I first came across the short stories of Tania Hershman back in 2009. I had just started this blog and was in the process of completing my diploma in Creative Writing. Her debut collection The White Road was one of my favourite reads of that year and is a book I still dip into from time to time. Tania is a tireless promotor of the short story both on her blog and in the virtual pages of The Short Review and has recently published her second collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano. She is an Arvon tutor and can often be found at literary festivals and other events running workshops on writing short fiction and/or flash fiction. In fact, this coming September she can be found running a short story event at the Plymouth International Book festival as well as reading and flash fiction workshops at the Cork International Short Story Festival. It is with great pleasure that I welcome Tania onto the blog today today. Ladies and gents, this is Tania Hershman’s Life in Short Fiction:

1. The first short story you remember enjoying.

Roald Dahl’s story, Lamb to the Slaughter, where [spoiler alert!} the wife kills the husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then cooks it for the policemen who come to investigate! I loved it, I remembered being delighted at such a short story with so much happening and such a dark twist at the end!

2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.

It’s got to be Ali Smith, her collection Other Stories and Other Stories, which I read about 13 years ago, I think. The first story, God’s Gift, opened my eyes to – after Roald Dahl – everything else a short story could be. It was so intimate, and there were no big fireworks, no explosions, but it was just as powerful, in it’s very small and intense way. It is a story that takes you into the space between two people, the “I” who is talking to “you”, and it doesn’t follow a linear path, it surprises, gently but insistently, powerfully. That made me want to write, to get inside someone else’s head in that same intimate way.

3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.

Well, that’s got to be Ali Smith again. I was recently at a conference and I heard an academic give a paper about Ali Smith’s short stories and that really brought home to me just what an influence she has been on me. And not just her writing – she taught me on an Arvon Foundation course in 2006 and she said everything you would want the writer you worship to say to you about your writing, it was quite amzing, stunning. I love her story ” The Child” because it seems fairly ordinary and humorous but then turns very dark and disturbing – and that’s what I love in a short story!

4. The story from your own body of work that most reveals something of who Tania Hershman is.

Oh wow, this is hard. Firstly, I don’t consciously write about my own life, ever. But I know it’s in there, somewhere. I don’t like to think that you can learn anything about me, the person, from my fiction. I was quite disturbed after my first book came out when several people I didn’t know very well seemed to think they now knew me intimately through those stories. But, okay, I am avoiding the question. “Express”, from the White Road and Other Stories, is fairly close to autobiography in terms of being an ex-pat and how it feels to return to your home country, not to have to struggle to understand another language.

But if I may pick a second, the fiction “Retreating I Retreated” in my new book I think says something of my ambiguous relationship with others, wanting to approach people, wanting to be sociable, to be “normal”, perhaps, while at the same time not being fully equipped to do so, having to back away. Which is perhaps a condition many writers experience. We are the observers not the participants.

5. Your all time favourite short story.

I’ve been thinking about this question for several weeks and I am just utterly unable to answer it. For me, that’s the beauty of short stories, there are so many great ones, I have too many favourites to name, I’m afraid. Some recent favourites are Grandma by Carol Emshwiller, Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr, 1/3 1/3 1/3 by Richard Brautigan and Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart by Anne Valente. Will that do? Will you forgive me?!

It will most certainly do. And consider yourself absolved. I have yet to read any of the stories you mention in your closing answer, Tania. I will be tracking them down as soon as. Thanks for taking the time to share the stories that have helped shape you as a reader and a writer.

Tania Hershman is the author of two story collections: The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008; commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers) and My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), a collection of 56 very short fictions, available now in paperback and as an ebook, which contains an extra “secret story”. Tania’s award-winning short stories, flash fiction and poetry are published or forthcoming in, among others, kill author, Necessary Fiction, Metazen, PANK magazine, SPECS, Smokelong Quarterly, Elimae, Electric Velocipede and on BBC Radio. She is writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty and editor of The Short Review, the online journal spotlighting short story collections and their authors. Tania teaches regularly for the Arvon Foundation and also runs workshops on flash fiction, science-inspired fiction and the short story. Her website is www.taniahershman.com