Tag Archives: Stephen King

Writer’s Block – Pros and Pretenders

For better or for worse (usually worse), I’m involved in a lot of groups on Facebook, Linked In and the like, where writers of varying descriptions flock together to discuss various aspects of ‘the craft.’ The one topic that crops up more than any other in these groups is writer’s block.

The thing is, and feel free to fight me on this if you want, but I don’t think writer’s block exists. It’s a myth perpetuated by hobbyists with delusions of grandeur. The kind of people who sit in the corners of cafes and coffee shops with expensive tablets and skinny lattes because ‘that’s where they do their best work.’

You’ll find these pretenders haunting most establishments. The trendier the better. They’ll sit quietly, smoothing their beards thoughtfully, adjusting their beanies, and making a single hot beverage last three-and-a-half hours. A smug half-smirk will be tugging at the corners of their mouths, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear their inner thought process.

I am a gifted individual. People envy me. I write, therefore I am. My words will change the world. But wait, no I don’t want to write any more. Right now I’d rather be checking the Ted Baker website to see if the new knitwear collection is available for pre-order yet. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Must be writer’s block. I’m a tortured artist! The angst! Oh, dear creative Gods, deliver me from this hell!

I recently remarked to one of the many ‘WRITER’S BLOCK. AAARGH!” comments that clog up my newsfeed most days that, in my opinion, writer’s block is something that separates the pros from the pretenders. It didn’t go down very well with the supposed victim. I wasn’t being pretentious. The point I was trying to make is when faced with adversity, pros will find a way over, around, or through the obstacle preventing them achieving their goals. Whereas hobbyists, who would just as happily be doing something else anyway, will just give up.

But here’s the rub. They don’t want to admit giving up so easily. That would show weakness, and a lack of integrity. So they pin the blame on something other than themselves instead. Something intangible and unquantifiable, some mysterious ailment that only the supremely gifted can suffer from. Writer’s block is a luxury professionals can’t afford. If they don’t write, they don’t eat and they get evicted. Simple. Have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Dentist’s block? Estate agent’s block? No? That’s because there’s no such thing. Sure, sometimes they have days where they don’t feel like going to work. Just like there are times when you don’t feel like doing the washing up, or changing the bed. That’s when you put your head down, grit your teeth, rise above it and get the job done.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. Quite the opposite, in fact. Generally speaking, I think the human race in general could benefit from reading and writing more. Then maybe a higher percentage of people would be able to spell and punctuate properly and we wouldn’t be such a nation of fucktards.

One acquaintance of mine who complained of suffering from writer’s block said the only thing that alleviates the condition is playing video games, so he did that for three months. Three fucking months. Wait a minute, are you sure you wouldn’t just prefer playing video games? Because it sure seems that way. Incidentally, this writer was unpublished, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not knocking his ability. Who am I to judge? The guy might be a very good writer. Hell, he might even be the best writer who ever lived. The thing is we’ll probably never know, because when the chips are down, he boots up Halo. How many dentists out there do you think take three-month sabbaticals where they don’t work, they just play video games?

I understand that maintaining writer’s block doesn’t exist might be a controversial view.  Message boards and chat forums, even the odd serious article or academic paper, argue otherwise. But what’s really happening here is people misdiagnosing the condition. Writer’s block is an excuse to give up when things get tough. Or, in most cases, a convenient excuse to not do something you don’t even have to do in the first place. Some people just like to blame their inadequacies on things that are supposedly beyond their control. It makes them feel better about being crap at their job or just plain fucking lazy.

I want to leave you with this thought. Real writers write. They don’t sit around pissing and moaning about how hard it is. Those that do it on a regular basis know it’s hard. It’s not the exciting, romantic existence some people seem to think it is. If you’re not enjoying it, or you’re struggling with your latest case of writer’s block, the one that stops you from ever actually writing anything, go find something else to do. Don’t take to social media to bare your soul every ten minutes. It’s boring.

