I received a couple of books for Christmas and started to read Stephen King’s non fiction book called ‘On writing’ first of all. It is hailed as one of the great books for aspiring writers to read and to learn from as the master of story telling recounts how he plots and writes.
The book did not disappoint. Written as part memoir and part advice on how to write, it begins with a swift journey through his life with emphasis on key moments in his childhood and adolescence where early signs of being an enthusiastic writer were evident. It was fantastic to read about his big break (and exciting to think it could be you!) as it is truly a rags to riches story.
What surprised me was to learn of his relationship with alcohol. It first appears as he describes the first time he got drunk on a school trip. Really drunk, causing him to miss the activities the following day and to be warned about the error of his ways by his schoolteacher. As he recounts the awful extent of his hangover he asks himself who would ever choose to do it again? But then the same thing happens the next night and then time and time again.
It all sounds incredibly familiar.
10 years later he completes ‘The Shining’ which just happens to be about an alcoholic writer and his ex-school teacher. The irony was lost on him at the time.
Being drunk and coping with varying degrees of hangover became his normal and he defended his habits by reassuring himself he ‘just liked a drink’. Realisation dawned at first when he started to collect cans for re-cycling and thought only an alcoholic could drink so many each week, and secondly when he was incredibly, regrettably, drunk and hungover at his mother’s funeral.
He talks about the futility of trying to control it as ‘much like asking someone with diarrhoea to control that’ and the disbelief of seeing people in restaurants drink only half a glass of wine and leave the rest. I mean, what is wrong with them?
By the time he finished writing ‘Misery’ in 1986 he had a heart rate of 130 and ‘cotton wool swabs stuck up his nose to stem the coke-induced bleeding’.
Soon after his wife confronted him and dealt an ultimatum: get help in rehab or get out of the house. With humour he recounts asking for 2 weeks to consider his options as ‘a guy on top of a burning building looking up to the helicopter which has arrived and lowered a rope to rescue him, asking for 2 weeks to decide if he will grab the rope’.
In the end he chose to get clean and sober. He did so and remains so, since 1988.
This part of the book ends with a few statements that are so, so true.
“Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated or morally weak. They drank because that’s what alkies...do...Creative people do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction...but we all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter’.
It’s a brilliant read and worth buying even if only to read the first half and not the ‘how to write’ of the second half.