A lodestar is a guiding star, helping travellers navigate the ocean and thus, the world. Now in its third year of publication, Lodestars Anthology has swept across continents, gathering like-minded travellers along the way. Currently moored in New Zealand, Lodestars is set to sail on to France and India in the coming year. We caught up with Liz Schaffer, founding editor of the magazine, to find out more.
Hi Liz! The last time we spoke you'd just been in Japan. Where are you currently?
I am in gloriously grey London for three weeks and absolutely loving it. Travel is what I live for, but never underestimate the joys of having a bath in your own bath or doing a spot of autumn gardening!
It sounds like a blissful break from the tremendous globetrotting you’ve done over the years. England, Scotland, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Japan and now New Zealand. The world is your oyster! How do you decide where to go next?
Our decision making processes have changed a bit over time. For those first two issues it was about finding a place close to home that would keep our costs down. We then did Australia because I was a little homesick and felt it was time to properly explore my homeland. We featured Italy because I was hungry, Sweden because it’s magical, Canada for a little adventure, Japan for the wonder and New Zealand because I’m a sucker for any destination in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve also been so lucky to get support from various tourism boards and to receive ideas from contributors, who make us realise that a certain destination is an absolute must.
Before Lodestars, you had been working as a freelance photographer and journalist. Did any of your jobs influence your decision to start your own travel magazine?
I think a lot of it did. I do remember doing my first internship with a wonderful magazine back home called Australian Traveller. About a month into the experience I vowed to never become a magazine editor – the work never seemed to end! I think deep down I knew I’d just had a flash of my future…
I adored telling stories, capturing destinations and sharing the work of others. I always wanted to be part of the magazine world, which is why I inevitably looked for work in that sector. Writing and photography definitely helped shape my vision of the magazine, and I learnt some rather useful publishing skills from some rather talented people. I like to think that with a creative project everything you do leading up to it will influence the work in some way. Treat everything as a learning experience, you never quite know when something will prove useful.
The chunky size of Lodestars Anthology reflects a country well-travelled. Did you ever have an idea to roam through multiple places each issue or was it clear from the beginning that one country per issue was enough?
It was always going to be one country per issue – I wanted that to be something that set us apart. I wanted to explore a country in detail, to have time to reveal its quirks and nuances. Something I struggled with as a writer early on was word counts – how do you capture an entire country in 1,000 words, for example? I wanted to give our contributors room to explore the beauty, joys and challenges of travel and give their work space. Even at around 170 pages we don’t get close to fully exploring our chosen countries, but I hope we act as an informed and insightful jumping off point.
Some travel magazines consume places as if they're a product to be purchased, rather than an experience to be savoured. How do you feel about Lodestars in comparison to other popular magazines?
Travel is such a personal thing – people are after different experiences and different accounts. I like to think that Lodestars takes a ‘slower’ approach to travel. It’s about exploring the culture, history and nuances and hopefully that appeals to our readers. That said, sometimes you are after a quick introduction – something just to get you thinking about a location. Or a fashion twist? Or something purely adventurous. I think it’s more of a case of different publications for different purposes.
Speaking of ‘slow’ travel, there’s an abundance of photography, with a lot of focus on landscapes, which gives it a more earthy and natural feel, rather than city-dwelling. The pace is somewhat restorative. Do you feel nature and landscapes give a better feel for a place than cities, or would you say people connect more with the sparseness of wilderness?
I don’t know if that was ever a conscious decision on our part. We wanted to explore locations that might not be as well-known, so when doing the magazine on England, London barely got a mention. In Australia, Sydney only appears in a piece exploring the magic of the country’s coast. There are locations that are explored so beautifully and in so much depth in other magazines and guides that we thought we’d rather explore the lesser known.
For a long time, I found it difficult to work out exactly what it was I adored about travel, but it was while in Antarctica (yeah, I know how that sounds and I know how fortunate I am) I began to figure it out. I was gazing out at this magnificent scene – the land and icebergs reflected in the water at sunset – and suddenly felt both incredibly small, dwarfed by the beauty, and, also, very big. I was so insignificant compared to this landscape, but I could experience it and, on a basic level, connect to it. That is a feeling I’ll continue to have when travelling and perhaps the reason I keep being drawn to wilder locations.
Lodestars comes across as a community of travellers, with photographic essays, first-hand accounts, reviews and illustrations to inspire others. How much sway do your contributors have on your vision of the magazine? For instance, there seems to be a fifty-fifty split between written content and photography.
Many of our decisions happen organically, fitting design to the country we are exploring. I wanted to give words, photographs and illustrations the same weight in each publication, but some stories are simply more visual, while others are wordier. It’s about adapting to the story we are trying to share and the creative communicating it.
I don’t have the words to express how much I adore our contributors. The work we’re given is just astounding. We have to create a cohesive product but I think people work best when given room to move. Perhaps it’s best to classify it as a collaborative project – and we’ve got to give our designer a huge amount of credit. The magazine never quite feels real to me until I see his first layouts. They always take me by surprise.
At the heart of Lodestars’ stories are the people, both travellers and locals. It’s their voices which transcend travel from something potentially consumable into something more communicative and experiential. How important was it to you to get a sense of voice across?
Incredibly important now. As much content as possible is created from experience - we wanted informed voices, personal stories that capture the essence of a location and the character of a writer. I’ve always said that I’ve learnt on the Lodestars job and I think one of the most valuable lessons – something that really kicked in around issue 4 (Italy) – was when to stop editing. How to get that balance between different voices and issue cohesion.
Do you feel it’s the people who make the place or the place that makes the people?
Oh gosh! Perhaps it’s symbiotic? I’m just thinking of my own move to London. I came here from Sydney at the end of university because I felt it was the centre of history and culture and had so much creative energy. And I do feel that this city made creating Lodestars Anthology possible. But that energy had to come from somewhere right? Perhaps centuries of creatives have left their mark? Or perhaps London is just magical?
Your latest issue is in the extraordinary New Zealand. Daniel, one of the co-owners of Magalleria, is a Kiwi and is thrilled to see his homeland shown in such a beautiful light. What drew you to New Zealand?
What didn’t! I adore every country we visit with the magazine – there is something unique everywhere. For Canada it was nature, for Japan the culture and for Italy it was food, food, food. I’d visited New Zealand quite a few times growing up and had always loved it. The people, the landscape, the sense of space. But I think what I was really keen to capture, and what really drew me there, was this sense of calm. It’s a very relaxed kind of beauty. I adore it.
It is quite an ethereal place, and I completely agree it seems very calm. What do you think gives off its magical feel?
Probably all the elves.
What’s on the horizon for Lodestars?
We are working away on our France issue, commissioning India, considering locations for issue 11 (America is sounding kind of cool), preparing to launch our first book in December, hatching plans to revisit and reprint our England issue, and possibly fitting in an actually holiday somewhere. That could be fun!
Interview by Libby Borton