Saturday, 17 November 2007

Recommended Reading

On Writing

By Stephen King

This book is part biography and part How To. A Memoir of the Craft, the front of my US copy says (thank you, ). I wanted to read this for a long time and, when I finally did, I wasn’t disappointed.

I was a big fan of Stephen King when I was younger and I still have a lot of time for him. My nan had a whole stack of his books, so the very first time I earned enough pocket money to be able to save up a semi-substantial amount, I bought her a copy of Firestarter, inside which I wrote a little birthday message in pencil. Firestarter was also the first adult novel I ever read. I loved it, I critiqued it, and I eventually bought the film and learned to hate Drew Barrymore and love Heather Locklear.

I lost touch with King’s books a few years back and the last volume I read was Everything’s Eventual. I grew up on Stephen King. I adored The Shining and Salem’s Lot and Misery and Carrie and … I don’t think I need to go on. We all know the classics.

But somewhere along the line I stopped reading Stephen King. I think that had a lot to do with needing to broaden my horizons, and then needing to read an awful lot of legal textbooks and then computer reference books. But I also think it had a lot to do with thinking that casting aside Stephen King and James Herbert and Clive Barker was about growing up, that somehow these books were unchallenging, pointless and a right old load of rubbish. Well, that’s what people told me, and that’s what people still tell me when I’m seen in the staff room reading Harry Potter or a Stargate: Atlantis tie-in novel or a story about a witch and a warrior. So if it’s not Jane Austin, or hasn’t been recommended by Richard and Judy’s book club, it’s apparently crap.

Anyway, I’ve gone totally off track.

On Writing is the story of the life of Stephen King, at least what he can remember of it after an immense amount of drugs and alcohol and a horrific car accident. The whole book comes across as very honest and it’s quite funny in places. The narrative is very relaxed and I swear I could actually hear him talking. Not talking to his readers, not talking to you, but talking to me, like he was right in front of me telling me about his life.

The How To portion of the book is very helpful and insightful. It was wonderful to get a glimpse of how this man’s brain works. I’ve read an absolute ton of How To books and will continue to do so because everyone writes differently and what’s right for one writer, isn’t always right for another. The way Stephen King constructs his stories is how I used to work. He takes a concept and he lets it flow. He’s not a planner and he doesn’t construct reams of chapter summaries and countless narrative outlines. The difference is that he’s good at it. Me? I need more structure these days. I need to know exactly where I’m going and where my path is in case I need to stray from it. How will I find my way back without a map?!

If you want to know the definitive way to write a book, don’t buy this because that One True Way does not exist. But if you want to see how one very successful man cracked open the writing business and made it truly his, this is the book for you.

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