It’s Valentine’s day next week and what better way is there to celebrate your love for flash fiction than buying the new Fuel Anthology a selection of first prize winning flash fiction, compiled, edited and published by Tania Hershman. Read Tania’s really interesting answers to Jude’s questions about the anthology below. If you buy the book now, you may have it in your hands ready to attend the launch on Wednesday, February 15th, hosted by Writers HQ. Buy your ticket to hear readings from the book and more!
Since Tania sent Jude the answers to these questions she has already raised over £1000 for Fuel Poverty charities from sales of the book. At the flash fiction festival weekend in Bristol, UK we’re sponsoring July 14th to July 16th there will be a further live launch of the book with contributors reading from it and Tania is also running a workshop based on the book. The festival always has a raffle and we’ve been inspired to donate the proceeds this year to Fuel Poverty charities. It’s all very exciting. It’s a brilliant iniative of Tania’s all round. It gives winning flash fiction writers a further boost for their stories and adds a great resource for all writers, as well as raising money for charity.
Interview with Tania
- How did you come up with the idea to publish the anthology?
Hearing on the news here in the UK last summer that—even before the predicted gas and electricity price hikes— there were already people having to choose between heating their homes and heating their food, with places setting up “warm banks” where those in need could come in winter to get warm, was making me increasingly distressed. I wanted to do something to help, something more than making a donation to fuel poverty charities, especially because, as we now know even more clearly, this situation is not going to go away any time soon; more prices increases are coming and it will most likely get worse. I immediately thought of a flash fiction anthology of some sort. I know the the flash fiction community well after writing flash fiction myself for fifteen years, so I knew I already had all the contacts and knew how generous the community is.
I then began to wonder if it might be not just a book people would buy as a fundraiser, but one that could be useful to writers, a book that could explode some myths and misconceptions and pass on permission to write what you want to write in the way you want to write it. A collection of award-winning flash fictions, stories that had all won first prize in various competitions over the past few decades! This is something I would have loved, especially when I was starting out as a short story writer. As well as showcasing and giving another outing to all these stories, some of which hadn’t been published in print before, an anthology like this—with such a huge range of flash fictions of different lengths, shapes, forms, genres, voices— could serve, as I mentioned above, to bust some myths about what a “story” might be, as well as all the kinds of stories that win writing competitions.
As I contacted competition organisers—who were all as generous and helpful as I’d known they would be, including you!—and then to the writers, and as such a diverse and surprising set of stories started arriving in my Inbox, I thought of more ways to try and make the book helpful to writers. I added something often seen in poetry anthologies but rarely in fiction: an Index of First Lines, so readers could scan the list, see what first line intrigued them, and then read that story. As someone who has judged writing competitions, the first line is where I always hope, faced with a huge pile of entries, that a writer will grab me and not let me go. Here are 75 very different ways that a story can start, each of which grabbed a judge and didn’t let them go!
As well as the contributor biographies, so you can find new favourite writers and read more by then, I’ve also listed all the competitions at the back, with a short description and a list of the first-prize-winning stories included in FUEL from that particular competition. And of course a reader can just dip in and out as they like!
- What was your process of putting the anthology together?
I’d never taken on anything like this, producing a book from scratch—from gathering 75 flash stories by authors around the world all the way to doing the design and layout and getting it printed! Calling in the stories was the first step, making sure all the writers sent them to me as a Word doc so I could check that when it was in the book it looked the way they want it to look. How a story is on the page is a huge part of the reading experience, of the impact a piece, especially a tiny one, can have. Then I collected all the biographies of the writers and descriptions of competitions. Once I’d got the 250-page manuscript together, I then started to choose—by grabbing anthologies off my bookshelves and stealing ideas—how I wanted the book to look and feel, what fonts etc.. (I get very excited about fonts). Then, as I mentioned above, I started to think about what else could make the book “helpful”, such as the Index of First Lines, and listing stories according which competition they’d won at the back.
- You published it yourself. Many congratulation! It has a stunning cover and the insides look great. What did you learn about the ins and outs of publishing a book?
I learned that if I’d known what was involved at the start, I might have been too daunted to begin, so it was good that I just threw myself into it and taught myself what I needed along the way! After I sent proofs out to all the authors, some of them offered to proofread, which was incredibly helpful since the only set of eyes that had seen the document were mine, which were a bit blurred by that point. One author told me how to create mirrored pages and a gutter, which makes a book different from a Word document and makes sure the inside margins are wide enough so text doesn’t get swallowed into the spine.
I had put a call out on Twitter early on to ask if someone had a fuel-themed image they might donate for the cover, and I fell in love with Marie Leadbetter’s gorgeous and colourful photo of a decaying petrol pump. I was incredibly lucky to have made a new friend on a writing retreat about a month later, the wonderful and talented Katie Jacobs, who is a graphic designer and who designed the cover for free—as she and her family were moving countries! It is stunning, isn’t it? I love how she’s designed the petrol pump to be slightly disintegrating, a metaphor for how we need to move away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable energy sources.
