James Herbert, a British sci-fi and horror writer who sold 54 million books in his lifetime beginning with The Rats, has died. He was 69.

His publisher, Pan Macmillan, confirmed that he died at his home in Sussex, southern England, on Wednesday, but did not give a cause of death.

The Rats, published in 1974, depicted a London overrun by mutant flesh-eating rodents. It was an immediate hit selling 100,000 copies in two weeks.

He wrote three sequels to The RatsLair, The City and Domain – all sci-fi efforts in which he imagined a future in which mutant rats overrun humans.

His dystopian vision also lead to novels such as ’48, an alternate history in which the Nazis have taken over the U.K.

Herbert dabbled in supernatural phenomena with novels such as The Survivor and Haunted. His more recent novel The Secret of Crickley Hall, about a haunted country house with a history of zealotry and child abuse, became a BBC mini-series.

His latest book, Ash, was published last week.

Jeremy Trevathan, his editor for 10 years, remembered Herbert as one of the "one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th century."  

"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," he added.

Herbert wrote 23 novels, turning out one a year in the 1970s and 1980s. The Survivor, Fluke, Haunted and The Rats all became movies.

Born in London's East End on April 8, 1943, Herbert won a scholarship to St Aloysius Grammar School at the age of 10. At college he studied graphic design and went on to work at an advertising agency. He designed his own book jackets and publicity materials throughout his career.

Herbert was named Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010 and also was named Grand Master of Horror by the World of Horror Convention.  

He is survived by his wife Eileen and three daughters.