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Monday, 23 August 2010

The White Road

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I never expect anyone to enjoy any of my stories, if they enjoyed just one, then that's a wonderful thing for me. – Tania Hershman



Chamber music and short stories have much in common. Both are underappreciated art forms. Just look at the schedules for concert halls and you’ll see the disparity. And the same goes when you compare novels and short fiction. Short stories and chamber works are regarded as the kind of things students have to work their way through on the way to writing the great British/American/[insert your country here] novel and the list of great writers who started their glittering careers by publishing a collection of stories is indeed likely to be short. Ian McEwan jumps to my mind (with not one but two collections) although I imagine there will be one or two more.

The main problem these days is finding a publisher that’s at all interested in short forms. I honestly wonder how McEwan would fare if he was starting out in today’s publishing environment. I suspect that one of the company’s he might end up submitting his work to would be Salt Publishing and, Salt, always willing to take a risk, would probably snap him up.

Which brings me to Tania Hershman, one of Salt’s current stable of writers. Tania works exclusively in short forms, stories, flash, poetry. Some of her pieces are so delicate they’re over and done with in a page, two at the most. Even her long stories aren’t especially long – a dozen pages was the longest in The White Road, her début collection; most clock in at half that.

Her style here is variable. Some of the stories have your standard beginning, middle and end, one even runs backwards but most are slices of life, and some pretty thin slices at that, slides that she puts under her microscope for us to examine at our leisure. For example, the story ‘Express’ describes an ex-pat’s journey from Heathrow to Paddington. Nothing spectacular happens. There’s no breakdown, no hijacker, no bomber, just someone comparing him or herself to their fellow commuters. I was frankly puzzled by the story, written unusually in the second person, until I read Tania’s short essay describing her return to the UK after spending fifteen years in Jerusalem. Because the person is described as wearing a “cotton shirt, deliberately untucked and hanging over your loose trousers” I assumed that this was a male but after going over the story again I can see that that’s never made clear – clearly an ambiguous gender is underlining an ambiguous national identity.

This is a collection of two halves and many slices. By that I mean that there are two kinds of fiction going on here, short stories with flash pieces sandwiched in between. ‘Heart’ is the shortest story in the collection at exactly 100 words:

HEART

She drew her hands out of the chest cavity and looked at the clock.

‘Time of death,’ she said.

In the locker room, she stripped off her bloodied scrubs and put on clothes for the real world. Then she left the hospital and turned the corner, rain flattening her hair.

At Sammy’s, she sat at the bar, lit a cigarette and ordered a drink. When it came, she exhaled through her mouth, touched her fingertips to the rim of the glass, and remembered how it was to have a man’s heart beat itself out in the cup of her palms.

Heart in hands On Amazon I found a few reviews of her book that specifically mention her flash fiction. “Her flash fiction is palpable, trembling in the moment,” said Melissa Lee-Houghton while Elizabeth Baines wrote: “Some of the flash stories in this collection are the best and the most resonant I have ever read.” Both are fellow British short story writers and Baines has also been published by Salt. The two key words here are “palpable” and “resonant” which means what the two of them are saying is that there’s a reality to these stories that sticks with you after you’ve read them. Now I’m happy to say that I agree with that statement as far as the longer stories go – the title story in particular will haunt me for years – but personally I found this particular flash piece slight. It is what it is. I’m not saying that I haven’t followed it. The thing is, had this been a poem, which would also have taken up one page, I might have been more inclined to let her away with this. Is this because readers of poetry are used to being short-changed whereas prose readers expect to be led by the nose?

This is what Tania had to say:

In terms of whether you have different expectations reading poetry and reading prose that is something I think it's completely subjective. Perhaps some of my flash stories are actually closer to poems, perhaps they might be prose poems, although I don't know what the definition of a prose poem is. I don't know if it would change the reading experience if they were "marketed" as poetry. And a lot of it is about the marketing, I think. I very much liked what Janice Galloway said: she doesn't label her writing as anything, it is her publisher that decides that one book is, say, a memoir rather than a novel. I don't think it's a writer's place to assign labels like that. I love that readers have called my stories all sorts of things! I think there is so much room within a short story – and especially with flash fiction – for the reader to insert themselves, because so much is left unsaid, so much is between the lines, that I wouldn't in any way want to impose what I happen to think a piece of writing is.

