Ngonie Diana Johns is an inspiring young
woman who has captivated the minds of
readers and critics with her debut book of
poems Chiedza: Reflections on Darkness, Light
and the Moments in between.
Rodney Rumbidzai Chawota
Who are the Johns?
I am the third of six girls and blessed to have both parents alive. We grew up in Zimbabwe and I, unlike my little sisters, got to experience the great Zimbabwe before it’s current demise. While far from rich, we had an amazing life. Nothing like growing up in a
house full of girls, especially singing girls. My father left for the UK in 2001 and though difficult, it was a necessary sacrifice for which we are all eternally grateful. We moved to the UK to join my father in 2012 but my two oldest sisters are still in Africa.
You blog and one of your pieces was about the loss of two very close friends in your childhood. How did you cope with that?
Though I didn’t get counselling in the form of professional help, I had support from family, friends and as a spiritual woman, I believe God played a part in my healing.
How is your book doing? It’s received great reviews! Has that translated into substantial sales?
It warms my heart that I have a book! It’s been doing well and I’m humbled by the sales. Really, I only have myself to blame for not doing more in terms of marketing but I guess I’m in my final year.
I will get back to it though. So, yes, the sales have been great, considering that this book was my way of coping as opposed to making money.
That’s right you’re an author whilst a student:
I’m currently in my final year of an Accounting and Finance degree and working hard to get a first. Nothing less will do, so God help me.
…And you have worn a lot of other hats:
I’ve always wanted to be financially independent
but more so to realise my full potential. I was active
in high school as a prefect, head girl and leader in
various societies and clubs which all paved the way
for me. When I moved to the UK, I did babysitting,
worked in JD sports as a Christmas temp and organised
the 2014 Brentwood Chamber of Commerce
Summer Networking Barbecue. My business partner
and I won the Brentwood Enterprise Award for 2014.
I’ve also worked as a PA, at the Tavistock and Portman
Clinic in Swiss Cottage in mental health, a waitress,
a hotel housekeeper and now work part-time in
How do you keep yourself focused and motivated?
I’ve had my fair share of negativity, from racism and sexism, to pure bad luck and my own self sabotage but I always take all that and channel it into drive, a reason to do better and be better. I’m big on selfdrive because no one can push me further than I can. It’s my life and if I’m not interested in it, how can I expect others to be. I enjoy setting myself one incredibly great goal a year which creates a domino effect. So for example, publishing Chiedza led to a book launch where I met great people and through which I got a BBC radio interview. Then the book sales meant a new car and now here I am in HoM!
Are you a feminist?
Wow, let me see. I come from a family of very strong women who have stood the test of time, not deterred by any -ism. These women have shaped my life and set me up
for what the world has to offer. I am a woman that believes in Maya Angelou, Ava DuVernay, Chimamanda, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Yara Shahidi to name a few, and what they are doing for this world. I am the daughter of a woman that raised six girls without
her husband and built a house from scratch. I am a grand-daughter to women who were great evangelists that were beat down and bruised in the war that liberated Zimbabwe but still managed to raise their families. I am a great-granddaughter of a woman that was known for her charity work and independence. I am a niece to many aunties that did not stand for abuse in the name of submission, migrated to the UK and helped bring men and women abroad in search
of a better life.
I am a woman that has always been independent and will always be as long as God gives me life. I create opportunities for myself. I am a woman that loves her father deeply and have learnt from many uncles, cousins and male friends about life and respect for others. My favourite author is a man – John Grisham. I look up to my grand-dad who is the most humble person and I wish for half of that humility. I am a woman that likes to be treated and appreciated, although I will not change my surname. So, am I a feminist?
Share your experience of migrating to the UK.
Could I say crazy? I went from being the middle child to the eldest. I was coming from a third world country and integration was necessary but I was 18 not ten. I have loved every up and down because in these few years, I have managed to accomplish a lot of things that I’m proud of. I am grateful to be close to my relatives and to have my father and mother
under one roof though I miss my 2 sisters terribly. I love the opportunities that have come with the move.
Any words of advice to a young and aspiring writer who wants to make a start?
I recently came across the poet Benjamin Zephaniah
who wrote something that stayed with me, ‘Stay
Wonder FULL’. This reminded me to keep a curious
mind. Just start and don’t stop. Read and learn and
repeat. Keep your head down and crack on while
silencing the noise. You got this! Have patience.
Channel everything. Don’t be afraid to dig deep.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I am currently going through it now. My blog has been neglected and my book is on hold. I love nature as it unwinds and resets me, so when I have a block, I go back to nature and sit or walk for hours. I will be going to the Lake District soon and will take a writing
What are your thoughts on the current situation in Zimbabwe?
I could write a book on just my thoughts but to sum it up: heartbreaking!
What can people expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on another book and will also pursue my professional accounting qualifications for a role in finance. I love cooking and will venture into that at some point in the near future. My grandmother used to make the best food for me when I was young and I would love for her to grace my space when I do. My mother is an amazing seamstress and I want to help her share her knowledge and skill in an academy or with a fashion line.
This year I’m using the mantra, ‘We do without doing and everything gets done.’ I will be stressed writing my second book, working for a first, securing a job and raising a 16-year-old little sister. This will be a reminder to not worry and just keep going!