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Interview with Chinwe D. John, author of Tales of Fantasy and Reality

Cover for Tales of Fantasy and Reality

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Tell us about Tales of Fantasy and Reality.
“Tales of Fantasy and Reality” is a collection of twenty six narrative poems which bridge the gap between the short story and poetry genres. The poems fall into three categories:
Fantasy; where the “twist in the tale” type stories are told in the style of African and European folk and fairy tales.

Reality; this chapter comprises mainly of social commentary and global social justice issues. Some of the social justice issues discussed include the use of body parts by “witch doctors”, who victimize vulnerable members of African society such as those with pigment deficiencies [albinism], and children. The dangers of unsupervised internet use in children, the devastating effects of slavery, and other social justice issues, are presented in a way that allows the emotional impact of the situation to sink in, perhaps even deeper than a news flash or quick stream at the bottom of a TV screen could.

Fantasy/Reality; here the poems weave seamlessly between the two worlds, because as we know, reality can be stranger than fiction.

While the poems will have a deeper meaning to older readers, young readers above the age of ten will still be able to thoroughly enjoy the book!

What genre is it?
It is a narrative Poetry book; in many ways, it bridges the gap between the short story and poetry genre.

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
All readers who enjoy a clever little story with a twist! All lovers of poetry, fantasy stories, fairy and folk tales, classic literature, and global social justice issues.

Complete this sentence for us: if you like _________________, you’ll love Tales of Fantasy and Reality.
I would say “Roald Dahl, Grimm’s fairytales and Charles Dickens.” I by no means compare my work to theirs, but I was strongly influenced by these wonderful authors and works as a child.

You say your poetry bridges the gap between poetry and the short story; can you give us a poem that illustrates what you mean?
Yes, here is a perfect example with the poem “Crimson Rose”.

CRIMSON ROSE
Once far away there lived a lady with gentle ways
who tended to her garden night and day.
Singing as she toiled her loving hands could fast restore
barren earth left to thistle and to thorn.
Orphaned premature, a good fortune did ensure
that her every basic need was catered for.
She made friends amongst the flora and the fauna.
Thus begins the tale of Crimson Rose.

This delicate flower shared board with an aunt and her daughter
whose envy burned like molten coal and flame.
Rose was engaged to a prince of whom she’d never caught a glimpse
as was the custom of the day.
This circumstance gave way for the villainous kin to plot
a murderous scheme to kill the beloved where she lay.
In disguise, the evil cousin would await
the one intended as another’s holy mate.

With the heinous act complete, the body was placed to sleep beneath
the very earth that had bloomed under its hand.
Soaked wet with blood were the roots of every plant,
silent mourners all around a fragrant grave.
Her very essence they absorbed till the roses wore a glow
both dazzling and magnificent to behold.
How the robin sang a melancholy note
and the petals fell like tears from flowery buds.

Celebrations in the air, for the Prince at last was here
and the imposter had donned her borrowed garb.
The Prince was taken by her beauty; no longer
bound by state and duty he fell victim to her cunning and her charm.
Through the garden they did float when his eyes fixed on a rose
whose brilliance defied earthly description
He picked the stem and sealed it with a kiss
then placed his offering on the breast of sweet deceit.

What followed was a howl heard, they say, by half the town
who gathered round to see what had transpired.
On the ground writhing madly was a lady ripping wildly
at a cage of thorns that pierced into her heart.
With her every dying breath, she confessed the sad events
that had led to the loss of one so young.
Will this confession save her soul? Heaven knows,
For thus concludes the tale of Crimson Rose.

How would you like the reader to feel as they read the last word of this book?
I would like the reader to feel thoroughly entertained, moved, curious to learn more about certain topics and as though they have travelled on a literary journey through various cultures and times.

Have you got any other books we should read?
I have no previous novels, this is my first.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have loved stories and the art of storytelling for as long as I have memory of myself. I can recall making chapbooks when I was in primary school, as well as casting my dolls in various productions where I was script writer and director! Travel has played a great role in the shaping of my imagination and art, by the time I was a teenager, I had lived on four continents. My love of social anthropology, music, myth, folk and fairytales have all influenced my writing.

After a long creative hiatus, I became inspired in 2009 after
listening to Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album , to begin writing once again and apart from feeling more fulfilled as a person, I ended up with lyrics, stories and poems. Some of those works are featured in “Tales of Fantasy
and Reality”.

The world of Art has given me so much, it not only helped to inspire my own artistic creations, but helped me through my academic training in the Sciences which I am also passionate about. I hope that through my literary creations, I am able to give something back.

You mentioned in our pre-interview chat that you have a Nigerian heritage. Africa has a rich history of oral tradition and lyrical poetry; do you think this feeds into your work? Or are we reading a bit too much into your background?
I hesitate to associate my style of writing with only one culture because I have had a multi-cultural education and life. However, I do believe that I have been influenced by Africa’s oral poetry tradition. For me this is most evident when I am giving poetry recitals; I do not rely on visual cues, but commit my work to memory. In addition, I have been told by audiences, that there is a musical quality to the way I narrate.

How can we follow you online so we can come to your next recital?
Currently my artist facebook page serves as my website.

What’s next?
I am working on a fantasy novel trilogy based on a story idea that first came to me over
two decades ago. The characters cannot wait to jump out of my head and onto the page!

Finally, can we have another poem, please? Just because.
Absolutely! Here is “Rules of the land.”

RULES OF THE LAND

You are told, from the moment you can walk,
not to pick up the kobo coins from the road;
dare to, and you’ll be transformed into a mound
of tinkling coins for the juju man’s trove.

If in the quiet of your room you hear the sound
of your name, do not answer unless you see who calls
or else you may answer a spirit and depart this world,
forever locked within their prison of unyielding walls.

If in your dream you are presented with food, do not eat it,
no matter how tempting and savory it may seem,
for your enemy may, through magic, have poisoned
the feast in the hope of keeping you in endless sleep.

Do not look in the mirror after midnight, lest you see
the face of another reflected in the looking glass.
These are the rules of the land, and as a child,
I adhered to them strictly and never thought to ask.

Now I am older, and miles away from the place where
these rules apply, and yet, I will never pick a penny
off the street for luck. If I do not see who calls, I
will not answer. Food in dreams is still from the enemy.

As for the mirror, on returning from a night out, that made-up
face I see reflected back is not mine. It is the face of a stranger
in a faraway land following new rules she cannot understand.
I stare silently at it and leave, but the memory of old rules lingers.

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2 Comments

  1. Baba 5

    I bought Tales of Fantasy and Reality last year and consider it to be fantastic. I hope Chinwe gets those creative juices flowing and soon comes up with a worthy sequel.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview, as it gives a great and interesting insight into the author. Having read her first book which I was sad to put down when it finished; I look forward to reading her other works.

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