Archive for the ‘Stephen King’ Tag

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.

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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
Aheila
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.

My Life In Books: Carrie

This was the second Stephen King book that I picked up, and again it was from the school library.  This memorable tale of a bullied teenage girl with powers of telekinesis, who gets revenge on her classmates at the high school prom, really resonated with me.  I, too, was a bullied teenager.  After I read this book I started fantasising about what I might do to the bullies if I had telekinesis.  Not surprising that I turned into a horror writer.

What also struck me about this book was how convincingly King, as a male writer, can write about teenage girls – something not all male writers are able to do.

Interspersed with Carrie’s story are extracts of fictitious newspaper reports and witness autobiographies.  The first time I read this book, it struck me as unnecessary padding.  I found out later that this was exactly what it was.  CARRIE was Stephen King’s first published novel.  The story goes that when he finished it, he was so unhappy with it he threw it in the trash.  His wife extracted it, read it, and encouraged him to submit it.  He did, and it was picked up, but the publisher decided it was too short for a novel – more novella length.  King added all the newspaper reports and autobiography extracts to add to the word count.  If only the publishers had known then just how huge King would become, maybe they wouldn’t have cared quite so much.  I wonder if anyone nowadays would dare to tell Stephen King his book was too short (or too long).

The other thing that strikes me now is that if Stephen King was starting his career today, would he be labelled as a YA writer? A lot of his stories are about teenagers.

The main character of CARRIE was 16, but there was no such thing as YA fiction in the 1970s.  CARRIE was always shelved in the horror section.  Nowadays, it seems that if you write a book about a character who is under 18, it’s going to be labelled as Young Adult.  Though I suppose the fact that my school library had a copy of the book suggests it was always considered an appropriate read for teenagers.

When I first wrote SUFFER THE CHILDREN, the main character, Leanne, was 14. It was rejected by several agents on the basis that they considered it a YA novel and they didn’t deal with YA. I always maintained it wasn’t. It was inspired by Stephen King. It seems some agents believe that Stephen King is only read by teenage boys. After getting this message several times, in the end I gave up and made Leanne 18, but since the tone of the story didn’t actually change I still maintain it was never YA to begin with.

I still hold the view that Stephen King fans fans are teens and adults, male and female, and not necessarily horror fans.  King’s stories are accessible to all. Ultimately I think that’s the way it should be, rather than writers having to fit into tidy little boxes.

My Life In Books: Different Seasons

I found this book in my junior high school library. It changed my life – quite literally. Very simply, this was the first Stephen King book I ever read, and he so blew me away as a writer that he’s influenced my writing ever since.

DIFFERENT SEASONS is a book containing four novellas, each one representing one of the four seasons – sometimes somewhat tenuously. Three of these tales have been made into Hollywood Films. “Stand By Me” is the film version of the story “The Body”, representing Summer. Four 12-year-old boys go on a hike to glimpse a dead body they hear rumour is lying by the railway track some miles away. The story is more about their journey than the dead boy – and the journey represents their passage from childhood into puberty. The film version did a pretty good job of staying true to the spirit of the story.

Then there was “Apt Pupil”, the Autumn story (subtitled “Fall From Innocence”) about a young boy who makes repeat visits to an old man with war stories to tell. I didn’t like this story much, and I haven’t yet seen the film that it was made into, but there’s a sinister air to it, and the real story is about deception – although initially the man seems to have power over the boy, by the end of the story the table is turned, and if there is an evil character, it’s the boy.

“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is more famous as the film “The Shawshank Redemption”. By the process of elimination this story has to represent Spring (I think the subtitle was “Hope Springs Eternal”, the story of a man, wrongly charged with the murder of his wife, who spends years in prison and all the while persistently digging a tunnel with a tiny hammer, until he can escape this way. The story is mostly about human nature – largely the flaws, but also the hope, which keeps the main character digging his tunnel.

But it was the fourth story – the one subtitled “The Winter’s Tale” that got me the most. As far as I know this has never been made into a film. Possibly it’s considered just a bit too gruesome, but it had such an impact on me I can still remember this story, even though I’ve only read it once and that was nearly 30 years ago. The story, entitled “The Breathing Method” is narrated by a retired doctor, telling the tale of a patient of his, many years ago. His patient was a young single pregnant woman, and back in the 1950s, being single and pregnant was scandalous, but this young woman was determined to have her baby, and that it would be healthy. The doctor decided she was a likely candidate for the new birthing method – known as The Breathing Method – that at the time had only just come into practise, where the woman is not given drugs and instead controls her breathing to make childbirth easier. All went well, and his patient never wavered in her determination to have a healthy baby. But the day she went into labour,there was a terrible blizzard, and the taxi taking her to the hospital skidded on the snow and ice and was involved in a terrible crash right outside the hospital. The pregnant woman was decapitated. But as the doctor arrived on the scene, he realised with horror that the headless body of his patient was still breathing, still in labour, still determined to give birth to her baby.

