Archive for the ‘Stephen King’ Tag

Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

Monthly Round-up: February 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

On 1 February, I went in for surgery.

Since then I’ve been at home recovering, so February is pretty much a write-off. However, it’s been very cold while I’ve been off, so it’s not been a bad time to be stuck indoors. And by the time I go back to work, which I hope will be next week (pending doctor approval) it will be daylight when I leave the house.

That said, there are a few things to report this month.


I’m pleased to announce that my story ‘Morgan’s Father’ is included in the Women in Horror edition of the SIREN’S CALL e-zine. This issue is completely free to download as a PDF and is chock full of horror stories by women, so download your copy now.

In other news, we don’t yet have a release date for OUTPOST H311, but the onus is on me at the moment since I’ve had the edits back and I’m working through them. And it’s taking rather longer than I was expecting. Partly that’s due to being on sick leave. For the first two weeks following surgery I couldn’t really do much except lie about reading or watching TV. No concentration for anything else. However, this week I’ve been making progress with the edits, so hopefully there’ll be more news on this next month.


I contributed to Mark West’s Stephen King mixtape, which appeared on his blog on 26 February. This was a post including a long list of writers talking briefly about their favourite King story. I chose ‘The Breathing Method’.


I haven’t worked on any WIPs for a while, what with surgery getting in the way and all. So the current status is unchanged. There are two current works in progress:

A WHITER SHADE OF PAIN: a crime thriller set in 1967 which is a collaboration with my husband. We plotted the book together, then I wrote Draft 1 and he started on Draft 2. The latter isn’t finished yet, but I’ve taken it back to make further changes to the amended chapters. So I suppose it’s currently on Draft 2.5.

DEADLY SUMMER is the fourth Shara Summers novel, which takes my intrepid sleuth to New York City when she gets a job in a US soap opera. I am about a third of the way through the first draft. I halted work on this when I started writing OUTPOST H311, and I haven’t got back to it yet.

That’s all to report this month. I anticipate that by the end of next month, spring will have sprung. But you can never tell, with British weather.


Best Books of 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is a bit late coming, given that we’re already halfway through February.

Every year I set up a ‘Goodreads’ challenge to read so many books in a year. On average it takes me about a week to read one average-length novel. Most of this is down to my long commute – I spend the best part of 3 hours a day every working day on public transport, travelling to and from work, and I use most of that time to read. I am also quite a fast reader, especially if the book is exciting, and I find myself turning pages faster to find out what happens next.

In 2017 I set myself a goal of reading 68. Happily I exceeded that goal and a read a total of 70 books last year. Six of those books I gave a five-star rating to, and this my criteria for the ‘best books of the year’ list.

In no particular order, they are:

Pet Sematary: Stephen King
Heart-Shaped Box: Joe Hill
Behind Her Eyes: Sarah Pinborough
X: Sue Grafton
Bones Never Lie: Kathy Reichs
Soul Music: Terry Pratchett

No real surprises here – these are all authors whose books I enjoy, and three of my four all-time favourite authors – Stephen King, Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs – are in this list. The only one who isn’t is Sara Paretsky, and that was only because I did not read her 2017 release (though I bought it, at Bouchercon in Toronto) last year.

More details about these books and why I enjoyed them can be found below.

Pet Sematary:
The first time I read this book was over 25 years ago. I had to re-read it last year for my horror book club, and I had forgotten just how good it is. This is an almost-perfect horror story that contains all of the characteristics of King that made him my inspiration.

Louis Creed, doctor and Ordinary Guy moves his family to rural Maine when he takes up a job as resident physician on a university campus. The road outside the house claims the lives of many pets, so many that a pet cemetery has been set up by local children. But there’s something much darker lying beyond the cemetery, and Louis’ descent into madness is creepy and downright disturbing.