If you want to be a professional, or at least acknowledged as such, act like one. Grow a backbone. Learn about sacrifice, resilience and endeavour. I’m sure Stephen King, Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum would love to kick back and spend three months at a time playing computer games, or watching Friends, or whatever the hell else floats their respective boats. But they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t have written all those books.

You see? Pros and pretenders.

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This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Book Review)

So, the Master’s sixth volume of short fiction, which normally appear in seven-year cycles, dropped late last year to the delight of his rabid army of Constant Readers. As with previous collections, it proved a weighty tome. A total of twenty stories comprise the 495 pages, including a revised version of the recent stand-alone ebook Mile 81, the fictional baseball-based novella Blockade Billy from 2010, two previously unreleased stories, and several assorted rarities. There’s even a poem.

King has championed the novella form for most of his career, and is arguably at least partly responsible for it’s current popularity. It’s no accident that Amazon turned to him when they wanted a big-name author to write something publicizing the then-new fangled Kindle. The result, UR, is one of the highlights in Bazar of Bad Dreams. Of the rarities, the most interesting is probably Bad Little Kid, a twisted little tale about a lawyer defending a child murderer. However, the case is far from straight-forward. Originally published only in French and German, this creepfest appears here for the first time in English, and is vintage King.

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In the introduction, King makes the analogy that with this book he is assuming the role of a street vendor, who only sells his wares after midnight. And it proves quite accurate. There are a few absolute gems hidden away here, some bang average items that barely hold your attention, and even a couple of stinkers. Just what you’d expect to find in a dodgy market. Several entries can barely be described as dark fiction, nevermind horror. Perfect Harmony is a study on what makes marriages work, and ‘Morality’ is about the state of affairs that could arise if someone accepts money to do something questionable, a la Indecent Proposal without the sex. But this isn’t really anything new. King has been stereotyped as the creepy bloke who wrote Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining, since the seventies. A victim of his own success. In actual fact, relatively little of his output since those heady days have contained much in the way of extreme horror as we know it today, or even many supernatural elements. Indeed, this summer’s End of Watch will be the third and final book in a series about a retired cop.

One of my personal favourite stories in this collection, The Dune (originally published in high-brow British literary magazine Granta in 2011) is, on the surface, the story of a man on a never-ending treasure hunt. On another level, however, it’s about growing old, and facing up to one’s own mortality. Understandably perhaps, given King’s advanced years (he turns 69 this year), this has been a recurring theme in much of his recent work. The story ‘Afterlife’ goes one step further, and takes us to a place where a recently deceased man is given the option to live his flawed life all over again. Reviewing Bazar of Bad Dreams for the Daily telegraph, Sarah Crown says ‘Death hangs like a dark cloud over Stephen King’s latest collection of short stories,’ and she isn’t wrong. Elsewhere she makes the observation that the book is ‘closer to philosophy than horror.’ True, as King matures, his work not only seems to be developing more layers, but is becoming more intellectually astute. There’s usually still a reasonably high body count, but these days there are less monsters and vampires, and more real-life conundrums and existential crises. Interesting times for fans of the King.


King For a Year – Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Earlier this year I got involved in a project curated by Mark West, with the aim of discussing the works of Stephen King. Every week for 52 weeks, a different writer chose a different book. I chose Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and got a bit carried away. This is my unedited contribution.

Since 1980 or so, some critics have been saying I could publish my laundry list and sell a million copies or so, but these are for the most part critics who think that’s what I’ve been doing all along. The people who read my work for pleasure obviously feel differently, and I have made this book with those readers, not the critics, in the forefront of my mind.”

