Welcome to my writing!

For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Secret of Crickley Hall Book Review

THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL
By James Herbert
Published by Macmillan
600pp £17.99 h/b

James Herbert’s books always guarantee a great read with some tremendous shocks and scares along the way. Earlier ghostly epics from Herbert include Haunted and The Ghosts of Sleath but The Secret of Crickley Hall manages to equal them in the spookiness stakes as well as being genuinely unsettling and nasty. It’s about a family, Gabe, his wife, Eve, and his two young daughters Loren and Cally, who move into the eponymous Hall on a temporary basis. However the ancient pile has ghostly secrets. It seems that during the Second World War, a group of children was evacuated to the Hall and placed under the care of Augustus Cribben and his sister Magda. However Augustus was a sadistic masochist with a taste for severe punishment, as well as indulging in a spot of self flagellation, and during a flood in 1943, he and all the children perished.

Of course the truth behind the actual events of that night become clear as the novel progresses, and Herbert manages to juggle all his characters deftly, introducing a psychic, Lili Peel, and a ghost-debunker, Gordon Pyke, both of whom have significant parts to play. The haunting is really well handled, with mysterious banging coming from a cupboard, and the cellar door refusing to stay closed. Even the appearance of the ghosts is terrifying and raises goosebumps on the skin – this is one book you won’t want to read on your own in a deserted house.

As always, Herbert has delivered a novel which chills and horrifies in equal turns. Fans of earlier works like The Dark and The Fog won’t be disappoined, as Herbert has some wincingly painful fates in store for some of the characters. The Secret of Crickley Hall is a spinechilling ghost story, laden with atmosphere and a creepy, effective read.

David Howe

Nobody True Book Review

NOBODY TRUE
James Herbert
Published by Macmillan
392pp £17.99 h/b

‘I wasn’t there when I died’ … so starts Nobody True, the latest horror/thriller from the pen of James Herbert. Once again Herbert has pulled the proverbial rabbit from the hat and has come up with a simply superb novel, which manages to be both intriguing and horrific, whilst still containing as much emotion and feeling as can be wrung from the subject.

Jim True runs an advertising agency, and feels that all is well with his life. He has a gorgeous wife and daughter, the company is doing well, and he and his partners are looking to expand the company. However Jim has a secret, and this is that he can travel outside his body at will. During one of these sessions, he returns to find that his body has been slaughtered by persons unknown.

Being an incorporeal spirit has its advantages though, and Jim starts to investigate his own death, finding a serial killer into the bargain, and ultimately being involved in a nailbiting chase to save his own family from the same fate. It’s superb stuff, well written and totally engaging. On the minus side, there are a couple of scenes where Jim listens in to the police investigating the case which come over as something of an info-dump. I guess there was no other way that the information could be imparted to Jim (who is the first person narrator of the book) but the scenes stand out from the rest of the book, which is uniformly excellent.

I loved the initial idea that a soul remained after the body is dead, but then the plot starts to twist and turn and Jim finds he can animate newly-dead corpses to carry out his plans. The serial killer is one of the most horrific and nasty characters I have yet seen in print, and the whole book is entertaining and thrilling in all the right ways.

There is a reason why James Herbert is Britain’s number one bestselling horror writer. Herbert consistently touches a mainstream theme in his writing which eludes other authors, and the deceptive simplicity of his plots allows for character development and motivation as well as simply a cracking good read.

This is another classic from Herbert, on a par with his recent novels Others and Once…. On the evidence of this, Herbert is on a roll and I’m looking forward immensely to see what he can chill us with next.

David Howe

Once Book Review

ONCE…
By James Herbert
Published by Macmillan
471pp £16.99 h/b

There is always something special about a James Herbert book … as a writer he is constantly reinventing himself, defying critics to place him in a niche as one type of author writing one type of fiction. As he says himself, he writes what he writes, and more often than not, the results are enjoyable, entertaining, and satisfying – exactly what one might expect from someone who hits the top of the best-seller lists with every book he writes.

In keeping with tradition, therefore, Once… is not a traditional ‘James Herbert’ novel, whatever that is. After the sad and mutated human horrors of his previous novel Others, Herbert has moved to happy and sexy faerie folk for the new tale. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of expectation. Once… may appear to be a faerie story for adults, but it is also horrific and erotic in a way that only James Herbert can manage.

