By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Reginal Hill at Harrogate in 2010.
My crime-writing colleagues have been writing sadly, lovingly, admiringly and eloquently about Reg Hill, and I can’t pass up the chance to say what a wonderful writer and delightful man we have lost. I venerated him greatly and loved his company. It was my proudest moment as a crime writer when he proposed me as a member of the Detection Club. I wish I could remember the affectionate jibes he directed at me in his speech.
Reg was erudite, cultivated and a master of the English language, but he wore his learning so lightly and wittily that it was reminiscent of a soufflé surprise. He could be authoritative, but he was never ever pompous. He laughed affectionately at himself, at his friends, at the world and at his characters. When he described himself as being at the Jane Austen end of the crime-writing spectrum he meant he didn’t go in for torrid sex or graphic violence. But of course the comparison works at a much deeper level. Like Jane, Reg was a wise and amused observer of the human condition who had great compassion but a subversive pen and utterly despised pretention.
I was a happy member of the audience at Harrogate in 2009 for his memorable discussion with John Banville. He had wondered in an email what they could talk about. ‘Dare I suggest that as Iris Murdoch got a full Booker for The Sea! The Sea! he should only have got half a one for The Sea? Maybe not…’ Continue reading
By Julia Wisdom, HarperCollins
I was immensely privileged to be Reginald Hill’s editor for eighteen years. He was erudite, versatile, witty, endlessly inventive and deeply humane – an elegant and profoundly intelligent writer who remained very much his own man.
The first book I published by him was Pictures of Perfection, a playful homage to Jane Austen, and the last was The Woodcutter, a compelling revenge tragedy described in The Times as ‘an outstanding novel of force and beauty’. In between came a veritable feast of riches, the highlight being (for me) the extraordinary On Beulah Height, a magical novel which wove together past and present, music and tragedy, the loss of children with children’s fables, and passionately evoked landscape and vivid narrative voices, even Reg’s own, Yorkshire-set, lyrics to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. This was a book that moved me and, I suspect, many others to tears, and I’ll never forget how it felt to read that typescript for the first time. Continue reading
By Stephen Booth
Aside from his stature as a writer, there’s one characteristic of Reginald Hill that everyone seems to agrees one – his generosity of spirit and unfailing willingness to support other writers. So it seems fitting that one of the most succinct summaries of his approach to writing a crime novel didn’t appear in any tribute to Reg, or in an interview with him, or in anything that he said about himself. It appeared in an appreciation of another author’s work.
I felt I’d been given a fascinating glimpse into the Reginald Hill crime writing philosophy, when I read these words: “Good crime fiction is economical, which does not mean short but rather that everything in a book, however apparently peripheral, incidental, or even ornamental, should contribute to the story’s central dynamic. If a writer is successful in this, readers will finish the book with that contradictory sense of delight and disappointment – delight at having enjoyed such a complete and rounded experience, and disappointment that it’s over!”
I think the idea of the “central dynamic” is crucial to an understanding of Reginald Hill’s novels. Some crime writers (and indeed editors) might insist that nothing should be in a book which doesn’t contribute directly to moving the plot forward. But for Hill, there was more to a book than the plot. That “central dynamic” was about an idea, a theme, or an underlying concept. The unravelling of a mystery was a very important part of that concept, but not the whole of it. All those peripheral, incidental or ornamental elements were crucial to the story too. So each Hill book became, to use his own words, “a complete and rounded experience”. Continue reading
By Val McDermid
When Reginald Hill died in January, I lost a friend, a colleague and a hero. It’s hard for a writer to be completely aware of their influences; it’s often easier for readers and critics to see what we’ve absorbed and reflected back from the books we’ve been drawn to. But I can point to a handful of writers whose work in one way or another helped to shape me. Reg was one of those.
I can still remember the delight of discovering Dalziel and Pascoe in A Clubbable Woman. It was one of those Grafton paperbacks with the uninspiring covers. I was in the café of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester where I used to hide from my newsroom colleagues so I could read instead of drink during my lunch break.
As I read, I realised I was smiling. But not because of the sly wit that permeates Reg’s writing. I was smiling because I had in my hands that rare thing – a crime novel that demonstrated that it’s possible to write a detective novel in good prose. Well-made sentences, felicitous choices of words, and the ability to create deft shifts of mood all revealed a level of literary craft that was unusual in British crime fiction back in the mid 80s.
For me, a fledgling crime writer struggling with her first novel, it set the bar high. And as Reg developed his skills through an impressive series of novels, he continued to provide me with a target to aim at. I always felt he was several steps ahead of me, and as well as enjoying his work, I learned from each of his novels. How to mislead the reader. How to draw on other writers’ work to enrich my own. Not to be afraid to invest real emotion in the work. How to allow characters to carry the weight of their past. To have the courage to be complicated. Continue reading
By Margaret Murphy
Ellie Pascoe (Susannah Corbett) at her wedding to Peter.
By my calculation, the BBC adapted 14 of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels, but this changed after On Beulah Height. The producers decided to write Ellie Pascoe out of the TV series (in the storyline, Pascoe and Ellie divorce, and she moves to the USA with daughter Rosie). If memory serves, Susannah Corbett’s other acting commitments were cited as an excuse for writing her out. It was a mistake, and my own feeling was that television at the time was nervous of complexity, and a strong woman in the teleplay was just too demanding. And Reg Hill did write wonderfully strong, vibrant women – even his apparently weak females are capable of whipping round and slapping you about the chops with your stereotypical notions. Susannah Corbett met Reg and Pat Hill at the press launch of Dalziel and Pascoe. ‘As I walked in,’ she told me, ‘two very normal and unassuming looking people (quite out of place for a press launch) accosted me, shouting “It’s Ellie – you’re just how we imagined you.” That remains the greatest compliment I have ever been paid.’ It was typical, too of Reg’s generosity of spirit.
When Arms and the Women was published in the USA, Random House had a Q&A on their website. Asked for his thoughts on the TV adaptations, Reg paid tribute to the skills of the actors, directors and scriptwriters, but added, ‘TV is too self-absorbed to enter into an equal partnership. You start close and cosy enough but soon you realize you’re not getting your fair share of the duvet and one day you wake to find you’re lying at the very edge of the bed, totally exposed to the chill morning air.’ I laughed when I read this, but I laughed harder at Reg’s response when he was asked at a conference how he felt about the loss of Ellie from the TV adaptations. The TV producers had made their decision: Ellie was gone, Rosie was gone, and there was nothing Reg could do about it. We would have forgiven him for raging – many of the audience were fuming on his behalf – but Reg made his point far more eloquently and decisively, and with his trademark wit. He said he decided to write his next novel centred firmly on Ellie. I remember the wicked gleam in his eye as Reg looked around the audience. ‘Adapt that!’ he said. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
By Pauline Rowson
Link to Amazon for re-issued PB in the UK.
I first discovered Reginald Hill in 1978. I was ill and my husband, home on leave from the armed forces, bought A Clubbable Woman (first published in 1970) to cheer me up. From that moment on I was hooked not only on Dalziel and Pascoe but on everything Hill wrote. As soon as a new novel was published I’d be there buying it in hardback.
Reginald Hill is without doubt one of my favourite crime writers and a major inspiration behind my own crime writing career. Clever and witty, you only have to read his Bio on his web site to get a glimpse of his style, “The year of my birth was 1936 and not long after the event, the king abdicated. Despite the rumours, the two events were probably not related”.
Although best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe novels I also love his thrillers, particularly The Long Kill, published in 1986 written under his pseudonym of Patrick Ruell, which features a retired hitman, Jaysmith, who soon discovers that retiring is not an option. Continue reading