Suzette Hill was a late starter to a writing career. She published her first book, A Load of Old Bones, at her own expense, printing just 500 copies that she found she had to work hard to sell. Previously she had received numerous rejections from both publishers and agents. But it was then bought by an audio book company (with the part of the cat being taken by Leslie Phillips), before being taken up by a commercial publisher. She went on to write another four books in the series, Bones in the Belfry, Bone Idle, Bones in High Places and A Bedlam of Bones.
Before this, she had read English at two universities, and taught English Literature for many years at Reading College. Suzette has recently written two books based in Southwold, A Southwold Mystery and Shot in Southwold.
1. Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
I am always a little wary of the term ‘influences’ as often it is meant to suggest those writers whose style one has sought to emulate. I am not aware of any such direct influences in my own novels. But if the term is used in the broader sense to mean which writers gave great enjoyment and so introduced me to the pleasures of literature, then there were many. Initially Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne, Richmal Crompton, plus all the usual adventure stories of the period, for example the exploits of Biggles and the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Then in my mid-teens I encountered some of the novels of Compton Mackenzie, Aldous Huxley, and W. Somerset Maugham – much of which I didn’t entirely understand but which made me feel terribly grown up! At about the age of 17 I ‘discovered’ Graham Greene, a writer whose novels have continued to move, unsettle and delight me into old age.
2. How did you get started on your literary career?
I started late in life – well into retirement – as I had never harboured any desire to write fiction. The whole thing happened quite by chance: I thought I should try writing a short story, just to see what the creative process felt like.
The story grew into a novel A Load of Old Bones which mercifully became published, and then into four further ones about the harebrained antics of shady vicar the Revd Francis Oughterard and his two garrulous pets – Bouncer, a stroppy mongrel dog, and Maurice, a supercilious cat. (NB Despite the ingredients, these were not designed as children’s books!)
3. How did Rosy Gilchrist come to life?
Again, rather by chance. Feeling that there was a limit to which one could take a joke, I abandoned the vicar and his pets and decided to try another (more sober?) series. My then publisher suggested that for a change I should use a female protagonist, and thus Rosy Gilchrist emerged. I quite like her, but still have a soft spot for the addled Francis of the earlier series.
4. Do you plot your books in detail or let events unfold naturally?
Alas, plotting in the abstract is my bugbear: I cannot do it! All my books are character driven, and the main events evolve out of scenes and conversations. In some ways, not being able to plot is useful as it means that I am always telling myself a story. On the other hand, it can create a lot of angst and frustration – a preconceived narrative structure must be so reassuring!
5. You have written two books now about Southwold. What attracted you to the town as a location?
This too was a matter of chance. Aeons ago and fresh out of university, I had a job teaching English at St Felix, the large girls’ school at Reydon (now co-ed). I lived in Southwold for two years before leaving to go up to Newcastle University to do some postgraduate research. I don’t think I saw the town for another 20 years and then only briefly. However, recently, having set tales in Surrey, France, London and Venice, I thought that Southwold too, with its quirky character and seductive charm, would be an ideal setting for nefarious deeds! I like to think I was right.
6. Is there anything you can tell us about your latest project?
About two years ago I wrote a sequel to the Revd Oughterard series called The Primrose Pursuit. In this, the late and nervous vicar was replaced by his bossy sister, Primrose, who had inherited his dog and cat; and thus, with the formidable older sister at the helm, the absurd adventures began all over again. I enjoyed writing this so much that I have started another – though whether it will see the light of day remains to be seen. Meanwhile I am also working on another Rosy Gilchrist tale, set not so far from Suffolk, in Cambridge. Cedric and friend Felix continue to feature.
7. Do you have a message for your readers in Suffolk Libraries?
Simply to keep on reading! Books, whether fiction or non-fiction, give such endless pleasure, inspiration, enlightenment, fun, stimulus and comfort. Do please nurture the habit in your children and grandchildren. Read them stories, let them read you stories, make up stories with them … and above all, introduce them to your local library: an unfailing source of interest, revelation and sheer enjoyment.