Tag Archive: Stephen King

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 2

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.


With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.

So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:

The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.



The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

ChocolatSet in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?

Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin

I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.


Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.



Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.



Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.

As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.

The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations  uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.

I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.

Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.

Writing Trends: To Tweet or Not to Tweet


Last week, we asked if the NaNoWriMo trend lives up to its hype, and this week, we explore a trend that has divided writers. Some have taken to it like ducks to water, others groan at the mere mention of a hashtag. Social media: nemesis or friend for the modern writer?

If you’re Stephen King…

Stephen King uses Twitter like many “normal” users do, to comment about the weather, his favorite sports teams, to make the occasional quip about a recent political mess-up, as well as updating his fans, very casually and modestly, about his upcoming signings, new editions of his books, and new productions based on his work. Twitter a la Stephen King is a fascinating example of how it is somehow possible to create a huge following, and a unique brand of mystery and suspense, yet manage to show real personality, let down the author mystique, and still keep fans on side.

If you’re Joyce Carol Oates…

Twitter and Joyce Carol Oates is an unlikely love story, but it seems to be working. We thought Oates was made for the short story, but she’s found her medium in Twitter, sharing the passionate, the random, the political, all in her own unique voice.

Here’s just a taste:

Oates on purring: “Cherie purrs just a little harder when there is an absence in the family. This is called “purring in the dark.”

Oates on Kim Kardashian: “Seeing airbrushed nude photo of huge human female bottom Cherie had thought it was a 20-lb turkey oddly white-skinned & basted. No mas!”

Oates on hyphenation: “Possible to be coolly neutral about hy- phenated words. Or, hyphe- nated. Hyphen- ated? Hyphenate- d.”

If you’re J.K. Rowling…

J.K. Rowling is one author who is definitely expected to use the internet to her and her fans’ full advantage. Despite this pressure, she manages to tweet honest, down-to-earth snippets from her life mixed in with the high profile teasers about the world of Harry Potter and her upcoming projects.

J.K. has expressed her love of twitter on numerous occasions; for her, it provides a genuine connection to her fans than other modes don’t. And surprisingly, she doesn’t feel the need to revere and protect the fantasy world she has created; she jokes, she confesses, even lets down the veil every so often – “It’s the 16th anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. I’m having a moment’s silence over my keyboard. I hated killing some of those people.”

If you’re an emerging writer…

But what if you’re a writer without a loyal following, and you can’t actually have an effect on the outcome of a referendum, or get thousands of people to answer a riddle? For writers without a publicity campaign, interacting with social media as an author, or potential author, is a choice – to tweet or not to tweet, that is the question… But actually, there appears to be no right answer. Even if you’re the most literary, experimental mind out there, you can tweet and not ruin your mystery. Even if you’re planning to dominate the bestseller list with Young Adult hits based on your own teenage years, you can still shy away from Twitter if you want to.

So, what do you think? Is there too much pressure to tweet? Should we care about followers like we care about readers?

Let us know, well, on Twitter if you have it, or in the comments section below.

Image: Rayi Christian Wicaksono

Focus on Thrillers: Two Kings of Suspense


For the next three weekend episodes of the Towerbabel blog (in the lead up to you-know-what), I’ll be focusing on…


How do you plot anticipation? How do you balance character development and mystery? How do you thrill the pants off your readers?

The pair of novels below both deal with suspense expertly, but they also reveal that there are very different approaches to be taken when writing thrilling fiction.


Revival, Stephen King

Stephen King is the master of the suspense novel. Over the last forty years, since his first hit Carrie, King has published and published, often multiple long novels in a year, churning out hit after hit. And his fans don’t get bored. Because even though they know what they’re getting with King’s stories – twists, extensive scene-setting, plotted moments of anticipation and pay-off so efficient that they’re almost formulaic – each novel is full of its own set of rules, fears, and threats that immerse the reader anew.

Let’s take a look at the opening of King’s new novel Revival to see how he does it.

