Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Walking the White Road: Stop 1.

Welcome to the first stop on Tania Hershman's magical (and virtual) book tour of several continents!

Last Sunday I finished reading Tania's debut collection of short stories, THE WHITE ROAD, and enjoyed the experience very much. I wrote a short review here. There is further information here on Tania's page of her publisher's 'Cyclone' website.

The rest of the stops are at the following excellent blogs:
5 Nov 2008 Literary Minded: Angela Meyer
9 Nov 2008 Vanessa Gebbie’s News
18 Nov 2008 Sue Guiney: Me and Others
26 Nov 2008 Tim Jones: Books in the Trees
2 Dec 2008 Eric Forbes’ Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books
10 Dec 2008 Eco-libris
16 Dec 2008 Kelly Spitzer
23 Dec 2008 Kanlaon
29 Dec 2008 Thoughts from Botswana
6 Jan 2009 Debi Alper (Hello, Debi!)

Tania Hershman was born in London in 1970 and in 1994 moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where she now lives with her partner. Tania is a former science journalist and her award-winning short stories combine her two loves: fiction and science. Many of Tania's stories, which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in print and online, are inspired by articles from popular science magazines. In November 2007, she founded The Short Review, a unique website dedicated to reviewing short story collections. Tania blogs at TitaniaWrites.

The Interview

CD: What aspect of science interests you the most and why?
TH: What fascinates me about science I think is the “solving the puzzle” aspect, that the universe has hidden secrets and we, humans, are trying to crack some code, to work it out. I love the relationship between theoretical and experimental – that there are a bunch of scientists thinking up the way things might be, sometimes crazy, preposterous ideas (String Theory – the proposition that we are all fundamentally made up up tiny vibrating strings - is highly imaginative!) and then the experimenters design experiments to try and prove them right or wrong. It sounds very orderly, but in fact, from what I have seen and read, insights come in flashes, scientists don't think of the universe in dry terms but in terms of the most “beautiful” theory; it's about truth (in so far as anything can ever be true) and beauty. To me, anyway.

CD: Which aspect of science do you think lends itself most readily to fiction?
TH: It's that imaginative side, the creative aspect, the “What If...” of science – What if we were all made of tiny vibrating strings? - that is so close, I think to the “What If...” of fiction – What if, as in one of my stories, a young man is hit by lightning, for example? In this way I think science is inspiring to fiction, and perhaps vice versa. The sheer audacity of imagination of some scientists, the kinds of articles you can read in popular science magazines about not only what scientists choose to research, but how they design their experiments, which also takes enormous creativity, is very inspiring. If you are asking which scientific topics lend themselves most readily to fiction, from my experience it is anything and everything – technology, of course, the practical application of science, is the easiest, because then you write about someone or a society that is somehow changed by this technology, for better or, usually, for worse. Scientists themselves make great fodder for fiction, as in your book about Alfred Wegener where you put yourself inside his skin. The other aspect is using science is a metaphor – quantum physics as a metaphor for how different the world can be at a microscopic level from the level of ordinary daily interaction, or the “action at a distance” idea, that an entity can affect another entity when they are in different places, without apparent physical connections. That's a very powerful metaphor.

CD: Is there an aspect of science that you think could not be incorporated easily into fiction?
TH: Hard to think of one, since I don't see science as a dry discipline, I think anything, any scientific research, any scientist passionate about her job, anyone interacting with science, is potential fodder for fiction, a potential “jumping off” point for a story.

CD: Why incorporate science into fiction?
TH: As you can see, I have a great love for science. I studied it at school and then at university but was a lousy scientist – I didn't have the patience to either keep trying the same experiments over and over or to immerse myself in the theoretical world, that didn't speak to me. But I always loved to write, and I just wanted to combine the two. Being a science journalist did accomplish this, up to a point. But it didn't exercise my imagination: I wrote about others' creativity, what I really wanted to do was to be creative myself. I never read science fiction, although I was a great fan of Star Trek! The way I have done things, letting myself be inspired by scientific fact, just seemed to work for me. As writers, we are inspired by so many things, and not always be chance: you can create sources of inspiration, be they other people's fiction and poetry, or anything else. And I love the concept of a dialogue between fiction/art and science.

CD: Is it necessary to be a scientist or an ex-scientist in order to successfully write science in fiction?
TH: Hmm, a good question. Firstly, I don't subscribe to the “write what you know” dictum in fiction. A writer whose name escapes me recently said that she “writes to find out what she knows”, and that sounds more like my style. But I also write to learn about the world, so in that way I would say no, you definitely don't have to be a scientist to incorporate science into fiction. But you may run into problems with the scientific community if you do that without what they might see as “credentials”. Because of my science education, I, for example, feel quite free to make up science. I have a story in which I have done just that. I make no claims for the accuracy of the science, but I know there is great debate (on the wonderful LabLit website, for example) about whether this is acceptable or desirable. I am a great believe in fiction being fictional!

CD: Did you learn anything about science when you wrote these stories?
TH: Definitely – in as much as I was learning all the time from reading New Scientist magazine for inspiration, and other science magazines. As a journalist, I learned something new every time I went to interview someone, and I loved that aspect of the job. I wouldn't want that to stop. But if you are asking whether I did research into science for the stories, no, I didn't. I would read an article – for example, an article about Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, learn a little about how they work, and then start a story (Evie and the Arfids). I wouldn't search for more info on RFIDS, because my main character, Evie, didn't need to know anything else, it was more about what the RFIDS (Arfids) are to her and for her, not the deep technical specifications.

