James Herbert, OBE was born on April 8, 1943 in the East End of London, the third son of street traders. His family lived at the back of Petticoat Lane in Whitechapel – where Jack the Ripper once skulked – in an area half gutted by Second World War German bombing raids. Rats ran riot in the ruins.
As a child he would sit in the playground and tell stories to the other kids, but his great passion was for drawing and painting. Age ten, he won a scholarship to St. Aloysius Grammar School, Highgate.
At sixteen he went to the famous Hornsey College of Art, where he studied graphic design, print, photography and occasionally playing in a band. (See inset image, below right). Finding work in advertising and design he rose quickly through the ranks of paste-up and typography to Art Director and Group Head. He married Eileen in August 1967.
Age 28 he began writing a novel and ten months later he had completed The Rats, conjuring a London overrun by mutant, flesh-eating rodents. Submitting the manuscript to six publishers, he received three replies. Two publishers rejected the novel, one wisely accepted it.
Accompanied by his wife and their three daughters, James collected an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2010. His thriller/horror books are sold in thirty-three other languages, and he is often described as one of the most influential and widely imitated authors of our time, selling over fifty million copies worldwide.
James Herbert died peacefully in his bed at his home in Sussex on the morning of March 20th, 2013, aged 69. Touching tributes from his many friends and fans also underlined his great contribution to popular culture.
His novels such as The Fog, The Dark, The Survivor, The Magic Cottage, Sepulchre, Haunted and Creed are hailed as classics of the genre, while his later bestsellers, Portent, The Ghosts of Sleath, '48, Others, Once..., Nobody True and The Secret of Crickley Hall enhanced his reputation as a writer of depth and originality. He held the position of Britain's bestselling writer of chiller fiction from the publication of his first horror novel – 'The Rats' in 1974 – to his last work 'Ash', published in 2012.
The Rats – released as Deadly Eyes – The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted have all turned into movies starring the likes of Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Sir John Gielgud, Aidan Quinn, Kate Beckinsale, Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Nancy Travis, and in Fluke, the voice of Samuel L. Jackson. In 2012, the BBC screened an adaptation of The Secret of Crickley Hall starring Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis.
James Herbert's other written work includes the short stories: 'Maurice and Mog' (1987), 'Breakfast' (1989), 'Halloween's Child' (1990), 'They Don't Like Us' (1997), 'Extinct' (2003) and 'Cora's Needs' (2003).
Photo credit: Bob Knight, from the cover of By Horror Haunted. Edited by Stephen Jones
Inset photo: James Herbert at the Hornsey Art College dance (circa 1961).
New English Library (NEL) published The Rats in 1974 with a first printing of 100,000 copies. The first printing sold out within three weeks.
James Herbert has created a list of best-selling titles that includes The Fog, The Survivor, Fluke, The Spear, Lair, The Dark, The Jonah, Shrine, Domain, Moon, The Magic Cottage, Sepulchre, Creed, Portent, ’48, Others, Once, Nobody True, The Secret of Crickley Hall, a graphic novel entitled The City, Illustrated by Ian Miller, and a collaboration with photographer Paul Barkshire called James Herbert's Dark Places: Locations and Legends.
His latest novel is Ash, the third in the trilogy featuring David Ash, a psychic investigator, which began with Haunted and The Ghosts of Sleath.