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Susan (Elizabeth) Hill Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Scarborough, Yorkshire, 1942. Education: Grammar schools in Scarborough and Coventry; King's College, University of London, B.A. (honours) in English 1963. Career: Since 1963 full-time writer: since 1977 monthly columnist, Daily Telegraph, London. Presenter, Bookshelf radio program, 1986-87. Awards: Maugham award, 1971; Whitbread award, 1972; Rhys Memorial prize, 1972. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1972, and King's College, 1978.



The Enclosure. London, Hutchinson, 1961.

Do Me a Favour. London, Hutchinson, 1963.

Gentleman and Ladies. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1968; New York, Walker, 1969.

A Change for the Better. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1969.

I'm the King of the Castle. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Viking Press, 1970.

Strange Meeting. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1971; New York, Saturday Review Press, 1972.

The Bird of Night. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1972; New York, Saturday Review Press, 1973.

In the Springtime of the Year. London, Hamish Hamilton, and NewYork, Saturday Review Press, 1974.

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983; Boston, Godine, 1986.

Air and Angels. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1991.

The Mist in the Mirror. London, Mandarin, 1993.

Mrs. de Winter. London, Sinclair Stevenson, and Thorndike, Maine, Thorndike Press, 1993.

The Service of Clouds. London, Vintage, 1999.

Short Stories

The Albatross and Other Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1971;New York, Saturday Review Press, 1975.

The Custodian. London, Covent Garden Press, 1972.

A Bit of Singing and Dancing. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1973.

Lanterns Across the Snow (novella). London, Joseph, 1987; NewYork, Potter, 1988.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Kielty's," in Winter's Tales 20, edited by A.D. Maclean. London, Macmillan, 1974; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1975.


Lizard in the Grass (broadcast 1971; produced Edinburgh, 1988).Included in The Cold Country and Other Plays for Radio, 1975.

The Cold Country and Other Plays for Radio (includes The End of Summer, Lizard in the Grass, Consider the Lilies, Strip Jack Naked). London, BBC Publications, 1975.

On the Face of It (broadcast 1975). Published in Act 1, edited byDavid Self and Ray Speakman, London, Hutchinson, 1979.

The Ramshackle Company (for children; produced London, 1981).

Chances (broadcast 1981; produced London, 1983).

Radio Plays:

Taking Leave, 1971; The End of Summer, 1971; Lizard in the Grass, 1971; The Cold Country, 1972; Winter Elegy, 1973; Consider the Lilies, 1973; A Window on the World, 1974; Strip Jack Naked, 1974; Mr. Proudham and Mr. Sleight, 1974; On the Face of It, 1975; The Summer of the Giant Sunflower, 1977; The Sound That Time Makes, 1980; Here Comes the Bride, 1980; Chances, 1981; Out in the Cold, 1982; Autumn, 1985; Winter, 1985; I am the King of the Castle, Susan Hill, London, Longman, 1990.

Television Plays:

Last Summer's Child, from her story "The BadnessWithin Him," 1981.

Other (for children)

One Night at a Time. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984; as Go Away, Bad Dreams!, New York, Random House, 1985.

Mother's Magic. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Suzy's Shoes. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989.

I Won't Go There Again. London, Walker Books, 1990.

Septimus Honeydew. London, Walker Books, 1990.

Stories from Codling Village. London, Walker Books, 1990.

The Collaborative Classroom. with Tim Hill. Portsmouth, NewHampshire, Heinemann, 1990.

Beware, Beware, with illustrations by Angela Barrett. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick Press, and London, Walker, 1993.

The Christmas Collection, with illustrations by John Lawrence. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick Press, and London, Walker, 1994.

The Glass Angels. London, Walker, 1991. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick, 1992.

White Christmas. London, Walker, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick, 1994.

King of Kings. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick, 1993;London, Walker Books, 1994.

Can It Be True? A Christmas Story. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Viking Kestrel, 1988.

A Very Special Birthday. London, Walker, 1992.


The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1982; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1983.

Through the Kitchen Window. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984.

Through the Garden Gate. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Shakespeare Country, photographs by Rob Talbot. London, Joseph, 1987.

The Lighting of the Lamps. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987.

The Spirit of the Cotswolds, photographs by Nick Meers. London, Joseph, 1988.

Family. London, Joseph, 1989; New York, Viking, 1990.

Crown Devon: The History of S. Fielding and Co. Stratford UponAvon, Jazz, 1993.

Diana: The Secret Years, with Simone Simmons. New York, BallantineBooks, 1998.

Editor, The Distracted Preacher and Other Tales, by Thomas Hardy. London, Penguin, 1979.

Editor, with Isabel Quigly, New Stories 5. London, Hutchinson, 1980.

Editor, People: Essays and Poems. London, Chatto and Windus, 1983.

Editor, Ghost Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Editor, The Parchment Moon: An Anthology of Modern Women's Short Stories. London, Joseph, 1990; as The Penguin Book of Modern Women's Short Stories, 1991.