Heart-Shaped Box:
I got to meet Joe Hill at Fantasycon in Scarborough a couple of years ago, and end up buying a few books of his which he signed. This was one of them. It involves a fading, self-absorbed rock star with a fascination for collecting macabre items who ends up buying from the internet a suit that allegedly has a ghost attached to it. The suit turns up in a heart-shaped box and the promised ghost does indeed come with the suit, but as always the story is far more complex and it soon takes a sinister turn.

Though not in the same league as his famous father, Stephen King, Joe Hill is still an accomplished horror writer in his own right, and this is a creepy and rather disturbing tale.

Behind Her Eyes:
I know Sarah Pinborough personally through both the crime and horror convention circuits, and I am always impressed with both her versatility and her writing style. The author of 20-plus published novels, this is the one that seems to have moved her up into the big leagues, and well deserved that move is to.

‘Behind Her Eyes’ starts out as effectively a love triange between David, Adele and Louise. David is a doctor, Adele his apparently fragile wife, and single mother Louise his secretary. But she meets him in a bar and shares a kiss with him before she starts her new job and realise that he’s her boss. Meanwhile Adele offers a hand of friendship to Louise and she finds herself getting closer to Adele, whilst feeling guilty about carrying on a relationship with David. Alternating between Adele and Louise’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that this is not a typical psychological thriller, and it has an ending that will blow you away.

I was not to know, at the time I read this book, that it would be Sue Grafton’s penultimate novel and she would tragically leave us before getting to the end of her ‘alphabet’ books. I have been with Grafton’s couragious female PI since ‘A is for Alibi’. Kinsey Millhone isn’t married and doesn’t seem to be able to commit to relationships, has no kids and no desire to have any, doesn’t cook and doesn’t play particularly well with others. I think she’s wonderful. In ‘X’ Kinsey ends up crossing paths with a particularly vicious villain, and the encounter will have long-term repercussions for her.

I am aware that Grafton’s writing style, and her character, has influenced my own crime series. Sue Grafton is the only one of my favourite crime writers I never got to meet, and I wish I could have.

Bones Never Lie:
Kathy Reichs is another one of my favourite crime writer, and one I’ve had the privilege to meet. Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan shuttles between Montreal and North Caroline, uncovering murders in her examination of bones, and with a long-standing on-again off-again relationship with Montreal cop Andrew Ryan. She also has a daughter, Katy, whose chronological age marks the passage of time in the series, though by now Katy is grown up and off doing her own thing.

This one was very typical of Kathy Reichs’ style. But I freely admit I love the formula, and I found this one a proper page-turner.

Soul Music:
I’ve been re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a while, and I expect it to take me quite some time yet, since there are over 40 books in the series and this is #16. And eventually I will get to books I haven’t read before, since I didn’t get through them all the first time around.

My favourite books are the ones about the witches, but Death comes a close second and this one features the latter. In this chronicle of the fantasy world, the inhabitants discover Rock Music, and the spirit of teenage rebellion it inspires. Pratchett’s books are always entertaining, and are always a good thing to read when I need my spirits lifting.

So there we have it for the best books of 2017. For 2018 I’ve decided to play it safe and set a goal to read 70 books. Nearly 7 weeks in I have read 7, which puts me a bit behind schedule. But I am sure I shall catch up!

And if anyone is on Goodreads and wants to link up there, this is my profile page.

My Life in Books: The Stand

The-Stand-Stephen-King-UsedI never read The Stand in its original published version, but came across it when it was re-released as an ‘author’s extended version’ in 1990.  I was working in a book shop at the time, a job that was responsible for expanding my library quite dramatically – not just because I was around books all day and kept finding ones I wanted, but because we all got a staff discount if we bought books from the shop.  For some reason I had trouble finding an image of the cover of the 1990 release, which is the book that still sits on my shelf (along with quite a number of other Stephen King books), to include with this post.  The one I am including here is photo of someone’s copy of the book, not a JPG of the cover.

