Q&A: Terry Farish

Terry Farish
(photo by
Ty Paterson)
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers. 

If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
I invite you to read The Good Braider.  It is a novel in verse for adults and young adults that follows the life of a young girl who escapes war in Sudan, flees with her mother to Cairo, and together they resettle in Portland, Maine. Writing The Good Braider became the focus of my life for many years as I listened to and recorded oral histories with refugees in Maine. The book guided my writing path and opened doors for me to continue telling the stories of new Americans and the extraordinary dance among cultures that newcomers - over generations - learn. And about long-time Americans who see U.S. culture ever changing. 

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I can't say when I became one.  It's just my life. My writing students and I have had conversations about whether they should choose to be a writer. Writers have a hunger to reveal, or be a witness to, or interpret life, and we just do it out of necessity. I have a room in the top of my house where I go before the sun's up on my lucky days.  And I immerse myself in the fictional world I'm working on.  Writing is a meditation.  The business of writing is something else and requires me to leave my upstairs room and be a sort of business person.

How did you end up living in NH?
I first came to New Hampshire when I married an air force officer with a fighter wing at Pease Air Force Base; my first job here was at the Rochester Public Library, an old Carnegie library where I worked with people who awed me and introduced me to NH, and I learned how to mend the bindings of old novels which I liked doing. 

Where do you like to write?
I can write absolutely anywhere. I love writing on airplanes and buses and trains and have sorted out difficult tangles in writing when I'm in motion. In fact a lot of my writing happens when I'm walking. I take scenes I'm working on into the woods with me and my dog, and I come home with dialogue and details I hadn’t known.  My favorite place to compose is my upstairs room in the early, early morning as the light comes.

How important is place in your writing?
My characters are shaped by place.  But I might change the word place to include culture because there are so many cultures in a place.  People are shaped by the cultures they call home, whether it be the culture of fishermen on the NH Seacoast or a community of women who braid hair while around them there is war.  They carry the places of their lives with them and the places become a part of who they are.   And sometimes people are shaped by the yearning for places they have left. One South Sudanese friend told me about her homesickness for a place at war. She said,  "Home is home. Of course I miss home." She missed the smell of the earth by the Nile.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I'm also a yoga teacher in Portsmouth.  I'm very interested in yoga poses as a metaphor for states of mind we seek to cultivate in ourselves.  I find yoga to be a good practice linking the physical body with writing since ideas begin in the body.

What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
What you need is already within you.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
I love so many, many books and am seduced over and over again. This is the best book! No, this is the best book I have ever read!  I go back always to the nobility of the characters in The Old Man and the Sea.  Hemingway breaks my heart again and again when I return to the old man and the boy who wants to fish. I see the book as perfection of language and am drawn in my own work to the precision of Hemingway's words. Another master is Edwidge Danticat who shows us the hearts and hungers of the Haitian people with her exquisite voice.  I would almost use the word sacred when I read Danticat. I keep William Staffford's poems close by.
What are you working on now?
I am just finishing a book about a 17-year old girl, Sofie, who is the daughter of a NH fisherman and a Cambodian mother, called Either the Beginning or the End of the World.  It's a story of first love when she meets a soldier returned from Afghanistan. When she tries to understand his war trauma, for the first time in her life she begins to comprehend her mother who was a child survivor of the Pol Pot regime.  Her love for the soldier is the beginning of her grasp of her own identity as both a daughter of her father's New Hampshire Seacoast and of her mother's war.  The title is from a poem by Carolyn Forché "Ourselves or Nothing." The novel is set on the New Hampshire Seacoast and Carolrhoda Lab will publish it in fall, 2015.

You can learn more about Terry Farish and her work at http://terryfarish.com
and at  http://goodbraider.com.  Follow her on Twitter @TerryFarish

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