Books that inspired me… IT (Stephen King)

I read my first horror novel when I was 11, Coma by Robin Cook, a tattered old paperback found at a holiday home and from there I became a devourer of horror novels. At 13 I found and read Stephen King’s IT, along with many of his other novels (The Stand is my favourite). Like everyone else who went to see the recent movie adaptation, I went back and re-read it. What struck me was how much this book has influenced me, and how bizarrely similar it is to my novel.

Let’s start with the differences. IT is horror, set in a small town in Maine, in the 1950s, following a group of children terrorized by a… thing, a monster, called IT, and then following them as adults in the 1980s as the return to finish off the monster. My novel, is set in Plumstead, London (UK) in 1996 and central London in 2008, and it is a suspense / modern noir, with nothing supernatural. The ages are different, Stephen King’s characters are 11-ish, I think, then 40, mine are 17 then 29. Stephen King’s book is about 2 inches thick, mine is only about half an inch. The style is different. Stephen King writes wonderfully, descriptive prose, mine is more sparse (there is, somewhere, a few first chapters of a novel that I wrote as a teen where I tried to write like Stephen King that will never see the light of day! I am not a deeply descriptive writer.).

Now, the similarities. Both books jump across time-zones, revealing the story. In IT, the adults don’t remember all the details of their childhood, and part of the plot is them figuring out what they did to defeat IT. In Up and up, the characters know what happened, the time jumps reveal the story to the reader.

Both books contain local language (the vernacular). Stephen King’s characters speak how I presume people in small towns in Maine speak (one character is introduced as being able to ‘ayup’ with the best of them). I set out to try and capture the poetry of how people in south-east London actually speak (‘innt?’). Both have swearing, and children/teenagers behaving ‘badly’ (actually, I wouldn’t say either were really behaving badly, just behaving like normal teenagers, really, but in any event, they are not the sort of role models a parent would want for their kids, I think).

Both have the group meeting up again years later to deal with whatever happened when they were kids. And in both the adult world contains adults who are violent and abusive, and that is taken as a normal state of affairs, background flavour, rather than something to fight against as part of the plotline. And, in both books, the characters, when adults, have not achieved the Hollywood-style happy ending (although, if they had, what would spur them in the later time zone part of the story).

Both books have, I think, a ring of veracity to them. Mine is heavily based on my life growing up in London, and I think Stephen King draws heavily on his life growing up in Maine.

Of course, I don’t mean to say I am as good a writer as Stephen King. I am simply bemused as how much this book I read at 13 was internalized and influenced my own fictionalized version of my own coming of age. When I’ve got a paperback version ready to go, I intend to send it to him, with a letter explaining, as some sort of weird 20 year late fan letter. And, I bet it will not be the weirdest fan letter he’s received.

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