A huge doorstopper of a book, at over 1,150 pages, King allegedly put back in scenes that were cut from the originally published version, the reasoning being that people would be put off buying such a large book.  But I guess by 1990 Stephen King was such a mega-bestseller he had the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wanted.

Best described as a post-apocalyptic thriller, the plot of this book involves a super-virus, originally cultivated as a biological weapon, that effectively wipes out the population of the US, leaving handfuls of survivors that eventually band together, forming two camps – one clearly evil, the other fighting on the side of good.

The extended version, though a long book, is still one of King’s best in my view.  It’s a story of ordinary flawed people thrown into an extraordinary situation – what Stephen King does best.  The enduring appeal of post-apocalyptic novels is the study of how humanity behaves when the survival of the species is in crisis.  Modern post-apocalyptic stories generally feature zombies, but still study the behaviour of the human survivors – look at The Walking Dead, for example.  Though we’d like to think that when there are only a handful of humans left, everyone will pull together to save humanity, but sadly that’s not normally the way it is.  The surviving humans become extremely territorial, fighting each other.  This is the idea behind The Stand, and though there are no zombies to be found in this novel, the concept of what humanity is capable of in extreme survival situations is far scarier. The leader of the ‘evil’ camp is unquestionably a supernatural entity, evil for the sake of being evil, but his followers are all too human, and capable of some pretty despicable acts.  Like all King books there are truly hateful, but ultimately human, characters, who generally get what’s coming to them at the end, and likeable characters you root for and then get all upset over when they meet an undeservedly tragic end.

There are some passing observations about how our attitude to the things we take for granted shifts when the world as we know it has ended – using paper money as a book mark, for instance, as it has become worthless, and how a ruptured appendix becomes a fatal condition when there is no one around with medical knowledge to perform what is currently considered a basic and routine operation.

It’s not the first Stephen King on my list of memorable books and it will not be the last, but this book stands out for me as one of the best I ever read.

Best Books of 2013

As usual, over the past year I have been using Goodreads to log the books I read, and rate them using a scale of one to five stars.  About this time every year I use this to review the books I have read and which ones I have rated highest.

A book has to be pretty exceptional for me to give it five stars, but as it happens there were five books I rated five stars in 2013, so these are the books as I am citing as my best reads of the year.  Three of them are written by the same author:

Killing Orders/Bitter Medicine/Toxic Shock – Sara Paretsky.

This demonstrates why I don’t have a favourite book, I only have favourite authors.  I can never choose just one.

In 2013 I decided to re-read Sara Paretsky’s series about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski from the beginning.  Some of these early books I have not read in nearly 20 years, but I was reminded why Sara Paretsky remains one of my all-time favourite authors.  It takes her a little while to get into the series.  The three books listed above are numbers 3, 4 and 5 in the series respectively (the first two books I gave four stars to).  But once she does, I can find no fault.  The stories are tightly plotted, the clues are carefully and often subtly placed.  V.I. is a brash, outspoken heroine with left-wing politics and a keen social conscience.  She has no patience with arrogant mysogynistic men – who it must be said she meets a lot of – and she doesn’t care what people think.  And I love her for it.  I love her outspoken-ness, I love the way she refuses to be inimidated, I even love the way she puts people’s backs up.  I especially love that she’s a woman with no particular desire to get married or have kids (V.I.’s back story sets out that she was once a lawyer, briefly married to a man she met in law school, but that ended when he cheated on her and she has no desire to repeat the experience).

I re-read the first five books in 2013 and there are 16 – thus far – in the series.  It’s not going out on a limb too much to predict that Sara Paretsky will also feature in my ‘best books of 2014’ list.

I also realised in re-reading these books how much my own writing style is similar to Sara Paretsky’s.  The conversational style of the narrative, the brief descriptions of day to day activities that fill the character’s time between key plot points and most significantly the technique of leading characters to the bedroom and then closing the door before the sex scenes are all present in my Shara Summers series.

