Susan Hill - Q&A with the author.
Intrepid reviewer, Michael Wood is a huge fan of Susan Hill's books. To celebrate the release of the new Simon Serrailler novel, 'The Soul of Discretion' here we have a few answers from the famous author of 'The Woman in Black' herself!
Michael 1) You had achieved a very celebrated writing career before turning to crime fiction; what was the reason behind changing genre?
Susan Hill: I had never looked at my own times and I wanted and needed to do so. My literary fiction and ghost stories were about a timeless-time, but I wanted to look at what was going on in everyday life around me. The crime genre worked because it is not a clash with my other writing, and it IS about
2) M.W. The Soul of Discretion is a lot darker than the others and you tackle very sensitive issues such as rape and child abuse. Do you worry about striking the right balance?
S.H. My guiding consideration is always less is more. People have become repelled by too much graphic violence and sex and it is entirely unnecessary to do more than suggest, so although this is very dark, I have tried not to go into too much gratuitous detail. On the other hand, these are dark and terrible areas and crimes, and I wasn’t wanting to dodge the issue either. I hope I have struck the right balance but that's for the readers to judge.
3) M.W. There appears to be a running theme of alternative therapies and the health services throughout the Serrailler novels. Is this a matter close to your heart?
S.H. Medical issues are, we are all affected by them every day. We get ill, we are treated, we go into hospital, we get better or we get worse and die, those who are involved in treating and caring for us bear a grave responsibility, which is what makes medicine a vocation not just a job, I am and always have been, interested in doctors and the way they work and especially the ethical issues surrounding that. And the subject of dying and palliative care is tremendously important. Alternative medicine I have dealt with, really I don't want to look at it again.
4) M.W. There was a lot of discussion among readers about Simon Serrailler's sexuality in the early years. Are you influenced by reader feedback in plotting your next novel?
S.H. No. Otherwise I would have had every woman reader who is in love with Simon and there are a lot, marry him, or at the very least, sleep with him. I know him well and I know where I am taking him.
5) M.W. You're a literary writer and span many genres, how difficult is it to switch between them and do you work on several pieces of work at a time?
S.H. I do, in the sense that I am always thinking about and writing notes for one book, while I am actually writing another, in a different genre. I couldn't write two crime novels alongside one another. But switching is very restorative and stimulating.. I bore easily and this helps.
6) M.W. How does it feel to have your work studied so in-depth in the classroom? Do you worry that too much close inspection will tarnish people's enjoyment of the story?
S.H. I always stress to students who contact me that it is not my fault that I am a set text, that I wrote a book for people to read and enjoy, and that I hope, when they've finished studying it, they can remember that and not hold it against the book. And that they will acquire a taste for reading, even if not my books. Studying books for exams is a necessary, but temporary, evil. We've all had to do it.
7) M.W. The Woman in Black was first published back in 1983 followed by The Mist in the Mirror in 1992. Since 2007 you have written three more ghost novellas with a new one out in 2014. Why did you return to the ghost story after such a long time away?
S.H. I don't know, is the right answer. I think I just had another idea. One is always at the mercy of the idea and I think I must not have had one for all that time.
8) M.W. The Woman in Black stage play is now recognised as the second longest running stage play in London's West End after The Mousetrap. What do you think it is about the play that gives its longevity and has garnered such a cult following?
S.H. I often wonder. Stephen Mallatratt, who adapted the book, and I, often used to ask one another that. I think it's the power of real, live theatre, as against screens, I think it is that people like to be frightened in a safe environment, I think it is the fact that the story never lets up or lets go, plus a superb production which has stood the test of time, and a long series of fine, committed actors.
Susan Hill - The Soul of Discretion
"The final pages will leave you with your heart in your mouth..."
The cathedral town of Lafferton seems idyllic, but in many ways it is just like any other place. As part of the same rapidly changing world, it shares the same hopes and fears, and the same kinds of crime, as any number of towns up and down the land.
DCS Simon Serrailler is called in by Lafferton's new Chief Constable, Kieron Bright and is met by four plain clothes officers. He is asked to take the lead role in a complex, potentially dangerous undercover operation and must leave town immediately, without telling anyone - not even his girlfriend Rachel, who has only just moved in with him.
Meanwhile, Simon's sister Cat is facing difficult choices at work that will test her dedication to the NHS. But an urgent call about her and Simon's father, Richard, soon presents her with a far greater challenge much closer to home.
To complete his special op, Simon must inhabit the mind of the worse kind of criminal. As the op unfolds, Lafferton is dragged into the sort of case every town dreads - and Simon faces the fight of his life.
The Simon Serrailler novels are in a league of their own; literate, detailed and full of drama - they stand head and shoulders above the majority of crime novels. This is the eighth novel in the series and is the darkest and most disturbing yet. It is also the best.
Susan Hill is a top class writer with a huge back catalogue of great literature before she turned her hand to crime fiction. I am sure this experience gives the Serrailler books their edge. The stories she tells in just over three hundred pages would take a lesser writer five hundred.
The Soul of Discretion is a meaty, chilling psychological novel. The subject is extremely dark and sensitive and could have been voyeuristic but Hill's deep characters, knowledge of the genre, and natural story-telling prowess make this a stunning tour de force.
The pace is break-neck and the phrase 'page-turner' could have been invented for this novel. The final pages will leave you with your heart in your mouth and the ending is sublime. This is a real series changer of a novel and book nine will be very different for the main players. More like this please and very, very soon.
Reviewed by: M.W.