Best-selling horror author James Herbert, "one of the giants of popular fiction", has died aged 69, his publisher announced today.

Mr Herbert, who wrote horror classic The Rats, passed away peacefully in bed at his home in Sussex this morning, Pan Macmillan said.

Jeremy Trevathan, his editor for 10 years, and a Macmillan publisher, said: "Jim Herbert was one of the keystone authors in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.

james herbert

Herbert is survived by his wife Eileen, whom he married in 1967, and their three daughters Kerry, Emma and Casey

"It's a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death.

"He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime. His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th century."

Mr Herbert has been published in 34 languages including Russian and Chinese and has sold over 54 million copies worldwide, his publishers said.

His novel The Secret Of Crickley Hall was adapted for television and broadcasted on BBC One in December.

Four of the author's books - The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted - were made into films and The Magic Cottage was dramatised for Radio 4.

His 23rd novel, Ash, was published last week.

The writer was born in London's East End on April 8 1943 and at the age of ten won a scholarship to St Aloysius Grammar School in Highgate.

At 16, he began studying graphic design, print and photography at the renowned Hornsey College of Art.

After college he found success working for an advertising agency but began writing his first novel when he was 28.

Ten months later he had completed The Rats, conjuring a London overrun by mutant, flesh-eating rodents.

He submitted the manuscript to six publishers, three of whom replied.

Of those, two rejected the novel and one accepted it.

At its publication in 1974, the first printing of 100,000 copies sold out in three weeks.

The author was awarded an OBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours list and the same year he was made the Grand Master of Horror by the World of Horror Convention.

One of his friends, Gordon Giltrap, paid tribute to the author on Twitter.

Posting from @gordongiltrap, he said: "Received some sad news this morning that my good friend James Herbert has passed away. Am in no mood for music, that's for sure. RIP Jim."