An American Story by Christopher Priest review – quiet, gripping 9/11 masterpiece


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A science journalists sifts the evidence on the 2001 New York attacks in this powerful novel about fake news, the internet and social media

Christopher Priest has made a long career out of novels that twist readers’ expectations, reassembling their understanding of the book in question in real time. His latest at first seems very different from the sleight-of-hand fantasy of The Prestige or his recent work set in the otherworldly Dream Archipelago. An American Story explores the events of 11 September 2001 through the eyes of Ben Matson, a science journalist who lost his partner Lil during the attacks. Lil was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon – or so Matson was told.

9/11 “is now so familiar that the events barely need repeating,” writes Priest, but Matson begins an investigation into what might have happened that day, as well as going over his own memories ...

Waterstones buying Foyles isn’t a bad thing – at least it’s not Sports Direct | James Smythe


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The giant company’s acquisition of the smaller chain continues the monopoly of British bookshops – but as long as booksellers are protected, it’s a good thing

Full disclosure: I like Waterstones a lot. When I was first published, it was Waterstones booksellers that pushed my book. I remember going to Waterstones Deansgate, right after my novel The Testimony was published, and meeting the wonderful booksellers there. I didn’t really know howbookshops worked, and I had vague recollections of the pre-James-Daunt days of Waterstones, where the tables were the same in every branch. But the power and goodwill of those booksellers overwhelmed me. How they had whole tables of books that they cared about, the way that they spoke about the books they loved, the little stand they had for my little book, with the shelf-talker card underneath (Do you know what those cards mean to a writer? I take photos ...

‘Makes me shiver with glee’ – a Stephen King superfan on Castle Rock


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The new JJ Abrams-produced series brings together elements from the award-winning author’s literary universe for an Easter egg-packed fan’s dream

God, I love a mystery box. TV shows built around the idea that there’s something going on, but the explanation is teased out over episodes – over seasons – before the resolution is offered. And everything in that show feeds into that central mystery, before being spat out, hopefully satisfying the viewers who’ve stuck with it.

Remember Lost? JJ Abrams does. It was partly his brainchild, after all; and it changed the landscape of television in what amounts to very JJ Abrams-shaped ways. Suddenly, for so many TV shows, the mystery box was everything. What’s in the box? Who knows! The mystery box has been a major part of some of the most intriguing TV shows of recent years, to varying degrees of success: from Fringe to Westworld to The ...

The Outsider by Stephen King review – an impossible alibi


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The master of horror hits a home run, with this mystery of a baseball youth team coach accused of murder

Stephen King finds himself in a unique situation: as he approaches his 60th novel, every book he releases is charting, his backlist is selling enviable amounts and a devout fanbase want more of the stories he is famous for telling. So how does he surprise his readers and draw new ones in? How does he, as the writer, surprise himself?

Over the past few years, King has experimented. There was a sequel to what is arguably his most famous novel, The Shining; 2013’s Doctor Sleep eschewed the snowed-in torpor of the original in favour of a story that never took its foot off the pedal. He has written the Bill Hodges trilogy of crime novels – Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch – in which he ...

The Fireman by Joe Hill review – apocalyptic horror with a twist


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An epidemic of human combustion sweeps the world in this deft and disturbing story of survivalHorror novels are having a hard time. The genre simply isn’t the powerhouse it once was, having been supplanted in public consciousness by the modern thriller: just as taut, just as nasty, but with a slightly more commercial, less overtly supernatural edge. The horror writers who are flourishing have moved away from the more generic creepy-slasher narratives a lot of the old guard fell prey to. Joe Hill is one such writer. Over the past few years, he has carved out a furrow of his own, packed with haunted rock stars (A Heart-shaped Box), demonic possession (Horns) and strange soul-vampires who drive evil cars (N0S-4R2). His new novel, The Fireman, seems at first to be playing in the same sandbox. It’s the story of nurse Harper Grayson, who watches ...

Why Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books will be perfect for television


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Kim Stanley Robinson’s series of novels about pioneering colonists of the Red Planet is being adapted for TV – this could actually be great news, says James Smythe

The quest to find television’s science fiction answer to Game of Thrones might have finally come to end: Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars trilogy is arrives on screens in 2017, reports Variety. With the first volume published to huge critical acclaim and massive sales in 1993, the three books – Red Mars, Green Mars (1994) and Blue Mars (1996) – have long been rumoured to be making the transition: the rights were once held by director James Cameron.

I first came across Robinson’s books when I was 14: I was on holiday, and somebody had left a copy of Red Mars in our hotel. I was reading books at a colossal rate, and when I ran out of Stephen Kings ...

Ten things I learned about writing from Stephen King


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The novelist James Smythe, who has been analysing the work of Stephen King for the Guardian since 2012, on the lessons he has drawn from the master of horror fiction

Stephen King is an All-Time Great, arguably one of the most popular novelists the world has ever seen. And there’s a good chance that he’s inspired more people to start writing than any other living writer. So, as the Guardian and King’s UK publisher Hodder launch a short story competition – to be judged by the master himself – here are the ten most important lessons to learn from his work.

1. Write whatever the hell you like

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Rereading Stephen King chapter 33: Rose Madder


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The novel grapples with the nature of domestic abuse, before introducing a badly thought-out magic painting


When you look at a writer’s work from afar, it’s easy to see thematic arcs across bibliographies. You can see what fascinated them at the time of certain creative periods, and with King – with the masses of novels he’s got to his name – it’s easier to see than most. There’s the classic horror period (vampires, ancient burial grounds, psychic powers, apocalypses); there’s the quieter, worried parent period (rabid dogs, dead pets, children trapped in fantasy worlds); and then there’s a paranoiac addiction – and recovery – period (insane fans, alien invasions and crazy barely-real twins).

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Finders Keepers by Stephen King – writers, beware your fans


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A psychopath’s literary obsession spells bad news for his favourite author – and for the teenager who discovers his unpublished works

Writers are obsessed with other writers. So many of the greats have, somewhere in their oeuvre, at least one novel in which an author is either writing a book, or is struggling with writer’s block. It is a narrative writers relish: that somebody can make their fortune from nothing other than telling stories, and trying to tell them well.

For King, it is a rich vein that he has mined on more than one occasion. Some of his most enduring works feature writers: Salem’s Lot, It, The Shining, The Dark Half and many more feature writers of either novels or plays. But King’s most famous work about an author is Misery, a truly terrifying look at what happens when a keen fan strays onto the wrong side of obsession. It is commonly ...