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Making 'The Football Crónicas'

  • By Jethro Soutar
  • 15th May 2014
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As we approach the launch of two exciting collections of Latin American fiction here at Free Word, in our forthcoming event From Rio to River, one of the collections' co-editors tells the story behind the collection. [read more]

The Football Crónicas began life as fanciful pub talk between two mates. My co-editor, Tim Girven, regularly travels to Latin America for work and always comes back with a bag full of books and boundless enthusiasm. In late 2012, over a few beers in Angel, he thrust a pile of photocopied pages in my hand: “Read them,” he said, “we should publish them in time for the World Cup.” 

I was used to Tim’s harebrained schemes and paid not a great deal of attention. Until I finally read those photocopied sheets: maybe he was onto something. 

What he’d given me was a number of football-themed crónicas. The crónicas is something of a literary hybrid: it combines investigative journalism and storytelling; reportage and narrative. In English, we call this type of writing creative non-fiction, or New Journalism, as it was labelled in the 60s and 70s, when the likes of Truman Capote and Hunter S Thompson were all the rage. The format is especially well-suited to Latin America, a continent where fact is so often stranger than fiction. Hence magic realism, and hence the current boom in crónica writing, heralded by some as the Second Latin American Boom, a worthy successor to the movement begun by Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa et al.

Having inadvertently stumbled across a major literary trend, we began writing to crónica writers and the magazines that publish them. Before we knew it, we were being granted permissions to publish some of the best writing we'd ever seen.

The backbone of our book began to take shape. We decided to select a Crónicas XI and agreed that our choices would be led by quality rather than geography: that we’d like to have a broad range of countries represented, but that we’d simply publish the best crónicas we found. With three authors in the starting line-up, Bolivia ended up leading the way, not a country known for its literary or footballing heritage.

Crónicas combine reportage, narrative and social commentary. This being Latin America, it wasn’t hard to find crónicas that take football as a theme or backdrop. When foreigners write about Latin America, they typically succumb to cliché and hyperbole: ‘the whole country came to a standstill’, ‘kids playing with oranges in backstreets’ etc… Latin American writers don't do this, though they are acutely aware of the power football holds over their continent; that football often throws up the best stories and that by writing about football they can tap into the good, the bad and the ugly of life where they live. 

The team gradually picked itself. However, we inevitably came across various football-themed works of fiction too. How could we not find space for Diego Trelles Paz’s ‘Football and Plague’? We had to re-write our own rule book: the book would comprise a Cronicas XI and a few short stories; fantasy football for extra-time.

We approached several UK publishers with our project but always got the same answer: great idea, really interesting, but not commercially viable. Publishers find it difficult to take risks and favour the tried and tested; a book written by obscure Latin Americans writing in an unfamiliar format is the opposite of a proven formula. But we believed in these pieces, we thought their authors deserved a wider audience and felt English-language readers deserved the chance to appreciate them. We decided to publish the book ourselves: we set up Ragpicker Press (ragpickerpress.co.uk).

In order to have the writing read as beautifully in English as it does in Spanish and Portuguese, we recruited a crack team of translators. They all bought into the spirit of the project and we feel very privileged to have worked with such a generous and talented bunch: Rosalind Harvey, Rachael McGill, Chris Lloyd, Jonathan Blitzer, Ruth Clarke, Robin Patterson and Montague Kobbé.

It was important we set out our not-for-profit credentials. For a start, we couldn’t afford to pay the authors for the right to publish their work, but beyond that, we wanted to make a statement that we were doing this for the love of literature rather than money. That said, we are quietly confident the book will prove a success, and to this end we’ve teamed up with The Bottletop Foundation, a UK-based organisation that does outstanding work empowering young people in deprived communities, not least in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia, the city that will host the World Cup's opening ceremony. Proceeds from The Football Crónicas will be donated to The Bottletop Foundation. 

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