CD: What is the difference between science in fiction and science-fiction?
TH: Aha, another interesting question! I just received an email from a friend who has been reading my stories and he said some of them had a “sci-fi feel” to them. I had this traditional view of science fiction, (from the Star Trek watching) that it is about aliens, starships, other planets. But as editor of The Short Review, I have been thoroughly disabused of this notion after having been sent several science fiction short story collections to review, namely Logorrhea, an anthology in which you have a story, and Kelley Eskridge's Dangerous Space. This second book was described to me as “feminist science fiction” and, in all my ignorance, I imagined female starship commanders. Frankly, I am embarrassed to admit that, because both books contain beautiful writing and what I would call magical realist/surreal stories, where you are in the world more or less as we know it, with a twist – be it a touch of telapathy or some other magical aspect. I loved these books, I said to myself “Well, if this is science fiction, I want to be a part of it”, and I now subscribe to several sci fi magazines. It has made me angry at the often false genre divisions in literature – I would not have found these books, would not have read these fabulous stories, simply because I don't visit the Science Fiction shelves. A shame. However, all the stories in my collection were written before my discovery of modern sci fi, so to be honest I don't know anymore what the difference is. If someone reads my book and says that some of it is science fiction, I would be delighted. The stories are out there, it's not up to me anymore to say what they are or are not. I call them “science-inspired fiction”, but New Scientist, which last week put my story The White Road on their website (alongside the New Scientist article that inspired it) called it fiction inspired by science journalism. Perhaps that is more to the point: if the journalists hadn't written so well about the subjects, perhaps I wouldn't have been so inspired.

General Questions

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
TH: When I read your question, the first thing that came to mind was Brian the snail from the Magic Roundabout. Did you know that he has a website? Yup. Growing up in central London, I was very much a city child, I wasn't aware of snails or other creatures, we didn't have our own garden. So it was just the television snail celebrities that are memorable!

CD: What is your proudest moment?
TH: Hard to narrow that down to one. My book launch party here in Jerusalem two weeks ago was definitely a proud moment. I invited a lot of people, for me it was the closest thing I'd had to a wedding, with everyone there for me, which isn't easy for someone who spends most of her time shut in a room alone with a laptop! But when I stood up in front of my friends and family and read two short short stories, and they listened with great attention and then demanded I read more, that really was a proud moment. I didn't think many of them had read my stories before, I didn't quite know how it would be. And it exceeded all expectations.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
TH: I've had several. The first was probably going on the Arvon Foundation's Writing and Science course in 2002. Not only did I meet my partner, James, there, but for the first time I saw that it could be done, I could incorporate science into fiction. And I met other people, other writers, who wanted to do that too. That was the beginning of everything for me.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
TH: That is such a hard question. Living in Israel for almost 15 years, I have seen witnessed some appalling scenes, both the sites of suicide bombings and the faces of the families of the dead, and also the desperately sad situation of the Palestinian people. However, one of the saddest things I have heard was the news that two friends had been killed in a terror attack at the Hebrew University in 2002. To so suddenly and violently lose two people, it was as if they had been ripped from the world, it shook everything, it seemed unnatural, unjust, unbelievable.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
TH: I'd like to be a bit more sociable – since becoming a full-time writer, I feel as though I am retreating further and further into the world of my characters, and while that is necessary, I don't know if it is always desirable.

CD: What is happiness?
TH: Writing stories.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
TH: Make tea.

Next stop on the Walking the White Road Tour will be in Australia on Nov 5th, at LiteraryMinded.



Blogger Kelly Spitzer said...

"Tiny, vibrating strings..." LOVE that concept!! Great interview, both of you!

Tue Oct 28, 05:31:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks, Kelly!

Tue Oct 28, 06:44:00 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for another window into Tania's magical writing.

Tue Oct 28, 07:21:00 pm  
Blogger Nik Perring said...

Fantastic interview you two.


Tue Oct 28, 08:11:00 pm  
Blogger Tania Hershman said...

Thanks so much, Clare, for hosting me and being the first stop! Lovely to be here.

Kelly - that's really what string theory is claiming, isn't it magical?

Dina - lovely of you to stop by!

Nik, thanks, these were excellent questions to be asked and prompted me to think hard. Thank you for the mention on your blog, too.

Tue Oct 28, 08:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting and enjoyable interview. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Bill West

Tue Oct 28, 09:25:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A perfect subject for your special talents, Clare, and a very interesting piece.

Wed Oct 29, 05:08:00 pm  
Blogger Lauri said...

Fascinating interview. Want to read the book even more.

At least I've got a heads up on that ubiquitous snail question, in case I should be so honoured by this site. Interesting how such a thread runs through so many lives. Could it be the vibrating snail-string theory??


Thu Oct 30, 01:00:00 pm  
Blogger Tania Hershman said...

Bill, thanks, they were great questions!

Marly, lovely to (virtually) meet you, thanks for stopping by my Virtual Book Tour.

Lauri - luckily a copy of it is on its way! Looking forward to popping in to your blog in December.


Thu Oct 30, 03:16:00 pm  
Blogger Debi said...

Great start to the tour!

Nice one, Clare. You've set the standard. Tania - over halfway through your book. Such exquisite gems ...

Fri Oct 31, 02:21:00 pm  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Excellent interview. I look forward to reading Tania's book.

Wed Nov 05, 11:35:00 pm  

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