I first met Reginald Hill in the late 1990s when we were on the same panel at Dead on Deansgate in Manchester. Reg had just published On Beulah Height, which is not only a wonderful crime novel but also an exploration of the nature and meaning of fatherhood.
My nerves were jittering because this was my first experience chairing a panel and I had admired Reg’s novels for years. He instantly put me at my ease, telling me he was rather hungover. I asked whether I should address him as Mr Hill on the panel or Reginald. He laughed and said ‘Reg’.
Years later, I was invited to interview him at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate and I leapt at the chance. We were on first thing on Saturday morning, but I had no fears about the size of the audience. Reg was always one of the most popular speakers. Because of the time, the organisers provided us with coffee and croissants, but we had so much to talk about that neither of us took a single mouthful.
Reg’s interests ranged so widely that there was never any subject on which he could not be both informative and funny. And he was always deliciously funny. However serious his novels, and a lot of them were very serious indeed, there were always jokes.
His brilliant creation of Superintendent Andy Dalziel provided a lot of the laughs. Fat Andy, with his grotesque personal habits, scratching his backside on the corner of a desk, farting, swearing, addressing young women with the most outrageous sexism, could not have been further from the man Reg revealed himself to be. And yet Fat Andy came out of Reg’s imagination. I had this fantasy that one day I would find the question that would unlock some hidden chamber in his mind and he would come out with a wicked Dalzielism.
It never happened. Whenever we met, in public or private, he was always courtesy personified.
I thoroughly enjoyed almost all his novels and reviewed quite a few. Even when I ventured to express a criticism – or failed to get the point of one of his jokes – he never protested and always greeted me with his usual wonderful smile and a friendly kiss on the cheek.
And I loved so many of his novels. I shall always be glad that I was allowed by the Times Literary Supplement to review The Woodcutter, his last and one of his most moving. He must already have been ill by the time it was published, but I had no idea. I read the novel and was overcome with admiration, concluding my review with:
‘The Woodcutter works as romance, fairy tale and tragedy, as well as being one of the most gripping crime novels of the past few years.’
I was then given the great privilege of speaking about Reg at Harrogate two years ago, when he was presented with a lifetime award.
Reg Hill lit up the lives of his fellow crime writers with his wit, erudition, gentleness and huge generosity. We all miss him terribly.
Natasha Cooper is the author of the Willow King and Trish Maguire series of crime novels. She is now writing as N J Cooper and her latest novel, Vengeance in Mind, is published in July. She chaired the CWA in 1999-2000 and reviews and broadcasts when she’s not writing novels.