Author Interview: Michael Forester
After reviewing his non-fiction book, One Journey, I got to talk to and interview Michael Forester about his travelogue, his writing, and so much more. He is truly such a profound individual. During this interview, he goes in depth about traveling and writing, but I also got to learn more about his handsome hearing dog, Matt. Unfortunately, Matt is no longer with us, so I would like to dedicate this interview in his memory. My small way of thanking Mr. Forester for this interview. Enjoy!
Learning More About One Journey
Lisa Hodorovych: What made you want to write/publish your journals of your travels to the Amazon, South Africa, Thailand, and the Philippines?
Michael Forester: Some travel in search of what cannot be found at home – beaches to lie on, historical buildings, authentic food experiences, or simple curiosity. I don’t decry any of that. All of it, at one time or another, has formed part of my motivation to travel.
But the more I have ventured out, the more I find out about myself. I have realized that who I am is, in part, to be discovered in how I react to what lies outside of myself. How do I respond to the folly of rainforest destruction? How am I touched by the power of forgiveness expressed by an abused people in South Africa? Or by the search for enlightenment pursued by pilgrims in a stupa in Katmandu? And how do I respond to the aspirations of a Filipinos for growth when I see them inundated by opportunity-seekers from my own culture that are driving them into the same mistakes that we in the west have made time after time?
Thus, reaching out to touch what is perceptibly different, what is unfamiliar, both challenges me to become more, to grow, and brings me back to the realization that we are all the same. And so now I travel, more than any other reason, to learn, to love and to grow.
Lisa: There was a good ten years in between your travels from South Africa to Thailand. Did you do any traveling in between that time? If so, how come you didn’t write about them?
Michael F.: Actually, yes! Between 2005 when I was in South Africa and 2016 when I visited Nepal and Thailand, though I had more to keep me at home, I also travelled. My ventures included the USA, Egypt, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Antigua as well as other places. In fact, I am answering these questions from Tenerife in the Canary Islands right now.
Always there was learning, always experiences to stimulate writing. Much found its way into my fiction. For instance, the longest story in my short story collection, The Goblin Child and Other Stories (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/the-goblin-child) is called Circling The Moon. I wrote it when I was in Antigua, about an interracial romance in a racist age. It explores the fear that drives our inclination to conform to the expectations of others and the consequences of not being true to our hearts.
Leaving His Day Job
Lisa: You talked about leaving your “day job” (you were an accountant if I remember correctly) to pursue your writing career full-time in One Journey. What made you want to do that?
Michael F.: By original qualification I am indeed an accountant, though I have not practiced professionally for many years. Most of my career was spent in business. During the first half, I was a management consultant. But that became impossible when I lost my hearing. And yes, if you’re not aware already, I’m profoundly deaf. Many of the changes that deafness brought are explored in If It Wasn’t For That Dog (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/if-it-wasnt-for-that-dog), the story of my first year with Matt, my hearing dog. In the second half of my career I built and ran nursing homes for the elderly for nineteen years.
But there came a time when I felt I wasn’t moving forward in my journey. I was just making more trips around the same mulberry bush. (Do you have that phrase in the US?) Behind my decision to focus full time on writing was a wish to continue to learn, to love and to grow.
His Spiritual Awakening
Lisa: You mentioned throughout One Journey your “awakening” and how you’re “honoring in people that which is eternal”, finding peace through meditation and sound vibration, and so much more. Who or what opened you up to this great peace?
Michael F.: It is perhaps easier to answer the question "what opened me?" than "who opened me?"
In the millennium year when I was 44, I experienced a nervous breakdown that morphed into a breakthrough, or spiritual awakening. There were many experiences of enlightenment and revelation around that time, much of which is explored in my inspirational book, Forest Rain (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/forest-rain).
The impact of the awakening was profound, life changing. That impact still resonates through me now. As to the question "Who changed me?" well, answering that is the purpose of the One Journey that is our lifetime.
Being a Poet
Lisa: In your book, One Journey, you talk about being a poet and you can honestly tell you’re a great poet as your journals are poetically written. When did you realize you were a poet? When did you find “the Poet” within you?
Michael F.: The phrase "Unshackling the Poet Within" was something I first applied in 2017 on my first Philippines book tour. I spoke to many audiences on that tour and found that consistently my most popular talk was "A Journey to the Land of Risk". Awakening and unshackling the poet that lies inside us entails taking a journey from the Land of Comfort Zone to the Land of Risk. Of course, you need to understand the metaphor for what it is – the "poet within" is the creative heart within each of us than can indeed express as poetry. But it might just as easily find its way out in art or sculpture, bridge-building or homemaking – whatever we do with joy, whatever we do with the full commitment of who and what we are.
The poet, TS Eliot said, "Only those who are willing to risk going too far ever discover how far it is possible for one to go."
We rediscover that poet within when we are prepared to venture beyond the Land of Comfort Zone and enter the unknown territory of the Land of Risk. Doing so never means being reckless, but always means putting myself out, going further than it is comfortable to go. And in so doing, unsurprisingly, we find that we learn, love and grow.
Learning More About Michael Forester
His Writing Process
Lisa: Do you have a writing process? I know in One Journey you stated throughout how you were writing your entries, but do you normally write out your stories or do you go straight for your laptop?
Michael F.: My handwriting is illegible to anyone else and nearly so for me! I always undertake the actual writing direct to keyboard and, these days, sometimes even by dictation – though in my opinion the software is not yet quite good enough to make this viable for large scale work.
However, when I’m working on a piece of fiction, be it flash fiction, short story or full-length book, it’s on my mind pretty much the whole time unless I have to concentrate on something else specifically. So, when I’m driving, or walking any distance I will always be mind processing, if I can be permitted to coin such a word – working through concepts, plot evolution, character motivation. Such thoughts will evaporate quickly, so I make it a habit to carry a small notebook and a pen. Whatever comes to me gets written down to be considered further later. Initially nothing is discarded. Crucially, I make a deliberate intention to open up to my unconscious and not to dismiss anything that comes. It’s one-person brainstorming in which nothing gets rejected.
Non-fiction is a different matter. If It Wasn’t For That Dog (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/if-it-wasnt-for-that-dog) is autobiographical, written during the period it’s about – Matt’s first year with me. So, for that one, I devoted every Friday morning for a year or so to recording the events of the preceding week, with the result that at the end of that year I had the first draft of the manuscript that still remains my most popular book.
Forest Rain (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/forest-rain) was similar, but more intense. When the muse began speaking, it was vital that I listened and wrote quickly. So, if I was driving, I would pull over and start scribbling. If I was with other people, if possible, I would make my excuses and withdraw. The whole work of twenty-plus exploratory essays and verse relied on my willingness to prioritize the learning that was coming through at the time. If I did not value it enough to write it down, it disappeared. That’s what I mean by journeying beyond the Land of Comfort Zone – putting myself out to bring through what was important. I’m glad I did – so many people that have read the book and responded to me about it have described it as life-changing.
Writing Poems or Writing Stories, What is His Preference
Lisa: I know you have written novels as well like Vicious and A Home for Other Gods. Which do you prefer more, writing poems or writing stories?
Michael F.: Vicious (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/vicious) and A Home For Other Gods (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/a-home-for-other-gods) are the two novels I have released so far, though I have written several more.
I have been described in the past as a poet trying to be a novelist. I am honored by the fact that people find my poetry incisive and illuminating. However, the pendulum swings and I oscillate between poetry and prose. It has been 18 months since I last wrote any poetry. It comes in waves – sometimes I am focused on poetry for an extended period, then I will swing back to prose. I’m happy that it is so. When asked about the diversity of my work, I describe myself as an eclectic author. I intend and believe that all my writing is "heart writing" – the words that come from within, not something I am forcing because I am trying to be what I am not. If we are wise, we write what is inside us that wants to be written.
Lisa: Who inspired you, was your “mentor”, when it comes to writing? What about in life?
Michael F.: I can’t answer the question "Who do you write like?" because I always come back to the same answer – I write like Michael Forester, though people have been generous to make some remarkable comparisons over the years. Nevertheless, I am grateful to many authors who have made me think deeply about their work and therefore, in turn, about my own – Robert Persig for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Isabel Allende for Paula; Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children; Yan Martel for several books – particularly The Truth Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and The High Mountains of Portugal, though I also value highly his Life of Pi; John Steinbeck for East of Eden; Donal Ryan for A Slanting of the Sun; Charles Bukowski Burning in Water, Drowning in Fire.
The list could go on and on. I deliberately add to it each year by finding and feeding off the best authors I can – never to imitate, always to allow the power of the voice and understanding of the craft to infuse my heart and my work.
As for life mentors, the principle is the same. I seek not to imitate but to draw on the same spirit that pervaded the life and philosophy of my teachers that it might be permitted to find it way out in my own uniqueness. To mind come the following: Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, the Buddha. It is important, though, to acknowledge that what is available to us, and what I seek to carry with me, is not the person but my internalized representation of the person. Thus, what is infused becomes my unique teacher.
Advice From Michael Forester
Pen Name Or Actual Name
Lisa: Some people write under their actual name, while some write under a pen name. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to decide if they should write under their name or not?
Michael F.: In my opinion, what matters most is to make that decision early and to stick to it. Once you begin to establish a name, a reputation, all the benefit of doing so is lost if you decide to change it. Naturally there are exceptions. I know, and know of, people who decide to adopt a new pen name for a new direction in their writing. Indeed, that was so in my case, if you go back far enough. In the last century I wrote successful business books. But in the millennium year I wanted to distance myself from them in my creative writing, so adopted a pen name in honor of my beloved New Forest where I live, which has been the source of inspiration for so much of what I write. But the maxim remains. I am now, and intend to remain, Michael Forester.
Some Advice for an Aspiring Writer
Lisa: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer, like me?
Michael F.: Find your voice and call out with it long and loud.
Ignore the nay-sayers. Their journey is not your journey.
Draw close to the spirit within you. Drink deep of what you find. Say it as it is. If you say it like they want to hear it, the spirit falls silent until you once again become faithful to her voice.
Travel far away from the Land of Comfort Zone often and for long periods. Visit the Land of Risk. Do not fear the wild beasts that inhabit the mountains of that land – the mountain lions of anger, the tigers of passion. Make friends with identical twins you will find there, Laughter and Tears. All these hold the keys to the cage wherein the poet lies shackled, waiting for you to release her. And when you release her, throw back the door of the cage, stand well back and watch. For when she is released, she will roar forth the crie d’armes she has fashioned out of putrid honesty.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Lisa: I see that you have been traditionally published, but in this world of traditional publishing vs self-publishing, what advice would you give to someone who is undecided on which path to take?
Michael F.: I have walked both paths and anticipate continuing to do so. Self-publishing is easy with Amazon, but does not guarantee you an audience. Traditional publishing is harder to achieve but, for some, creates greater market awareness of their work. Self-publishing gives you more control over your work, but that can be detrimental if you make a mistake. Some people I listen to speak loudly in favor of self-publishing. Others I respect enormously continue to seek and find agents for traditional publishing. The answer, I think, depends on your own unique circumstances.
Lisa: What’s next for Michael Forester? What books will we be seeing from you in the future? Another novel or another book of poems? Or both?
Michael F.: At present I’m well advanced on the first draft of a novel, To Wake a Sleeping King. Like much of what I have written before it is metaphorical fiction – prima facie it is fantasy, but below the presenting story lies a much deeper content: a novel of discovery of self, of other and of the unclaimed territory that lies between the two.
Beyond that I am sketching ideas for another book, a dystopian novel called Futures – Are You Buying or Selling? which will be far too close to the reality we face for the comfort of most.
Poems will continue to come when they want to – whenever the passion breaks out. I will neither fight it nor force it.
Matt, Mr. Forester's Handsome Hearing Puppy
Lisa: How’s your puppy, Matt? Every time I look at the cover of If It Wasn’t for That Dog my heart melts and I just want to give him a big hug and lots of kisses. Did I see correctly earlier in the year on your Twitter that he just turned 16 years old?
Mr. Forester: I knew this one was coming. Sadly, he passed over this summer (2019) at the venerable age of sixteen. For the fifteen years he was with me, he brought pure joy and left the stardust of happiness on the lives of all whom he touched. I am now waiting for a successor hearing dog, with the expectation it will take 18 months to two years for me to be matched with an appropriate one. No dog will ever replace Matt – that would be impossible. My next dog, if I am fortunate enough to be matched with another, will bring his or her own unique joy with them.
Lisa: May I have an interesting fact about you that no one knows? (For example: You’re a comic book enthusiast, you have a plethora of tattoos you are hiding…something that would make people say, “What?!” Haha!)
Michael F.: I carry no body art and follow no superheroes. I may actually be the most boring person on the planet! Your question reminds me of a short poem I wrote some years back that appears in If It Wasn’t for That Dog (http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/if-it-wasnt-for-that-dog) as follows:
When Matt and I were walking in the Forest
we came upon a bridge that crossed a stream,
and on the bridge’s pillar was inscribed:
“Jamie Cowie done 19/7/04.”
When I am done and all my time is passed,
I want to leave no mark on bridges
nor any epitaphs on cenotaphs.
If I have done the work I came to do,
then I will leave no footsteps on the Forest floor
and whispering winds will not exhale my name.
But Jamie marked my thoughts today.
And leaving marks on souls of other men?
Well, that is quite a different matter.
If you love my work, my joy and fulfillment will be beyond my power to express.
Thank you again, Mr. Forester for taking the time to talk with me and answer my questions! It was an absolute honor and it is truly appreciated!
If you would like to learn more about Michael Forester, his books, and where you can purchase them, please check out his website, http://michaelforester.co.uk/.
Remember, I did not get paid to write the review on One Journey, nor am I getting paid to interview Mr. Forester. I am just a fellow writer and fan showcasing the work of a great author. If you have any questions or would like to be featured on my blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The photos featured in this post were given to me by Michael Forester for that very purpose.
**This post was originally published on October 30, 2019**