I am writing this in a hazy blur of delight. Right now, my short story STRANGE CREATION is on the Amazon best sellers’ horror page, right under a book by the master of his genre, Stephen King.
The first books I read by this writer, IT and THE STAND were borrowed from my public library [in the days when the UK still had a comprehensive library system]. I soon realised that I would need my own copies, because a single reading was not enough.
Stephen King has an instinctive, visceral grasp of story structure, although I believe he said once that he never planned the plots of his novels. His stories go fearlessly into those parts of our human psyches we would like to pretend we do not own; they show us fallible humans , often making choices that reveal their fatal flaw, as in CUJO, and they show us three dimensional people like ourselves, faced with terrible dilemmas.The possibilities he implants in our heads, before the reveal, shows what dark thoughts we are capable of. He is the voice of our nightmares – but they are ours, as well as his.
The germ of my recent novel DOLLYWAGGLERS was inspired, years ago, by reading THE STAND, his dystopian fable of America after a flu pandemic. I was itching to write my own dystopia, having read Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as a teenager, but the idea of a disease [and this could be a metaphor for all kinds of sicknesses our society manifests – or it could be an act of God – or it could be chance], gripped my imagination.
I never thought of myself as being a horror writer, but my short story that now stands, rightly so, underneath King’s, is, I realise, horror with a human face.
I wonder why it is that Stephen King has for so long remained uncrowned as the King of American fiction. Why his fellow writers have not honoured him with a prize. Why the world has not found a way of giving him the laurels he deserves.
I’m not talking about the books that keep you reading far, far into the night, the stories you have to reach the end of, like MISERY, or THINNER, or the short stories that make up ‘Skeleton Crew’, but the ones that reveal King as an author of depth and evocation. Take THE BODY, a story I have read at least ten times, and that made itself naturally into the fine film STAND BY ME. A better drawn picture of fifties’ childhood I have never read. And even though I grew up in England, his references to Schwann bikes, dog tags and hamburger meat brought that moment in time , that little crew of misfits, perfectly to my mind’s eye. The loyalties and rivalries of his group of kids, their language, their fears and hopes, travelling along the rail tracks so they can see an actual dead body, reminds me of the gangs I used to be in, back in London in the early fifties, though we never did anything as adventurous.
Or take a more recent work, BAG OF BONES. A fine study of bereavement, mixed in with the haunting of cursed land, but at the heart, is a man who misses his wife and whose involvement with the supernatural is his way of finding closure. It rings true to me.
King understands the niceties of human nature, and if he chooses to take us down dark tunnels, it is not because he cannot stand the sunshine and daylight up above. On the contrary, his understanding of our whole selves, light and shadow, makes us appreciate life all the more.