As it’s October, I thought it suitable to mention a writer who has ‘been with me’ since my teens. True, one of the first horror books I ever read was by Stephen King. The book was Salem’s Lot, if anyone is wondering. But for a long time, my favourite ‘horror writer’ was James Herbert. When I heard of his death, I experienced that jaw-dropping moment when one doesn’t want to believe the news and can remember the moment as though it happened this morning.
I place the term ‘horror writer’ in quotes because Herbert was never entirely happy with being categorised and had his share of mixed reviews. He felt any violent or horror-related work met a certain brand of snobbery. It’s a problem I completely understand and why I label my horror writing as Dark Fiction, precisely because many stories flank other topics and genres.
Some horror writers aren’t, truly, writing what I call horror even if there’s an element of that in the story. Some of Herbert’s work became blended with the paranormal (he said himself that his later works leaned to the supernatural), fantasy, and I have always felt a large part of his compositions contained humanitarian questions and shone an ugly reflection on society. In Herbert’s own words, some of what he had to say regarding his motivations and underlying themes might surprise many.
I recall one particular mention of the seemingly oversized rats in his books: Rats, Lair, and Domain. A line in Dracula may have inspired the trilogy, but the description and size of the rodents came from the creatures he saw in the overrun areas of the East End of London in which he grew up. Having seen ‘Rodents of Unusual Size’ (some readers will know where I borrowed that from and it’s not Herbert), I’m prepared to believe. Some can look bigger or at least match the size of small dogs.
There’s also how much is too much? Yes, violence (and sex) can be gratuitous, but I’ve also believed a writer should ‘write’ and not fear showing something as it is or would be. Herbert wasn’t a writer who feared to call a ‘spade a spade’ and preferred to give an honest portrayal of any scene. Of course, his writing, which was ignored or even banned when first published, is thought of as more commonplace now. Books and films deemed once to be adult viewing can be now found in school libraries.
It will surprise some readers that I read or even like the horror genre, despite my saying constantly that I read anything and everything. Truth is, I grew up on horror books. My teen years were romances (usually Mills & Boon because that was what my friends were reading), Herbert, King, and Steinbeck. I’m serious when I say my library is eclectic.
I suppose I also admired Herbert because he was a success story — well known and British. The young writer in me couldn’t help being a little envious. So much happened to me throughout those years. My life went through so many changes. What I read during that time blends with all the other memories. Lately, I’ve felt the pull to return to those roots with my writing. Though, to date, it’s been strictly short stories I plan to try my first Dark Fiction novel soon, and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of Herbert when I do.
My tribute will be a simple one: many, many thanks for the memories, James.