|John Achile Yusuf, Author|
John Achile Yusuf wanted to envision what it would be like to need to survive. In his recently-published novel, SURVIVAL, he tells the story of a group of students who crash in the jungle. He places everyday people in the extraordinary setting of a jungle where they face a choice of waiting for help or figuring a way out.
Yusuf, who says he’s not much of an outdoors person, did travel to the forest to get a feel for what it’s like to be alone there. He also checked in with others on how it feels to survive. He considers this first novel to be adventurous literary fiction and plans to continue writing.
Don't miss the excerpt at the end of Yusuf's interview.
Don't miss the excerpt at the end of Yusuf's interview.
Q: What inspired you to write SURVIVAL? Would you characterize it as “action and adventure” or “literary fiction?” Why?
John Achile Yusuf: My inspiration for SURVIVAL came to satisfy my curiosity. A friend of mine had died in a car accident and I couldn't shake the thought that he had survived and was somewhere in the forest waiting to be rescued. Added to that, I was fresh out of secondary school with no direction whatsoever. I seemed lost myself and needed to go on a journey of discovery. SURVIVAL is what you want it to be to you. To me it is an adventure and literary fiction. Though the regions exist, the settings are fiction as are the characters. So to me, it is an adventurous literary fiction.
Q: Do you have experience “surviving” in a jungle? If not, how did you envision your characters’ actions and responses to their setting?
John Achile Yusuf: I have not had a near-death situation in the jungle if that is what you mean, but I have been in the forest a few times during the writing of the book, not to spend days but to have a feel of what it would be like to be lost. I've stayed while it rained with no covering but trees, after a while the raindrops begin to hit you. I made sure to have some of the experiences firsthand, that way I could relate with my characters. Other aspects of experiences were gathered from other sources. I remember getting information from a soldier on surviving in that kind of environment for days and how it would begin to wear you down.
Q: How do you help readers engage with your characters? Why do we care what happens to them? Have you based them on real people? Are your characters heroic or normal people set in extraordinary circumstances?
John Achile Yusuf: My characters are based on everyday people, but to draw the reader to engage with the character I try to make the character outstanding in a particular aspect. Everyone has fantasies of what could be, and when you see someone with what you wish you had, you'll want to know how it plays out; one could relate with a particular character because it reminds him/her of someone and so on.
This will make you care what happens to the character, because you have either linked the character to yourself or someone you know; better still, you'll care because at that moment (reading the book) you have become a part of that world and you'd want to know how the characters fare.
The characters are mostly based on real people. But the trick is to take traits from a couple or more people and merge them into one character. The characters are not heroic, they are just everyday people plunged into extraordinary circumstances.
Q: By setting the book in the jungle, you were able to present specific circumstances to your characters in order to tell your story. How did your setting support your story?
John Achile Yusuf: In order for an adventure to take place, there has to be events and these events had to be created. In this case the setting is in a jungle. It was an open-ended setting. They have a chance at life; wait to be rescued – if at all help will come – or try to find a way out. In life people are programmed to survive, this story reflects the struggles young people go through when faced with decisions. Without proper guidance, many are lost and are never recovered.
Q: Is SURVIVAL a story to inform readers? Or to entertain?
John Achile Yusuf: It serves as both entertainment and a lesson to inform about the struggle for survival and the urgent need for guidance
Q: Are there villains in SURVIVAL? What characteristics contribute to a compelling villain?
John Achile Yusuf: Not villains per say, just everyone playing out their roles and trying to survive. A compelling villain will be at the center of the story, working his way into the hearts of the readers/audience, make them hate, despise, blame or even like him/her. Not all villains die, by the way. But a compelling villain knows he is a villain and would do anything to protect that title.
Q: How do you create the tension or suspense to cause readers to want to turn the page?
John Achile Yusuf: We have the setting, the storyline and the characters. The most important thing for me is to create a flow and keep at it. Each scene linked to another and making sure not to drop into the black hole of boredom. So I read three to four scenes back before creating a next scene. This keeps the tempo for me and if the tempo drops beyond a certain mark, I cancel and create a different scene.
