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Has Guy's horror novel about bats come true?

Back in 1977, a former bank manager from the West Midlands hit upon the idea for a horror novel: a bat escapes from a laboratory and takes flight over Cannock Chase, starting a deadly epidemic that claims thousands of lives.

This early effort, by horror writer Guy N Smith, was quite a success, selling about 50,000 copies. But as his earlier novel, Night of the Crabs, rocketed up the bestsellers list, was adapted into a film, and enabled Guy to give up his bank job to become one of the world's most prolific authors of pulp fiction, Bats Out Of Hell was quickly forgotten. Until now.

Some 42 years after it first hit the bookshops, Bats Out Of Hell has been re-released, having been spotted by a publisher in the US. Colorado-based Centipede Press, which recently produced a limited edition run of his 1975 classic The Slime Beast, got in touch after noticing the novel in his back catalogue – and the spooky resemblance between what he wrote in the late 1970s and what is happening today.

"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," he says. "I had forgotten all about it."

Guy, originally from Hopwas between Lichfield and Tamworth, was educated at St Chad's Cathedral School in Lichfield, and Wrekin College in Wellington.

Horror author Guy N Smith from Black Hill near Clun has just re-released a novel he published in 1978 about an epidemic caused when a bat escapes from a laboratory over Cannock Chase

"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," he says.

At the time he wrote it, he was 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 1990, I collated these into a book entitled Fifty Tales from the Fifties."

Guy N Smith

By the 1970s, Guy was combining his banking career with his interest in books. In 1972 he launched a secondhand bookselling business, which would become his publishing company Black Hill Books.

“I wrote a horror novel for the New English Library in 1974 entitled Werewolf by Moonlight," he says. "But it was Night of the Crabs in 1976 which really launched me as a writer.

"This title was the ‘No.1 beach read’. 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 ratrace 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 has lived ever since.

Now 80, he has 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 says he likes to keep his novels short and simple, although in the 1980s many publishers were demanding longer books in keeping with the trends of the time.

Horror author Guy N Smith from Black Hill near Clun has just re-released a novel he published in 1978 about an epidemic caused when a bat escapes from a laboratory over Cannock Chase

The new edition of Bats Out Of Hell is dedicated to the health workers who are working to fight the virus, and £1 from every copy sold will go to NHS charities. Since its release on Friday last week – 42 years to the day since it was first published – initial sales have been spectacular. Guy says the first stocks sold out almost as soon as they went on sale, and more copies being printed to cope with demand.

This, he believes this is partly down people being at home, and having more time to spend reading.

And, of course, the uncanny resemblance to the current coronavirus disease spreading to virtually every country in the world.

"Foresight on my part?" he ponders.

"If so, it is very frightening," warns, contemplating the dark themes of the books he has written since.

"I dread to think which one might come next. Am I prophetic? My spine tingles at the possibility!

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