Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Walking the White Road with Tania

I have a confession. I sometimes have a problem with short stories. They can leave me with the feeling of having nibbled on a somewhat bland sandwich, when what I really want is a 3 course hearty meal.
Tania Hershman's stunning book, The White Road and Other Stories, definitely does NOT fall into that category. To continue the food analogy, think of delicious tiny nibbles, each created with love and care ... every mouthful unique, providing an exquisite explosion of taste ... stimulating, uplifting. Her stories are sometimes shocking, sometimes sad, but always compulsive and leaving you wanting more. Not in the sense of feeling unsatisfied, but because they feel like a rare gift.

With the word economy of the poet and the rich visual inner landscape of a dreamer, Tania has woven her stories and flash fiction together into a book that cannot fail to move any reader lucky enough to hold it in their hands. I'm delighted and honoured to be providing the final stopping post on her virtual tour.

Hi, Tania. Welcome to my humble virtual abode. I’m very aware that this is your last stop on a grueling global tour and that the other hosts have proved a tough act to follow.

We do things a bit differently here, so I have a glass of virtual champagne for you and do please help yourself to chocolates. They’re organic and fair trade, of course. It’s snowing outside, so let me know if you’d like a blanket to snuggle under.

Are you comfortable? Do you have everything you need? Then let’s go …

You live by choice in a part of the world that is almost always in turmoil. Can you tell us what impact that has on your reasons for writing and also if it is a factor in the content you focus on in your stories?

It's interesting that you say that, "by choice", because that must be how it looks from the outside, but actually this is the only place I have ever felt at home, so in that way I am not here by choice, I am here because something pulled me here and because I feel very attached to this place. I am not sure anyone would necessarily see living here as a rational course of action! My parents certainly don't, and I have been here for 15 years already.

If I felt constantly stressed and under pressure, I wouldn't live here. What I mostly feel is joy, every day, waking up in Jerusalem. I also don't feel unsafe on a daily basis, not the way I worry walking around London, where I grew up, even in daylight. London makes me nervous, the amount of "ordinary" crime there horrifies me.

Life here is different, I walk around here at night with no second thought at all. I'll say again: I would not live here if I felt constantly scared. That would be an extreme form of masochism, no? Life is lived here very much in the moment: the ever-present threats dictate that we be spontaneous, and that is something I thrive on. We live now, and we live as much as possible.

As for the impact on what I write, I really am not sure. None of the stories I write are ever set in
Israel, I don't write from "real life", I enjoy living in my imagination. In my imagination I am at the South Pole, in Las Vegas, Sweden, Outer Space, the Middle Ages. But I am sure every writer is influenced by every aspect of their lives, we are the sum of our experiences. Perhaps I would need some distance from here to see that more clearly, or perhaps it's not for me to say!

I can understand what you mean about choice and how that can be defined. Relating that to writing, I'd say writing isn't a choice either for many of us. It's simply a way of being in this world.

I have family in Israel so I know what you mean about living there, though I'm sure many people would struggle to understand. Wages are low, the cost of living is high and, although I believe you when you say you don't feel afraid, the threat is nevertheless real.

I'm sure some would want at this point to mention the way many Palestinians live, especially in Gaza at the moment, but I don't think that should be my role in this conversation.

Personally, I do think that our experiences have a direct impact on what we write – and maybe how and why too – even if it's not explicit. One of the things that blew me away in your book was the sheer range and scope of the content.

So ok, if you could choose when and where you were born if not here and now …

That is such a great question. I have to say that I do have a yearning to be born at a time when I could be part of a writers’ group like the Bloomsbury group or any group who got together on a regular basis to thrash out ideas and inspire each other. And not just artists but scientists too. I remember visiting the Kafka museum in Prague a few years ago and being jealous of his particular set of intellectual buddies (I don't think there were any women). This doesn't happen any more, or not anywhere in my vicinity. Yes, there are blogs etc.., but I yearn for those dimly-lit, smoky cafes and intense discussions about philosophy, physics, creativity, art.

I also sometimes have a feeling that so much has been done already, it is hard to be truly innovative anymore. Everyone has access to everything at any time, I do occasionally wish I was living in an earlier time when there was still much to explore and invent. But perhaps the grass is always greener.

To be more geographically specific I often feel that in a previous life I was a New Yorker and I lived in Paris, two places I am often drawn to and feel quite at home in. But not necessarily the New York and Paris of now but of some earlier, romanticised era, steeped in literature. Of course, I am conveniently ignoring all the hardships that would come along with life one hundred years ago or more - and the lack of Internet!

Well, that brings me neatly to the next questions. What difference do you think the internet makes to us as writers? Does the online community make up for the lack of real life café society you describe?

