James Herbert

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Regarding writing


Last week the writer James Herbert died at the age of 69. Author of some 23 books, a smattering of short stories, a couple of non-fiction books and a single graphic novel he was, it is fair to say, one of my all-time favourite authors, and a man who was a big influence on me, both as someone who enjoyed his work, and from the perspective of someone who wanted to emulate him.

I guess you know you’re getting old when all your heroes, be they writers, singers or actors, start to die. The death of Elisabeth Sladen (Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith) a couple of years ago was a huge shock, and the death of Herbert, a man whose books I’d been reading since my teenage years, was yet another one.

It’s all the more shocking because I hadn’t even realised he was that old. Of course I must have known, this is a man who wrote a novel set in an alternative version of the late 1940s, a time he remembered. This was a man born in the midst of World War 2.

And yet…

To me he seemed ageless, permanently the thirty something man in the black leather jacket, black of hair and vulpine of features, staring out from the back of a book, or from a magazine article.

He rose to prominence in the 1970s, a new age for horror which saw the rise of Stephen King in the US, and James Herbert in the UK. His first novel was published in 1974, it was, of course, The Rats, and he would return to the tale of killer rodents three more times, in the novels Lair and Domain, and the graphic novel The City.

It’s oddly fitting that as his first novel was the first of a trilogy of books, his last, Ash— published last year in hardback and just out in paperback—was the final part of another trilogy, this one not about evil rats, but about the paranormal investigator David Ash.

I’ve been wracking my brains but I can’t actually recall which one of his novels I read first, and nor can I remember how old I was when I read it, I have a sneaking suspicion it was The Fog (his second book) but the truth of the matter is lost in the mists of time.

What isn’t lost is the fact that I’ve read every single one of his books (ok, apart from Fluke which for some reason I never have) at least once, and in the case of my favourites multiple times.

If I had to pick a favourite it would be Sepulchre (lord knows how many times I’ve read it) which showcased his ability to write a book that worked both as a thriller and as a horror story, with neither element feeling short changed.

My top five would probably go something like this: Sepulchre, Creed, The Dark, Domain, and Haunted. As you can see, if I’m honest I preferred his earlier work. Whether this is because his writing changed, or because my tastes changed, I’m not entirely sure, but even though I didn’t always like his newer work as much, the arrival of a new James Herbert novel was something that always got me excited.

I like to think of myself as a writer, and I’d like to be a properly published novelist someday, and whilst some may dream of untold riches, of JK Rowling levels of success, the plain truth is, for most of the time that I’ve dreamed of being a writer, all I’ve truly wanted to be is James Herbert, and that’s perhaps the best tribute I can pay him.
So farewell James, but this isn’t goodbye, because in some ways you’ll always be that youthful guy in the leather jacket, and when I finish the book I’m currently reading the next thing I pick up will be one of your novels.

And it won’t be the last time I do that either.

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