FAMOUS HORROR WRITER’S STAY IN FLEET
KING WANTED DRAUGHTY HAUNTED BRITISH HOUSE
Every town has their fair share of stories, local gossip and claims to fame but when Stephen King comes to town, it’s a trip to be remembered and that’s exactly what happened in 1977.
Below: Author Stephen King
The famous horror writer originally placed an advert for a haunted house in a British newspaper as he sought inspiration for his latest novel. The advert read “Wanted, a draughty Victorian house in the country with a dark attic and creaking floorboards, preferably haunted”…not your usual holiday destination but hey, this is Stephen King we’re talking about…
Below: Article from the New Hampshire Nashua Telegraph in late 1977
Below is an extract from “Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished by Rocky Wood with David Rawsthorne & Norma Blackburn”, where the move to England is discussed:
Wimsey is a story fragment from the Lord Peter Wimsey novel King worked on in late 1977. The piece is a double-spaced, typewritten manuscript, containing the first chapter, of fourteen pages, and only the first page of a second chapter. Although it has never been published copies of this fragment circulate in the King community.
The attempted novel was the result of both the King family’s abortive move to England and a discussion between King and his editor of the time, Bill Thompson. The discussion revolved around the writing of a novel using the detective character, Lord Peter Wimsey, created by Dorothy L Sayers. More of Wimsey and Sayers later.
The King family moved to England in the Fall of 1977. King was reported in the Fleet News as saying he wanted to write a book “…with an English setting.” The house they settled on was Mourlands, at 87 Aldershot Road, Fleet in Hampshire.
Beahm reported that the Kings had advertised for a home, reading: ‘Wanted, a draughty Victorian house in the country with dark attic and creaking floorboards, preferable haunted.’ King’s US paperback publisher, NAL, issued a press release stating King had moved to England to write “…a novel even more bloodcurdling than the previous ones …” Although this does not sound at all like a genteel British detective novel, we can perhaps forgive the publisher’s enthusiasm for its best-selling writer.
Once in England King did not find the inspiration required for an English novel, perhaps explaining the fragmentary nature of Wimsey, but he did begin one of his most famous novels, Cujo during the three months the family remained in the country. One story based in England did result from the trip, however. In mid-October 1977 the King family had dinner with Peter Straub and his wife in the London suburb of Crouch End. This resulted in King’s Lovecraftian story, Crouch End, originally published in the 1980 collection New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and in a heavily revised version in 1993’s Nightmare and Dreamscapes.
Of course, the best result of the England trip may have been the beginning of King’s long and fruitful relationship with fellow author Straub, which has so far resulted in both The Talisman and Black House, with a reasonable likelihood that a third Jack Sawyer novel will be written.
Below: 87 Aldershot Road, Fleet Hampshire. The address that Stephen King rented in 1977.
GOODBYE WIMSEY – HELLO CUJO
The author chose the location in the hope of receiving inspiration to write a new novel based on an English detective. Sadly the book, titled “Wimsey”, was never to see the light of day and remains unfinished. In fact the plans to live in Fleet for a year were cut short which resulted in the author leaving the area after only three months, returning home in mid-December.
Only the first chapter of the story and one page of a second chapter is known to exist, making it extremely collectable to King’s many fans. Copies of the text can be purchased online.
Below: One of the few pages of text from the unfinished “Wimsey” book.
Below: From Wikipedia
1977 Wimsey (unpublished and unfinished): In an attempt to write an English novel, King moved to England, but the idea failed. In the small segment that exists, we see Wimsey and his driver going to a party at an estate which seems to be in the middle of nowhere. On their way, they have an accident on a bridge that is seemingly on the verge of collapse. The segment ends here.
Below: Extracts from Stephen King Revisited.
Though Cujo has a strong sense of place—Castle Rock, Maine—much of the book was written during the King family’s relocation to England in the fall of 1977. King wanted to absorb some of the British atmosphere to write a book set in a fictional version of Fleet, Hampshire but the reality of the atmosphere—in particular, the perpetual cold they felt in their house—caused them to cut their planned year-long visit short, by about nine months
It seems then that the desire for a draughty British house soon lost it’s appeal when it turned out to be…draughty…and with weather that was typically err…British.
THE INFAMOUS “IT”
But King’s stay in Fleet clearly left some kind of impression as nine years later in 1986, he released one of his most well known stories, the infamous IT. While Fleet may not have been the inspiration for the book itself, King made many references to the town throughout the novel.
Below: Fleet quotes from Stephen King’s famous horror story “IT”
When they had arrived in the small suburban village of Fleet a month before the shoot was scheduled to begin, they had both marvelled over the technical quality of British television – on a good Pye color set, it really did look as though you could climb right inside.
Her fingers touched hard serrated metal under a box of Altoid mints and she seized at it with a little cry of triumph. For a terrible moment she thought it might be the key to their Rover, now sitting in the Fleet railway station’s car-park three thousand miles away, and then she felt the lucite rental-car tab.
Disorientation followed – this was not their home in Topanga Canyon or the rented house in Fleet. It was noplace – limbo furnished with a bed, a dresser, two chairs, and a TV.
He tried to think of Audra but Audra seemed far away. She would be sleeping in their house in Fleet now as the sun came up and the milkman began his rounds.
So not quite the recognition Fleet might have received if the detective book had been completed but at least there is some acknowledgment of the town, albeit 9 years later and in another book!
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