Books: Interview: Tania Hershman
With a science-fuelled third short story collection and a debut poetry collection published this summer, 2017 is looking fruitful for Bristol writer, Tania Hershman. Joe Melia finds out what inspires this multi-talented author.
Science and technology are very much to the fore in your new short story collection, what can writers learn from scientists?
Science requires enormous creativity: think of a problem, then imagine experiments or theories to solve it. Spending time with biochemistry researchers, I learned they have an immense tolerance for failure, and a collaborative spirit, where one person’s success lifts everyone. What draws me most is the idea of the experiment, stepping into the unknown, following where clues lead you. Which is what writing is for me.
You’re an acclaimed short story writer, what led you to writing poetry?
Poetry snuck up on me. I never liked reading it, let alone writing it. But people kept asking why my flash fictions weren’t poems, so I thought I’d better investigate. I discovered that poetry is so much more than what we read at school. And I began to love the added possibilities that come from playing with the shape of text on the page. Now I am a fanatic, devouring poetry, alongside fiction, non-fiction etc…!
Have you found that there are subjects and ideas that lend themselves to poetry more than short stories?
It turns out, much to my surprise as someone whose short stories are very “fictional”, at least on the surface, that poetry – with its looser relationship to narrative – enables me to more directly document my everyday experiences. Something about the shape of a poem releases me, and I am grateful to have a tool to record what I see, hear, think – formed into a word object which also, I hope, has resonance with a reader. Many of my poems are fictions, too, though. Some are a hybrid, a word I love!
When you start writing something, how soon do you know whether it is a poem or a short story or something else?
I know straight away – primarily because I generally write stories with my fingers moving (on the page or screen) and poems out loud, they appear to me differently. But also because I am mostly writing poems these days, still thrilled by this new language, these shapes. Although I have found that the moment I make a generalisation like ‘Oh, I’m not writing fiction’, something happens and I write only fiction. So – no generalisations!
You’re in big demand as a performer of your work and as a creative writing teacher. How hard is it to safeguard time for writing?
Well, I adore reading and performing my work, it’s all written with one ear on how it will sound aloud, and I see myself now as almost equally writer and performer. I haven’t run into a problem with writing time, I’m always, always writing, in some way. It’s more that I need to turn the Internet off and go for a walk to free up space in my head!
What influence has Bristol had on your work?
The Bristol literary community welcomed me so warmly when I arrived in 2009 after 15 years in the Middle East. Bristol was a friendly, gentle reintroduction to Englishness, to the language I write in but that had become spiced with Hebrew, with Arabic, with Americanisms. I love the views in Bristol, the water, the creative spirit, the liveliness of the city, the food. Bristol is where my love for poetry was sparked, and the amazing Festival of Ideas keeps me inspired, as does the University of Bristol and all its scientists. I generally don’t write about specific locations, but there are definitely stories set in Bristol in the new book!