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 Anne Zouroudi
Link to PB on Amazon UK.
When I was younger than I am now, Reginald Hill was a privileged resident at our house. Or at least, his novels – Deadheads and An April Shroud come immediately to mind – had homes in the family bookcase.
My mother and father, though keen readers, rarely bought books. Most books in our house were on loan, chosen on the regular Saturday afternoon run to the library. But at some point – an East Coast holiday seems the most likely time and place (Skegness or Scarborough, rather than Nantucket or New York) – my mother paid money for Reginald Hill. I see that as her vote of confidence in his reliability.
I picked up my first Reginald Hill after watching the BBC’s brilliant serialisation of Dalziel and Pascoe – Warren Clarke as a bossy and bluff Dalziel, David Royle as the craggy- faced Wield, and I fell half in love with handsome Colin Buchanan in the role of Pascoe. I was already addicted to Morse, and Dalziel and Pascoe was an interesting foil for the gentility of Oxford academia, with the rude and crude Dalziel an evil twin to the thoughtful and cultured Morse.
Dialogues of the Dead came later, but in my mind Clarke and Buchanan were forever Dalziel and Pascoe, and it was their voices I heard as I read. It’s a long book, over 550 pages, and that immediately earns my admiration. To write such a long novel takes great stamina; to maintain pace to engage the reader through such length takes an accomplished craftsman. 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 Jake Kerridge
Link to PB at Amazon UK.
Unlike some literary prizes (I’m looking at you, Booker), the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger has a noble record of rewarding the best writers for their best work. In theory then, Bones and Silence (1990), the only one of Hill’s novels to win the prize, ought to be his finest book. Julian Symons’s mighty history of crime fiction, Bloody Murder, also declared it to be Hill’s best.
I also have a sentimental reason for wanting to write about it here: it was the first Hill book I read. I was fourteen, I think, had gorged my way through pretty much all of Christie, Conan Doyle and the Father Brown stories, and was struggling to find books by contemporary crime writers that measured up.
Then I picked up a second-hand copy of Bones and Silence and my socks were blown off. Here was a writer who had much of the ingenuity of those old, dead guys I loved, but had more scope and ambition. He could be exciting, he could be moving, he could be funny, and often any combination of the three at the same time. Continue reading