Friday, 13 January 2012
Reginald Hill R.I.P.
I write this post with a very heavy heart, since I learned not long ago that Reg Hill died yesterday. He is an author I admired enormously – this week, by coincidence, I’ve been re-reading Pascoe’s Ghost – and I was proud to call him a friend. I’ve written about his work on a good many occasions, and his latest novel, The Woodcutter, was one of his very best. But what I want to do right now is just say a few words about the man himself.
When I first met Reg, on a memorable Sunday in Yorkshire nearly 25 years ago, he was already established as a prolific and highly successful author, although his greatest literary achievements still lay in the future. A couple of days earlier, I’d just finished reading a review copy of his short stories, There Are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union, and it was terrific to have the chance to talk to him, and his always charming wife Pat, at a lunch that marked the very first meeting of the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. Reg christened the group who met that day “the few”, and those who attended became my first friends in the crime writing community.
What I found then, and what never changed, was that Reg in person was exceptionally intelligent, but never condescending, strong-minded and honest but unfailingly generous, and, despite appearing on occasion to be quiet and reserved, quite simply, the wittiest person I’ve ever met.
We met many times after that – the photo was taken at Harrogate a couple of years ago, shortly after his famous conversation with John Banville - and most recently at a Detection Club dinner in London. He showed me many kindnesses, not least writing a fantastic intro to a collection of my short stories, and writing brand new stories of the highest quality when I sought contributions for anthologies. He also gave me a lot of very good advice, even though he maintained generally that the only advice that one writer should give to another is: "Don't wait for the post." (One specific piece of advice he gave me, I have yet to follow, but one day I will, and I bet he'll be proved right.) He even put me in touch with a TV company who were interested in filming a series set in the Lake District and who had initially approached him. Mind you, he also relished breaking the news to me on one occasion that he was working on a book to be called Killing the Lawyers.
For years, he chaired the sub-committee that short-lists notable crime writers for the CWA Diamond Dagger, and persuaded me to join; I found I was, in fact, the only other member. His theory was that committees should always be small, and in that, as in so many other judgments, he was wise. Suffice to say that, although his standards were properly exacting, he was the easiest and most agreeable of colleagues, and reaching a consensus on our short-list was always the prelude to a thoroughly enjoyable conversation on other things.
I have a great many happy memories of time spent with Reg Hill, including at a number of week-end conferences he organised in his beloved Lake District, and I have no doubt that, as well as missing him, I’ll often reflect in future on how lucky I was to get to know one of the most gifted British crime writers of the past half-century. But for now, it feels so sad that the world has lost a brilliant novelist, that many of us have lost a true friend, and most of all that Pat has lost a wonderful husband.