Anyway.  That’s enough of my fan-girl wibbling.  In brief, I am re-reading the series and finding it as wonderful now as I did the first time around.  On to the other two books I rank as best reads of 2013:

Dracula – Bram Stoker
Joyland – Stephen King

‘Dracula’ I re-read to refresh my memory ahead of the panel I was doing on Dracula vs Frankenstein at EasterCon.  What can be said about this book?  It’s a gothic horror classic, and even though it was written over a hundred years ago it still packs a punch.

‘Joyland’ is the only recently written book on my list, by another one of my all-time favourite authors.  And in my view it’s one of his best, though I would categorise it as supernatural crime rather than horror.  I did a review of this book on Goodreads which I won’t repeat – if you’re interested, you can find it here.

Goodreads also allows you to set yourself an annual challenge of the number of books you want to read in a year.  Last year I challenged myself to read 60, and managed 63.  I spend over two hours a day on public transport going to and from work, and that’s where I get most of my reading done.

I’ve decided to push the boat out a bit this year and aim to read 65 books.  That is a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s achievable.  I’m looking forward to reading more great books in 2014.

Best Books of 2012

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

At this time of year, I like to look back at all the books I’ve devoured over the last 12 months and decide which ones I rate highest.  As I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot of books. For 2012 I set myself a goal of 60 books, and I managed to achieve it. Most of my reading time is during my commute. I spend over 2 hours a day travelling to and from work on public transport, and this is mostly why I get through so many books.

My favourite crime writer Sara Paretsky recently put out a call on her blog asking for people’s favourite reads of 2012, to increase her own TBR pile. I was very flattered that she included my response in her post.

I’ve mentioned before my love of Goodreads. Not only does it allow me to keep track of exactly what I’ve read and when, and list things I want to read, but I also use their guidelines for my star ratings (with one star meaning ‘didn’t like it’ and five stars meaning ‘it was amazing’). I don’t throw five stars around lightly. Most books I will enjoy, but they have to be pretty special to warrant a five star rating.

However, it so happens that in 2012 I gave no less than six books five stars, which makes choosing my best picks a bit easier

Many of them I’ve also reviewed on Goodreads, and in each case there’s a link back to the review, to save me repeating myself here. They are in no particular order, apart from the order I read them in.

BODY WORK – Sara Paretsky: I don’t mean to become a dribbling fan girl whenever the esteemed Ms Paretsky’s name is mentioned, but I can’t help it. This is the fourteenth book in her series about the tough woman detective VI Warshawski, and I have loved every single one of them. VI is older in this one, but still charging in without thought, in her desire to save the world from the bad guys. Ms Paretsky never disappoints, and neither does VI.

THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER – Ariana Franklin: This fourth book in the series about 12th century doctor Adelia Aguilar, will sadly be the last because Ariana Franklin died in 2011. Adelia is a wonderful character. Not only is she a doctor specialising in forensics, at a time when the medical profession was viewed with suspicion, but she is a woman doctor to boot. A fact she tries to keep hidden, because in primitive England she would be burned as a witch. Instead, Adelia travels in the company of a Moor, who pretends to speak no English, so they can pretend that he is the doctor and she is his nurse and translator.

FLASH & BONES – Kathy Reichs: Another writer who, in my view, never fails to deliver. This fourteenth offering in the adventures of forensic pathologic Temperance Brennan is the best in some time, I think. Set in the exciting world of motor racing, it was tense and thrilling and had me turning the pages.

ODD APOCALYPSE – Dean Koontz: This is the fifth book in the series about a strangely named young man who can see ghosts, and I was introduced to it when I had to review this book for Shotsmag. I enjoyed it so much I immediately bought the first book in the series as soon as I finished this one.

ODD THOMAS – Dean Koontz: Hence why this, the first book in the series, I read after the fifth book in the series. Start with this one and get introduced to Odd properly.

