Thursday, 21 March 2013

RIP James Herbert

British horror author James Herbert, whose blood-curdling novels include The Rats and The Fog, passed away last night at the age of 69. The writer died at his home in Sussex, and is survived by is wife and three daughters. The cause of death has yet to be disclosed.

Herbert exploded onto the horror scene in 1974 with his debut novel The Rats - the nightmarish tale of mutant, flesh-eating rats and the bloody havoc they wreck throughout a squalidly depicted London. It sold 100,000 copies in the two weeks after it was published. His follow up, The Fog (completely unrelated to the John Carpenter film) told of a mysterious fog that spreads across Britain mutating those unfortunate enough to encounter it into homicidal maniacs. Often bleak and downbeat, Herbert’s stories were uncompromising in their depiction of the violent demise of humankind in the face of unspeakable evil - often of an environmentally created bent.

Born in London in 1943, Herbert studied graphic design at college before going on to forge a career in advertising. He began his first novel, The Rats, at the age of 28, completing it within 10 months. With a background in graphic design and advertising, the author usually designed his own book covers. The Rats was one of four Herbert novels adapted for the big screen, along with The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted. His novel, The Secret Of Crickley Hall - an unsettling ghost story in the same vein as classic MR James - was adapted by the BBC and broadcast last December.

I first came across Herbert’s work when I was about 14 or 15. Having just read Stephen King’s Carrie and Misery (and feeling the need to further prepare myself for Blatty's The Exorcist), I thought I’d investigate Herbert, whose titles weighed heavily upon the shelves of my local library. With increasing caution I turned the pages of The Dark and The Fog, becoming more and more disturbed with every grisly line my wide eyes skittered across; while also becoming more and more aware of the fact that I just couldn’t stop reading… Some of the ghastly, depraved images those books conjured in my mind, are still as vivid today as they were then.

Herbert's last novel, Ash, was published last year.
Herbert’s 23 novels - published in more than 30 languages - have sold over 54 million copies worldwide, and the legacy he leaves in his wake is a formidable one. According to the BBC, his editor of ten years, Jeremy Trevathan, described the writer as “One of the keystone authors in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. It's a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death. He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime.”

3 comments:

katmervyn said...

The Rats- junior high. I thought I was so mature.

James Gracey said...

Same here, Kat, same here. My English teacher despaired.

Jon Towlson said...

RIP Mr Herbert,

His books were passed around the classroom and always fell open at at the sex scenes. He will be missed.