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Thursday, November 24, 2011



You know by now that we sometimes get lucky and have a guest paying us a  visit. Our guest today is none other than Ian Hall 
When I fist got in touch with Ian, I naively said I would like to read his book first before sending my questions after all the rationale of Center Stage is to read the book, review it and then ‘chat’ with author on Center Stage. Ian must have laughed when he said his book was 200,00 words strong 605 pages. I gulped. He offered that I could read in bits, I stared at the computer screen wondering if I just read those words 605 pages. I gave a timid reply asking if there was a review I could read meanwhile I took a look at what he had sent. Heck, it is history book of guns, war, sickness and Jamie. 6 pages into the book I was laughing while I wanted to give Jamie a spanking too. Well,  Ian is here and I would like to share him with you. Ian Hall author of the very readable and enjoyable book “OPPORTUNITIES”

First of all I would like to congratulate you. That was one hell of a story Ian. I am at best an old lady of 61 living in the middle of nowhere in Nigeria and you took me back into the middle ages and one hell of a journey that I was shocked to find I did not want it to end.
This is incredible as my jaw had dropped when you landed 605 pages on me! I would like to assure you I am reviewing my naïve promise that I give to authors that I need to read the book first. Seriously though, I feel exhilarated almost confused myself into thinking I am a sailor now.
1.Now Captain, if we may start this sail appropriately, please tell us about yourself
I’m 51, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and immigrated ten years ago to Kansas in the USA. I started writing 15 years ago, but only seriously for twelve or so. Midlife crisis, etc. Opportunities isn’t my first novel, but it’s the first one to be actually finished.
2, Opportunities like an onion story has a lot of layers and it is a straight adventure story, why did you write it?
I’m a bit of a historian, you’d never guess, and when I found the Scottish Darien story, it was a bit of a surprise to me. I’d never heard hide nor hair of it before. It kinda became a big-interest deal for me; I wrote a song about it, and it must have festered in my head for a few years. Then I wrote the (then) short story of Jamie stowing away. (I must say here, that if it hadn’t been for my wife Karla, Jamie would never have been born) When I opened the second chapter, I still didn’t know where Jamie was, and the story then wrote itself. I was only along for the ride. After Jamie was under my skin, the rest was almost a compulsion. Jamie really has become a member of the family.
3, Jamie grew right in our eyes from a cold faced street savvy urchin to prosperous shrewd merchant ship owner making the title of the book “OPPORTNUNITIES” most apt. Man is always given opportunities and what he makes of it becomes his responsibility right?
Whether it be begging (or in Jamie’s case) stealing a penny, or using your business acumen to prosper, there are ‘opportunities’ everywhere. I believe that God has a purpose for everyone, and it’s up to us to open our eyes to find it. The short story was called “Opportunities”, and the theme never changed; right to the very end. It also carries Jamie into his later adventures. 
4. In today’s world, do you see your book picking up interest and steam?
Good question. If you look at today’s genres, historical fiction is selling very well. Also, Hollywood is dying before our eyes looking for new, fresh material. My plan is to get Jamie (Opportunities) to the Edinburgh International Book Festival next August, and present it there.
5. What made you want this kind of writing?
I’m not constrained by genre. I’ve also written Sci Fi, Horror, and American. I’ve had high plaudits and won awards in other genres.
6. Have you ever wanted to be a sailor, a pirate or an empire builder?
Oh, heck, NO. While I’m at my pc, I’m relatively safe. I know the facts about life back then, two million sailors dying from scurvy etc. Plus, I’m crazy scared of heights. I get on rung two of a ladder, and I’m getting nervous. I don’t even buy thick socks!
7. The world is full of people like Byres, Pennecuick and Kidd, what exactly were you trying to tell us about such leaders?