11/22/63 – Stephen King: This time-travelling thriller from the Master of Horror seems to be the Marmite of the literary world – you either love it or hate it. I loved it.

And what of my reading target for 2013? I could have been ambitious and upped the stakes. But since my job hasn’t changed I don’t anticipate any more or fewer hours of reading time, so I’ve set myself the same goal again. I average a book a week. I aim to read 60 books in 2013, which is more than a book a week, but it does depend on the length of the book, and how much time I spend sitting on the beach (for every day I spend doing nothing but lazing around on holiday reading, I can get through one book). So, we shall see if I can reach the same target again.

What are your reading goals for this year?

The Next Big Thing

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I was tagged by the uber-talented Francis Knight in the Next Big Thing blog hop.  The aim is to answer ten questions about your work in progress, and then tag five more writers. I’ve chosen to do mine about the WIP I am currently wrestling with. And this does feel a bit like taking my clothes off in public, because not a single person other than me has seen this manuscript yet. I still feel vulnerable.

1. What is the title of your book?

It’s called THE WHISPERING FEAR, and I have to give credit to Dave Gullen for suggesting the title.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Following on from SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I wanted to write another horror novel based on a mythical creature. It was my husband’s idea to use a creature based on the idea of a lich.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Supernatural horror.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a bit of a fantasy wish list. My characters are all in their 20s and my knowledge of younger actors is limited.

David – the ambitious young doctor who gets possessed by the lich. Benedict Cumberpatch would probably do a fine job.

Mark – the hero, and David’s geeky best friend. He’s a version of my ideal man (I have a thing for geeks), only everyone on my ‘most fanciable men’ list is getting on a bit now. Perhaps Cary Elwys, in his ‘Princess Bride’ days.

Elizabeth – Mark’s equally geeky girlfriend, who’s a crack shot and undefeated in the world of zombie slaying video games. Maybe Kate Winslet, circa ‘Titanic’.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A group of live-action role players unwittingly release an ancient evil that threatens to destroy the world.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don’t at present have a literary agent. I am hoping I can find someone to publish it, but I haven’t started shopping it around yet.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About seven months, to write the first draft – I started it in October 2011. I’m now on the third draft.

8. What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

In many ways it’s similar to SUFFER THE CHILDREN, but that’s one of mine as well. It bears a passing resemblance to Stephen King’s IT, probably.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Stephen King remains an inspiration, and my style has been compared to his on more than one occasion.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Since I am a live action role-player the references in this story are realistic, and I think anyone who indulges in this hobby might like the LARP scenes. It’s also got a kick-ass female MC.

Most of the writers I know have already been tagged for this, and I had trouble finding people who aren’t already playing. Here are my five – all writers I have only met in cyberspace. Some of them may well have already been tagged, and for that I apologise. I also emphasise that there is absolutely no obligation for them to take me up on this, but you should check out their blogs anyway, because they are worth following.

Diane Dooley
Carolyn Arnold
Ken Hoss
Jen Campbell

Book Review: “11.22.63”

My fangirl adoration for Stephen King is well documented. That’s not to say I have given every book of his a five star rating. It is true that most of the ones I have read, I have loved. Some I have only liked. And there are some I haven’t read at all.

Although King has a reputation as a horror writer, quite a lot of his books are not horror at all. His ability to tell a good story transcends all genres. 11.22.63 is not in any way a horror novel – as a time travel story, if it falls under any category at all, I would call it science fiction. But it’s far and away the best novel he’s written in many years. In fact, I’d say it’s the best Stephen King novel since NEEDFUL THINGS.

One of the things I always thought stood out about Stephen King’s writing is his ability to take an ordinary, flawed, perfectly realistic character and study how they are tested when they suddenly find themselves in an extraordinary situation. The “everyman” in 11.22.63 is Jake Epping, a thirty-something schoolteacher, divorced from an alcoholic wife and though a perfectly nice guy there’s nothing remotely remarkable about him.

