Where did you get the inspiration for Under The Dome? I had the idea in the 1970s when petrol prices were starting to shoot up. Opec realised everybody had cars, there were limited resources and it had only been charging $11 a barrel for oil. Then came Chernobyl, concerns about pollution and global warming. For the first time, people started to ask: ‘What are we doing to our planet?’ The dome is a microcosm of life. We all live under the dome on this little blue planet with diminishing resources. I don’t want to write political novels but I wrote an essay on guns this year. It’s insane that we can’t do anything about semi-automatic weapons.
You have been very prolific. If you had the idea for the book in the 1970s, why did it take until 2009 to finish? I was teaching in a high school back then and I had no money or time. I snatched time to write on the weekends but I couldn’t do the research this story required. When I finally got back to the story again, I hired someone who knew their stuff to do the research into climate change for me.
Do you have any favourite adaptations of your stories? The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand By Me, The Mist. One that doesn’t get a lot of play is Cujo with Dee Wallace – that’s a fantastic movie.
How do you feel if someone makes a pig’s ear of an adaptation? It’s maximum deniability. If they make something good out of something that I’ve done, such as The Shawshank Redemption or Under The Dome, I say: ‘That’s based on my work.’ But with some of the other things, like Firestarter [starring Drew Barrymore and Martin Sheen], which wasn’t particularly good, I can say: ‘Well, I didn’t have anything to do with that.’
Is there anything that you think ever works better on screen than on paper? There’s this sort of aggressive forward-leaning attitude in TV and film of ‘go big or go home’. In my book, when the dome comes down, a little tiny woodchuck gets cut in half. In the television show, it’s a cow. I don’t think they could find an elephant. My wife wanted the cow to be a Belted Galloway, but I said they were too pretty, so it’s a heifer.
Why do you think stories such as Under The Dome and Lost, to which it has been likened, are so popular? You’re driving home in traffic, bumper to bumper; you’ve got bills that you need to pay; you’ve got kids that have got to be fed. But once a week you can check out and, in your imagination, you’re on this island – or under this dome – where the problems are a lot more elemental. There are also some good-looking people there, which doesn’t hurt.
Where do you summon the darkness from for some of your more sinister work? I was drawn to stories of the supernatural, suspense and horror from the time I was a child. It’s something that comes built in with the equipment, the same way that I think there are novelists like Nora Roberts, for instance, who are drawn to tell stories of love and romance. And there are people like Agatha Christie: I read those books and I’m in awe that somebody constructed those plots where they all make sense at the end. Those are like magic tricks to me.
Many people can name a Stephen King story that scared them witless when they first read it. How do you feel about being responsible for nightmares? I’ve never been an intellectual writer. The relationship that I want to have with readers is more visceral than that. I hope there’s something to think about in the books that I write but I wouldn’t mind it if you read them twice and thought about stuff the second time. I just want to scare the s*** out of you the first time, yes.
Do you think we’re living in a more sinister dome created by modern technology and surveillance? Based on some of the things that have been in the US press lately, there is a dome and your mobile phone is a part of it. There has been a concerted effort to demonise people such as Edward Snowden for revealing all these secrets while trying to ignore the fact that the government knows every time you dial a number.
Under The Dome begins today on Channel Five at 10pm.