It was a routine—it was a rut. My younger self, a lanky nineteen-year-old who considered his pastime, his hobby, as going out and getting hammered drunk. I stretched my hangovers into two days, truly giving my liver a beating. I chased girls with my friends, doing it badly, stumbling around in a vodka haze trying to make coherent conversation. This was my life. I hadn’t read a book since I was a lanky eight-year-old. I thought books were a waste of time, pages filled with static words that could never rival a Hollywood Blockbuster. And then it all changed, quite suddenly. I picked up a Stephen King book, the thing thicker than my thigh, the title stamped across the front, It. I remembered watching the film when I was younger and on holiday with my Nan. I remembered how it gave me nightmares for weeks and how I was too scared to go to the toilet that first night unless my Nan turned the lights on and checked that the coast was clear of killer clowns for me.
I inhaled that book. It took me the best part of a week to read. I was pissed off when I had to put it down to eat, to sleep, or to go to the toilet. I didn’t want to leave my room, to get off of my bed. Except I wasn’t on my bed, not really, I was somewhere else, in a land created by King, one that was both mesmerising and frightening. It was the first time I had experienced the simple joy of reading, of being yanked into another world. I was hooked.
After that day I ploughed through more of his books—and there are a lot of them. He writes with voracity, as if he is worried that should he stop, pause to take breath, his ideas will dry up. I read The Shining, Carrie, The Stand, Lisey’s Story. I couldn’t get enough of them. I started clambering out of my rut, cancelling on parties to . . . read books. I thought I was sick, stricken down with something that had turned me into a geek. I didn’t give a shit. I loved it.
The man is a genius, I don’t think anyone can really dispute that. Even after he sobered up, when the books went a little stale, King having to relearn the act of story telling, how to do it when sober, the books he was producing were still incredible. I think their only criticism, really, can be that they didn’t live up to his other books. But when you’re churning out oftentimes two novels a year, each with enough pages to require their very own tree be felled to print them, you can allow the guy a little breathing space.
In between the reading, I noticed something strange. My family tree of reading had branched out by then, stretching branches into other genres, dipping my toes into other authors, testing them out, finding ones that I liked the fit of. And something miraculous (at least for me) was happening. I was writing. I was doing it for the joy of it. I was pumping out one to two thousand words a night, sitting on my bed with my little laptop. I continued to do it when I moved to Vancouver for a year of travelling, and long after my laptop finally gave up on me. I found that I had a strange itch at the back of my head, a sort of gnawing that intensified if I didn’t write. I would feel guilty, as if I had wasted a day if no words had entered my computer.
I don’t think I understood that I wanted to be an author, not then. I was just writing to satisfy myself, because…well, I had to. I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to read something that I had written that showed the same cadence, that almost invisible rhythm that carries you from word to word in a Stephen King book. I have tried to explain that to a lot of people when they see my bookshelves dominated by King books. It’s as if his entire books are songs with their own tempo. He tunes them perfectly, creating real emotion, eliciting it from his reader. Most people look at me blankly when I say that. But it’s the only way I can explain his work. There’s no one else quite like him.
His series of Dark Tower books, his step away from his norm, are excellent. The second book in that series, The Drawing of the Three, is one of my all time favourite books. It is also during the reading of this book that I realised that I wanted to become an author. It was also during this time that my father told me that I used to sit on his sofa for hours, scribbling down stories as a kid. I don’t really remember doing that, but he said that it was the only time that I was quiet and totally content. He showed me some of the stories that he has kept . . . they don’t quite have their own tempo . . . a strange sort of jazz, maybe. But it shows that I have always loved writing, even if I had forgotten all about that love.
What is this post about? It’s about Stephen King. It’s about convincing people to pick up his books and delve into them. You can’t understand horror and suspense until you’ve read King. You’re missing out on something amazing. And aside from all the wishy-washy shit I’ve spouted, the man made me realise what it is that I want to do. He did it by being the best at what he does. Shit, I’m off to dig out a King book, one that I haven’t read in a while so it’s almost like reading it for the first time again!
James lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. After years of pounding away on his laptop, conjuring up stories designed to frighten and entertain, he decided to push for publication in 2014. He has had two short stories published so far and is currently drowning in the editing stage of his first novel.