Q: Do you use humor to create characters or tell your story?
John Achile Yusuf: I use humor to tell story more than I use it to create characters
Q: What’s next? Do you plan to continue writing?
John Achile Yusuf: I have various write-ups I need to work on, and yes, I hope to continue writing
Q: Tell us about John Achile Yusuf. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
John Achile Yusuf: I read, watch documentaries and movies. I am not much of an outdoor person so good movies and good music keep me going. I don't like to cook alone but I like to help when the cooking is going on.
About John Achile Yusuf
John Achile Yusuf holds a Bachelor's Degree in Geography and Planning from Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria. SURVIVAL is his first book.
When the plane carrying a group of Nigerian students to South Africa for the annual African Colleges Competition, crashes into a Congolese jungle instead, there's a lot at stake. These students were chosen to represent the nation, because of their academic brilliance and sportsmanship; their ability to beat competitors is the reason they are their country's hope.
But in the jungle, there are different sets of rules … and some are being made up along the way. Thrust by Fate into hostile territory, it's not just a question of who will survive. There's also the issue of what – their friendships, innocence, sanity, sense of right and wrong, and hopes for the future.
The quiet air of the Congo jungle was suddenly broken. A fierce-looking, young man leaped over a log and through the shrubs. He was running breathlessly, cutting his way through marshy lands, hanging vines, low branches, twigs and the thistles. In his left hand, he clutched a white cowboy hat. The hat had been reduced to a dirty, brownish moistened piece of clothing, but its owner was not ready to let it go. In fact, he had just killed a man for this same hat—this same dirty brownish piece of clothing. In his right hand he held on tight to a re-curve folding knife. It was The Commander.
He scuttled through the jungle, trying to keep from falling due to exhaustion. He kept at it. He was fleeing for dear life. There was nothing else on his mind, but to make a getaway. With no destination in mind, he ran aimlessly.
Hard on his trail were two vicious 4-foot-tall men with spears in their hands. They were quite familiar with this jungle so their feet went faster than his and began to gain on him. As he ran through the jungle, his mind raced over what would happen if he were caught. He began to think of those he had left behind, his friends who were in the hands of these brutal pygmies. It was with a jolt, that he remembered the two men he had stabbed. Had he really killed two men?
“Don’t be a fool,” he thought as he sped on.
He took a quick glance at the knife in his hand as if to make sure the bloodstain was really there and to confirm he had really stabbed the men. To his dismay and relief, there was blood smeared along the shaft of the 3-inch blade. He ran, swinging it through the air.
His blows had been precise and he had sliced the right nerves and veins, so their continued existence was out of the question. Come to think of it, taking their lives was worth it. If the men died, then he had done a good deed.
Femi was injured and it was by the arrows of one of these men. So what if he had killed them? It was in self-defense, he encouraged himself. Then his mind returned to the escape.
He had to lose these men as soon as possible, then think of what to do. As he thought on these things, his legs gained ground, vigor returned and he began to run faster. He only began to slow down when he listened but heard no footsteps behind him. He came to a sudden halt and turned around sharply. He didn’t know why he decided to stop, but a thought was forming. Perhaps he could fight these two men and take their lives as well.
But when he turned, there was nothing. Apart from the chirping of a few birds, the croaking of distant frogs looking for mates and the crickets making their evening appearance, it was just quiet. He dropped his jaw wider and let in as much air as possible—he needed the jungle air.
He remained alert. He scanned the area with his eyes and his grip on the handle of the knife became firmer. It was too quiet for his liking. He had expected his pursuers to burst through one of the openings. But they didn’t. He waited. Then, his nerves began to relax. He managed to drag himself to the hidden shades of a thicket, before beginning to sob. He went down on one knee, then on all fours, weeping hysterically.
SURVIVAL is available for purchase on