A Personal Memory: Reginald Hill

By Ann Cleeves

My first memory of meeting Reg Hill was at a CWA Northern Chapter Symposium in a hotel in Grasmere in the late eighties or early nineties.  He’d organised the weekend and it represented him perfectly: extremely comfortable, very sociable and quite unpretentious.  The food was wonderful and there was plenty to drink.  I was new to the association and Reg made me feel welcome.  He even bought one of my early books.  Even then I knew that the novel was dreadful and I was mortified.  Reg must have realised that after the first page, but typically never mentioned it again.  Tall and quietly spoken, a perfect gentleman, he could have been a hero in a classic detective story.  Except perhaps for his wicked and irreverent sense of humour.

Reg was one of the greats of British crime-writing, but he didn’t become a star overnight.  I first came across his work through a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour adaptation and even then his books weren’t widely available.  He kept his day job as a lecturer and perhaps because he bumped into people of all ages at work, his observational skills were brilliantly sharp.  He understood people’s frailties and petty jealousies and was one of the few writers in any genre who could make me laugh out loud.  Some authors can craft words well on a page but are less confident when they speak.  Reg was a superb speaker.  At one award ceremony he followed a writer who was somewhat long-winded and self-congratulatory.  In a few sentences Reg had the audience in stitches and cheering in admiration.

I met Reg for the last time at a Detection Club dinner.  He’d agreed to provide a blurb for one of my Shetland books – this one he’d managed to read to the end – and I was moved and very grateful.  We talked about the mixed blessing of having books adapted for television.  He was witty and generous and everyone in the room wanted to talk to him.

Crime-writing is famous for its friendliness, but publishing can be a bitchy business too.  It’s a testament to Reg’s writing and to his sense of fun that I’ve never heard anyone, not a reader nor a writer nor an editor, speak about him with anything less than affection.  He was a great writer and a lovely man.

Ann Cleeves is a prolific writer of crime fiction, currently best known for her Shetland Quartet and her Vera Stanhope novels which have now made it to the TV screen in the series Vera.  She has twice been short listed for a CWA Dagger Award – once for her short story The Plater, and the following year for the Dagger in the Library award.  In 2006 Ann was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland Quartet.