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Five Questions for Tania Hershman

Interview by; Rupert Dastur

Hello Tania! We’re very excited to be welcoming you to The Word Factory to host one of our Creative Writing Workshops – ‘Suffragette Flash Workshop’. Which women have most inspired your own writing?
Oh goodness, where to start? Ali Smith was my earliest inspiration, together with Roald Dahl. Her short stories showed me how a story can be quiet and intimate and also immensely powerful. Then I fell in love with the Americans – Grace Paley, Aimee Bender, Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, Carol Emshwiller, and then further afield, Janet Frame…And then the poets – Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Helen Dunmore, the list goes on and on! I read everything I can, I always have, including genres I think won’t appeal to me, which has taught me that labels are put on by other people, that fantastic, imaginative stories come in all flavours and shapes, and I am doing myself a disservice as a reader to let myself be limited by which shelves – real or virtual – I pick books and stories from. Read everything!

You often use real-world events, facts, and figures in your work (you gave an excellent workshop at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last year on using science in fiction) and I wonder how you get this balance right between fact and fiction in your narratives?
I never think about anything to do with balance, I like to see science as just another source of inspiration, along with everything else in the world, it’s all there as raw material for our stories, our poems. People are often scared of using science in this way, feeling they have to “know” about it, or somehow get it “right”, and I enjoy encouraging them not to worry, but to steal from science, steal all those gorgeous words, take whatever you need for the stories and poems you want to write. So much of writing is this kind of theft, isn’t it! Don’t worry about “fact” or “fiction”, about what’s real and what’s not, because reality is a fluid concept. And anything that makes you worry before you even start writing is, I think, your dastardly Inner Editor trying to stop you doing it at all.

What are your top tips for writing Flash Fiction and are there any particular things you think writers should avoid?
I am not a fan of rules, of “shoulds”, in any way. Write what you want to write, in the way you want to write it. Yes, flash fiction is by definition very short, but this doesn’t mean you need to avoid description and detail, say, or to limit the number of characters or the time span of your story. 500 words, or even 200 words, can tell of a whole life, or of five minutes. You can use any point of view, any tense, any genre. What’s most important to me is STORY – even in a tiny piece you need to think, What will keep my reader reading on? How do I grip them? For me, it’s voice, the voice of the character that makes her or him – or it, I’ve written from the point of view of furniture – real to us, so that we care about what happens to her, him or it?

What are you working on at the moment – any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’ve just finished a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics, which is a joy and a relief to have done it! I seem to be working on some sort of Long Thing – which may be a speculative novel/memoir/story collage, who knows? I’m really enjoying writing it, that’s the main thing for me! Teaching and mentoring are very important to me, I am now offering short story and flash fiction critiquing services, I love to help people unearth the stories they want to tell, giving them permission to write them in the way they want to.

There are some new mentoring projects in the pipeline, and a short story workshop I will be teaching in Blackpool over the summer. I’m also excited about the flash fiction course I am co-tutoring for Arvon in Devon in November with the amazing Nuala O’Connor as my co-tutor – and David Gaffney as our mid-week guest. There are a few places left, I believe!

Lastly, what can attendees of your workshop (May 26th) expect?
Firstly, we’re going to have a lot of fun, we’re going to play, which is an important word for me. I take play very seriously. We’re going to take inspiration from suffragettes and the issue of votes for women in different ways, focussing not just on what happened in the UK but going further afield and widening out. This wasn’t simply about democracy, it was – and is – about power, about responsibility, about equality, about society. We’re going to write our way into the suffragettes’ stories, and also use these sources to explore the topics that are important to each of us, today. I’m really excited to share what I’ve found in my research with the workshop participants and to see – and then hear, later in the evening at the performance – what they make of it, their own unique takes!

Find out more about the ‘Suffragette Flash Workshop’ with Tania Hershman on the Tara Arts website, here.

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