Prolific English Horror writer James John Herbert, OBE tragically died On 20 March 2013, at his home in Sussex at the age of 69. He was born 8 April 1943 in London He attended a Catholic school in Bethnal Green called Our Lady of the Assumption, then aged 11 won a scholarship to St Aloysius Grammar School in Highgate. He left school at 15 and studied at Hornsey College of Art, joining the art department of John Collings, a small advertising agency.He left the agency to join Charles Barker Advertising where he worked as art director and then group head.Herbert lived in Woodmancote, near Henfield in West Sussex. He had two brothers: Peter, a retired market trader and John, an insurance broker.
His first two books, The Rats and The Fog, were disaster novels with man-eating giant black rats in the first and an accidentally released chemical weapon in the second. The first print run of The Rats (100,000 copies) sold out in three weeks. Herbert wrote three sequels to The Rats; Lair which deals with a second outbreak of the mutants, this time in the countryside around Epping Forest rather than in the first book’s London slums; in Domain, a nuclear war means that the rats have become the dominant species in a devastated city. The third sequel, the graphic novel The City, is an adventure set in the post-nuclear future. Unfortunately In 1979 Herbert had to pay damages when it was ruled that he had based part of his novel The Spear on the work of another writer, The Spear of Destiny by Trevor Ravenscroft.
With his third novel, the ghost story The Survivor, Herbert used supernatural horror rather than the science fiction horror of his first two books. In Shrine, he explored his Roman Catholic heritage with the story of an apparent miracle which turns out to be something much more sinister. Haunted, the story of a sceptical paranormal investigator taunted by malicious ghosts, began life as a screenplay for the BBC, though this was not the screenplay used in the eventual film version. Its sequels were The Ghosts of Sleath and Ash. Others of Herbert’s books, such as Moon, Sepulchre and Portent, are structured as thrillers and include espionage and detective story elements along with the supernatural. The Jonah is in large part the story of a police investigation, albeit by a policeman whose life is overshadowed by a supernatural presence.
His novel The Spear deals with a neo-Nazi cult in Britain and an international conspiracy which includes a right-wing US general and an arms dealer. The novel ’48 is an alternative history novel set in 1948 in which the Second World War ended with the release of a devastating plague by the defeated Hitler and, like The Spear, features British characters who sympathise with the Nazis. Others narrates the story of a physically deformed private detective. Herbert had previously tackled the theme of reincarnation in his fourth novel, Fluke, the story of a dog who somehow remembers his previous life as a human being. Rumbo, one of the characters from Fluke also turns up in The Magic Cottage. Once… includes another reference to the character of Rumbo (along with an in-joke of elven folk having names of reversed titles of Herbert’s previous novels; ‘Hanoj’, ‘Niamod’, ‘Noom’ etc.).
Herbert’s next novel Nobody True continues the theme of life after death, being narrated by a ghost whose investigation of his own death results in the destruction of his illusions about his life. Nobody True features The character Joe Creed, a cynical, sleazy paparazzo who is drawn into a plot involving fed-up and underappreciated monsters. Herbert described this novel as his Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Herbert’s next novel The Secret of Crickley Hall, is about a haunted country house in England, and examined the relationship between religious zealotry and child abuse. One of the characters in this novel is named after a real person, who won the honour by having the winning bid in the 2004 BBC Radio 2 Children in Need Auction. Herbert released a new novel virtually every year from 1974 to 1988, he wrote six novels during the 1990s and released three new works in the 2000s. Herbert’s final novel has an eerie political edge. ‘Ash’, imagines Princess Diana and her secret son as well as Lord Lucan, Colonel Gaddafi and Robert Maxwell living together in a Scottish castle.
Various biographical and critical pieces by and about Herbert have also been collected in James Herbert: By Horror Haunted, edited by Stephen Jones, and also in James Herbert – Devil in the Dark, written by Craig Cabell. So far His books have sold 54 million copies worldwide, and have been translated into 34 languages, including Chinese and Russian. In 2010 Herbert was honoured with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award, presented to him by Stephen Kink and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours, presented by Prince Charles. Many of Herbert’s novels including The Fog, have also been adapted for film amd television.