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.