Thom Kindred returns to his childhood home following an accident which left him easily tired and slightly lame. There he finds that things have not really changed, and the cottage he is staying in brings back many memories. However his childhood friend Hugo has a problem: Hugo’s father is sick and dying, nursed by the startlingly attractive Nell Quick. When Nell starts to take an interest in Thom, his suspicions are aroused, but soon Thom finds himself distracted. He sees creatures with wings and shedding light: faeries. He is captivated by one such human-sized creature, and soon Thom starts to discover that his past is not all that he believed, and that he has a strange affinity with these beautiful and alluring creatures.

Herbert paints a wonderful world of shifting light and dark, where characters’ motivations are often hidden, and those who seem benign turn out to be anything but. Thom experiences sex and lust with the faerie folk, and it’s difficult not to become involved in the erotic scenes that follow. However by turns the novel brings darkness and horror as an evil succubus is sent to obtain Thom’s semen, and Thom finds himself subject to terrifying attacks by wasps and spiders as he tries to understand the threads that bind him to the cottage.

I really enjoyed this novel. Like many of Herbert’s books it’s an undemanding read, yet draws you in and captivates you. The plot is straightforward, and the characters are interesting … all told an excellent read. But Herbert always goes one step further, and the packaging of the book is also superb. It’s currently available in two hardback editions: one with a black cover and one with a white cover. Moreover both editions feature a number of superb colour plates by artist Steve Stone, as well as numerous elves and faeries drawn by Bill Gregory and Herbert himself. It all amounts to a lovely package from a master storyteller.

David Howe

'48 AudioBook Review

‘48
by James Herbert, read by Kerry Shale
Published by HarperCollins Audiobooks
£7.99 twin cassette pack

‘48 was the big new novel from James Herbert in 1996, and was an apocalyptic tale of an alternate history in which Hitler managed to wipe out most life in Europe using the blood plague which left only a few unaffected survivors scavenging a living.

The novel followed the exploits of Hoke, an American, in his attempts to outwit a group of fanatical blackshirts who have determined to use his blood as a cure for their fatal condition.

The novel is fast moving and exciting and Herbert wrings every ounce of tension out of the page. Unfortunately, in the abridged audiobook, Kerry Shale totally fails to capture any of this tension. He sounds as though he is simply reading a book, rather than telling a story, and his attempts to deliver the different voices (including those of two women) are pitiful and distracting.

This is a mere shadow of the novel, a poor half-way house that really does the book no favours. Some books are meant to be read, and ‘48 is one of them.

David Howe

James Herbert Interview (Once)

JAMES HERBERT: ONCE…

What’s that you say? James Herbert, master of all things horrific and terrifying, is writing a story about faeries? Well … yes. But anyone who knows Herbert’s work should immediately realise that this sort of change in style is what typifies his writing: no two books are the same, and yet all deliver an impressively honed package of thrills, suspense and horror.

It was a dark and stormy evening I met with Herbert to discuss his latest book. The clouds boiled ominously overhead, and the air was heavy with the expectation of later rain. An ideal atmosphere to chat to the man who since The Rats in 1974 has produced a steady stream of top notch horror tales, making him one of the most popular and consistent best-selling novelists in the UK.

‘It’s very hard to shock any more,’ he states, ‘because we’ve done it. We’ve done it all. So many of the horror movies these days rely on gross-out for their thrills. When you work with words as I do, in a way it’s easier because you’re relying on the readers’ imaginations, but in film you can’t really scare the hell out of people any more which is a shame. But it’s why I go more for suspense and good stories. My publisher asked if they could call my books “chillers”, and I really don’t mind what they call them – I just write what I write.’

And what Herbert has written in Once… is a faerie story.

‘For years I’ve wanted to do a book about faeries,’ Herbert reveals. ‘My favourite film of all time is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney cartoon, because it fulfills all my needs. It’s a romance, it’s humourous, it’s also very dark – there’s a lot of horror there, and it’s also composed of brilliant artwork. Everything I like and appreciate is in that film, and as a result I’ve always wanted to do a book about faeries. Arthur Rackham did some drawings of faeries which were very sensual, they wore gossamer gowns, were heartachingly pretty and so on. There’s also a witchcraft aspect that lends itself to horror … But I could never get a hook on it. Then, a couple of years ago, I read a very serious tome on faeries and elves and this explained that there are actually three kinds of faeries. There are the very tiny ones, little sprites or “Tinkerbells”, and then there are the taller ones: the elves, goblins, the gnomes, and finally there are almost human-sized faeries, about five foot tall. It just clicked into place in my mind: a beautiful faerie, female, sylph-like, slanted eyes, curly golden hair, who falls in love with a human being. And that was it, I was off. I didn’t have to think of a plot or anything, the whole thing just fell into place. It was magic.

