora, who has been waiting patiently!

  4. HI Catherine,
    oh thank you, that’s so kind of you! I have to say that my blood boils a little when I hear – which is not what you’ve said – that short stories are perfectly suited to our new short attention spans. Because the way I see it, short stories demand more attention, albeit for shorter periods of time, because in a great story you can’t skim, there is nothing superfluous. However, that said, short stories are ideal for short periods of time, but then again, I totally understand the joy of being immersed in a novel over weeks or months, a completely different experience. So I would say that I wouldn’t promote short stories as a replacement for anything anyone might be reading now, but suggest them as an addition, when you want something whole and complete on your bus journey to work, say. I do wish they were given more attention and more people read stories, instead of so many people I meet who say “Well, I don’t really read short stories”, because I know what they’re missing out on, and if you are someone who loves reading, you are really missing out!

  5. Hi Tania,

    I am glad I bought your book and am planning on buying further copies for a couple of friends! Do you feel that in our time constrained society (especially with the way social media are shaping interaction) short and very short stories present a natural progression in our reading habits?


  6. Hi Maritmax,
    thanks so much for asking that question, I love titles. They tend to come and they have to feel right, they are an essential part of the story. I was incredibly proud of a short story I finished recently which is called “We Are All Made of Protein But Some Of Us Glow More Than Others”, which is a sort of apt description of the story. It did just come to me. A story title is the way to first grab the reader’s attention, I think they are worth spending time on. They are not make or break, but a great title certainly stands out, especially when you are judging a competition and are reading 849 entries, as I did with the Sean O’Faolain competition last year. Then again, the winner I chose was just called “Eddie”. So, as I said, not make or break!

  7. Tania, your story titles are very creative and tell their own story too. Do they also come in that first sitting or following more pondering? Just curious.

  8. Katherine – I love Etgar Keret’s stories! They are wonderful, surreal and dark yet very human. I met him several times when I was living in Israel, he is very modest in person, very nice guy, not at all what you might think from his fiction!

  9. Ha! Hello Juliet! Oh yes, it certainly does… I deleted my Facebook account last summer because I was just unable to stop myself checking it all the time. And I blog less and less, perhaps because I tweet a lot and that satisfies whatever urge that used to lead me to blogging. I do love Twitter and find it a useful resource, lots of writing-related links, good contacts, interesting discussions. But I am concerned that I am less about to concentrate on just one thing.

    This is where I get to mention my new writing shed! It’s nearly ready, and I sat in it the other day for the first time with my laptop. It’s all the way at the end of the garden and I had assumed the wifi wouldn’t stretch that far. Everyone had said, Don’t get Internet in the shed, and I was looking forward to trying this out. But I switched on my computer – and there was the wifi! So I tweeted. No willpower. I do need the Internet for certain things, like submitting short stories etc… And I have always said that because I write such short stories I don’t need long stretches of writing time. But it may well be the opposite – that I write such short stories because I don’t give myself long stretches of writing time. I am going to cut down.

    However, the problem is that these days an author is also a salesperson for her book, and Facebook, Twitter and the blogs are excellent marketing tools. Especially when being published by a small press with no publicity people, you have to do it yourself, and that is very distracting to a writer, and can be stressful because I think for many of us the writing keeps us fairly sane and not writing can be quite harmful. But, as someone wisely said to me when my book came out, I put all the effort into writing it, I should put as much effort into trying to get people to buy it!

  10. Juliet West isn’t able to join us, tonight, but she emailed me a question yesterday that she wanted to ask you. Juliet says: Your website is a great resource for writers. But do you find that blogging/tweeting eats away at your ‘real’ writing time? How do you separate the two?

  11. Thanks so much – that makes a lot of sense. I am also now thinking of Etgar Keret’s stories – some of which are very short and wildly surreal and require a complicitous suspension of disbelief between writer and reader!

  12. Hi Katherine,
    I did a session about flash fiction, together with my friend and fellow flash writer Vanessa Gebbie, at the Small Wonder short story festival last year, and we got into a little bit of trouble when we said that we think flash fiction allows a writer to be more experimental. There were members of the audience who then brought up writers of experimental novels and we had to backtrack a little! No, flash fiction is not the only form that can be experimental, but I think the nature of it lends itself very well to being looser about beginnings, middles and ends, it’s somewhere closer to poetry in terms of playing with language, or it can be.

