Felt Trips: “The Rats” by Stephen James Buckley

Their lurid covers leered from the groaning carousel racks of bookshops and newsagents alike; those quintessentially 1970s and 1980s horror novels, the size of house bricks. By James Herbert and Stephen King, and later Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson, they made up a grimly fascinating procession: a motley parade of rats and slugs, vampires and rabid dogs, killer cars and psychosis-inducing fog.

And, in doing so, they captured the imagination of generation of boggle-eyed adolescents who gleefully passed them around the school playground, the illicit spoils of daring retail raids, away from the glare of blissfully uncorrupted parents.

With the notable exception of the proud father of Stephen James Buckley, who actually passed his copy of James Herbert’s The Rats onto his young son! Presumably unaware that this unprecedented act of parenting would lead to Stephen, in his school pottery class, producing an extraordinary clay sculpture of a helpless man being – frankly – eaten alive by giant rodents.

This sculpture, in fact:

Over to you, Stephen…

“I was 11 or 12 years old when I made this, in the first year of High School. It would have been around 1992/93. I went to Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where I didn’t really fit in because I was neither rich nor a rugby player.

My Dad gave me his copy of The Rats because I was a keen Games Workshop fan. I had a Nurgle army, which I’d painted beautifully and they won loads of battles against my friends. But then I started collecting Skaven, which were basically man-sized rats that walked upright. I don’t think I’ve got any photos of my Skaven or Nurgle stuff, I sold it all to get a drumkit once I’d discovered rock music…

But my Dad figured The Rats might be of interest. It was, and I ended up reading a lot more of his books in my pre-pubescent years. They were my graduation from fantasy to horror. Looking back, the gratuitous sex scenes were a bit unnecessary, but they made me quite popular amongst some of my friends. My copy of The Rats has long since disintegrated, but my favourite James Herbert book was actually The Ghosts Of Sleath. I haven’t read any as an adult, but they definitely gave me a greater appreciation of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace!

Our pottery teacher, ‘Potty’ Barrett, probably thought I was a serial killer in the making. I remember he had an assistant, and me and my friend Jonesy decided to call him ‘Erk’. We made up a whole mythology around how Potty Barrett had made Erk out of clay, and how he was like a Golem that did his bidding. But one day, Erk ‘blossomed’ and developed a mind of his own. He started doing crazy stuff, drinking and smoking and driving fast cars. I guess High School isn’t a great place for weird kids with vivid imaginations, so you have to make stuff up to get you through it.

The weird thing about Erk is that we once saw a school photo of Lancaster Girl’s Grammar, and he was on that too! Which led us to believe that there were, in fact, multiple Erks…

I honestly have no memory of making this sculpture. I’d forgotten all about it until my Dad found it in his garage a couple of weeks ago. I suspect that, as with most creative things I’ve ever done, I took the brief I was given and completely adapted it to fit whatever I was obsessed with at the time. In this case it was giant rats, mutated by nuclear waste, eating people alive.”

Thanks Stephen! Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

And thankfully, Stephen has cheered up a little now…

…and he makes wonderful electronic music under the name Polypores. It’s available here:

https://polypores.bandcamp.com/

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