‘I researched the subject and decided I needed a magical castle, an isolated cottage somewhere, and if you look in the book, there’s a small piece of artwork of the cottage in the book at the start of each chapter. That was taken from photographs of a little place I discovered and stayed in up in Shropshire. A red sandstone walled, really magic little cottage. I found this place through a company that specialises in strange and obscure holiday venues, and they sent me a brochure of different places and this was among them: a kind of tiny faerie castle. People have been asking me exactly where this place is, but I can’t tell them as it would be unfair, but it does exist.

‘With the faerie idea and the location, I really got hooked and the result was Once….’

Herbert’s previous novel, Others, was a far more gritty read, involving shockingly deformed humans – adults and children – and a conspiracy to hide them away from public view. ‘That was a hard subject for a book,’ says Herbert. ‘it really turned my stomach, and it was tough to research and then write about these poor forgotten and deformed people. This new novel is in many ways a reaction to that: to write about faeries, love and sex rather than gross deformity and death. It was a huge relief to do something like this: this is not a light, frothy book, I hasten to add, but it’s a far more enjoyable subject.’

One of the keynotes of Once… is its blatant eroticism. The pages are heavily imbued with a promise of heady sex, and for once Herbert does not shy away from the challenge that this presents.

‘This book goes a whole lot more into the erotic angle than I’ve ever done before. It’s a really sexy, erotic book. Because of this I wanted to state on the jacket that this is not a book for kids, it’s an adult story. I wanted to impress that on people: that there is horror in it, but it’s also very erotic.

‘There was one point in the book where the hero has to meet the most horrific thing he can think of, and I went into the publishers to talk about the project, and they asked me what this thing was going to be. “I don’t know,” I said, “I haven’t got to it yet.” But thankfully when I did get there, the answer to this question had come to me … but it was touch and go for a time.

‘I also had a lot of fun writing it, and there are elements and references in there simply because they amused me. For example, the last words before the epilogue in the book, said by one of the characters, are “Expect me”, and if you remember the film The Wizard of Oz, well Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in that, when she was signing autographs for kids, would write “Expect me” after her name … which is really sinister, and so I’ve used that as the last words in the book. There are lots of things like that: the faerie who falls in love with the human is herself becoming more human, and I mention that she’s not the first faerie to do this, that there’s an Icelandic singer who everyone thinks is slightly mad, but this is only because she can’t come to terms with becoming more human … I have a lot of little chuckles with myself in the book.’

As usual with Herbert’s books, he took a personal interest in all aspects of the design and look of the finished item. ‘I want people to enjoy my books as a nice item – they’re not cheap to buy and I want people to feel they have their money’s worth. I want them to keep them. With Once… I put my heart and soul into the book, in the text and then in the design. We’re doing the book in two jackets: there’s one which is all black with embossed black designs on, and another which is all white with silver highlights on. It’s going to be interesting to see which one sells best. We’re also doing a very limited edition of the book, with a wood bark cover, embossed with a flower design. It’s being made somewhere in the Philippines. The paper is going to be old antique yellowish paper … it should be wonderful.’

In addition, there are small hardback editions available from airports – these don’t have dust jackets, but are particularly nice editions of the book, and again come with a black or a white cover.

‘I did a rough for the cover, and an artist called Bill Gregory, who has been working on my books for years, did most of the black and white illustrations. However we could not find anyone to do the little elves that appear in it. Everyone we approached came up with greetings card-type elves with big eyes, so I ended up drawing them myself. There’s a cheeky one at the end that I’m quite fond of.

‘I wanted the book to look like an old fashioned children’s book with illustrations, but strictly for adults. There are a series of colour plates as you read through which are meant to come as a surprise. I wanted them to make the book look like a children’s story, and as far as I know, this is not done that often in adult books these days. I was pleased that the publisher went with the idea as it’s quite expensive to do, but it’s a real bonus, and it makes the book that much more special.’

Having written about faeries, and having researched the subject, I wondered if Herbert had come to believe in them himself. ‘As with all my writing, I speculate. While working on the book I met a lot of people who do believe, including one of the artists we were talking to, a talented chap called Brian Froud. He was suddenly called away to work with Disney on a film, so had to pull out of this project.

