Jo Tinsley is the founder and editor of Ernest Journal – “an independent magazine for the curious and adventurous”. She is also the co-author of two books, The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world and The Mysterium: Unexplained and extraordinary stories for a post-Nessie generation, and editor of Waterfront, a magazine celebrating a connection with water for the Canal & River Trust. Somehow, she also finds time to work as a freelance writer and curator.
Jo grew up in Lancashire, on the edge of the Pennines, before moving to Cardiff to study English and Philosophy. From there, she went to Bristol to embark on a career in magazine journalism with BBC Magazines (now Immediate Media Co.), until six years ago, when she left consumer publishing to join a fledgling sub-culture of independent magazine makers. This led to the launch of Ernest Journal in 2014.
Now based in Brighton, UK, Jo balances her hectic working life with “slow, local adventures, cold water swims and journeys north.” If the images on her social media posts are anything to go by, “slow, local adventures” is something of an understatement.
Paul Bowles once wrote, “Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.” Which do you consider yourself to be, tourist or traveller?
That’s a great quote. I’d like to think I’m more traveller than tourist; I certainly relate to the idea of navigating slowly, seeing adventure in everyday experience, and using travel as a way to reflect on my own place in the world. Continuous exploration is essential for me. My work – as an author and travel writer, and editor of two magazines – often feels overwhelming; I feel a weight of expectation. So I make time to move and to travel at every opportunity. When I engage with my innate need for exploration – when I ramble onto blustery moorland or swim out into open water – there’s one mantra that always naturally forms in my mind: This is real. Everything else is irrelevant. It’s really grounding.
How do you cope with the sedentary life of a writer/editor?
I don’t actually cope well with it. I’ve come to recognise that I’ve got this restless and fidgety energy. In order to find emotional stillness, I need to physically wear myself out and immerse myself in nature. Spending time outdoors works like a pressure valve. While long walks calm my racing mind and take the edge off the constant chatter, swimming presses the reset button. Cold water snaps me back to reality and shakes off whatever’s occupying my mind. I’ve become addicted to this immersion; when you spend your days regulating your energy, it’s such a relief to relinquish yourself to the water.
Where do you feel most at home? Do you have a strong sense of place, of belonging?
In terms of belonging, I feel most at home in the north of England, where I grew up and where my extended family has been for generations. It sounds strange but I feel grounded in the geology of the place; I feel at peace with my feet on gritstone and granite, surrounded by heather moorlands and reservoirs.
Can you define what ‘home’ is for you?
Home is something I’ve had to redefine in the past few years, especially since moving to Brighton, three years ago. I find that it takes me time to connect to a new place, and to find meaning in the day-to-day. It’s all about establishing routines and rituals: running along the seafront, swimming between the piers, walking down to the beach on a Sunday evening to watch starlings swirl around the pier like smoke. I find myself returning to the same places, getting a feel for them in different weathers and seasons. I’ve walked and re-walked the meanders of the River Cuckmere countless times, for instance, watching geese grazing on the flats and stomping up to the rolling downs, which are topped with wind-bent trees. This week, I kayaked down them, sneaking up on cormorants and pausing to swim at the deepest point.
Do you often get gripped by wanderlust?
At the moment, not especially. I’ve recently settled into my own little attic flat and I feel like the present sense of stillness has been hard-won. Right now, I’m much more motivated by low-key and local adventures than epic trips.
How would you describe Ernest to someone who had never come across it? And
Ernest is a journal for enquiring minds. It’s made for those who value surprising and meandering journeys, fuelled by curiosity rather than adrenaline and guided by chance encounters. It is a repository for wild ideas, curious artefacts and genuine oddities, replete with tales of pioneers, invention and human obsession. We founded the magazine on the principles of slow journalism. We value honesty, integrity, and down-to-earth storytelling – and a good, long ready every now and then. That’s another reason why travelling slowly is important. Taking your time, or returning to the same place time and again, allows you to engage with people, to pay close attention, to scratch beneath the surface and let a place and its stories settle so that you can, hopefully, portray your experience with honesty.
What motivated you to start the magazine?
Before working in independent publishing, I cut my teeth on mainstream newsstand titles. While I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity, I found the culture in consumer publishing frustrating and cynical. The overarching message was that print was dying and I was disheartened by the reactionary way we pursued new opportunities such as in digital or podcasting. I wanted to start something from scratch; to grow a community; to focus on slow, honest storytelling; to not care about selling people stuff; to experiment and be playful. I wanted to create something that people would treasure and collect, not throw away once they’d finished with it. This is actually one of the things I find most rewarding about Ernest. I love our loyal readership and the way people want to collect all of our back issues. It makes all the hard work feel worthwhile.
Slow travel, nature, and the environment have replaced fashion and pop culture as the ‘hot buttons’ for new magazine start-ups. Post-Brexit, it feels, almost, like nostalgia, a neo-Victorian fascination with exploration and the wider world, even as Britain is doing everything it can to isolate itself.
I agree. This shift in publishing ties in with my own way of engaging with politics. I find everything that’s happening now incomprehensible; like I don’t even know where to start. I find that focusing on changes you can make to your own life and mindset, and to foster online and local communities that counter the ways of thinking that are bubbling up around us, helps to focus on what’s really important, and is a robust way to resist.
What new titles have been drawing your attention (and admiration)?
At the moment, I’m reading Smith Journal, Rucksack, and Elementum.
I also have to ask who are the venturesome travellers you most admire?
As I’ve said, I’m not really into epic, adrenaline-fuelled travel. I admire people who weave the outdoors into their everyday lives, and who nudge their own boundaries through travelling and experiencing the world. I value honestly, humility, authenticity, and a sense of being present and connected – with oneself and with landscape.
I love following Ruth Allen’s slow, grounding adventures on Instagram and via her regular Nature Letters. I find her honestly and vulnerability refreshing and inspiring, as she shares ways in which nature help her comes to terms with herself and how it can foster great human connection. Then there’s adventure athlete Laura Kennington, who’s about to cycle to Norway, the long way around from Scotland. I admire the way she pushes herself physically and mainly because she’s just so bloody resilient. Also Joe Minihane, who swims to temper his anxiety and find emotional stillness. I can certainly relate his journeys.
Thinking about it, these three people completely capture what matters to me when it comes to travel: spending time outdoors as a way to ground and accept oneself; pushing through your own boundaries to build resilience for everything life throws your way; and immersing oneself in nature as a tonic for a racing mind.
Where do you dream most of travelling in the future?
My compass always tends to points north: to crinkly coastlines and fjords, clear mountain air, hearty meals and down-to-earth folk. This summer, I’m planning a road trip through the Westfjords to dip in hot springs and seek out curious Icelandic museums, then I’m heading over to the Faroe Islands – both places I’ve wanted to explore for years. I have family up in Tromsø, a little over 200 miles into the Arctic Circle in Norway, and I’d love to plan another visit to see them, followed by a long drive down the Lofoten Islands. I’m also drawn towards remote archipelagos, and I’ve recently explored the Isles of Scilly, São Tomé and Príncipe and Galapagos. The Azores are next on my list, and perhaps the Outer Hebrides. I’m fascinated by isolated cultures and the effect that living somewhere far flung has on our psychologies.
Photograph of Jo Tinsley at top of page by Stephen Wetherell