We, Me, Them & It: 21st anniversary

– Alex Mawson-Harris and Jamie Jauncey

How has John Simmons’ book impacted fellow writers over the last 21 years? Jamie Jauncey and Alex Mawson-Harris share the treasures they’ve found between the pages…

Jamie:

I first met John in 2003 when he came to talk about the next book, The Invisible Grail, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I chaired his event.

I was in my early 50s and feeling stuck, caught between a heavy workload of dry corporate writing and the novel I was writing.

We, Me, Them & It helped me find a way through.”

OK Alex, so what stage of your career were you at when you first came across John’s book?


Alex:

Reading ‘Writing for Business’ – one of the modules I chose as part of Falmouth’s Professional Writing Masters, was when I first mulled over those block-capital-words on the front cover.

‘WE,

ME,

THEM

& IT’

And, pray tell, what was going on for you when you first opened John’s book?


Jamie:

I remember feeling that here was someone saying things I’d thought for a long time but had never properly articulated to myself.

It was liberating and immensely validating. It helped bridge the gap between the two parts of my writing life and allowed me to see that the creativity could flow in both directions.

What effect did it have on you when you first read it?


Alex:

Being fresh to the writing party, I approached the book as more of a step-by-step guide.

Here was a wealth of experience, illustrated by (sometimes deeply personal) stories – clear examples of the concepts I was discovering. How has John’s book since informed your writing? And what’s your relationship to the message(s) now?


Jamie:

The most important thing I learnt from John’s book – and this cuts across everything I’ve written since: business writing, blog posts, novels and the biography I’m currently writing – is that writing is and must be an act of human connection.

That means that there must be emotion present somewhere in what is being said, if not in the actual expression, then at least in the thought or intent preceding it.

Businesses, if one wishes to confine the message of this book to that realm -– although personally I believe it reaches far further,  are people and people communicate with their hearts as well as their minds.

To ignore that, as some do and as John illustrates with good humour in the book, is usually to fail to connect.

“That message alone, and there are plenty of others in the book, has stood me in endlessly good stead.”

Is there one stand-out message for you, Alex?

Or do you take different things from it depending on what task you’re facing?

And as a younger writer (may I?!) who is relatively new to the world of business writing, do you find it at all dated, or does it seem relevant still to what’s going on.


Alex:

‘Only connect.’ 

That’s also the stand-out message for me, with everything else relating back to that core ethos.

I can feel the seeds within John’s book that have since bloomed.

Much of his approach seems to me to now be commonplace, so for me it’s not only still relevant, but gives the context and reasoning behind the experience and advice it shares.

Can you please elaborate on how you think the book reaches beyond business?


Jamie:

Partly because ‘only connect’ applies to everything you will ever write, be it email, web copy, annual report or novel.

And partly because for me the book carries an underlying message about the importance of honesty, truth and personal authenticity.

“To write well, in any field, means that you accept the responsibility of writing as the human being you really are.”

If you were to recommend John’s book to someone just starting out as a writer, what would you say about why they should read it?


Alex:

As a fan of judging a book by its cover – listening to the books that speak to me – I wouldn’t say much about why someone ‘should’ read it.

However, to those hearing “read me” whispers, I’d highly recommend exploring John’s words, whether for their own sake, or for the sake of the words we choose to write.

– Alex Mawson-Harris and Jamie Jauncey

To mark the 21st anniversary edition of We, Me, Them & It, join us at 6pm on Wednesday 2 February to hear John Simmons in conversation with 26’s chair Martin Clarkson. Find out more and register for free here.

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