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March 22, 2022

Luxury Safari Magazine interviews Mark Eveleigh

Luxury Safari Magazine interviews Mark Eveleigh (FRGS)  a British travel writer who grew up in West Africa, he has explored more than 20 African countries and written about them for some of the world’s most prestigious publications.

Mark has certainly lived and is still living life to the full:

Did you always want to be a travel writer?

I’d like to say that travel writing had always been my dream job, but the reality is that I’d never imagined that such a job even existed. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been living that dream now for over a quarter of a century.

What do you consider to be your first break as a travel writer?

In 1995 I was sponsored (by Heineken, of all people) to lead an expedition into Central Borneo, then I found a room in Madrid’s old town where I hammered a book manuscript out between shivering bouts of malaria. That first book (which shall remain nameless since it embarrasses me these days as the work of a rookie) was far from a best-seller but it garnered some positive reviews and gave me the first small touch of notoriety that brought me to the notice of magazine editors.

What came first photography or writing?

I consider myself 60% writer and 40% photographer. I always wanted to explore areas that few other writers had been to – or to cover unusual stories that other freelancers might not have stumbled across – so I quickly realised that it was crucial that I should be able to shoot illustrating images for myself.

How do you see the travel writing industry-changing considering the growth of online and media?

I’ve heard well-established five-figure bloggers excuse sloppy research (and even embarrassing grammar) with the statement ‘well it’s only blogging. It’s not real journalism.’ There’s no reason why online publications (and even amateur blogging) shouldn’t be considered ‘real journalism’. Some print magazines have switched to online publication only but, in a drive to maintain quality, have made a conscious decision to maintain their previous rates for online copy. Well-crafted travel stories will always be in demand and online publications could manage a higher turnover of stories each month than they could ever do within the timeframe limitations of print. Editors will be able to respond more quickly to pitches and could have more leeway to accept unusual offbeat stories.

Have you ever been somewhere so bad you couldn’t write about it?

My wife Narina (also a travel writer) and I sometimes joke that our only chance for a ‘holiday’ is to go somewhere incredibly ugly with miserable weather.

Every destination has a hidden story – although there have been times when I had to dig pretty hard to find it. I was once commissioned by an inflight magazine to do a shopping and nightlife story from a certain city in Indonesian Borneo. The malls were depressing and the nightlife (almost exclusively oil workers and prostitutes) was worse! I managed to convince the editor that it wasn’t the sort of angle he’d want to publish. I was in Borneo after and there was no shortage of material once I headed into the jungle!

Where has been your most exciting travel destination?

I thrive on the variety that this job offers and Asia and Latin America continually tempt me. I grew up in West Africa, however, and return to Africa at every opportunity. Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa have all been wonderful sources of material for me (both wildlife and culture). Zimbabwe is one of my favourite countries and I spent a month once in Uganda as a volunteer mapping the national parks and reserves with a Land Rover. I’ve been back several times since I am always enchanted with the landscapes, wildlife and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

Have you ever encountered real danger?

I narrowly escaped an ambush by armed bandits in Madagascar and was on the run for three days, hiding in thickets at night without risking a fire to give my position away. I’ll never really know how much danger I was in but it seemed touch-and-go at the time. I was also trapped during a cable-car tragedy in Venezuela. Two people died and for six
hours I certainly believed that my time was up. Aside from that the closest I’ve been to death’s door were the times I contracted malaria in Borneo, Madagascar and Ghana.

Your photography is stunning, is this ‘practice makes perfect’ or did you take some course?

Thank you. I taught myself and shot my first published photos with a second-hand Zenit camera with a shutter like a slamming barn door. My entire photographic outlay was 25 pounds and the first photo I sold netted me 30 quid. Times have changed but I believe that shooting manual cameras with slide film were the best training to progress into the digital era.

Do you have a favourite animal to take photos of?

Wildebeest might seem like an unlikely choice but the excitement and drama of the Great Migration makes for an unforgettable shooting experience and, with the dust and sudden changes of pace, for unique challenges. For similar unpredictable reasons, I’ll never forget some of the experiences of photographing painted dogs…or of coming into eye-to-eye contact with leopards (specifically in Botswana and Zimbabwe) at a distance of a few paces.

Where next for Mark Eveleigh?

In May and June I’ll be walking 1200km coast-to-coast across Spain – sleeping rough in my trusty hammock – for a book.

Where is home for you?

Whenever we’re not on assignment, Narina and I divide our time between bases on Bali and in South Africa.

Is there anywhere you’d like to go but as yet have not managed to get to?

I’ve travelled widely in around 20 African countries but, for one reason or another, both Zambia and Namibia have thus far escaped me.

What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?

The old warning about not believing everything you read is truer than ever these days. It’s important to remember that a fact does not become an unarguable truth just because it’s been repeated 500,000 times by Google.

There are thousands of sloppily written, hurriedly researched and badly edited blogs (and articles) out there produced by people who portray themselves as experts… I try to sift through the gossip and garbled static by keeping a list of sites (History Encyclopedia, CIA World Factbook, National Geographic, Britannica, UNESCO) that can be
considered, if not infallible, then at least ‘reliable’.

What makes a good travel writer?

There are many answers to this question…and they’re all explained in detail in our recent book How to Become a Professional Travel Writer which I’m proud to say was listed among Wanderlust magazine’s 11 ‘BEST TRAVEL BOOKS OF 2022.’

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