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James Herbert, Author
Investitures at Buckingham Palace
1943 – 2013

I was very sad and shocked to learn that James Herbert had passed away on 20th March, this year at the age of 69.

He was one of the most successful British authors, having sold 45 million copies of his books world wide, 3 of which have been made into movies and 2 into successful BBC productions.

He is my favourite among modern horror writers. I cannot think of another author who has shown such adaptability, whose novels capture the essence of their time and the fears of the populace so well. He wrote in so many different styles, from terrifying post-apocalyptic horrors, to chilling supernatural seductions, from the darkest depths of the human mind, to the dark fairytale. Herbert was constantly pushing the boundaries, reinventing his genre, producing truly original, terrifying but often thought provoking and even shocking content.

The Rats trilogy deserves to be regarded as a modern classic – showing how horror novels can be literary and thematic, while retaining a visceral and tense nature of genuine horror. Each novel from this trilogy is very different, playing on a wide variety of themes and ideas yet unified by a familiar tone.

Compared to a much later work, such as They or even Once, it can sometimes be hard to believe that these novels were written by the same author. All are excellent, yet so utterly different in style, focus and content.

Peculiarly the author Herbert most reminds me of is John Wyndham. Both produced work which feels disturbingly provincial – drawing on larger themes and fears through the microcosm of English life. Both had the ability to horrify by corrupting the mundane and ordinary.

And like Wyndham, I feel that Herbert has always been somewhat undervalued. Science fiction and horror have something in common: many are dismissive of these genres, insisting that they are inferior – trashy and low brow. I don’t mean to imply that Herbert was totally ignored or rejected, simply that since I first started reading his novels – about 8 years ago – I have never been able to understand why they hadn’t been adapted more often. Considering the predominance of awful horror films, the scarcity of original drama on the radio and the reticence of the TV stations to produce horror either as a mini series or stand-alone play, Herbert could have been considered to have fared quite well. But his work deserves more. He is one of the best selling British authors of the last 30 years, yet typically of the narrow minded and bigoted pretensions of the British cultural establishment, only in the last YEAR have moves been made to adapt his work and bring it to the attention of a larger audience.

When Herbert was awarded an OBE and presented with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award in 2010, I felt things were beginning to change for the better – finally some proper recognition. Then came the release of the BBC adaptation of The Secret of Crickley Hall in 2012. His latest novel Ash had been published just the week before his death.

I still feel shocked that we have lost him, when it seemed, such a short time ago, that even greater things were just ahead. Herbert’s writing was always fresh, imaginative and engaging. He changed, learnt, grew and adapted constantly as an author – which is such a rare ability and a credit to him.

I hope that we will treasure his writing and finally give it the attention it deserves. Radio dramas, mini-series, films – Herbert’s work cries out to be adapted and the few adaptations that have been made (while for the most part good) are scarcely a credit to him.

 

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