Shropshire Star

Tributes to horror writer Guy N Smith, who died aged 81

To millions he was known for his novels about werewolves and plagues of killer crabs, but it was a long-forgotten book about about an epidemic caused by bats on Cannock Chase which truly captured the mood of the moment when it was re-released last year.

Last updated
Guy N Smith with his pandemic-based novel pictured last year

Tributes from around the world have been paid to best-selling novelist Guy N Smith, who achieved a huge following for his dark horror stories, died at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

Born in Hopwas, near Lichfield, he died on Christmas Eve at the age of 81. His prolific output led to him becoming known as "The Great Scribbler".

Polish horror writer Bartek Paszylk said: "Guy N. Smith was one of the authors who introduced me into the world of horror and I'll always remember him very fondly. I guess I will have to experience The Return of Sabat, or some of the other books he's recently published, now that he's sadly gone."

Australian animator Dan Foley said: "The great man of shock horror letters, Guy N Smith, has passed beyond the mortal realm and the claws of ravening crabs everywhere are lowered, heavy-hearted.

"Memories of childlike awe at glimpsing these superbly-packaged volumes on public library spinners will never die."

British film producer Jonathan Sothcott spoke of his sadness at the about the death of the prolific author.

"His slim paperbacks, all with gaudy covers, chronicled very English werewolves, cannibals and of course giant crabs," he said.

His daughter Tara Paulsson, who lives in Sweden, described her father as having a strong will and a big personality.

"He was a real character, and was very much himself, he decided what he liked," she said.

"He liked smoking his pipe, and nobody was every going to persuade him to stop that."

She added that he always enjoyed a close relationship with his readers, regularly welcoming them to his house.

"He opened the house to his fans, if they wanted to come up and have a cup of tea, and have a look at his book collection, he would welcome them," she said.

As a youngster, Guy was educated at St Chad’s Cathedral School in Lichfield, and Wrekin College in Wellington. He dreamed of becoming writer ever since having a short story published in a now-defunct newspaper in Wolverhampton, but the need for a steady income led to him taking the more stable route of a job in banking after leaving school.

His 1977 novel Bats Out of Hell told the story of how a bat escaped from a laboratory and took flight over Cannock Chase, spreading a deadly plague that claimed thousands of lives.

The book enjoyed some success, selling about 50,000 copies, but was quickly overshadowed by his earlier novel, Night of the Crabs, which rocketed up the bestsellers list and was adapted into a film, allowing Mr Smith to quit banking and establish himself as one of the world's top authors of pulp-fiction style stories.

But the bat-based novel was re-released last year after being spotted by an American publisher which noticed the the spooky resemblance between what he wrote in the late 1970s and what is happening today.

During an interview with this newspaper last year, Mr Smith remarked: “It’s funny because I was thinking I ought to write a book about the pandemic, and then I realised I had already written it. I had forgotten all about it.

“I chose to set the book on the Cannock Chase, because it was a place where I spent a lot of time as a boy."

Mr Smith wrote the bat novel while living the run-of-the-mill suburban life with wife Jean and his four children in Tamworth when he wrote the bat novel. He had recently quit his job as manager at the Midland Bank Cash Centre in New Street, Birmingham, having found the work unfulfilling.

“I came from a banking family, my father was a bank manager, and from the time I was born I was going to be a bank manager,” he says. “It was a safe job, but there was nothing creative about it.”

But while his father was adamant Guy should follow him into banking, his mother – historic novelist Elizabeth M Weale – encouraged him to take up writing at an early age. When he was 12, Guy had his first story published in the now-defunct Tettenhall Observer, and from 1952 and 1957 he wrote 56 short stories for the newspaper, many of them serialised.

In 1972 Mr Smith launched a secondhand bookselling business, which he combined with his banking job. It would eventually become his publishing company Black Hill Books.

Mr Smith said he wrote a horror novel for the New English Library in 1974 entitled Werewolf by Moonlight, but it was Night of the Crabs in 1976 which really launched him as a writer.

“This title was the ‘No.1 beach read’," he said. "It saw numerous reprints, spawned six sequels along with several short stories, as well as a movie.”

The sale of the film rights to Night of the Crabs enabled him to quit the rat-race in 1975, and two years later he swapped his suburban home in Tamworth for a rambling house in the Shropshire Hills near Clun, where he lived up until his death.

Tara recalled: "He loved nature, and I remember growing up with all these animals around us, everything from pheasants to guinea fowl, donkeys and goats, as well as the usual carts and dogs."

A lifelong pipe smoker, he was crowned the British Pipe Smoking Champion in 2003, and wrote a book about tobacco. He was also a keen player of the table-football game Subbuteo, and 1998 he played the game for 24 hours in aid of a charity for young deaf people.

He published a total of 124 books and about 4,000 articles and short stories in his writing career, selling millions of copies around the world. He wrote a series of children's books under the pseudonym Jonathon Guy, two thrillers under the name Gavin Newman, and 12 non-fiction books on various countryside matters.

Explaining why people liked his books, Mr Smith told the Star: "I don't know what the appeal of horror is, but I think it must be just escapism.

"It's like a Mills and Boon thing in reverse. I've done some research on my readership through the fan mail that I get, and my readers seem to be mostly young married women. The horror relieves their boredom.''

He dedicated the last edition of Bats Out Of Hell to health workers helping to fight the virus, donating £1 from every copy sold to NHS charities.

He leaves a widow Jean, daughters Rowan and Tara, sons Gavin and Angus, and four grandchildren.