Then one day the owner of the local diner, Al Templeton, lets Jake into a secret. There’s a wormhole to the past in the back of the diner. Al tells Jake three important things about the wormhole. First, it always brings you out in the same place and the same point in time: a morning in September in 1958. Second, no matter how long you spend in the past, you come back into the present two minutes after you left. Third, should you go back through the wormhole again, everything resets itself and the changes you have instigated are erased.

Al has spent four years in the past, with an obsessive mission to prevent the assassination of JF Kennedy. He is convinced that if Kennedy lives, the Vietnam War won’t happen and the world will be a better place. But he’s dying of cancer and he won’t live long enough to get to 22 November 1963, and so he has returned to the present, and has tasked Jake to do this for him. Jake is young, fit and single, and a chain of events eventually lead Jake to believe that he has no option but to take on Al’s mission – return to the past and prevent the assassination of Kennedy.

Everyone who’s read Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” – or even seen “Back to the Future” – knows that changing the past, no matter how trivial, always has an effect on the future and not always for the better. “The past is obdurate”, Al tells Jake and he soon learns just how true that is. Changing the past affects the present, and the past resists change. The bigger the change, the more obstacles get in Jake’s way – mechanical failures, traffic accidents, stomach bugs and various other events all happen at the most inconvenient times possible. And it’s not just the assassination of Kennedy that Jake tries to prevent – since he has knowledge of the future, he tries to fix a few other things that went wrong in the past, too.

The journey that Jake undertakes changes him, and the man he is at the end of the novel is very different from the man he is at the beginning. And although I kept on thinking through the novel that there had to be one of two possible endings, since we live in a time when Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963, and Stephen King doesn’t deal in alternative realities. Either Jake fails in his mission, or after succeeding he has to go back in the past for some reason and it resets iself. I then found myself trying to predict what that reason might be. But the ending came as a complete surprise, proving that even after all these years, King is still master of the ‘twist’ ending.

Anyone who’s a Stephen King fan will love this book. If you’ve never read Stephen King because you’re not a fan of horror, then I suggest you start with this one. It’s not scary, but it’s a thrilling ride and even though it’s a very long novel, you’ll be turning the pages to find out what happens next.

My Life In Books: It

When I was 14, my sister and I spent the summer holiday in England with our dad (we were living in Canada with my mother). I’d already discovered Stephen King and my step-mother, herself a big reader, had this one on the shelf. So I read it that summer, and once I started, I found I could not put it down.

The book runs along two separate time lines.  A group of five children, all considered freaks and weirdos by their classmates, become firm friends and form what they call “The Losers’ Club”.  But in their little town of Derry, Maine, a brooding evil lurks – a supernatural creature that can take on the form of whatever scares you the most.  It lives in the drains and it’s preying on the townspeople.  The five children are the only ones who discover how to stop it, and they undertake a terrifying ordeal to banish the monster.

Thirty years later, the children are grown up and have all dispersed.  Four of them have left Derry and become financially successful.  They all get married, but notably none of them have children.  The one who remains in Derry, Mike, remains single, and brings in a modest income as a librarian.  He has appointed himself Derry’s guardian, looking out for the return of the monster, which as children they defeated but did not kill.  Having made a pact to return and go after it again should the creature return, Mike has kept track of his friends’ movements since they left Derry, and when the monster does return, he calls them all, and reminds them of their pact.

The book then follows the two timelines – the original journey the characters made as children, to defeat the creature, and the one they make in the present day, as adults.  But the monster still knows their childhood fears, and they are forced to face up to some unpleasant long-hidden truths about themselves, as well as dealing with the creature.

