As featured in GQ Magazine

JJ Bola - Critically acclaimed London based writer, JJ Bola, speaks on all things Men's mental health, self-care and gives an insight into his life as a writer.

Critically acclaimed London based writer, JJ Bola, speaks on all things Men's mental health, self-care and gives an insight into his life as a writer. 
Who is JJ Bola? 

Writer & Poet


You stated in your January 2020 Guardian article that we need to 'redefine manhood' and that 'our warped ideas regarding masculinity are causing a mental health crisis', - what in your view are those warped ideas around masculinity and how can we get away from them?

 Ideas such as men are strong, men don’t cry, etc. These notions that limit our expression as men or try to sexualise affection between men as “gay” or soft. These notions cause a disconnect among us; it forces us to disconnect from our emotions, which means we feel more isolated and alone, and end up engaging in violent and disruptive behaviour. We can get away from them by unlearning these ideas and connecting with each other.


What, in your personal view, can men do to take better care of their mental health? How do you safeguard yours?

I’d recommend two things. The first being therapy. I’d recommend all men to go to therapy. Sometimes this is almost taken negatively, as if there’s something wrong with someone to need therapy but no. It’s more about learning why you are the way you are, learning more about yourself, rebuilding positive ideas and removing the negative ones. There are many different types of therapy, group therapy people, 1:1, talking therapy, etc. Explore and find what fits you and what you need.

The second thing I’d recommend – if therapy is not accessible – is journaling. Make time each day, or week, writing down what your thoughts and feelings are. Process them and get to know yourself better.

I safeguard my own mental health, by doing the above mentioned, in one way or other, and also by setting boundaries. I try as hard as possible to be conscious of my actions and behaviours, and what they are reinforcing, and to remove myself from harmful environments.


Do you have a routine for writing? How do you avoid the dreaded 'Writer's Block'?

If I’m working on a project, I set myself a pretty strict schedule where I plan how many words I’ll write each day/week/month, etc, - factoring in breaks etc too – until I finish.

And in terms of writer’s block, my belief if that it only exists if you believe in it. Kind of like the loch ness monster, big foot, or non-oppressive democratic equality in a western society. If you can move beyond the myth, and form your own reality, it creates for a better state of creativity. So now, I just write. And I try not to worry about if it is “good”. I save that for the editing process.


What would you say is your 'Raison d'être' and what does success now look and feel like for you?

Raison d’etre is deeply philosophically and personal, and I’m not quite sure I have found the language to articulate that yet, but success for me, is surviving each day and keeping myself alive to see the beauty and joy of the world, and to live in love and with purpose.


Which of your written works most resonates with you? (our personal favourite is 'Mask Off'!)

Thank you!

Well, to be honest, the written works that most resonates with me is probably something that I have not published yet. Not sure if it ever will be because I believe that an artist most save some art for them and them only.


In what way does your Tottenham/North London and Congolese heritage and experience shape your writing and world view?

It’s helped to gain experiences that have broaden my horizons, however, I think the thing that has shaped my writing and world view the most is reading. I read wide and deeply, from many different cultures around the world, and many historical periods. I try to imagine my existence across different histories and cultures and ask myself whether I would still see the world the same way.


How do you take care of your beard, (aside from Beardfluence!) do you have any self-care practices? 

Haha! My favourite question. My go to are castor oil, usually overnight, and coconut oil, and sometimes jasmine oil, for general everyday use. Once a week, I’ll shampoo it, and condition my beard a few times a week. I also like to speak positive affirmations to my beard, for appreciation but that’s just a personal random thing I do!


Congratulations on the incredible news that your next book, 'The Selfless Act of Breathing', will be published by Dialogue Books, what do the next few years have in store for you?

Thank you. The next few years look very busy for me, but I’m very excited about what the future holds. The novel in question will also be published in the United States/North America, with Atria Books, and it’s going to be a real fun rollercoaster. Mask Off is also being translated in to German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian-Portuguese, and Finnish, over the next year or two, so there’s a lots to look forward to. I’ve been writing for over a decade, and so finally, my writing is taking me on a journey I had been dreaming of, and working towards, for a very long time. But even if none of these were happening, I would still be happy with whatever stage my writing is at. I love writing and love sharing and having the journey to grow and listen to and read others. I’m as much a fan of the art, as I am an artist.