All my life there’s been this running monologue inside my head. It began when, as a kid, I would rehearse future conversations I was worried about, or revisit conversations I’d already ballsed up. Right from the start it was always about the words. I didn’t know the right ones; I didn’t know enough of them, or how to put them together. I wanted to be like everyone else and not stand out as the lanky mute from overseas. But how could I accomplish that when I hadn’t spoken a word of English until the age of five?
As the eldest child in a non-English speaking family, I had nobody to practice on except myself. My mother-tongue was (I decided) good for profanity but little else. For example, on the rare occasion I scored less than full marks for our daily spelling test, you’d hear an explosive ‘mitä vittua!‘ from the back of the class. Equally, much fun was had teaching my parents everyday Australian slang. For example, for many years my mother would innocently smile, wave, and call out “Hello Bastard!” to our flabbergasted neighbours. I hardly need to add that the punishment (when it eventually came) was extraordinary.
The answer was books. Books! Of course. I would learn the English language from books. My father, trying to be helpful, purchased many dozens of crusty paperbacks from the local second-hand store, all of which I devoured between the tender age of seven and 11 years. Sex education, à la Harold Robbins. American history via Louis L’Amour. Science fiction, the inimitable Kilgore Trout. Race relations, thank you Ms Blyton! Just typing those names now gives me a cold shiver.
But in the end I was right. Books were the answer. But not just any books. For me it began, as it did for the author, with a book called Carrie. Then came the most frightening vampire novel I have ever read (‘Salem’s Lot) followed by the scariest novel, period, I’ve ever read (The Shining). The best plague story (The Stand), the best short story (Apt Pupil), the best argument for never having kids of your own (Children of the Corn); and then in 1987 his finest novel of all — Misery.
He couldn’t stop the talking in my head, but he showed me how it might be put to use. So if there’s anything about my writing that you like, you know who to thank. Conversely, if there’s something about it that you really don’t like, I claim that all for myself. Stephen King (and, admittedly, a novel about a bloke called Garp) pretty much sealed my fate. I have to write because there is nothing else I can do.
All hail the King.