1. The girl reads everything. She reads books through every meal. She finishes the entire section in the library for 8 year olds and moves on. One day, she thinks, she will hold a book with her name on it.
2. The girl doesn’t find her English classes very inspiring, but she loves maths. She gets steered by her teachers towards science and away from literature, and ends up studying maths and physics and University. But words are her medium, not bunsen burners. She writes for the University newspaper and then discovers there is such a thing as a science journalist. Ah, she thinks.
3. She studies philosophy of science, then a diploma in journalism, and moves to Israel, where she interviews excited inventors and scientists for American and British magazines for over a decade. But a little voice in her head is saying “You’re reporting on their creativity. Where’s yours? Where’s yours?”
4. The young woman flies to short story workshops in America and learns how a short story might be made. In 2002 she sees in the Arvon Foundation’s brochure a course that makes her heart leap: Writing And Science. There are others who want to do this too? The young woman books a place. The course, in rural Yorkshire, changes everything: they teach her how to let fiction be inspired by science fact. She begins to write.
5. A year later, she comes to England to be with the man she met on the course, and studies for an MA in Creative Writing. “Must you write short stories?” cry her tutors, wanting only novels. “Oh, fine, if you insist, but at least have a theme.” Ah, thinks the young woman, I have one: stories inspired by New Scientist articles. Her tutors grudgingly agree.
6. A call for submissions for new voices for BBC Radio 4 and the young woman’s first science-inspired short story, The White Road, is chosen for the Afternoon Reading. She is surprised, delighted. It is brought beautifully to life. She cries.
7. An agent appears thanks to the radio broadcast. While very lovely she, oddly, never seems to want to discuss the young woman’s stories. When pressed, she admits that whenever she approached an editor, they resorted to the old “Come back when she has a novel”. The young woman thanks her and decides to go it alone.
8. The young woman has developed a wonderful relationship with the independent production company who produced her story for the BBC, and they produce a second story, and commission her to write a third. Her confidence is rising. Someone actually likes what she writes.
9. The young woman goes on another Arvon course with one of her favourite writers. The favourite writer tells her: “Give up your day job. You can do this.” The young woman is astonished, bowled over. It takes her six months, but she does it.
10. At the beginning of 2007, she submits three short stories to Salt, a small press known for poetry and now dipping its toes into the short story waters. She waits. She befriends Salt’s editor on Myspace, hoping to foster a connection. She waits.
11. A message through Myspace! “I thought I recognized your name,” says the editor. The editor loves the three stories, wants “everything else”. The young woman and her partner lay out all the stories on the kitchen table. He puts them in order – a science-inspired “long” story then a very very short flash story, and so on. They send it off. They wait.
12. The young woman, her partner, and great friend V are on a writing retreat in Ireland. The young woman mistakenly pulls the Internet cable out of the one computer. A succession of Irish technical support guys cannot find the problem. Finally, it’s fixed. And there it is: THE email. Salt: “We want to publish your book. May we?”
13. The young woman is in shock. She can’t stop grinning. She can’t write, so she watches DVDs and wanders the Irish countryside. She doesn’t believe it is really true, won’t until she holds her book.
14. The young woman can’t do much writing, apart from very short stories, so she decides to help the short story instead and sets up an online journal, The Short Review, to review only short story collections. The young woman imagines it will interest her and twenty of her friends. But it grows. And grows….
15. On August 31st 2008, the woman is anxious, agitated. Her book has not reached her in Israel and tomorrow is the day of publication! It feels as though her child is being held prisoner in another country. How can she celebrate?
16. Sept 1st 2008: Publication Day. The woman is calm, elated, ecstatic. She may not have the book in her hands but nevertheless she feels what this day means. She is floating. When the books arrive a few days later, she feels it all over again.
17. She has a launch party. She reads several of her stories to a crowd of friends in a friend’s spacious living room. It feels like jumping off a cliff. Most of them have never read her writing. They ask for more. She reads more.
18. She gets in touch with New Scientist, worried they might not like how she took their articles and used them for fiction. But they do. They publish the title story, The White Road, on their website, where it receives many and varied comments. And then, to the woman’s delight, they include the book in their Best Books of 2008, with a glowing review. The woman wonders if there is anything left to strive for.
19. April 2009. Through a Google alert for her name, the woman discovers that she has been commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. She cannot speak. She had no idea she had been put forward. For this. Short stories. Small press. Against all those novels. Her. This unexpected accolade, this vote of confidence from those who had no obligation to even read her book fills her with the feeling that she can now do anything that she might dream of. There are no limits. The world, as they say, is her oyster.
20. August 2009, she and her partner, and their two cats, move to England, where she will be able to talk about short stories to her heart’s content. She meets writers, is asked to do readings, to judge competitions, to write about short stories. This, she thinks, is it.
21. February 2010. The woman is writing. She is happy.
Tania Hershman‘s luminous first book, The White Road and Other Stories, was published two years ago by Salt Modern Fiction. Now based in Bristol, Tania is current Fiction Editor of Southword literary journal and a judge for the Bristol Short Story Prize, the Brit Writers Awards and the Sean O’Faolain short story competition. She has just started as writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty, and hopes to be writing and encouraging others to write science-inspired flash fiction. Tania is founder and editor of The Short Review, an online journal reviewing short story collections and interview authors. She blogs at TaniaWrites.
Salt is offering readers of this blog a 10% discount on the purchase of The White Road and Other Stories. Visit the book’s Salt page and enter the coupon code GM18py7n when checking out.