Last weekend was a good one for a favourite trope of mine.
On Saturday afternoon, with the rain pouring, I watched It Chapter Two, which has arrived on Amazon Prime over the last fortnight, and enjoyed hanging with the Losers in their decomposing club house. There’s a lot wrong with the movie (if I have to watch another creepfest which begins with children singing nursery rhymes in a minor key I’m quitting for reals) but it was heartening seeing a gang of dysfunctional outsiders take down a spider-god in a subterranean cave. Again.
Sunday night I checked out Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws and found another ensemble cast of ill-starred misfits thrown together to clear out a rotting building, this time for comic purposes. It’s terrific. What is it with Bristol and comedy crime dramas? This is a very close cousin of Lloyd Woolf and Joe Tucker’s Witless – and all the better for it.
Audiobook time came around and, late to the party as per, I started Mick Herron’s Slow Horses. Whaddayaknow – it’s about a gang of spies, ostracised and consigned to career limbo… and operating from grotty premises in central London.
I dunno. It’s like buses. You wait for one…
I once worked with a colleague – let’s call him Argyle for the purposes of this post – who had a boast. It went, “I’ve never not got a job I applied for.”
It sounded spectacular upon first hearing; Argyle was younger than me, and I recall listening, awestruck, remembering my many interview-day snafus, wondering what it must be like to be so well-prepared and professional. I’d been well prepared and professional too, I corrected later, recalling the hours of work that had gone into flubbed job applications… but Argyle? He must be on a whole other level.
When the tale got aired a second time years later, my response was different. The penny dropped. Is this boast really about risk-aversion? Because once a pattern is established, we might adjust our behaviour to ensure we perpetuate it. Plenty of times I’d taken a flying leap at a job I was under-qualified for, just to learn from the ensuing train-wreck. Argyle never had.
Writing? Well, it’s a world where a track-record littered with setbacks and screw-ups, blunders and failures is the norm. In a way, it’s the whole point.
In our world, Argyle's success is evidence that he was applying for the wrong jobs.
If you’ve spent any time geeking out over Kingcast – a pod on the Fangoria network – you might, like me, have found yourself wondering why guests choose the novels they do. Three so far have selected The Mist, but none have gone for From a Buick 8? I mean – what?
Thinking about King’s oeuvre, and imagining I’d be given completely free rein, I reckon I’d be choosing one of the three the master has written for Hard Case, an imprint formed in 2004 that recreates that wonderful 40s and 50s hardboiled-paperbacks vibe. King’s contributions are The Colorado Kid, Joyland and Later, a trio of truly enticing stories.
In my mind, they’re unified by three things. First, an examination of youth and age. In two, the narrators are recalling their childhoods from a perspective of experience and in the third, an eager youngster learns from two old-timers. Second, an uncharacteristic brevity. The imprint demands it, and I think King’s storytelling is the better for being condensed. And thirdly, these tales see King applying a lighter touch. They’re reflective pieces where the supernatural tugs at our attention gently around the edges of what are coming-of-age stories.
If you’re not familiar, three treats await.
I was listening to a pod during which a psychologist told the story of a day out with her grand-daughter. They’d had a lovely time, arrived home, and the little girl had told her, “I have to play now.” The psychologist watched as the kid settled down alone, took out her toys and began monologue-ing. The switch to a private fantasy world was immediate, and yet it was clear the child was processing the day’s events through imaginative play.
My daughter – aged ten – still does the same thing. Some days she’ll come home from school and head straight upstairs. Her room is strictly out of bounds but if you were to loiter at the door and listen, accidentally like, you’d hear her voicing characters, talking aloud, acting out scenarios… processing through play.
I thought about these two connected examples, about the first kid’s emphatic, imperative use of “have to”, and tried to imagine a situation in which I was in some way forbidden – even now – from doing the same thing; that I wasn’t allowed to shut myself away and play.
I’d go mad. I think I might be most myself when I’m imagining being someone else, and writing it down.
There isn’t a turning of a season quite like that between summer and autumn.
You won’t find plaintive songs of regret about the day May passes and June inevitably arrives, or the time autumn finally becomes winter on a shitty day of icy rain in late November. But the dog days of August? They were built for coming-of-age tales of heartbreak. Late this summer I went for a few beers with a pal – let’s call him Argyle for the purposes of this post – and we ended up dissecting Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. Yeah I know, what a sad life I live, blah blah.
Anyway we spent twenty minutes turning over the lines, ‘nobody on the road, nobody on the beach’ and ‘empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone.’ Nothing particularly striking about the language there, but I felt the repetition implied a journey, undertaken in a state of growing dread, probably on a BMX.
Each location, visited briefly and frantically, yields nothing. Our narrator’s a local lad and the girl he wants to see – the one who’s both made and destroyed him – is a holiday-maker who’s returned home.
Grief, regret, desperation, loss… is there a headier brew?