When I read, I know that I have to pay much closer attention to a very short piece, that I can't approach a one-page story or a poem in the same way I would approach a 10-page short story, or a novel, say. I always look to see how long a story is before I start reading, so I can pace myself accordingly.

But thankfully each reader has their own likes and dislikes, otherwise this world would be quite a dreary place, and I am not at all put out if someone tells me they preferred my longer stories, or if someone liked only the flash fiction. To have someone tell me that one of my stories spoke to them in some way is such a joy for me, is not something I ever expect! What do I expect from a reader? Nothing at all, to be honest, because I don't expect there to even be a reader. I write only for myself; a potential reader is really the last thing on my mind, especially when writing very short stories, many of which are written fast, in one sitting, before my Inner Critic has a chance to work out what I'm up to! My newer short short stories are, I think, moving away from realism and perhaps becoming more abstract and less like a traditional story. Perhaps they will appeal to fewer readers. But that doesn't mean I will change my writing in any way, because I write what speaks to me, what I feel best expresses what I am trying to express in the only way I can express it.

So what can I say about ‘Heart’? In a massive orchestral work, something like Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, let’s say one of the oboists plays a G♯ instead of a G. Seriously who would notice? But in a delicate piece like Pärt’s Für Alina you would notice. You would most definitely notice. I’d have to admit that in this instance she ‘plays’ the thing perfectly, every word is carefully chosen, the pace is precise and, to use an expression I’m fond of using, it says what it has to say and gets off the page. So ten out of ten for technical achievement but it didn’t move me. I guess I’m simply not the right reader for that story. Sally Zigmond though clearly was. This is what she wrote on her blog:

‘Heart’ … is probably the shortest story in the collection but it has stayed with me the longest because I am still there with that heart in my hand and then the cold wine glass. I feel what the surgeon feels. I am her. I don't need any more. I don't want any more.[1]

In her response to my e-mail Tania mentioned that she is finding herself moving towards a more abstract style. The best example I could come up with in this group would, I imagine, be this flash piece:

THE HAND

Her elbow twitches. He doesn’t know her, her father, her community. He doesn’t know that her long skirt, long sleeves, means that she doesn’t, can’t . . .

His hand floats between them.

Will you be warm, soft, cool, moist, strong? Will you take mine gently like Rivky on the way to school? Or will you be firm, squeezing, crushing? When our skins touch, will I jump, gasp out loud? Will you know that I haven’t . . . ever?

And afterwards: will you be printed into my palm, an impression in clay?

Elbow twitches, wrist jerks, and her fingers move stiffly into the air, reaching for him.

hands-of-couple-reaching-for-each-other-resize Now this is more like poetry, a certain kind of poetry anyway, one that, to use Beckett’s expression, “envaguens” things by missing out critical data allowing more room for the reader to interpret the piece. Clearly this story is related to ‘Express’ and is about the difference in cultures. So what are the missing bits? I looked up ‘Rivky’ in Google and the first thing I got was an entry for ‘Rivky Mitzvah’ so probably a Jewish name which means they live under the Law which means she would be required to dress modestly, hence the long skirt. Needless to say the owner of the hand is unlikely to be someone of the same faith or he would know how her community would view fornication. Describing herself as clay also has religious connotations since both the Bible and the Quran speak of Man as being made out of clay.[2] So, not terribly abstract but who knows what she’s writing now?

For me this was a better story but again, clocking in at only 108 words, it was never going to be especially deep. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate flash fiction – I subscribe to a couple of sites that post it regularly – but one or two a day is enough for me. That’s where I think this collection works because the flash pieces are interspersed between the longer stories. I have a few books that contain nothing but flash and I find them hard work en masse like that.

