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Thomas G. J. Theakston (Leeds, W. Yorks)

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Saddling Mahmoud
Saddling Mahmoud
by Sebastian Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars SADDLING MAHMOUD by Sebastian Bell, 29 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Saddling Mahmoud (Hardcover)
I loved this book. Part film-history mystery, part family memoir, part noughties-London novel, it is a funny and strange thing - and a beautiful one, too.

It first came to my attention after being discussed very (*very*) briefly in Iain Sinclair's HACKNEY: THAT ROSE RED EMPIRE, in which he mentioned it as positing the theory that the Hackney Empire had some part to play in the music hall scenes of Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS. I had never heard of the book, nor of its author Sebastian Bell, but I am something of an obsessive when it comes to THE 39 STEPS, and eventually bought the book on the strength of this connection alone.

I am so glad I did - within a few pages I was enjoying it; within 100 I loved it; and by the end I was absolutely obsessed with it, consumed by it. It has been a few days since I finished reading, but it has stayed on my mind a lot since then, and I am already itching to read it again (unfortunately my pile of unread books is growing to the point that I can't justify going immediately back to it, however much I want to).

SADDLING MAHMOUD - what's it about then?

It's about a man searching for an original film print of THE 39 STEPS, in order to write an article. Except, it's not *really* about that. Appropriately enough, that's a MacGuffin.

It's about a man (the same man) coming to terms with his young daughter's disability, and the strain this puts on his relationship with his wife. Yes, this is the true heart of the book, its emotional core., it's not *really* about that either.

It's REALLY about a man's (again, yes, the same man's) memories of his Uncle Tom, head groundsman at Murrayfield in the middle of the 20th Century, a Quixotic, strange figure, at once larger-than-life and as insignificant and self-effacing as British men once were, whose triumphs as head groundsman are cruelly undermined by his subsequent inglorious retirement and eventual death. His nephew worshiped him as a young boy, and even today (the 'present' of the book) he looms large in his life, inspiring feelings of nostalgia and guilt - nostalgia for the man and his achievements, guilt for the way the twilight of his life played out.

It's really about this, and the daughter, and the film. It's about all these things, and more - including Mahmoud, the winning horse of the 1936 Derby.

The narrative moves between these different elements quickly, from paragraph to paragraph, hopping nimbly around in space and time. There are also some very entertaining asides about THE 39 STEPS itself, and some of the scenes and characters in it. My favourite of these is the paragraph devoted to the charmingly daft autogyro that chases Hannay across the Scottish moors, which leads into a digression about odd 1930s pop culture and paraphernalia:

"Art deco and Poirot. Baggy suits, kipper ties and Raymond Chandler. The Wizard of Oz. All sorts of Hollywood camp in garish colour. Walt Disney cartoons. Dan Dare, frozen peas, the planet Pluto. Mechano. And uncle Tom. Definitely uncle Tom."

In the hands of a lesser writer all this jumping around could be messy, but Bell makes it work brilliantly, and the nature of the paragraphing makes for absolutely compulsive reading.

The narrator is a funny, obsessive, caring and sometimes downright odd little man. He can be absolutely cutting and cruel about his supposed friends, heartrendingly tender and frank about his daughter, and when it comes to Uncle Tom and his world....well, he turns into a poet. Even putting to one side the Hitchcock material that drew me to it in the first place, the Uncle Tom sections were, for me, the true glory of the book. As a portrait of a man, they are warm and loving; as an evocation of a time, they are full of telling detail and authenticity; and as evocations of space, of place, they are haunting and magnificent. His descriptions of the housing estate Uncle Tom retires to are quietly stunning; Murrayfield after a big international match becomes a place drenched in atmosphere and haunted by absence.

Part of the delight in reading this book is the way you feel like you've stumbled across a wonderful secret - just who is Sebastian Bell, anyway? Has he written anything else? Is this a true story? The mystery of the existence of SADDLING MAHMOUD itself is entirely appropriate for the story that unfolds within its pages, and lends a delicious sense of discovery to the reading experience.

I could gush about this book for ever, so will force myself to stop there. I can wholeheartedly recommend it for fans of THE 39 STEPS, fans of London novels, of Iain Sinclair, of W.G. Sebald (forgot to mention, it also has photographs!) - for fans of great art and literary curios. You will not be disappointed.

