Tuesday, 12 October 2010

On Writing by Stephen King

This has to be the best how-to-write book I've seen so far. Maybe it's because it reads like a novel, although the author subtitles it 'a memoir of the craft'. It's a truism that autobiography is only interpretation, but with Stephen King the process is seamless and entirely enjoyable.

The bare facts are he was borne in Portland, Maine in 1947 and brought up by his mother and grandparents because his father absconded when he was young. His older brother was also a talented writer. He gave Stephen his first chance at writing for his home-produced magazine, printed from an old machine in the basement. At university Stephen met his wife Tabitha, who is a novelist, and he now has grandchildren.

I was hooked when I learned his early influences were comic books and films.I think maybe this is true of most working class/blue collar would-be writers of our pre-TV generation. Comics were a cheap substitute for books and films gave an endless supply of new stories. As a youngster, Stephen scrounged lifts to the nearest town with a cinema, fourteen miles away from where he lived.

Two of my own favourite films are The Shining and Misery, both based on his novels and both about writers, and the books were even better. I haven't read Carrie but like most film-goers I'm haunted by the final event, much copied in later films.

In the middle part of the book he trawls throught the usual how-to-write heading, such as 'description' and 'setting' but does so with examples drawn from his own books and influences in a way that reads like digressions and anecdotes. The insights seem incredibly authentic.

The last part of the book, called 'On Living: A Postscript' is a story about the vagaries of fate and of courage, again reading like fiction: an account of a very bad accident and the author's attempts to overcome the injuries he sustained so he could continue writing.

I found it an inspiring and entertaining read.

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