The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros

This short novel has captured by breath and is holding my heart hostage. So deceptively simple, it is poignant, shocking and haunting. It tells the tale of teenager Dylan, who lives with his mother Rowenna in a small cottage in rural Wales. This is their notebook, chronicling what happened at the End, from the rumours, to the electricity going off, to the nuclear powerplant in Anglesey exploding – and what comes after. Both mother and son have secrets which they confess in their Blue Book of Nebo, creating a realistic and moving family dynamic. It is often shocking, in a muted, numb way that accentuates the power of the story; it made me cry several times. But it is also ultimately hopeful. For such a dark story, I found that I didn’t want to leave Dylan and Rowenna’s world, that I wanted to stay with them, to see what they did next. A disturbing tale, but one that also shows the dignity, silent strength and resilience of the human spirit. I remain forever haunted by such young adult tales as Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien, and Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells, and The Blue Book of Nebo will deservedly be joining that canon of nuclear horror. It’s a stunning elegy to our possible futures and I got simply lost in the sheer disturbing beauty of it.

Firefly, 2022, ISBN 9781913102784

On Writing by Stephen King

I am kicking myself. Seriously, I’m so cross. Why has it taken me so long to read this book?

I’ve been a Stephen King fan forever. My favourites are “From a Buick 8” and “Misery”. But somehow this gem passed me by, and as a writer, that’s a serious omission. So if you write, or want to, and haven’t picked up “On writing: a memoir of the craft” then drop everything and read it. Now.

Stephen King draws you into his stories and keeps you there, holding your breath, inhabiting his characters, whilst the rest of the world falls away. This book, although non-fiction, is no exception. He talks about how he started, the triumphs and the failures (thus proving that every writer gets those dreaded rejection slips), and the life events (and people) that influenced him. The postscript, detailing his terrible accident and how he came back from that, is simply and directly told but incredibly moving. Shout out to his wife Tabitha here, who certainly is his rock.

His advice on writing is similarly simple and direct, but like everything he writes, authentic. I was surprised by his eschewing of plot – he doesn’t plan his stories – but it’s definitely something I want to try myself. Stephen King makes it look easy; it isn’t, but he certainly inspires, and the writing wisdom in this book is worth its weight in ink and dreams.

I’m off to write that novel now. Thanks Stephen.

Hodder, 2020, ISBN 9781444723230 (Twentieth Anniversary Edition)