The Internet has a huge impact on my life as a writer. I haven't found a local community of English-speaking short story writers here in
Israel and that has led to me feeling quite isolated. The Internet has brought me that community, albeit in virtual form, and the wonderful blogger/writers I have met through writing about myself and my writing on my blog, TaniaWrites, I have found this to be a warm, generous and open community, we celebrate with each other and commiserate, and speak honestly about the struggles involved in doing what we do, emotionally, mentally, and practically. I also belong to several online forums where writers share work, which are also very valuable to me.

However, nothing beats the sheer delight of actually meeting fellow writers, as I did in September at the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival in
Ireland. To just sit and talk about short stories? That was heaven for me! And I feel that I miss out on that by being here. I am sure that are communities of Hebrew-speaking fiction writers, but that wouldn't give me what I need. I make regular trips to the UK and the US to get the "fix" of personal contact with writers, and that sustains me for at least a few months. I will be reading at Jewish Book Week in the UK in February, which I am looking forward to, and that'll be a good chance to mingle with some literary folk.

Great! That means we should hopefully get the opportunity to meet in real life at some point in the not too distant future. When those of us who meet via the blogosphere then make the move into Real Life, we truly know the value of this medium.

You said earlier that you believe there is less to 'explore and invent' now. Do you not think the technology has opened up new opportunities that didn’t exist previously?

The Internet has opened up markets to me as a short story writer with no local publications to submit to. I have had many stories published in online 'zines, and I submit stories almost exclusively by email - which is cheaper and greener than using the post!

There has been a discussion going on in one of the online writers' forums about the worth of having stories accepted by online 'zines, most of which don't pay or have a huge readership. But for me, as someone who writes only for herself, to move myself or make me laugh, to have just one other person, the editor of one of these 'zines, tell me they loved it, they connected with it, is very meaningful, very powerful. Because while I do write for myself, I do also want and need some of my stories to be published, to be out there in the world. I don't just write them and shove them in a drawer.

For me, writing is about connection. Somehow, and in some way. And the Internet enables that, as I see from the statistics of those visiting my websites and blog, which include visitors from Bulgaria, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, the US, Canada and Sri Lanka. That's a global community.

In terms of my point about there being less to invent, I guess what I mean is that everyone knows everything now, there are no dark corners to hide away, information is freely and instantly available. Whereas, in terms of scientific exploration anyway, it used to be that you worked quietly and privately on your particular research project without necessarily knowing what anyone else was doing. Having too much information can be off-putting, I feel, could stifle attempts at innovation by forcing competitors to work faster and faster in our ever-speedier society.

I watched a wonderful BBC documentary drama about Einstein and Eddington, which showed how they corresponded by letter between the UK and Germany. The waiting time in between letters gave them space to contemplate, and being forced to write everything in one piece of communication at a time meant that they had to really think about how to phrase what they wanted to say, something that can only have aided in their work, in their thought processes.

I often feel dulled and dizzy with the pace of emails and blogs etc..., I find it hard to stop myself looking at everything, all the time. I do think it is a type of addiction.

You’re so right. The sheer scope and range of what’s available at the click of a mouse is overwhelming and I often have the urge to run away and hide. But I also know its value …

Anyway, I see we’ve got through the champagne and you’re looking a bit tired. So, to round off, can you tell us what benefits have come from this virtual tour, which is almost at an end now?

Back to the more positive aspects! Despite not having to travel the globe and doing it all from my home, the Virtual Book Tour has been exhausting, forcing me to think about many, many issues related to me, my writing, my life, my ideas. I love being made to think, and being asked to word my responses concisely (or not!) to make them suitable for the blog interviews, but it was also difficult to keep digging deep inside myself every week for 11 weeks. I couldn't dismiss the impression that I was boring the pants off everyone!

Ha! As if …

Do you think there’s been a direct effect on sales? Because I seriously do urge anyone reading this to get themselves a copy of your book without delay …

Thanks so much for saying that, Debi, it always helps coming from someone who isn't me - or my mother! I don't know about how it has affected book sales - I think the
reviews I have had so far may have more impact, but it is hard to determine what affects what. But needing to publicise the Virtual Book Tour online has certainly inspired me to be more creative in terms of marketing, not something I was experienced at!

Facebook has been a tremendous tool, I don't think I could have managed half as well without it, in terms of creating a page for the tour, a page for the book, sending out regular updates, posting links.

Oh yikes. I’ve been avoiding Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and …and … and …

But all things considered, it’s been positive?

All in all, it has been great, but I am craving a little seclusion, no-one asking me what I think or feel, for a while, in the hope that I will be able to get back to some writing.

