Flash Contest Winner: Tania Hershman

Tania Hershman is the 1st Place winner of our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! Her story, ‘So Many People,’ was chosen by contest judge Lara Williams. Tania will also be joining us here at Synaesthesia as our Resident Writer 2019. Here, we spoke to Tania to find out more about her winning piece and her advice to other writers.

Hi Tania, you’re our first place winner – congratulations! How do you feel? 

Absolutely delighted! Especially as it's the first piece of flash fiction I've written for a few years, I've mostly been writing poetry. So this is a wonderful boost, and it was a story I really loved writing, I amused myself!

As part of your prize, we’re delighted to welcome you as our Resident Writer 2019! This means that, throughout next year, we’ll be commissioning a new flash fiction from you for each new issue and theme. Are there any common threads in your writing we can expect to see, or any particular stories you’re excited to be working on? 

I've never liked to comment on my own work, what it means or what it might be about, because, especially with the shortest pieces, they will be different things to different readers, and I learned early on just to nod and smile politely when people tell me what they think my stories are about! I generally don't see any threads until much later, when stories are put together in a collection, say, and I will see what I might have been preoccupied by when I was writing them.

I never have any idea how a piece is going to come out when I start writing, so I will be surprised and I hope you'll be pleasantly surprised! I love commissions, deadlines – although slightly terrifying, it's a really nice thing for a short story writer to have someone actually waiting for them to write something.

I really look forward to, as with this piece, using your commissions to explore whatever my thoughts are about what's going on in the world. (You can tell what was going on when I was writing this story.)

‘So Many People’ seems in part to critique the superficial ways we know and love one another, and how quickly we 'lose [our] taste for novelty’ in our relationships. What do you think we could do to know one another better?   

What an interesting question! Something I'm preoccupied with is the idea of how well we listen to each other. I try and be aware when I'm talking to a friend of not imposing my own ‘story’ on whatever she or he is telling me, not assuming that just because I may have had what seems to be a similar experience, that I know how they are feeling, or what they want. I try and let other people surprise me and be whoever they want to be, each time I see them. 

Do you think your piece engages with the idea of synaesthesia? If so, it what ways?

Well, I just googled the term, to have it at my fingertips, and it says: ‘Synaesthesia is a neurological trait or condition that results in a joining or merging of senses that aren't normally connected.’ What this makes me think is that my writing brain works a bit like this, I like to collide ideas that seem to be very different and see what results. I guess in my story you could say it's the collision of Russian spies and biscuits! Perhaps the people were tasting knowledge but refused to admit it? (OK, it's a stretch...) 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other writers submitting to journals or contests?

Don't write to please anyone but yourself, write the story you want to read, the story that surprises and delights you – if it does that, there's a much greater chance it will surprise and delight a judge, an editor! As someone who is often on the judging side, I'd rather see a story that's flawed but takes risks – with voice, style content – than one that is very tidy and hermetically sealed.  

If you were going to make a playlist for ‘So Many People,’ what tracks would be on it and why? 

Oh gosh, I have never been asked this about one of my stories before! Well, the first one that springs to mind is Sting, ‘Russians’, for obvious reasons. Thompson Twins, ‘We are Detectives’, which is sort of spy-like (I am a big fan of the 80s, can you tell?) Maybe ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, by ABBA. Oh dear, I feel very old and uncool.

Photo Credit: Naomi Woddis // Design: Annabelle Carvell

Photo Credit: Naomi Woddis // Design: Annabelle Carvell

Tania Hershman's third story collection, Some Of Us Glow More Than Others (Unthank Books) and debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions (Nine Arches Press) were published in 2017. Tania is co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers' & Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014), curator of ShortStops (www.shortstops.info) and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. www.taniahershman.com