Maybe I will read it again now after all....

Shoreditch Wild Life
Shoreditch Wild Life
by Dougie Wallace
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.79

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shoreditch Wild Life - Brilliant Modern Street Photography, 10 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Shoreditch Wild Life (Hardcover)
Dougie Wallace (a.k.a. Glasweegee) is a phenomenon. His hyper-detailed and brashly coloured images are very much in the tradition of modern British street photography, but have a unique sensibility and energy all of their own - they're drunk, overheated, hyperactive, childish, vulgar......just like most of the people captured in the pictures that make up SHOREDITCH WILD LIFE.

Taken in and around the Brick Lane area of London, mostly at the height of summer, these photographs put you right there in the sweltering thick of things. None of your ironic detachment or studied observation here. Wallace is one of the crowd, jostling shoulder to shoulder with his subjects, talking to them, laughing with them, seemingly fearless and obviously enjoying himself.

There is something of the carnival to Wallace’s vision of Shoreditch, something of Dickens’ “amusements of the people”. The streets are a stage, and the subjects of these photos are all performers, tearing chunks out of the scenery and forgetting their lines. This is a place where market traders wear crash helmets at their stalls, where men walk the streets in speedos, where Gilbert and George can be spotted dressed like identical anachronisms. There is a sense of frenzy, too, of danger and violence lurking beneath the surface ready to erupt. Wine glasses are dropped, graffiti blossoms like flowers from every untended surface, arses are scratched till they bleed, the police mill about warily, and – in one of the books most dramatic yet oddly silent images – a freshly overturned car lies smashed in the middle of a deserted street.

The sequencing of the images deserves singling out for praise, both in a broad sense and in some of the smaller choices. In the broad sense, the book is organised in such a way that it almost feels like all the photos were taken over the course of one long, mad day, from early morning light, through the throng and crush of the midday shoppers and workers, into the sweating, multi-coloured, BDSM-tinged nightlife, and out into the trip home – the night bus, the way-past-midnight snack, falling down the stairs, passed out in the pub as dawn creeps in at the window.
And in the smaller sense, Wallace (or publishers Dewi Lewis, or both) has a very keen eye for pairing images, and in some cases creates something akin to visual enjambment, where images not overtly linked run into each other and comment on each other by the way they have been skilfully placed next-door. For me, the book’s most striking instance of this is when we have a photo of a stripper in a pub, legs spread as wide as they can go, a strangely vacant expression on her face, the whole thing massively un-arousing, and when the very previous image is of a girl in a nightclub, curled up, damp from dancing, not wearing much but not revealing anything, smiling coyly straight at us – it is tremendously sexy, and the more so for when straight after you are confronted with the wholly unerotic pub dancer. (I realise I may be revealing more of myself than of the book with this example….)

The previous reviewer complained that the photos were ‘not really wild life’. Well, no, not if you’re being annoyingly literal about it. If you buy this book expecting to see images that could grace the cosy Countryfile calendar then you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if one thinks about the nature of wildlife photography – capturing images of strange, exotic, sometimes beautiful, sometimes hideous, always fascinating creatures, exposing them in moments of aggression and vulnerability, showing them to be boastful, playful, sexual, violent – then I would argue that these are indeed wildlife photos. Humans are animals, and Wallace’s photos demonstrate this fact for better or for worse. (Also, if one was being literally literal about it, there is of course the whole play on what ‘wildlife’ means – these pictures and the people in them are WILD.)

A lot of these pictures and Wallace’s other work is available to view on his website, so if you want to view before buying then check it out. Having said that, I can confidently recommend this book to fans of street photography – if you like Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden, Tony Ray-Jones, Bruce Davidson, Garry Winogrand, I’m sure you’ll like what you find here.

5 star book, no doubt about it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2015 2:57 AM BST

A Clergyman's Daughter
A Clergyman's Daughter
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the reputation - vintage Orwell, 1 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Clergyman's Daughter (Paperback)
Despite its bad press (even Orwell himself didn't like it), 'A Clergyman's Daughter' is well worth a read.