Anyone who’s read SUFFER THE CHILDREN will probably have noticed that IT was an influence.  To me, IT is the perfect horror novel. It has characters who are dealing with inner demons as well as an actual one, and a monster that has the ability to appear in the form of whatever scares you the most.  My only criticism is that at the very end of the novel, when the monster finally reveals its true form, it was something of a disappointment, as it turns out not to be scary at all.  But apparently this plays on Stephen King’s own phobia, so I guess to him the true form was pretty damn scary.

I would also have liked there to have been more than one girl amongst the five main characters. It’s not as if Stephen King can’t write female characters.  Beverley is the lone female in the “losers’ club”, a girl suffering physical abuse at the hands of her father.  She grows up and becomes a successful fashion designer, in partnership with her handsome and wealthy husband, but she’s been unable to break the pattern of her damaged childhood because her husband beats her up, too.

I also empathised with Eddie, the hypochrondriac weakling who lived with his obese and overbearing mother.  He grows up to run a chauffeur service to the stars, along with his wife, who physically bears a striking resemblance to his mother.

There was a mini-series made of IT about 20 years ago, but it really wasn’t very good.  I don’t think any visual representation of IT will ever do the book justice.  Some books should just remain as books and this one, for me, will always be up there on the list of books that had the most influence on my writing.  If people describe my writing as being like Stephen King’s, then I take that as an incredible compliment.  Much as aspire to that, I don’t think I will ever write anything that can hold a candle to IT.

Suffer The Children?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

In the last 12 months, I have been at two different panels, at two different Cons, where a member of the audience asked the same question.  The question was, “Is there anything you feel you can’t write about?”

The first panel was the one on British horror at FantasyCon in Brighton last year. The panel was peopled entirely by men (unrepresentative, I thought, as there are plenty of British women horror writers, but I digress). The second panel was at the Harrogate crime conference last weekend and dealt with the issue of whether women write more violent crime than men. This panel was almost entirely women – the sole man there writes under a female pseudonym, and he was there to give a slightly different slant to the discussion.

All members of both panels unanimously gave the answer that they shied away from writing about terrible things happening to children.

In my writing career thus far, I’ve had terrible things happen to many children in my stories. Indeed, the plot of the first novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, revolves around a supernatural creature who survives by sucking the life essence out of children. My urban fantasy project – though currently shelved – features a supernatural private eye who works as a ‘ghost whisperer’, and in an early scene she has to deal with the ghost of a child horribly disfigured in the accident that killed her.

Admittedly I come from the perspective of someone who not only doesn’t have children, but who clearly wasn’t in the queue when maternal instinct was handed out. Most of the writers on the aforementioned panels were parents. But let’s look at this a bit closer. My writing idol, Stephen King, has many terrible things happen to children in his stories.  In CARRIE a gymnasium full of teenagers at their high school prom burn to death. The plot of IT kicks off with the young brother of one of the main characters being pulled into the sewer and killed by the Big Bad, in the guise of an evil clown. And then there’s PET SEMETARY, that features a toddler mown down by a truck, who consequently comes back from the dead and goes on a murderous rampage.

People with children are uncomfortable with the idea of terrible things happening to children because it cuts too close to their own fears for their children. But as horror and crime writers, our job is to scare people. You can write about nothing more convincing than the things that scare you. I think that’s what Stephen King was doing with PET SEMETARY. After all, he is himself a father. Surely nothing scares a parent more than the thought of one of their children dying. And the father in PET SEMETARY, having to face this tragedy, knows that there’s a mysterious graveyard over the hill that seems to possess the abililty to bring things that are buried there back from the dead – even if they don’t come back quite the same as they were before. Faced with that knowledge, what should he do? What would any grieving parent do?

In order to grow as writers, I think we need to be able to write about anything – especially the things that we are most afraid of. Ultimately that’s why I decided I need to tackle that rape scene in the current WIP. I knew I was shying away from it because I was uncomfortable with the subject matter. And hence, I needed to face it.

There should be nothing that a writer should be afraid to write about, especially if you like to write stories that scare people. The things that scare you the most are likely to scare your reader as well.