Author Spotlight: Stephen King
When Stephen King speaks, readers and writers alike listen. He is a master of storytelling, and the modern King of Horror. You will sleep with the light on, check under the bed for monsters, and go back for more. If you like to scare yourself witless, and have yet to pick up a Stephen King, then you have yet to be truly scared witless.
My first experience of Stephen King was Carrie. I became obsessed with it, read it like a manual to the secrets of a good story, and watched the film over and over again (it’s a rather good adaptation). The novel tells the story of Carrie, a young teenager with a terrifying zealot of a mother and no understanding of the modern world. On the onset of puberty, Carrie discovers that she is a powerful telekinetic – something that soon becomes far too dangerous to comprehend. I was transfixed by the adolescent torture that Carrie went through, and was terrified by what she did, without ever failing in my respect for her. To write a scary character is something, but to write a scary character that never loses your trust or sympathy is quite another.
I briefly read Thinner, but didn’t get on with it. And it meant that I didn’t return to Stephen King until I was urged by a lecturer at university to try his semi-autobiographic writers bible, On Writing. If you ever wondered what it was like to be a writer (especially a horror writer) or aspired to be one yourself, this is essential reading. I have gone through three copies because I wore it out through re-reading, poring over the pages. I credit On Writing with the dramatic difference in the quality of my writing between first and second year.
Of course, that got me hooked. Next was his classic tome of a post-apocalyptic novel: The Stand. It’s enormous, but you barely notice. This is the story of two sides of humanity – good and evil. The leftovers of the human race after the end of the world are massing on either side for an enormous showdown. You travel America, and you don’t even wonder which side is which until the very end. Plus, you meet one of the greatest modern characters of literature – Tom Cullen. The book has since been adapted for screen and even in to graphic novel.
“M-O-O-N. That spells ‘my main man’.” — Tom Cullen, The Stand by Stephen King
You’ll probably already know The Shining thanks to Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation. Again – another pretty good adaptation. But nothing quite compares to the book. This is the perfect book to demonstrate setting as a character in itself – the hotel is an oppressive presence throughout, and Jack’s descent in to madness is like a stretched musical note. It’s artful. (For more of The Shining, you can read the more recent Doctor Sleep, which follows a grown-up Danny.
If you still haven’t had enough of Stephen King by then (and you won’t have), try his epic saga, The Dark Tower. You can also read Salem’s Lot for a pretty good vampire story and Pet Semetary and Cujo if you never want to look at your pet the same way again.
But it’s not just his novels that entrance – he’s also the author of novellas such as The Body (the basis of the 1986 film Stand By Me) and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (yep, The Shawshank Redemption was based on that). He even authored The Green Mile. There are countless film adaptations of Stephen King stories, but nothing ever quite stands up to the books – Tom Hanks or no. There’s enough Stephen King to fill a lifetime, and you only have 24 hours in a day. You’d better get reading!