‘I don’t necessarily believe in them, but what if … who knows, who knows?’ He smiles wryly. ‘I’ve just bought some more land around my house, and part of it is a small wood. In the spring, I went down there walking and the ground was completely covered with bluebells. The birds were singing, there was no traffic noise, just peace and light and colour … it was so magical, and you could easily imagine faeries or other strange beings living there. Of course my pragmatic side, from my London East End background, won’t allow me to believe in them implicitly, but it would be nice if it was true.’

As usual, Herbert is not resting on his laurels. ‘I’ve got ideas for the next three or four novels,’ he says. ‘There’s a very interesting one coming next, it’s got a great title, and I’ll probably be writing it in the first person. I won’t say it’s a brand new idea, but it’s certainly new to me, and I don’t think anyone’s tackled it as I’m going to.’ Other than that, Herbert won’t be drawn on other details.

‘I did promise my wife I’d take a year off, but that didn’t happen as usual,’ he says, deftly changing the subject. ‘And the other week in Brighton I walked into W H Smith’s and bought all these jumbo pads and Pentels and stocked up for the next book. I’ll be having a couple of week’s break and then work starts again.’

In the meantime, curl up with a peculiarly James Herbert take on faeries and hot erotic sex. You’ll never look at an orchid in the same way again.

James Herbert Interview (Others)

THE OTHER SIDE
HERBERT’S HORRORS REVEALED

I’m standing in an upstairs foyer in James Herbert’s home waiting for the man himself to appear. The door behind me clicks open and there he is, beaming widely. It’s hard not to like Jim, as he likes to be called. His good humour is infectious, and his love of writing is unmistakable. As we go through to his large study, which also doubles as a business meeting room, I note the familiar cover paintings to some of his earlier novels hanging on the walls, and also a bookcase containing two shelves of black ring binders, each neatly labelled with the titles of his books, every one of them a best-seller. These contain the original manuscripts for the novels, still hand-written by Jim before being typed by his wife Eileen. Soon these binders will be joined by another, this time bearing the title of his latest novel Others.

Jim leans forward, a conspiratorial glint in his eye. “You know, I didn’t enjoy writing Others, and maybe it’s all the better for it. It’s so dark and because of the subject matter it was so unappealing. I rarely drink during the week, especially when I’m working, but I had to go and pour myself a couple of stiff vodkas while working on the book because it was really getting to me.”

Others is the story of a group of severely deformed children who are being kept out of public sight in a private institution, and the book follows the investigations of the physically deformed private eye Nick Dismas as he is led towards an epiphany of his own, apparently through supernatural means. Jim is dead serious when he discusses the background to this latest work. “These children are based on real case histories – I could show you pictures but they’d turn your stomach – but I did let my imagination run wild at the end. There is a serious aspect to all this that I wanted to bring out into the open. What happens to kids who are born really malformed. Where are they?

Maybe the scepticism on my face is showing: “I’m being totally serious. I have no proof, no firm evidence of the existence of these institutions, but I know they’re out there. The basis for Others came about ages ago when an elderly lady told me that thirty years previously, she had been working overnight in a children’s hospital. She worked there during the daytime and she also had a night job with them. It was her first night in the hospital and she decided to explore a little. She found herself on the top floor, outside a ward that had a sign saying ‘Keep Out – Positively No Admittance’ on the door. This lady, being the curious type, pushed open the door and saw all these cots lining the room, and all these beds had deformed children in. Babies with heads so large they couldn’t even lift them off the pillows. Kids with no arms that were totally malformed. She was shocked. Very shocked. But she was also a nurse and she loved kids, so she went back the following night with some sweets and treats and she kept going back and eventually when she walked in, these poor little abandoned babies were reaching and calling out to her.

“These were children either who had been abandoned at birth or who had been taken away from their mothers because they had been rejected by them. In some cases they were so deformed and grotesque that the doctors didn’t even show the mother, they just took them away and left them to die. Now the point is that they don’t all die. I’ve got evidence that even 100 years ago, these disfigured people could survive into their middle ages – the travelling freak shows are just one example of that. Now today, with all our medical technology, we’re bound to be able to save these kids. So where are they? Why don’t we see them? Where are they locked away?”

Jim shakes his head sadly. “Think of what else is going on,” he whispers. “Think of the science of genetics, there’s such a great interest in that, and these kids would provide a great source to experiment on, to see where the genes have gone wrong. I’m convinced they’re out there somewhere but they’re being kept under cover, under wraps, and I don’t think that’s right. They should be treated as people, with respect.”

