British Fiction Focus

The Horror of the Herberts

Announced on this day a year ago “to celebrate the life and career of one of the world’s best and most loved horror writers,” the James Herbert Award for Horror Writing aims to bring deserved attention to the boldest books by a new generation of authors working in the same genre on which Herbert himself made such a lasting mark.

The winner of the inaugural award—open as it was “to horror novels written in English and published in the UK and Ireland between 1st January 2014 and 31st December 2014”—was revealed over Easter. As chair of judges Tom Hunter noted in The Guardian’s write-up, “the first winner of a new prize can set expectations for years to come.”

The victor was picked from a shortlist of six books, including M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman. But there can be only one; and the one, ultimately, was Nick Cutter, whose pseudonymous debut The Troop I called “a twisted coming-of-age tale, more Koryta than King, which I quite liked despite its disappointing dependence on disgust.”

Needless to say, it’s not necessarily the novel I’d have picked from the shortlist. Of the four contenders I read, I’d have probably given Kim Newman the nod, or failing that, M.R. Carey. But perhaps the Herberts are intended to celebrate something other than the most carefully considered or artfully crafted horror novels: Perhaps the award is intended instead to honour the things that get under our skin.

Which The Troop indubitably did.

Back to Tom Hunter:

While I believe Stephen King is absolutely right to acknowledge the importance of old-school scares and blood-soaked pages in The Troop, for me it’s the confident sense of character, eidetic language and kinetic writing style that makes this a truly compelling winner. […] It’s a book horror fans will love, and one I believe James Herbert would have celebrated.

And I can get right behind that—just as the author’s eldest daughter did. As one of the judges of the inaugural award—alongside the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Rosie Fletcher, Sarah Pinborough, and Dr. Tony Venezia—Kerry Herbert set out to celebrate a book that “scares you so much that you can’t sleep, you can’t forget, and you can’t wait to tell your friends about it.” There’s all that and more in The Troop, to be sure.

Congratulations, then, to Nick Cutter, a.k.a. Craig Davidson, the Canadian author whose short story collection Rust and Bone was filmed by French director Jacques Audiard to great acclaim. Davidson’s second novel as Nick Cutter, The Deep, was released earlier in 2014.

And suddenly I know what I’ll be reading this evening!


Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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