Thursday, 21 March 2013

James Herbert

When I was about eleven, I got hold of a copy of James Herbert's first book The Rats. My mum told me I couldn't read it, so of course, I did. Over the course of one day during the summer holidays, I sped through it, sure she would come home and catch me reading this stunning book full of sex and violence and people who were real and flawed. She didn't, thankfully, so I ate up Mr Herbert's early classics (The Rats trilogy, The Dark, The Fog, Survivor) and then got stuck into his mid and late eighties work. I loved it all. They were books set in a familiar world. This wasn't old-fashioned horror or the world of Stephen King. This was England. This was a world of the BBC, of Thatcher and cities I'd heard of. This could be happening in my own city with people I might encounter. Scary shit, I think you'll agree.

A short time after this, my class put together a school newspaper. There were several weeks of build up to this (computers were slower back then) and we had plenty of time to come up with articles to go in the paper. Encouraged by my teacher, I wrote to the publisher of James Herbert's garishly-covered paperbacks, New English Library, with a letter I asked them to forward. From what I remember, the questions were a strange mixture of what I thought adults might ask each other and random things only an eleven year old could come up with. Even so, the reply - complete with a glorious signature - came back in the post. Almost a quarter of a century later, I still have that letter.

As a reader, James Herbert was almost always a pleasure to experience. As a writer, he was one of the biggest influences on me. But I have to admit, there will always be an eleven year old boy in me who is speeding through the pages of a graphically violent book about man-eating rats while being ready to throw the book under the sofa if anyone should come in the front door.

For that, if nothing else, James Herbert will be missed.


  1. You bring up a very interesting point about reading horror set in your home environment. Makes me want to hunt down some Australian horror. I always thought Stephen King was pretty scary, but you're right—there is a slight layer of distance. Sad to hear about James Herbert.

    1. I've always thought (and tried to write) horror set in a familair world is much scarier than another world. It's when stuff and places we know are changed for the worse that they're at their most frightening. I think Mr Herbert knew that.