That story really got to me. In hindsight, perhaps the shock effect would not be the same in a film. But as a 13-year-old, I read that story and it gave me nightmares for a while. It also inspired me to look for more Stephen King books, and it was then I first started to understand the thrill of a really scary book.

Finishing

(Cross-posted on WriteClub)

I was inspired to write this post by a friend who mentioned she has trouble finishing the stories she starts.

There are probably many reasons why many novels are started and not finished. My experience has led me to suspect there are two main culprits, which are the ones I’m going to deal with here.

1. You don’t know how it ends.
2. You spend so much time going back and editing the first draft, you never get to the second draft.

It took me 10 years to write SUFFER THE CHILDREN. I was citing life stuff getting in the way, but that was just an excuse, since I found time to write plenty of short stories during that 10 years. The real reason was the fact I got halfway through the book and didn’t know what was going to happen next, so I shoved it into a drawer. When I finally decided I wanted to finish this book, I knew I had to have a plan. I started by making a chapter-by-chapter outline of what I had so far. From there I worked on an outline of the whole story arc, all the way to the end. I ended up with three pages. I was then able to finish my chapter-by-chapter plan, because the story outline guided me as to what was going to happen in the chapters I hadn’t written yet. And from there, I was able to finish the novel.

It took me a while longer to learn this lesson fully. I’ve got a couple of other novels that were started and never finished, simply because I didn’t know how they were going to end. So now I don’t start a new novel without meticulous planning. I start with my three-page story summary. From there I do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. This isn’t set in stone, and it might deviate a bit – I might, as I write, realise there’s another crucial event that has to happen between the events of chapter 11 and chapter 12, for instance, which might add a couple of extra chapters. But that’s OK. The system works for me, because every time I sit down to write, I know what’s going to happen next. My chapter plan is my guide.

Some writers are averse to too much planning, and swear by the ‘seat of the pants’ method. If this works for you, then I’m not criticising it. However, sometimes you can tell when a book has been written this way. If a novel starts off a certain way, and then suddenly, without notice, veers off in a completely different direction halfway through, it’s likely to have been written without a lot of forward planning.

If you are the sort of writer that has half-finished manuscripts gathering dust in your desk drawers, then maybe you should give the ‘planning’ method a try. It might help you finish one of them.

The second reason for not finishing, as cited above, is ‘over-editing’ the first draft. Again, this is largely down to writing technique. Some writers say they prefer to edit as they go, so by the time they get to the end of the first draft, there isn’t a need for a second draft. The problem with this method is, if you keep insisting on going over and polishing chapter 1 until it shines, you may never actually get to chapter 2.

Remember that old adage: Fix it in the rewrite. Remember also the words of Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is always shit ( well, I think it was Hemingway).

The point of the first draft is to erect the scaffolding on which the story is built. Who cares if it’s rubbish? No one’s going to read it. In fact, another successful writer, Stephen King, positively discourages writers from letting anyone see the first draft. In his marvellous how-to book ON WRITING (in my opinion the best ‘how to write’ book ever), he calls it ‘the closed door draft’. You write it without letting anyone in. When you get to draft 2 or 3, that’s when you can open the door and invite people to view it.

The first draft lets you get a feel for your characters and your plot. It lets you see where you still need to do the most work. But it should and will be flawed. Allow it to be so. Your secondary character Sue, petite and brunette, becomes blonde Alison halfway through? Don’t worry. Fix it in draft 2. You decide at chapter 20 there needs to be another character, but they ought to have been introduced in chapter 5? That’s OK. Just dump them in the story, and when you work on the next draft you can make a point of introducing this character earlier.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to turn off the internal editor and just write, which is what I’m suggesting you do. I get up at 5:30am twice a week for my early-morning writing sessions, before work. I am not an early riser by nature. I find it a struggle to get up that early, and I stagger into London and sit in Starbucks for an hour, before going to the office. But that hour is very productive. I don’t think much about what I write. I just write. Maybe what I’m writing is rubbish, but it is first draft. And crucially, at that time in the morning, the part of my brain where my internal editor resides is still asleep, so she doesn’t interfere. And I think perhaps that’s why my early-morning writing sessions are so successful. It might be a different story if I was editing, but at the moment I’m just writing draft 1, and it’s working.

So these, in summary, are my two tips to get to the end. More planning, less editing. You can always fix it in the rewrite.