If you don’t have time to read…

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write,” Stephen King.

I’d love to take this quote and turn it into a banner for displaying at workshops and literature events, especially where the participants include:-

1. Automatic Writers

The “Oh, I’m just the vessel, I write it as it comes” crowd who bring their pieces to workshops, fail to comment on anyone else’s work and lap up comments on their own. However, as their work appeared intact, they won’t actually bother to edit or refine it.

2. Prolific Writers

Like the guy who boasted he wrote 300 poems in one year and wanted me to read every single one of them. Would he read one of mine in return? He’s probably still bombarding editors now, but I’ve never seen his name in print.

3. Hyper-Sensitive Writers

The “Oh, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” crowd who want a slap on the back just for writing something. The idea that just writing something is only the start, is so alien you can provoke tears or sulking tantrums at the mere suggestion their magnum opus might benefit from a little judicial editing, like putting an apostrophe in the correct place to take the ambiguity out of the first line.

4. Certificated Writers

Not because of insanity, but because they were willing to pay to get their pieces and/or biography published in vanity presses as so puff themselves up as “real poets” (whatever they are) to justify their doggerel.

5. Writers of the Romantic Ideal

“Oh, I never read, my writing might become tainted”. That’ll be tainted by taste, skill, craft and an exclusive quality called readability, will it?

Writing isn’t a mystic ability divined by those with a true sense of calling (that would exclude me for a start) and is pretty useless if it’s unreadable. There aren’t any short cuts. The only way to learn to write is to read. If you don’t read, you’re not a writer.



Director Mikael Håfström, John Cusack (Mike Enslin), Mary McCormack (Lily Enslin), Samuel L Jackson (Gerald Olin, hotel manager).  Rating: US PG-13 / UK 15

Mike Enslin told his wife he was “goin’ out for some cigarettes”. He didn’t come back. Instead he gave up smoking and embarked on a book, “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms”, beginning each night by placing an unlit cigarette in the ashtray before rendering another dull night in sparklingly cynical prose. So a hotel room that’s seen 56 paranormally-induced deaths since 1912 – excluding deaths from natural causes, ie strokes and heart attacks – sounds like an ideal final chapter.

So far John Cusack plays to type, selfish, wisecracking loser, but then the alarm clock radio bursts into The Carpenters’ “We’ve only just begun” and starts counting down from 60 minutes. “No guest lasts more than an hour,” Mike Enslin helpfully repeats the hotel manager’s warning. The tension racks up as escape routes are closed off and we’re left with the claustrophobic room of Mike Enslin’s headspace. If you prefer blood and gore, wait for Rob Zombie’s remake of “Hallowe’en”. If you like being scared, check into room 1408. John Cusack makes it watchable as he moves from cynicism, being startled, scared, grief-stricken to almost relief as the hour counts down towards its close (of course there’s a twist, but I’m giving it away). The horrors aren’t random. Mike Enslin thoughtfully packs a night-vision Luma-lite which reveals blood-splatters from previous guests and we get to see how some of them used the “express check out service”. But we also learn why he left his wife. Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work may guess the ending, but John Cusack makes you root for him as 1408 imposes its final choice.

The tension does dissipate as Mikael Håfström takes us out of the room on a red herring, conveniently signalled by the colour red. But John Cusack, who once commented that a good film stays with him “like a fever dream for a long time afterwards”, would be justified in feeling that fever dream. A welcome addition to the horror oeuvre.