‘Writing helps me deal with grief’
PUBLISHED: 17:23 09 May 2017
Grief and its far-reaching effects have been in the news lately with footballer Rio Ferdinand and princes William and Harry speaking about their own experiences of bereavement. It’s also an issue Norfolk author Jon Lawrence explores in his latest novel. Sheena Grant reports.
In the dark days of September 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the United States, a message from the Queen was read at a service of remembrance in New York.
Grief, said the Queen, was the price of love.
It was a sentiment anyone who has ever been bereaved, whatever the circumstances, will understand and one that Norfolk-based writer Jon Lawrence takes up in his latest novel.
The Jack Newton Radio tells the story of 70-something Anwyn Jones, an eccentric Welsh woman who returns to her hometown following the death of her husband. As Anwyn’s memory begins to deteriorate she fears losing her most treasured possessions - memories of her husband and their life together. She also becomes obsessed with poems by ‘Jack Newton’ that she hears on the radio each night and which seem to speak to her through her pain.
“The novel looks at the way we deal with grief,” says Jon, who was born in Pontypridd but now lives in Walpole Cross Keys, a village clinging to the edge of Norfolk, where its borders collide with Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
A selection of Jon’s poems are included in the book - where they are credited to the fictional Jack Newton - and seem to have resonated with many people.
“I’ve received messages from people all over the country telling me how much the poems have helped them deal with their loss,” says Jon, who also works in schools and as a musician. “One person who had kept hold of her husband’s belongings for 10 years after his death felt comforted enough to take his things to a charity store in order to move on after reading the poems.”
The Jack Newton Radio is Jon’s third novel and took shape as he struggled to deal with bereavement and depression himself.
“I’ve experienced a great deal of grief over the last 15 years or so, starting with the death of a friend in the 9/11 attacks on New York,” he says. “Following that my mum had a stroke in 2002. She somehow survived but it left her unable to speak, walk or control her emotions. I mourned her then, even though she was still with us. She died 16 months ago.
“My wife and I also lost a child during pregnancy. That was very difficult and grief has stuck with me for quite a while. I suppose I’ve tried to deal with it through writing.
“After 9/11 I felt guilty that I wasn’t making the most of my life so I tried to do lots of things, went to the extreme and made myself ill with it. It made me realise how fragile life was and plunged me into a clinical depression which has stayed with me since. It comes up and bites me on the behind every now and then but it has also given me a heightened appreciation of life. As well as writing, I also work with preschool children and they magnify my love of life in the face of my depression. I have come to understand that love and friendship really are the key to coping.
“I don’t think you ever entirely deal with grief. It leaves a scar but in its own way it’s a beautiful scar, almost like a photo you carry around of someone. I still have depression, for which I have treatment, and I know it’s going to be part of my life forever but in terms of the grief I know it will get easier.”
Like footballer Rio Ferdinand, whose wife Rebecca died in 2015, and princes William and Harry, whose mother, Princess Diana, died in 1997, Jon says grief should never be bottled up.
“That is when you can snap,” he says. “In my own case I didn’t want to keep taking tablets at first or admit I had a problem and it nearly cost me my life . I ended up talking to someone and dealing with certain issues. I went back to the dark places to find a bit of light. It is important to talk to someone we know won’t judge us and who we can trust. You have to find some kind of outlet. For some people it can be exercise, for others music or something else that quietens the mind.”
Jon hopes that just as writing The Jack Newton Radio has proved a healing experience for him it may also help others who read it.
“Writing is always a cathartic experience for me.,” he says. “Every book I write is me trying to deal with something. That is why I write. It’s another step forward in understanding grief. If it can help someone else too, so much the better.
“Ultimately, the book is a heart-warming tale which reminds us that although grief is one of the loneliest of conditions, it is one of the few things that we all have in common.”
■ The Jack Newton Radio is available online as a paperback or digital download.
For more information visit www.jonlawrence.org or www.facebook.com/jonlawrencewriting.
Poems from The Jack Newton Radio
Grief is Love
The grief doesn’t stop with the last fallen tears,
It doesn’t end when you stop counting the years.
It goes far beyond night-black attire, Beyond flowered graves and cremating fires.
And though you may not stare at a photograph, Or try in vain to recall the sound of her laugh, The grief remains, as so it should,
For grief is pain, but grief is good.
It reminds us that the love was strong,
And what’s more, that it carries on.
Grief and love are the same, entwined like two lovers;
Grief is love and love is grief, you can’t have one without the other.
Knowing Where To Look
There’s nothing in a jacket,
Left hanging on its hook.
Nothing between the faded pages
In my favourite book
You’ll find no trace of me, dear one
Near the cufflinks in my drawer.
My aftershave may hold my scent
But, I fear, little more.
So take the old LPs,
The golf clubs from the shed,
They’re little more than things.
Mourn no longer for me… I am dead.
So look now to the future.
You have a brand new start.
I’m not in the dip on my side of the bed,
I’m deep within you… in your heart.