HOW WE MET: JAMES HERBERT AND GORDON GILTRAP

Brought up in the East End of London, James Herbert (near right), 55, is one of Britain's most successful thriller writers, with a score of bestsellers to his name, including The Rats, The Fog, and most recently 48. He writes at his home in West Sussex, where he lives with his wife. The guitarist-composer Gordon Giltrap, 50, is one of guitar music's most durable and individual talents. Though he never joined a band, he had hits throughout the Sixties and Seventies, is responsible for several of TV's most recognisable theme tunes (including the BBC's Holiday and ITV's Wish You Were Here), and recently had a major part in Sir Cliff Richard's musical, Heathcliff. A Londoner by birth, he now lives near Solihull

JAMES HERBERT: I couldn't tell you exactly when we first met, because time's gone out the window for me, but it must have been about five years ago that I got a letter, a fan letter I suppose it was, from this person signing himself Gordon Giltrap. At first I thought it was someone having me on. I mean, Gordon Giltrap had been a hero of mine for years. He's a genius of the guitar. And for anyone who's seriously followed popular music over the last three decades, his sound is very special, unique.

Anyway, here he was writing to me about a book I'd done a few years before, called The Magic Cottage. In this book the protagonist was a session guitarist. Now I've got many friends in the music business and I play the guitar myself, so it was easy for me to write about. But Gordon had assumed from various details in the book that I was a musician as well as a writer. In fact I'm more of a semi- musician, a strummer. At art school I used to sing in a band, until another group called the Rolling Stones came along and made me look silly. But I still count it a passion of mine. I keep an acoustic instrument in my study for when I'm struggling with a chapter and get a bit tense. Just picking up the guitar and playing a couple of numbers puts me right.

But here was my guitar hero, making overtures to me. First he just said how much he liked the book. Then he said he was putting some tracks together for an album and was inviting various people to play along with him. Would I be interested in recording a number? So I wrote back and said: "I'm not that good, mate! But yeah, I'd love to do something." So he came down to my place, and we had a jam session. He was such a nice, gentle man; we got on very, very well. It didn't seem to matter that I was way below him in terms of what I could do.

We share a passion, not just for the music but for the instruments. I showed him my collection of guitars and told him about problems I'd had with them. I've got long fingers, but they're clumsy and not very strong, so doing a bar can be difficult, not as fluid as it should be. And Gordon said: "Well it's your guitars' fault, Jim, the action's all out!" And he took them all away with him there and then - my Fender Stratocaster, my acoustic guitar and a 12-string, and he gave them a makeover. I've since discovered that's typical of the man's generosity. When he brought them back they were like new instruments. Suddenly I could play 10 times better, and it completely revived my interest. I've improved no end since then.

Though the friendship gelled, we never got to do the disc. It turned out the record company wasn't interested, even after Gordon had got people like Brian May to agree to play on it. But we've jammed together informally several times now and who knows, one day we might lay a track down. In the meantime Gordon has become the sort of friend who understands instinctively where my boundaries lie. I'm a very private person, and my work is private too. I'm aware that he's interested in my books and where the ideas for them come from, but he doesn't push it, he doesn't probe. I make a rule never to talk about the book I'm currently working on. It dissipates the energy that should be going down on paper. And Gordon respects that. We just talk guitars.

I wish I could do as much for him as he's done for me. But I did redesign his letterhead. I once got a note from him with a logo printed at the top and I thought, I could improve on that. I used to do a lot of advertising artwork before I wrote books. So I sketched an outline of that trademark droopy moustache and long hair - it was only meant as a rough - and Gordon has been using it ever since.

It concerns me that someone with as much talent as Gordon has should ever have to struggle, so I was thrilled when he landed the part of the Troubadour in Heathcliff, and invited me up to see the show. I hear he's taken up classical guitar lessons in order to learn a regular technique. I can't understand why. His technique is irregular all right - he uses a weird combination of plectrum and the little finger of his right hand - but it's served him brilliantly all these years. I suppose you reach a certain age and you hanker after doing the things you haven't done. Just as I'm in awe of someone like him doing what I can't do.

GORDON GILTRAP: Jim claims to have forgotten, but I first wrote to him in the late 1970s. I'd released an album called Fear of the Dark and shortly after that he had a book published called The Dark which I read. I'd been a fan of his for years, so I sent him a copy of my album saying that if by any chance his book was ever going to be made into a film, this music would suit it perfectly. He did write back, but I don't recall now what the answer was. I made contact again in 1993, when I had this idea of doing a 25th anniversary album which was going to be called Giltrap and Friends. I'd read another book of Jim's called The Magic Cottage, a book about a musician. There were so many strong, accurate references to guitars in it that I thought: "This man has to be a musician himself." I wrote to him and said: "I'm sure you play guitar, so how about it?" This time I got a letter back within two days saying yes I like the idea, where and when? Unfortunately the album never happened - the concept changed and it ended up as Music for the Small Screen, all the stuff I'd written for TV. But from there he invited me down to his house in Sussex to have a look at his collection of guitars. They were in a bad state of repair so I said: "Let me take these guitars away and make them playable." I love doing that. I get almost as much pleasure out of fixing guitars as I do playing them. When I brought them back he was over the moon, and now he plays all the time.

We're both Londoners and from poor backgrounds, he from the East End, me from Deptford, and I think there's an empathy there. We're both self- made - only he's got wealth and fame, and I'm just a poor struggling guitarist who's got a name among the guitar fraternity. And we're both self-taught. I hadn't had a guitar lesson in my life until recently, when I hit a major birthday and decided I had to learn to read music properly and learn proper fingering. But that won't change the way I perform my own music - my totally incorrect technique is what's created my sound and style. So I suppose we both work outside the mainstream

We're both very single-minded. I've dropped in on Jim on a number of occasions when he's said: "It's great to see you, mate, but I can only give you an hour. I'm stuck into this book and I've got to keep the train of concentration going." He's very disciplined is Jim, always an eye on the deadline. You need to respect his space and his time. But he's been very supportive of me: I got him tickets for Heathcliff and he brought along two signed copies of 48 - one for me and one for Sir Cliff, who's also a big Herbert fan.

Whenever I have a new album released I make sure Jim gets one, because I know he loves what I do. Though he's also incredibly honest with me and tells me I'll never make a lot of money because I'm not overtly commercial. But I kind of knew that.

We mostly talk guitars. He's after a really nice, loud guitar, so I'll keep an eye out for him. There's such a lot of choice out there and just because the guy's got a lot of money doesn't mean he should be ripped off. There's no awkwardness on either side about his being so much richer than me. The friendship couldn't exist if there was. But what can you give to someone who's got everything? You try to pass on bits of yourself.

! Gordon Giltrap is touring his new album, 'Troubadour' (K-Tel), until 7 August.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker