Like so many others one of the first horror authors I read and fell in love with was James Herbert. I bought reams of his books from The Emporium in Bewdley – a shop which amongst other things possessed a treasure chest of seventies and eighties horror fiction. James’ books managed to cram in both the goriest, most unrelenting slabs of horror imagineable and political and social commentaries. The two books which stuck with me the most were The Rats and The Survivor. Both were especially scary because neither were far removed from reality. We weren’t dealing with fantastical monsters or outlandish ideas but stories which at their core were ingrained with very real horrors – a recurrence which peppered James’ fiction throughout his career.
Not only did his fiction impact me as a youngster, but so did his image. The guy radiated cool with his long black hair and badass leather coat. He wasn’t just an author, damn it he was a rockstar.
Fast-forward a decade or two and I was fortunate enough to speak with James last year when I interviewed him for Scream Magazine – a preview of which is available on this very website and I hope at a later date to bring you an audio version of this very conversation. There are a few moments in one’s career which really validate what you’re doing – that feel good moment, that moment which tells you this is why I put in all the hard work, this is what makes everything worthwhile. For me speaking to James Herbert – a horror legend, a literary legend – was one of those moments. One thing which immediately struck me about James was how much of a gentleman he was and how humble he was given his success (his books have sold over 54 million copies worldwide, 54 MILLION copies). Stephen King speaks in On Writing about the way in which authors are revered by fans.
You’re standing in front of author-struck fans and pretending that you don’t put your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else.
But actually it’s when you realise that authors are just like everyone else – are just like you – that the magic becomes greater. It makes your own dreams more real. Makes the impossible seem possible. Speaking to James Herbert about writing gave me hope and possibility; and you can’t put a price on that. But it also gave me an insight into one of the most fascinating minds in the business. I love how James always embraced and wore the horror label with pride. So often authors, publishers and marketers will shy away from or denigrate horror. It can be seen – falsely – as something lesser than other forms of fiction. Which is bollocks of course, but we needed people like James – still do – to stand up for our beloved genre. And that he did. Every single time. When we were speaking about his last novel, Ash, he was amused at the marketing label used in the promotion – his publishers had dubbed the work ‘chiller’. A marketing term for ghostly horror from publishers too afraid to, heaven forbid, use the words horror. Even with a James Herbert novel! Well he found it in equal-parts perplexing and hilarious. And quite right, too. Horror, chiller or whatever inventive term was slapped onto his fiction as part of a ‘whacky’ marketing stunt he would sell, because we the readers knew he would deliver.
I could talk at length about my time spent speaking with James but the most powerful thing of all was his kindness and his words of encouragement. This Grand Master of Horror (a title he picked up at the World Horror Convention in 2010 and was absolutely delighted with, although he said “it had been a long time coming”) offered support and encouragement to me, a relative newcomer to the big wide world of horror. And that’s the type of guy James was; loving, supportive, human.
You waved the flag high for us James and you’ll continue to wave that horror emblazoned flag.
James Herbert, The Grand Master of Horror, lives through his immortalised words and will continue to inspire generations ad infinitum.