But he shares some of the credit for his later success with his wife, the novelist Tabitha King. It was she who pulled the experimental draft of Carrie, his first novel, from the rubbish bin. Don’t abandon this story, she said, ‘You’ve got something here’. And on the fiction since then she’s had a vital influence as King’s ‘Ideal Reader’, the one who reads his drafts and provides feedback on pacing, character, and so on.
King isn’t a fan of writing workshops—at least, as he experienced them—but clearly he believes in this process of sharing and feedback. Besides the Ideal Reader (capitalised in his memoir, such is her importance), up to eight further readers read the draft novels. They note sags in the story and errors of fact—the characters who tote anachronistic rifles, who shoot “peasants” instead of “pheasants”.
2. The World is a Story Factory: Reading King’s book reveals a young man eager to continually learn the craft, to get better at telling stories. And it’s interesting to note the wide circle of sources for this learning. His brother, who pumped out circulars from their basement. Films. A local-rag editor, who lacerated his apprentice journalism, showing how to cut away every word that wasn’t telling the story. It suggests that committed writers can grab advice from all parts of their worlds.
This makes me think of my brother’s career. He’s a joiner. When we were kids his superior skill with wood and tools was obvious. Now he runs his own business, with Master Joiner status pending. But it wasn’t the gift he showed as a kid that got him there. It was the pre-trade course, apprenticeship, advice from other tradesmen, overseas experience, and years in the local industry that capitalised on that raw talent to make him excellent. It’s a craft he continues to learn.
Of course the most important ingredient in the careers of all these people—King, my architect friend, the joiner—is their endless, committed private energy. The drive that apparently set Anthony Trollope to writing for two and a half hours each morning before work. For Daniel Woodrell, author of The Death of Sweet Mister and Winter’s Bone, this obsession seems to have been a saving one. At age twenty-three he told his father he would become a writer ‘or be a nightmare.’ His father’s reply was characteristically dry. ‘Let’s hope the writing pans out.’
The Exercise Book Live is at Bats Theatre on 11 June (poetry), 12 June (fiction), and 13 June (scripts). 8pm each night.