Among the highlights of any SK collection is the introduction, which often contains semi-hidden pearls of wisdom and unrestrained glimpses into the mind of one of the greatest writers of his generation. The above short passage is at once insightful, humble, witty, and scathing toward his perceived detractors. Elsewhere in the often brutally honest forward, he claims to have read (probably in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!) that people completely renew themselves every seven years, every muscle and organ replaced by new cells. He makes the point that it had been seven years since his last short story collection, Skeleton Crew (actually, it was eight, Skeleton Crew was issued in 1985, but who am I to argue with the Master?) and the first, Night Shift, was released seven years before that. Strange, then, that the first line of the first story (Dolan’s Cadillac) should be…

I waited and watched for seven years.

Or maybe it was deliberate. Who knows?

It goes without saying that I’ve always been a huge King fan. I am the Constant Reader who he addresses directly so often. I guess you are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. And there was me thinking I was the only one. Still, at least we have some common ground to build on. One of the truly great things about literature is that it unites people of all ages and creeds and from all walks of life. King’s work has certainly done that. From the long-haired pulp paperback-buying hordes of the seventies, right up to the mobile phone waving, Dome-loving Gen Y, King speaks to us all. I plucked my first SK book from my older sister’s collection of scary paperbacks soon after I was mature enough to decide what I wanted to read. It was the seminal ‘Salem’s Lot. And since then I’ve been hooked. I’ve read the vast majority of his books at least once, and there are some I’ve read several times. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, originally published in 1993, isn’t one of them. It’s been at least 20 years since I last opened it, which is one reason I thought it might be cool to revisit for this project.

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The first thing I noticed is how different everything is. Obviously, the book hasn’t changed. The book will never change. I have. And I always will. When I first read this book I was in my early twenties, and still living with my parents in the Welsh valleys. I had a car, a girlfriend and a crappy job putting things in boxes. That was half a lifetime ago, and a lot has changed since then. I’ve lived in different places, changed jobs, relationships have come and gone, and I sold my Hyundai Sports Coupé years ago. SK has probably been the only constant. Him and punk rock. Time changes everything, not least your perspective on life.

I smoked a lot of weed in my twenties, which may account for the fact that I have no recollection of reading several of these stories whatsoever. I sort of remembered Dolan’s Cadillac, but it would be a huge understatement to say that I didn’t fully understand the complexities of it all back then. On the surface, not much happens, and it would be easy to dismiss it as a bloated, overlong diatribe about a man with a chip on his shoulder digging a big hole. But like so many other King stories, its more about the telling. The journey is more than half the fun. Other early highlights include The End of the Whole Mess, which is about two brothers, one of whom is so ridiculously intelligent that he winds up using that intelligence to do something really stupid. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, King claimed his own brother, Dave, was the inspiration behind it. We can only hope the real Dave King isn’t as batshit crazy as his fictitious incarnation. Suffer the Little Children, a little shocker about a teacher who may or may not seen going ever-so-slightly mad, is flat-out one of the most disturbing things in King’s locker. Originally published in a copy of Cavalier in 1972, it’s also one of the oldest here. One of the most interesting and noteworthy stories is Dedication, a tale of witchcraft and woe which is by turns heart-wrenching and horrifying, with an almost palpable undercurrent of edgy tenderness.

Some of these tales struck a chord and lodged firmly in my memory, for whatever reason. And reading them again gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like having a chat with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Rainy Season, a creepy little yarn about a couple facing a sudden rash of murderous toads, and Night Flier, the story of a jaded newspaper hack on the trail of a serial killer, fall into this category. Both are so typically King that you would know who penned it just from reading the first few paragraphs. It’s quite weird (and often hilarious) as a British guy to read Americans writing about Britain. But the truth is, the odd cringe-worthy cliché (“Got a spare fag, mate?”) aside, King just about pulls it off in Crouch End, which was originally written for an anthology with the title New Tales of the Cthulu Mythos. That pretty much tells you all you really need to know. Thank God the real Crouch End isn’t quite as weird as the one described in the story.

