About Susan Hill
Susan Hill's writing career has encompassed acclaimed literary novels, ghost stories, children's books, detective novels and memoirs. She has won the Whitbread, Somerset Maugham and John Llewelyn Rhys awards, as well as having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Woman in Black, her terrifying ghost story, is still running as a play in the West End and is now a successful film. Here, she writes about her life and inspiration.
I was born beside the North Sea, in Scarborough, Yorkshire one bitterly cold winter during WWII, when the snow was deep and the waves were crashing onto the cliffs not far away.
How much do we carry with us of our birth - the when and the where ? I certainly carry with me all the stories I was told about that day, that winter. But Scarborough, where I lived and rarely left until I was 16, is not the mere background but the whole setting of all my childhood memories. So many of my novels and short stories feature it, though always in disguise - feature the sea, and seaside places. Growing up in an unusual place gives a writer a big advantage because the imagination is stimulated and intrigued by everything in and about it from the beginning.
I went to Scarborough Convent Grammar School, another advantage. Educationally it was patchy, but there were inspiring teachers. Being in a place which was home to the strangely clothed (not strange to us, of course, just normal) nuns was another stimulus to the imagination. It still is.
We moved to the Midlands, where I took A levels, and then I went to university - King's College, London - to read English. That was in 1960, when there were still pea souper fogs, known as London Particulars, newspapers were still printed on hot metal in Fleet Street, just nearby, and the river Thames, which runs below the building, was a busy thoroughfare of working ships, on their way to and from the Docks.
London cannot have changed greatly since the time of Dickens, and the skyline had only been altered by the Blitz of twenty years earlier. Bomb sites were still everywhere, Rachman rented out slum tenements in slummy Notting Hill, to the West Indian immigrants who were not welcome in better houses - but the Sixties began while I was a student. Mary Quant lived a stone's throw from my student hostel, I once stood next to Rudolf Nureyev in a record shop, and my room mate, a beautiful singing student, was picked up by Stephen Ward, of Profumo Case fame, and taken to a party. She lived to tell the tale.
I loved London then. I loved the books I was reading, and the college and my friends in the hostel, but I felt like a fish out of water all the same, and I shrank from much student life. But those days too are etched in my memory and fired my imagination. By then I had written my first novel, which was published during my first academic year, and I wrote the second alongside reading for my degree. Both very bad books but best to have got them out of the way when young, and at least they put me on the ladder.
Since then, I have written and published 56 books. I have been a reviewer for almost every newspaper and journal and done a stint of three years as books editor and sole reviewer on a local paper. I have won and judged literary prizes. I have moved from a Midlands city to Warwickshire small towns - Leamington Spa and Stratford upon Avon - both of which I loved, to Oxford and a village outside it, then to Gloucestershire and a beautiful farmhouse set in forty acres of gently undulating Cotswold landscape. And finally, back to the sea - in 2013, I moved to North Norfolk.
I married the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells in 1975, and we have two adult daughters, Jessica and Clemency. Our middle daughter, Imogen, was born prematurely, and died at the age of five weeks. Jessica is a novelist - Jessica Ruston, and married, with a small daughter, Lila Grace Hermia. Clemency works for the human rights charity Reprieve and has lived in both California and New Orleans. And I go on writing and reading - the one feeds the other every day, and the east coast and the sea sound through my dreams and my books, as they always did.