Inside Travel Writing: Stuart Forster

This Inside Travel Writing features an interview with Stuart Forster. An award-winning travel writer, Stuart is based in the north-east of England and has a global outlook.

His work has been published by The Independent, Rough Guides, CNN and National Geographic Traveller, plus many other titles.

Stuart also runs the successful travel and food blog, Go Eat Do, for which he has been shortlisted for several awards.

He takes time out of his schedule to answer questions about life as a travel writer.

Stuart Forster on the road in the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec, Canada.

Stuart Forster on the road in the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec, Canada.

What kind of travel related niche do you specialise in and what drew you to it?

I often write about food and drink related travel experiences. Cuisine often reflects the heritage of place and, of course, the climate, so I think that writing about local delicacies is an interesting way of conveying aspects of a place.

I love trying foodstuffs that are new to me and chatting to people who can explain why a particular dish is representative of a region. For example, I found it fascinating to learn that ingredients are chopped small in Japanese cuisine because historically there was a dearth of fuel for cooking.

Tasting insects in Cambodia was something that I endured in the name of research during a trip to south-east Asia. They were a source of protein during the harsh years of the Khmer Rouge regime during the 1970s. While I didn’t enjoy eating them it was interesting to think that consuming grubs, grasshoppers and even spiders helped people survive. I think that’s an example of how travelling can help put in context the positives and challenges we face in our lives.

City guides, hotel reviews and features about the experiences I have while underway are also part of what I do. Increasingly, nature and wildlife are featuring in my work.

In terms of geographical focus my niches have evolved into Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, which are countries I visit frequently. I still write occasionally about India and Portugal, both countries in which I’ve lived.

Road into the Canadian Rockies at Banff National Park in Alberta.

On the road in the Canadian Rockies, at Banff National Park in Alberta.

Which piece of writing are you most proud of and why?

I’m very proud of the fact that I have twice been named Journalist of the Year at the Holland Press Awards (in 2015 and 2016). That was for the body of work I produced about the Netherlands rather than a single feature. It encompassed stories in magazines, newspapers and online.

If I had to choose a single story then I’d highlight my story about a close encounter with a polar bear in Manitoba, Canada. Seeing the animal from just a few metres away was an awe-inspiring moment. The piece that I wrote resulted in me being awarded the 2017 BACTA, a British Annual Canada Travel Award, for Best Online Coverage.

Street art in London. A depiction of William Shakespeare in Southwark.

Street art in London. A depiction of William Shakespeare in Southwark.

What do you enjoy most about travel writing?

I love being out and about, having a reason to ask the questions that I’d probably want to have answered even if I wasn’t writing features. Travel writing has given me an opportunity to tell stories about some fascinating places. It’s also resulted in me coming into contact with people who have enriched my life.

Do you have a favourite destination?

Comparing places is something I don’t really like do and, though it might sound like a cop out, it’s tough to choose just one place. Walking ankle deep in the Indian Ocean on a sunny day in the Maldives and looking out over a deep canyon with exposed stratified rock in Alberta are entirely different experiences. Both are enjoyable and have their own merits.

I always look forward to visiting Canada and the Netherlands but what I expect in each varies greatly. I enjoy returning to Germany because I speak the language fluently and like to use it.

Frequencies, by Kari Kola, by the River Wear, at the Durham Lumiere festival of light.

Frequencies, by Kari Kola, by the River Wear, at the Durham Lumiere festival of light.

What would be a typical working day for you, if there is such a thing?

If I’m at home then I tend to write in the early part of the day and edit photographs in the afternoon, sometimes into the evening. I try to answer emails in a batch, so that I’m not getting distracted every time a mail arrives.

I have to make time for social media too, which I did not really used seriously until a year or so ago. I tend to do that during lunch or in the early evening.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

Sometimes I struggle a little to find my first sentence, but that isn’t the same thing as writer’s block. I think sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to come up with the ‘perfect’ opening line rather than just getting on with the job.

I think getting on with the job at hand is essential. Procrastinating is easy. If they had awards for procrastination then I’d be up there with the best of them. (Of course, I’d probably never get round to submitting my entry, or do so only at the last moment.)

A writer's diet? Sour dough served with melted cheese at the East Village in Calgary, Canada.

A writer’s diet? Sour dough served with melted cheese at the East Village in Calgary, Canada.

What tip would you offer to anyone entering the industry?

Be aware that travel writing is a tough business. Not receiving responses to pitches is common. That can leave you feeling neglected. You have to believe in yourself, even when it seems like you are alone in the world.

