How to get washed up with the survivors: Peter Guttridge talks to Reginald Hill, creator of some classic and extraordinary private eyes

REGINALD HILL - crime, mystery, science fiction, history and thriller writer - lives about 15 miles down the road from the nuclear power station at Sellafield in Cumbria. When he took early retirement from a teacher training college, he could have lived anywhere. He chose to live here. 'It somehow seems appropriate for a crime writer,' he says.

Since 1970, under his own name and as Patrick Ruall, Dick Morland and Charles Underhill, Hill has written over 30 novels, two collections of short stories and several radio plays. Thirteen of the 'Reginald Hill' novels have featured the Yorkshire detectives Adam Dalziel (pronounced De-ell) and Peter Pascoe.

Dalziel (large, loud, often loutish) and Pascoe (a social sciences graduate with radical wife) have not yet graced the television screen, so Hill is not as widely known as he might be. However, among crime fiction lovers and his peers in the Detective Club, the Crime Writers Association and the Mystery Club of America, he is celebrated for putting a spin on the classic murder mystery.

His mystery novels are intricately plotted, beginning with a number of disparate strands which he weaves together into whole cloth by the final chapter. In the best of them, such as Bones and Silence, An April Shroud or Recalled to Life, even when you think he has given you all the answers, there is always one more thing he tells you that you didn't realise you didn't know.

'Plot is the basis of narrative interest,' Hill says, 'the force that drives the reader along paths which seem totally mysterious ahead, but which appear clear as day behind. It is easy to mystify. The good mystery writer's real skill lies in clarification.'

At 57, the Hartlepool-born, Carlisle-bred son of a professional footballer is a tall, thin-faced, white- bearded man. The former teacher and college lecturer has a deliberate way of talking, in an accent that crosses Doncaster - where he lived for some years - with Cumbria. His latest novel, Blood Sympathy, is his first full- length work to feature the balding, black, middle-aged, redundant lathe operator turned private eye, Joe Sixsmith. Much lighter than the Dalziel and Pascoe novels, Blood Sympathy is a jokey adventure set in - uh, Luton.

'In a couple of short stories about Joe I put him in a high rise in Luton. Now I'm stuck with him there,' Hill says. 'But, as I explain in the foreword to the book, I've never actually visited the place. So in the way that I invented mid-Yorkshire, I've invented Luton. It remains to be seen what the good citizens of Luton think about that.'

As it is so different from the Dalziel and Pascoe books, didn't Hill think of using a pseudonym for the Sixsmith novel? 'I get a bit aggrieved and self-justificatory talking about pseudonyms,' he says. 'First, publishers say: use a different name so as not to confuse your readers. Now, they say: use a different name, but we'll be damned sure they know it's you by saying 'Reginald Hill writing as . . .' ' In consequence, only one pseudonym, Patrick Ruell (his wife's maiden name is Ruell) remains on active service.

Although he is already working on another Joe Sixsmith novel, Hill has not abandoned his other heroes. He has just posted the new Dalziel and Pascoe book, Pictures of Perfection, to his agent. 'It's very English, I invented the whole history of a village. A lot of what will seem wholly irrelevant about the Middle Ages and the 18th century will turn out to be very relevant.'

The characters of both Dalziel and Pascoe have developed since they first appeared in Hill's debut novel, A Clubbable Woman, in 1970 - although Hill has had to stretch time to prevent Dalziel sinking into his dotage.

'When I started I was more inclined towards Pascoe, because I wanted to write about someone like me who might have joined the police after university,' says Hill, who followed National Service with reading English at St Catherine's, Oxford. 'Dalziel has shouldered his way centre stage, however.'

Pascoe once summed up his view of the world as 'life is a sorrow and a mystery'. Dalziel's is more pragmatic: 'Life is a series of wrecks. Make sure you get washed up with the survivors.'

Dalziel often comes across as a stage-Yorkshiremen - blunt, beefy and boorish. 'But he can also be sensitive, charming and courteous. He isn't two-dimensional, he's six-dimensional,' Hill argues. 'And really Dalziel and Pascoe are one person. I'd like to be Pascoe but Dalziel is always there waiting to burst out.'

For many years, Yorkshire Television have held the rights to the Dalziel and Pascoe series. Hill has always seen actor Brian Blessed as the perfect Dalziel. Recently, filming finally began on A Pinch of Snuff as a pilot for a prospective series. In it, the detectives are played by comedians Hale and Pace. Hill is diplomatic. 'I was rather surprised at first, but I think it might just come off,' he says.

Hill doesn't pause between novels - 'that's when writer's block might strike' - but he has slowed his output over the years. 'When my first novel was accepted it was as if a block had been removed. I had two published in 1971 and three in 1972. I didn't wait for the heavy thud as the manuscript came back through the door - I started the next one. I look back and I can't think where I got the energy for it all.'

Even though he has slowed down, he remains an obsessive who writes far too much and claims he would like to hang on to each of his books an extra four years in order to perfect them. 'I write on a need-to-know basis and my need to know is much greater than that of the readers,' he says. 'So I write hundreds of pages too much and then cut it down. Also, with my kind of novel you're always writing backwards. You reach a point and you see you should have put something in 17 chapters earlier. You pull on a thread and find you've unravelled the whole thing.'

Hill has noticed a change in crime fiction lately. 'I think crime books are getting very glum - reflecting the times we live in. I've tried to snap out of this downward spiral of tone in both the Sixsmith and Pictures of Perfection. I certainly want to affirm at least the possibility of a happy life.'

Perhaps his optimism is the reason Hill, applauded for bringing realism to crime fiction, has rarely approached the question of police corruption. He hedges. 'There is obviously a huge gap between my police and real police,' he says. 'For example, your ordinary good, honest CID man probably investigates two murders in his entire career. Crime writers act as very good PRs for the police - presenting them as decent, likeable chaps with high levels of intelligence and great inductive powers. I don't feel guilty about this.'

He has nothing nasty to say about crime writers either. 'We're a friendly lot,' he says. 'We get all the bad stuff out of our systems in our books. If you want knives in the back and blood on the carpet - go to the Romantic Writers' Convention.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent