John Chizoba Vincent become the names of three people who deliberately see through each other. Sometimes, they are at war with each other ,and at times, they are the ties that never got broken. They: Them: Us: We represent Boys and their Anatomies, Men and their vulnerabilities, and Humans and their imperfections. Between them are rosy track roads that are rough and tough. They live in a lonely room in Lagos, Nigeria. They have been published widely in online magazines and offline magazines. They are the founder of Philm Republic Pictures and Co-founder, Boys Are Not Stones Initiative; an organization that upholds the love for the BoyChild. Staff writer Isaiah Adepoju interviewed him about his work and his thoughts.
Isaiah Adepoju: Good day Sir.
John Vincent: Good day, Mr. Adepoju
Isaiah Adepoju: You are the convener of "Boys Are Not Stone", an extraordinary voice emerging from Africa's theater and Creative sector in its aspect of providing an avenue for boys who are victims of Hegemonic masculinity to speak out their scars and its enormity. We, the audience, have been expecting this anthology to be out soon which promises to be groundbreaking, so I wish to ask what inspired this giant leap?
John Vincent: We are humans. We are fallible. Be it male or female gender, we all have our shortcomings and weeknesses. Girls got raped and molested; and boys got molested and abused too, but the problem is that the society tends to pay more attention to female abuse and molestation than the male gender. When it comes to rape, molestation, abuse and others, we talk more of the female molestation, harassment and abuse forgetting that there are boys who are also abused by their parents, aunties, uncles, priests and others, sexually or emotionally.
I started boys are not stones In 2018. And what prompted me to start this course was what happened at a Police station. A friend of mine was arrested the night before while he went out to buy something from a shop near our house, and he was arrested by SARS. So, when we were informed of where he was, we went to bail him. On getting there, we were asked to sit in the reception. Then that morning, a young man of twenty or so ran into the police station to report a case of molestation and rape. He said some group of ladies molestated him the night before and one out of them who had been making some advances at him dragged him into a nearby bush and forcefully had unplanned sex with him.
The police men on duty then laughed at him and said he has no case against those ladies, that he actually enjoyed the sex with them. And this statement alone made the guy feel ashamed of coming to report. He left covering his face in shame. He looked stupid and rejected as he was leaving the station. I was angry because this was a boy that came to report to the law enforcement agency (police) all what he passed through but he was made mockery of.
So, after bailing my friend, Boys are not stones was birthed that afternoon while at home, angry, thinking of the manner by which the police men attended to that case. After some weeks of writing about boys and their plights in our society, especially those experiences nobody knows they pass through, and even others which the society failed to address through my social media, Jamiu Ahmad chatted me up and said we could actually turn those emotions into a book and that was how the first anthology was born. And from 2018 till now, we have had two publications which includes Boys are not stones and Country Of broken Boys.
IA: What should we expect in this anthology? Are the judges more focused on the originality or the writing prowess of the submitted works, or what are the criterion for the selection?
JV: The team is looking out for works that portray boys in general - their plights, pains, weaknesses, steadfastness and emotional will. We focus on the originality of the works, prowess and the ability of the writer to dig deep into what makes a boy, a boy. Besides, we are digging deeper into the anatomy of boys, men and others. And this is a guideline for anyone that wants to participate. Readers should expect a beautiful journey into the life of the BoyChild and the totality of boyhood.
IA: In retrospect and introspect, what changes has happened to the male gender? Do you also believe that the rise of feminism, African or Western, has lifted burden off their shoulders, as it claims it has, subtly or conspicuously?
JV: Nothing changes. A change to one man is not a change to all. The same as a change to one woman is not a change to all women. We still have men who beat their wives, we still have men who take their wives for granted. We still have some men who don't respect their wives and we still have some women who still see men as worthless being because of how they were groomed. We still have women who see men as beasts because their mothers constantly planted those seeds in their ears while they were growing up.
To me, nothing has really changed now from what was in the past in as much as the world is changing. We still have women who still see men as the breadwinners of the house and when these men are not able to meet up, they are seen as weak or defeated men. Feminism, African or Western culture has not in anyway lifted any burden off their shoulder rather in some areas it has compounded their plights the more. But like patient preachers, we will keep preaching hoping that some day both men and women will open their eyes to embrace themselves and say, 'no one is better, we are all humans'.
ID: Feminism. Femininity. Womanism. Masculinism. Misogynism. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). Do you hold grudges for any of these subtly related philosophies, and why?
JV: I don't. They are human beings as we are.
ID: Following the latest release of the world renown writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story, Zikora, do you perceive toxic femininity in the story? And doesn't it serve as an antagonistic force towards the realization of the masculine as not only the known 'predator' but also the prey. A victim. A victim of Hegemonic masculinity, of societal alienation and parental negligence as some sort of African-perceived 'higher' gender?
JV: (Smiles) I reserve my opinion on this.
ID: Viewing it from the critical lenses, both as a writer, a creative artist, and a cinematographer, who has seen first hand Nigerian theater and literature, have you noticed any movement of literature that effortlessly tries to approach masculinity from the perspective through which you have approached it through the forthcoming publication of "Boys Are Not Stones"?
JV: There is a saying that If you make a show of going against the time, flaunting your unconventional ideals and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attentions and you look down on them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerated friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness. The fact is, there is no Literary work or any literature that has fought or approached masculinity from the angles which we have taken that I know. In fact, when I started this, I was blocked many times on facebook and other social media apps because many people saw it as madness or rather something that shouldn't be there. Until Jamiu Ahmed joined, then Ebubechukwu Nwagbo, Jaachi Anyatonwu, Maxwell Opia-Enwemuche, and many others joined us to create a stronger voice. Right now, people still make reference to us when it comes to anything about the BoyChild.
IA: Do you see Nigeria literature, home and abroad, tackling and expatiating the ideology, in few years to come?
JV: Of course, yes. Many people are already working around this. Often times my attention has been called to many write up on facebook about the BoyChild. Some people even shared links of popular posts about the boychild published online journals. Recently, aside Boys Are Not Stones Initiative, there is also two organizations that are pushing behind us. One of them is Boys Matter Too and the other is The BoyChild movement. I think all we need is time. It will definitely get to the mainstream media and gets more acceptance in the Nigeria literature. Right now, there is a book I am reading which is about the BoyChild. I think the title is: For Coloured Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough edited by Keith Boykin. This book is mostly about the plights of the Boychild.
IA: Looking at the future in its grown physique and enormity and stealing a gaze at the lean past when we were necessary victims of this African style of parenting, do you see the gargantuan faultiness in this parenting style? And how do you propose we change and make it better?
JV: The fact is, you cannot teach a mother how to train her child. To some extent there is no school of thought that has the laydown rules, formats, principles or policies on how a child should be trained. Meanwhile, you cannot fault a parent in whatever ways she chooses to train her child, hence I always believe that no parent should be blamed on the upbringing of a child. Why do i have this Believe? This is why. There is a particular time/age that a parent cannot control her/his child any more. And I believe by this age, the child should have known what is good and bad and the way he should live his life. Remember these people are just our guidance, they are not us. They may have given birth to us but they don't have a say in our lives. We are life Longing for its own and we are responsible for our life and we must own it. So, no matter how bad or good a parent must have trained his or her child, the child has the right to re-train himself and go after what he wants in life. So, as a mother or a father, the only thing that is desirable of her/him is to show her child the right way to life and what life entails. Every one has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is the usual insecurities, an uncontrollable emotion or need; It can be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.
IA: Where do you see the movement you have so humbly started and the involvement of the Nigeria, Africa, and world literature about the men's victimization, in the next ten years?
JV: (Smiles) World wide. I see it already taken it own shape even when I am not there to attend to it. In the next ten years, I see a body that cater for the Boychild. An organization that fight for the uplifting of the Boychild and giving them hope to live for who they are and what they plan to be in the future. I see an Organization that defend the BoyChild in all his plights and giving them a shoulder to lean on.
IA: Do you see this ideology thriving here, in the African continent and by the extension of its richness to the world at large?
JV: Yes. It will definitely thrive here and beyond. Many boys are already picking interest, coming out to say what they passed through in the hands of their maidens, aunties, uncles, priests and big mommies as boys left in their mercy to take care of. There was a day a boy from London sent me a message on my messenger about the abuse he received while growing up in the house of his Aunt in East London. To be honest with you, this is happening everywhere, every day. This is happening and these people that it is happening to are either shy to talk about it or they don't have someone they can rely on or they don't have channels through which they can relate their experiences to. Girls got molested and abused; and boys got molested and abused too. Relatively, it happens everyday in our houses, streets and compound where we live in. Honestly speaking, it will thrive. Every new thing takes time to settle well with people. We strongly believe that it will be a success because we don't venture into something that is fruitless.
IA: And onto the last question: can you tip us about some of your plans in ensuring that 'badness' is in equal proportion levelled on both genders, without prejudice nor favoritism?
JV: We are working to create initiatives that would cater for humanity (Boys and girls, women and men alike.). A girl can walk in and be treated as a boy was treated and a man can walk in and be taught as a woman was taught. And when these initiatives take shape, we will have no option than to see that our services are for Humanity and not for genders, not for boys and girls but for Humanity, just humanity. There is a foundation we are hoping and planning to establish soonest. And one of the objectives of this foundation is services to humanity.
Like what I have always said, all I wanted is a balanced society where girls and boys can be treated equally and not based on who they are; a Boy or a girl but humans. We need a society where a boy can be seen as a human he is; and should be able to show his weaknesses and flaws without being mocked. He can also be allowed to weep when necessary and this would not in anyway make him a lesser boy. And a girl also could be seen as a girl and a human she is and can be able to cry and be taken care of. In as much as balanced is seen as an Illusion by many, it is still achievable.
Denika Mead lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is 16 and has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She published her debut novel Royal Orchid, The Death-Hunters, in October 2019 when she was 15. The prequel to Royal Orchid, Into the Flames and the next book in the series The Ghost Warriors, have both been released in 2020. Over the past few years, she has won and been a finalist in several youth writing competitions, including being a two-time finalist in the New Zealand Youth Laureate award 2018. Denika was a finalist in the Best New Talent category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2020. When she is not writing, imagining dragon adventures, or immersed in her latest reading escapade, you may find her occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments. She can be found at her website: http://www.denikameadauthor.com. Staff writer Thee Sim Ling interviewed Denika about her books and experience as a teen writer.
What first inspired you to create the fictional world of Ghost Orchid?
The story came to me when I was looking at my penguin bookmark. I began to imagine what kind of world could be inside and the people and creatures who would live in this land. The story evolved from there.
In the Royal Orchid series, there are many intriguing and unique characters. Do you have a personal favourite? If so, who and why?
It’s really hard to choose, but I always like villains in stories so one of my favourites would have to be the magician, Felix. I also like Leor. He’s very caring but has some buried secrets.
What is life like for an author during COVID-19? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Because of Covid-19, I have had a lot more time to write which I have enjoyed. However, many of the local markets that I regularly attend to sell my books have been cancelled which has changed the way I have been promoting the series. The Royal Orchid prequel, Into the Flames, was released in April 2020 which coincided with our national lockdown. This meant the book launch needed to be online. The options for buying my books online have also increased.
What is your writing process for your books like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I plot the majority of the novel and once I have an overall idea of the direction of the story, I start writing. If I get stuck, I go back to plotting and work through that particular point.
Being an author of three books and a 16-year-old secondary school student “occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments”, you must have an incredibly busy life. How do you find time on a typical day to write, and how do you strike a balance between school and writing?
I mostly write first thing in the morning when I wake up. This is when I am the most productive. There are logical times when it makes sense to take a break from writing and fit in some more school work. For example, when I send my manuscript to the editor or proof-reader, it makes sense to put it down for a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s very balanced; I try to make sure the writing outweighs the school work.
What authors or books have the greatest influence on your writing? What are you currently reading right now?
I love fantasy and dystopian novels. Like a lot of people, growing up, I loved Harry Potter. I also adored the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.
More recently, I’ve been immersed in several book series, including His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, The Inheritance Cycle, The Way of Kings and the Children of the Furnace series, by New Zealand author, Brin Murray.
What can readers expect from this book? No spoilers!
They are coming of age stories with strong female characters, dragons, an undead
army and a lurking magician. Readers can expect plenty of action and suspense. They are fast paced stories with a focus on finding where you belong.
If you were to describe your novel in three words, which words would you use?
Exciting, action, and adventure.
What are you working on next? Could you share any details with readers?
I just published the third book in the Royal Orchid series in November and am currently working on a new fantasy novel, The Good King and planning the final Royal Orchid novel. I plan to release The Good King first, which will likely be a standalone book, followed by the final Royal Orchid.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring young writers like you?
Some advice I would give is to read and share your work with friends and family. Asking for feedback from others is a really good way to improve your writing. Look out for writing competitions you can submit to. Different competitions can challenge your writing and it is also helpful having a deadline to work towards. But most importantly, don’t give up. Believe in yourself and the story you are writing.
Winter is usually a busy and hectic time of year. It is often the most frantic period for businesses, and schools and universities are often run off their feet with exams. I knew I wanted to write an article about this time of year but my plan for it changed so many times (sorry, editors!) and I think that reflects how unsettled this winter will be compared to previous ones.
Normally, I spend December rushing around a cafe serving coffee to disgruntled Christmas shoppers while trying to fit in seeing all my friends and family. Then, for the rest of winter, I am left catching up on everything I put off over the festive period. This year I am probably doing neither. At first, I was looking at this situation from a fatalistic point of view- that there was nothing I could do to change this and that I should direct my energy towards making the most of a relaxing, much more chilled out winter.
I am still clawing at keeping that mentality but in the U.K, the rules seem to be constantly changing. Christmas, for example, was pretty much cancelled leaving me a little setback. My plans had to change again- I was no longer able to see some of my family that I have spent every Christmas with up till now. I am not alone in this. It has been hard to see so many families who had to quickly rearrange their plans and work hard to stick to the rules. It left many people I know stranded in cities and unable to visit any family at all.
In the U.K., our Prime Minister ordered a hasty change to the restrictions over Christmas. He had initially released a set of rules to be put in place to slightly relax the constraints that allowed three households to mix over five days for various Christmas meetups. These rules were announced weeks ago, and people made plans accordingly. Since, he has backtracked and changed those rules almost completely. The new orders vary depending on the place in the U.K. where you live. Regardless, there are restrictions across the board. The execution of the latest announcement ran parallel to when Boris Johnson effectively cancelled the Eid celebrations back in May, mere hours before it was meant to begin.
Of course, the restrictions for a lockdown are understandable and everyone wants to see the end of the spread of Co-vid 19. However, to create such strict rules with little notice ignores the fact that people have already been preparing for Christmas, similar to the way people had prepared for Eid. There were stories from May of people who had already arrived at family houses for Eid before it had been cancelled. It is difficult to prepare for the rules when they seem to be able to change at any time. At this point, it just seems cruel to have dangled that five-day grace period, to then take it away just days before the event. I am confident that these rules will continue to adapt to the situation, as they should, but I find it difficult to prepare mentally for an unforeseeable future.
I have found that this year my winter will undoubtedly be different. There have been so many changes already. While there are aspects that I have missed, there have also been many parts that I have enjoyed that I wouldn’t have done without these restrictions. My Christmas was spent mainly on my laptop speaking to family members I never usually get to spend that day with. Normally, Christmas is an intimate affair with my immediate family and the days leading up to and following on from are spent visiting other members of the family. However, this year I spoke to nearly all of my family in one day. I still got to share it, to a degree, with people very close to me. It was a unique experience that I will cherish.
I’ve often found kindness and patience to be the answer to most problems. (Although, my inner feminist wonders if that is just how I have been conditioned to think, as a woman.) I think they are two things that everyone could benefit from especially at this time. It is impossible to know what is ever going through someone’s head, but it is undeniable that no-one is in the situation they thought they would be this time last year. So, kindness and patience are something I’m taking forward these next months.
The future is very much uncertain. While the new restrictions have been a blow to me, I am trying to see that I have to make the most of what I do have (even if it is different). Change encourages us to live in the moment. Or it reminds us that even if things aren’t quite as we want them to be, it won’t stay this way forever. I guess what I’m trying to say is, no matter what situation you’re in at the moment, it won’t be this way forever. We either make the most of the joy or we sit tight and wait for things to move on.
Everyone has collectively experienced some degree of restrictions from the pandemic and it has drawn a connection between everyone. From me writing, to you reading, we have made it through 2020. Who knows what 2021 will bring, but we will make it.