If it was by a lesser author it would probably have a much stronger reputation than it does. As it is, yes it definitely is the weakest of his novels, but as an evocative panorama of life below-the-breadline in depression-era England it is fantastic. A lot of the scenarios (hop-picking in Kent; homeless in Trafalgar Square) will be familiar to anyone who's read Orwell's diaries or some of his essays, but alongside the unforgettable school-teaching scenes and the brilliant descriptions of life in a small, petty, curtain-twitching village, the book as whole is as good as any account I've read of what it was like to be on the fringes of society and struggling for money in the early '30s.

The general criticisms of the novel are all entirely valid. Dorothy's amnesia is never properly explained; the hop-picking scenes are too descriptive and close to Orwell's reportage diaries of his time doing this; and the 'experimental' scenes around Trafalgar Square get rather annoying and skippable after the first couple of pages; BUT, if you go into the novel, as I did, prepared for these things, then they really don't matter, and didn't mar my enjoyment of it as a whole. What was good was VERY good, enough so to make up for the weaknesses. In particular I think the chapter of the book in which Dorothy becomes a school-teacher ranks up there with anything Orwell wrote, especially in his characterisation of the detestable Mrs Creevy and the way he describes the gradual disintegration of Dorothy's initial enthusiasm and promise.

I tend to be very nostalgic and sentimental about inter-war England (the beautiful monochrome photos of Bill Brandt, the booze-soaked melancholy of Patrick Hamilton....), but novels like this one, alongside 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' and 'Coming Up For Air', are reminders of just how grim life was for probably the vast majority of people at this time. I would actually recommend considering these three novels as a sort of Orwellian '30s triptych, and think that read in order of publication (Daughter; Aspidistra; Air) they will each work best both as novels and as unforgettable historical documents. The looming threat of the Second World War is almost pysically tangible as they go on, a shadow crossing the landscape of these books, getting darker and heavier right the way through...

So don't be wary about trying this one. I was put off for ages because of its reputation, but am glad I eventually took the plunge. If you're interested in Orwell, or in the '30s generally, it is a must-read.

El Radio (Dig)
El Radio (Dig)
Price: £20.10

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Stuff, 7 July 2009
This review is from: El Radio (Dig) (Audio CD)
Since Chris Garneau's first album 'Music For Tourists' was released, he's been near the top of my ones-to-watch list, and I'd been looking forward to the release of 'El Radio' for several months.

Needless to say, it doesn't disappoint. Fans of Garneau's sing-song, gentle, earnest voice will be delighted to hear it is in fine form here. For my money it is one of the best voices in modern music, if more for sincerity and feeling than any technical brilliance (same with Sufjan Stevens, who is a good reference point for Garneau. Also Regina Spektor.)

There is more variety to the musical arrangements than the previous album, and he branches out from his usual piano dominated lullabies to somehow create songs with vast musical landscapes that pretty much all manage to stay under 5 minutes, which is quite an achievement. This makes listening to the album a treat, and even after several listens it still manages to catch you off guard.

Stand out tracks for me include Dirty Night Clowns, No More Pirates, Fireflies and Over and Over.

If you liked Music For Tourists you'll love this, and if you're new to Garneau then how I envy you! He's one of the few artists who I'd like to be able to discover again completely afresh. But until I get amnesia I'll just listen to El Radio and enjoy the surprises of the ride.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2010 11:24 PM BST

Wanted Man: The Forgotten Story of an American Outlaw
Wanted Man: The Forgotten Story of an American Outlaw
by Tamsin Spargo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wanted: Quality; Missing, Presumed Dead, 12 May 2009
Tamsin Spargo has visited a period of history that is currently under-appreciated and almost forgotten, and has found the perfect (anti-)hero to go with it, one who's notoriety gripped and thrilled 19th Century America, but to whom time has been cruel.

