Step into the world of Lodestars Anthology as we sit down for an interview with the magazine's founder and editor, Liz Schaffer. In this conversation, Liz shares her journey from freelance travel writer to creator of a unique blend of travel, culture, and storytelling. Discover the challenges she's overcome, the kindness and curiosity she values in contributors, and the art of capturing the spirit of a country in a single issue. Join us as we explore the appeal of travel and creativity through Liz's eyes.
Please tell me a bit about your Lodestars Anthology and how it started.
Lodestars Anthology is part magazine, part book, and every issue explores a single country. It’s designed with curious travellers in mind - those who want to see the world, find inspiration and meet interesting characters along the road. The magazine is filled with photographs, illustrations and stories that promote a new kind of slow travel, with our focus very much on culture, food, people, and craft - and of course, fab places to stay and fascinating things to do.
I’ve been making the mag for nearly a decade now, so those early days are a little hazy! I started out as a freelance travel writer and photographer and was keen from the get-go to work on long-form travel pieces that really took their time when it came to storytelling. So, in order to tell the stories I really wanted to (after one slightly uninspiring commission too many) I decided to jump in the deep end and start my own magazine - just see how it went. The plan was to maybe publish a few issues and use them to snap up a job in publishing. But the problem with making something you love - which also allows you to see the world and work with truly amazing people - is that you soon find it’s impossible to stop.
Starting a business can be terrifying, and you tend to find reasons to put it off, and in the early days, things did go wrong, especially as I was learning on the job. But if you have an idea you’re passionate about, and the curiosity and means to make it a reality, then you simply have to ignore the worries and doubts and give it a go. It isn't easy, but then again, you never know how things will pan out if you don’t give it a shot.
Can you share any interesting anecdotes or experiences you had while researching and working on this issue?
Each time I make a magazine, I fall madly in love with the country we’re focusing on. I feel like every encounter or experience I have is the best one ever, and feel as if I’m on a natural high the entire time we’re on the ground researching a story. It’s only when I get home and have to put it all together that it starts to feel like work.
What stuck with me about making the Ireland magazine though, was just how kind everyone was; our contributors, those we profiled, people who were just up for a chat while we travelled. I tried to capture this magic in a story I wrote about a road trip I took around the island. I’d left my itinerary a little vague, and planned to rely on the recommendation of strangers when it came to deciding on our next activity or interview - and the experience and kindness was astounding. Everyone was so generous with the time, recommending friends, family or those they admired, sharing favourite swimming spots, telling us where we could catch the best sunset, taking us foraging for seaweed. It was a dream.
It must be quite a challenge to succeed in capturing the spirit of one country in a single issue, can you tell us a little bit about how you manage it?
Oh my gosh, there are so many moving parts and so many stages to making a magazine and deciding on the feelings I want it to evoke. I think to truly distil the essence of a place, you have to experience it, so I always spend as much time as I can travelling myself, and work with those who really know and understand the chosen destination. This means I have to be open to stories that get submitted - and entire magazines sometimes take on a life of their own. So many destinations have taken me by surprise, and our contributors have come up with stories I could never have imagined. I think leaving room for the unexpected and working with those I trust and admire is the best way to do it.
As an editor, what qualities or skills do you value most in your contributors?
Kindness and curiosity. It is a joy to work with people who are passionate about what they do - who work with purpose and do all they can to bolster the environment and those around them in the process. I think our job in travel is to find and celebrate beauty, and I love working with people who share that goal.
How do you select the cover image for each issue?
Since the very first issue, nearly 10 years ago, it’s felt as if the cover has chosen itself. There will be one photo that simply speaks to me. Something about it will just feel right: the mood, the story behind it, the memories it conjures. I never have a particular image in mind - I’ll just see it one day and know, without a doubt, that it’s the photo I need on the front.
We do run the cover as a series of three - another image from the photographer will appear on the spine and the inside cover. These need to tell a story together, but once you've picked a cover, everything else simply falls into place.
Can you share any behind-the-scenes challenges or obstacles you've faced while creating a particular issue of Lodestars Anthology?
Where to begin! I could write pages about everything I’ve done wrong, the number of times it felt easier to simply stop making mags, or the moments when everything just fell apart!
I’d rather not dwell on those - instead I’ll say (feeling very happy after receiving some stunning work for the Italy magazine) that I’m so glad that every time things looked dark, I kept going. This is a challenging industry - creatively, financially - but the pride you feel putting creative work out into the world and being able to collaborate with beautiful, talented people along the way, makes everything worth it.
What other magazines do you look up to, enjoy reading, or must own every issue of?
Basically everything. I have a magazine and book buying problem - I can never have enough. I love poring over something made with fervour and care and being reminded that so many others share my bonkers passion in this industry. And I know from experience that every sale makes a small business owner happy, so that’s reason enough to keep reading and purchasing.
What do you like most about being an editor?
Being able I bring a vision to life - to commission, refine, explore and create - is truly wonderful. But I also adore working with others. It’s a treat collaborating with those who share your passion, and whose energy and talent inspire you to create more. But I also love providing a platform for similarly passionate emerging creatives. Sometimes I wonder if I make Lodestars Anthology to simply hang out with spirited, kind, curious, talented people! Ultimately though, I adore almost everything about the project (apart from bills and deadlines) and feel so lucky to be able to do the work that I do. It’s been worth every risk and worry.