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He confessed to me: ‘Carrie didn’t sell at all well, you know. Not, that is, until the film came out, then sales of the book went through the roof.’
The man making this confession was Bob Tanner who ran New English Library in the 1970s and who first published Carrie in paperback in Britain. Perhaps the anecdote demonstrates that even a powerhouse of a horror novel like Carrie needed a cinematic push to get the book sales moving. After all, back then, horror fiction in Britain still had its claws in the past and often stories revolved around men in dinner jackets telling spooky tales after dinner in candlelit mansions.
I do believe Bob Tanner was right. Because I can’t remember hearing about Stephen King until around 1980 when a friend was briefly hospitalized after a car crash. He whiled away the time in plaster reading – and somehow a copy of Carrie found its way into his hands. He was so taken by the story he gave me the book later, saying, ‘You must read this. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read in my life.’
‘Trust me, it’s amazing.’
He pretty much hit the nail on the head. I read Carrie and was astonished by the power and sheer dazzling vision of the story. Many years later, I started to write horror fiction, beginning with short stories then finally breaking through into writing novels with Nailed by the Heart. And, yes, Stephen King’s classic horror novel influenced me enormously. That and James Herbert’s The Rats, which weren’t too far apart time-wise. Both wrote modern horror – bloody horror at that, with urban settings and believable people who went to school, or worked in shops and factories and offices. Many other writers continued working in the ‘modern, realistic’ movement that King started. I’m part of that movement, too. And, after all, without Carrie where would horror writers and readers be now?
Simon Clark’s books include Blood Crazy, The Night of the Triffids, Hotel Midnight, Sherlock’s Demon and On Deadly Ground (formerly King Blood). His time travel horror novel The Fall has just been reissued by Telos.