“I believe the root of homophobia is toxic masculinity and this is the main focus of this story.” Stephen Vowles talks to Mark Howells about his debut novel Pride

Having found ‘pride’ amongst the lions of Africa, Mark Howell’s debut novel Pride explores what it really means to be a man. Lead character James and three other ‘wounded’ souls are on a hunting safari and James hopes the adventure will help him experience real humility. Mesmerised by the power, freedom and ferocity of a pride of lions, along with their total commitment to protect each other, it dawns on him that perhaps there’s lots we can learn from these majestic creatures. Stephen Vowles talked to Mark about his book and his journey with the lions.

How did you come to write Pride?

I had worked in Zambia, Africa for six months, spread across two trips, with the goal of rehabilitating lions back to the wild. During this time I was almost mauled by a lioness but, fortunately for me, the lioness retracted her claws and rolled over. This encounter became the building block of my debut novel, Pride.

Can you tell us more about the encounter with the lioness?

She sensed great courage in me when I accepted the challenge of being confronted by a lioness and gave myself up to being mauled. It was this defining moment that made me realise the power of humility to overcome the most fierce of animals. This experience also made me realise the conditioning of toxic masculinity in our culture and how it actually weakens men. True power, which I have learned from encountering lions, is humility.

The book is a very personal journey for you, can you expand on that?

I had been to Africa and worked on the lion conservation project where I experienced the dynamics of a pride of lions. I have walked alongside a lioness and interacted with many of them, as well as male lions and witnessed their behaviours within the pride. Therefore seeing the interactions of a lion pride was a personal experience although the story is fictional albeit the issues the characters face are very relatable to all gay men.

Do you think there should be a greater challenge made on conforming to gay stereotypes?

I believe the root of homophobia is toxic masculinity and this is the main focus of this story. However there will be a sequel covering stereotypical gay society and the challenges this brings to gay men.

Did you feel a greater sense of self-fulfilment after the incident with the lioness?

From my personal experience of working on the lion conservation project, I got a great deal of fulfilment which I have captured within this book.

Can you tell us more about your take on the meaning of pride?

Pride is popularly described as the biggest sin, and it often comes with a downfall. Unfortunately, the patriarchal nature of society seems to have encouraged pride, especially in men. However, several conditions can bring out the humility in even the proudest of men, which was the case of the protagonist James, after he decided to go on the hunting safari. 

The experience, as narrated in my novel, exposed James to another side of life he never knew existed. The encounter brings him to the realisation that society has always spun tales about men that no man can live up to while showing him what it really means to be a man.

Was it a dream of yours to get that close to a big cat and wonder at the power of the animal, plus how gentle they can actually be?

Being close to a lioness, I never forgot for a second what she could be capable of but I embraced it. Lions can smell fear and I took heed when I was told to keep calm at all times. It was definitely a lesson in feeling the fear and going along with it anyway. I think this concept could be applied to a lot of different areas in life and I learned so much by being around lions and finding my own sense of ‘Pride’ as a gay man.

Pride by Mark Howells is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle here

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