Ivan Wilson failed the Common Entrance exam, now Secondary Entrance Assessment, so that his highest level of formal education was primary school. Yet, on April 17, 2022, he became an author with the publication of his first novel, Stella.
Wilson, 58, told Sunday Newsday he failed Common Entrance and continued to Standard Seven in primary school until he got his school leaving certificate at age 15. He said other than the Bible he is not a reader of books, nor is he a writer but he has always had ideas for books in his head.
Although there are many grammatical errors and the writing can be described as simplistic, Wilson tells an engaging story of three people and how their lives eventually entwine.
Stella is an aggressive girl from a poor family who always stood up for herself. Chris is a boy from a middle class home who grew up to be a detective. And Steven was physically and verbally abused by his father as a child.
It is primarily the story of the friendship between Stella and Chris. Though they had very different upbringings, they became best friends who were separated by distance and time but never forgot about each other. Meanwhile, Steven lived in Stella’s neighbourhood and always admired Stella’s strength but was not confident enough to speak to hear.
Years later, Stella and Steven’s paths crossed in difficult circumstances and they formed a friendship but Steven’s hangups broke that friendship and put Stella’s life in jeopardy.
Stella is a story about how true friendship can save lives and how abuse can destroy them.
Born in Laventille, Wilson grew up in Diego Martin and now lives in Arima.
He grew up in a single parent household with his mother and six siblings after his alcoholic father left them “to suffer.” He would notice how frustrated his mother got about their situation and he longed for a father-figure.
“Growing up I hadn’t anybody to give me any idea about life, how life’s supposed to be, how you’re supposed to go about to prosper. When you’re growing you need that guidance.”
After finishing primary school he decided to find a way to help his mother financially and she encouraged him to learn to fix cars at a nearby auto-mechanic garage.
However, at age 16, he and his mother had a misunderstanding and he left home. He fell in and out with bad company and occasionally lived on the street but he worked several jobs and learned about seven trades including body work on crashed vehicles, working with fibreglass, woodwork, construction, and building speaker boxes for companies and bands.
He credited God for steering him away from many negative situations, activities and habits.
“I went from pillar to post. Renting here, sometimes can’t afford the rent, find a next place, can’t afford the rent. But God blessed me because I had skills that people recognised. I could fix, create and design things. I had the knowledge but not the wisdom to do more with it or to manage my money.
“My whole life was in a mess. I never really had anybody to guide or help me. Even when you get down in age it can still take a toll on you. When you’re out there you go into survival mode so you might do things you regret or are happy with. But you have to move on with God. If you can make it, you help others, help the week and those who you think need help.”
He said while renting a three-bedroom house on Dundonald Street, Port of Spain, George “Tambi” Maximin, founder of alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre Rebirth House, saw him in his gallery and asked him to move in and share the rent.
Maximin said God sent him to Wilson. Wilson believed the older man and allowed Maximin to stay.
He recalled he would sometimes get home from work to meet Maximin counselling men from the street in their living room.
He said he too helped many people as, while he was not a councillor nor was he ever on drugs, he understood regret and homelessness and could empathise with the men and they would talk to him freely.
Also, Wilson was physically imposing and he would help Maximin when the men got aggressive.
“He was an older man so I helped him out how I could. He said, ‘I want to live my life helping people but I want to find a name for this thing.’ We stood up on the porch and he told me when somebody come off of drugs it’s like they’re born again. And we came up with the name Rebirth House.”
Wilson said his experiences living in Laventille, Diego Martin and with Maximin contributed to his story ideas. And when the pandemic hit and TT was on lockdown, he decided to write, not only to keep himself occupied but to start working on a better life.
“I worked so hard during my lifetime and I still ain’t make it. I was watching TV and saw an ad about making money from home and my thing is, I want to make some money so I could help people. I love seeing people happy.
“Then, one day I heard my daughter and her friends talking about books. I always had three or four books ringing in the back of my head but in front was Stella! Stella! Stella! So when the covid hit, I said, ‘Let me see what Stella really trying to say.’”
Wilson had a few empty notebooks in his house so he used them to write Stella. He recalled feeling like his hand had a mind of its own as he laughed and cried with and for the characters that flowed onto the pages.
“My hand just start to move in the notebook, just writing sentences from page to page. While writing I was trying not to put anything too vulgar because I realise this is from God and I know he’s watching.
“As the writing was flowing it was making so much sense, as if I were there. I was so emotional because it reminded me of leaving home at 16 and all the things I saw and did – seeing people on the street, seeing how people didn’t have family or opportunities, children and women being abused and realising how ignorant people could be.”
When Stella was completed he asked an author he knew for advice. He sent the book to the local publishing company she suggested, Rocima Publishing, where Stella was edited and placed for sale on Amazon.
Wilson said he had four more books in mind and has already started writing one called Water. It is a story about a doctor whose beloved wife has cancer. He creates a treatment that eats cancer cells but it mutates and spins out of control.
“Even though I don’t have a set of education, with my experience of being on the streets and dealing with rich people and people in certain societies, as time passes, you have to think about the world rather than just your space if you want to develop.”
As such, Wilson is thinking big.
He would like to focus more on his writing and open a studio with in-house editors and proofreaders to produce books and cartoons. He also wants to write scripts for Hollywood movies, including Stella and his future books.