I am also greatly looking forward to being on the other side and hosting several book tours in the next few months, for Fiona Robyn and her wonderful novel, The Letters, and then fellow Salt author Elizabeth Baines and her stunning collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World. I get to ask the questions, yippee!

Tania, thanks so much for sharing. It’s been a great pleasure having you as my guest. I hope you’ve got as much out of this end-of–the-road party as I have.

Thanks so much for having me, Debi, and asking such great questions. The last choc is mine, right? I mean, if no-one else is going to...

I’m sure everyone will join with me in wishing you a happy, healthy and above all, peaceful new year. Go ahead and have that last chocolate. You’ve earned it.

Follow the White Road here.

Previous stops on Tania’s tour:

12/26/08: Thoughts from Botswana
12/23/08: Kanlaon
12/16/08: Kelly Spitzer's Blog
12/10/08: Eco-Libris
12/2/08: Eric Forbes's Book Addict's Guide to Good Books
11/26/08: Tim Jones: Books in the Trees
11/17/08: Sue Guiney: Me and Others
11/9/08: Vanessa Gebbie's News
11/5/08: Literary Minded
10/28/08: Keeper of the Snails


Unknown said...

Great interview, Debi & Tania; lovely to 'hear' you talking about your book, your writing life and your interest in the internet. One of the great benefits that I've had from this resource is meeting up with writers in the virtual (& sometimes real) world and expanding my horizons. It has also helped me to feel less isolated too. Thanks once again, Debi & Tania - enjoy those chocs!

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Barbara, thanks so much for stopping, reading and commenting. I'm so sorry I didn't make it even virtually over to Ireland on this tour, maybe next time! Lovely to meet you too.

Debi said...

I'm now thinking of all the things I wanted to talk about and didn't. I guess you can never cover everything.

*sigh* Compromise is hard.

Nik Perring said...

That was a terrific read. Thanks you two. And all the best for the new year to both of you too.


Debi said...

Welcome and thanks, Nik.

Good fun this virtual tour stuff, innit? Great for making new connections. Winners all round.

Nik Perring said...


Sue Guiney said...

Great interview both of you. Thanks. I've so enjoyed reading and being a part of this virtual tour. I know it was exhausting for you, Tania, but I for one am sorry to see it end. xo

Tania Hershman said...

Nik and Sue, thanks so much! Maybe there will be Book Tour II: The Return of Tania, when I have something new to say!

Clare Dudman said...

Excellent interview- I was wondering why you lived in Jerusalem, Tania, and now I think I see!

Happy New Year!

Liane Spicer said...

Great discussion, Debi & Tania. Very relevant topics, especially on the role of the Internet in the life of a writer. Wonderful as it is, I'm a bit ambivalent as well because it absorbs so much time. The balancing act gets harder every day.

Debi said...

Sue - it has indeed been great, hasn't it?

Clare - the tour started with you and ended here. How does it feel to be part of a literary sandwich?

Liane - yes, it has its down side, but we wouldn't be talking right now if it wasn't for the internet ...

Tania - it's the morning after ... How does it feel???

Lauri said...

Great interview, Gals. Like I told Tania at the beginning when I was supposed to be the last, we have a saying here- Mojamorago ke kgosi- meaning the one who eats last is the chief. Guess that's you now, Kgosi Debi!

Group 8 said...

Great, I enjoyed that. I too have met some blogger friends in real life (including Tania!) and it's been a real boon. Writing is hard and unsocial, so blogging helps ease that isolated feeling.
I think Salt are geniuses to do this virtual touring thing. Can't wait til it's my turn to host, and next year, to be the traveller!
Nuala x

Debi said...

Lauri - welcome! I get to be chief? Not sure I can handle the pressure ... Tania had the last chocolate so doesn't that mean she gets the title???

Nuala - welcome to you too. This party just keeps getting better. I'd going to pop out for more champagne. Seems you also have cause for celebration. Congrats!

Tania Hershman said...

Debi, morning after feels a lot like yesterday morning, so nothing major has changed - yet! Clare, Wordtryst, Lauri and Nuala, thanks so much for coming by, Debi is getting more champagne and chocolates, right Debi? Let's keep on going... and I might let Debi the Chief have the last choc this time.

Debi said...

Can I have the last choc without being the chief? Please? I have a problem with authority ...

Group 8 said...

Thanks Debi.
And I'll have a dark choc or two please, drooool. (And here I was swearing off goodies after a complete binge over Xmas... Oh well!)

Debi said...

Ah Nuala, I was going to say you're a woman after my own heart but it's better than that. The dark chocs are my least favourite!

What a team ...

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