Jim sighs and it is apparent that the background and writing of Others is still very much on his mind. ‘I upset myself writing it because I was getting into the minds of these people. As a writer you live the lives of your characters. You are the characters. Now I’ve got stooped shoulders anyway, but while I was writing Dismas, I was hunching over my pad of paper more and more as I really empathised with his character. I realised that the reader has to relate to a hero who is a crippled, one eyed hunchback so how do you do it? I thought the best way was to go from the first person. So you’re inside the mind of the guy and you’re looking out – you’re not looking at – you feel his emotions, what it is actually like to be treated as an outcast, as an Other.”

Jim’s great strength is a very clear and believable view of events, allowing his characters and settings to come alive for the readers. His forthright style was one of the things that set his first novel, The Rats, apart back in 1974, and this came about simply because Jim had no expectations that his novel was going to be published.

“There was nothing holding me back,” he explained, “and I wasn’t self-conscious about what I was writing. Obviously I’ve got a very vivid imagination so what was in my mind went down on the page. It was simply a natural way for me to write.”

The Rats was followed by The Fog, a novel of murder and mayhem as a deadly cloud of gas causes people to go insane with horrific results. These early novels gained Jim the reputation as a writer of brutal horror, and the publishers created a whole new genre of books flagged as ‘nasty’.

“That label really bugs me. It came from the publishers who wanted to find some way of marketing The Rats. After they had read it, they invented this new category and then promoted the book as that. As soon as I found out I made them stop, but unfortunately it’s a label that has stuck over the years. Yes, there have been some very nasty elements in my stories, there are to this day, but they’re never quite as bad as people imagine.

“I never consciously place my books in any genre,” he explains. “They’re just what I do. I just write them. I think the public knows that they’ll get something a little different from me each time.”

Jim does, however, admit that every one of his books has contained some commentary on real life. “I’ve always dropped little messages into my books. Ever since I started, really. I guess they’re just more overt now. Particularly with books like Portent, which featured a not-so-subtle warning of global ecological disaster if we don’t start treating our planet with respect. I think I’ve picked up a reputation for mayhem and chaos from some of my earlier books, so imagine the whole world going at once. It’s quite amazing. The thing that gets me to this day about the environment, it’s become a very boring subject. We’re all fed up with being preached at, it’s like a diatribe, and yet we’ve all really got to do something about it. I’m not heavily into ecology or anything like that, but what I do is plant trees - I’ve planted about fifty in my garden. So I’m not a great fanatic about it but it’s something we should all be concerned with. So I thought if I could do something in my small way as a popular writer, maybe people will pay some attention to what’s going on around them. Not to preach, but to make them think about it.

“What surprised me was that rather than picking up on the whole global destruction issue, some reviewers and pundits chose instead to label me as being a racist, and to describe the book as being racist.

“In Portent, I was writing about a voodoo sect based in New Orleans and a mugger in London and the psychic connection between the two. Voodoo sects tend to be comprised of black people, and the police claim that 85 per cent of muggers in London are blacks – officially that is. Friends in the Police tell me that it’s actually closer to 95 per cent, but that they’d be accused of all sorts if they released the correct figure. So for me to therefore make the villains of ethnic origin was totally in keeping with the themes I was working with. One chap even claimed that I had said I wasn’t racist because I employed a black maid … I’ve never employed a maid in my life! I don’t know where he got that from, but some journalists will make up stuff just to get a better story out of it – they should be novelists if they want to deal in fiction!

“I hate all this political correctness anyway. ‘Hate’ is too mild a term, actually. I detest it. You’ll probably notice in Others that I’m very much against this aspect of our society. I think it’s so patronising. If someone’s disabled, then they’re disabled, there’s no way of twisting the words to say they’re anything other than they are. And I think it’s disrespectful to try and say it in softer terms. These folk just face up to the hand that life has dealt them, and get on with their lives. I wanted to get that message across, that they’re people. It’s no big deal, they’re just people. And people can be good or evil: that’s the overall theme. Good versus evil. Always has been.”

Of all Jim’s novels, Others is perhaps the one which will incite the strongest backlash from moral campaigners and Jim has resigned himself to this. “There’s not been anything as yet, but there will be. Most of the people who have interviewed me about Others bring up Glen Hoddle and his recent highly publicised comments about re-incarnation. What ever happened to free speech in this country?

