Domestic thriller with a dark twist

Barnsley author Jonathan Lee. Picture:  Mark Tighe
Barnsley author Jonathan Lee. Picture: Mark Tighe
  • Barnsley author Jonathan Lee’s latest novel The Page explores the complexities of family life. He spoke to Yvette Huddleston.
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Like most writers, Barnsley-based author Jonathan Lee is always on the look-out for a good story – and his latest novel, The Page, was inspired by an incident that took place while he was on holiday, sitting relaxing by a pool.

“There was a sudden big gust of wind and it blew all the pages of someone’s book all over the place and one page stuck to my chest,” he says.

“I looked at it and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if the page described exactly what I had just been doing.”

He followed that train of thought and the result is an engaging and pacy read that combines domestic drama with elements of the crime thriller genre.

The central character is Michael Sewell, an arrogant successful businessman and calculating controlling husband to Margaret – they have been married for thirty years – and father to adult daughter Jane. After Margaret is killed in a car accident, chillingly described in the opening chapter, Jane persuades her father to take a holiday. He reluctantly agrees to go and while he is sunbathing next to a resort swimming pool a page blown from a book sticks to his heavily sun-creamed chest.

Upon reading it he discovers that what is written on it describes in exact detail the events leading up to his wife’s fatal accident, taking Sewell and his family on a twisting, turning journey towards the truth.

Lee’s successful debut novel The Radio, which appeared two years ago, featured a good-natured, likeable, slightly downtrodden protagonist called George Poppleton who is a complete contrast to Sewell. “With The Page I wanted to have a lead character who, right from the start, readers wouldn’t warm to,” explains Lee. “It is risky because obviously you can put people off wanting to continue with the story. I found it quite hard but I think because of the way the book is structured it keeps people wanting to read.”

The structure is indeed completely compelling. Starting off ‘about three months earlier’, the narrative then skips back and forth in time allowing the reader to build up a picture of Sewell’s character and the true nature of his relationship with Margaret, an interesting and complex character in her own right.

“That structure was planned from the start,” says Lee. “I wrote the three chapters that deal with the car accident first – they total about 5 percent of the entire book. Then I started to write the back story.”

The book is a companion piece to The Radio which also explored the dynamics of family life and is part of a planned trilogy. “The two books run in parallel,” says Lee. “And the next one will feature all the characters, when all will become clear.”

Lee’s dedication to his writing is admirable – he has a demanding full-time job as head of the Tax and Trust Department at Leeds-based wealth management company Pearson Jones, and he and his partner have five children between them, so he has to make time to write.

“It is something I love to do,” he says. “So if other people like going out for meals or to the cinema, this is what I like to do. It is time that I look forward to. I block out say three hours on a Sunday or an evening and I sit down religiously and write.”

He is already well into writing his next book, a stand-alone novel that is not part of the trilogy, and his ambition is eventually to become a full-time writer.

“This is a life-long dream,” he says. “A lot of people say they would like to write a novel one day and I thought I would give it a shot. I had no idea whether I could write, but I am going to keep going and hopefully keep writing things that people enjoy.”

The Page, £8.99, is published by Matador and is available from the Yorkshire Post bookshop. 0800 0153232. www.yorkshirepost