Saturday, 23 March 2013

James Herbert

The Survivor was written by James Herbert and was the first horror novel I ever read.
It scared the shit out of me.
It also had a massive influence on me and, I guess, the way I’ve “turned out”. It instilled in me – along with night terrors so profound I was literally at times scared to pick the book up and continue reading – a love of horror fiction which has persisted ever since.
I would have been thirteen when I read The Survivor – when it first came out bearing the stunning cover shown above.  “A tale of death and of an evil which transcends death” the tagline read, which I found incredibly enticing, even more so when I checked the dictionary and found out what transcend meant.
It was a case of perfect timing. James Herbert was massively popular at the time I began my “adult” reading career, riding on the best selling success of his previous novels The Rats and The Fog. Copies of both of those books were constantly being swapped around at school, dog-ears marking the particularly gross bits (and the sex scenes) – of which there were many.
His style was definitely pulpy and, to be fair, he never claimed it was anything else. In my opinion he did become a better writer as his career progressed, I think The Magic Cottage was a turning point of sorts, a gentler story, one that built slowly rather than relying on in your face horror.
I was lucky enough to meet James Herbert, albeit briefly, at a book signing some years back in Newcastle. It was a fleeting moment but I did get to shake the great man’s hand, twice as it happens, but even in that short time a couple of things happened which gave me some insight into the type of man he was. As I was waiting patiently in the queue clutching my books, I noticed his PR man fussing around, checking his watch and looking worriedly at the number of people still waiting to get their books signed. He expressed his concerns to the shop manager whereupon Mr Herbert interjected, telling both of them that it didn’t matter how long it took, he would stay and sign books for everyone who had come to see him.
Secondly, when I finally got to see him myself and, after the first handshake produced my own copy of the book. That signed I then took out another three of his books and asked if he wouldn’t mind signing them too. Of course he did, and then remarked on the fact that they were all hardback editions. I had read all the paperbacks, I explained to him and had now moved onto the hard covers. He seemed genuinely appreciative of this, and thanked me for it. Then he shook my hand again.
A brief moment but enough to increase my appreciation of James Herbert even more. He not only wrote the books I loved to read, he was a thoroughly nice – and humble - bloke too.
So yes, I’m sad at the news of his death. Like many others (or so it seems reading a lot of online tributes) I’ve drifted away from his writing in latter years. This is no place to justify that decision by offering a criticism of the writing, anyway the change was more likely within me, finding my tastes more in keeping with a different style of horror writing.
I remain though, eternally grateful to James Herbert for opening up a whole new world to me. He scared me so much that I wanted to experience it again, and again, and again…
The horror genre has lost someone special.

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