Best-selling horror writer dies at his Henfield home aged just 69

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Tributes have flooded in for a ‘sweet’ and ‘modest’ man who is famous for conjuring up a deadly fog, vicious rats and tormented ghosts in his successful writing career.

Best-selling author James Herbert, known fondly as Jim by friends and family, has been praised as a man of ‘ferocious intellect’ by confidant and fellow writer, Peter James, following the news of Mr Herbert’s death on Wednesday, March 20 at age 69.

Mr James - of the Roy Grace crime series - said Mr Herbert was a ‘tough’ character ‘who always said he was going to outlast the rest of us’.

Born in 1943 to a stall-holder in London’s Brick Lane market, Mr Herbert began his working life in the art department of a small advertising agency, but his flair for the written word and things that go bump in the night, eventually made him Britain’s answer to Stephen King.

His book debut, The Rats, was published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd in 1974, engrossing readers in a world plagued by giant rats with a thirst for human flesh.

Selling 100,000 copies in the first three weeks, Mr Herbert unwittingly propelled a 38 year career in the macabre that would span 26 books and spawn various film and TV adaptations, including the most recent, The Secret of Crickley Hall, aired earlier this year by the BBC.

Mr Herbert moved to Woodmancote, near Henfield, around 25 years ago with his wife Elaine, a former member of the parish council.

Mr James recalls hearing the news of his friend’s unexpected death last Thursday.

“His youngest daughter called me with the news. I’m still in shock. She told me he was cheering and chatting on Wednesday evening.

“Last time I saw him was over Christmas time and we had a drink together.”

Their close friendship began in 1987 when Mr James’ publisher sent his latest book, Possession, to Mr Herbert for a quote.

“He gave me a fantasic one, so I wrote him a thank you letter and then we ended up going out for a few drinks - we became friends thereafter.”

Described as ‘loyal’ to his fans, Mr Herbert was known to never turn down a signing.

Katherine Faber of Stoke Newsagents in Henfield, religiously stocks his books and would commonly ask Mr Herbert to sign copies for wanting fans.

“Knowing he was a resident here, customers would request a signature, so we would call him up and he would do them all.

“He really cared about his readers, they were very special to him.

“He was always a sweet man to talk to - very down to earth and modest.”

A well known face in the community, Mr Herbert would also take part in many Henfield events, including dog shows.

Henfield parish councillor, Mike Morgan, recalled: “I remember when he came along as a judge some years ago at the village fete in Henfield Common.

“He was rather amused at what he had to judge, but very happy to do it.”

Characterised as a man of ‘tremendously good humour’ by Mr James, they would enjoy many long conversations over a tipple.

“He had a ferocious intellect. He could talk to anyone on any level about anything.

“I also blame him for many hangovers over the years,” he joked.

A ‘loyal friend through thick and thin’, Mr James turned to Mr Herbert for support during a divorce and a dip in his career.

“In the 1990s I was despondent about my writing and I’d seriously considered quitting, but he more than anybody else said no, because he believed in me.”

An author with a precise idea for the font, jacket design and final say on his books, Mr Herbert was ‘rumbustious’ when it came to his work said Mr James, and would commonly have the upper hand over his publisher.

“He was a one off.”

Mr Herbert received an OBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours.

He is survived by his wife Elaine and three daughters.