RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013): Ash to Ashes

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My good friend John Mountain over at Written in Blood was kind enough to “inadvertently” inform me of author James Herbert‘s death. I’d been “out of sync” with real life matters and in so doing had missed the news of Herbert’s untimely death on Wednesday the 20th of March this year.

He will be greatly missed.

James Herbert was initially an art director for an advertising agency (courtesy of Wikipedia) before becoming a full-time writer. A writer who designed his own book covers and did all his own publicity. He was also a writer who used to “scare the pants” off me and his other faithful readers.

With his novel The Rats and the subsequent sequels to it, Lair and Domain, he gave me an almost pathological fear of English rats. His vermin villains were bigger and smarter than your average British rat and in 2008 when I visited my daughter in her first apartment at Uni and saw a rat as big as a small dog, it wasn’t ringing the council that first sprang to my mind, it was James Herbert and his über scary rats.

Stephen King once said of Herbert that he was the type author who “grabbed his reader’s lapels and screamed into their faces [sic]” and his early books did just that. Who can forget the images that his scenes of horror evoked?

The legless dog stumping towards the letterbox in The Dark; the harsh headmaster who has his genitals cut off in The Fog; and as mentioned above, the rats in The Rats.

But his horror story skills evolved over the years, just as his novels evolved. He could tell a damned fine fantasy horror story and stories that, although steeped in the horror verse, were more sophisticated and complex than his earlier works. He had made the transition from the “pulps” to the slick world of mainstream horror fiction.  I have read every book published by James Herbert and loved them all.

But my favourite books of Herbert’s dealt with David Ash. The guilt-ridden paranormal investigator who fought an internal battle against his own psychic abilities. The man who was haunted by first his own sister and later by an entire family of ghosts in Haunted; then an entire village in The Ghosts of Sleath  and finally with the ghosts (?) in an exclusive madhouse in Ash; his last book published just before his untimely death.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing James Herbert on late-night telly. He has come on some program not to plug his latest book, but because he a was a rock fan who was actually touting his favourite bands next tour. He wore a heavy metal t-shirt and his hair was long and he seemed like one helluva nice guy.

I remember thinking, ‘That’s James Herbert??’ The guy who has managed to scare the hell out of me in almost all his books? I was shocked at just how nice the chap seemed. Herbert, who was awarded an OBE  in 2010, was an author who never really quite believed his success and never really felt comfortable with the praise and adulation that his books brought about.

I am, rather sadly, reading the last book of Herbert’s (Ash) and while reading it I can’t help but ponder a world without James Herbert. His books sold over 42 million copies worldwide (Wikipedia) and he has been a personal favourite of mine ever since I first picked up one of his books (The Fog – 1975) in 1982 from a USAF base bookstore.

Apart from my heartfelt sympathy for his family (his wife and three daughters) and close friends I’d like to express my own fond farewell. “So long mate, I say mate because in my mind I feel that anyone who can so consistently entertain and scare the bejeezus out of me is a friend.  You certainly brought more than your fair share of talent to the party. You will be missed by me and millions of other people around the world. Rest in peace mate.”

RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).
RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).

If Chins Could Kill! By Bruce Campbell

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First published in 2001 and later in 2009 in the United Kingdom, If Chin’s Could Kill is Bruce’s story of his early life and his involvement with wunderkind Sam Raimi and co.

Written an awful lot like his acting style (not sure if that is actually a good thing or not) the book is entertaining and features a lot of memories from Bruce about: Growing up in Michigan, going to school in Michigan, discovering girls in Michigan, et al.

Yet amazingly the book is not about Michigan. Who’d have thunk it? The book is very entertaining as he relates his relationship with the Raimi family, which includes mom and pop Raimi plus Ted and Owen as well as Sam.

He also talks about filming all those Super 8 films in high school and their timorous expedition into “real” film making; or filming in 16mm and getting it blown up to the requisite 35mm.

Mr Campbell takes us on a ride on the ‘B’ side of the street and explains as humorously as possible about what it takes to be a ‘B’ movie actor and find your self a star as a result. This is a man who has made more independent movies than Carter’s got little pills and he’s only just able to make a living at it.