So what did move me? Well for me it was the title story as I’ve said. It’s not long – 7½ pages, a touch over 2000 words – but it was the perfect length for me. I recommend you read it right now. It’s online here. That way you won’t feel that I’ve ruined it for you when I talk about it.

Go on. Do it just now. I’ll wait.

Right, if you’ve not read it then be it on your own head.

The story begins, as do most of the non-flash pieces in this collection, with a quote from New Scientist:

What’s long, white, and very, very cold? The road to the South Pole is nearing completion . . . this road will stretch for more than 1600 kilometres across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world.

Basically what we have here is something that most writers will be very familiar with – a writing prompt. I’m always amazed personally how well I respond to an external push to write and I have to say if I’d read that article it would have definitely set the gears in motion. But it’s what she does with it that’s so magical. We’re all familiar with the “Last petrol for x miles” signs. What we have here is a “Last coffee for 1000 miles” situation. Question: What kind of person chooses to run an establishment like that? Well we have clues, the scientist who “looks so much like . . .” and “[s]ome things the eye shouldn’t see” but we never get to see what Mags saw, what she no longer wants to see, that she would go to such extreme lengths to not see again. Of course the pragmatist in me was quick to point out that you cannot unsee what you have already seen. The best you can hope for is to forget what you’ve seen. But here we have an Oedipal state of affairs, a metaphorical plucking out of the eyes. Oedipus, like all other blind people would ‘see’ black though, wouldn’t he? So how can Mags ‘see’ white? Clearly this is a metaphorical ‘seeing’ and the whiteness is symbolic.

‘The Incredible Exploding Victor,’ another standout story for me, tells the story of an obese boy whose mother expresses her love for her son by overfeeding him. It has a similar poignancy to ‘The White Road’ but leavened with gentle humour this time:

Victor Bloomfield was my best friend in junior school and when he told me he was going to explode I believed him.

‘It’s gonna happen, it’s in-evitable,’ said Victor, taking an enormous peanut butter sandwich out of his Superman lunchbox. He bit into it, chewed for a while, and then said, ‘It’s not so bad, I don’t think it’ll hurt.’ He shuffled around to face me. ‘Howie, probably best not to stand too close when I feel it coming. It’s going to be messy.’

Although this has a quote from New Scientist at the beginning, the connection is tenuous; expanding stars may have given Tania the idea but this is another very human story. As is ‘You’ll Know’ which is only 2½ pages long but packs a heckuva punch. The question it asks is a simple one, this time inspired by a BBC news reports: what would you be willing to sacrifice to adopt a kid? There are stories aplenty about the lengths people have been willing to go to but in this story Tania cuts to the quick. What if money wasn’t the issue? What if they wanted something . . . well, a bit more personal?

Some of the stories are about the effects of new technology on our everyday lives. I enjoyed ‘Evie and the Arfids’ in which a woman gets a job applying radio-frequency identification tags to clothing but it’s only when she befriends a girl in tracking that she realises that something dark is going here. The same goes for ‘Brewing a Storm’ in which a businessman (also called ‘Bloomfield’ for some reason) learns that the new proposed “cloud rehabilitation” procedure with its “success rate of 97 percent” is not the miracle he’s told it is. What will he do when he learns the truth Space Car though? ‘Space Fright’ is basically science fiction, about a man taking a woman for “a spin in his new XCOR 5000” – that would be a space-car. "Science to me is endlessly fascinating" Tania says. "Scientists ask themselves ‘what if?' This is the same question fiction writers ask." Is her science accurate though? Is that even important? In an interview with Clare Dudman, Tania said:

[Y]ou 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 … about whether this is acceptable or desirable. I am a great believer in fiction being fictional![3]

Strangely enough for a body of work which has a common thread I didn’t find this is as unified a collection as it might have been because she goes off at a tangent all of a piece. This has more the hit and miss flavour of a mix-CD than a shop-bought album. What it does demonstrate, however, is the breadth of Tania’s ability as a writer even if it also at the same time reveals some of the limitations of her chosen form. I can only see her getting better.