Editor, The Walker Book of Ghost Stories. London, Walker Books, 1990; as The Random House Book of Ghost Stores, New York, Random House, 1991.

Editor, Contemporary Women's Short Stories. London, Joseph, 1995.


Manuscript Collections:

Eton College Library, Windsor, Berkshire.

Critical Studies:

Susan Hill: I'm the King of the Castle by Hana Sambrook, London, Longman, 1992.

* * *

One striking feature of Susan Hill's novels is the wide-ranging diversity of the experience they depict; and another, a maturity of understanding remarkable in a writer who began publishing her work at the age of only 19.

From the first she has shown a painful awareness of the dark abysses of the spirit—fear, grief, loneliness, and loss. A recurring early theme is that of lives warped and ruined by the selfishness of maternal domination. In A Change for the Better Deirdre Fount struggles in vain to break the shackles of dependence forged by her overbearing mother. The boy Duncan in the short story "The Albatross" is the impotent victim of a similar situation, dogged by the mother-created image of his own inadequacy. Driven finally over the brink of desperation, he does achieve his desired freedom, however brief, through a climactic act of violence.

Hill has always been especially perceptive in her portrayal of children. One of her most memorable novels, I'm the King of the Castle, is a penetrating study of mounting tensions in a bitter conflict between two eleven-year-old boys. This arises when a widower engages a new housekeeper, who brings with her a son the same age as his own. The peevish weakling already in possession is outraged at this invasion of his cherished territory, and in a subtle campaign of persecution, relentlessly hounds the hapless intruder towards an inevitably tragic denouement.

Hill's sensitive insight into the behavior and motivations of the young is matched by equal acuteness in delineating the problems and attitudes of those at the opposite end of the human life-span. Gentleman and Ladies, a novel simultaneously funny and sad, observes with a shrewdly amused yet compassionate eye the daily life and personalities of the inmates of an old people's home. The same intuitive sympathy informs the short story called "Missy." Through a dying woman's fragmentary memories—frustratingly interrupted by the ministrations of brisk nurse and single visitor—the author intimately identifies with the thought-processes of extreme age.

Hill's gift of imaginative projection into worlds of experience far removed from her own is nowhere more apparent than in Strange Meeting. Probably her most notable tour de force, this is set in the trenches of Flanders during the 1914-18 war, and depicts with power, and at times almost intolerable poignancy, the doomed friendship of two young officers drawn together by their mutual daily contact with destruction and imminent death. There is also an irresistible attraction between opposite temperaments and family backgrounds: the reserved, introspective Hilliard finding inhibition magically thawed in the warmth of his companion Barton's easy, outgoing generosity.

The impact of actuality in this novel, both in its factual detail and the immediacy of involvement in the responses of combatants, is an astonishing achievement for a young woman. Strange Meeting also exemplifies Hill's capacity—comparatively rare among women novelists either past or present—for the convincing depiction of life from a male viewpoint. The Bird of Night is another highly original novel of great intensity which surveys a close relationship between two men. The central character is a poet, Francis Croft, whose tormented struggle against intermittent but increasing insanity is chronicled by the withdrawn scholar Lawson, whose life becomes devoted to care of his friend. The first-person masculine narrative of The Woman in Black, published after a silence of some years in her career as a novelist, provides a further instance of this aspect of Hill's talent. An atmospherically charged ghost story, it is related in a formal, rather stately past idiom, although carefully unlocated in any particular time. Full of Jamesian echoes and undercurrents, it traces with chilling compulsiveness the progress of a mysterious and sinister haunting.

Her adventurous charting of such varied areas of experience—childhood and old age, loyalties between men, the horrors of war and of insanity—demonstrates this versatile writer's ability to participate truthfully in many states of mind and conditions of life. But this does not preclude her treatment of the more conventionally "feminine" subject. Perhaps more than any of her books, In the Springtime of the Year has a direct appeal for a readership of women. Its heroine is a young widow cruelly bereaved after a short and happy marriage; and it movingly explores the successive stages of her grief, from initial angry refusal to accept the fact of loss through a gradual coming to terms and adjustment to her changed situation. The surrounding countryside, evoked with poetic precision, plays a key role in Ruth's final renewal of hope. This echoes the author's own belief in the restoring influence of rural rhythms and simplicities, reflected in her volumes of essays, such as The Magic Apple Tree, Through the Kitchen Window, and Through the Garden Gate.

Mrs. De Winter constitutes a sequel to Daphne du Maurier's 1938 classic Rebecca, but adds little to the original. With The Service of Clouds, Hill offers a tale of a woman's journey from girlhood, through triumphs and misfortunes to the time when she seemingly sees her hopes fulfilled in her son. But the story of Florence Hennessey is executed in the manner of an archetype, with few specific details, as though Hill intended to make it an Ur-version of a distinctly female Bildungsroman. The results are uneven; still, as with her effort to sequelize Daphne du Maurier, one lauds Hill for the courage of her attempt.

—Margaret Willy

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