“Now I don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation - I believe in redemption because I’m a Catholic. In Others Dismas is a special case. He got what the Catholics call a plenary indulgence where all your sins are swept away if you perform certain acts. So I’m not saying that everyone is reincarnated, and that if they’ve been bad in a previous life, they come back as a cripple, or disabled. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that in this individual and special case, it happens to be so, and Dismas returns as a disabled person, not as a punishment, but because as a result there is this special connection with the Others.

“I’ve been researching the paranormal and the supernatural for over 20 years. I’ve really gone into it, and what I’ve discovered, and what I know so, so well is that nobody knows anything. No matter what they say, nobody knows. Not on this Earth. So all you can do is speculate. Which is what I’ve done in every book I’ve written.”

Being able to speculate is what has kept Jim at the top of his profession for over twenty five years. Others is his nineteenth novel, and yet he claims with a smile that writing has not become any easier.

“I get writer’s block every morning. I get it after lunch … It goes with the territory. I just keep on doing what I’m doing. Each book a little bit different and hopefully better. Making the book jackets look good and making sure the readers get a good product. I’ve never had any aims about the direction I’m heading in. I just do it as I go along.”

Jim picks up a hardback copy of Others that is resting on his desk – it’s the first copy off the presses – and flicks through it.

“I know I can be better and every book I’ve done I’ve been disappointed with in some respects. But that’s me. I say in this book that there’s no such thing as perfection, but you can try and get it as right as possible. I guess that’s what I’m aiming for, to try and get one book just totally right. And that’s good for me, it keeps me going.

“As for the future, as I was starting work on Others, I had a kind of creative brainstorm. In the space of two weeks all these ideas just kept springing into my head and I’ve now got work for the next ten years! I’d like to start tomorrow on all of them, but I’ve chosen one that’s going to let me have some fun. As I say, Others was hard work for me, but the next one … I think it’s going to be quite erotic, and lots of fun. I’m really looking forward to working on it. Can’t wait.”



FILM PROJECTS

The first of James Herbert’s books to be adapted as films were The Survivor in 1980 with Robert Powell and Jenny Agutter and The Rats in 1982/3 (called Deadly Eyes in America), starring Sam Groom and Scatman Crothers and directed by Robert Clouse. “I had nothing to do with those two films,” states Jim. “I heard after the event that The Rats had been sold to Golden Harvest who did all those Bruce Lee Kung-Fu films. I sent a note to David Hemmings when I heard he was directing The Survivor to offer my assistance if he wanted it – I didn’t get a reply. I’ve seen them. They’re terrible … absolute rubbish. I can only say don’t blame me.”

Following this was a film of Fluke in 1995 and also a higher profile film of Haunted in the same year. The latter actually started life as a BBC television production. “Typical BBC,” sighs Jim. “Everyone said they loved it, even the typists, and then Jonathan Powell, who had been in charge of drama, was promoted. A new guy, Mark Shivas, came in and apparently he didn’t like ghost stories and so nothing further happened. Nothing. Not a telephone call or a letter and in the end my agent had to phone them up and ask if they were going to do it or not. And they said not. This actually did me a great favour because I then sold it to Lewis Gilbert. Lewis is a lovely man – in fact that was part of the problem. He’s so nice it’s very hard to argue with him. I actually stood in my office here, and said, ‘Lewis, I’m telling you from my heart, what you’re doing is wrong. I’m telling you. Twenty years experience writing horror … what you’re doing is wrong.’ His response: ‘Oh darling, it doesn’t matter. What we’re doing is not set in concrete, we can change it.’ Of course they didn’t change it because they were doing exactly what he wanted to do.

“Despite my reservations it turned out to be a good quality film – it just wasn’t my story any more. It starred Aiden Quinn, Kate Beckinsale and Anna Massey with Anthony Andrews and Sir John Gielgud – a great cast. It was at the premiere that I got to meet Princess Diana. I remember she said to me, ‘So you’re responsible for all this, are you?’ and I said, ‘Well yes. I hope you don’t mind some horror.’ ‘I’m used to it…’ she replied …

“The film of Fluke on the other hand I’m quite pleased with. Years ago, an Italian film student called Carlo Carlei came to see me in London and said that he wanted to be a director and that my book Fluke had changed his life, and that it was the film he wanted to make. He explained that it might take a long time as he’d have to do others before until he had the budget. So he paid me year after year after year for the rights to the novel and finally he made a film in Italy that Hollywood liked and so they gave him the money to do Fluke. The script was OK and it turned out to be a great little film. That starred Eric Stoltz just before he did Pulp Fiction.”