*At least, that’s his story and I don’t know, call me a sucker; but damn it, I believe him.*

 

The book has been “shot-gunned” with pictures throughout (not stuck in the middle like all those “other” phoney-baloney “star” books) and there are a lot of the young folks who started out on the entertainment road with Bruce.

Who knew?
Who knew?

I enjoyed reading the book that took me literally years to finally purchase. It was only after watching the pilot episode of Burn Notice that I remembered that he had “written” a couple of books on his career.

Since I’ve been a fan ever since watching Evil Dead in an Arkansas drive-in on dollar night, I could not wait to read it. I couldn’t find it anywhere to buy and my local library kept refusing my suggestion that they buy the book just so I could read it.

*A quick note to the author Bruce Campbell.*

Sorry Bruce, but the whole world’s a critic and my arguing that this was an obviously important story that needed to be read by all Bruce Campbell fans everywhere, seemed to fall on deaf ears. To my chagrin they still do not stock your first or even second book, Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way. So I had to stumble upon it completely by accident in my local Waterstones bookstore. I am still hoping to stumble upon your second book the same way.

Right, groveling done, I can go onto the rest of my review, Bruce takes us through his marriages and the birth of his children. He also takes us behind the scenes with Kevin Sorbo (aka Hercules) and what it was like working in New Zealand on the show (and on Xena Warrior Princess).

If you are a Bruce Campbell fan, you’ll love this book. I’ll give it a 5 out of 5 stars because if I concentrate I can hear Bruce reading the book in my head. That’s pretty damned entertaining, I can tell you.

Even Ash thinks it's funny...
Even Ash thinks it’s funny…

Still Singing the Cigarette Electric

a lit cigarette in an ashtray

Okay, it’s been a couple of weeks now with the new E-cigs that I’ve opted to smoke instead of the traditonal ones.

So far so content. I don’t miss the mess, ashes everywhere, dog ends to dispose of without getting a public littering fine; or the unsightliness, yellow: fingers, teeth, mustache and tongue. I also don’t miss the smell. It is a little socially off putting when you know you smell like a giant ashtray.

Now for the expense. So far, despite claims to contrary, I’m still spending roughly about the same amount for the damn electric cigarettes.

Why?

I’m not sure. The companies say that each cartridge (a cartridge is what carries the nicotine and the vapour inducing stuff that mimics smoke) equals X amount of cigarettes. I have two words for that claim.

Horse Pucky.

Now I am the first one to stand up and say that yes I am a heavy smoker. In a world where anything over five fags a day is heavy, I’m king at a daily consumption of fifteen plus. But that is not, I think, the problem.

I think the problem is, that unlike traditional smokes, the fake fag (cigarette in English slang parlance), is not a real ciggie. You don’t smoke the E-cig until you reach the dog end and then put it out, more often than not, relighting another one minutes after. No the problem is you don’t have to stop puffing at all.

If you don’t run out of battery (a problem that is becoming less so) or out of cartridge, you can keep on puffing. So even though it is better for you (a fact that the jury is still out on) you wind up “smoking” more than if you were smoking the traditional cigarette.

My only real ‘gripe’ is that the cartridges don’t seem to last as long as advertised. But as my daughter quite sagely pointed out, “You’ve always got it in your mouth.” Kind of sounds like an adult pacifier, doesn’t it.

Still I’m very proud of the fact that apart from nicotine I am not putting any other more harmful chemicals in my body. I won’t even mention the fact of no tar coating and clogging my lungs. I am also pleased that my car no longer resembles or smells like an ashtray on wheels. I don’t have to stand outside to smoke in nasty weather and I don’t have to buy the heavily overtaxed fags that the stores are flogging.

I do still like the ‘odd’ smoke of the traditional variety. There is something so relaxing about rolling a cigarette and lighting it, dragging in that first lungful of smoke and exhaling with a mental, “Ahhh.”

So even though I disagree with the E-cigs claims, I’ll stick to the new ‘space age’ science fiction fags for a while longer.

A photo of 117mm e-cigarette
A photo of 117mm e-cigarette (Photo credit: Wikipedia)