A wannabe Jacques Cousteau… Darrel Bristow-Bovey is a multi award-winning travel writer, scriptwriter, author and columnist. At the 2013 PICA Awards, where he won columnist of the year in the customer category, judges said he was “in a class of his own”.
What drew you to your current career? I’m not exactly sure what my current career is. I work in a number of fields – I’m writing on the internet and in newspapers and magazines, but I make most of my living from film and television, and that doesn’t always involve writing. I studied law at university and at school I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau (explorer, conservationist author, scientist and filmmaker). The real question I ask myself these days is why I’m not Jacques Cousteau.
Do you have any hidden talents? I have a very good memory. And I’m very lucky – not in small things but in the big things. Luck is a talent, I think.
What superpower would you like to possess? The ability to block cellphone signals using only my mind.
What is your best characteristic and biggest flaw? My biggest flaw is that I have terribly low self-esteem and I’m fundamentally afraid. My best characteristic is that I’ve learnt how to be honest about it. Also, I think that I’m kind. Of course, I realise that most people think they’re kind, whether they’re kind or not.
If you didn’t have a career as a writer, what would you be doing now? I don’t know. I’m not really suited to much. My father was a bouncer, a sales rep and a welder, but I have no gift of the gab and I’m no good with my hands. I do sometimes wonder how other people make a living, and what I can do when my luck runs out. The answer is if I stopped being able to make a living with words, I’d probably die. Not in some wafty spiritual way, but in a literal, hungry way.
What moment do you regard as career defining? In 2003 I was writing six regular columns and overnight I lost them all and was unemployed. [At the time, Bristow-Bovey was accused of plagiarism and admitted to “using words without attribution”.] The next morning I woke up and started writing a book for young readers that was published as ‘SuperZero’. It won a couple of awards, including the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize from the English Academy, but it wasn’t the prize that was the defining moment, it was that first morning at my then-girlfriend’s diningroom table, pushing aside the fear, writing the words ‘Chapter One’.
What have you learnt the hard way? That people asking you questions very seldom have your best interests at heart.
What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given? Best advice: “Stop trying to prove you’re clever.” Worst: The endowment policy my friend Chunko talked me into taking out when I was 24 years old. “Financial security,” he said. Pah.
Whom do you admire most? At the moment, Bill Watterson (artist and author of the ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ comic strip).
What quote best describes the way you see the world? Something Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Only a damn fool can sum up his worldview in a quote.”
What is your favourite holiday spot and why? Kalkan, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I don’t know why. I assume it most closely matches some buried childhood idea of what a holiday spot should be like.
What book do you wish you had written? The book I’m working on right now. I wish I had written it last year so I could be working on the next book already.
If you had a tattoo, what would it be of? If I had a tattoo it would have been applied involuntarily while I was kicking and screaming, so it would probably be smudged and blurry and unrecognisable.
What are you addicted to? Honestly, nothing. I don’t have an addictive personality. I can barely even manage to acquire a habit.
What are you afraid of? Having made the wrong decision regarding having children.
What do you regret most? My father dying when I was young, although I suppose that wasn’t entirely in my control. I also regret some of the jokes I made in my TV column when I was younger and more careless about people’s feelings. I regret not punching David Bullard in the face when I had the chance.
What cheers you up the most? I’m not often in need of cheering, to be honest. I walk a lot and I meditate when I find the wherewithal, and the combination of that and my lovely wife means I’m very seldom glum.
You have a knack for writing columns that really resonate with readers. How do you decide what to write about and who are you writing for? I write about things that interest me – or at least, I do when I’m writing well. I suspect I’m really writing to make my dad proud of me.
You have had difficulties in your career. What got you through them? The love of several good women.
What are your goals? I would like to write several novels while people still read novels. I would like to fulfil some of the potential I still feel I have, while I feel I still have it. I would like to die very old and very happy, five minutes after my wife does (I don’t mean that in a creepy way, like I’m planning a murder-suicide).
This story was first published in the January 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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