The final story, ‘North Cold’, for example, has been described as magic realist in tone. I personally felt it like something Ray Bradbury might have conceived, a man who is helped to look younger by a device passed down to him by him by an elderly aunt. Defining magic realism is hard but you can read her thoughts on the subject over on Vanessa Gebbie’s blog here. One of the stories that’s cited in ‘Plaids’ in which a woman has a conversation with her knees. I wouldn’t personally say that on its own is enough to qualify the story as magic realist – it’s really no dafter than Shirley Valentine talking to her wall – but I don’t think Tania would worry too much. Let me leave you with a video of her reading that story:

I bought this book to help out Salt who, as you probably know, has been struggling to keep afloat. If you haven’t supported them by buying a book then this one would not be a bad choice. It was published in September 2008 and most of the stories, the longer ones anyway, were written in 2004 when she was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, but, remember, just like good music, good stories don’t go off. The music I’m listening to while I type this (a rather lightweight concerto for fortepiano which you can listen to here in case you’re interested) was written about 250 years ago by a composer called Domenico Cimarosa. He’s not quite up there with his contemporary Mozart but the simple fact is that he has not been forgotten. Only time will tell if Tania turns out to be a Cimarosa or a Mozart.

***

Tania Tania Hershman was born in London in 1970 and in 1994 moved to Jerusalem, Israel. She now lives in Bristol. 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 Tania Writes. She is the European Regional Winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition. The judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers had this to say about her first collection:

We would also like to commend Tania Hershman ...whose work stood out for its remarkable quality. We look forward to seeing more of [her] writing in the future.



REFERENCES

[1] Sally Zigmond, ‘A Series of Blinding Flashes’, Sally’s Book Blog, 14th April 2009

[2] “Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am creating a human being from clay.’” (Quran 38:71). This is comparable to the biblical verse, “And The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) Later, though, Jeremiah he talks metaphorically about creation: “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” (Jeremiah 18:4).

[3] Clare Dudman, ‘Walking the White Road Stop 1’, Keeper of the Snails, 28th October 2008

17 comments:

Rachel Fenton said...

I bought this collection last year and really enjoyed it. I liked the refs to New Scientist - a little peek into the inspiration/triggers which led - if not always how one would necessarily assume, to their story end.

I like that it was surprising and yet the stories had such humanity. Like putting that heart into a wine glass. That is a story.


Salt deserve heaps of support, too.

Rachel Fenton said...

PS - Tania now lives in Bristol!

Jim Murdoch said...

I also liked that she left us with a note of what inspired her, Rachel. As a writer I’m always fascinated to see the way other people respond to things. I guess that’s why writing prompts are so popular online, one reason anyway. I was also relived to find the stories didn’t contain loads of facts that needed to be explained before we could get into them – one of Star Trek’s weaknesses especially during Voyager, way too much technobabble. Stuff like that really slows down the action. But of course here we were presented with a poet’s take on the facts.

Fixed the error in the bio. Should have caught that myself. I knew she was in the UK now.

Dave King said...

Yup, I'm sure I'll be buying this book. I've been getting more and more into "shorts" of late and from your account I'm pretty certain this is a collection I would enjoy. Totally agree with your comparison to chamber music.

Elisabeth said...

I am pleased to read this review, Jim. I follow Tania's blog and have found her posts illuminating, perceptive and well written.

I bought Elizabeth Baine's Too Many Magpies to help out Salt, now I must get Tania's book.

I enjoy these stories, very much, the ones from which you quote here. They do it for me, including Heart. They resonate up to the back of my spine. And like you I cannot get The White Road out of my head. The way Tania signposts along the way, the colour red, and the sinister brooding edge, the majesty of detail.

I particularly enjoyed Tania's reading of Plaits. Her words are terrific and so is her actual voice.
Thanks, Jim.

Congratulations to both of you - you for the review and Tania for writing such terrific stories that make them worth reviewing.

Jim Murdoch said...

