Not many people in Gilford realise that one of their former ‘sons’ is a millions-selling author with 112 books under his belt – an amazing range of tomes translated into dozens of languages.
Eager readers (10 million over the years) from Japan, America, France, Italy, Germany – about 50 countries in all – have read the words of Herbie Brennan, 73, a former Portadown College student, ex-Portadown Times-Lurgan Mail journalist – and whose books range from the dark occult to children’s bedtime stories.
Elder statesmen and women of the village will remember that his mum Sadie used to run a family grocery store in Dunbarton Street. Her husband died when Herbie was just four and he now lives in a former Rectory in Tullow, County Carlow, in Ireland’s Deep South.
His literary genius was manifested in the Portadown College yearly magazine – a cautionary tale called ‘The Horrifying Fate of Hairy Herbie’. Always something of a rebel, he was the first PC student to grow a beard, and had the presence and personality to get away with it, the Headmaster Donald Woodman somehow turning a blind eye.
Prior to the school dance circa 1957, our hero was set upon by Gillette razor brandishing classmates, the main protagonist being Carlo Tortolani (of Scots-Italian descent who later died in a road accident). He whacked off half the beard, with Herbie having to shave the rest himself. (Sweeney Tortolani, he called the Razor Man in his magazine masterpiece).
Herbie moved from PC to the Portadown News, then the Times, then then as editor of the Ulster Star (Lisburn) and Scene Magazine (Dublin), all under the ownership of the legendary Jim Morton, proprietor supreme. He worked with characters like Douglas Sloan, Brian Courtney, David Armstrong, Billy Austin and Louis Malcolm along the road to fame.
After Scene closed in Dublin, he “sold my soul to advertising for a while” and then indulged in stage hypnotism in a weight loss firm for a spell, “before having to get a real job by the time I was 30 as I had a wife and two kids to look after”.
The inspiration to become an author arrived one night when he had an “out of body experience”. “I was in bed and had to go to the loo, but my arm went through the door, I looked at the bed and I was still lying there, so I had to wake myself up.”
Whether it was Herbie himself or the spirit who enjoyed the blessed relief he wasn’t saying. But he researched the phenomenon, discovered that one person in five had out of body stories to tell, and the result was ‘Astral Doorways’ on that very subject, and Aquarian Publishers (which was later sold on to Harper Collins) gratefully grabbed it. A best-seller of the time, it is still in print.
As the years rolled by, variety was the spice of Herbie’s lively books, with diverse subjects like Reincarnation, Occult Practice, Atlantis, Pre-historic Egypt, and “weird true stories” the products of his ingenious mind.
Then, in the 1980s, he made a major breakthrough in William Collins Publishers with the celebrated Games Books for Children, where they tracked their own destiny via adventure. The books gathered momentum with ‘The Grail Quest series’ selling 10,000 in the UK, 50,000 in Japan and an unthought-of four million in France.
He established himself in the children’s market – from picture books to school curriculum non-fiction. Next it was the teenage market where his novel, Faerie Wars, also rocketed to international success, achieving best-seller status in more than 20 overseas editions, and was voted Number One Top Ten Teenage Pick in the United States and listed as a New York Times Best Seller title.
His latest book is ‘Whisperer – Secret History of the Spirit World’, selling well in the UK and America, and his next project is an adult book, the plot of which is still being worked on. “It’s been quite an eclectic career,” said Herbie. “It don’t like to dwell too long on the same genre.”
Herbie is married to the Master Medical Herbalist, author and psychotherapist, Jacquie Burgess, and has two daughters from a previous marriage, Aynia and Sian.
Many of his books are available on Amazon for the Kindle market.