Interview: Tania Hershman
Anne Joseph speaks to the triple-award-winning writer as she launches her first story collection.
Tania Hershman: “A short story is a slap in the face, a shot of something”
A good short story is "like a slap in the face and you reel from it", says Tania Hershman. A former science journalist, whose short stories have been published in literary journals and broadcast on Radio 4, Hershman gave up journalism to write fiction full time in 2007. It seems to have been a good decision: over a 24-hour period in August, she picked up no less than three writing awards.
Her first anthology, The White Road and Other Stories, is made up of stories inspired by articles from the New Scientist magazine. "Science to me is endlessly fascinating" she says. "Scientists ask themselves ‘what if?' This is the same question fiction writers ask."
The fact that there are things you can do with a story that you can't with a novel, says Hershman, "is part of their magic. A novel is a slow release; a short story is a shot of something." Both her science background and her journalism, she says, have taught her that every word is important. Being precise was deeply instilled in me - "I'm a stickler for punctuation and grammar."
Though Hershman's appetite for short-story writing has intensified since her move from London to Jerusalem in 1994, few of her stories are Israel-based. "It's hard to write about the place you're in - and I have heard that some writers need to leave Jerusalem before they can write about it. I don't find my life interesting enough. Although I am aware that there may be elements about me buried in my stories, I don't want to look for them. I'm wary of over-analysing."
Of the particular challenges facing the short-story writer, "endings are really hard", she says. "People tend to overwrite and want to tie the story up too neatly. It is vital," she adds, "that the story and the characters within it come naturally and not by forcing."
Hershman admits that she can get attached to her characters and for the first time has chosen to develop one - Mary Margaret, a 16-year-old Irish girl living in the 1950s who first appeared in the award-winning story Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon.
As testimony to her passionate advocacy of the short-story form, Hershman founded The Short Review, a website dedicated to reviewing short-story collections.
"It seems trendy currently to talk about the death of the short story and it's simply not true. There is a huge amount of activity going on, both in magazines and online. Podcasts are another exciting medium and may well be a way to get short stories across to more people."
Though short stories can lend themselves to being heard, Hershman argues that some work simply needs to be seen on the page: "Layout is important. Where blank spaces are left, speech marks... all these contribute to how a story should read."
Tania Hershman will be in London next week to attend the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short
Story Competition Awards and will be returning next year to participate in Jewish Book Week 2009. "The White Road and Other Stories" is published by Salt at £8.99.
The Short Review is at: http://www.theshortreview.com
Anne Joseph is a writer and editor