“I lived in a cult, but I ain’t no victim. Now I use my experience to create my character.”
It was a dark Sunday at the end of January, not yet evening but already dark. You know, one of those depressing winter days in England, where daylight seems a distant memory and the sun a rude joke. I was working on taking my lazy multitasking to the next level – meaning: sitting on the sofa in the same position for at least four hours, watching TV with one eye and surfing social media with the other, pretending I am working on notforvanity.com – when something popped up in my Twitter feed. A guy, named Jonathan Cerruto – an Italian surname, maybe New York? I asked myself – shares a tweet. I thought it was one of those ‘shameless self-promo’ hashtags meant to help fellow authors but, most of the times, only end up in likes and retweets. This one, though, felt different, genuine for once: Jonathan’s words were along the lines of ‘hi guys, l am a writer too and I know the struggles of getting something out there, so help me to help you. I’ll start: here’s my book. Have a look at it and I will have a look at yours.’
These were the words of a like-minded person, a perfect stranger who had a purpose similar to mine: helping others to succeed, instead of climbing on others’ shoulders for a brief second of elusive virtual celebrity. I followed him, he follow me back and we began to exchange DMs. The more we talked, the more we discovered we had things in common (we both were writers and, more broadly, artists, we both had lived in Italy, we both had studied in London, we both were trying to create our artistic path out there) and inevitably we grew close, sharing not only ideas and comments, but also comparing notes about personal life and past experiences.
‘My life has been a movie, a real rollercoaster of emotions with many ups and downs.
I grew up in a cult, and in a very strict, physically and mentally, abusive family. I wasn’t allowed to have friends out of the that community, and for that I was heavily bullied by the other kids. I was not allowed to listen to certain types of music or follow any artistic inclinations.’
It’s a hard reality to admit and it’s probably harder to hear. But, as Jonathan pointed out, ‘I don’t want to look like a victim, because I am not.’ And he’s right. It wasn’t his choice, as it wasn’t our choice where we grew up, what we wore, what school we went to. Probably up to our mid-teenage years, if not later, we all had to agree to choices that weren’t ours and deal with the consequences, even if they were unfair.
‘Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is prohibited and punishable with the exclusion from the community, for the person but also for their family members, which is what happened to me.’
A common reaction to this amount of pressure is to find a way to let off some steam, a place that we can call our own, may it be a group of peers, gaming, playing a sport, sometimes even drugs. Other times the release is found in solitary activities, like reading, writing, listening to or playing music, painting.
‘Art has always been a gateway for me, a portal for me to ‘escape’ the place where I was. Since I was little, I used to create stories in my head and put them down on paper, write rhymes and express how I was feeling in those particular moments. Creating art has always kept me company and lifted my spirit in those dark moments. My happiest memories are of me being in an isolated place, listening to music and reading a book, or writing down my thoughts, hidden from everyone.’
I know this might be hard to digest for many social animals. But you need to understand we are not all social animals, and we are not social animals all the time. I, for example, like to spend time with friends and family, I am happy to go for a couple of drinks with my work colleagues after a rough day, but there are also times where I need to be totally alone with myself: no music or a very specific genre, no people, no WhatsApp chat, nothing. Not even my partner. Just me. It’s necessary to heal, to declutter, to regenerate, to breathe, to avoid going completely out of my mind. It makes me who I am, but it’s also a part of me, like an arm or a leg, a piece I can’t part from without being worse off after. It happens to everybody, but the opposite is also true: we need happy tunes, spending an hour over the phone with our bestie and being surrounded by a lot of people. One thing doesn’t exclude the other, as one reaction is not better than the other. They are different.
The same can be said about us. As artists, but also as human beings, we don’t have a single like or dislike, and we are not only interested in one thing or another, and in our personal scale of interests there isn’t one superior. Being a writer doesn’t mean I can’t be a chef too, or that I can’t learn how to play an instrument or climb a mountain. Or having a passion for fashion.
‘Fashion was one of the many passions that I have taught myself to escape from that toxic environment. I remember I used to hide under the living room table and draw gowns, clothing items and shoes on scrap paper. I couldn’t suppress those inclinations and once I turned 17 years old, I ran away and followed my dreams. I moved to Milan and got my degree in Fashion and Design. I created and designed four collections that I had the chance to showcase in London. Life was good and kind to me, but something was still missing.’
There are different reasons to escape. You might be bored. You might have reached breaking point. You might be truly, madly, deeply in love. Maybe it’s the need for a new adventure or the burning desire of new knowledge. But whatever the reason that sends you packing, there is one point in common: your deep desire to find a missing piece. You go away because your life is not complete maybe good, but not perfect. And you might realise it in so many different ways – you don’t want to leave the place you landed last week because the idea of not being there tears your soul, it might be yet another abusive comment making you say ‘enough is enough’ – but it will switch on in your head like a neon bulb. It’s always been there, it just never occurred to you up to that point. But when it does you’ll see your life under a completely different light.
