From an early age Jonah became an avid reader. Gaining a post at Felling public library in 1936, he found himself “plunged into the world of books. Here lay riches indeed, which would nourish my inner life thereafter.(1)” In a first inkling of a talent for writing, he won an essay-writing competition as a boy at school. He gained a place at Jarrow County Secondary (later Grammar) School after passing successive scholarship exams, where he acquired an education that set him on his way to a world of learning, culture and creativity.

Throughout his adult life he read and wrote on a daily basis. He was fond of recording and musing upon the events, insights and challenges of his daily life. His reflections found their way into substantial letters to friends, family and colleagues, usually handwritten in his expressive and legible italics, or sometimes bashed out rather approximately on a typewriter. In the introduction to Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector(2) (an extended correspondence between the young Jonah and his Quaker mentor the librarian Mona Lovell), the editor, Peter Jones, describes Jonah as “a great letter writer all his life, both in the sense of quantity and quality.”

As an artist the mature Jonah started to record these quotidian impressions more systematically in his daily journals, often accompanied by sketches in any medium that came to hand. They are fascinating documents, full of life and creativity, colourful, occasionally introspective, often witty. A selection from some of the numerous surviving journals was published by Scene & Word in The Gregynog Journals(3).

But however extensive and expressive, letters and daily journals are private matters. It took a profound crisis in life for Jonah to make the leap into extended writing for a proper audience. In 1977 he took up a four-year post as director of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. This entailed “the loss of the opportunity to create… ‘Unable to actually create, draw, make sculpture, I was afflicted with an inward illness.’(4)” One evening, in desperation, “he began to write impulsively, ‘page after page. I found it exciting…’ The next evening, rereading his effort, Jonah threw it away disgusted with ‘such unbelievable trash’.(5)” But he returned to it with a “growing obsession”, and out of all this turmoil emerged his first published novel, A Tree May Fall(6).

In his lifetime he would publish five books. They included a second novel, Zorn(7); a walker’s guidebook, The Lakes of North Wales(8); a collection of autobiographical essays, The Gallipoli Diary(9); and a biography of his friend and patron Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect of Portmeirion(10). It was an impressive achievement as an adjunct to a full-time career as a working artist, including three decades of generally unremunerated public service.

Below are examples of Jonah’s work as a writer. More will follow.

1. Quoted in Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life (Peter Jones). Seren, 2011. 2. Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector (edited by Peter Jones). Seren, 2018. 3. The Gregynog Journals (Jonah Jones). Scene & Word, 2010. 4. Letter from Jonah Jones to Cary Archard, 1974. 5. Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life. Ibid. 6. A Tree May Fall (Jonah Jones). Bodley Head, 1980. 7. Zorn (Jonah Jones). William Heinemann Ltd, 1987. 8. The Lakes of North Wales (Jonah Jones). Whittet Books, 1983. 9. The Gallipoli Diary (Jonah Jones). Seren, 1989. 10. Clough Williams-Ellis: Architect of Portmeirion (Jonah Jones). Seren, 1997.

Tide-race, a classic account by the Welsh artist, poet and writer Brenda Chamberlain (1912–1971) of life on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), was published in 1962. In 1986 Seren published an edition of it in their Classics series. Jonah, her friend and fellow-artist, was commissioned to write this 'afterword'.

During the Second World War, Jonah (or Len [Leonard] as he was then known) was a registered conscientious objector. For over three years he worked in forestry, mostly in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. In this letter to his close friend Mona Lovell he describes a visit to Askrigg, halfway up the dale, which he made with Fred Lawson, the watercolour artist who was his mentor in painting, and Fred’s wife Muriel Metcalfe, also an artist.

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