Other film options have been taken out on Jim’s books, but none have yet to see fruition. There was interest in Shrine from a film producer but this ran into financial problems, there was interest in The Magic Cottage from America but this currently in limbo, The Fog was optioned in the early eighties, but that has now expired, John Hough was interested in The Dark but this too fell apart. Creed also had many admirers, amongst them British comedian Lenny Henry. “Lenny rang me up out of the blue and arranged to do a big sales pitch to me to get the rights to do the movie. Now Lenny is very funny but he’s also very, very intelligent and he’s extremely nice, you just couldn’t wish to meet a nicer guy. I’d made up my mind within five minutes that I was going to let him have it, because I liked the idea of Lenny playing Joe Creed. It was a twist to it, it was unexpected.”

As of writing, however, the film has not yet materialised. “I’d love to have a decent film,” Jim muses. “That would be one ambition, to have a really good movie made of one of my books.”

James Herbert Interview (Portent)

Expecting the Unexpected

James Herbert is the undisputed master of British horror, and his latest novel Portent has just been published. David Howe met with him to find out more.

The last time I spoke with Jim, Haunted, a tightly structured English ghost story, had just been published. ‘Haunted was going back to the old theme of haunted houses,’ he explained. ‘Having pushed the genre forward with my earlier books, I wanted to go back and say that the old, traditional stuff was still great. I wanted to experiment with those themes and I’m glad that I did as Haunted went straight to number one in the hardback bestseller lists and was very well received.’

Following Haunted came Creed, a lighter and more tongue-in-cheek novel. You can see in Fluke perhaps the earliest indication that there is a lighter side to Jim’s writing, being the somewhat charming and often whimsical tale of a man who wakes up to find he is a dog, and who then has to discover why this should be. Creed has a similar lightness which makes for a very enjoyable read. It concerns a sleazy paparazzo photographer named Joe Creed, who finds himself up against a group of fallen angels who live in an old folks home.

Creed was another complete change of style. It was my way of saying “let’s not take this genre too seriously”. There are some writers who get very serious and defensive about the horror genre and I wanted to simply relax a bit and have some fun. With Joe Creed, I wanted a hero who was an absolute scumbag. Not just an anti-hero, which has become rather clich├ęd. I wanted someone I could just have fun with, someone who, if he was scared, would faint! The readers went along with me and, like Haunted, it did very well.

‘Although I was very satisfied with the way Creed came out, three of the national papers gave me the worst reviews I’ve ever had in my life! All those newspapers dislike horror intensely, but because of my sales figures they reasoned that they had to give me some attention. They picked up Creed having heard the word-of-mouth reputation from my first books The Rats and The Fog, and they simply didn’t understand it. They didn’t realise that it was meant to be funny, a gentle piss-take if you like. They couldn’t see that at all. I met the literary editor of one of the big Sunday papers recently and I asked how she felt about some of the books she was being so rude about in her column. Her reaction was that she loved to rip them apart as it was her job. I feel sorry for critics who cannot read books for enjoyment. They all feel they have to do some big hatchet job and are looking to do that before they even open the covers and start reading. It’s criticising for criticising’s sake which rather defeats the object.’

Whereas Creed is somewhat light-hearted and humourous, Portent is one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging novels the author has attempted to date.

‘I first had the idea for Portent while I was in Australia promoting Sepulchre. I was driving down this long avenue lined with beautiful pink-blossomed jacaranda trees. The PR lady I was with explained that the students hated the blossom. It was a sign of terror for them because it meant that their exams started in two weeks time and they knew they had to buckle down and do some work. That sparked off the idea that there could be something beautiful and breathtaking but which was a sign of something evil and bad.

‘I’d also wanted to do a book about the environment for a long time. The thing that gets me to this day about the environment is that people have become very complacent because of all the campaigns and publicity. I don’t like being preached to and yet I think that something has got to be done about it. I’m not a great campaigner but I try and do my bit by planting trees. I’ve planted about fifty trees in my garden, and each tree apparently makes up for the pollution caused by one car. I’m not fanatical about it, but it’s something I think we should all be concerned with. I’m lucky in that I write books which are read by a lot of people, and if I can draw my readers’ attention to what is going on around them, and make them think, then maybe something will have been achieved.

