Words from Friends: ‘Life can be weird, so why can’t stories be weirder?’

M. Jonathan Lee is a British author and mental health advocate. He is here today to speak about his writing process, the journey writing can take, and why it’s important to be fluid in life.

You can find him on Twitter as @MJonathanLee, and read lots of his writings in The Huffington Post.

Content Warning: Reference/Mention of suicide (paragraph 2).

In conclusion, life can be weird so why can’t stories be weirder?

I first got into writing when I was at school, aged 11. For an English class, I’d written an adventure story where an explorer had to find his way through a jungle to find his friend. On the last page, a pygmy hidden in the trees shoots a blow-dart at him and he dies. When my teacher read it, she went ballistic telling me that I couldn’t just kill off the lead character! From that moment on, I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do: write books that broke the rules.

I wrote The Radio to do just that. After my brother committed suicide, it seemed more important than ever to do everything I said I would and it felt easier to express how I felt by fictionalising it. I thought that if I could write it down, in years to come, my friends or family would have my book as a sort of legacy. Everything in the book regarding the deceased son, right up to him jumping off the top of the multi-storey car park, is all entirely true. I find inspiration everywhere.

Fascinated by the human condition and the reasons people behave the way they do, I do find ideas for books everywhere. For example with A Tiny Feeling of Fear, my third book, the twist was inspired by an event in my own life. I was literally living the life of going to work in an office each day and pretending to be fine to then coming home and having the worst time. I realised that my work-self and home-self may as well have been different people with the same name and then when I went to a work presentation and the presenter was called also Jonathan Lee, I thought it wouldn’t be that weird to have it happen in a book.

What I love most about writing is how my process has evolved every time. When I first started, I had to be in the right mood, I had to have complete silence with no distraction in any way what so ever and it used to take an age to finish things. I learnt after the second book to not write the story in order; to skip ahead to that angry scene when you’re in a foul mood instead of trying to force a romantic moment for your characters. Every time I write, I find new tricks that make it a different experience. I love to experiment with my writing.

Each of my books feels like a time capsule for the stage of life that I was living when I wrote it and each of them had their challenges. For The Page (the second in the ‘The’ series), I wanted to write a lead character who was the entire opposite of me and I wanted him to be so hateful people would want to stop reading the story. For 337, the challenge was for the entire story to hinge on the last word, which would change your view about many of the characters you’ve traveled through the story with. Check it out to see and tell me if you think I succeeded (…I know, I’m shameless!)

[Title inspired by Stephen King’s book On Writing, that guy is a genius.]

Thank-you so much, Jonathan, for taking the time to share this with us. I am very excited to share my review of 337 next weekend! Interested in any of his books? They can be found on publisher Hideaway Fall’s website.

I am always on the lookout for new voices to showcase here. Do you have some words that you would like to share? Maybe about your dream job, your fascination with aliens, your dog – really, anything goes, so long as it excites you and your passion is visible!


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