David Bristow visits Africa Media: A professional’s insight on travel and environmental writing

In the last week of February 2020, our Travel and Environmental Journalism students attended a guest lecture on freelancing and environmental writing by David Bristow. This renowned travel writer has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the writing industry. He also gave our students some practical pointers on working as a travel writer and freelance journalist.

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Who is David Bristow?

David is an internationally acclaimed travel writer, photojournalist, and environmental scientist. He prides himself on writing and publishing “one book a year” and consistently researches and writes about nature and the history, places, and culture of South Africa and the world. He was the editor of Getaway magazine for 14 years. Nowadays, he still ventures across the country in his happy green camper-combi (affectionately known as UmKhombe) doing research for his books. These days, he still writes about his travels and does interactive and inspirational talks at various events and locations in the country.

What we learned

One of the most valuable points of his talk is that you cannot become a good writer if you’re not an avid reader. He recommended a selection of books, both classic and recently published, that are valuable pieces of travel and environmental literature. Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson was one of these titles. As were Wilding by Isabella Tree and A Primate’s Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky. Other authors he recommended were Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Edward Abbey, Bill Bryson and Tim Cahill.

Our students gained more insight on what it means to be a travel writer and the importance of environmental journalism. From his decades of experience, David was able to give some insider tips on pitching an article to an editor. He also gave advice on doing in-depth research to acquire “deeper knowledge” on a topic before writing the story. A writer needs to know more about a subject than anyone else, in order for his writing to become a valuable resource. This includes the history on the subject, the most recent findings, the full background and characteristics, and all the people involved in the story. In short, you need to know a lot about a topic in order to write a little bit about it in an article.

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His books

After a post-lecture Q&A session over coffee, David was kind enough to sell us some signed copies of his most recent books. There’s a box in his combi filled with, among others, the following titles: 

  1. Running Wild – The Story of Zulu, an African Stallion
  2. Of Hominins, Hunter-Gatherers and Heroes: 20 Amazing Places in South Africa
  3. The Game Ranger, the Knife, the Lion and the Sheep: 20 Tales about Curious Characters from Southern Africa

We loved spending the day with David and learning from him. We certainly hope that he’ll visit Africa Media again, as a pitstop on one of his next adventures in UmKhombe!

Check out David’s Facebook page here.

For more information on the exciting things we do on the Travel and Environmental Journalism program, click here.

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism program and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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