Confined now to dusty records and obscure archives, Oliver Curtis Perry, once considered the `Nerviest Outlaw Alive', has found in Spargo an unlikely new platform to the fame he once had. America fell in love with Perry when, in 1891, he single-handedly robbed an American Express train en route to New York, making off with a fortune. His daring, enigma and, as it was later revealed, good-looks held a country in thrall. His legend increased when, a few months later, he repeated his crime. He was caught this second time round, but his many fans didn't care. His captivity gave them a chance to see the man and experience his obvious charisma and wit first hand. But as he travelled from prison to prison, as his mental health deteriorated and he was transferred to lunatic asylums, the frenzy subsided, occasionally re-emerging at the news of daring escapes, but then disappearing again, until he was all but entirely forgotten.

This is where Spargo came in. Seeing his picture and instantly falling for him, she determined to bring this man back to life, and re-tell the story of a truly unique and intriguing character. In doing so, she gives us a rare insight into an alien and forgotten world. The attitude towards criminals, the situation and conditions in prisons and asylums and the economic and physical landscape of the time are all brought vividly to life, and with the obvious difficulty in finding accurate and detailed records from the period credit must go to Spargo for her research.

However, although it succeeds in shedding light on an obscure time and even obscurer character, the story of Wanted Man is not as engrossing as it could be. Although Perry is himself an excellent and fascinating subject matter, at times the book is difficult and indeed boring. This is not because of Spargo's prose, which is fluid and clear at all times; instead, the problem lies with the fact that the story is simply not as exciting as she would have us believe. After the first two or three gripping chapters it loses pace and real narrative thrust, and the accounts of his trials and incarcerations are flat and frankly uninteresting.

At all times, too, it seems that Spargo is too much on the side of Perry. Her admiration and respect for him and his deeds is too obvious, and thus her account is often slanted and in his favour, when by what she says of him he seems to have been not that pleasant a man.
So, for all its efforts to bring to life a man and period that time has forgotten, Wanted Man doesn't quite cut the mustard. It is, ultimately, not that interesting.

American Desert
American Desert
by Percival L. Everett
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To Die, or Not To Die?, 12 May 2009
This review is from: American Desert (Paperback)
Bringing the dead back to life in a piece of fiction normally requires a relatively healthy dose of suspended disbelief on the part of the audience (cf. Frankenstein, Dracula, anything with Boris Karloff), so to write a book where reanimation seems perfectly reasonable and in tune with the normal world is quite an achievement, and one that Percival Everett should be proud of.

On his way to commit suicide, Ted Street's car is hit by an oncoming lorry, sending him through the windscreen and cutting his head clean off, thus scuppering his plans to kill himself. At his funeral three days later, Ted sits up in his coffin. The event makes headlines across the world, and Ted and his family are suddenly thrust into the spotlight. He becomes yet another victim of the insatiable media, his daughter finds him a source of acute embarrassment, and to all the nuts out there he is the messiah, the antichrist, and the perfect experiment for the development of invincible soldiers.
Ted undergoes a personal Odyssey, his travels bringing him into contact with religious cults determined to destroy the demon, to the heart of Area 51 where he gets caught up in a bizarre experiment to clone Jesus, while all the time he is simply trying to get back to his family.

While it is one of the most staple of all fiction plots, Ted's travels are used by Everett in a refreshingly new way, as he forces the reader to question what it is to be alive (or indeed dead), and exposes a culture that is perhaps too ready to call on religion whenever it can't explain something.

He manages to keep a serious tone throughout the book, while at the same time keeping the reader thoroughly engaged through some savagely funny and biting passages (the funeral scene is particularly memorable).

However, although it may be trying to ask the big questions of the 21st Century,
American Desert doesn't really go beyond simple, thought-provoking entertainment, but Everett deserves kudos for trying. Maybe he could take a leaf out of Ted's book and make a better go of it next time round.

Negro Prison Blues & Songs
Negro Prison Blues & Songs

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Heart-wrenching, 12 May 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In the 1930s and `40s, Alan Lomax travelled through the American Deep South in an attempt to bring to the world's attention the lives, traditions and plight of the black people living there. These recordings, made in 1947/8, offer an insight into the world of black prisoners from this period.

Recorded at Mississippi and Louisiana State Penitentiaries, they are as haunting and heart-wrenching as anything I have heard. The first seventeen tracks were recorded live, unaccompanied by music, while the last six seem to have had some studio work done to them, with twangy guitars and moody harmonicas being used.

