This is a little interview I conducted with my good friend from university, Gemma Fottles. She, like myself, has only just graduated, and had already landed a gig as a travel journalist and cross-media reporter for SPAR UK. I asked to ‘interview’ her due to, firstly, her being a success story for any Arts graduate who is sick to the back teeth of reading about job-less-ness. She is a glimmer of hope for any wannabe journalist, with an admirable, tenacious work ethic and a snappy writing style. Now, isn’t that just lovely? Read on for an informal but very inspiring insight into trying to make it as a travel journalist.
So – tell me a little bit about yourself!
Hahaha, this is so funny. My name is Gemma Fottles, I’m 21 and graduated from English Literature and Media studies at the University of Birmingham last month. I like tea, travel, film and ebay all very, very much… and probably in that order.
And now, please explain the MASSIVELY exciting thing that you’ve just started doing, having graduated!
Well. Well, well, well. I recently won a competition with the supermarket SPAR to be a travel reporter for them for the next four months! Hurrah! I don’t get paid, but everything is paid for. I’m even entrusted with a credit card. A credit card always symbolises serious business. And even though this all just feels like one massively inconceivable dream that I am currently living, I guess it is serious to some extent… I’m not just travelling around and having fun, this is an actual job. A job that consists of travelling around and having fun. With a credit card. In return, I have to tweet, facebook, flickr and generally social media the shit out of my travels.
How hard was it to win this competition? As a fellow campaigner, it seemed like there was a lot of effort on your part to convince them that you were the chosen one. THE CHOSEN ONE.
You were a fantastic campaigner my dear Muzz, numero uno (Editor’s note: Ta, Gemma. You are very welcome.) It was pretty tough, I guess! I had to create a video and share it on social media to try and gain points. It didn’t need to be cringey, but I went there anyway. The catchphrase ‘Gemma’s not boring’ haunts me to this day. The top 5 scoring contestants from each country got an interview, the top 2 flew to Amsterdam for an assessment weekend full of reporting and presentations, and then the winner was chosen. And I was that winner.
Before you won this competition, what were your graduation aspirations, and how did you go about achieving them?
I’ve always been interested in journalism as a career, but it wasn’t until my second year of uni that I really fully recognised that travel journalism is where I want to be. I did an internship with a newspaper in Honduras summer 2011, gained some fantastic experience writing for a publication and that was it, I knew what I wanted to do. As with all journo fields, it’s a pretty tough career to crack, so my plans for graduation were to get a crappy job for the summer, work in a chalet in the Alps for the winter and then bundle all my monies together and bugger off to South America for a year – obviously blogging and writing about my travels on the way. I couldn’t have really paid for a better experience than the one that SPAR offered me, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it.
What’s the most jaw-dropping thing you’ve done on your exploits as a travel journalist/cross-media reporter so far?
That’s a haaaaard question. I’m only in the third week, but highlights so far include a HUGE pool party in some very old and extremely cool Roman baths, complete with circus acts and DJs and copious amounts of alcohol. The whole of Slovenia has also been a bit of a fairytale -like experience, swimming in Lake Bled and white water rafting in the mountains somewhere. Not jaw dropping, but pretty cool. Life is good.
Work experience with Honduras Weekly included a week spent on the Caribbean island of Utila doing my PADI diving certificate. Diving, the Caribbean and 50p tequila shots will definitely take a lot to beat.
And what’s been the most scary thing, or a possible low moment? I’m sure it hasn’t all been easy fun and games.
The first time I travelled on my own was pretty scary. The initial moment when you get off the place and just think ‘Fuck. I’m actually all alone here.’ is pretty terrifying. But the terror is soon replaced with the most exhilarating feeling in the world; a feeling I cannot get enough of.
The lowest moment I’ve probably ever had travelling was with my housemate from uni when we decided to backpack Australia. After completely underestimating the cost of Australia, we were really on our last legs money wise. We were rationing cereal bars. After arriving in Byron Bay, we decided to not spend out meagre budget on food, but instead, on goon. Goon is a glorious creation of cheap, CHEAP wine served in silver bags. Like boxed wine, but the box is nowhere to be seen. Several hours and far too many of the poisonous bowls of goon later (we obviously had no cups), we had danced on tables, I had gotten thrown out of a club, Kelly had had serious words with bouncers, we had visited the police station to complain of aforementioned bouncers, and we were on a 5 hour bus journey to our next destination. Looking and feeling like pure death. Definite low. But still, I guess, fun and games somewhere in there…
I also had my laptop stolen on the first day of the SPAR trip. That wasn’t fun. But a boring story.
Finally, for any fellow students, graduates, or simply wannabe-travel-journalists, what’s the first tip you’d give to kick-start their journey?
Blog. I was a bit shy about my blog at first; I thought it was embarrassing, blah blah blah. But in all seriousness, my blog has bagged me two amazing jobs to date. The SPAR world trip was influenced by my ability to write semi-decently, and my blog showcased an ability to function social media and make it look vaguely pretty and interesting. The ski job I have lined up for this winter gave me the job based on my blog, under the condition that I will do their social media for them. Aside from this, blogging regularly helps to improve your writing skills no end. And gives you practice, how to write an interesting story, how to keep it relatively short and sweet… all that good stuff. That’s my top tip.
Gemma Fottles can be found blogging for SPAR UK here: Gemma’s website
And can be followed on Twitter here: Gemma’s tweets
You can watch her in action here: Gemma’s photos
Or, finally, you can ‘like’ the SPAR Facebook page for EFFORTLESS updates and bewdiful photos of her adventures, by going here: See The World With SPAR (And Gemma)