I recently finished reading 337, which is an amazing heart wrenching story that features the domino effect of growing up in a dysfunctional family. It deals with death, trauma, depression and substance abuse. It explores two different coping mechanisms and has exceptional narrative emotions.
Hence, it’s obvious I was thrilled to be interviewing Mr. Lee, where I ask him some quirky details about his new release – 337, and what kind of books he likes to read himself. Here’s Lee!
NFF: At what point of your life, did you say to yourself I want to be a full time author?
Lee: 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.
NFF : What inspired you to write 337?
Lee: When I was sitting with my grandmother in her final week, all the rest of my family were on holiday it was only me sitting beside her in the hospital for many hours. I started talking to her about our family history and things from the past because I realized that this was the last time we’d ever get the opportunity before her knowledge would be lost forever. Then I wondered… what would happen if there was some kind of family secret? I sat and wrote notes while I was there for 8 hours at a time, I felt like I should capture the moment.
NFF : What’s the story behind the title – “337”? How did you come up with it?
Lee: For years, I’d been using an old hand-me-down from my Grandfather as a change jar and it had the label 337 on it. I never questioned it, until I tipped it over one day and saw that it actually said ‘LEE’, mine and my Grandfather’s surname! I never felt such an idiot but this book is inspired by my grandparents so it seemed fitting to use it for the title.
NFF : Your book has a lot of heavy themes highlighted, what part was the hardest to write?
Lee: Hmm. I suppose a lot of my novels have heavy themes in places because that’s where my interest lies as far as people are concerned. What makes them do the things they do? What’s their psychology? I don’t have any real issue in writing heavy stuff as I suppose I’ve had quite a lot of heavy stuff happen to me in my life. I didn’t really find any of 337 hard to write, even the scenes with Gramma brought me some comfort.
NFF: If you meet any one character from the book in real life, who would it be and what would you say to him/her?
Lee: It’d be Tom. I’d ask if I could go on tour with him and his band. Rock n roll, eh?
NFF: What is the most important lesson you want readers to take away from this book?
Lee: The overarching theme of this book is looking at the way people react to situations, and the huge effect that their actions have on others. In the imaginary made-up idealistic world which spins inside my mind, I suppose I’m wanting people not to rush to judgement. To take some time being more compassionate and trying to understand other people’s perspective before taking steps which can literally destroy lives. I am so pleased that Trump is on his way out, he’s an accident waiting to happen. The type of person who would benefit from thinking about the bigger picture rather just what serves themselves.
NFF: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Lee: I was initially influenced by Nick Hornby but my favourite book of all time, and by some distance, is Roald Dahl’s Unexpected Tales. Some of these short stories are only 11 pages long and within just one page you’re absolutely invested. It’s just so clever! It proved to me that you didn’t need to use lots and lots of words to tell a really good story. I like a short chapter, I don’t know why no one else uses them! You need something to break it up and keep the rhythm going.
NFF: What particular element can make you dislike a book?
Lee: Endings! I hate them. It got to the point where I’d read so many books and so many films where the storyteller has clearly rushed to tie everything up and it ends up feeling contrived and unsatisfying.
NFF: Do you have anything special that you’ll be focusing on in 2021? (working on any new books maybe?)
Lee: I’ve got a couple of novels finished that need whipping into shape and editing, though this is my least favorite part of writing. I am also working on Surkhull Bay (a new story) which I hope I can get properly started (and finished) by the end of winter. We are in the midst of setting up a group for people bereaved by suicide in the locality so I hope to get this off the ground properly post-COVID. Oh, and I may start drinking. Most people try to give it up for New Year, but as I don’t drink I may start.
NFF: When you’re not writing, what else do you like to do? What are your hobbies? What makes you laugh? What’s on your bucket list?
Lee: Well, I’m always passionate about Sheffield United! That never ever dies. I’m also very, very passionate about gardening and utterly freaked out about how an inanimate seed can become something magnificent. I still haven’t got over caterpillars and butterflies. You look at a little seed in a packet, doing nothing, but yet you put it in the ground…. WTF.
Oh, and watching/reading/consuming stories! I should probably throw that in there, too.
– About The Author–
M Jonathan Lee (born 5 April 1974) is a British author. His debut novel, The Radio, was nationally shortlisted in The Novel Prize 2012, a prize for unpublished authors. He has since released four further novels, and written on mental health issues for the Huffington Post.
Books Written :
- The Radio (2013)
- The Page (2015)
- A Tiny Feeling of Fear (2015)
- Broken Branches (2017)
- Drift Stumble Fall (2018)
- 337 (2020)