Susan Elizabeth Hill is a prolific writer: the author of numerous novels, collections of short stories, non-fiction and children's fiction as well as a respected reviewer, critic, broadcaster and editor.
Above all though it has been Hill's novels - of which there are now more than a dozen - that have captured the public's imagination. Hill has a talent for storytelling, for producing what one Guardian reviewer has called 'a rattling good yarn'. A skilled editor of the work of others (see, for example, her two volume The Penguin Book of Modern Women's Short Stories (1991)), it is clear that Hill applies those editorial skills just as rigorously to her own prose. As a result, her writing reveals an enviable capacity for generating and maintaining suspense through the deployment of fast moving, agile plots. That one of her best loved novels, The Woman in Black (1983), is still running as an adaptation in London's West End, (some 25 years after it was first published!), is an indication of the seductive power of her prose.Viewed as a whole, certain patterns, images and devices can be seen recurring through Hill's varied fiction of the past forty years. Indeed, it is the repetition and recognition of familiar metaphors and tropes that constitutes one of the pleasures of her work. Typically Hill's writings revolve around wealthy, well-to-do families of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even her novels set in modern times have a 'days gone by' feel about them, such as The Various Haunts of Men (2004), which was shortlisted for the 2006 Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Somewhat like an Inspector Morse narrative, The Various Haunts of Men is set in a small cathedral town, closeted from the modernity of the city. Compared, in a positive fashion, with the serial detective fiction of P. D. James, this was the first of a new and popular crime series by Hill, that to date includes The Pure in Heart (2005), The Risk of Darkness (2006) and The Vows of Silence (2008).
Many of Hill's fictional families are dysfunctional, broken, or about to be broken and the protagonists appear isolated, or awkward in the company of others. Many of them occupy haunted properties, such as The Man in the Picture (2007) and her recent novel for younger readers, The Battle for Gullywith (2008). They centre on characters like Thomas Cavendish, the Cambridge University tutor of Air and Angels (1991), Sir James Mammoth (The Mist in the Mirror: A Ghost Story (1992)) and Arthur Kipps (The Woman in Black). These lofty figures explain something of the seductiveness of Hill's prose, which flirts at times with a romantic image of an aristocratic England, a sentimental vision of the country before (or during) the war and imperial decline. However, this is only half the story. Hill's novels are rarely, if ever, conventionally 'romantic', filled as they are with darker, more disturbing images of death, loss and haunting.Hill's early novel, I'm the King of the Castle (1970) is typical here in terms of its combination of an older, seemingly innocent Victorian England with an account of childhood greed, malevolence and evil. Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award the novel tells the story of an isolated Victorian property ('The Warings'), home to Mr. Hooper and his son Edmund. Things start to go badly wrong when a mother and her son (Kingshaw) move in. To Edmund, Kingshaw (Hill has a thing about loaded names!) is an intruder rather than a companion and must be punished for his presence. I'm the King of the Castle is a disturbing novel about the fears and fantasies of childhood, a gothic tale brimming with locked rooms, attic, moonlight and moths.It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that the darker side of Hill's work is informed by the tragic circumstances surrounding her own life, including the death of her first partner, second child and her own near-death experience (Hill is anaphylactic). Certainly childhood is a prevailing theme that haunts Hill's fiction, from I'm the King of the Castle to her most recent collection of short stories, The Boy who Taught the Beekeper to Read (2003), where a string of young boys and girls develop often unsettling relationships with older people.
In the Springtime of the Year (1974) is a semi-autobiographical novel about loss. This subtle work of fiction describes the sense of loneliness and isolation felt by Ruth following the sudden death of her husband. Shortly after the publication of this melancholy, moving text, Hill announced her retirement from writing. However, a decade later she made a memorable return to fiction in the form of The Woman in Black. The Woman in Black is essentially a ghost story. Like a number of her books, it borrows imaginatively from the styles and conventions of the nineteenth century realist novel. Many of the images and themes of the book are drawn from this tradition and will be familiar to the 'knowing' reader: the city as a site of disease, for instance. The text self-consciously signals its literary heritage through its title (a playful reversal of Wilkie Collins's Victorian ghost story, The Woman in White) and through its references and allusions to Dickens's Great Expectations: 'I had expected it [the late Mrs. Drablow's house] to be a shrine to the memory of her husband of so short a time, like the house of poor Miss Havisham'. The Woman in Black is by no means simply a faithful reproduction of the 'past masters' however. The compressed prose and the nuanced characterisation, along with the clever use of silence and the unsaid suggest that this is also very much a modern novel about modern times.
In the 1990s Susan Hill wrote a number of novels which built upon the characteristic themes of her earlier work. In 1993, Mrs De Winter was published as a sequel to Daphne Du Maurier's classic, Rebecca, further demonstrating her ability to work within and beyond traditional literary styles and conventions. Similarly her recent novella, The Beacon (2008) with its remote rural setting and family revenge narrative, deftly evokes Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Other novels, such as Air and Angels (1991) and The Mist in the Mirror (1993) describe the unsettling, life changing encounters of respectable gentlemen. Meanwhile, her most recent novel, The Service of Clouds (1998) contains a dual narrative, that shifts between the world of a mother and her son. Through the echoes and parallels that emerge between their lives we are given one of Hill's most perceptive and sensitive explorations into the psychology of family relationships.
Dr James Procter, 2009
For the abortion rights activist, see Susan Hill (activist). For the medical scientist, see Sue Hill.
Susan HillCBE (born 5 February 1942) is an English author of fiction and non-fiction works. Her novels include The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror and I'm the King of the Castle for which she received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1971. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to literature.
Early life and education
Hill was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Her home town was later referred to in her novel A Change for the Better (1969) and in some short stories like Cockles and Mussels.
She attended Scarborough Convent School, where she became interested in theatre and literature. Her family left Scarborough in 1958 and moved to Coventry where her father worked in car and aircraft factories. Hill states that she attended a girls’ grammar school, Barr's Hill. Her fellow pupils included Jennifer Page, the first Chief Executive of the Millennium Dome. At Barrs Hill, she took A levels in English, French, History, and Latin, proceeding to an English degree at King's College London. By this time, she had already written her first novel, The Enclosure, which was published by Hutchinson in her first year at the university. The novel was criticised by The Daily Mail for its sexual content, with the suggestion that writing in this style was unsuitable for a "schoolgirl".
Her next novel Gentleman and Ladies was published in 1968. This was followed in quick succession by A Change for the Better, I'm the King of the Castle, The Albatross and other stories, Strange Meeting, The Bird of Night, A Bit of Singing and Dancing and In the Springtime of the Year, all written and published between 1968 and 1974.
She was engaged to David Lepine, organist at Coventry Cathedral but he died of a coronary in 1972. In 1975, she married Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, and they moved to Stratford upon Avon. Their first daughter, author Jessica Ruston, was born in 1977, and their second daughter, Clemency, was born in 1985. A middle daughter, Imogen, was born prematurely, and died at the age of five weeks. In 2013 it was reported that she had left her husband and moved in with Barbara Machin, creator of Waking The Dead, who is adapting Hill’s crime fiction series Serrailler for ITV, and previously adapted another of Susan's works The Small Hand. However, she said that she was 'still married' to Wells in 2015. In 2016, Machin left Hill for comedienne Rhona Cameron, prompting a friend to comment to the press, "Susan is devastated and heart-broken. Barbara announced out of the blue that she was leaving her. It’s very sad. Susan still loves her and hopes she will see sense and come back."
Hill has recently founded her own publishing company, Long Barn Books, which has published two Simon Serrailler short stories and The Magic Apple Tree, all by Susan Hill, as well as The Dream Coat by Adele Geras and Colouring In by Angela Ruth.
Further information: Susan Hill bibliography
Hill's novels are written in a descriptive gothic style, especially her ghost story The Woman in Black, which was published in 1983. She has expressed an interest in the traditional English ghost story, which relies on suspense and atmosphere to create its impact, similar to the classic ghost stories by Montague Rhodes James and Daphne du Maurier. The novel was turned into a play in 1987 and continues to run in the West End of London, joining the group of plays that have run for over twenty years. It was also made into a television film in 1989, and a film by Hammer Film Productions in 2012. She wrote another ghost story with similar ingredients, The Mist in the Mirror in 1992, and a sequel to du Maurier's Rebecca entitled Mrs. De Winter in 1993.
In 2004, Hill began a series of crime novels featuring detective Simon Serrailler, entitled The Various Haunts of Men (2004). This was followed by The Pure in Heart (2005), The Risk of Darkness (2006), The Vows of Silence (2009), Shadows in the Street (2010), The Betrayal of Trust (2011), A Question of Identity (2013), The Soul of Discretion (2014) and A Breach of Security, a short story (2014) and Hero, another short story (2016). One of Hill's plays On the face of it has been included in the Indian school curriculum for the 12th grade.
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- ^"CBE". Retrieved 2012-06-15.
- ^"About Susan - Autobiography of author Susan Hill". Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- ^"Biography (part 2)". www.susan-hill.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- ^Freeman, Hadley (18 October 2003). "Cotswold chameleon". The Guardian (UK). Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- ^"The author of the most celebrated ghost story of modern times talks about wickedness, her dark new novella – and why she would never read the latest Man Booker winner", The Guardian, 25 Oct 2013 Retrieved 2016-07-03.
- ^"Husband of The Woman in Black author Susan Hill exits, stage left". Telegraph.co.uk. 8 December 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
- ^"Husband of The Woman in Black author Susan Hill exits, stage left". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
- ^Hill, Susan. "Twitter post". Twitter. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
- ^Shakeskpeare, Sebastian (20 January 2016). "Queen of the ghost story heartbroken by love split". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- ^Hill, Susan: The Beacon, dust jacket, Chatto & Windus, 2008.
- ^"Long Barn Books". longbarnbooks.com. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
- ^"The Woman in Black". susanhill.org.uk. Retrieved 14 January 2016.