When I was ten years old I consumed books. I read maybe 4 or 5 books per week, helped at the local library with my mate Ahmed Din, and I read Willard Price’s adventure books again and again. It’s a long time ago, now, and I don’t recall being dissatisfied with what I was reading at all.
But then my mum gave me a book called THE RATS, and my life changed forever. So violent … so sexy … so adult. It was the first adult book I read, and really from then on I didn’t look back. I entered my teens reading everything James Herbert wrote (several times), and then Stephen King, and then Clive Barker, and then … the whole wonderful world of books opened up to me.
But James Herbert was the first. To that pre-teen boy his writing was so vital, brutal, colourful, imaginative, and it explored areas that Willard Price never did. I always say that James Herbert’s rats got me into horror, and I’d like to thank them very much. But what I really mean is, James Herbert got me into horror. And lucky for me, I had the opportunity to thank him for that at the World Horror Convention in Brighton a couple of years ago.
I’ve met a lot of the great writers in our genre, the masters, those writers who built the genre. But meeting Herbert was the first time I’d ever felt nervous and, frankly, a little tongue-tied. Probably because of what he meant to me as a kid, and how his books shaped the way I read all through my early teens.
“Mr Herbert, I’m a big fan.”
“Oh, you’re the one!”
“I’d like to shake your hand and thank you, because you’re the reason I’m writing horror. My mum gave me The Rats to read when I was ten years old.”
“You had a very open-minded mother!”
“I did, that’s so true. So, anyway … thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
We shook hands, and that was the first and last time we spoke face to face.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t read a Herbert book for a long time. The last couple I tried didn’t really do it for me, and those earlier books that hold such a precious place in my memory — The Rats, Lair, Domain, The Fog, The Dark, Fluke, The Survivor, The Spear, Shrine — well, I probably shouldn’t go back to them. I’m scared I won’t love them as much as I did back then. That happens sometimes, and while it’s all a part of growing up and growing older, it can also be sad. A bit like loss.
Because when you’re a kid, I think it’s so much easier to fall in love with a writer’s work, become almost obsessed with it, be heavily influenced by it. That memory remains.
What I said when I met James Herbert is true — if it weren’t for him and his books, I wouldn’t be writing horror today. I can say that with certainty. He’s responsible for me doing something I love for a living. And I’m so glad I got to thank him for that.