“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” “We all float down here.” “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier.” “You lyin’, old dirty birdy”
These days, he is widely regarded as one of the finest storytellers of our generation. Yet, when I started reading King in the early 80s – at around 11 or 12 – he was still dismissed by many as a ‘genre writer’. Don’t get me wrong, horror was big in the 80s and King’s books were hugely successful. But that led to more critical sneering: how can you be popular and good? Over the years, thankfully, that kind of literary snobbery has diminished. People recognise that great writing isn’t dictated by genre.
And King has always been much more than a horror writer. He has delved into fantasy, sci-fi, apocalyptic fiction. Books like Misery and Gerald’s Game are psychological suspense. And then there are the magnificent coming-of-age stories like The Body.
The first King book I read was Christine, borrowed from the library. I was immediately hooked. I quickly moved on to Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone. I remember reading Pet Sematary, aged thirteen, tucked under the covers with the nightlight on, till 3 am. My best friends and I all read IT one wonderful, hot summer and gathered in each other’s gardens to eagerly discuss the scary bits. I cringed through Misery, curled up on a second-hand sofa in my first shared house. I think I’ve read The Shining in every place I’ve ever lived. It is a book I come back to again and again. A constant source of enjoyment and inspiration.
At one stage, in my 20s, I decided that I should read more literary tomes. And I tried. I really did. But it was no good. I returned to King and his books welcomed me back into their dark embrace. No one draws you in with such an intimate, conversational style of writing quite like King does.
Unsurprisingly, he’s been a massive influence on my own writing. I always liked making up creepy stories, even as a child – but it was discovering Stephen King that really opened up that world to me. It’s a world I’ve never left.
My novel, The Chalk Man, has been compared to IT and The Body, as well as the television series Stranger Things. That is hugely flattering. But while the book is, in some ways, my homage to King, it is also very much about my own adolescence, growing up in the 80s. The two are irrevocably intertwined.
Perhaps that’s why, although I’ve read some amazing books over the years, no author means as much to me as Stephen King. I am his constant reader. And his books are my constant companions. Or, as Annie Wilkes might say:
‘Mr King… I am your number one fan.’
C J Tudor is the debut author of The Chalk Man. Read an extract from the book here.