I wrote this for a competition. Yes, a Stephen King fan competition. ‘Tell us in less than 650 words why you should win a preview copy of Doctor Sleep, the prequel to The Shining”. So I did. Then I realised I can’t claim the prize as I’m out of the country on the day they give you the book for 24 hours to read in a posh hotel room. So here’s my entry anyway. You guys can read it, even if Mr King’s publisher will never get the chance.
I read my first Stephen King novel when I was eighteen. It was The Shining. I remember watching the movie with friends and telling them (more likely going on and on at them) that I didn’t understand the ending. Had Jack been the caretaker all along? Had the hotel in effect ‘swallowed’ him? Was he destined to be a ghost in The Overlooks history from the begining? Too many unanswered questions. My next birthday they bought me the book, ostensibly to give me some answers, probably just to shut me up. But despite being fascinated with horror from a young age, I had never even considered reading a King book before then. The idea scared me more than any movie.
As a child, of perhaps seven or eight, I would follow my father around whenever he was doing something interesting. Unusually enough one of the things I found interesting was watching him work in his garage. I would trail behind him, occasionally fetching the tools he needed from his highly organised, but still grubby, tool collection. The attempts, no doubt, of a young girl vying for her father’s attention and approval. The other thing I would follow him to were vintage record fairs. We would go on his motorbike and he would spend what seemed like hours trawling through every record, checking his highly organised, but still well-thumbed, list of what he already owned and putting what he didn’t under his arm to buy later. We probably only did this once or twice, but in my memory it seems like it happened every weekend. It was at one of these collectors fairs (or the only collectors fair) that I came across an Iron Maiden LP, their mascot, a rotting, zombie skeleton named Eddie, emblazoned on the front. It terrified me. “Dad? Dad?! Who are Iron Maiden?” I must have asked. “Some crap metal band” was his reply. I thought they must be the scariest band in the world with an album cover like that. When I eventually heard them, I was sorely disappointed.
Around the same time I discovered Stephen King. A friend of my parents collected his novels, keeping them on the highest shelf in his study. Having young daughters himself he probably wanted to have them out of arms reach until the girls were old enough to read them without nightmares. During visits to their house, for dinner or just to play with someone other than my little brother, I would sneak into the study to read the titles, not being tall enough to reach the shelf above the door to actually look inside. ‘Misery’, ‘Gerald’s Game’ and, ominously, ‘IT’ held a morbid fascination for me, the words shining in gaudy metallics against the black of each of their covers. I must have asked my mum “Who is Stephen King?”. She undoubtedly replied “A man who writes very scary books. You don’t want to read them.” My dad was right about Maiden, my mum was wrong about King.
When I finally read the birthday gift, so thoughtfully bought by my friends, I remember being so scared I tried to stop reading, but so engulfed was I by the characters that there was no way I could leave little Danny in Room 217. Not on his own. I have barely read another author in almost fifteen years, but at least now I can read them without having all the lights on.