The first song, Murde'er's Home, sets the tone of the album perfectly. If there was ever a more haunting first line to an album as "I ain't got long, ain't got long in this murde'ers' home" then I have yet to hear it. With just the voices of the prisoners hollering and echoing, the effect is breathtaking. Many of the songs are accompanied by the harsh beat of the men's hammers, creating a rhythm that is often actually quite unsettling.

A couple of the tracks are simply interviews with prisoners, and the harshness and unfairness of their lives is communicated in a tone that one can't help but admire, as the men recognise their situations with an irony and wit that is impressive and poignant. Toughness and injustice was something these men were used to, but to our modern ears it can come as quite a shock to learn how they could be arrested just because they were "about to do something".

One can't escape the overall sense of sadness and melancholy in these recordings, but every now and again little gems of hope and humour pop up, making this album as heart-warming as it is -wrenching.

Cowboy Songs of the Old West
Cowboy Songs of the Old West
Price: £7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so 'Wild' West, 12 May 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Alan Lomax, for all his travels around the world, loved America. Although he collected traditional songs from as far as Romania, India and the streets of Scotland, he could never take his heart away from his home.
His speciality was the deep-South, and, as in this case, the mid-West.

Together with Ed McCurdy, Lomax collected, sang and recorded these twenty Cowboy songs, and listening to it is like taking a step back in time.
You can see the tumbleweeds floating along the cracked, dry earth, making only the faintest sound as they graze the ground. You can hear the gentle, firm sounds of the wild horses hooves padding across the vast expanses of barren- and plain-land. The heated, jolly and dangerous atmosphere of the taverns is brought to life, and the hardness of life in those days is evident in every song.

Songs such as Billy Barlow are suffused with good-natured, simple humour, and All The Pretty Little Horses speaks of a gentle and tender love.
Punchin' The Dough and Strawberry Roan reveal the day to day toughness of life, but overall you can't escape the sense of melancholy of the songs. Rambling Gambler, I'm Bound To Follow The Longhorn Cows and Along Side Of The Santa Fe Trail reveal just how lonely life was, and The Dying Cowboy is just about as tender a eulogy as I have heard.

Alan Lomax did the world more good than most people will ever realise, and this CD is a perfect testament to his work.

Cursed [DVD]
Cursed [DVD]
Dvd ~ Portia de Rossi
Price: £3.21

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wes Craven as you never want to see him again, 12 May 2009
This review is from: Cursed [DVD] (DVD)
Wes Craven brought us arguably the greatest horror franchise of the last 10 years with the Scream trilogy. With their perfect mix of frights, gore and humour they were superb examples of the genre, several times even crossing its boundaries.

So it was in an expectant frame of mind that I approached his latest offering, Cursed. I knew literally nothing about it before it started (it had been a flip of the coin decision; the Amityville Horror will have to wait), except that it was werewolves a la Craven. I would have thought it would be the perfect combination, but then the film started. Opening with a couple of identical teenage bimbos on a pier and an over-zealous clairvoyant telling them in a shaky voice that "the mark of the beast" was going to do them in, it was pure cliche (a word I feel I am going to be using a lot in the next few minutes). I let out a deflated sigh. This was never going to be half the film the Screams were, so I just settled down and prepared for the nonsense that would be washing over me for the next one and a half hours.

Set in Los Angeles, the film concerns, at its most basic level, werewolves (or as one of my companions infuriatingly called them, "wier"wolves). I say at its most "basic" level, but to be perfectly frank it doesn't have many more levels than that. None, in fact.
A pair of parentless siblings (Christina Ricci and Some Other Guy) get attacked by a hairy thing while driving high on Hollywood Hills during a full-moon, and another victim (one of the idiots from the pier) gets torn apart before their very eyes. Neither of them really see what it is, but unfortanetly for them (and us in the long run- the film wouldn't have been made if it hadn't happened) they both get scratched. Not knowing that it was, in fact, a werewolf that scratched them (sorry to spoil it), they both try to get on with their lives as normal, but they are both such cliches (there it is again) that their lives can't in any way be described as "normal"- he is the archetypal geek/nerd type, and she is the typical caught-in-tricky-relationship-with-a-really-great-guy (him from Dawson's Creek and the Mighty Ducks) type.

