A Focus On Nature


My Mentors: Patrick Barkham and Stephen Moss

Writing, of any genre, is one of the most competitive career paths out there. Add the word ‘nature’, ‘environment’ or ‘conservation’ and it becomes even more so. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, and with some hard work, determination and good advice one can forge a path into the world of the written word. For me, the AFON mentoring scheme has propelled my chances of success and boosted my confidence and I want to thank everyone involved in the scheme, especially my mentors, Stephen and Patrick, for everything that you have offered me so far.

The River Brue in Somerset, a place that I have enjoyed visiting with Stephen – photo by Peter Levy

I had been a member of AFON for a couple of years before I contemplated applying to the mentoring scheme. On paper it seemed like an amazing opportunity and having been part of it for a year or so now I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

The first stage of the process was to read through the mentoring pages on AFON’s website. I perused the various mentors, shocked at quite how high profile many of them were. It seemed incredible that by filling in a simple application form I might forge personal links with one of these people, many of whom I had looked up at in awe for years. I had their books on my bedroom shelves and had read their pieces in magazines and newspapers. The application itself was simple and in very little time I was thrilled to receive some offers. I leapt at the chance of learning from Stephen Moss and Patrick Barkham, both of whom have slightly different experiences. Stephen offered a depth of understanding with a background that lilts from the BBC to writing numerous books and other publications. Patrick is a prolific journalist and has worked for The Guardian for ten years, as well as having written a number of books, including Badgerlands which was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize.

I would say that to make the most of the mentoring scheme, as is the case in forging a career, you need to have a clear plan and to be active in the process. It is a privilege to have personal contact with both my mentors and I take nothing for granted.

So far I have been working with Patrick and Stephen on different projects, and their advice has been invaluable for these. Both Stephen and Patrick have also given me access to their vast personal networks and have helped me as I usher my way into the world of editors and publishing houses, which can be rather perplexing, especially at first. Patrick even helped me find my current agent, Cathryn Summerhayes. ‘Find your niche and stick with it; this is your currency’, is one important piece of advice that I will never forget. ‘Don’t be afraid of rejection; you only need one person to say yes’ is another. A mentor can give you the boost of confidence required to move yourself to the next stage. They can also be that all important critical friend, telling you what they really think about a piece of work. This criticism can make all the difference between a submission being successful and unsuccessful.

Starting out in the broad conservation/environment sector can seem daunting and you are likely to hit some rocks in the road. Certainly I have hit several already. A mentor can help you through these times. They have faced difficulties in the past and can offer advice as to how best to cope during these periods and move forwards. They are also there to celebrate successes with you. Being a recent graduate or early career conservationist (in its widest sense) can seem isolating and having someone there who understands what you are going through is truly invaluable.

A mentoring relationship is all about partnership and you have to be willing to take the advice on and grab the opportunities as they arise. For me, those opportunities have been greater than I could ever have hoped for. By applying for an AFON mentor you will be taking the first step into an unknown world, but it will be full of new opportunities. The more you put in to it, the more you will get out and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Apply today!

Ben Eagle lives in Essex and divides his time between co-managing his family farm and writing. Recently he became the Conservation Editor of Farmland Magazine. He is also AFON’s volunteer administrator. He blogs regularly at thinkingcountry.com and was a runner up in this year’s UK Blog awards. You can follow him on twitter or Instagram @benjy_eagle .