Basically, I told the story as the historical facts presented themselves. These men were asses, almost the lot of them. Good ideas have to be driven by good men to succeed. If the leader is not perfect, he can surround himself by good men, and he can still achieve great things, but if there’s not a rock foundation to build upon, there’s nothing at the core, so the idea withers away.
8. It is said that if we look hard enough, there is always a moral in every tale, what is it for “OPPORTUNITIES”?
I guess the whole idea behind the book is what’s called in American Football, the “Hail Mary Pass”. It’s the last chance for victory, when not getting the pass to the appointed player, absolute disaster occurs. In the late 1600’s, Scotland had many years of bad harvest. England was at war with every nation we traded with, so all the ports were blockaded. It was Scotland’s last chance for survival. We missed the pass. And as a result, England annexed Scotland, and we were powerless to stop it. Now, the very act of union in 1707 actually set Scotland free, into a bit of a renaissance, but it spelled the end of us as a single nation. My wife, Karla, said that I embodied all my love for my country into that little boy. I just hope he can cope!
9. What comes after this? Are you on a new story?
Oh my. You had to ask that one. Here we go; Jamie 2 is 70,000 words done. “Opportunities; Jamie Leith the Jacobite.” Six years past the end of Opportunities, Jamie gets ‘restless’. A mysterious Scot offers Jamie a chance of a big ship in exchange for helping put King James VIII back on the throne. So book 2 goes from Providence RI, to France, Scotland, Ireland. There’s also a heartwarming chapter when he meets his mum again.
I also discovered Kindle and Nook, so am in the middle of putting all my shorts, and a couple of novels onto Kindle. I’ve also just finished a Sci Fi novel collaboration novel, with book 2 also being written. And I’m also in the middle of another five, maybe six projects.
10. I loved specially Jamie Leith making good but there is the sneaking feeling that he survived not because he had heroes worth emulation, Drummond was a weak wicket and Fonab made me yawn, what effect do you think the story of Jamie will have on modern street children?
I’m not advocating thievery as a way of getting to the top, but there is the undercurrent of never giving up, never letting go of your dreams, no matter what hits you.
11. 605 pages was a lot of pages for a novel, read more like an epic, is that going to be a standard with you?
No. At 200,000 words, Jamie will probably be the longest book I’ll ever write. I thought about breaking it in two, but there was never a good chopping point. The Sci Fi collaboration is 37,000 words, and Jamie 2 will probably be about 150,000.
12. Share a day with us on your writing schedule.
Ok. I get up when I wake up (7am-9am, it just depends on what I did last night, or how the night went). No breakfast. I go next door to my ‘man-cave’ (yes, I have one) and put on Mike Oldfield. I write till 10am, maybe more, but I try to keep 10 as my cut-off. I try and get at least 1000 words done a day, but have done 4500 at times. I then have to ‘work’; two doors away to the ‘jewelry room’ and make jewelry, circlets, tiaras for a few hours. (lunch sometimes) Post office, then dinner, then back to the man-cave for more writing or watching sci-fi, tv, or soccer.
13. Please give us links to sites where your book might be purchased.
www.amazon.com (search for Ian Hall in books, or in Kindle)
www.barnesandnoble.com (same search)
14. Do you have a fan page? Please supply links.
http://www.jamieleith.com/ (Jamie Leith Chronicles website)
15. Who would you recommend this book to?
Anyone who likes History, Scottish History, Real life Adventure, or a rollicking good yarn.
Thank you Ian for coming on Center stage.
Thank you Abiola

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The question was simple

Give a saying
Of the ancestors

The hare being small
spoke first
with a glance
at the lion
he affirmed that
no matter how tiny
the needle;
the chicken cannot swallow it
the lion sniffed and tossed
his mane in affirmation.

The ant looked at the elephant and said,
‘If we enter through your southern gate
we can stop you
and make you stampede in pain’

Then the tortoise was asked
to give a saying from the
he scratched his pate
and looked down in shame
the vulture cackled
‘Stupid as usual’

the tortoise walked
the earth from
east to west
picking all the
wisdom he could find,
into a calabash gourd
to shame all and one.