In my last post, Dave, I was talking about the problems organising a poetry collection. The same problems arise when putting together a collection of short stories. I have mine in two collections at the moment and I remember going though them trying to make sure that they followed a pattern like colouring in a map to make sure that no two countries sitting side by side used the same colour. That’s why I liked the use of the flash pieces here as dividers. I think they worked well but I'm honestly not sure what I’ll think of a whole book of Tania’s flash. I own half a dozen and none of them really excite me. What I did note yesterday is that after reading two short story collections in a row I was glad to get back into a meaty novel.

And, Lis, see, you liked ‘Heart.’ What can I say? I think I just watch far too many doctors shows on TV and I’ve become desensitised. I nearly used a photo of House holding a heart in his hand as my illustration there. ‘The White Road’ is a great story but there are another couple in the collection that are up there too. That’s the problem with writing reviews, you can’t enthuse the way you want to without giving too much away. Another problem too is that I have to make my judgements after a single read. As I was telling Dave I’ve just read another collection and completely missed the point of one of the stories. It was an e-mail from the author that pointed out my mistake. But I suppose a misreading is valid too. The story still worked, don’t get me wrong, but the subtext changed its tone. I hadn’t realised it was based on a real event.

Tania Hershman said...

Thank you, Jim, so much for a wonderful article about my stories - it's really far more than a review! Any author would appreciate the depth to which you have delved into their writing, and to hear what spoke to you and what didn't. As I said, I would be amazed if anyone found that all 27 stories spoke to them, I would need to meet them immediately! I really like hearing the different reactions, and treasure each and every reader, it's not something I take for granted.

Jim Murdoch said...

You’re very welcome, Tania. I actually found this a particularly hard review to write compared to others. I don’t like writing negative things and yet I couldn’t get away from the fact that I was not connecting with this one particular story. It’s like when someone cracks a joke and you don’t get it. I wasn’t getting this. That’s why I felt it only fair to include a comment from someone who really connected with it.

Like I said I honestly think the reason is that I simply watch far too many shows about doctors. If we can take a medical procedure that I was involved in and compare it perhaps this will make more sense: the birth of my daughter. I literally saw one living person dragged from the insides of another living person. I had known for years the facts of life but this wasn’t something out of a textbook or someone anonymous and yet I’m sure that the wonder of it was simply not the same for the nurses and doctors who were witnessing the miracle of life day in and day out.

I’m glad I’ve got you another couple of readers. I’m sure they won’t be disappointed and I do look forward to seeing what you produce next.

Art Durkee said...

It all seems very slight to me. Perhaps that's the point. But I can't help thinking that, in comparison to Beckett's short prose pieces, like "Lessness," or Joyce's "The Dead," or many other examples I could cite, such as the sections in Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities," this is all very weightless and spun-sugar. Weightless in the sense that the only aspect of self these pieces touched was my intellect; they never got into my soma, and they never activated my emotions enough for me to care. So they feel superficial to me.

I suppose it's very postmodern to include one's writing prompts as part of the story—but it's also very postmodern to be mannerist rather than substantial. (Mannerism as defined in art history is the endless variation of existing material, with no innovation and no depth.) Frankly. knowing what the writing prompt was is a very writer's insider thing; indicating her audience is other writers, who no doubt will "get it" better than the general reading public. An attitude favored by Oulipo, flash, and so forth. (Again, postmodern mannerism seems evident.)

As for not knowing the definition of the prose-poem? I'm sorry, that comes across to me as either willfully ignorant or disingenuous. (No offense intended, this is just my honest reaction.) Most of this is prose-poems, in execution if not in label. While part of me appreciates the stance of abdicating the choice of what to call what one writes, preferring just to write rather than to have to categorize what one writers, another part of me, upon reading her statement, feels lied to. It's all about avoiding, not about choosing—a completely negative way to define one's writing. Some truth here feels deliberately hidden to me; which has the end result of making me suspicious of the entire project.

Jim Murdoch said...

Compared to Beckett most things people write are slight, Art. As for how these pieces affected you, if they only reached you intellectually then they’re probably not the stories for you. Taste is an odd thing. I personally cannot see how anyone could get worked up over the story I cited, ‘Heart’ but I’ve already explained why I think that is. The wonder of a human heart is lost to me. Now, if I had a real human heart in my hands and felt it fade away, yes, then I might be moved, probably would if I could get over the fact that I had something bloody in my hands; my gut feeling would be to drop it and want to wash my hands. I brought nothing to this piece and so took away nothing.

