On the web: stevecavanaghwriter.blogspot.co.uk
On Twitter: @SSCav
Like a lot of people of my generation, I first learned about Stephen King through the world of film. When I was eight years old my parents rented a video recorder. They were just too damn expensive to buy in the early eighties and even then, we had to share the cost of the rental with my grandparents. We would have the video player for a week and then we would bring it to my grandfather’s house and they would have their week. In our house, whilst Clint Eastwood was the God of the western, and Jackie Chan was the God of kicking unholy-amounts-of-ass, Stephen King was the God of horror. No other horror films were as unsettling or as disturbing as the Stephen King movies. What made Stephen King cool for me was the fact that he wasn’t a movie star.
He was a writer.
Carrie got under my skin. Carrie lingered like no other film.
I was lucky growing up; my Dad’s love of films was complemented by my Mother’s love of books and thankfully I took up each of their passions.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I read Carrie. Lying in my bedroom in Belfast, at seventeen, reading about a young girl the same age, who is tortured by her peers, physically and mentally abused by her parent and so utterly and devastatingly alone in the world, well, it made a huge impact on me. Every teenager struggles against their parents at a time when they are beginning to discover their own identity. We can all relate to that.
Stephen King somehow manages to write stories that hold a mirror up to the reader. Many gifted authors can accomplish this feat.
What sets King apart is that he then breaks that same mirror, often in the most shocking and terrifying manner imaginable, letting us see, in safety, our worst nightmares unfold before us.
At one point in the book, Carrie uses her power to break a mirror at home, fracturing her own reflection. That scene serves as a metaphor for the inevitable tragedy in which the very same powers that liberated her from her Mother, ultimately destroy her.
But Stephen King is not only a horror writer.
He is a veritable polymath in the world of writing and storytelling; able to turn his hand to Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Memoir and more. Yet at the heart of every Stephen King book are his brilliantly drawn characters that somehow speak to a vast worldwide audience. Having engaged us in reality he then shatters that world through the extraordinary and often supernatural events in the novels. It is due, I feel, to his phenomenal ability as a storyteller to engrain the truth into every character which make his supernatural novels all the more frightening.
Stephen King, along with a handful of other authors, made me want to be a writer. I wanted to tell stories like he did, be as cool as he was and give a reader the same type of thrill that I got from reading his books. Unlike most Stephen King novels Carrie is a quick read. I hadn’t appreciated that until I re-read the book just recently, before writing this piece. It’s basically a novella fleshed out with extracts from fictional reports that are used with devastating effect to give further credibility to the events in the book and to provide a sense of impending doom. Reading the book as an older, balder, but legally-able-to-drink individual (everything balances) I can appreciate the craft more – I can see the beginnings of King’s unique narrative style and some of the themes that would recur in his later work.
The book is a triumph in that, for all its tiny flaws, it’s a hell of a first book and one which influenced publishing, movies, my life and the life of a good many readers and writers.
This book deserves to be celebrated for its bravery. Even now, it feels just as relevant, just as raw, just as brilliant.
So my thanks and congratulations go to Stephen King and to his wife Tabitha on this very special anniversary.
Steve Cavanagh is a practicing lawyer (someday he might get the hang of it) and writer from Belfast. His debut novel, The Defence, will be published by Orion in March 2015.