The first page is dedicated to starting off the suspense-train. King begins by describing the cast of characters that populates our lives, just like in the movies, the main characters, lovers, family, and the extras, the crowds of passing faces that we hardly register. Then, the key to the whole novel appears. ”But sometimes,” King writes, “a person who fits none of these categories comes into your life.” We are introduced to the idea of the “change agent,” and for the narrator, this agent comes in the form of reverend Charles Jacobs. It is the fear and repulsion with which the narrator imbues this first page, before we meet Charles Jacobs, that fills the rest of this first chapter and the whole novel with paranoia and tension.

But its not just within the pages of the novel that Stephen King uses his skill with suspense. His publicity strategy, his business of writing, also pulls his readers along, making them desperate fans of his work, signed up to receive the next new book even before they know what it’s about. Revival is released in hardback in November but a sneaky excerpt courtesy of Scribner, linked above, has made its way across the web so that the figure of Charles Jacobs is already hanging around like an unanswered question.


Euphoria, Lily King

Lily King isn’t a writer famous for horror or suspense, but in this piece of historical fiction, she shows that you don’t have to be a fully paid-up member of the thriller genre to employ suspense effectively. Before the scene has been set, the atmosphere created, or the intellectual interest of the story initiated, King plants the seed of suspense and wins over the reader.

“As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing.

‘Another dead baby,’ Fen said.”

King plants this seed not as a sensational piece of trickery but as the first crucial and symbolic detail of her story, introducing its heat, tension, and themes. Just as Stephen King keeps relentlessly on top of the suspense in his novels, Lily King follows the first seed with other teasers, never letting a page go by without putting some detail or other at work on the reader’s curiosity. The dead baby is followed almost immediately by the introduction of the main character’s feverish symptoms, for example.

Both Kings are making suspense work for them as they write their novels, but to entirely different final effects. It goes to show that whatever you’re writing, planting those disturbing, curious details at very regular intervals, especially at the start of your story, allows you to grab your reader’s full attention.

Next week I’ll be looking at another pair of suspenseful writers from different walks of literature. But till then, have a read of our post on The Art of Short Story Writing and a few more gems of advice from Stephen King.

Image: Todd Quackenbush

Movies that Started Life as Short Stories: Part One

The short story has a quieter, subtler effect on the literary canon than that of the novel, but the breadth of writers and traditions that use and play with the short story form is extensive; in fact the short story influences other media in ways that we don’t even realize. Many blockbuster movies that rely on top-notch structure and killer characters have actually been inspired by short fiction, and the effect of expanding a short form into a big screen epic can give unique qualities to the plot.

shawshank       different-seasons

The Shawshank Redemption

This blockbuster starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman that is often cited as one of the best movies of all time was based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King in the collection Different Seasons. The movie has famously epic proportions, following the main character Andy Dufresne from his crime, through nineteen years of his two life sentences at Shawshank Prison, to his escape; King’s novella holds the same epic scope within its smaller frame, taking us through the plot with rapid, detail-rich focus.

Writing Lesson: Don’t shy away from the big things in short fiction; a small vessel can be a great way in to huge ideas, like freedom.

benbutton   button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is another film that has used the intense plot vehicle of the short story, by stretching and structuring out its events for an epic effect. Notable for its life-story scope, you might more reasonably expect the movie to come from a novel, but its inspiration was the fable-like short of the same name, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unlike in The Shawshank Redemption, a major adaptation took place from story to screen with this one; Fitzgerald’s piece leaves a lot between the lines which makes the unsettling themes even more ambiguous.

Writing Lesson: A life story is a ready-made plot structure; it can be a great place to start if you’re wondering how to shape your piece.


emporers club   palace thief

The Emporer’s Club

Based on the short story “The Palace Thief”, by Ethan Canin, this movie takes a more sentimental angle on the story of the teacher of a boys’ private school, whose patient qualities are put to the test when a rebellious boy enters his class. One crucial difference between the two stories is the addition of female character Elizabeth, the love interest of Mr. Hundert. In an interview with christiananswers.net, the screenwriter of Emporer’s Club Neil Tolkin describes how he added the female character because “I didn’t want to paint him as a complete failure.”

Writing Lesson: Canin’s willingness to have the story end with a bitter note and Tolkin’s unwillingness illuminates the pressure of Hollywood, but shows that an initial literary atmosphere can be worked and transformed quite simply.

Next week, I’ll be finding three more movies that have used the short story in various ways to make an impact on the big screen.

If the short story is inspiring you too, you might want to take a look at our recommendations for some cracking shorts from the web this summer.


Top 10 Life Stories To Put On Your Bucket List – Part 2

As promised, here’s part two of the Top 10 biographies/ autobiographies to put on your ‘To Read’ bucket list.

Having researched my Top 10 last week, I couldn’t help buying up a couple of the books I recommended. This morning I excitedly opened an enticing book-sized parcel to discover Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, which I began to read immediately on my commute in to London this morning. I wasn’t disappointed. I haven’t read a lot of it, but enough to know I’ll get a great deal from it. Here are a few lines that really spoke to me:

‘After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.’

I also bought the Pollock biography and having read about John Kennedy Toole’s biography, I bought ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ which I’ve never read.

I digress, so on to the next five….


6. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait

This book is a fascinating insight; in to the life of an artist as well as an interesting experimental take on an autobiography/ diary. It’s an illustrated journal, documenting the last ten years of her turbulent life.

Having been secretly kept in Mexico for over 40 years, the journal reveals the artist’s thoughts, poems and dreams as well as 70 fascinating watercolor illustrations. The words are reproduced in their original form in brightly coloured inks, making it a feast for the eyes as well as the intellect. Her writing reveals childhood memories, politics, random musings and an account of her many medical operations throughout her life.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo is more than just a book, it’s something just a little bit special and well worth seeking out.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

7. The Autobiography of Mark Twain

I love the fact that Twain’s memoirs (under his instruction) were held under lock and key for 100 years after his death, no less, before they saw the light of day in 2010. This was so that he might speak his “whole frank mind” and at its publishing he might be properly “dead, and unaware, and indifferent”.

One of the highlights for many will be the revelation that a middle-aged slave, “Uncle Dan’l”, was the inspiration for Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

In the writing of his memoirs, Twain embarked on the “Final (and Right) Plan” for telling his life story. His innovative notion—to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment”, gave him free reign and allowed his mind to ransack his past at will and bring back what it saw fit. The volumes of memoirs are a must read for Twain fans as well as anyone interested in literature.


8. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

I was interested in this book, as I’ve recently taken up running myself.

The author of ‘Norwegian Wood’ began running to keep fit and became so engrossed with it; a short year later he ran solo from Athens to Marathon.

The book is a meditation not only on running, but how running has had an effect on his writing and the lessons life has bestowed on Murakami. It makes for an interesting read, especially because he’s such a private writer.


9. On writing a memoir of the craft – Stephen King

I’ve included this one for all the aspiring writers out there. Stephen King writes about his life as well as his style of writing, along with his thoughts about how to write well and how not to write badly.

Part autobiography, part writing manual- King writes about his early efforts at writing and his early attempts at getting published.

The book also contains some interesting practical advice on writing, including grammar, plot and character. King describes the book as a guide for how “a competent writer can become a good one.”


10. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

This is a strange one to add, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s not quite a biography but it’s written by the great Tom Wolfe as an ode to the visionary thinker and author of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Sometimes A Great Notion’.

Published in 1968, it’s the story of the 60’s, and a time when a group of people- the self-styled ‘Merry Pranksters’ led by the enigmatic Kesey, braved the frontiers of their personal and collective consciousness.

They travelled across the country in a colourfully painted school bus, spreading the word. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is remembered as an accurate and “essential” book depicting the roots and growth of the hippie movement.

The book is also remembered for the pioneering style in which it was written, employing ‘New Journalism’ techniques, which were also championed by none other than the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson as well as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.

This list could go on and on, as there are so many worthy biographies worth dipping in to. If you’ve read any that you think should have been included in this list, let us know- it would be great to hear from you.

(You might want to read part 1 of this blog in case you haven’t already – http://blog.towerbabel.com/2014/07/top-10-life-stories-to-put-on-your-bucket-list-part-1/ )