On a bit of a tangent of a writing task, I stumbled upon a book called ‘One Knife, Many Lives’ – a fictional story which is grounded in the real issues of knife violence, substance abuse, mental health and domestic abuse in the UK. Through a few speedy emails, I had the opportunity to interview the author Anthony Olaseinde, more commonly known as ‘Big Ant’, to talk about his book and organisation Always an Alternative as an initiative to help young people away from a life of knife crime.
As my first ever journalistic type interview, I was quite nervous, but Ant with his friendly personality and clear passion put me straight at ease. Ant is a Sheffield local, who has been the head of his non-profit organisation Always an Alternative for the past 3 years, running workshops in all local youth spaces to help fight the stigma around knife crime. Schools, youth centres, referral units, homeless accommodation– “wherever the kids are”, Ant is there to listen. What struck me most was how he approached dealing with these issues – “Challenging the mindset” was a phrase that came up in our chat constantly. Ant had a personal drive for setting up this organisation: in his youth he became involved in gang and weapon crime in the local area, and as a result, he lost a friend to this type of violence. The negativity surrounding him in this time caused him pain and harm, so he decided to take himself out of the situation.
I loved to hear the passion in Ant’s voice as he spoke about his projects and progression he had made in his personal life. He went on to study Computer Networking at Sheffield Hallam at age 24, showing that education has never been just for young people aged 18.
The agenda he focuses on is challenging young people’s ideas about knife crime violence – talking into the stigma and how people can get sucked into it. One thing that Ant mentioned is that he wanted to be the “big brother figure” that was absent in his youth, to be a person you can talk about your problems with complete confidence and respect. He mentioned that many children ask what a “mindset” is in his workshops, suggesting that they had never been taught the word before. I think that was most striking about his campaign was his attitude to solving the issue. With his successful Twitter campaign #KeepSheffieldStainless, he has had many young people take his course. There is an emphasis not with statistics and punishment – but space at which vulnerable children can be free to speak out.
‘One Knife, Many Lives’ is his self-published first novel, a fictional narrative about a story of knife crime. As an English student, we are always eager to know a good process and creation of a novel – it is in our blood. It is fascinating to investigate how anyone takes on the task of writing a novel: he described as a quite long and difficult task to handle – mentioning that he has dyslexia early in the conversation. For Ant, his story writing process was incredibly visual and refined – he knew what he wanted to achieve. What I found most fascinating was his physical and visual processes in figuring out how he wanted his narrative to progress. His process was to create imagery of interconnected towns in which his story takes place, to “interlink the attractions and places” together to complete his narrative. Working alongside his dyslexia, it was more about “nailing his process to a T” –stating that planning was a large element of his success. He would go back and forth to each visual ‘town’ and proof read as he went along each chapter – Ant ensured clear, defined ideas of what he wanted his outcomes to be. I think something that all of us English students can learn from; to take our time with the process and figure out completely what our intentions and goals are. Not just for ourselves, but to create a more well-rounded writing piece.
I was pleased to find out that ‘One Knife, Many Lives’ is a self -published novel and it is not affiliated with any other publishing company. Once you purchase your copy (link below!), you will find the novel full of workbook activities and pictures to create a more captivating read. It was a challenge to create this novel; Ant quotes it as a huge “learning curve” for him considering the difficulties in which his dyslexia played too. Working with many young people, Ant felt very strongly about making his book more accessible and fun for his students – especially those who struggled with reading and learning disabilities to be more inclusive.
Another initiative we spoke about was the importance of getting more young people excited and interested in reading. Often English students can take for granted the passion and ease that can come to us in reading texts- forgetting it does not come naturally to everyone. He quoted that modern platforms such as YouTube and other learning sites are a great way to help young people learn – but reading a book is priceless. Ant commented, “I needed another way of getting people involved… it will reach a whole new set of people that most (information) videos won’t reach”. I got the strong impression that Ant saw the need to raise his voice about this issue, which he has passionately gone on to do. I appreciated the sentiment of using reading as a force for change, through his contact with young people through his social media and workshops, it certainly has been successful so far!
Challenging and violent themes are something we come across fairly often as English students, ‘One Knife, Many Lives’ is no different. As a student, something I am fascinated in exploring the personal connections we have with a text and how we can interpret it if it is not something we have experienced personally. The novel is strictly fiction, however; for Ant, it was crucial to draw from his environment and experience to get his message across – noting that there always is an element on reality and truth in any book.
I went on to (somewhat naively) ask the question: “What would you like people to take from this book, especially those who have not experienced knife crime like myself?” In response he stated back, “It can happen anywhere…It’s not up to you if you become a victim – don’t think it can’t happen to you as it can happen to anybody.” Knife and weapon crime can happen anywhere, to anyone. Throughout our conversation, Ant was clear and decisive in his explanation that there is not just an emphasis on crime in poorer areas – that you could be impacted by it at any moment. This is an incredibly important thing to recognise as an individual, that we must do all in our power to raise awareness and change all our mindsets on knife crime to make our community safer for everyone.
One final thing that struck me about talking about the process and content of the novel was how much he thought about his readership and their engagement with his hard-hitting themes. Ant was incredibly passionate about having an authentic story – this was a principle that he was adamant about. This is in part why he decided to self-publish, as he did not want his personal narrative choices compromised or changed in any way. As we spoke, he boldly stated “I know this book is needed” – and I completely agree. The more personal and intimate narratives we read, there is a chance of better grasp on this complex world we live in.
I enjoyed speaking to Ant about his campaign and book: I think it is a local issue that the English student community could engage ourselves in more. Thank you, Ant, for the interview!
As a few last plugs for Ant and his project, here are some links below…
Always an Alternative has restarted the in person workshops, it is a fantastic and interactive course looking into solutions for knife crime. Plus, you get a certificate at the end, what more could you want? There are podcasts, downloadable resources and Ant also has his book for sale now to purchase at the Always an Alternative Website: https://www.alwaysanalternative.org.uk/
Finally, Ant has an American Youth Football League starting on the 24th October – contact him to find out more.
Thank you for reading! – Hannah (Third Year, English and History)