Last month I reviewed the beautiful novella Silence and Songbirds (which you can read here), a thought provoking tale that transports the reader across the sea to the beautiful islands of the Marlborough Sounds, written by author Jon Lawrence. This month we get to know him a little better…
- Hi Jon, thanks for chatting with me. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a singer-songwriter?
Yes, I trained as a musician and ethnomusicologist (which has fed quite nicely into my writing). I was lucky enough to perform all over the country and Europe as singer-songwriter. I released a number of albums, then my literature work started to take over. However, I still teach music and I enjoy writing musicals every year for the school I work with.
I was born in Pontypridd, so I am a child of the valleys. I moved out east with my work as a music lecturer, where I taught song-writing and world music. I have a wonderful wife, Kerry-Ann and two children, who always support me.
I love working with young children and have written some illustrated songbooks for them. Children are a huge inspiration for me. The way they view the world is unique and they represent an innocence that I have been searching for in my writing since I started writing books.
I am interested in all areas of written expression and I don’t feel pigeon-holed in any area. I have published poetry, plays, children’s books, essay and magazine article because I simply love to write.
I am also interested in travel. The world offers many wonderful landscapes which intrigue me. I have a particular fascination with New Zealand – a place which has a special place in my heart. I have based two novels there (Silence and Songbirds and Playing Beneath the Havelock House). Indeed, in all of my novels and novellas, stories have come out of the landscape. When I see a desert, a forest, a mountain range or an island, I ask myself, ‘Who lives here? What is their story?’
- You’ve recently completed a touring show called “Good Grief” – can you tell us what that was about?
My father died of cancer just over two years ago. Before he died I promised him that I would do five 100k treks on five deserts on five continents to raise money for a cancer charity. So, between August 2018 and April 2019 I walked the Atacama in Chile, the Sahara in Morocco, the Rangipo in New Zealand, the Wadi Rum in Jordan and finally, the Mojave in America. My journey gave me a lot of time to think about my father and the sometimes difficult relationship we had. It afforded me a little time and space to work through my grief.
I documented each part of the trip and published a book last year called Good Grief. To promote the book, I have been performing a one-man show around the country telling the story of my adventures around the world and how the journey helped me to come to terms with things. The show contains video footage from my trips, photographs, anecdotes and music specially written for the show. It’s light-hearted, informative but also moving (I hope). I resume the tour in Stamford Arts Centre on February 4th with the tour visiting Diss, Bungay, Wells-next-the-sea, Doncaster, Birnam in Scotland, before concluding in Auckland, New Zealand in April.
- How does writing songs compare to writing books?
The thing about writing songs, is that you have to compress what might be a huge subject (life, death, world peace), into about twenty lines, sometimes less. You have to be able to move someone emotionally in two, verses, a middle-eight and a chorus. It has to get to the listener’s heart straight away. There’s no time to set scenes, establish characters or consider subplots. You have to be very clever with words. That’s why Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is so brilliant. It gets you hooked form the first line and by the time it has finished it has you questioning everything you ever thought you knew about life!
Conversely, when you write a book, you start with what might be a small idea – a quote, a title, something you have seen – and then expand it to establish the bigger picture.
Some people might say that a song only takes fifteen minutes to write (such as ‘Every Breath You Take’) but some songs take months even years to shape and mould into the final version (Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Thunder Road’ are perfect examples of this).
They are both tremendous art forms.
- And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer?
My view is that everyone is a writer; some people just have a go, some people never do it for fear of what others might say. If you write a diary, you are a writer – you express your thoughts and feelings through words. In the first instance, write for yourself.
Then when you have a story, make sure you plan it. If I have a story idea, I go through a number of planning stages before I start to write (despite the desire to get writing straight away). A book might take up eighteen months of your life so you need to know that the story and the characters will still be of interest to you at the end. I have made the mistake of starting stories without proper planning, only to lose my way three months in. That’s a lot of time to waste.
Just have a go!
If you’d like to know more about Jon, click on the links below: