John Gibson: He put the frighteners on people

James Herbert

James Herbert

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The passing of James Herbert has had me squirrelling into the Gibpress File. We met in Edinburgh for a series of mine imaginatively titled The Authors. He was billed in the Evening News as The Master of Horror With the Matey Touch.

Up for the Bookfest, the London East Ender, then outsold for horror only by Stephen King, was about to pad in his sneakers from the hotel to talk to a capacity audience.

Easy to talk to, Herbert, who was 69, told me: “I feel each book has been an improvement on the last. I’ve no hidden manuscripts. Everything has been published. I’m learning my craft with each book. In fact it’s getting harder because I’ve used up all the words.

“It’s bloody hard work. Some of my friends from my days in advertising ask me how it feels to be retired. That can get me going. You don’t just ‘churn’ out books. It’s not an easy way to make money. But it’s a nice way. It’s the best job in the world.

“Each book , when I’m confronted by it, I think I can’t do. The famous mental block writers are supposed to have . . . well, I have that every day. You go through a kind of pain barrier.

“In the first couple of hours you might get a page done, then you break through that barrier and it begins to flow. It becomes exhilarating.”

Herbert had written 23 novels at the final count and his last words to a suitably horrified journo: “Have you got enough there? A lot of journalists are disappointed I don’t turn up in a cape, with a cane, black hat and beard. But I can only be what I am.”