    Whenever I start to read a short story I first check to see how long it is, and that changes my expectations. I think as a reader I am more willing to completely suspend disbelief and rein in any questions about reality if it’s a 2- page story. For example, Barry Yourgrau’s amazing Wearing Dad’s Head. A boy puts on his dad’s head and goes to meet his friends, who are all wearing their dad’s heads. A 2 page story, it doesn’t give me time to think “Wait, how did he get his Dad’s head off? What does his Dad do without his head?” Different expectations. Does that make sense?

  13. Thanks for that Tania … given that you have worked with and published both longer short stories and flash fiction, what would you say are the particular benefits & pleasures of flash fiction?

  14. I want to mention that I do love longer stories too – reading them and writing them. I love starting a longer story and carrying characters around in my head, waiting to find out what happens next. Another kind of magical process.

  15. Alison, hello! Lovely to see you here too, almost as nice as seeing you in person! Thank you, I really like “ordinary, strange and delicate”, that’s lovely. No, I don’t write longer stories and pare down, although I know flash writers who do, such as David Gaffney – we both have essays about writing flash fiction in the excellent Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (in which you also have a chapter!) and we disagree. He does write longer stories and then cut and cut and cut. I feel more that my process is as “flash” as the end product, when I write it is in a short, intense burst, a bit like flinging the words onto the page. Completely different from writing a longer story. I have no idea why this happens. It does sometimes happen that I write a 300 word flash story and then pare it down to 150 words for a 150-word short story competition! But never a 2000 word story down to 200. Although I think this is a great thing to attempt, it shows you how few words you really need to tell the story.

  16. Hi Tania,
    Great to see you here. Thanks for stopping by! I love your flash fiction. The stories in your collection are ordinary, strange and delicate all at the same time. But I’m so greedy/fulsome a writer myself, I think it must be so hard to do. Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you have a bigger story to start with that you distil down? Or do you begin with a line that’s like a seed and let it open, line by line?

  17. Hi Chouse,
    thank you so much for buying my book, that is not something I take for granted, I appreciate it immensely! As for a certain style of flash, it totally depends on the market you are sending it to, if we are talking about submitting flash stories to literary magazines or publishers. There are now 1000s of literary magazines worldwide, many of them – an increasing number – interested in very short stories, and each literary magazine knows what it wants. The beauty of it is you can always find someone who likes what you like, this is what I’ve found. There are places like Cafe Irreal that love the surreal, or magazines like PANK that like writers who play with language. And then there are the far more traditional places that want more of a beginning, middle and end, and so it is with publishers. There are publishers – most small presses, since they are the ones who are pioneering the short story collections – who have particular tastes.

    If we’re talking about submitting to flash fiction competitions, it’s just very hard to know what a judge – or the initial readers or sifters – will be turned on by. I would say, as with all fiction, you should just write whatever you love to write, and don’t try and shape your stories towards a particular market!

  18. Hi Tania,
    I really enjoyed diversity within your book The White Road. I bought the book after reading your comments of the writing of ‘Plaits’ in relation to achieving success in flash fiction competitions. Do you feel that there is often a certain style of flash that is favoured over others?

  19. This is why I love writing short stories – because they are what I love to read, and I really only write for myself. There’s only been one character in a short story of mine who demanded to be written about more, I usually get a sense of finality when I finish a story, and can move on. Perhaps I have a low boredom threshold – I like meeting new characters in my head as often as possible!

  20. Hi Mark,
    an excellent question. There is no science to it! I judged several short story competitions last year and I always tried to persuade people to send in short stories that were much shorter than the word limit, but often found entries were one or two words under the maximum. In most cases the word counts stated are maximum, not requirement. For example, the Bristol Short Story Prize, which I am on the judging panel for again this year, has a 3000 word limit, but was won last year by a 350-word story that just stood out above all the other entries.

    For me, personally, it’s never a question of length. The length should serve the story. I don’t prize quantity. But every judge is different and I know I struggle with this when I enter competitions. I sent in an 800-word story for the Sunday Times competition, with its maximum limit of 8000 words, and I worried that when the judges held my story it would feel flimsy, insubstantial. It’s a risk I took. I wish more short story competitions would add “no minimum word count” into their rules, that might make things clearer! But no science about it at all, I’m afraid.

  21. Hi Mitchell,
    oops, sorry for the time lag! Nice to meet you. I absolute adore the short story form, I am passionate about it, addicted to it. For me, there is nothing like it. For me, nothing beats a fantastic story that takes you 15 minutes to read and can literally shake you to your core, leaving an imprint that last for months, if not longer. A few months ago I read Clare Keegan’s story, Foster, on the train to London. It took me 20 minutes and at the end I discovered I was crying. It was a bit embarassing, on public transport! But I love being affected like that, and I think excellent short stories do that because of their compression, they are by nature much more intense and, as I said, it’s almost more about what’s not said. I think an excellent short story leaves room for the reader, space for you to insert yourself, and that’s why they can be so affecting, whereas a novel, for example, has to be a minimum length and so may perhaps fill in gaps that the reader could have filled in herself. And once you’ve had that experience of a fantastic story which punches you in the stomach, which leaves you reeling – and you know you can get that “hit” again and again – you can get quite addicted!

    Poetry, for me, is an entirely different animal again, one that I don’t know much about, but I am affected by a great poem in a different way, you read a poem in a different way.

  22. Hi Tania

    My question is about wordcounts. If a word limit is say 3000, what is the minimum advisable story for a competition or a publication and what might be the optimum wordcount? Is there a ratio you can apply to other limits, like say 8000 words?


  23. Hey Tania,
    Much of your work seems to be within the short story form. I am curious to know, what makes this form unique for you, as a writer?

    Mitch 🙂

  24. The attitude in the US seems somewhat different in that the MFA courses encourage students to write short stories where on the Creative Writing MA I did 8 years ago, the emphasis was more on the novel because it was felt that that had more chance of finding a publisher. But then even in the US, you’re “allowed” to published a short story collection as long as you swiftly follow it up with a novel!

    Not to be completely negative – I do want to say that a great deal more short story collections are being published than anyone realises! I try and keep a list on The Short Review of story collections being published each month (am rather behind with that right now), and I go by Amazon, which is difficult because they misclassify a lot of books which aren’t short story collections. But there’s an enormous amount there, you just have to dig a little!

  25. Hi Maritmax, again our messages crossed! THanks for your lovely words, it’s great to know who is reading my blog and that it’s useful! No, I don’t cut down longer stories into flash fiction, I write them very short to begin with. It’s something I think comes from my journalism training, I am in love with brevity, with “less is more”. I think a short story is almost as much about what is not said as what is said… and flash fiction distils that to its essence. I write flash stories in one sitting, it’s a completely different process from working on a longer story over weeks, sometimes months, carrying it around in your head. Writing flash seems to tap into a different part of my brain, knowing I am constrained – I am the one doing the constraining! – is actually freeing, I feel freer to be more surreal, to play with language, to experiment. I think that’s perhaps why I am drawn to prose poetry, which is hard to define, a hair’s breadth from flash fiction.

  26. Hi Tania, I’ve been enjoying the wealth of information on your blog. It’s wonderfully done and very helpful. Thanks so much for all you’ve got on it. I too have been enjoying reading your work. It’s wonderfully crafted and every word counts. Regarding flash: Do you typically start your piece out short and then pare it down over time and drafts? What are you aiming for in your writing of flash?

  27. Hi K,
    an interesting question. Clearly, my blood boils when there’s a suggestion that the short story is just “practice” for writing something longer. Anyone who has written short stories knows that brevity does not equal simplicity, that is is often harder to say what you want to say in a very short space. I do worry that there is some perception amongst the reading public that reading a short story is somehow the lightweight option, that it takes real stamina to read a novel, I always say, Read both, they are entirely different creatures with different aims and purposes.

    I applaud the BBC National Short Story Award and the other new big prizes, the Sunday Times EFG award, which this year is worth £20,000, and the Manchester Prize, for demonstrating that a great short story is worth that kind of prize. I think we still have a way to go before there is a real shift in the perception of the short story. It baffles me because poetry is not regarded as an apprenticeship to anything!

    The digital age seems to be a real boon for short stories with companies like Ether Books, who publish short works of fiction and non-fiction as an iPhone app. I don’t have an iPhone – yet! – but I look forward to seeing where this goes!

  28. Re the new journal Short Fiction in Theory and Practice “the short story is finally receiving due attention as a major art form, and one which is especially suited to the digital age” . If you think this is the case, or if the short story is still regarded, at least by the publishing mainstream, as an apprentice form…?

  29. Dora, I would say you should only do it if the online forum is password-protected. Any good space for writers to post work-in-progress for others to critique should not be accessible by just anyone. Partly for this “previously published” issue and partly because of concerns of theft and plagiarism. Not to be completely paranoid, but it’s important to only share with people you trust. When the work is published, it’s out there, that’s a different matter. Yes, you do open yourself up to ideas being stolen in any kind of writing group, whether you’ve met the people or not, it could even happen in a one-off workshop. It is very very hard to protect ideas. As someone who has been plagiarised by somebody who was a writing colleague, I am quite wary – but also sensitive about whether I might unconsciously be stepping over the line myself, which is also something to bear in mind! But don’t let this put you off writing! I would try and make sure the online group is a reputable one, was it recommended by someone? I had great experiences at WriteWords, (http://www.writewords.org.uk/) their flash fiction group is very dynamic!

  30. My second question, if I may, is that I’ve just joined an online writing and critique group and wanted to know if you feel it’s safe to post my stories for others to read and critique. I’m a little concerned because I’ve heard from some that these stories are considered “published” even though they are not read by the general public. Since I don’t participate in any other face to face groups (I have no time) and I have no one else to read them except for my son and a few friends, I would love to receive the critiques from other writers. My other concern is that if you have a fresh idea or take on a subject, couldn’t this be easily stolen? I see both the pros and cons. What are your thoughts?

  31. Hi Katherine,
    our comments crossed in the ether! Well, the thing was, I didn’t have a collection in mind when I was writing the stories. It really never entered my mind that I would one day have a book. The longer stories were all written for my MA final work, and I really just wrote the sorts of things I wanted to read. A character’s voice is so often what starts a story for me, I’ve no clue where it’s going to go, and I love getting to know all sorts of characters, getting under the skin of all different types of people in different situations. Regarding flash fiction, I think a whole collection of flash fiction might be quite a hard thing to pull off, even though I’ve read some excellent ones, such as Stefanie Freele’s Feeding Strays. I believe that publishers in the US – the ones that do publish s story collections – are asking for “themed” collections. But then again, I think that it’s not necessarily up to the writer – or even possible for the writer – to always tell what the themes of their stories are. I couldn’t really see that until my book came out – seeing the stories together, certain threads hit me in a way that I’d never noticed before. And people tell me what they think the themes are, I love it when a reader has a completely different take on a story! I don’t think the writer always knows – especially with very short stories – what a story might be about. And short stories are different things to different readers.

  32. Hi Tania – Something I found really refreshing about The White Road was the way you shift tone fairly freely between stories – some are wistful, poignant and others much lighter and more surreal. So often there is pressure for short story collections to read like novels … was this ever an issue, or do you think the nature of flash fiction gives a kind of freedom pass in this respect?

  33. It’s lovely to have you on our reviewing team! You’re an excellent addition. Most of our reviewers are also short story writers – which is great but often it’s hard for them not to take an author’s feelings into account when reviewing, a reluctance perhaps to draw attention to stories that worked less well for them. But as an author I really appreciate an honest and balanced review, we don’t aim to produce puff pieces.

  34. Yes, I really find it helpful to me as well, really studying and analysing another writer’s work. So I should thank you very much for giving me that opportunity!

  35. The Short Review will be 4 years old this November, and I am just amazed, it’s flourishing! I also get an enormous amount out of the author interviews we do – I’m really nosey, I love getting that peak behind the scenes!

