Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Guilty Pleasure?

Amidst the usual news and nonsense on my Twitter feed today I stumbled across this post on the Los Angeles Times blog that reminded me of my third year English teacher.  

During a discussion of an upcoming assignment involving an extended reading report, he outlined the types of books that were acceptable and the type that were not.  Top of the list for unacceptable books was anything written by Stephen King. 

The objection, it seemed, was less to do with the issue of what is or isn’t age appropriate (and believe me the novel I eventually chose for my own report was much darker than any of the King novels I have since encountered) and more related to the “quality” of the work.

I recall that teacher’s words each and every time I pick up a Stephen King novel - and those occasions are not infrequent - and while I have never doubted his good intentions, and I can't help thinking it was just a little bit of snobbery.

In his article, David L. Ulin suggests that Stephen King is often “written off because he appeals to a popular audience.”  If the views of my former English teacher are anything to go by, he’s absolutely right.  The literary world fascinates me in that so many writers strive for commercial success yet when it is achieved they’re often berated for it.  That anyone could be “written off because he appeals to a popular audience” baffles me.

I am not completely ignorant of the reasons for such a view, and it’s true that I am an unabashed Stephen King fan so this ramble is as far from an unbiased point of view as you can possibly get.  It’s also true that I have no aspirations as a book critic – any reviews I offer on a subject are limited to “I liked it/I did not like it and here’s why,” but I confess, I just don’t get it. 

I’m long past counting the books I have read, and returning to a book for a second, third or fourth time (or tenth, eleventh, twelfth) is one of the great pleasures I take from reading. In spite of the spectre of third year English hovering over me, I often find it’s Stephen King’s books that I return to most often.  The reason is simple – I love a good story, and few people tell a story quite like Stephen King.

Some of my King collection

How many of us are afraid of clowns?  And how many of us are afraid of clowns because of Pennywise?  (Now personally I have no issue with clowns, but cornfields are entirely different matter…)

It’s too easy to cite the obvious though.  I could wax lyrical about the iconic King moments (I can practically hear my husband’s ‘don’t get her started’ now) but many have been transformed into cinematic images with varying success and are easy targets for dissenters.  The devil, literally in some cases, is instead in the detail.  When people ask me what I love about a Stephen King novel, that’s usually the answer.  

The detail that brings so many of the characters to life is enough to make the aspiring novelist in me sit down and weep.  I so rarely encounter a character in King’s work who doesn’t feel like a living, breathing person, such is the history and lifestyle crafted around them.  They are often intensely believable characters in unbelievable situations and his horror stories are all the more frightening for it.  Take Under the Dome – a  novel so richly detailed that the events of only a few days require 800 plus pages to unfold and not one of those pages seems superfluous, or The Stand, a genuinely epic novel that even when reading the uncut version I am still left wanting to know more. 

I started reading Needful Things on a flight to Prague and I remember frantically devouring as many pages as possible as the plane made its final descent, more than a little peeved that landing was interrupting my reading.

If I could turn out a novel even half as compelling I'd never complain about anything ever again.  Probably.

In summary, I like Stephen King novels, and that’s why.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Something About Nothing

This week’s news roundup equates to exactly that – something about nothing.  Or nothing about something.  Or something like that.

I know, it’s the most exciting blog post ever, right?

Hmmm.  On my mind this week are resolutions.  Hardly original given the time of year, I’ll grant you, but nevertheless I’ll plod on. 

The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions fascinates me.  Why do we make them?  What is the point?  I’m not sure I buy into the whole idea of a new year and a new beginning, especially when the first week of the new year is almost exactly the same as the last week of the year before.  Actually that’s not even accurate because it’s worse – you no longer have any reasonable excuse to eat chocolate and drink wine at random hours of the day.  (Not that I would, of course.  I’m just saying I could, you know, if I wanted to.)  Yet even without any real understanding of why I’m doing it I’m compelled to make a resolution anyway. 

This year, though, I have so many resolutions I’m practically a whole different person, and I don’t have an original one among them.  Write more.  Watch less television (will never happen).  Exercise more.  Reduce my daily intake of Coca Cola to resemble a normal human being’s.  The usual stuff.

(At least with only one can this week (so far) I’m sort of sticking to the last one.)

I’ve almost convinced myself I’m going to be a ‘new me’ this year.  I did, after all, recently learn to make soup, and I’ve started watching Come Dine with Me.  That right there is already a sign of self improvement.  Next week I’m attempting to master the ability to get out of the bed when the alarm goes off (as opposed an hour later after repeatedly hitting the snooze button), have breakfast and leave the house in an organised, grown up manner. 

I feel my mere consideration of it is already a sign that I’ve grown as a person.

In other news, I have writing guilt.  The printed copy of my manuscript is lying on my desk, staring at me in a mildly accusatory manner each time I pass by the study door.  Every time I open a new tab on my internet browser I’m confronted by a list of bookmarked agent websites and writing pages scowling at me and reminding me that publishing success is not likely gained by lurking around the Disboards and pricing imaginary trips to America.  Even my poor blog title is practically wilting in shame – what happens in Hayden?  Well, erm, not much really, not lately.  But between the Christmas revelry/insanity, soup-making antics, a delinquent bunny and all the resolution-making I can hardly be expected to find the time to write, can I?  So for the sake of my sanity – and my plot – I’ve had a two week hiatus from the painstaking editing process lest the crucial plot points become less about lies and murder and more about the correct ratio of lentils to vegetables.

Thank God it’s January.

Now there’s something I never thought I would say.

Coming soon (probably) – the trials and tribulations of losing the snooze button.