Nature Writer, Environmental Scientist and Storyteller
David Bristow is primarily a writer and environmental scientist that is passionate about the outdoors and travel. He had meant to start his life as an architect – but that was before things changed.
It was an auspicious day in South African history, the 16th of June 1976, when David got caught in a mob of angry young black people coursing through lower Johannesburg. The event made him realise that as much as he was eager to meet the world, he didn’t know anything about his own country and that needed remedying first.
‘I fell into the happiness vat when I was a child. I wake up every morning in an incredibly exuberant and positive mood and that is what drives everything that I do.’
Dropping the notion of architecture, David enrolled in Rhodes University to do a degree in Journalism. This was to be the start of his career as a writer. Talking of his years in Grahamstown David says, ‘I fell in with a bad crowd – rock climbers – and on a mountain in the Himalayas hatched a plan to write a book about the Mountains of Southern Africa’. This he did and the book was an incredible commercial success.
Years later and still driven by a need for more, David packed in his job for the umpteenth time and moved to Cape Town to study Environmental Sciences. Life as a Journalist and Environmentalist culminated in his progression to be a natural history writer, and that is what he has been doing on and off for about 30 years. This included a 15 year stint as the Editor of South Africa’s Getaway Magazine. During this time David travelled to all the corners of Africa as well as to Antarctica, Nepal, Alaska and the Seychelles.
David loves to travel, but when he became a family man and a grandfather, his priorities changed and he decided to put aside the extensive travel and start writing books. Not novels, but rather narratives about Southern Africa and South Africa. Today David is the author of more than 20 books with another on the cards for next year.
‘That is what I’m doing now, telling stories about South Africa, Southern Africa, some are geographical, some history, some cultural, some political – and I plan to be telling stories for the rest of my years on this planet.’
‘The Cape Peninsular itself is probably the most diverse natural environment on the planet if you combine the fynbos and incredible amount of flowering plants with the oceanic marine environment, coral reefs and marine habitats of the kelp forests. A place where cold and warm currents meet. It is an unbelievably diverse place, especially when we add the veneer of the human settlement at this port in the Cape of Good Hope.’
A natural extrovert and storyteller, David learnt to act from an early age, doing speech and drama. He is comfortable with people and thrives on sharing his vast knowledge and passion for Cape Town with others. This is why he became a writer with his writing driven by a love of literature. ‘I was a sickly child and fell in love with books and words. I have this accumulated knowledge and I can’t keep it inside, it just flows out of me. If not writing I’m talking, telling stories around a fireplace or at dinner time.’
‘When I decided to do my first book I had no idea where it would lead. I thought it would simply be a passion project.’ Growing up as a ‘city kid’ David had not initially been immersed into the world of nature. Learning about the mountains he enjoyed climbing meant learning about geology, geomorphology, fauna and flora. The ecological process and the web and flow of life. In this way he found his passion in life, and his place as an environmentalist and natural history writer.
‘It is a wonderful place to visit and live in and experience human and natural life.’
Still somewhat frustrated that his first 20 books were mostly factual, David started writing paperbacks, starting with a story about a horse – Running Wild: The Story of Zulu. ‘A horse that becomes a zebras, gets lost, caught in a storm, and ends up running with a herd of zebras.’ The more David learnt about this the more he got drawn into this tale of how a domesticated horse made its way to the African bush. This catapulted his next career move to a place where he can tell the stories he’s always wanted to tell.
What does Cape Town means to you? ‘I came to Cape Town to study as it was the only place where they were offering the course I wanted to do. I knew this was a great place to live but it took years for me to uncover all that it has to offer. I can go mountain biking ten minutes from home, surfing in Muizenberg, scuba diving in False Bay, walking, the movies, and to some of the best restaurants in the country – if not the world. Here you find a wonderful blend of culture, outdoor life and natural environment in which to immerse oneself, that is offered in very few places in the world. That is why I live here.’