In Memoriam: James Herbert

After yesterday’s sad news about the passing of James Herbert, some of the Gollancz team took a moment to share their memories about the man, and about the books.

Malcolm Edwards said:

James Herbert published two novels with HarperCollins in the 1990s – THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH and ’48.  He was half of a predatory double swoop on the Hodder & Stoughton list, where HC’s CEO Eddie Bell had previously worked.  The other half was Jeffrey Archer.  As fiction publishing director, I was potentially in line to edit both, but I dodged the bullet with Jeffrey, who wanted to be with Margaret Thatcher’s editor.  Jim, however, was mine.

There was a particular ritual attached to delivery of a James Herbert novel.  He would have the top copy of the typescript expensively bound, and would hand it personally to the CEO, along with a photocopy for the editor.  An expensive lunch would doubtless ensue, but that didn’t involve me, as one of the rules was that the editor had to start reading it straightaway.  He had to wake the following morning to find a fax* from the editor waiting for him, extolling the virtues of the novel, and predicting record sales and wide acclaim.  So I went home and got reading.  Luckily – because I am not a particularly fast reader – his novels do bowl along at a good pace, and were around 400 pages; so even at my slow rate I could be finished by a couple of hours after midnight.  I made it a point of pride to refer in my fax to events in the last chapters, so there was no doubt that I had read the whole thing.

Each author/editor relationship is subtly different from the rest.  With Jim, it required a visit to his house on the Sussex Downs, not far from Brighton.  I would have to take a car, rather than driving myself, because he would want a drink at the end of the day.  I was told that he would have to approve every single proposed change, however small, so I arrived with the typescript heavily marked up.  His study commanded a panoramic view, and as I recollect he had bought the fields behind the garden in order to own as much of it as possible.  It was sparsely furnished, apart from a large and elegant desk.  An electric guitar stood in the corner.  We sat together at the desk, and began turning the pages.  For the first couple of hours we debated every comma.  (He had the self-taught writer’s insecurity about any suggestion that he wasn’t in complete command of the rules of grammar.)  For lunch he drove us down to his local pub, where he greeted everyone affably; he was obviously well-known there.

As the afternoon wore on, he either got bored, or decided I probably knew what I was doing and wasn’t planning to eviscerate his work.  Probably three-quarters of the whole process was occupied by going through the first ten per cent of the book.  We would finish some time a bit after six, and moved downstairs, where he had installed a bar, with full-length windows overlooking his swimming pool.  He would pour pretty generous drinks, and we’d chat.  I once managed to delight him by revealing that the Observer reviewer, who in 1974 had given a scathing review to THE RATS – which he could still quote verbatim — was none other than the young Martin Amis, writing under a pseudonym.  For a man who viewed the literary establishment as the enemy, it was welcome confirmation that he was right!

* This was in those prehistoric days before email, oh best beloved.

James Herbert, 1943-2013, rest in peace.