A story I didn’t fully appreciate first time around is Home delivery. As it unfolds, it changes from a Delores Clairborne-style yarn about a young mother preparing to give birth on a secluded island, into a fully-fledged zombie story. The tale is expertly crafted, the textures and tones of the words King uses throughout adding to a hollow sense of isolation. Another tale that hits you harder after you have some years under your belt is My Pretty Pony. It’s probably the farthest thing from ‘horror’ in this entire collection, poignant in the extreme, it is a study on the nature of time and how it seems to move faster as you approach the end of your run. The story behind this story is just as interesting as the story itself. As everyone probably knows, King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman also had a pseudonym. Enter one George Stark.

In the early 1980s King was simultaneously working on a Bachman book called Machine’s Way, and a book (which began life as a lengthy flashback incorporated into Machine’s Way) by Stark called My Pretty Pony. The projects disintegrated, but Machine’s Way later morphed into The Dark Half while My Pretty Pony was buried in a file until 1989 when it resurfaced as one of those posh limited edition coffee table books none of us can afford.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a pretty weighty tome containing 24 stories and its pages numbering a grand total of 816. Included are five previously unpublished stories, the pick of which being the Ten O’ Clock People, a close relative of Quitters, Inc from Night Shift, which is set for an imminent theatrical release having been the latest of SK’s works to be given the Hollywood treatment. It has to be said, this isn’t his best book. It isn’t even his best collection. There’s a bit too much imitation and what can only be described as low-brow fan fiction for my liking. Derivative in the extreme, Crouch End is a homage to Lovecraft, The Doctors Case to Conan Doyle and Umney’s Last Case to Raymond Chandler. It’s all weirdly reminiscent of your favourite artist doing a covers album. It’s entertaining enough, but you can’t help but feel it’s lacking something, making this less of a Greatest Hits and more of an unessential B-sides collection. I can’t imagine even hardcore baseball fans being overly enamoured with long and tedious non-fiction piece Head Down. If you don’t know much about baseball, like most people outside the US and Japan, then you’d have no chance. Still, there’s enough decent material here to make the whole exercise worthwhile and as we all know, King at his worst still shits all over 99% of other writers at their best.

The King for a Year Project can be viewed in it’s entirety HERE:


Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Book review)

177721_web_doctor_sleep_cover Finally, the wait is over. Three decades years after the Shining was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, the sequel is upon us. If you are a King afficienado, a Stanley Kubrick devotee, or a horror fan of any ilk, it’s unlikley you’ll need a recap on what the first book was about so I won’t waste your time. It’s thirty years later and little Danny Torrance is all growd up now. Without giving too much away, lets just say he didn’t turn out so good. His heart’s in the right place (usually) but he’s a raging alcoholic who’s haunted by the past. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t be? On top of all that, he’s still struggling with what they call ‘the Shining,’ a precognitive ability, which by all accounts is a double-edged sword.

To say Doctor Sleep received some mixed reviews upon release would be an understatement. Personally, I feel this is a result of people harbouring some very elevated and unrealistic expectations. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to suggest that the Shining is probably one of the best books of the 20th Century. It was always going to be a tough act to follow. Word is that when seeking advice on how to cast Danny as an adult, somebody close to the Master commented that for maximum effect, poor Danny should hit rock bottom. King certainly takes him there, relating the experiences of a hopeless drunk with just a bit too much insight. He certainly knows about the inner-workings of your average AA group. After hitting ‘rock bottom’ grown-up Danny decides to kick the booze and takes a job in a hospice where, aided by a cat, he uses his Shining to help the residents find peace in the moments before death claims them, earning himself the nickname Doctor Sleep. Ultimately, the story is one of redemption, applied work ethic, and a sense of duty, all playing out in front of a Good v Evil scenario which is quite possibly all-too familiar to King’s army of Constant Readers. The ‘evil’ in question is a band of modern-day SUV-bothering gypsies called the ‘True Knot’ who murder gifted children to devour their Shining.

