Short story writer

 25 March 2011

Tania Hershman is a short story writer and author of 'The White Road and Other Stories', which received a commendation from the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.

Tania did much of the promotion for her book, ‘The White Road and Other Stories’
Tania did much of the promotion for her book, ‘The White Road and Other Stories’

Educated in the UK, Tania Hershman spent 13 years living in Israel working as a science journalist. She then returned to England to pursue her real love: creative writing, notably short stories and flash fiction. She is also currently writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at the University of Bristol.

Starting out with journalism

Few literary magazines pay for short stories, but writing short stories for women’s magazines is well-paid.

As a child Tania loved to read – in fact she could never find enough books, despite being surrounded by them at home! She loved to use her imagination, and at around the age of six began writing her first ‘novel’.

During her secondary school years Tania developed an interest in maths and sciences, and her school would not allow her to study both humanities and science subjects at A level.

“I didn't really enjoy English lessons at secondary school. I wanted to write my own stories but this wasn't part of the curriculum. I also loved science and so went in this direction instead, studying maths and physics at university. However, I soon realised I was not cut out to be a scientist, despite enjoying my degree.”

At university Tania gained experience writing film reviews and articles for the student newspaper. She later progressed to the Postgraduate Diploma in Periodical Journalism at City University, before moving to Israel and starting life as a freelance science journalist.

Inspired by short story workshops

Tania’s background as a science journalist working for publications including WIRED and New Scientist has helped to provide the inspiration for her fiction-writing.

“After a few years of working as a journalist my desire to write fiction, which had been my first love, began to re-emerge. Writers like Roald Dahl with his short stories in “Tales of the Unexpected” had inspired me since childhood.

"I started attending beginners' workshops for short story writers in the US and UK, including those offered at the IOWA Summer Writing Festival. As a journalist I had learnt to appreciate brevity and what can be said in a few words. Short stories and flash fiction were the obvious choice for me.”

Studying creative writing

Smaller independent publishers are more likely to publish short stories. The genre is often ignored by the bigger players.

Tania decided to leave Israel at this point and return to the UK for a year to study on the creative writing MA course at Bath Spa University. During her MA Tania wrote 15 stories based on articles from the New Scientist magazine. More importantly, she also made valuable contacts in the literary world.

“During the MA course we had a visit from a production company, Sweet Talk, which works closely with the BBC. As a direct result of this I have had three short stories and 16 flash stories broadcast by Radio 4 in the Afternoon Reading slot. I was also introduced to an agent.

Tania returned to Israel and tried to carry on with journalism as well as writing fiction but several years later she decided to take the plunge into fiction-writing and give up her day job.

“In some ways leaving the security of journalism was like going into a void. It was the writer Ali Smith who encouraged me to become a full-time fiction writer. She was a tutor on a fantastic residential writing course at the Arvon Foundation in Devon.”

Finding a publisher for short stories

Finding an agent doesn't guarantee publication. Securing a publishing deal for short stories is much more difficult.

“The agent I was in touch with talked to several editors at publishing houses but they suggested that I came back once I had written a novel. But I was determined to press on with getting my short stories published and came across Salt Publishing, a smaller independent publisher. The agent and I had parted ways by then so I submitted three stories to Salt directly. I was amazed when several months later they offered to publish my collection.”

Tania found that promoting her new book was in great part down to her, since small publishers often do not have dedicated marketing staff.

“Promoting my own book was quite scary, even though I had been used to pitching articles as a journalist. However, I am delighted that the book has sold very well for a short story collection, a great achievement for any new writer. Social media and blogs helped to create a buzz. Having a favourable review in the New Scientist also boosted sales.”

Making a living from short stories

"As a journalist I had learnt to appreciate brevity. Short stories were the obvious choice for me.”

The royalties from Tania’s first book are not enough to provide a full-time living and until recently she relied on savings to keep afloat.

After moving back to the UK in August 2009, she approached Jon Keating, Professor of Mathematical Physics and Dean of Science at the University of Bristol with a request: Would he like a writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty?

“Professor Keating was very enthusiastic about the idea, he is a great promoter of art/science projects. However, the University couldn't fund the position, which involves me spending time with scientists in a biochemistry lab to gather ideas and inspirations for stories.

"I approached the Arts Council England for funding, and was amazed, on the second try, to receive a positive response. The first short story I wrote inspired by spending time in the lab was “Experimentation”, commissioned by Radio 4's “Off the Page” program which I was invited to appear on.”

Tania now combines her writing with a wide range of other writing-related activities for which she is paid, including running courses and workshops for children and adults.

Tips for short story writers

  • Look for reputable writing courses. Tania has attended several residential courses offered by the Arvon Foundation
  • Some of the smaller independent publishers are much more likely to publish short stories – this genre is often ignored by the bigger players
  • For advice to on how to write for broadcasting, visit the BBC's Writers Room, always on the lookout for new writing talent
  • Join a writing group – one where you can trust the people and share your writing and advice
  • Feedback about your writing can be really helpful, but you also need the self-confidence to ignore any negative comments or setbacks
  • Few literary magazines pay for short stories, but writing short stories for women’s magazines is well-paid, provided you are willing to adopt the necessary style
  • Read as many short stories as you can – to see the many possibilities within the short story.

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