At work with: Ben Mervis, Fare

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We’re starting this week off in Scotland with Ben Mervis, founder and editor of Fare. It’s a food magazine like no other, offering a flavour of the history, culture and character of a different city each issue. After the launch of its second issue, Helsinki, it’s back to the drawing board for Fare’s third instalment.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work.
It’s not glamorous at all, but the first thing I do in the morning is open my laptop and check emails. From my bed. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll read them on my phone. I never really turn off.

Most of my work is done from my lounge. I’ve got really beautiful big bay windows that face out onto a block of tenement buildings. Glasgow’s Southside is really beautiful and underappreciated. I drink my weight in tea over the course of the morning (cheap black tea, splash of milk, no sugar), and plug into music that’s calm but can keep me focused. Lyrics are a distraction if I’m meaning to do work. Ludovico Einaudi, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm…

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office.
I work at my dining room table. I live in a pretty residential neighborhood, so there’s not much through-traffic—mostly people walking and biking along. From where the apartment is facing you get a lot of sunlight, so it’s actually quite bright and uplifting most of the time.

My desk is usually cluttered with too many books, maybe a camera or a notebook, the ubiquitous mug of tea, bottle of water, and so on. If there’s food on the table it doesn’t last long. I make sure of that pretty well.

Which magazine do you first remember?
Early on it was Kinfolk which opened me to the indie genre, then other ones, like Benji Knewman or Buffalo Zine, which showed me the diverse range of directions you could take with a magazine. I collected about 70 before I launched Fare, and I had them splayed out on a big bedroom table I had in Copenhagen. Chaotic stacks of indie mags that I used referentially for inspiration.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I am a big fan of the supplement magazines from Monocle as well— I really enjoyed The Forecast and The Escapist. I’m picky, and these days I usually admire from afar rather than getting a chance to sit down with them.

How does your Monday change if you’re away on location?
Very little! Most of January I was in Berlin and I’d say my day was almost identical to how it is here in Glasgow. So, I like moving about a lot, but I always keep similar routines: working with a full mug of tea, Nils Frahm (‘All Melody’ just came out, I highly recommend it) or the like.

My day is often interspersed with phone calls, meetings, cinnamon rolls (really, quite a lot), and coffee with friends. I’ll usually stretch my legs and wander about the neighborhood too — Southside is really green and with beautiful old apartment blocks and larger estates and mansions scattered about. There’s a country park about 40 minutes walk from my house as well. Highland cows and stately homes aplenty.

How do you make editorial and creative decisions, do you pause for thought or follow your gut?
Well, if it’s a gut decision then I’ll make it quickly. But I’ll pause on the tougher ones—if it’s an email I’ll pen a draft and come back to it later. I try to be as considerate as possible in my decision-making, so saying the right thing is important.

If I face a setback, if I get discouraged, I usually get a rush of energy in the opposite direction. I’m so passionate about this project that it’s really not possible for me to sit back and be resigned to something failing—not if I can do anything about it. So even if it’s midnight, and something comes up, I can’t go to sleep until it’s finished. That’s the way I work.

If there’s something serious that I need an outside opinion on I’ll call my art director, Ric, and bother him about it. I don’t have a local team yet, but in the future I’d like to bring on a Glasgow-based intern or, if opportunity allowed it, someone part-time.

Can you tell us anything at all about issue three?
Not yet! I had a city lined up for months only for it to fall through a few days ago, so we’re back to the drawing board. But I have a really good alternative that could be just as good… My only hint would be that I’m trying to get out of Europe.

What are you worrying about at work this week?
How issue three will come together. Haha! I usually take worrying as a good sign though. It means there will be a resolution one way or another, and it often followed by breakthrough. I won’t sit with my worried thoughts, I’ll try and tackle them head on.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
If I can, it’ll be sourcing a couple of good food photographers in the city I’m heading to.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Meeting a friend for lunch. Reflecting on my over usage of the em dash. Stressing about photographers for issue three. Seeking some sort of resolution on the second two.

Hear Ben talk about his magazine at our recent magCulture Meets Fare evening.

Portrait of Ben at top of story by Christina Riley

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