Susan Hill, the novelist with over 150 titles and a 2012 CBE to her name delivered an engaging hour of discussion alongside Henry Sutton, in what turned out to be a real gem in UEA Literature Festival’s itinerary.
Hill began the hour with a succinct and pacy reading from her recent novella Black Sheep, a work described critically as tragic and haunting. The novel opens with compelling yet trivial descriptions of mundane minutiae in a faceless village which even Hill cannot place, yet the tone suggests that this is no light read. Hill herself describes the novel’s progression as ‘dark’. Her selection of this piece suggests a belief that this work does her skills as a writer justice, a feat she credits to her empathy for the character Ted who has every means of escape from his circumstances, apart from opportunity.
Hill was most animated when the topic of her reputation as a ‘dark’ and ‘gothic’ writer was broached. Whilst she acknowledged her tendency towards this genre, she resoundingly stated ‘I never know what sort of writer I am’. As if to prove a point, she revealed her current project of writing a crime novel to a strict Easter deadline.
There was a genuine intimacy within this exchange, Hill was open and at ease with her audience which made for a compelling hour. When quizzed by the audience about her biggest regret in her impressive career, Hill cited the rumour that she received a £1million payoff for taking on the task of writing the sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a statement she strongly dismissed. However, she described the writing process of this work as ‘a joy’. This answer acts as a testament to Hill’s career as this rumour does not slur her ability as a writer and its circulation was ultimately beyond her control.
Budding writers would have been set at ease about the prospect of a career in creative writing based on Hill’s insight into the profession. She quipped that she writes ‘when I feel like it’ and is hesitant to re-draft. She stresses a desire to write on her own terms and seems unwelcoming to the idea of being a contemporary novelist. One thing to take away from such a valuable opinion in the world of novel writing, is that setting is of crucial importance, just read Hardy’s ‘The Return of the Native’.
Hill displays an endearing and insatiable desire to continue to gift the public with her novels, although remaining coy on the specifics, indicative of the crime genre she is currently embracing.
Fans will undoubtedly be excited about her current enthusiasm for the novella form which she plans to stick to, although there is definite uncertainty about her future work.
This was undoubtedly an hour well spent with Hill skilfully leaving the audience wondering; where to next for a writer who has conquered so many genres, critics and judging panels?