How Stephen King influences my writing

It’s really easy to say that Stephen King is my favourite writer. That’s not to say that he’s the writer whose books I’ve read the most of. No, that accolade goes to Terrance Dicks (a whole blog entry in itself).

But King’s writing absolutely informs my work, and influences me in little subtle ways that I’m going to find next to impossible to quantify.

I’ve been reading King since I was a teenager. He was the second novelist I read whose books were geared towards adults (the first was James Herbert), but looking back I can’t remember why I would have picked up a book by him in the first place. The book was one of two titles, either Misery, or Pet Sematary, and the reason I bought it was down to the cover. Both of these books (at the time I bought them) had such striking bold covers that I wasn’t able to pass them by in the book store-I had to have them.

But it’s not the covers that influence my work, it’s King’s majesty with words that make me want to write better. After a break of about a year reading King whilst I caught up on those other books I’ve been stockpiling from Amazon, I’ve gone back to old classics that I’ve never read before namely Carrie and The Dead Zone and I’m just gobsmacked.

Carrie, the first published novel of King’s is a little gem. Everything I want in a book is right there in condensed, tight prose. Within a few simple sentences. I feel a hatred for Carrie’s mother with such intensity it scares me. His technique of inserting newspaper reports and interview snippets (born of necessity to help bulk his draft out) anchor the story and make these characters even realer to me.

The Dead Zone, published in 1979, is one of King’s plotted novels and it’s interesting how it feels a little different because of it. You can feel the cogs behind the story slowly turning and bringing events together in a way that I don’t normally feel with the rest of his work. But, his characters are as fully fledged as ever. The relationships between them, as genuine and true as ever. I’m loving this–still reading it in fact, so don’t spoil the ending, I’m not quite sure what Johnny’s going to do but I suspect it won’t end well for Stillson.

Just look at this cover for Misery. For a teenage boy there was absolutely no way I could walk past that cover. It promised so much and incredibly, managed to summarise the entire book in those few startling images.

Of all of King’s work, it’s Misery that I’m fondest of. I must have read that book ten times and I adore it. Annie Wilkes is the baddest bad ass nutcase that I’ve ever read but then why is it possible to feel such incredible sympathy for her at the same time? King can do this.

At times horrific and disturbing, it’s a book that never fails to be compelling.

But it’s not just his novels that I adore. King is a master of the short story and with so many to his name it’s no wonder. There are two however that literally have filled me with dread. I’m really not just saying that, I have vivid recollections of reading these two stories and feeling the cold fingers of fear grasping around my throat.

1408 from the collection Everything’s Eventual was finally turned into a really prosaic movie that left me wondering what the hell I’d been so bothered about a few years earlier. I’d really recommend not seeing that movie, but absolutely dig out the short story. It’s perhaps my fascination with the paranormal and love of ghosts and hauntings that resonated with me. A reporter spending the night in a haunted hotel room…what could, possibly go wrong? What was so brilliant about this story though was that King had done most of the work in making me terrified before he’d even sent his reporter into that room.

N from the collection Just after Sunset is another favourite that I’ve just reread to try and understand how he managed to terrify me so much with that story. N tells of a man compelled to return to a field of stones where a doorway may lie to another dimension. When I read that story, I had shivers run across my arms. That feeling of dread that us writers like to throw at our characters?–I had that. It was a primal state of terror and it was King’s words that was making it happen.

That night, when I went to bed, I checked the back door at least three times. I hurried upstairs, not wanting to linger by any light switch I was turning off. My own reality feeling distorted.

And then, that I suppose is why I love King. When his writing is on top form, he twists reality with his words and us readers feel the effects. In his memoir On Writing, he likens the art of writing to telepathy, only using words to convey the images from the writer’s mind to the reader.

If that is true, and when I see Annie Wilkes out of the corner of my eye, or the stones in Ackerman’s field, or a terrified teenage girl locked and afraid and hiding from her mother, I know that King’s version of telepathy works.

What books of King’s most resonant with you? Which do you go back to time and again?

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