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Archive for Mary Farquharson

Music and writing: the search for perfection

We asked Pangea author Mary Farquharson to talk about how she juggles her double life as a writer and a producer.

My double life between music and writing enters a new phase with the selection of my story, ‘Sofia the beautiful’, for the Pangea anthology. Without the contact with traditional musicians, I couldn’t have written this story, although – equally – the technical demands of writing short fiction have improved my work as a producer and concert organiser.

I began writing as a journalist in Venezuela although I was never very good; press conferences were boring and manipulative and the idea of sniffing out a news story didn’t motivate. I wanted to find out who or what was behind the news and usually took so long that no one was interested in publishing my findings. I thought that writing about the men and women of the llanos plains, living on isolated farms, roasting meat and playing very sweet, haunting melodies on harps and guitars, was more interesting than reporting on the plunging price of oil.

My stories didn’t sell but they convinced me, back in London, to take a break from writing and join a small n.g.o. promoting traditional music from non-western cultures and had the great privilege of working with artists like Youssou N Dour and Omara Portuondo on their first visits to London, as well as street bands from Kenya, a whore-house singer from the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and several incredible griots from West Africa. The best concerts, not surprisingly, were ones in which the Senegalese or Syrian or Colombian communities came out in force and lapped up the music from their homes. The musicians responded to their nostalgia with a creative generosity that was contagious.

When I left London for Mexico, the schizophrenia continued; I worked first as a journalist and then set up – with my Mexican partner – a traditional music label that promotes Mexican and Cuban roots music. This work has taken me to towns and villages all over the region, meeting, talking, listening and dancing with musicians who have usually inherited the music they play and who compose verses spontaneously in a way that makes you think twice about the long hours doubled over a computer, waiting for words to stumble onto the screen.

Journalism was never enough to communicate the essence of this world and so, a few years ago, I turned to short fiction which has demanded of me new levels of commitment; it is much slower, more difficult and satisfying than journalism, and requires a search for truth that is not always important for newspaper or magazine writing. Producing records and concerts requires the same search for perfection; the refusal to accept the fast track, but rather to look deeper and more slowly at people and to reflect their personality only when you understand, or think you understand, where they are coming from.

Good musicians are generous always, they share their gifts easily and, when they feel they are understood, they respond in ways that one might never imagine. They are great characters: huge, unpredictable, difficult, inspiring. In all my stories, including ‘Sofía the beautiful,’ these musicians are present, as the central character or, as in this case, as the chorus.  My work does not permit me to write as much as I would like, but to write what I like, which is probably more important.



Authors: John Bolland, Indira Chandrasekhar, Andy Charman, Tara Conklin, Emmanuella Dekonor, Mary Farquharson, Vanessa Gebbie, Sarah Hilary, Liesl Jobson, Oonah Joslin, Trilby Kent, Juli Klass, Sarah Leipciger, Clayton Lister, Rebecca Lloyd, Katie Mayes, Shola Olowu-Asante, Tom Remer Williams, Caroline Robinson, Lisa Marie Trump, Stephen Tyson, Jennifer Walmsley, Dee Weaver, Joel Willans, Fehmida Zakeer.

Editors: Indira Chandrasekhar and Rebecca Lloyd.

News from our Authors

Tara Conklin’s debut novel ‘The House Girl’ will be published by William Morrow in the US and Harper Collins in Canada in April 2013.

Vanessa Gebbie’s debut novel, ‘The Coward’s Tale’ was published by Bloomsbury in the UK in 2011, and in the US in 2012.

Mary Farquharson is producing and editing a book and CD of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s poems in the voice of Chevela Vargas, (the Edith Piaf of Latin America).

Sarah Hilary’s short story ‘The Mauve Throw’ received an honourable mention in the Tom Gallon Trust Award 2011 and is available as an ebook from Shortfire Press.

Trilby Kent’s novels ‘Smoke Portrait’ and ‘Stones for my Father’, were published in the UK in 2012.

Joel Willians’s short story collection, ‘Five Reasons for Leaving’, will be published by Route Publishing in the UK and Finland in September 2012.