A lot of people think that travel writers live one long holiday but that’s far removed from the truth. Successful writers need to pitch, study potential publications, draft and edit their work, and be aware of developments within the industry. Be prepared to work very hard, I’d say to people.

Which writers inspire you and why?

I’m currently reading White Sands by Geoff Dyer, a novelist who I first came across through the book Geoff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. I read that shortly after a trip to the Indian city of Varanasi and it resonated with me. I like Dyer’s humour and cynicism.

Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment is a very good book about photography. I was surprised to learn that he isn’t a photographer. It has some interesting insights into how photographic images are created.

In terms of down to earth humour then I think Joe Cawley’s books, set in Tenerife, are worth a read.

For well-crafted dialogues and a sense of place I think that Ian Rankin does an outstanding job of capturing Edinburgh in his Rebus novels.

What do you aspire to achieve as a writer?

I want to be writing for well-known publications regularly. I’d love more opportunities to write lengthy features that allow me to express the nuances of what I experience while travelling.

Hopefully my blog, Go Eat Do, will continue to draw critical acclaim and prove inspirational to readers. It’s lovely to get emails from people who have been inspired to visit destinations after reading posts. Those messages show, in some small way, that my writing has a positive impact on people’s lives.

At some stage I would love to write a book. That would be a major achievement. I have a couple of ideas that I’m working on at present. I’d welcome contact from potential publishers!

Under water...the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre at Pieterburen, the Netherlands.

Under water…the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre at Pieterburen, the Netherlands.

It’s a tough industry, what do you see as its biggest challenges?

Travel writing is a tough, competitive industry that requires a lot of hard work and a sense of business. Being on the road is just a small part of it. There’s a myth that it’s easy to be a ‘digital nomad’ travelling from place to place while making a living by working just an hour or two a day while slung in a hammock. I’m yet to meet any travel writer or professional travel blogger who finds making a living that easy.

People need to view travel writing as a business. A lot of people think they can get into travel writing by giving away their work, without payment, and that will be a stepping stone into a career. Doing that indefinitely is not sustainable. Unfortunately, the plentiful supply of people willing to do give away their work makes it very difficult to make a living.

What about its opportunities?

Being a travel writer has meant I have been to places I’m unlikely to otherwise have experienced in the same way. It’s sometimes an opportunity to look behind the scenes and chat to people who make things happen in a destination. I find that fascinating. Maybe it’s a tad geeky?

During a journey on the Rocky Mountaineer train I was able to interview members of staff about their roles. Documenting and sharing those experiences is something I find genuinely rewarding.

Working into the night can be part of a travel writer's life. This is the city hall in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Working into the night can be part of a travel writer’s life. This is the city hall in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Are there a destination you are particularly keen to visit and write about?

I would love to visit the Arctic or Antarctic. I think it would be rewarding to view and photograph the landscapes, plus the birds and wildlife that inhabit those regions. While I was at the Seal River Heritage Lodge in Manitoba, Canada, I thought it was fascinating to spend time in the company of knowledgeable naturalists who were able to effortlessly explain the relationships and dependencies between animals, their habitat and the environment.

Like so many people I have concerns about the environment. Sometimes it is in the remotest regions that we are able, as writers, to tell stories that make people aware of issues.

Plenty of fish? A fisherman figure at Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Plenty of fish? A fisherman figure at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Do you have a website where people can find out more about you?

I post travel and food related features to Go Eat Do. It was for work on that blog that I was shortlisted in the Travel Blogger of the Year category of the 2017 Travel Media Awards.

People are welcome to submit comments relating to my posts or to contact me via the form that site.

If people want to know more about what I’m up to then my Go Eat Do Facebook and Instagram pages are worth following. There’s also a @goeatdo Twitter feed.

If you weren’t a travel writer what would you like to be?

I have trained as a photographer and I’m a director of Why Eye Photography, which is based in the north-east of England and can be contacted for travel, food, portraiture and event photography. I still enjoy photographing.

An everyday scene for a travel writer? A palm tree leans over the beach and the Caribbean Sea at Manzanillo Beach near Puerto Viejo the Limon Province of Costa Rica.

An everyday scene for a travel writer? A palm tree leans over the beach and the Caribbean Sea at Manzanillo Beach near Puerto Viejo the Limon Province of Costa Rica.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to Manned Up readers?

If you ever want to get in touch then please do so. Travel writing is, essentially, a solitary profession. I love chatting with people, so welcome contact. If people have story ideas, want to commission work or discuss possibilities then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

error: Content is protected !!