For accuracy of his own work, the world’s greatest horror writer relies on a modest Melbourian. Michael Adam speaks with him.
New Zealand-born Rocky Wood is the world’s biggest Stephen King expert, having published several reference books on the horror writer’s works. His stature was confirmed when King had the 59-year-old fact-check Doctor Sleep, his upcoming sequel to The Shining.
Tell us about your involvement with Doctor Sleep?
Steve wanted continuity from The Shining. People’s ages, circumstances, what happened to them, places and so on. To give an example, he wrote about Jack Torrance smashing Dick Hallorann’s teeth with a mallet, but l Dick had dentures in the opriginal. This stuff matters – fans remember.
Was it strange pointing out mistakes to someone you have so much respect for?
Initially, I thought, ‘Who am I to tell Stephen King he got something wrong?’ But he was instantly thankful for my work so from then on I reported even the most minor things to him.
How did you first come across King’s literature?
I went to see the movie Carrie in 1977 and noted it was based on a book by Stephen King. I tried to buy it but it was out of stock so I ended up with Salem’s Lot and have been hooked ever since.
What’s your favourite?
The post-apocalyptic tale, The Stand. I re-read it most every year.
Why do his novels have such broad appeal?
He puts human stories on a page. Even when there’s fantasy in the story – vampires or werewolves and other supernatural effects – the people are still just like us. King suspends your disbelief so it’s easy to imagine being trapped in a demonic car or being stalked by a rabid St Bernard. You slip into the stories and once you get in, off you go on a magic carpet ride.
Describe what meeting King for the first time was like.
Very natural. We’d had good online friendship prior to doing so. Then he turned up and we just continued the conversation. He’s a very down to earth, with no airs. He’s what Bostonians would call “wicked smart”, so the same time was fascinating.
How did it feel to find several ‘lost’ King stories?
What I imagine being Howard Carter finding Tutankhamen’s tomb was like. These pieces of work generally tend to be rediscovered through detective work, so similar to anyone who finally discovers something it was a mixture of relief and high excitement. The best part for me though, was getting to read pieces of his that I hadn’t already.
Lastly, tell us about your latest book.
Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times exposes what was really behind that phase of our history – misogyny, greed, superstition, political power and individuals with bloodlust.