‘I started researching into natural disasters and was amazed at how many disasters happen week after week. Now when you start collecting these things and putting them together, you start to see how horrendous it really is. I wanted to build on all these things. If all these earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, storms, cyclones and the like all happened at the same time, on the same day, can you imagine the chaos? I think I’ve got a reputation for mayhem and chaos from some of my earlier books, so imagine the whole world going at once ... it’s quite a thought.’

Portent is full of effective descriptions of natural disasters. How much of it was taken from real life and how much was invented?

‘Most of the disasters are genuine, but of course I’ve taken their consequences a bit further. One or two possibly wouldn’t happen, like, for example, a sandstorm in China burying a whole city, but that’s one of the few extremes. Everything that happens in the book, can, and on occasion does, happen. As to why all this is going on, there are three theories in Portent. There’s a genuine one from Professor James Lovelock, who really exists. His theory is that the Earth is a single, living, organism that sustains itself to exist and eradicates anything that upsets its own balance and mankind has upset the balance. To complement this, I have another - invented - theory from a geophysicist called Hugo Poggs. He also believes that the Earth is a living entity, but that it exists to sustain mankind. That difference forms the schism between himself and Professor Lovelock and that’s why they parted company in my fictitious universe. There is also a third theory, which I call the James Herbert theory, and you’ll have to read the book to discover what that is.’

Portent actually echoes the structure of Herbert’s earlier books in that the main plot is counterpointed with descriptions of disasters and fatalities along the way. ‘That was my style for a long time and here was the ideal opportunity to resurrect it. It allowed me to describe a huge world disaster in very intimate and individual terms.’

The use of these vignettes also gives Herbert the scope to write from a number of different viewpoints and as the settings and people change, so too does the style and rhythm of the writing, leading to a refreshing mix of characters and cultures.

‘I’m pleased that that aspect came across, because that was the intention. I really enjoyed writing and researching those scenes; I’ve travelled quite a bit, and although I haven’t been to all the places I describe, I don’t think that you can tell those I haven’t been to from those I have.’

I suggested that Portent was actually a science fiction book, and Jim agreed. ‘A number of my books have been as much science fiction as horror. Think of Domain: a future London ravaged by the bomb, think of The Fog: a cloud of chemicals which drives people insane. Yes, Portent is science fiction, it’s horror, it’s supernatural, but it’s also mainstream, and that, I think, is the important thing. To be successful you have to be read both within and outside the horror genre.’

As well as Portent, there is also a book about James Herbert available. This is James Herbert: By Horror Haunted, edited by Stephen Jones. Both this and Portent are remarkable for the quality and care which has gone into their production, and Jim feels strongly about this aspect of publishing.

‘I like to give the reader value for money,’ he explained. ‘Books are expensive and I want my readers to get a good package. Things like the little “light over the Earth” graphic through to the typeface and the inclusion of Chief Seattle’s Testimony at the end of Portent, all of these add to the look and feel of the final book.

‘I’m also very pleased with By Horror Haunted. Obviously I had a hand in it and I think Steve Jones did an incredible job. I hope people feel it’s value for money. I was a bit dubious about having a book about me, but as Steve says, there’s forty about Stephen King. Fans of the genre seem to really like that sort of thing.’

For the immediate future, Jim is currently working on two projects very different from his novels.

‘There’s a coffee-table book called Dark Places, which is a photographic collection featuring some of the locations that I’ve used in my novels plus other spooky places in England: burial places, churches, old houses, things like that. I’m writing the foreword and the introductions to each section. Roderick Brown is the editor and the black and white photographs have been taken by Paul Berkshire.

‘There’s also a graphic novel underway, some of the storyboards for which can be seen in By Horror Haunted. It’s called The City, and has been written and storyboarded by myself and illustrated by a brilliant artist called Ian Miller. Ian’s work is absolutely incredible and I am very pleased he is working on this project.’

For the moment Jim is not working on another novel. Next year will see the paperback release of Portent, but Jim wants to ease up a little on the pressure of producing a novel a year.

‘I’m constantly being told that I’m a workaholic, and unfortunately because I like what I do it’s very easy to get that way. I do need to take more breaks. I don’t like holidays, but I should take them. I really don’t know what the next novel is going to be! I have four ideas all on very different themes and I’ve got to sit down and look at them and decide which one to do. Of course I may just get a completely different idea out of the blue and decide to go with that instead. Who can say?’

Perhaps all we can say is that, once again, we should expect the unexpected from Britain’s most popular master of Horror.