The only real criticism I have of Doctor Sleep is perhaps that it is a little over-written. After a storming start, the middle sections sag a little and the ‘climax’ is drawn out to about 20% of the total word count. The whole thing could perhaps have benefited from a little tightening up. Depending on your stance, this is either King’s tour de force, or an unnecessary addition to a book shelf already bowing under the weight of tomes before. It’s real position is probably somewhere in the middle. It will keep his devoted following ticking over, but is unlikely to win many new fans.

The original version of this review appears in the FREE Morpheus Tales Supplement, April 2015. Out Now


The Bookshelf 2013

Brian Moreland BookShelf 01

A list of all the books I read last year. Not the ones I dipped in to then abandoned. If I made a list of those it would run to the hundreds. This is a list of the books I actually finished. Try not to be too judgemental, we all have our guilty pleasures!

Shadows by Sean A. Lusher (2013)
314 by A.R. Wise (2012)
Poisonous by Tommy B. Smith (2012)
John Dies at the End by David Wong (2011)
The Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena by Roy Bainton (2013)
American Sniper by Chris Kyle (2012)
Waiting to be Heard by Amanda Knox (2013)
11/22/63 by Stephen King (2012)
Black Rain by Joshua Caine (2013)
Telling Tales of Terror edited by Kim Richards (2012)
Joyland by Stephen King (2013)
Guinness Book of Records 2014 (2013)
Debunking Ancient Aliens Debunked by Philip Coppens (2013)
The Cocaine Diaries by Paul Keany and Jeff Farrell (2013)
Desolate 2: Exposure by Robert Brumm (2012)
Sun Bleached Winter by D Robert Grixti (2013)
Rocking the Wall. Bruce Springsteen: the Berlin Concert That Changed the World by Erik Kerschbaum (2013)
The Lake by Richard Laymon (2004)
Haunted Wales: A Survey of Welsh Ghostlore by richard Holland (2008)
Splatterlands: Reawakening the Splatterpunk Revolution by various authors
The Bartender Always Dies Last by Joshua Caine (2013)
True Grit by Bear Grylls (2013)
Black Smokers by CJ Waller (2013)
Remember Senghenydd: The Colliery Disaster of 1913 by Jen Llewellyn (2013)


Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The Master of the Macabre continues his thrilling recent run of form with this supernatural mystery. Main protagonist Jake Epping is a frustrated small-town English teacher in Maine. One day he is handed an essay written by one of his adult students explaining in horrific detail how the man’s father butchered the rest of his family back in the 1950’s. The essay has a profound effect on Jake. Shortly thereafter he is introduced to a time portal by the owner of a local diner and decides to use time travel to alter the student’s fortunes and also prevent the assassination of JFK, the date of which provides the book’s title and today remains one of the blackest marks in American history. However, upon arrival Jake soon realises that changing the past can have untold consequences for the future…

11.22.63

Word has it that the Master of Horror first started writing this weighty tome as a young teacher way back 1973 (which makes you wonder how much is at least semi-autobiographical), but at the time didn’t feel confident enough in his own writing ability to be able to do it justice. For that reason, it took forty years or so to materialize in its current form. In a way, that is an exercise in time travel in itself!

The back-story suggests that King painstakingly researched and pieced together various aspects of American and world history in order to accurately portray the time period the lead character travels back to, and builds a life in. And he does a great job of it, too, giving the whole book an authentic retro feel as he constantly draws comparisons between modern America and that of the pre-JFK era. As always the characterization is top-notch, and there are even cameo appearances from several characters from his other popular works, most notably some of the teens from the modern masterpiece, IT. Now a little older and wiser than when we last met them.

Being a long-time fan I have devoured most of what King has written, and in my opinion this ranks as one of the best and most accomplished additions to his bulging library. Listed as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times, 11/22/63 is now available as mass market paperback, the timing of which, I imagine, is partly to prime the market for the imminent release of Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining. For newbies and old fans alike, this supernatural thriller is not one to be missed.

This review first appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales review supplement (issue 21).

Available here: http://morpheustales.wix.com/morpheustales#!supplement/c14cx


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