He searched for the tallest tree
determined to hang
all  wisdom
 out of reach
he held the gourd
firmly to his chest,
as he tried
to climb the tallest tree.

The squirrel passing by
stopped and wondered
"but why don’t you sling
the gourd  on your back
to make it easy to climb?

As tortoise stared in shock
the squirrel rushed up the
tree as he muttered and
shook his tail
‘stupid as usual’

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Oronshen: Goddess, Myth or Fact

Every Yoruba Kingdom has always been able to identify and trace its roots to the cradle that is to say you will find every Yoruba city, village, or even hamlet tell you tales about how they came from the ancient kingdom of Ile Ife.
Ile-Ife also has its own story, it is the story of creation, how Man came to be and the concept of the eternal struggle between good and evil. Sometimes in the struggle, gods and goddesses are apportioned powers, responsibilities and I always found it very refreshing that very much like the Greek Pantheon, the Yoruba race has very human gods and goddesses whom they see as errand mortals achieving immortality after fulfilling their specific tasks on earth. Thus the concept of Destiny, Fate, and Karmaic returns originates from the Godhead and is given recognition in the lives of the average Yoruba man or woman.
Civilization has arrived and we have accepted its sometimes doubtful benefits but the average Yoruba man is deeply rooted in his native religion no matter how much allegiance he is expected to give to the new fancied imported religion. You will find thus in every city a patron god or goddess that the city has deified for one thing or the other.
In Owo a town in the Ondo State, a goddess, has been deified and is worshipped  and commemorated very faithfully every September. I call her very simply our own Venus, the goddess of Love but she is better recognized as ORONSHEN. That was not really her name, but it is the name  that every citizen and visitor remembers her by. Now simply translated ORONSHEN means “No TROUBLE HAS OCCURRED” it is in direct contradiction to what happened and what led to her worship.
As the myth or story goes, Oronshen was a half mythical woman that the king of Owo kingdom happened upon at night in the forest as he and his warriors took a  much needed rest from the infernal inter -tribal wars that was the bane of the Yoruba kingdoms.  As the story goes, the king  watched a beautiful creature take on the shape of an exquisitely beautiful woman and was intrigued. He traced her to a vassal town as a stranger living with a hunter. She attened a festival of the king and the king fell in love with her. Before she agreed to become his wife she explained that certain taboos must be maintained. These taboos were simple enough but she insisted it must be kept. The besotted king agreed and a marriage took place.
Oronshen ‘s arrival at the palace upstaged all the other queens breeding jealousy, hate and anger. She was also reputed to have made the king very wealthy by some magical art of excreting priceless corals. Naturally the king had no more time for the other queens in the palace. A plan was thus concoted by the enraged and neglected wives. They plied the king with palm wine until half- drunk he disclosed the true nature of his strange queen. War broke out and the king went to defend his territories, In his absence, the queens took their revenge and openly broke the taboos of Oronshen, who left the palace in distress.
When the King returned, he sent warriors on a desperate search for her, they met her at the mouth of a grove and she refused to return rejecting all pleas. She however relented enough to offer to be a protector of the kingdom requesting that the king with his subjects must return to the grove every year to supplicate her in they ever were in distress or needing help of any human nature. The spot where she indicated was thus identified as Ugbo Laja (the reconciliatory grove).
Fact or Fiction: Archeological digs at the Ugbo Laja have confirmed that the grove had been a repository of clay pots, offertory carvings and such stuff dating back to the assumed time when the festival of Oronshen was suspected to have started. These relics have been carbon dated and give credence to the story.
To this day, as the month of September draws near, there are precise announcements to the people of the town. Beating of drums and such merriment is forbidden. The warriors do a special ceremony with long sticks in a fairly secretive ceremony exclusive to the lineage of the warriors who first went to search for the queen. A particular quarter of the town carried this singular responsibility. There after the king proceeds to the grove for the prayers and supplication. He is decked out in a beaded blouse, a white wrapper. The king has golden swords and heavy coral beads (symbols of the wealth of Oronshen) on his wrists. Infact the coral beads about his person are so heavy and plentiful that two chiefs hold his arms as he makes his way from the palace to the grove. The solemnity and pageantry of the event has made the event a tourist attraction to Owo. The trip to the grove serves as the climax to the festival. However an exclusive festival of the queens who had naturally become devotees of ORONSHEN also takes place within the palace premises.
Modernism, Religion and Commerce: Oronshen has evolved over 600 years into a planned and well orchestrated festival that spans a 24 day period. Its tourists potentials are being harnessed to create and enhance the economic potentials of the town to its sons and daughters within and outside the country. Purists of Oronshen worry that Modernism may soon erode the real social and moral benefits that Oronshen had for the people and a tribal tradition and legacy may soon be lost. Society thrives on change and has a tendency to be deaf to the lessons of its past. One of the effects of colonization and modern religion on our culture, ethos and customs is to create a sense of shame in all things native as it had been translated as barbaric. There is the other view that change is a necessary force, darkness is the absence of knowledge, so the town needs to exploit modernism to bring the savage things we did in the past into the light of reasonable civilization. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

