Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Day That Writing Got A Face

I recently read the Stephen King book, On Writing.  I had heard of it quite some time ago, but not one for manuals and do-it-this-way books, I had never picked it up.  Then I had a thought.  If anybody had something to say about what it was to be a writer, well, it was probably this guy.  I finished it last month and it reignited my interest in this great writer.

You see, Stephen King was my first.  He was the first writer that made me want to be a writer.  By this point I had already fallen in love with books, and had a whole collection of Roald Dahl and A. A. Milne hardbacks that I used to polish with a wet rag (I'm not joking), but I had never wanted to actually be a writer.  Up until the age of about nine years old I had never considered the concept of who actually wrote the books.  They were all about characters and what happens, who got turned into mice by witches, and who won the game of pooh-sticks.

So what changed?  Sat in the retirement bungalow of a dear old family friend called Frank, who always seemed more entertained by me than anybody else, I was intrigued by what was kept on his shelves.  They were overflowing, and at my eye level there were scrapbooks.  He collected autographs, and had scrapbooks on top of scrapbooks, all full of autographs.  It was a great hobby he informed me, and seemed so excited by it I decided to give it a go.  I wrote my letter to Aston Villa football club and a few weeks later in the post I got a very nice photograph of the goal keeper with a big swirly unreadable autograph.  I was excited, but not that excited, and this was my first and only foray into the world of autograph collecting.

However, the next time I set off to Frank's house I noticed something else.  The books.  This wasn't a shelf like mine with kid's books.  This was a grown up shelf with anything but small cuddly honey loving bears on the front of the jackets.  One caught my eye in particular.

With moonlight streaming in through the window and handcuffs attached to the bed (a police story, perhaps thought my 9 year old self) this was without doubt like nothing I had ever read before.  But it was something else that really struck me the most. 

You see up until this point I had never seen an author.  I had no idea what they looked like.  They were like rarely sighted birds, something you heard about and read about in books but never saw one in real life.  Suddenly the people who write books had a face.  I immediately wanted to read the book, and thankfully my parents who were not Stephen King readers and who had no idea of the content convinced dear old Frank that I wouldn't ruin the book and it was fine to lend it to me.  Perhaps he was too embarrassed to discuss his reading tastes, but wisely or unwisely he gave me that book and I read it in less than a weekend.  I was hooked.  Perhaps a little disturbed, but hooked nevertheless.

Talking about it with Frank the next time, he said to me that he thought Stephen King might be a little bit crazy with all the terrible subjects that he writes about.  The only thing I could think to say was that I hoped somebody might say that about me one day in the future.  Whilst I might no longer hope to be thought of as insane, the thought that somebody might take as much from my writing as I did Stephen King's as a child (it explains a lot, perhaps) is still a captivating thought.

So why am I writing about Stephen King today?  I came across a few videos of him on Youtube and this one really stood out.  I like his casual-as-chinos attitude, and as usual he has something interesting to say.  It's long, but if you've got some time, pop the kettle on and sit down with this.  If you like Stephen King or admire his work, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

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