I asked a number of publishers for recommendations for printers, and found one that specialised in newbies like me and who wouldn’t mind me asking lots of questions to make sure I got it right and got the files in the correct PDF format. I had to go and buy an ISBN number myself and create the ISBN barcorde. Let’s just say I learned A LOT! It was a fairly exhausting but really fascinating and rewarding process, with much help from people along the way. As I say in the Acknowledgements, it really does take a village to produce a book. Holding it in my hands just 6 months after I came up with the tentative idea made me a little tearful. I’m so happy it all worked out!
- How do you think it could be a useful resource for teachers and anyone interested in flash?
I remember very well when I was starting out as someone who hoped to be a writer how I felt so influenced by all the “shoulds”: here’s how you should write, here’s what you should write, the “rules” for a good short story. But I didn’t find that way of writing worked for me, and I wasn’t interested in writing those kinds of stories (I am always my own first reader; I write to tell myself stories). Slowly, over several years, I came up with my own writing methods, the ones that let me write the stories I want to write in the way I want to write them. This is what I hope FUEL might be able to do for others: first, show everything that flash fiction—and perhaps all kinds of writing—could (not should) be. To say to all writers, Yes, you can write a page-length piece with no punctuation, or write a story as a bullet-pointed list or as a letter. Yes, you can write about octopuses (!); you can write something set in America when you yourself have never been there; you can write in the voices of people who lived a hundred years ago and/or on another planet; you can write to make people laugh, cry, think. And, as the Index of First Lines I mentioned above demonstrates, there is definitely no one way you “must” start a story. I mean, look at all these beginnings!
This is true of all anthologies that offer such a variety of stories, such as the Sudden Flash and Flash Fiction Forward anthologies edited by Robert Shaphard and James Thomas, which were the books that first revealed to me the joys of the shortest of short stories. What FUEL also provides, which I’ve never seen anywhere before, is 75 very different answers to the question “What kind of stories win competitions?”
When I was starting to write, I most definitely subscribed to the myth that there must be some sort of “formula” to win a competition, thinking that my oddest stories could never make it anywhere. As I was extremely lucky enough to discover, that’s not true. A competition judge is a person with their own tastes, likes and dislikes. Different judges will pick very very different kinds of stories. I know this from the judging side of the process, too: you’re not handed a checklist to tick off alongside a pile of competition entries! This is why—when I realised that a number of competition organisers, including you, were putting forward flash stories for FUEL that I myself had picked when I judged those competitions— I decided, a little reluctantly, to include one of my own flash stories (which won a Writers HQ flash fiction competition a few years ago) to explode another myth: that competition judges are drawn to work that’s similar to the kinds of things they write themselves. As I mention in my Introduction, if a reader would like to, they can read my story and then some of the stories I picked as winners, and draw their own conclusions! I would love it if writing teachers felt they’d like to recommend this to students, too.
- What’s happening at the launch?
The launch is online on Feb 15th, hosted by the fantastic Writers HQ. I will be saying a few words about why I decided to create FUEL, and then I’m delighted that I’ll be introducing a line-up of some of the amazing writers in the book from around the world, who will be reading their prize-winning stories! We will then open it up to a Q&A and you can ask those burning questions about flash fiction, about sending work to competitions, about what it can do for a writer to receive that amazing that says “You’ve won!” Tickets are pay-what-you-can, all proceeds to fuel poverty charities, book yours here: https://writershq.co.uk/fuel-flash-anthology-launch/
- an you tell us briefly about the charities you are supporting?
- All the profits are being donated to four UK charities (https://www.fuelflash.net/fuel-poverty-charities/) that I chose because they are all working to help those who now find themselves in what we now call “fuel poverty”, struggling to pay rising gas and electricity prices, not being able to both heat their homes and warm their food. The charities are: National Energy Action, who declared Feb 15th #NationalHouseWarmingDay, which is why I picked that as publication date; National Energy Action Scotland, the Bristol-based Centre for Sustainable Energy and the Fuel Bank Foundation. As I write this we’ve already raised over £700 for them from pre-orders, which is amazing.
(photo by Grace Gelder)
Tania Hershman is the editor of Fuel: An anthology of Prize-Winning Flash Fictions Raising Funds to Fight Fuel Poverty, which will be published in Feb 2023. Her second poetry collection, Still Life With Octopus, was published by Nine Arches Press in July 2022 and her debut hybrid novel, Go On, by Broken Sleep Books in Nov 2022. Based in Manchester, Tania is also the author of three short story and flash fiction collections, three books of poetry, a hybrid book inspired by particle physics, co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014), and founder of the short story hub ShortStops. She is co-creator of the @OnThisDayShe Twitter account, co-author of the On This Day She book (John Blake, 2021), and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. www.taniahershman.com