There were two stories in this collection that really did hit home or not so much the stories, the images they contained which I would rip out and stick in poems given half a chance. Did you read ‘The White Road’? If you did and think that was “spun sugar” then I guess you just got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

I doubt for a second that Tania thought she was being postmodern when she included those quotes. It probably just seemed like a good idea at the time.

As for not being able to define a prose poem - I couldn’t tell you what a prose poem is. It’s why I’ve never blogged about them because I don’t want to put my foot in it and look like a pillock. I’ve read things that say their prose poems – the first ones being by Solzhenitsyn – and most people would call them just flash pieces today. I’ve seen poems that read like poetry and poetry that reads like prose and the whole argument bores the pants off me: there is good writing and bad writing, end of story, and it’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because it conforms to someone’s idea of what x or y form should be, it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if people like it and get it.

I seriously doubt if Tania is lying to anyone (and I include herself) in her statement. I wrote her a couple of e-mails to which she responded very promptly. The worst I could accuse her of is not thinking through her responses. Not all writers are that analytical - when you ask them a question you see the colour drain from their face – and so when you do get an answer it’s one they’re thinking up while they’re answering it; they’re not delving into a bag of pre-prepared pat answers. I’ve read her blog for a wee while now and she does not come across as disingenuous, far from it. She’s just like the rest of us, finding her way in the dark.

Art Durkee said...

There's no great mystery to it. And that's part of the problem.

Considering I have on my shelves several anthologies of prose-poems, including Solzhenitsyn's, and several other critical books about the prose-poem and its history, both as a form, and as a trend—I guess I'd have to say, finding definitions of the prose-poem is so incredibly easy, even if one finds them in the end something to rebel against, that I am boggled to hear anyone say that they don't know what a prose-poem is. I mean, the form's been around for 150 years, is well-defined and well-documented. I'm not making that up. All it takes is a little digging to find the data, and of course judge for oneself. So it's very hard to take seriously the question. (And on my own blog there are at least three posts defining the form, and numerous examples of it.)

I did read the title story, and it's not without merit. That's not what I said. I said that overall this is all very slight. And it is. Like many other pieces here, the title story is technically perfect but leaves me cold. (Pun intended.) What I lack in this reading is the visceral. It all stays in the head, it never gets to the gut.

Sure there are issues of taste. But there is also an objective aspect to my critique. And that's where comparisons are valid, and even necessary. Certainly much writing comes up short in comparison to Beckett; but it also comes up short in comparison to other writers. I see no reason not to say so. Slight is slight; heavy duty is heavy duty. This is not heavy duty writing.

Taste is also subject to fashion, and it's fashionable right now to like flash (and call it flash, rather than the short-short story that Robert Bloch was a master of; or the prose-poem, which Baudelaire was a master of). it's also fashionable among writer's writers to like meta-fiction. (Which is also clearly defined and well-exemplified in Borges, among others.) Is flash fiction's emperor wearing any clothes? The reason I mention postmodernism as a trope is that this exemplifies it, intentionally or not. It falls well within the new mainstream of the so-called post-avant.

Tania Hershman said...

Art, I'm more than happy to admit all the things I am ignorant of! I'm no poet, it's taken me almost 40 years to call myself a writer. I studied Physics, I have no clue what a sestina is either, for that matter. I don't see that it's a reason to accuse me of dishonesty, that seems rather an overreaction.

And I'm fine if someone dislikes my book, every story I write. No need to like it, no need to even try and like it. If it doesn't speak to you, then that's it. (I do take "technically perfect as a compliment, by the way). As I said, I write for myself only, and should anything I write speak to someone else, I consider that a bonus.

Art Durkee said...

Found an interesting quote that speaks to the issue of writers' headspaces:

"When you're a writer you no longer see things with the freshness of the normal person. There are always two figures that work inside you."
- Brian Moore

The one who experiences, and the one who observes the experience.