In the African concept, a sexual health discussion is held with quite a lot of innuendoes and unfinished sentences. Most parents are very embarrassed to discuss their sexual health problems or queries with the older folks. They prefer to rely on the suspect information of their friends or surf the Net for answers!
Policy makers and implementators are yet to give honest, open lectures on sexual health a recognized place in the school curriculum. It is thus not very surprising that the fight against the spread of STD's and HIV particularly is moving rather slowly.
The young person grows within a society and is bewildered by the inconsistencies he finds within. The boy is expected to be virile and active while the girl is assumed to be virginal and chaste. These realities are barely acknowledged but do affect the attitude of youth to each other resulting sometimes in risky sexual attitude.
I say the economies of living because even rich people hardly ever know how to handle the exigencies of negotiating a responsible life style let alone teach the youth how to live responsibly. Poverty of both funds and right knowledge is one of the important factors that the youth must understand if he is to effect a change.
What role can the youth play in behavioral communication change.
He must be able to have right access to correct information and be empowered to assess information he receives and process it accordingly.
Ability to access information depends on the facilities available to him. We already have mentioned quite a few. The key factor on this will be his relationship with the source of information. Relationships and our dependence on them determine our ability to process such information towards change. If we are able to trust our source of information, then processing is easy. We tend to collect information from our peers but are they really trust worthy sources? In early adolescence, from the ages of 10 15 or thereabouts, our peers exert a great influence on our information processing ability. Our self-awareness is just coming into play and we sense the need to belong. But a more trusted source of information ought to be our teachers, parents and at a level, our information services like the print and electronic media. The youth of today has moved from a lack of information to a surfeit of information. Why does he need to change his attitude? He now has a surfeit of information! The fact is he has a surfeit of superfluous information! A chat room in a Cyber café is the last place a 13 year old should go to have a chat because that child lacks the right negotiating skills to maintain a relationship.
Life skills are developed and enhanced by availability of correct and accurate information. Youth need to able to negotiate their different realities in relationship. That is what makes it easy for them to have the right emotional, and mental perspective on their goals and dreams. He must be empowered by the right kind of information to have the ability to negotiate his relationships with his friends, his peers, his parents and the society at large.
Communication in its right format and perspective helps the youth to understand these realities and process accordingly.
What can the youth do in ensuring these changes are positive?
He must be willing to identify his own goals and dreams and define the priorities that can make these dreams actualities. Youth are natural scientist in the fact that they experiment a lot! They tend to believe practically everything they see and half of what they hear. It makes them feel cool, hip, with it? Right! However a focused youth who has a set goal will take a more pro-active measure towards achieving his set goals and will naturally seek out the right sources of information. He would employ what comes to him, naturally, the ability to question and assess the consequences of his actions. He would be able to define his identity and accept his differences from his fellows as not an embarrassment but see it as a uniqueness of his person.
He would have a list of priorities and belief system that he can trust and defend. This will give him an identity of himself, which gives him confidence and trust in his ability to achieve his set goals.