  36. Loree, they were intertwined. When Salt offered me a book deal for my short story collections I was stunned, and part of me went into shock. I just hadn’t ever though that I would realise my dream. I felt like I was holding my breath until the book came out – from June 2007, when we signed the contract, to Sept 2008. I found it very difficult to write, I didn’t have a Next Project lined up. So I thought about what I could do for the short story instead and realised that while we lambast the publishing companies for not wanting to publish collections, a huge problem lay in the book review pages. If short story collections don’t get reviewed, how does anyone know to buy them? I set up The Short Review thinking it would be me and 10 friends. Honestly. Now I have over 40 reviewers worldwide and several requests a week from authors and publishers offering their collections for review. I do it for love, no-one gets paid – my deputy editor, Diane, and I hand-code the webpages ourselves (if you’d like to bring us into the 21st century, please get in touch!). But it makes me so so happy to do it – and brings me lots of short story collections I never would have found out about and new favourite writers. I find reviewing is enormously helpful to me as a writer, closely reading a text and taking it apart to see why you love what you love.

  37. Tania, as you’re both an author and the editor of the fabulous SHORT REVIEW, I’d like to ask a chicken and egg question. Which came first, and how exactly did the Short Review come about?

  38. Hello Sarah! Ha! I always partly live in dread of this question because I don’t have a daily schedule and feel a little guilty about it. I once was rather too candid in an online interview about all the stuff I do do every day, and it made me sound a bit mad. No, I don’t have a schedule, because I write short stories and very short stories I don’t think daily word counts that I set myself would be very helpful to me, I don’t need to generate a minimum number of words. I do spend an enormous amount of time thinking about stories, though, and a lot of the writing of a new story takes place in my head. I am also writing by hand more and more, to get me away from the computer, which I do find distracting, and to slow myself down a little because I type very very fast.

  39. Wonderful! Thanks – last time I ordered my son had to do it for me because I couldn’t make heads or tails of where I was ordering from. I will definitely try the book depository.

  40. I’ve had a few people send in questions who aren’t able to be here with us live. Here’s one from Sarah Hegarty:

    How do you write – do you have a set daily schedule, for example?

  41. Hi Dora, lovely to meet you too, and thanks for your kind words about my stories. Getting hold of books is more and more difficult, isn’t it? You can order my book and many other fabulous short story writers direct from my publisher, Salt, (www.saltpublishing.com) and I also recommend the Book Depository, which has free worldwide shipping http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/. I know my book is available through Powells in the UK, although I was sad to hear that they are laying off staff. Shame.

  42. Tania I’ve enjoyed reading your short fiction and poetry. Your writing is so clean and precise. It’s definitely arresting and grabs you by the throat as you deem any work must do in order to keep the reader reading (I have read some of your blog posts this morning, but fleetingly as I’m at work). I would love to support your efforts, as well as the other writers that I’ve been privileged to get to know and read on this Forum, but I wanted to know if there’s an easier way to order books online other than Amazon U.K. Because I’m in the U.S., I’ve had to pay extra for shipping. Sometimes it’s the same price as the book itself! Do you or anyone participating online know? I wish I could just go to my neighborhood Barnes and Nobles but we all know how dire the market is for short stories and books in general..

    Thank you.

  43. Hi Katherine,
    nice to meet you, glad you enjoyed my book. I started writing flash fiction after reading a few anthologies in the Sudden Fiction series that were first published in the 1990s, and Barry Yourgrau was definitely in one of those. I love his stories. I also love Aimee Bender, her sense of the magical and bizarre. I hadn’t actually read a great deal of flash fiction when I was writing the flash stories in my book but now I read an enormous amount. I’ve only just begun to get to know prose poetry, I am reading the excellent Rose Metal Press Flash Guide to Prose Poems, and realising that perhaps I am writing prose poems too!

  44. Hi Tania –
    I very much enjoyed reading your collection. I know that some of the stories are inspired by articles on popular science … but I wonder, are you conscious that any writers in particular have inspired your work in flash fiction? Some of the stories – like ‘Heart’ – make me think of ‘prose poems’ (like Ponge, Baudelaire), and also Barry Yourgrau’s collection – A Man Jumps Out Of An Airplane …

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