My point all along is that, as far as the reader is concerned—unless the reader is a fellow writer—the reader wants an immersive experience, a visceral experience, rather than being made into the one who observes the experiences. The observer viewpoint is one that tends to mark fiction (or poetry) that is writer's writing for writers.

Art Durkee said...

Tania, with no offense intended, you beg the question, If you are writing only for yourself, why bother publishing? why share the workat all?

I do not exclude myself from needing to answer the question, because it's my dilemma, too. Although I don't call myself a writer anymore. I have said more than once that I too write mostly for my own interest in writing, and that the audience comes later. But then, why bother with an audience at all?

Emily Dickinson barely bothered with an audience, for example; although Walt Whitman at the same historical moment avidly sought an audience, and sought to CREATE an audience. Maybe that's just the difference between introverts and extraverts, in the sense of Jung's typology of personalities.

For myself, I can honestly say that while I write mostly for my own interest I am not unaware of an audience, and not uninterested in what people have to say about my writings.

As for the question of dishonesty, as I thought I had made it clear, but perhaps I hadn't, I was reporting my reaction, not making any accusations. I do still feel like there are hidden things going on, but I withdraw any unintentional accusations I may have made. Again, it was an honest response, no more than that.

Lastly, I make no apologies anymore for being extremely well-read, including poetry, physics, or whatever. The point being, as a reader responding to a piece of writing, I bring whatever I've read and experienced to what I read, as do all readers. If I find resonances, OR if I find lacks, that the writer may not have been aware of, that doesn't de facto make my response invalid. Once the writing is published, and anyone reads it, it's fair game for those kinds of interpretations; the writer can't control the outcome, as you clearly understand. So I won't apologize for my response to your writing, although to state it clearly again I meant no offense to you personally.

Ignorance is excusable, because it can be cured by education, including just reading what one is interested in. Willful ignorance is something I find harder to excuse, no matter what the subject matter is.

Dave King said...

I'm sure that's right. I find it enjoyable to nibble at things on sticks an d dainty savouries - but then you've got to get back to a proper meal.

litrefs said...

I think Tania's a breath of fresh air: infectiously enthusiastic, energetic and generous. I think she's good for the public image of prose and science. Her Short Review and list of UK prose outlets are brill. I think she should just be given the time/space/money to do whatever she wants. Work published since The White Road shows she's still evolving and changing directions. Remember all that (I don't say those kinds of things often!) when you read the rest of my post.

Some points made by others ring bells with me.

Science - Some reviewers have made big deal about the science, as if the collection was suffused by it. My life in a research establishment gives me a rather world-weary (even irritated) reaction to this, I guess. There are quotes from a science mag but nothing much deeper than that. The repeated mentions of "New Scientist" look almost like name-dropping to me, or a spurious attempt to provide unity.

Depth - Following on from this point (from Jim Murdoch's and Art Durkee's too), part of me thinks that the Science works best on readers who know little about science, that the Poetic parts work best on non-poetry-readers, and that the high-lit doesn't work well for literature connaisseurs.

Flash - Definitions of prose-poem etc aren't that clear to me, but I'm not worried about that. Jim Murdoch mentions finding Flash collections "hard work". Me too. It was great to hear Tania's Flash on BBC Radio 4 (a ground-breaking event), but in 12-minute blocks I found listening a struggle (thank heavens for podcasts)

Do buy "The White Road" - not just for Salt's sake but your own.

Jim Murdoch said...

I would sincerely hope she is evolving, litrefs. There’s nothing worse that treading water. I agree with you on the science aspect. I never fret when watching a science fiction film as to how things might actually be done. I don’t care. I blindly accept the technobabble as I did here. But I’m not a scientist. Scientists usually fall into two camps, they either get up in arms because the author hasn’t done proper research or they think, Hm, woulnd’t it be cool if we could do that? and they go off and try and invent it. You will never please all of the people all of the time. The best any of us can hope to do is please some of the people some of the time.

Thanks for your input.

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