Here's the problem. When do you really decide it is okay to have sex? I mean in my days, it was hinted at, we whispered about it but I very much doubt if we really knew what it really meant. Let me tell you a little bit of what relationships were like amongst us and our parents, especially for those who had parents that were not very educated. My dad spoke English to me. He got as far as standard four. That was education then. He ran away to join the army he says because he wanted to be in on the action. When he was demobbed, he worked for the British tobacco company and was paid something like ten shillings.
I could not possibly imagine me and Dad talk about when I could have a sexual relationship! Now there was another problem, as far as my mum was concerned I was 'alakowe' that is to say, I was educated. In essence I ought to know better than her. Technically in terms of academics ,she may be right. But heck, we were talking about negotiating a safe relationship with the opposite sex and as far as we know, it was zilch! Let us take a breather from my story and take some hard look at today's scenario. How much different was it from what obtained in the past? Today's children make up for what they miss on the pages of newspapers, electronic media with surfing the internet. I once watched in rapt horror as two girls discussed how you could pick up a date on the internet! I have daughters and I watch them sometimes with some fascination when their friends come visiting. The law in the house is clear, no visitors of the opposite sex! Sounds archaic? But for goodness sake is there a manual about how to tell your child the intricacies of first sexual experience or phew! If you should know what to do? In my last year at school, when I came to the village, I would have male friends come visit. My mum did not frown, she excused us by leaving me alone in the room with them. She innocently thought, she was giving me respect and privacy. She also felt being better educated than her, I would know better! I know a lot of my contemporaries who abused that ignorant trust. The nearest to sexual education we got in those days were strictures! Nice girls don't get pregnant. I lost a school mate who out of terror did an abortion and died from it. For most of us, I tended to think it was the fear of death from abortion that kept us from experimenting. Today, there is the added knowledge of HIV, so I guess a niggling horror of contracting that keeps some girls and boys for that matter from experimenting. I also learned through the years that parents are yet to have a clear understanding about how to go about handling their adolescent children. It could be very confusing and I look forward to the day when we can sit our children down in true African fashion and show them a viable working manual for life. In this day of grinding poverty and awful wealth, a man has to define himself every step through every experiencing, how he wants to weave the tapestry of his journey here. Sound like preaching? I guess, you could say that. Communication is fluid and mobile mechanism that we must use each time. Responsibility is not only about feeding and sending the children to school but also looking after the emotional need of the child. I remember one time in Lagos during the launch of one of our series, the Kenyan musician Tedd Josiah, said something. He said, sex for young adults was just so much nervous expenditure of energy. He tried to explain to the students we had invited, that self control was possible if it is backed by knowledge. Do parents talk? Do they have correct and accurate information they can pass on. We heard quite a lot of myths! We believed them. I grew up on a diet of authors like Denise Robins who wrote for audience that may not have included me. It gave me an unrealistic concept of men. I saw them as chivalrous! How mistaken I was, as very painful avoidable experiences came my way. I had to grope my way to maturity! It was not a picnic. Maybe one of the reasons I am writing this at all is to expiate some of the guilt we feel for some of the things we did. I could have listened meekly to my mum, but my age and ignorance were factors that did not help. So when she said, promise to marry him but do not get pregnant, she really lost a lot of moral ground. When she made a u-turn and said I could no longer marry him, I felt betrayed! I had been brought up to that point by my father to believe that a man's word was sacred. I had given my word to him that I would marry him, as long as I had no reason to believe that status quo had changed I was not prepared to change my word! I had a bitter few months with my mum. The bit of closeness we had achieved evaporated. Then she said, if I married him she would disown me! What was that? I left the next morning. I stayed away for seven years.