Interview with chiller writer James Herbert
12:20 25 September 2012
Henfield author James Herbert has a very effective way of dealing with his darker authorial imaginings: every lunch time he breaks from writing and watches the Australian soap Neighbours.
It is so banal that it wipes my mind and brings me back to a different kind of reality, he chuckles.
Readers of Herberts bestselling chiller novels might find it hard to reconcile his uncompromisingly ghoulish content with this garrulous, cheery figure. Long critical of certain elements of the elite establishment, he was recognised with an OBE for services to literature in late 2010.
When Prince Charles presented him with his medal a rather remarkable exchange took place.
He said to me: Are you working on a new book? I pointed at him and said, Yep, and youre in it! If you have ever seen anyone blanch, thats what Charles did. He went red and then white. I told him, Its okay, you come out of it fairly well. And that was it; conversation over.
Herbert describes himself as a great monarchist, a Royalist but says, The Queen gave me the inspiration for this book. It was when Paul Burrell was in court and due to go into the dock, and the Queen suddenly rang the court and the whole case was dropped.
In his first two books, Rats and The Fog, he railed against the neglect of inner cities after the war, particularly in his native East End of London. His latest novel, ASH, features a recurring hero, parapsychologist David Ash, who uncovers an elite cabal of criminality.
It is an audacious book, speculating on long-standing mysteries such as Lord Lucans disappearance, Rudolf Hess parachuted arrival in Scotland, and Unity Mitfords fatal fling with the Nazis.
In fact, ASH is such a conspiracy theorists dream that it must have given publishers Pan Macmillan some sleepless nights: We had the book studied by lawyers to make sure that we didnt overstep the mark. My agent was very, very careful but there are certain things in there the fun for the reader is trying to guess which is fact, which is what you might call fact-ion, and which is all my imagination.
The release of ASH was brought forward to avoid clashing with the release of J K Rowlings first adult book.
No publisher with a brain would go up against JK Rowling, and as a writer I certainly wouldnt.
Naturally, October is an important month for 2010s Grand Master of Horror an annual accolade also granted to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. An adaptation of the haunted house novel The Secret of Crickley Hall will be screened by the BBC on consecutive nights around Halloween. I havent had much involvement but I read the script for the first part and thought it was brilliant. I really believed that it was unfilmable, but the director Joe Ahearne wrote the script as well and he is just really great.
I asked for certain things to be changed and they agreed to so much, but then when I got the second script I couldnt finish it because they had changed too much. But I realise that once you have handed the book over it is up to the directors vision. I went up to the filming in Buxton and watched a scene with Joe. Suranne Jones really surprised me with the sheer depth of her acting, so I am expecting good things.
ASH, published by Pan Macmillan, is in the shops now