Saturday, May 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books that Hooked Me (Part 1)

Over the last couple of months I've been keeping my brain occupied, and distracting myself of the horrific state of the world, by writing regular (if not daily) blogposts of nonsense. Looking at the comics, the movies, the TV series, and the RPGs that have all had a massive impact on my life.

Those days of daily blogposts may soon be coming to an end as I can see the need to return to my dayjob is looming ever closer. Unless something horrible happens with the R-number, despite it not actually going down at the moment, I'll be back at the day job in just over a week. I must admit, on one hand it'll be great to see the rest of the staff as I've missed them, but I'm really not looking forward to being out there - exposed to the world and its current potential dangers. How all those who have been doing it for the last ten weeks or more have been coping, both physically and mentally, astounds me, and I can only thank them for their efforts of ensuring we can still eat, get the necessary items to live, and to look after those in need. Thank you.

Anyway, with the return to work looming, there really is only one subject I haven't covered in these daily blogposts of media that has had an impact on me - Books.

I'm going to try to do them in chronological order of me reading them. Some are classics, some a little more left field, but each one of them has had an impact on me, and shaped my reading choices - and in many cases, my writing style.

So let's start at the very beginning. It's very good place to start...


I have a confession. My youth was not filled with reading books. Sure I read comics, but my very early years were mostly spent watching movies, TV, and playing with Lego and Star Wars figures. I distinctly remember reading The Secret Seven, and strangely I have a memory of reading the Action Man novel, The Taking of Monte Carrillo. Why I can remember that, I don't know...

Otherwise, I bought a lot of paperbacks - all of them movie adaptations. I have boxes of them still. It started with the novel of Star Wars, and it just kept going. Through the foil covers of the Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the weird, fake romance novel covers of Romancing the Stone and the Jewel of the Nile. I bought them all. If they had a colour photo bit in the middle, even better. It was like being able to see the movie again before VHS existed. I would read some of them them, others I'd just read the exciting bits I remembered from the movie, or skim for the extra bits that weren't in there - like some in the Ferris Bueller novelisation.

I mean, I tried other books. When I started playing D&D and Middle Earth Roleplaying I tried to read The Lord of the Rings, but really couldn't get into it. It wasn't until I went back to it over a decade later when Babylon 5 was on that I actually read it and loved it.

Anyway, I used to buy these novelisations of movies, even after VHS started being a thing. It was just the collector in me - if I liked a movie, I'd get the book of it.

In my little home town there was a little store near the biggest junction in the town. It was tiny. I mean, the whole store was about the size of a small terraced house's kitchen. You could get two customers in there at most, with a tiny counter at one end. However, they sold books, and records. I bought a lot of music in my teens, listening to vinyl with my enormous headphones on while playing games on my ZX Spectrum.

The owner of the shop was a middle aged Chinese lady who was lovely. We used to chat, and she used to order the weird records I wanted as special orders for me. And some of those weird movie novelisations too, looking up what was available from her supplier's monthly printed catalogue that looked more like a supplement to the phonebook than anything glamorous. I think outside of my family she was the only person I used to talk to for weeks on end. She probably dreaded me coming in. I'm sorry if you're reading this now...

When I went in there, there was this book on her spinner rack of novels that just kept staring at me. Literally. Because it had freakin' eyes on the cover...


This must have been 1987, as it was the paperback and it wasn't a brand new release, but I was out of school, out of work, and in a limbo - trying to write on my ancient electric typewriter.

I'd been in a few times to get various records over a number of weeks, but that cover was still there - staring at me. So bloomin' unsettling.

Eventually, I caved, and bought it. It really wasn't the sort of thing I read - it didn't tie into anything (at least not yet) but I'd seen the movies - Carrie, The Shining, Christine, The Dead Zone, Silver Bullet... And on top of that, it was HUGE. I wasn't a big reader, and I hadn't managed to get through The Lord of the Rings, and here I was buying a book that was longer. Over a thousand pages of it...

Anyway, I bought it. And blasted through it. Not the fast speed of most dedicated readers, I'm never a fast reader, but I did get through it pretty swiftly for me. I was hooked. Mostly because it had the weird nostalgia element, and playing upon your childhood fears. I loved it.

So much so, that when I finished it, I started reading the rest of Stephen King's work. I moved on to Christine - which I also loved. I knew the film really well, so the extra stuff in the book that wasn't in the movie was brilliant. It was like a massive director's cut of the movie. And then I moved onto The Stand, Carrie, The Shining... and kept going.

Stephen King is the reason I read.

Simple as that. I owe it all to him.

I've kept reading his work too. I'm a bit behind - I think I got sidetracked about Duma Key era, but I loved the Dark Tower series, and especially loved Insomnia and Rose Madder.

I've mentioned on this blog before the surreal moment when I finally got to meet Stephen King. My reading had got to the pitch that I was working in Ottakar's bookstore, looking after the SF/Fantasy section and becoming an advisor to the chain of 140+ stores to recommend titles to the genre ranges. I was even editor of their chain-wide SF/Fantasy/Horror newsletter.

Thanks to this, the sales reps from various publishers knew me, and the awesome rep from Hodder - Stephen King's publisher in the UK - invited me and my wife (who also worked for Ottakar's at that time) to go to the big book launch for Stephen King's new book, Lisey's Story. It was more like a weekend, as we had tickets to the talk one evening, and the following evening there was a launch party in a weird building off the Strand in London. It looked like a masonic temple, but within its walls Alabama 3 were playing.

The evening went on, the publishers and booksellers were mingling, and eventually - tired from a hammering six hour book signing in a supermarket - Stephen King came in, got up on stage, and sang along with Alabama 3 (see the blurry photo to the right)...

Our sales rep from Hodder spotted me and Debs, and said - "Have you met him yet?" - Hell no, not yet! "He'll head this way when he gets off stage, wait there..."

So we did. And Stephen King was introduced to us by our lovely Hodder rep. We shook his hand, Debs gave him a bar of chocolate (as the UK chocolate is far superior - you don't know what you're missing, honestly), Debs thanked him for his books really changing our lives, and I kinda just stood there going... "errrrr"...  And off he went, chocolate in hand.

Anyway, that's about it really. All I can say again is thank you, Stephen King. Without you, I doubt I would have been as big a book reader as I've become. I doubt I would have ended up working in book retail for eight years. Thank you.

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