But strange things begin to happen. They get the aformentioned "mark of the beast" sign on their hands, they develop a taste for blood and fresh meat, they become unbelievably sexually attractive (true, I'm afraid), their dog turns huge and attacks them (also unfortunatley true) and one of them becomes an overnight wrestling sensation. They begin to suspect that maybe (just maybe) something's up. Cue a race against time to save the world or something, and the rest I'm sure you can predict for yourselves a mile off.

At no point did this film truly engage. The characters were all pretty wooden (apart from Ricci and, wait for it, Craig Kilborn), and there was absolutley no gore at all. At several times the film became almost farcical, such as when the werewolf gives the cops the finger (?!). It lacked the humour and wit and quality of the Scream films.

To be fair, it had a decent number of jump-moments, and Ricci's performance was good as usual, but it was as formulaic as it is possible to be, sticking to all the usual horror techniques and conventions, and sticking to them badly at that.

I suppose it was entertaining enough if all you're looking for is a couple of hours trashy escapism, but if it's quality Craven you want then avoid at all costs.

The mark of the beast has cursed enough already.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2010 11:34 PM BST

On Writing
On Writing
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential advice from a Master, 12 May 2009
This review is from: On Writing (Paperback)
I have read enough of Stephen King's books to know that he is one of the most gifted writers and storytellers of recent years, but I have to admit that I had never asked myself why or how? It seemed to me that good writers were just born with an innate sense of language and story, and all the rest of us could do was sit back and read their prodigal masterpieces (and believe me, some of King's books are masterpieces). But in this book, part autobiography-part manual, King states categorically that this is not necessarily the case.

On Writing is comprised of several parts.
The first section is King's autobiography, from his earliest memory of an act of showmanship ending up with all the toes on one of his feet smashing, through accounts of drunken revelry, wiping his derriere with poison ivy, countless stories being rejected by magazines, ending with his big break with Carrie. In King's capable hands, these incidents, however seemingly minor, are absorbing and fascinating. Some are hilarious, some are painfully honest, others are just, well, painful. Through them, King explains how he came to be where he is in terms of his writing, and one can see how some of his experiences shaped the stories he tells, and the way he tells them, too.

The next parts of the book are concerned with the physical art of writing. King suggests that all budding storytellers construct for themselves a Toolbox, its compartments filled with "the fundamentals": vocabulary, grammar and the elements of style. When sitting down to write, all they then have to do is pull out their own personalised Toolbox and get to work.
If you have written as many books as Stephen King has, you are in a pretty good position to give advice on the craft. King's advice is simple, practical and blunt. He believes most people can write, but concedes that "I can't lie and say there are no bad writers", adding that if you are one of the great ungifted, there is no hope: "it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer". This is the kind of hard-nosed "advice" that runs throughout this section. King takes us through what he believes are the vital ingredients necessary: language, vocabulary, grammar, style, form and structure, but the overriding message throughout his guide is practise, practise, practise. You will get nowhere without writing and reading until your eyes are bleeding and your hands are aching. He can say it because he has been there. King never stops talking about all the rejection slips stuck on a spike he had as a young man, but the fact that he can use so many titles of his that we are all familiar with (The Shining, Carrie, Misery to name but a few) to explain his advice simply proves that he knows what he is talking about.

In the final chapters of the book, King continues his autobiography with an account of the time he nearly died. It is a story straight out of one of his own books: a solitary walker on a lonely road in Maine, a driver with more points on his record than King has written bestsellers, and an out of control dog in the backseat. Combine the three, and you have King's near-death experience, his long and painful recovery, and his eventual rehabilitation back into the world of writing, all told in the gripping and graphic style that has made King such a successful and brilliant writer.

At the end of the book is a short-story, Jumper by Garrett Addams, handpicked by King as the winner of his On Writing competition. The tale of a shop assistant driven to extremes, it has many merits, but unfortunately King is a hard act to follow, and placing Jumper right after a master class in writing from one of the world's most brilliant storytellers doesn't do it any favours.

On writing is characteristically honest, immeasurably useful and utterly compelling, and should be read immediately by all aspiring writers.

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