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.

27 comments:

Patrick said...

Martin, I am very sorry to hear this news. I have never read a book by Reginald Hill before, but I will definitely read something in his honour. He sounds like he was a fine person and I can only imagine the sorrow you must feel.

crimeficreader said...

It's very sad. A fine man has passed. Wonderful piece, Martin.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - A fine, fine tribute to a true talent. He will be missed.

Michael Walters said...

Really shocked by this news. I've been a huge fan of his work for years, but never had the chance to meet him. Sad to think that now I never will. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Juxtabook said...

A lovely tribute Martin. I love Reginald Hill's books - a truly literary crime writer who was so often so innovative. It is not many writers who combine pushing the boundaries with simply being a damn good read.

Kerrie said...

Very sad news. Thanks for the tribute Martin.

Doug Greene said...

Martin -- Very eloquent comments. he was one of the giants. I met him 3, perhaps 4, times, and he was unfailingly warm, kind, and generous.

Josa Young said...

Lovely tribute. I became a fan last year when looking for some well written comfort reading. He has taken me through many a dark day happily - reading The Stranger House this week.

thousandmonkeys said...

Sad news indeed. Crime fiction has lost a much-loved author but his vast body of work and his influence will outlive us all, I'm sure.

Jane Gill said...

Thank you for the tribute Martin, I am very sorry to hear this news and my thoughts are with Pat at this time.
I met Reg in the 1980s through my father and their walking group, called by Reg 'Geriatrics B' We don't know who the 'A' was! He was great company and a fine man.
I also enjoyed Reg's books and now must read some of his more recent ones. I remember the excitement when he was awarded the Diamond Dagger.

Deb said...

Oh, I am so sorry to hear about Hill's passing. I don't think anyone could write with Hill's level of, well, the best words I can think of are affectionate humanity without being a truly decent person along with a great writer. I certainly hope there are still a couple of Dalziel & Pascoe books in the pipeline.

seana said...

I thank you for that post. I have read a fair number of his novels, but I have a sister and a friend who each think the mystery world pretty much begins and ends with his work. They will be deeply saddened, and I can't imagine what it must be like for you and others who knew him as a friend.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I'd just read of his death on the news - what a lovely tribute, Martin. He sounds a great man and will be missed by many.

Jessica Mann said...

Oh, how sad I as to hear of Reg's death. A friend and colleague for many years,he was always kind, courteous, interested and interesting - a truly lovable and admirable man. (And, I think, one of the best crime writers of our time.)Alas.

jiescribano said...

Thank you Martin for this fine tribute

Janet O'Kane said...

A lovely personal tribute, Martin. Reg Hill was my first crimewriting 'hero' and On Beulah Heights is still in my top 3 crime novels of all time.
I remember how brilliantly, yet politely, he skewered John Banville's pretentions at Harrogate. He'll be missed by fans and friends alike.

Paul Johnston said...

Well said, Martin. I only ever met him briefly, but am a fan of fat Andy and thin Pete. I read Death's Jest-Book only last week. I'm not laughing now. RIP

Bob Cornwell said...

A sad day for UK crime fiction.I met him briefly at the last Shots on the Page in 1997 (where you had interviewed him), several years after he had completed a CADS Questionnaire.
I still have the two charming, handwritten letters, along with the
haphazardly (type-) written replies he sent me (In favour of the
death penalty? "No, but yes for dishonest politicians!"). I gave him the option of two photographs to illustrate the feature: an 'urbane' version culled from Harry Keating's Whodunit, or 'a rather more tousled, fell-walking? version from the publicity material for Recalled to Life'. He chose the latter" 'at the moment. Time enough to return to ubanity when my legs give in." I like to think he got in quite a few more fell-walks before that happened. R.I.P

Kacper said...

I'm so, so sorry to hear of this. I can't quite believe there will never be another new Dalziel and Pascoe adventure - Hill just kept getting better and better with each book. My utmost condolences to all those who knew and loved him.

Pauline Rowson said...

Reginald Hill was one of my favourite crime writers, a great inspiration to me. I have all his books including some signed copies and re-read them time and time again. Although I never met him we corresponded and I'll always be grateful to him for his encouragement in my crime writing career. He has left a great legacy. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

Anonymous said...

As a passionate reader of the British mystery genre, I feel crushed.Reginald Hill was one of the greatest mystery writers of all time.Thank you for hours of immense pleasure. Rest in peace.

Sue said...

Truly sorry to hear this news, he leaves a big gap in crime fiction.

A generous and warm tribute from you for a clearly well regarded and likeable man.

Nan said...

So beautifully written, and so very sad.

Martin Edwards said...

Thank you for your kind comments.
It's clear from these, and also various calls and emails I've had that Reg touched many lives, and was absolutely a force for good in the world.
Bob, I vividly recall that Nottingham weekend in 97 - he was the perfect interviewee, of course.
The comments of Jessica, Paul, and other writers who either knew him well or met him relatively infrequently show how high he stood in the estimation of his fellow authors.

J said...

Thank you for sharing your personal memories of Mr Hill--it makes him more than just a name to those of us readers who enjoy his work, but never had the opportunity to meet him, or even hear him speak.

Paul Beech said...

Martin, this is sad news indeed.

I first encountered Reginald Hill’s work in a crime fiction anthology many years ago and was much impressed by the originality, ingenuity and humour of his story – it might have been ‘Snowball’, not sure. Of course those qualities are everywhere present in his novels too, and I have the impression Reg was very much a crime writer’s crime writer as well as hugely popular with the public. His characters are unforgettable, his plotting quite breathtaking, his narrative voice addictive.

Your blog post propelled me to the library this morning as I just had to read something of Reg’s. I fell into conversation with a woman there who’d heard the news but didn’t know that (as she put it) “he’d also written the Dalziel and Pascoe books”. I was staggered for a moment then remembered that Reg’s most famous series only accounted for perhaps a third of his output. Maybe she’d read his thrillers, his Joe Sixsmith mysteries or his Captain Fantom romps. Of course the thought that went through my mind was that Reg was not only a writer of real literary quality, he was highly prolific with it.

You’re so lucky to have known Reg as a friend as well as a colleague, Martin, and your tribute to him is very moving. Which brings me to a suggestion I’d like to put to you. Maybe someday, when you have the time, a good project for you to take on would be the writing of Reg’s biography. It seems to me you’d be well placed to do this and, as a crime writer, critic and lawyer, would have the perfect combination of creative, analytical and material-organisation skills to make a brilliant job of it. I hope you’ll consider it anyway.

Right now, though, all our thoughts must be with Reg’s loved ones left behind.

Paul

Dorte H said...

For me Reginald Hill was ´just´ a writer, of course, but lately I have come to admire his Dalziel and Pascoe series a lot.

I made the mistake of trying them in Danish some years ago, but I should know by now that series which feature crude working class characters should not be read in translation. So fortunately a dear uncle gave me a dozen of them in English this summer. Plenty of treasures on the shelf to look forward to.