My reading of Susan Hill’s work began and then came to abrupt end as a child, when I read a collection of Ghost Stories, which I think was edited by this mistress of the genre. It was great. Fittingly, I can’t locate it within the bookshelves dispersed throughout my mother’s house: although mum now has a new addition to her library, purchased yesterday, Hill’s “Howard’s End is on the Landing”, a book about Hill’s books (book’s Hill has never read, forgotten she’d owned or wanted to read again). Following the talk, Hill signed this book for my mum “To Adele, one convent girl to another…”, for they were both educated at Scarborough Convent, a school Hill extolled for encouraging the gals to pursue their dreams.
Susan Hill is by nature a determined writer who stresses the importance of luck. And evidently, despite the appealing story of “The Woman in Black”, it was luck that propelled the book into the spotlight, thanks to the foresight of Stephen Mallatratt of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where it was first adapted for the stage in the 1980’s. (NB I am yet to read Susan Hill’s adult works, including “The Woman in Black”, and I am not ashamed to say that I will be watching the film, next week, prior to reading it – not every opportunity is favourable to one’s standards). Talking of ghost stories as a genre, and ultimately convincing me to give them a go, Hill suggested that there is a need for us to feel frightened in the safe environment and comfort of one’s home. Gratifyingly, she also stressed another essential physical release: laughter.
So, for all the slightly sombre exterior, Susan Hill’s shell merely masked a rambunctious bundle of playful fun! I was charmed, quite enchanted in fact. Of course, she did voice everything about libraries that I too keep hammering, mostly in relation to becoming a writer (there were obviously many people in the audience that came for advice). Hill reiterated (if you didn’t already know) that LIBRARIES ARE VITAL: “How do you become a writer…” she mused at the beginning of the talk “…YOU READ! You go to the public libraries…Libraries are here for everybody.” Hill confirmed that reading must not be categorised as a mere hobby, or extra activity, encouraging instead close and attentive reading.
Hill ended her talk by comparing the merits of reading books with the benefits of e-readers and e-books; and she was fair. She stated that it is unlikely she will ever own a kindle. Two points were raised that I am pretty ashamed to say I had not considered. Firstly, the convenience for hospital / bed-ridden patients, who otherwise would have to navigate hefty stacks of books at their bedsides. Secondly, the chain of jobs that could be lost by the burgeoning of kindle books. Hill, rightly, hopes the book never dies describing it a beautiful, perfect object, paper as a lovely surface, and the accumulation of them as furnishing a room, allowing thoughtful reading. As a spokesperson for reading, I heard Hill loud and clear, and if I’m ever lost for back-up in my personal quest to support and encourage reading and the benefits of public libraries – I’ll refer my opponent to Hill (she’ll scare you into believing in the life of libraries, if nothing else).