“Three years ago,  I had some serious health issues, and I underwent surgery. That experience changed me completely. I promised myself that, from that moment on, I would move forward and respond to my real calling. My novels, like all my writing, come from a place of truth and real-life experience, and, of course, a lot of heart. My Joshua Bane series features, clearly, Joshua, who has been abandoned by his biological parents and grows up in an orphanage with his twin sister Ashely, in Russia. The siblings are separated when they are 7 and the memory of each other is erased by Her, an evil entity. He lives in an abusive environment, heavily bullied and mistreated by the nuns because of his peculiar features, he experiences depression, and has suicidal thoughts, but he’s finally adopted by a UK family. Things seem to take a turn for the best, but on a tragic day when Joshua is 16, he comes home from school to find his adopted parents brutally killed. The experience is so traumatic that awakens his magical skills and from this moment on he devotes his life and his skills to find out who killed his parents and find his twin sister. In the process he will fight monsters, face dark magic and most importantly, he will have to fight his inner demons, because despite he has a successful career, plenty of money and apparently whatever he wants in life, his twin is still missing and there seem to be no one in the world that loves him for who he really is. I wanted to share Joshua Bane’s story, this fantastic superhero, member of the LGBTQ+ community, who goes through a lot of challenges in his life for all the messages it carries. I envisioned Joshua’s character when I was only 12 years old, because I wanted to make people understand that there is always hope.”
What’s more powerful than a message of hope? Especially for all the voiceless kids out there. Like Jonathan himself, I have been an invisible person in my teenage years. I felt unheard, misunderstood, different, not belonging anywhere. I didn’t have an identity and I didn’t have the means or the words to express my distress. It was not only frustrating, but painful. I felt like there was no cure, I lived in a dark bubble of hate and desperation with no way out.
Except for music. There was a band that really helped me, Linkin Park. They became my voice, my anger, my frustration. They said what I couldn’t voice in front of millions of people, they expressed loud and clear what was going through my mind. But they also gave me hope. They were a bit older than me, but not so old to be my parents, and they made it. They went through my same path, and they reached the other side, somehow. Scarred, angry, ready to fight but alive. And if they made it, so could I.
“In my books I do mention specific songs to help the reader diving into the story. I want them to feel and visualise through the lyrics what a particular character is experiencing in that moment. That’s what makes it magical for me: music and books have the power to take your mind to places, near or far, imaginary or real, and they make you feel things without physically moving.”
One can be easily tricked into thinking that art, in any form, comes from the same spring. But it’s not like that.
“The lyrics business and the book business are two separate worlds. But, even though I apply two different methods, somehow one skill inspires the other. Music has such power over me. I can listen to a specific song and find inspiration to write the next scene in my book and vice versa: a specific scene or event I wrote in my books pops up in my mind and that can inspire a whole verse, the chorus, or a bridge for my lyrics. Joshua Bane has a very deep connection with music too, and I mentioned it. One of my many missions in life is to be able to combine the two worlds into one, create a sort of platform that allows the readers to read while listening to that specific soundtrack, like watching a movie on a page.”
A mission. A heroic quest of sorts, if you like.
“Having a dream is the hardest thing to have because it’s hard work, it requires patience and sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice. It can suck you dry; at times it leaves you in a worse place than where you started, and it can cut your spirit. That’s why, in my opinion, many people give up: because they expect to see results in a short time. And, let’s be honest, some of them are not willing to do the work, because they are too scared, or because they don’t think they are worthy. Then the frustration kicks in, and they simply throw the towel. Being an artist is a daily challenge and it takes time, but at the end you will be happy and live your days without regret. Otherwise, sooner or later, regret will knock at your door, and, at that point, it might be too late. One of my favourite mantras is ‘Time and pressure create the most precious diamonds’.
For those who are afraid of taking that leap of faith I would say: do it fearlessly. The hardest part is jump. Life is too short to not follow your dreams. We are incredible creatures, and our mind is magical. If we picture it in our mind, if we truly believe in it, we can do what we think is impossible. Trust the process, believe in yourself and work hard. Surround yourself with people that you truly love and love you back. I am very lucky to have a partner that supports me and lifts me up, but, even if that’s not your case, remember: love yourself. That’s the most important bit. Repeat it to yourself every single day, especially on those days when you don’t feel like it, trick your mind, fake it till you make it. Don’t listen to people’s opinions, listen to your heart, be kind to yourself first, then to others. And, as a last word of advice, be like a train, that moves only forward and never back.”
Because the past is a desolated land, it’s something to look at with curiosity, learn from its mistake and dispose of once its function is exhausted. The past is a land that doesn’t belong to us anymore, it’s a shadow on the wall, disappearing as soon as we turn the lights on.
All books by Jonathan A. Cerruto are available at: https://amzn.to/3SUjA0w