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Rhapsody of loss

PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 September 2014

Jon Lawrence has written a book about the friendship between Robert Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth during WW1. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Jon Lawrence has written a book about the friendship between Robert Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth during WW1. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Exactly a century ago, as war convulsed the world, two of England’s greatest composers were in Norfolk.

Jon Lawrence has written a book about the friendship between Robert Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth during WW1. Picture: Matthew Usher. Jon Lawrence has written a book about the friendship between Robert Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth during WW1. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Now Jon Lawrence, of Walpole Cross Keys, near King’s Lynn, has written a novel, part fact, part imagined, about Ralph Vaughan Williams and fellow composer George Butterworth. Both served in the war, Vaughan Williams as a medic and Butterworth as a soldier; only one survived.

Jon’s book is set partly in Norfolk at the start of the war, with the two musicians on holiday in Hunstanton. Jon says Vaughan Williams, who composed nine symphonies, as well as operas, film scores, hymns and songs, including the soaring beauty of The Lark Ascending, also had a house in Sheringham. He regularly visited Norfolk to collect folk songs and one of his most famous works is A Norfolk Rhapsody.

Jon is a writer and music lecturer with a particular passion for English classical music and an interest in the poets of the First World War.

He explains that his book, The Pastoral, is a semi-fictional account of how the war might have affected creativity. “Although the book addresses the violent truth of conflict, The Pastoral is also a story of friendship, courage and the power of hope.” Jon has a personal interest in trauma and creativity, having been unable to work after a friend was killed in the 9/11 attacks. “Initially I couldn’t think of anything to say, yet when my mother suffered a severe stroke which robbed her of the ability to talk and walk, I went into creative overdrive,” he says. “My theory on this is because our brain needs time to decipher what we are feeling before we can form the emotions into some kind of creation.”

Vaughan Williams was both horrified and moved to write some of his most beautiful music by the death and destruction of the First World War. His Pastoral Symphony, from which the book takes its name, is an elegy for the dead and a plea for peace, written in response to the terror of trench warfare.

He served as an ambulance driver and stretcher bearer, despite being over 40 when the war began. Butterworth was a soldier, winning the Military Cross for heroism before being killed in the Battle of the Somme. Jon imagines Vaughan Williams finding his body and dedicates The Pastoral to all who fought and died in the Great War.

Jon, of Walpole Cross Keys, near King’s Lynn, spent many years researching The Pastoral, his first novel although he has also written five plays, two volumes of poetry and a book of comic essays.

Married, with two children, he works as a part-time music lecturer at Norwich City College, as well as writing. His second novel will be published next year and is a ghost story exploring themes of grief, written after his family suffered a miscarriage.

The Pastoral by Jon Lawrence (Create Space/Little Eden Books) is £5.99.


A new edition of a book about First World War poetry, by writer and former headteacher Martin Stephen, is to be launched at The Holt Bookshop.

Martin, of Thornage, near Holt, edited the Everyman anthology of First World War poetry. He wrote Poetry and Myths of the First World War, subtitled How Poets Altered our Perception of History, to accompany the best-selling anthology. The new edition (published by Pen and Sword Books) is £14.99.

Norwich – a fine story.

If stones could speak – this is the story that the buildings and streets, walls and memorials, might tell.

Norwich, The Biography, recounts the history of the city, in the words, experiences and actions of many of the people who lived and worked here, plus visitors ranging from conquering armies to shoppers and tourists. Author Christopher Reeve gives voice to the ordinary man and women as well as the great and the good of the past 1000 years.

He is the curator of Bungay Museum and has researched the lives of people ranging from royalty to writers, priests to prostitutes and gentry to gypsies – plus a cast-list of apprentices, urchins, market traders, artists, rebels and reformers.

Norwich, The Biography, by Christopher Reeve (published by Amberley Publishing) is £12.99.

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