Skip to main content

UK bids farewell to chiller writer James Herbert

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 7:05 AM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013
James Herbert with his OBE medal which he received from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace on October 29, 2010 in London.
James Herbert with his OBE medal which he received from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace on October 29, 2010 in London.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James Herbert died peacefully at home, his publisher says
  • More than 54 million copies of his 23 novels were sold worldwide
  • "His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction," says editor
  • In his debut, "The Rats," a plague of mutant, flesh-eating rodents invaded London

London (CNN) -- Nearly four decades after he brought an invasion of mutant, flesh-eating rodents to London with his first novel, "The Rats," UK chiller writer James Herbert has died aged 69.

Herbert, who followed up his best-selling debut with another hit, "The Fog," and another 21 books over the decades, was seen as a British rival to U.S. horror supremo Stephen King.

Other top sellers include "Portent," "Others" and "The Secret of Crickley Hall." His most recent novel, the paranormal detective story "Ash," was published last year.

Publisher Pan Macmillan said that he died peacefully at home Wednesday morning.

Jeremy Trevathan, Herbert's editor at Macmillan for 10 years, described him as a "keystone author in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s."

He was published in 34 languages, including Russian and Chinese, and has sold more than 54 million copies worldwide, according to Pan Macmillan.

"It's a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death," said Trevathan.

"He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime. His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th century."

Fans of his books paid tribute to the indelible mark they left on the readers' psyche.

"Sad news about James Herbert -- as a teen, I scared myself silly reading him. He led me to King, Barker, others. RIP ... " said crime writer Ian Rankin on Twitter.

Broadcaster Jenni Falconer tweeted: "Sad news about James Herbert. His book series 'The Rats' has kept me on high alert whenever I'm on the tube!! (I read it 20 yrs ago!)"

Born in the East End of London, the son of street traders, Herbert grew up in Whitechapel -- where Jack the Ripper once stalked his victims -- in an area badly hit by Second World War bombing raids.

The rodents he saw scurrying around the ruined buildings were to inspire his first work, according to a fan website.

The manuscript for "The Rats," published in 1974 at 175 pages in length, was written in just 10 months while Herbert was working at an advertising agency.

He had found a job there after studying graphic design, print and photography at Hornsey College of Art, and eventually rose to a senior role.

Four of his novels were made into films, while another was serialized for television and a fifth was dramatized for radio.

Herbert was presented with an honor, the Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

In the same year, he was made the Grand Master of Horror by the World of Horror Convention.

He lived in Sussex, in southern England, with his wife of more than 40 years, Eileen, with whom he had three daughters.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT